Darling (2016) Review

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Darling (2016), tells the story of a bug-eyed young lady (Lauren Ashley Carter), who goes to work as a caretaker for Madame (Sean Young of Blade Runner fame) in her lavish New York City mansion. From the beginning, Madame informs Darling that the previous caretaker actually threw herself off the apartment balcony, so the fact that this news alone do not seem to affect Darling enough to make her run far, far away from this haunted house of horrors is telling enough for what’s to come.

The captivating character that Darling is, our eyes are glued to the screen as the puzzle pieces of this simplistic, but thrilling, story merge inside a wonderful black and white, 1940’s-esque modern day world that director Mickey Kennedy displays exquisitely. Darling does not necessarily do anything incredibly original, but what it does is present a tense, wild exploration of a young girl’s descent into madness in a house of mystery and evil. And at a brisk 78 minutes, it never once becomes dull. The silent moments forebode, the editing impacts hard, and when the inevitable insanity arrives it comes with all the style and verve of a Tarantino grind-house movie.

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10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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What is 10 Cloverfield Lane? A spiritual sequel to Cloverfield (2008) is perhaps a just definition. Although, whilst Cloverfield was found-footage alien horror set in New York, this thriller is an utterly different beast (pun intended). Nevertheless, whilst the resemblance between the two films may be sparse, 10 Cloverfield Lane is arguably the better film.

The story begins with Earth seemingly under attack. Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) does a formidable job as the story’s heroine. After an argument with her partner – Bradley Cooper’s pleading voice vanishing before we register it’s him– Michelle is involved in a car crash. Upon regaining consciousness, she finds herself trapped in an underground bunker with Howard.

Howard is a character that, the less said about, the better. John Goodman is brilliant, simultaneously frightening and a hurt teddy bear. His intentions for Michelle are never made clear, remaining a mystery until the third act. Credit due to the writers – including Whiplash‘s Damian Chazelle – who here conjure up a narrative brimming with unnerving suspense, adding a couple of great twists along the way for good measure. Though it’s Goodman who makes Howard truly come alive. Howard’s interactions with Michelle are fraught with tension; his facial tics when seemingly unable to call Michelle a “woman” is one of several standout moments from a subtly terrifying performance.

Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is understated, yet wholly commendable for his first feature film. Under the production eye of J.J Abrams, he creates a wonderful 40’s war-time atmosphere within the underground bunker. Simple, but effective, shots include a lovely interaction between Michele and other “guest” Emmet – a young man who is her only company sans Howard.  Trachtenberg delivers a simple back-and-forth shot of both characters conversing softly on either side of a wall; a moment of warmth and invite amidst their terrifying reality. There is no mistake of over-direction, and the film is edited almost faultlessly. Every lingering shot of Howard at the dinner table, as Michelle’s eyes grow more nervous, exists to ratchet up the ambiguity within the quandary our protagonist finds herself.

The story builds incredibly well. However, the final act does seem a little rushed. It’s like Trachtenberg and Co. wanted that grand finale, but perhaps ran out of the relatively small budget (approx. $10 million) to present us a clearer, lengthier look at what is now occurring above ground. Make no mistake though, the ending is highly entertaining; a shocking barrage of surprising reveals – yet somehow it just can’t match the intriguing character study and oozing tension of the bunker. Of course if a sequel is to come, which it sure gives the impression of, then the ending indeed sets one up perfectly.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a smart Hitchcockian thriller. Whilst the ending may be not to everyone’s tastes, when the action is underground in Howard’s bunker, the film tells a story of brilliant character drama, great mystery, and tightly-woven suspense.

four-stars_0

 

Senna (2003)

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Asif Kapadia is probably best known for his debut film, The Warrior, released in 2001, a drama set amongst the backdrop of the Himalayas and the Rajasthan. His first feature film, critics were mightily impressed: his reward being a BAFTA Alexander Korda Award for the outstanding British Film of the Year 2003 and several others.

In 2010, nine years later, Kapadia released his fourth feature after more success, a documentary focusing on the real-life story of legendary Formula 1 driver, Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian motor-racing champion is known across the globe for his unflinching and uncompromising driving style, which led him to three world championships and a string of dominance in his hey-day, only matched since by Michael Schumacher. Ayrton Senna is considered as one of the greatest drivers in Formula 1, and Kapadia makes sure we see every side to a figure beloved across the globe.

That means even his flaws and dangerous on-track antics aren’t passed over, but given the mention they deserve. His fierce rivalry with Alan Prost and his arguments over the safety of the sport are all part of this diverse and satisfying look at Senna himself. His journey to become World Champion, and then win again and again is a moving tale of one of the greatest racers who has ever lived. Pure brilliance.

four-stars_0

 

Kill Bill (2003)

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Quentin Tarantino is well known for creating films that owe a lot to other genres of cinema. Not only are many of his films quite violent, which has caused some controversy in the director’s career, but the style of his films are usually hybrids, whether they integrate styles and themes from Spaghetti Westerns, Honk Kong Martial Arts or Grindhouse films. His movies can not really be classified as a specific genre, so Kill Bill, the 4th film that he wrote and directed, is best described as a revenge movie.

A short, tense introduction sequence sets the tone of the film we are about to watch: a bloody, violent tale of a Bride gunned down at her wedding that sets out for revenge against the assassins who tried to kill her.

In typical Tarantino fashion, we are treated to some brilliant fight scenes that aren’t afraid to get straight to the point; the beginning has a brawling, knife fight between The Bride (Uma Thurman, in one of her finest ever performances) and Black Mamba, a lady member of the assassination squad that is on our protagonists Hit List. At the very top of this list is the titular Bill, a mysterious man with a samurai sword who pulls the trigger on The Bride in the opening sequence. Kill Bill’s action scenes are clearly influenced by Hong Kong/Japanese Martial Arts/ Samurai movies; every shot oozes style. A climatic showdown between The Bride and a big group of Japanese samurai is incredibly fun to watch, edited to perfection and keeps Tarantino’s vision pitch perfect all the way through.

Regarding the score and soundtrack, Tarantino clearly has the knack when it comes to mismatching music and events on screen, and it just works. Even if the plot is relatively simple; even if you could argue this film is style over substance, when the style is this good, it doesn’t matter.

There is even a section of the film shown in Japanese Anime, which is another feature of the film greatly influenced by Asian Cinema. Lucy Liu plays a wonderfully brutal boss of the Japanese Yakuza who is on The Bride’s hit list; in one scene slicing a man’s head clean off with a samurai, and then preceding to ask if anyone else disagrees with her who now know the consequences.

Tarantino-after 7 years- is back, and it’s great.

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All About My Mother (1999)

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Pedro Almodovar is one of the best Spanish filmmakers in the world today. His films are daring and understated, focusing on the true depths of human relationships.

All About My Mother is no different; a story of tragedy and father-searching. Cecilia Roth plays a mother who’s son gets killed in a car accident, so she then decides to track down her son’s father, who’s no longer with her and supposedly living in Barcelona. Roth delivers a brilliant performance as Nurse Manuela, showing the immense distraught when losing her teenage son, pushing her on a journey of acceptance and forgiveness. The other main role is relished in by Penelope Cruz- a long time collaborator and friend of Almodovar- a young nun who is pregnant by Manuela’s ex-husband. A supporting cast of characters are given great roles, one example being Huma Roja (played by Marisa Paredes) the actress who Manuela’s son admires, but comes to be part of his death.

Almodovar, it could be argued, makes this film feel a little too coincidental; it revels in its drama and surprises, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The film maybe a soap-opera but it is also sincere in the story it tells. Furthermore, thanks to the witty script and the characters good humour, the drama does not need to resort to depression to have an impact on the audience. This is, undoubtedly, one of Almodovar’s best films and one that should not be missed.

four-stars_0

 

Man of Steel (2013)

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Man of Steel is monstrous origins epic that clearly states what it sets out to do within the first five minutes. We are on Krypton, the homeworld of Jar-El (Russell Crowe) father-to-be of Kal-El (a.k.a Clark Kent a.k.a Superman). The Krypton homeworld is a huge, grand Pandora-like planet, with great bird creatures that Crowe rides on in the first of many great action sequences. This film is meant to wow audiences with its scope and operatic grandeur and that it achieves, but I feel unfortunately it comes at the expense of the original superman’s heart and joyful fun.

Henry Cavill has taken up the mantle of the iconic superhero, and to the role he brings a lot of heart and vulnerability; he may be a god on Earth, but since his childhood raised by non-biological parents Kevin Costner and Diane Lane- who both bring warmth and wise words as Clark Kent’s guides for living on earth as a god- he has been trying to make sure no one notices his powers. The legendary Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is a far stronger character this time around; no longer a damsel in distress (although inevitably she has to be in danger at some point) but a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and love interest to Superman.

The film is far darker and less humorous than any Superman movie before it, so fans may be divided. Personally, it may be slightly generic, but a colossal, intense blockbuster it most certainly is.

3-stars-out-of-5