Below are some very brief thoughts on the film. For an interesting and in-depth discussion, you may wish to check out the excellent /filmcast episode dedicated to the film.
David Fincher’s adaptation of the best selling novel by Stieg Larrson improves on the Swedish version of the film, but does little to overcome or change the problems with the source material.
The biggest improvement over the Swedish film is the casting of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Although Noomi Rapace was excellent as Salander in the Swedish version, she was simply too old for the part. In the novels, Lisbeth is often described as being extremely young looking; even as young as 13-14 years old. Although tough looking, Rapace could never quite pull off the young looking Salander. Mara pulls this off. She manages to look young, tough, vulnerable and sexy - sometimes all at once.
This film is very stylised and extremely beautiful. There is no doubt it is a Fincher film. The palate of blacks, greys, whiles, and blues really evokes the repressive feeling of a Scandinavian winter. There are plenty of interesting and creative shots to you visually stimulated. For example, a scene in a nightclub with the flashing lights and pounding music, puts the audience right in the club.
One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the opening credits with the punchy remake of the Immigrant song blasting over it. However, this is also one of the most baffling features of the film. The opening credits fit more with the marketing campaign for the film, than the actual film itself.
Story-wise this film is almost as much of a mess as the source material. There are too many characters, with too many story threads, that don’t really matter. Fincher could have cut/minimised some of the side-stories, and made a much sharper film. The ending in particular is problematic and takes far too long to bring to conclusion. At 158 minutes long the film is a test of the audience’s attention, and at times their patience.
Accents in this film were variable and often distracting. It is always difficult to make a film set in a foreign country, when the characters are all speaking English. Films can either ignore the language of the country they are in and have everyone speak normally; or can have everyone speaking English with the accent of the native language of the country they are in. This film has some characters doing one and some the other. This may not bother everyone, but it can take you out of the film for a moment.
Overall, an interesting film that is visually appealing and contains classic Fincher stylised touches. Unfortunately it is simply just too long.
The Darkest Hour stars the rather wooden Emile Hirsh as software developer Sean, who happens to be in Moscow for work when some rather odd aliens launch an all out attack on the city. Sean soon finds himself fighting for survival alongside his friend Ben (Max Minghella) and two girls they meet at a bar courtesy of their social networking software (one of whom is played by Australia actress Rachael Taylor).
The aliens in this film are mostly invisible beings, which are made out of energy. They kill by shooting energy out that then pulverises people instantly, turning them into ash. The problem with these odd aliens isn’t so much that we can’t see them, but that they don’t seem to follow any real rules or pseudo-science about what they can and can’t do. It makes very little sense that they can see energy through certain substances and not others. If the aliens don’t seem unconvincing in the beginning, they do as the film progresses and we get a better look at them. They look as scary as a child’s scribble of what an alien might be. It’s almost laughable.
All of the characters in this film are either boring and annoying and/or some sort of stereotype. The guys are whiny and are the protectors and heroes, while the girls are mostly pathetic creatures who need the boy’s help and assistance at every step. Apparently females are unable to have strong opinions which they act upon. It is almost impossible to muster any feelings for the outcome of these character’s struggle for survival. While the characters are poorly written, the actors don’t do much with the little that they are given. Rachael Taylor will make you cringe with every awkwardly delivered line in her broad Australian accent.
The 3D in this film is for the most part pointless. There are a few interesting visual moments when the aliens first arrive, but otherwise it’s completely perfunctory. Sadly, the fact this is in 3D may be the only reason much of the younger audience will want to see it.
Using Moscow as the setting is the one redeeming and original part of this film. After seeing New York invaded at least two dozen times, it’s really interesting to see another world city as the setting. Moscow works well. It’s a historic city with plenty of interesting buildings (both new and old) for the characters to run and hide in. Side note: the film also wants you to know they have plenty of McDonalds in Moscow.
Overall The Darkest Hour is a mess. The Aliens don’t make sense, the characters are ridiculous, and you won’t care how the story ends. Thankfully at only 89 minutes long, you don’t need to wait that long.
The Darkest Hour opens on January 19th in Australia and is out now in New Zealand
The hard to say Martha Marcy Mar Marlene is a haunting film which tells the story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who after two years living in a cult escapes. Martha is picked up by her sister (Sarah Paulson), and joins her and her sister’s husband (Hugh Dancy) at their summer lakehouse retreat. We watch Martha as she re-adjusts to life outside the cult, and deals with what she has been through in the last two years.
The distinctive feature of the film is it’s dual narrative. Durkin seamlessly flicks between the present and the previous two years which Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has spent living in the cult; at times the characters literally reach into the scenes and across narratives. While impressive, at times this can be slightly confusing, as much is unsaid and left up to the audience to fill in the blanks.
At one point in the film Martha asks her sister if she’s ever had trouble telling the difference between a dream and a memory. It’s this question which is key to the film’s mystery and construction. As we follow Martha re-adjusting to life it is often hard to tell what is real and what Martha is imagining. She has obviously been through a traumatic experience and that plays havoc with people’s mental state. A combination of Martha’s erratic behaviour and the constant swapping between the narratives leaves the audience with more questions than answers.
Much has been said in praise of Olsen’s performance and it is well earned praise. Olsen manages to appear very vulnerable and conveys the feeling of fear and uncertainty extremely well. Praise must also be given to John Hawkes who plays the cult leader Patrick with absolute bone-chilling creepiness. If you don’t get the chills when he plays a song just for Martha (or Marcy May as she is known in the cult), then you have no feelings.
Aspects of the narrative in the present day may annoy some people (as it did me). Much of the present day narrative centres around how Martha’s family deals with her re-assimilation into regular life. The way the family chooses to deal with Martha’s issues is perplexing and doesn’t seem realistic. Perhaps this is true of how people like her family would deal with the issue; her sister and brother-in-llaw are rather cold and seem to want to not believe what is right in front of them. For most people though, this behaviour will seem odd.
Overall Martha May Marcy Marlene is an impressive debut feature for director Sean Durkin; and a stellar break-out performance for actor Elisabeth Olsen. While aspects of the story may not work, the film successfully conveys the mindset of someone who doesn’t know what is normal or what real anymore. It will leave you feeling chilled.
Martha Marcy May Marlene opens on February 2nd in Australia and on March 15th in New Zealand.
In Hugo director Martin Scorsese takes us on an exciting journey which allows the audience a peak behind the curtains at the magical world of early cinema.
In this adaptation of the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, we follow young orphaned Hugo who lives in the walls of a Paris train station, tending to the running of the clocks. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a vulnerable figure, having first lost his parents and then been abandoned by his drunkard of an uncle . He dreams of fixing an automaton which he watched his father work on; and spends much of his time seeking both parts for the machine and food for his survival in the station.
Hugo befriends Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is in the care of the the station’s intriguing toy stall owner (played marvelously by Ben Kingsley); and from there an adventure to realise Hugo’s dreams of fixing his beloved autonaman begins.
Hugo is both a tradition children’s story about an orphan who is trying to realise his dreams and an education in film history. Although the story is slow to get going, we do learn a lot about the struggles of Hugo’s daily existence, and in turn become attached to him and wish for him to succeed.
Once the film does get going it is something magical. Chases through the station, adventures in cinema, unlocking mysteries, and discovering things long-kept secrets. Hugo contains all the elements of a good adventure
What stands out is Scorses’s obvious absolute passion for his craft and where it comes from. The film contains lovely a lovely homage to the infamous Train Pulling into the station short film, which reportedly wowed audiences in 19th century Paris. The audience is also treated to a behind the scenes look at the labour intensive way that early film was created. For cinephiles and those with a passing interest in film, it is an absolute delight and wonderful experience.
Ben Kinglsey puts in a show-stealing performance as the toy stall owner George Méliès. He speaks volumes through the creases on his face and is just an utter delight to watch. Sasha Baron Cohen also impresses as the slightly odd and love-afflicted station inspector.
Another wonder ful thing about this film is the 3D just works. Scorsese uses it to immerse the audience in the word he has created, rather than for ‘in your face’ shock value. From the beautiful snow flakes, to the flickering of a film projector, it just works.
A note for those considering taking young children. While this is certainly a family film, the very youngest children might find certain scenes frightening and the film a tad long (126 minutes).
Overall Hugo is a cinematic delight and a wonderful adventure that is bound to remain a favourite for years to come
What did I just spend the last 1hour 45mins of my life watching? This has to be one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen. I am still utterly confused about what I saw.
Although I can admire the director for taking us on a completely unique journey, I cannot say I got any enjoyment from watching this film.
Oh, wait that’s not entirely true. I admire the film for having 2 leads that could switch between 3 languages. That is the best thing about the film in my opinion. Otherwise, absolutely hated the characters. They were both horribly mean and spiteful people, who spent the large part of the film arguing with each other.
When I wasn’t bored of their arguments, I was baffled by where the film was heading.
1 star for evoking such a response in me, but otherwise what an awful film.
Note: I reserve the right to watch this again in a years time and absolutely fall in love with it. It’s that sort of film.