This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Matrix or Blade Runner, two films it resembles in various ways, even if it lacks their resonance. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) pulls out all the stops, expertly deploying an eclectic cast and a continual stream of eye-popping visual effects. This helps make up for the surprisingly thin approach to the story's deeper themes.
It's set in near-future Japan, where Major (Scarlett Johansson) has her brain transplanted into a robotic body after an accident. Weaponised by the Hanka corporate boss Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), she is assigned to work undercover with local police chief Aramaki ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) and a team that includes muscly sidekick Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and reparative Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major's current case has her on a collision course with a mastermind terrorist named Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who is attacking Hanka executives one by one. As she tracks him down, she is noticing strange glitches in her programming, little visions of what might be her past. But these are oddly unrelated to her memories, which makes her wonder who she really was before she became a machine.
The script makes it painfully clear that the title refers to Major's soul in her mechanical body, as if it needed explaining. And there are other elements of the dialog that seem dumbed down for the mainstream, including the way the film sidesteps the big questions it raises about free will, militarised culture and corporate greed. By neglecting these elements of the story, the film wows our eyes and tantalises our emotions, but never gets under our skin. Johansson is terrific at these sort of roles (see also Lucy), and her expressive eyes bring some moving subtext to her scenes with Binoche and Pitt. Meanwhile, Kitano nearly steals the show as the cool old-school master.
Continue reading: Ghost In The Shell Review
Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) reteams with Tilda Swinton for this fresh, tricky drama about four people whose lives are inextricably intertwined. A remake of the 1969 French classic La Piscine, it's a twisted story packed with insinuation: fast, funny and surprising. The actors infuse each scene with a spark of lusty intrigue, while Guadagnino makes everything look gorgeous.
It's set on an isolated island off the coast of Italy, where rock goddess Marianne (Swinton) has gone to recover from vocal chord surgery, so she can only speak in a whisper. She's accompanied by her long-time younger boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), and as they relax naked together in the sunshine their idyll is invaded by Marianne's hyperactive ex and Paul's old friend Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who proceeds to strip off and cavort around the pool, as if he was invited. He brings along his moody daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who immediately begins to flirt with Paul. It's clear that Harry wants Marianne back after all these years, so there's some real tension quietly gurgling up between these four very different people.
Each of the actors gives a remarkably open-handed performance. Swinton and Schoenaerts are enjoyably evasive, firm in their feelings for each other and united against this onslaught. Johnson is terrific as the surly outsider who conceals her agenda to everyone except the movie audience. By contrast, Fiennes is hysterically talkative, never sitting still as he pushes everyone's buttons with his strong opinions and riotous actions. It's the film's flashiest performance, and it's utterly magnetic. And all of the actors are wonderful at suggesting things about their characters' inner motivations that perhaps they don't want to admit to themselves. Yes, this is a story about the deepest elements of being human, animal instincts that can cause problems in the modern world if we forget that they're part of what makes us alive.
Continue reading: A Bigger Splash Review
Coarse and not exactly subtle, this dark drama might disappoint viewers expecting a more traditional revenge thriller, but there's something more interesting going on here. And even though it starts at full volume and only gets more intense, the film is actually remarkably thoughtful and measured in its approach.
It's set in the Rust Belt, industrial Pennsylvania, where Russell (Bale) works in a steel mill and worries about his little brother Rodney (Affleck), who's deep in debt to a local bookie (Dafoe). Then a late-night car crash lands Russell in prison, and when he's released everything has changed. He has no job, his girlfriend (Saldana) is now dating the local sheriff (Whitaker), and Rodney is paying off his debts by fighting in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Even more perilous is the fact that all of this puts the brothers on a collision course with vicious local redneck Harlan (Harrelson), who has no intention of making their lives easier.
The film opens with a particularly brutal display of Harlan's menace, so we know what's coming. And as everything goes from bad to worse for our two heroes, the film feels almost aggressively harsh. Of course, Bale and Affleck are terrific as these damaged men whose fierce bond both helps and puts them into danger. And both actors let us see beneath the surface as their lives fall apart. In what could be the thankless ex-girlfriend role, Saldana has some surprisingly powerful moments. And Harrelson is a deeply terrifying force to reckon with.
Continue reading: Out Of The Furnace Review
Despite a bunch of cold characters and a deeply contrived plot, this film is so infused with hot topicality that we are held in its grip all the way through. The issue is corporate irresponsibility and grass-roots activism, both of which feel ripped straight from the headlines to give the movie an edgy, almost documentary urgency. On the other hand, it's nearly impossible to get involved in the story's inter-personal dramas.
Director Batmanglij is reteaming with Sound of My Voice actress-cowriter Marling, who this time plays Jane, a corporate-security spy assigned by her shark-like boss (Clarkson) to infiltrate the eco-terrorism group The East. The goal is to prevent them from attacking any of her clients. It takes Jane awhile to worm her way into the anarchists' inner sanctum, where she immediately finds an affinity with leader Benji (Skarsgard), medically trained Doc (Kebbell) and flamboyant Luca (Fernandez). It takes longer to warm to the prickly Izzy (Page), but eventually Jane finds herself part of the core team, invited to participate in a series of jams in which The East gives company bosses a taste of their own toxic medicine.
In the cast of a pharmaceutical giant, this is quite literally the case: they infect the executive (Ormond) with the dangerous drug she's selling to the developing world. And the gang also stages assaults on oil companies in ways that are eerily easy for us to identify with, because the activists are making an important point. Indeed, we never really doubt where the filmmakers' sympathies lie: even if their actions are illegal and rather nasty, these "terrorists" are the good guys. At least this moral complexity gives the film a brainy kick.
Continue reading: The East Review
You could argue that this film is all lurid style over substance, but there's actually a lot going on behind the stunningly gorgeous imagery. Korean director Park (Oldboy) beings his lavish visual approach to this Hitchcockian story about a family infiltrated by a predator. Packed with references to iconic movies and books, the film is heightened and deranged, and its intense moodiness gets under the skin.
It centres on 18-year-old India Stoker (Wasikowska), distraught after the death of her beloved father (Mulroney). Without him to soften her, she's also even angrier than usual at her needy mother Evie (Kidman). Then the charming, handsome Uncle Charlie (Goode) turns up at the funeral and moves in to help them grieve. Actually he seems to be trying to seduce Evie, who is flattered by his attention. But the housekeeper (Somerville) and an auntie (Weaver) don't stick around long enough to see what's really going on, and it becomes clear that Charlie actually has his sights set on India.
Both the script and the direction continually echo familiar literary and cinematic icons, from the family's name to the Shakespearean family plot to the prowling interloper (see Robert Mitchum in the 1950s classic The Night of the Hunter). Director Park's camera prowls through the house like a ghost, catching tiny details in every lushly designed scene while finding all kinds of shadings in the performances. Wasikowska is terrific as the sensitive, rather cruel young woman at the centre of the storm, while Kidman steals her scenes with a haunted, conflicted performance. Between them, Goode is almost painfully seductive. And clearly dangerous.
Continue reading: Stoker Review
Doug Riley (Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (Leo) have a quietly tense marriage that's infused with grief over the death of their teen daughter. So when Doug's mistress (Davis) dies suddenly, he doesn't know how to cope. Then he discovers that Lois has already bought their tombstone. On a business trip to New Orleans, he develops a tentative father-daughter relationship with young prostitute Mallory (Stewart). But while he's helping Mallory get back on her feet, Lois is in meltdown mode. So she stops taking her pills and drives to New Orleans.
Continue reading: Welcome To The Rileys Review
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