Tag Archive: Julianne Moore


SeventhSon-1.5I don’t know why I do this to myself. I don’t know why I allow myself to merrily go along to see films that I know will do little for me, and will probably be pretty damn awful. Sometimes it works out, Jupiter Ascending turned out to be a lot of fun, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stands as my guiltiest pleasure of the last year/decade, but for the most part they turn out exactly as expected (or worse, Annabelle).  Fantasy movies are a dime a dozen, so to be remembered as a great one often requires something special. Something Seventh Son lacks distinctly.

In a time of magic and sorcery, a powerful witch, named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) has escaped from being imprisoned underground and is hell bent on taking over the world with her fellow powerful and magical brothers and sisters. The man who imprisoned her, Witch Hunting Spook Gregory (Jeff Bridges) seeks out a new apprentice to help him in his quest to vanquish Malkin once and for all. He soon finds his apprentice in the form of young farm-hand Tom (Ben Barnes). The seventh son of a seventh son, Tom is prophesied to help rid the land of the evil that threatens it (I think anyway, the seventh son thing isn’t really explained), and begins to learn the ways of witch-hunting from the old master, Gregory.Julianne Moore in a still from Seventh Son

What drew me to Seventh Son is the fact that it is a film that has a long and troubled production. I cannot resist a movie which has had a troubled production. I will forever be curious to see how a film can get through so many troubles to actually emerge with a finish product that the studio is ok with finally releasing (or not). The case with Seventh Son is not of controversy, just more of a case in which no one seemed to know what to do with it. The film was shot in 2012, and took a great deal of time in post-production, largely due to the fact that the VFX company tasked with the film went bankrupt. Originally set for a February 2013 release (I know, right!?), the film was further set back due to the breakdown of partnership between Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, with Legendary selling the distribution rights of Seventh Son on to Universal. The film was then supposed to come out January 2014, but Universal held the film back for over a year, and now here we are. Finally. And man, was it not worth the wait. SeventhSon-3

Based on a children’s fantasy  novel, the story of Seventh Son is nothing new; young farm-boy enters a world of magic and must learn his potential, and maybe fall in love along the way. It is a well trodden formula, and despite some engaging VFX designs, Seventh Son does little with it. Barnes is an uncharismatic leading man, who just holds a constant look of confusion as he goes through the proceedings (or was it meant to be a smoulder? I can’t tell). Alicia Vikander fares better as the witch love interest, but in a year which has seen her turn in two carefully crafted performances in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth, this is a film she could really do without in her current string of successes.

Seventh Son reeks of a film that no one involved particularly cared all that much about, but perhaps not as much as the distributors. There is fun to be had in the performances from Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, both of whom know that they are cashing in an easy pay check. Bridges in particular tries to throw in some sleight humour to under-cut the poe-faced seriousness of the rest of the movie, moments which are unfortunately few but very funny when they do arrive. Moore hams it up to the high heavens as chief antagonist, but ultimately is given little to do but occasionally monologue before transforming in to a dragon. SeventhSon-1

It is to the film’s credit that it looks as good as it does, haven been shot back in 2012 and had effects completed by a VFX company on the brink of bankruptcy, but this fails to cover up the fact that this film is as dull as a pile of troll dung. It occupies 100 minutes of your time in a mildly distracting manner, but will do very little to rouse you, what with obnoxious 3-D effects throwing everything it can at the screen, and only a couple of entertaining side-gags delivered by Bridges. A over-designed movie which has very little fire in its belly. Probably best to avoid.

2/5- Meh.

StillAlice-1A film detailing Alzheimer’s Disease was never going to be an easy watch. It is an uncompromising, brutal and savage disease, and to depict it as something other than that would be cowardly. Still Alice is anything but cowardly. This adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel has had much acclaim focused on the performance of Julianne Moore, but it must be commended for its honest portrayal of such a disease, and what that effect is not just on the individual, but by all who love and care for them.

Moore plays Alice Howland, a celebrated linguistics professor at Columbia University at the height of her career. She is a mother of three grown children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, & Kristen Stewart) and has a loving relationship with her husband, John (Alec Baldwin). Her perfect world however, soon takes an unexpected and tragic turn, as she is diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. As the disease slowly tears away the brilliant woman Alice once was, her family must face the decision as to what is the best means of dealing with the unstoppable, and fast-moving, disease. StillAlice-2

The directing duo of Wash Westmoreland, and the sadly recently deceased Richard Glatzner, practice the fine art of understatement, allowing for the impact of the disease to be felt in a very intimate and natural way. The choice to shoot events with a hazy background, only having the central figures in the frame in focus creates a sense of the effect of the deteriorating nature of the disease, as well as developing a sense that there are lives happening within and beyond the frame; we become more aware of them because it is quite clear there is movement but we can’t quite define them. Life continues for the people around Alice, whilst hers is falling away at each moment. The image itself isn’t particularly arresting and it does become quite hard to watch at times, but it is an interesting style in which to frame these events.

While this may seem like a cold approach, there is plenty of warmth and compassion contained within the movie, largely due to the means in which we feel the impact of Alice upon the personalities of her children, and how we see them react. Much of the focus falls on Alice’s relationship with her youngest daughter, Stewart’s struggling actress, StillAlice-3Lydia. The film is particularly interested in how Lydia steps up to the plate when everyone else seems to struggle to renegotiate their relationship with Alice. It provides Stewart with a relationship and a character with realistic depth, as she more than holds her own on screen with Moore, making the biggest impact in a supporting cast in which most of the other players struggle to get as much of a look in.

Moore herself provides an intimate, deftly constructed performance of outstanding nuance and devastating grace. Alice is a character who has proven relentless in her life, making sure to succeed in every aspect of her life, and when she is met with a disease that is just as, if not more so, relentless, it hits her hard. In each scene, Moore slices something else away from Alice’s personality, and each time that the change is more significant, it is nothing short of tragic. Much of the emotional devastation comes from seeing such a familiar actress convincingly portray the deterioration that comes courtesy of Alzheimer’s.StillAlice-4

Still Alice is capable of being heart-warming and devastating at the same time. It is also a film which flirts with some dark options in regard to dealing with the disease. It is a difficult to sit through, with the severity of the whole situation often making it hard to believe. This coupled with the hazy cinematography can leave one a bit too bewildered, but it feels like an important take on a serious disease, as well as acting as a showcase for one of the greatest working actresses today.

4/5- A stunning performance from Moore is at the focus of a film which bravely portrays the effects of a devastating disease.

 

Maps To The Stars-1David Cronenberg made a name for himself as a maestro of body horror. From Videodrome to The Fly, Cronenberg’s early career seemed to bear the mission objective of producing the grisliest scenes of bodily disfigurement committed to screen. As of late however, Cronenberg seems to have turned his attention more to mood pieces than that of grotesque shock. The Canadian auteur’s last three films consist of Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method, and Eastern Promises, films that may have their fair share of violence and oddball characters, but are somewhat removed from the visceral pulpy-ness of his earlier work. With his latest, Maps To The Stars, Cronenberg has conducted a sharp cocktail of his styles of filmmaking, presenting a moody picture, but one in which grotesque ugliness is found beneath the skin of his Hollywood figures (metaphorically, no Goldblum houseflies here).

Maps To The Stars is an ensemble drama that takes Hollywood celebrity under the microscope and pulls back its layers with a sense of twisted glee. A celebrity family haunted by a tragic past and disturbing secrets. An ageing actress haunted by the presence of her deceased, much more successful, mother. These are Cronenberg’s subject.

The celebrity family in question are the Weiss’. John Cusack’s patriarch, a pyschotherapist who has made millions from his self-help books, is only concerned with how his family’s actions affect his work and own reputation. Olivia Williams’ mother seems to be the only character of the family who bares concern for anyone except herself, as she helps manage her young son’s career, albeit in a ambitious and controlling fashion. The son in question is 13 year-old Benjie (The Killing’s Evan Bird), a child-star of a successful kid’s movie who is trying to come back after a stint in rehab. maps_to_the_stars_2

The fourth part of this family is Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), the badly scarred estranged eldest sibling of the Weiss family. Returning to L.A. in an attempt to make amends with the family that has all but disowned her, she finds employment through Carrie Fisher (of all people) as a Personal Assistant to the ageing movie star, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). Segrand takes an instant fascination to the scarred Agatha, as her own mother died in a fire, therefore Havana sees Agatha as a means of confronting the spectral visions of her deceased mother (Sarah Gadon).

Cronenberg’s hyper-real fantasy Hollywood is one made up of recognisable figures and individuals plagued by their own pasts and their own sins, which manifest, at times, in the supernatural. This is a Hollywood-land that is both glamorous and repellent, with Cronenberg eager to delve deep beneath the covers of these celebrity archetypes that we can easily recognise in both modern and old celebrity culture. There is not one innocent amongst these characters, the closest to it being Robert Pattison’s struggling actor/writer cum-limo driver (no coincidence after Cosmopolis), even though by the end of the sordid affair he has been seduced by the ugly under-belly of deceiving celebrity personas.

The casting of this picture is pretty much impeccable. Moore, having won Best Actress at Cannes, is most certainly at her most committed here than she has been for a while. Imbuing her fading star with a teenage brat sensibility, her character of Havanna is the one who walks the tighest rope between satire and tragedy, and may draw comparisons to Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, although this comparison is cleverly Maps To The Stars-4twisted once we come to the character’s fate. Moore’s is the type of performance in which you can see every muscle aching and straining to deliver convincingly a character who is constantly on the edge of insanity. It may be too ‘out-there’ for Academy voters, but this will certainly stand as one of most impressive female performances of the year.

Elsewhere, Wasikowska continues to impress by selecting roles which put her through some very dark psychologies. Her Agatha has youthful exuberance at times, but is very much a volatile presence, with the sense that anything horrifying could occur should she stay around too long. Cusack and Williams are not quite given as much to do as the rest of the main cast, but they clearly understand the root of their character’s turmoils and exude a sense of dishonesty. The real surprise of the cast is Evan Bird. The young actor, who by no accident resembles a young Justin Timberlake, has perhaps the most interesting and recognisable archetype to play. His Bieber-esque teen brat is, on the surface, nothing more than that. But once we learn more about his up-bringing and what attention he receives from his over-bearing mother and negligent father paints him as a tragic figure of circumstance, making us think twice and check the facts before we begin to judge the actions of young child  stars. Maps To The Stars-3

This is a Hollywood no one would want to acknowledge exists. It is a twisted reality which does at times play a bit ridiculous, but due to the hyper-real nature of it all, Cronenberg somehow manages to make it all rather easy to swallow. That is, until we hit the final third of the film. The film quitely ticks away through the majority of the first and second act as it sets up its characters and their dynamics, but much like many of its players, the film itself seems to be only one step away from becoming dangerous and insane. When it does tip over the edge, the violence delivered is shocking, haunting, and nerve-shreddingly drawn out. Maps To The Stars is Cronenberg having fun again, once more messing with our perceptions and testing our limits and boundaries; an intoxicating experience.

4/5- Cronenberg’s Hollywood nightmare is a gleefully dark fable brought to vibrant life by an in-sync cast all on the top of their game.

Snack Time – Review Round Up!

I have let you all down again. I’ve dropped the ball considerably in regards to my blogging, a combination of seeing a lot of things and busying myself with the ever surmountable University work. Once again, it is not from lack of watching, please never attribute such a thing to me. Here are my mini reviews of some of the films I have caught in this late-Autumn period.

bad_grandpaJackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

The prospect of Bad Grandpa was not one that immediately thrilled me. In my opinion, Jackass died with Ryan Dunne. And I have not missed the films or the TV series, it had run its course. The idea of taking a sketch, Johnny Knoxville in prosthetics as a foul-mannered  OAP, and fleshing it out to a feature run-time was not one I initially warmed to. Frankly I thought it was stupid. But once the first trailer came out, my cynical mind was slightly swayed. The hybridization of traditional narrative and the Jackass aesthetic looked to be an interesting mix of styles, and it looked like the film had many a laugh to spare. I did eventually find myself in a cinema screen taking in the latest offering from the MTV grown Jackass. Much of what is worth seeing of Bad Grandpa has already been shown to you within the trailers, leaving a lack of many great surprises. But when it hits, it strikes the funny bone hard. Nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, but most definitely good for a far few chuckles. 3/5

counsellorThe Counsellor

Ridely Scott’s foray into the world of Cormac McCarthy is much less successful than the other stops we have made in the fever pit world of the Pulitzer Prize-Winning author. Lacking the wit of No Country For Old Men and the narrative power of The Road; The Counsellor none the less is one of the most bizarre and hypnotic films I have seen all year. But I would by no means recommend it. Following Michael Fassbender as the titular Counsellor, the film dives into a dark world of the US/Mexican border, as Fassbender finds himself on the wrong side of a powerful Mexican Drug Cartel. The performances rage from the dull (Cruz and Pitt), to the absolute down-right bonkers (Bardem and Diaz), but the power of the film comes from the strange atmosphere generated by the script. It never reaches its full potential however due to the haphazard way in which Scott chooses to stage the rather dialogue driven scenes. The film improves when it begins to work on a more visceral, shockingly violent level, but before that the film becomes a drag. However, the power of the screenplay (and it is exquisitely written) makes this film an intriguing oddity, but ultimately one that should have been a great deal better. 3/5  

DonJonDon Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt needs to stop being good at things. Seriously. He’s making us all look bad. The young actor, who with his easy going charisma, has charmed us many a time on the screen in the past, tries his hand at the writing and directing game with one of the most confident directorial debuts of recent memory. The story: Jon (JGL) only cares about a few things in his life; his ride, his body, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. When he begins to want a relationship outside of the realms of his laptop, he hopes the answer lies in the curvaciously sexy Barbara (Scarlett Johannson). But is she really the person who will give him the connection he craves? A lighter take on the subject of porn addiction, Don  Jon is an incredibly witty, hilarious and super stylish film. It may not do anything more than you’d expect it to, merely hitting beats very effectively, but hey, sometimes that’s all you need a film to do to impress. It is fun, breezy, and driven by a sharp satire on the modern man, while also being incredibly sexy to boot. And it also features Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on the soundtrack, extra points should always be given for that! 4/5

gravity-posterGravity

It is hard to know what to write about Gravity without it sounding like a regurgitation of what most people have said. It has been hailed as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of modern times, and without a doubt it is. Alfonso Cuaron’s space odyssey is beautiful and an innovation in every technological sense. Every movement and stunning long take is planned out meticulously and it is all rendered with gorgeous care and realism. Story-wise, it is less innovative. There is no innovation at all to be honest. It works with thread-bare, cliched details that offer you just enough to stay hooked, and enough for Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to wrangle with. This is a story about survival, and is more about the visceral experiences that come with that, rather then caring about narrative progression. I must say though, I have no desire to see this film again. For the simple reason being, I cannot see me enjoying it anymore than I did watching it in I-MAX 3-D. I think watching the film in any other format will merely diminish my love and respect for it as a film, and will only cause me to criticism its narrative workings more.  A profound film, that proves you do not need to have a 3 hour long running time to be considered epic. Gravity is a must-see experience. Just make sure you see it the right way. 5/5

CatchingFireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I, for one, was not the first Hunger Games’ biggest fan. As well as it did to establish the world, it suffered a great deal from cheap special effects, awkward direction, frustrating use of shaky cam, and rather dull performances. Fans of the book consoled me though in the fact that apparently the second book was much better than the first. That doesn’t always mean the film will be, but with The Hunger Games that is thankfully the case. With a more politically driven plot, Catching Fire does what a sequel should do; improve, improve, improve. Following Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on their victory tour of the Districts, we begin to see the revolutionary inspiration Katniss’ actions have had in this dystopian world. Wishing to destroy her image, President Snow (a suitably menacing Donald Sutherland), makes the 75th Annual Games a competition between previous victors of each District, throwing both Katniss and Peeta once again into a battle to the death. It is a good half an hour too-long, but it is a film of much more confident style (this time directed by Francis ‘I Am Legend’ Lawrence), which makes it much easier to sit through. The games themselves are much more insane and vividly designed, but it is the build up that impresses most, crafting a genuine sense of dread and tension as we move towards the games. I still have a problem performance wise; J-Law at times looks positively bored with the rather dull Katniss, while Hutcherson is once again lumbered with a one-dimensional role as Peeta. But there is plenty here to make one excited about the upcoming installments, even if it is another case of splitting one book needlessly into more than one film. 4/5

CarriePosterCarrie

I was tempted to write a full review for this most-recent take on the Stephen King novella, but I really do not have enough things to say, and frankly, it doesn’t deserve it. Telling the story of poor loner Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz), shielded from the world by her overtly-religious mother (Julianne Moore), who develops telekinetic powers, director Kimberley Pierce squanders our hopes of a (for once) decent horror remake. Instead, what we have is an uninspired retread of the Brian DePalma original, lacking any sense of originality, freshness, or reason to be in existence. You can tell you are in for a rather terrible movie at around the ten minute mark, which was when I decided to just kick back and let the train-wreck form. And hell, I’ll say it, I ended up having quite a bit of fun. It is a terrible film, make no doubt about it, but this 21st Century Carrie can join the ranks of films so terrible that you can’t help but laugh at them (the deal clincher has to be when Vampire Weekend crops up on the soundtrack). Despite stylish lashings of gore, the film is simply just a bit pointless, and surprisingly safe update of truly great material. Moretz, though she tries, is mis-cast, Julianne Moore hams it up so much you expect her to be walking around with a ring of Pineapple on her head, while the supporting cast are laughably atrocious (I’m looking at you Portia Doubleday). Uninspired, dull-looking, but rather fun to laugh at; Carrie 2.0 joins the steam-pile of horror remakes that are not worth your time. 2/5