Tulip Fever

2.5 Stars

Like a livelier, yet absurd version of Girl with a Pearl Earring.

There are some major similarities between Tulip Fever and Girl with a Pearl Earring – both are set in 17th century Holland, involve a portrait painter, and star a beautiful and talented young actress of the day. However compared with its slow-moving yet authentic predecessor, the tale of Tulip Fever is much too far-fetched to be taken seriously.

Orphan Sophia (Alicia Vikander) marries the considerably older Cornelis Sandvoort (Christopher Waltz) as part of a deal in order to leave the orphanage where she lives and send her siblings to live with relatives abroad. Out of obligation to her husband, Sophia does her best to be a good wife in spite of having no feelings for him. That is, until the young artist Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) is commissioned to paint their portrait.

Alicia Vikander is no doubt a talent, but I feel she was miscast in this role as she is much too stiff to display a compelling amount of emotion. The same goes for Dane DeHaan. What could have been a very special and fascinating relationship between the two characters comes across as mundane and boring. Christopher Waltz is his usual unnerving self and does very well with what he has to work with. Judi Dench is absolutely spot-on in her minor role as the orphanage nun.

On the one hand it’s good that the plot doesn’t just stay in one place – it does twist and turn. However some of the storyline seemed to go completely against the nature of the characters and what they would have done in certain situations.

I can’t fault the costumes and sets, the way it was shot and the overall feel of the film which i’m sure has taken inspiration from paintings of the Dutch masters. However these things don’t do enough to make up for the weaker aspects of the film.

Tulip Fever premieres in Sweden on 14 July.

Get Out

4.5 Stars

This unlikely mix of horror-thriller and comedy is pure brilliance!

Since the disappointing plot of A Cure For Wellness in February, I have been hanging out for a thriller that absolutely delivers – and I seem to have gotten my wish far sooner than expected. Writer, producer and director Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele and Keanu fame) is an absolute genius to marry these two genres together with such ease in his directing debut. The humor ends up being a perfect antidote to the very serious and sinister story as it unfolds.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) have travelled out to stay with Rose’s Mum (Catherine Keener), Dad (Bradley Whitford) and brother (Caleb Landry Jones) for the first time as a couple. The already apprehensive situation of meeting her folks is compounded by the fact that he is of African-American descent. And why are the cook and groundskeeper are acting so peculiarly?

I have so many good things to say about this film. The acting overall is really impressive. Daniel Kaluuya gives a remarkable and emotional performance, which I think makes a huge difference to the realism and impact of what happens. You would never know he’s actually British, his American accent is flawless. LilRel Howery provides much of the comic relief as Chris’s friend Rod and is laugh-out-loud funny.

It’s a breath of fresh air these days when a film can stand on its own two feet without any big name actors, acclaimed directors, or franchises behind it to justify its presence.

Rewatchability is very important to me and Get Out is certainly a film I could watch over again. It’s the kind of film you’d like to watch again with someone who hasn’t seen it, so you can clock their reaction.

Get Out gives the cliché line “If you only see one movie this year…” relevance. Probably the best film i’ve seen since reviewing films for Siaeva. But don’t just take my word for it, my fellow critics gave it a round of applause at the end of the press screening!

Get Out premieres in Sweden on 19 April.

Ghost in the Shell

3.5 Stars

A decent blockbuster, but don’t expect to be blown away.

Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) is the first successfully built cyborg of her kind. With a human brain and a robotic shell, she has been specially developed by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) as a useful tool for the government’s counter cyber-terrorism unit. Alongside her team member Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and under command of Chief Arumaki (Takeshi Kitano), she is tasked to get to the bottom of a new and powerful hacker who has emerged.

I preferred this version to the anime film from 1995 because it’s far less ambiguous and easy to follow. This does mean it lacks a certain mystery in comparison with the original, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for folks like me who aren’t intrigued enough to watch it multiple times in order to understand the plot. This is certainly more catering to the masses.

Johansson and Asbæk were well cast in staying true to the character traits established in the original film. The futuristic Tokyo cityscape they have created is visually stunning, except on the big screen the cgi graphics are too low quality to really knock your socks off.

All-in-all a good and entertaining film – nothing more, nothing less.

Ghost in the Shell premieres in Sweden on 31 March.

A Cure For Wellness

2.5 Stars

A poor man’s Shutter Island, overcompensated by far too many plot twists.

I really enjoyed Shutter Island so I was interested to see this as it looked like a similar concept… sadly, it falls way short.

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a brash young executive who has been sent by his colleagues to a rehabilitation center in Switzerland to bring back Pembroke (Harry Groener), in order to secure a business merger – but bringing him back becomes much harder than he imagined.

What starts out as a promising and intriguing tale with a beautiful backdrop of the Swiss alps, ends up in a whirlwind of horror clichés. I love a good plot twist, but this plot twists back and forth so many times you just want to slam on the breaks. There really is such a thing as ‘too much of a good thing’.

I’m not sure if the story is just not expressed well enough or if it literally didn’t make sense, but several times near the end I felt like I needed to consult a second party to explain what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, i’ve seen films where confusion has actually built more suspense; but this was confusing to the point where you start to lose interest.

On the plus side, it does give you an uneasy feeling which stays with you after you have left the cinema. I always appreciate films that can give you an ongoing experience after you’ve seen them, even if unpleasant.

The film really does have all the ingredients for a top-shelf thriller, it’s just the storyline which lets it down greatly.

A Cure For Wellness premieres in Sweden on 17 February.

David Lynch – The Art Life

3 Stars

A dose of inspiration and an art gallery in one.

David Lynch – The Art Life isn’t just for David Lynch fans, but for all creatives. There’s nothing like seeing someone with such passion for their work to get you itching to start new projects yourself.

This Kickstarter-funded film is very much a documentary’s documentary, clocking only 90 minutes in length. I’m sure many know Lynch predominantly for television and film work; but for those who haven’t seen his multimedia paintings and illustrations they are just as wonderfully disturbing and this is worth checking out just for the art alone.

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You might think from the darkness he manages to conjure up through his work and art that Lynch was from a broken home or had a traumatic childhood, but this was actually not the case. In fact his life story isn’t especially eventful and perhaps this is why it took so long to be told in the first place. But the spotlight is always brought back to the art life, as Lynch himself describes: art, coffee and cigarettes.

The story ends quite abruptly after we reach the point where Lynch has shot his first feature-length film, Eraserhead. I suppose the die-hard fans whom this is targeted towards already know the rest from that point onwards, but I would still have liked to know his thoughts on how his life changed after he tasted success.

I’m not sure if others will find this as inspiring as I did; it made me want to start up all the creative endeavours I had let slide. But there’s one thing I know for sure: this is one incredibly cool 70-year-old!

David Lynch – The Art Life premieres in Sweden on 14 April.

Split

4 Stars

One of those rare, good-quality horror flicks.

Split should satisfy both horror and thriller fans, and most certainly M. Night Shyamalan fans will see this as a strong return to form.

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Teen classmates Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lou Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), who suffers from Disassociative Identity Disorder. With 23 different personalities and talk of a frightening new personality to soon show himself, the girls must try to find a way to escape.

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James McAvoy does an amazing job at projecting Kevin’s different personalities with clarity and ease; in some scenes doing one after the other. Anya Taylor-Joy does well as the troubled Casey but I wish she didn’t remind me so much of Kendall Jenner as I think I could have warmed to her character a bit more otherwise.

Disassociative Identity Disorder is an extremely interesting subject in and of itself, and this gives it an extra dimension when compared to a bog-standard horror film.

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As director, producer and writer of the film, Shyamalan is in full knowledge that his audience will be expecting plot twists. He doesn’t disappoint here, you may even find yourself being double-bluffed as I did!

The film is probably more of a 3.8 than a 4, but i’ve rounded it up for simplicity’s sake.

Split premieres in Sweden on 20 January.

Jackie

1.5 Stars

For the most part sleep-inducingly boring, Jackie has a few fleeting moments of brilliance.

JFK (Caspar Phillipson) has recently been shot dead, and Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is recounting recent events to a journalist (Billy Crudup).

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Limiting the timeline of events to shortly before and after JFK’s death, there is so little story to work with. Perhaps the makers wanted to avoid copying too much from the 2011 miniseries The Kennedys, starring Katie Holmes. However the lack of material brings all focus in on Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy.

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Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie has its good points and bad points. Impersonations aside, she brings her acting chops into play. Especially in one harrowing scene, where Jackie has the heart-wrenching task of wiping her face of the remains from the gunshot that just killed her husband. But convincingly mimicking the former first lady for the full film is beyond her. She manages to get glimpses of Jackie at best. For one she simply doesn’t look enough like her. But it’s the inconsistency of her vocal performance which is the major flaw. Sometimes it sounds remarkably good and sometimes it sounds forced or exaggerated. This makes quite a big difference – rather than being able to forget about the voice and move on, you are constantly reminded that this is Natalie Portman doing her best Jackie Kennedy impression.

The casting department at least did well finding decent lookalikes for JFK and Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard). The costumes and overall feel is also very well done. Unfortunately the bad points outweigh the good by a long way here.

Jackie premieres in Sweden on 3 February.

Why Him?

2 Stars

First-rate actors in a second-rate film.

Come on, Bryan Cranston, James Franco and Keegan-Michael Key – what were you thinking? It’s a crying shame that this group of fine actors would sink so low as to appear in this. I can’t imagine how much of a dud it could have been without them.

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Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is dating millionaire gaming tycoon Laird (James Franco) and it is finally time to introduce him to her father Ned (Bryan Cranston) and family at Laird’s mansion. Together they are like chalk and cheese; Laird’s unconventional nature and penchant for curse words drives Ned crazy, in spite of the fact that Laird is hell-bent on making a good impression. German estate manager Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) adds an extra dose of whacky to proceedings.

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Understandably there is a clash of personalities but it doesn’t make much sense that Ned is completely unimpressed by the fact that his daughter is dating someone who could afford to provide and look after her every want and need. Surely this is something that a father ought to be elated about?

Let’s be honest, this is a film that never needed to be made. If you really fancy watching a movie about a disapproving father, watch Meet the Parents.

The trailer is a pretty good indication of what you’re in for. Why Him? premieres in Sweden on 25 December.

Passengers

4 Stars

Decent, but had even greater potential.

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Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are passengers on board a start-of-the-art spaceship ‘The Starship Avalon’, travelling from Earth to inhabit a new colony planet. 30 years into the 120 year journey, a malfunction in the ship causes Jim’s hibernation pod to open too early. Unable to reset the pod, and with only an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) for company, Jim must consider his options.

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The prospect of being stuck on a spaceship hurtling through space alone with no hope of escape is a really interesting premise; reminiscent of Alien and Moon. This makes for a really strong start to the film. Passengers starts out in sci-fi thriller territory but unexpectedly ends up in romance, somewhat killing the tension that had been built up. Luckily there are just enough plot twists to keep you entertained regardless. Although if I had a choice, I would have preferred things to remain in the same vein throughout. There was potential there for a far more intense (and less cheesy) storyline.

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Chris Pratt is perfect as the regular, down-to-earth guy Jim. This takes up the slack for Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora, who is a little more up tight and therefore harder to relate to. The Starship Avalon is almost a character in itself, with its hi-tech automated messages and assistant holograms. The vastness of the unpopulated ship helps to give an eerie feeling, similar to the hotel in The Shining. Yet its luxurious design scheme adds so much to the overall look and vibe of the film.

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Finally, It’s nice to see a big budget film come out that isn’t part of an existing franchise! Passengers premieres in Sweden on 21 December.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

3.5 Stars

Slightly better than The Force Awakens.

For those who are unaware, Rogue One is actually a Star Wars Anthology film – a standalone story which is set within the Star Wars universe; but not part of the sequel trilogy. This means the main characters from other Star Wars movies are largely left out.

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The story centers around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who are on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star – a superweapon developed by the Galactic Empire with the capability of destroying entire planets.

From the locations and sets to the costumed background characters and aliens, the Star Wars universe has been utilised to full effect with beautiful results. There are many visually stunning scenes.

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It is actually refreshing the fact that this is a standalone movie that hasn’t been stretched out or watered down in order to fit into a set number of installments. I think this is what makes it superior to The Force Awakens, it feels more complete.

The story is a little complex and difficult to follow at first, but don’t stress – as the film folds out everything starts to become clear and make sense. It can be a little confusing when place names sound like character names and vice versa!

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My misgivings about Rogue One largely center around the lacklustre lead characters. It’s not that there is anything ‘wrong’ with them as such, they just can’t hold a candle to the likes of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Princess Leia or even Queen Amidala in terms of likeability and charisma. Jyn Erso’s character doesn’t feel fresh, as her look and personality traits are much like Rey from The Force Awakens – she might as well be the same person. This lack in strength of the new characters becomes further apparent when Darth Vader makes a brief but welcome appearance in a couple of scenes.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story premieres in Sweden on 14 December.