Berlin Syndrome

3.5 Stars

If you feel like having a sinking feeling in your stomach for close to two hours…

Clare (Teresa Palmer) is an Australian backpacking around Germany on her own. Her life is turned upside down when she meets a teacher named Andi (Max Riemelt) on the streets of Berlin.

From the start, Clare seems vulnerable as she is travelling solo, but there’s nothing to increase your concern for a character than to share similarities with them. As an Australian with my family over the other side of the world, I was able to relate to some extent. It didn’t hurt that Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt put in convincing performances as Clare and Andi.

Berlin Syndrome is actually an Australian-made film, but Clare is the only Australian character so it feels more like a German production.

The general plot is fairly predictable, but the film is very well executed and has a few nuances that give extra interest – such as Andi’s multi-faceted character. This makes it feel much more true-to-life whilst adding some uncertainty as to what might happen next. If not for lack of originality in the overall story, I would have given this at least 4 stars. All things considered, it lingers between 3.5 and 4.

Berlin Syndrome is released on DVD in Sweden on 18 September.

It

3 Stars

Good enough.

I was really hoping to be blown away by director Andy Muschietti’s incarnation of Stephen King’s classic novel. And while I can see that it really was necessary to bring it up to date with modern audiences, (check clips from the 1990 miniseries on YouTube and you’ll see how cheap and cheerful it looks!) and it did have a fair share of positive notes, on the whole it didn’t leave me feeling wowed.

It’s 1988 in the small town of Derry when Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) goes missing after being coaxed towards a drain by Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård). As other local children start to disappear, Bill and a group of friends band together to look for his lost sibling.

Bill Skarsgård is no doubt a fantastic actor and is completely transformed as Pennywise. But he lacks the same level of playfulness and aggression that helped to make Tim Curry’s version (from the 1990 adaptation) all the more terrifying. As with anything scary, there is often a lot more to be said for what you don’t see than what you do. I found two scenes in the film to be particularly creepy and neither of them had clear glimpses of Pennywise.

Sophia Lillis did a great job as the only girl in the group of friends, Beverly Marsh. She came across as natural and endearing.

It’s obvious even from the trailer that there are some similarities to ‘Stranger Things’, from the period in which it is set, right down to the cast including actor Finn Wolfhard. But it doesn’t have the same eerie vibe as Stranger Things – that would have added some extra points in my book.

Nonetheless, I appreciated that there was a good moral message – and if nothing else you can leave the cinema with something of value.

For those who are already hanging out for more, there will be a sequel!

It premieres in Sweden on 13 September.

The Beguiled

3 Stars

Textbook drama that writes out cheques its charm can’t cash.

It’s rare to see a film which can rely so heavily on mood and subtlty that it needs little else to appeal. Case in point was Lost In Translation, also directed by Sofia Coppola. What it lacked in storyline and dialogue it made up for in pure ambience. Even though The Beguiled does have a certain level of charm, it’s not in the realms of its predecessor so it ends up falling a bit flat.

Wounded soldier Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) is found in the woods and brought to the local girls school, headed up by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman). His presence starts to affect those around him, including teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and the …. student Alicia (Elle Fanning).

It’s actually an adaptation of a novel from 1966, and has already been made into a film in 1971, starring Clint Eastwood.

The film is undoubtedly pretty to look at, with great attention to detail, and I gave extra marks for this aspect. I was reminded of Picnic at Hanging Rock, which Coppola may have been inspired by. But the story is a bit too straightforward and simple to really get excited about. I had hoped for more intrigue and suspense.

The Beguiled premieres in Sweden on 1 September 2017.

My Cousin Rachel

3.5 Stars

Simultaneously cosy and uneasy.

My Cousin Rachel may well be the perfect film to watch on a rainy afternoon. In typical British-period-drama style it is beautifully shot and has great attention to detail. Adapted from a novel by Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca, The Birds), you can expect an equally suspenseful and bleak story.

Phillip (Sam Claflin) suspects foul play when his beloved cousin Ambrose dies abroad after marrying another of his cousins, Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Iain Glen (aka Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones) also stars as Phillip’s concerned godfather.

The plot does wind enough to keep you captivated and intrigued, but as with Du Maurier’s other stories, it’s more about the journey than the ending itself. Without giving too much away; I was anticipating a more satisfying ending than I got, but I was most certainly entertained regardless.

My Cousin Rachel premieres in Sweden on 25 August.

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.

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.

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.

Collateral Beauty

3 Stars

Manages to pull at the heartstrings, despite the fact that it’s a Will Smith movie.

Let’s face it, Will Smith’s likeability factor has plummeted since his early days in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It’s not for lack of acting skills – he just lacks the charm and charisma he once had. His role in Collateral Beauty is no exception, but in spite of this it still holds up as a decent film overall.

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Howard (Will Smith) is a key partner in a successful New York advertising agency until his world falls apart after the death of his only child. As he decends into deep depression, the firm is in danger of collapsing unless his business partner Whit (Edward Norton) and colleagues at the agency Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) can figure out to find a way to get through to him.

Edward Norton is one of my favourite actors, but I was most impressed with Dame Helen Mirren’s performance – her understated acting really carries things along and helps you to really get into the film.

You may be left scratching your head a bit at the end as it is left to the viewer’s imagination to determine exactly what has transpired. I’m not sure if this was tactical or just lazy script writing, but it didn’t seem to piece together as elegantly as it could have done. Nonetheless, there is a nice message in it – and if you’re willing to go with it you may end up teary-eyed as I did! There’s even a cosy Christmas vibe thrown in, which is most welcome but unfortunately loses some relevance for Swedish audiences seeing as it won’t be released here till next year.

Collateral Beauty premieres in Sweden on 4 January.

Snowden

3.5 Stars

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers in a film that everyone should see.

Snowden is a biopic covering the life of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
shortly before he joined the CIA, during the time he served as an NSA contractor, and when he broke the story to the world. You see his life as a whole – his experiences at work and how it affected the relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Many people already know the basics about Edward Snowden but not as many know about his personal life, so to see the full picture is especially interesting.

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Even though he may not seem outstanding in the trailer (actually, the trailer does not do the film justice at all), Joseph Gordon-Levitt does incredibly well. He is able to mimic Edward Snowden’s voice and mannerisms so well, that after 5-10 minutes of watching you can completely forget that he isn’t the actual Snowden and just sink into what’s going on.

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Accuracy can be an issue with biographical films. I feel shortchanged if I find out later that the story was fabricated. In this case, Edward Snowden himself has said that the film is “pretty accurate”. There is also the issue of predictability – it isn’t a work of fiction where anything could happen. This is overcome somewhat by the focus on life outside of work – a side which most people are unfamiliar with. Not only that – it’s shot in such a way that even in scenes where you know what happens you can still feel suspense and tension.

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Most importantly, Snowden brings the issue of online privacy rolling back into focus. We use devices on a daily basis and it’s easy to forget we should be aware of the implications of this. There’s a huge difference in hearing news reports and actually being presented the information in this way. There is a clear and important message here, yet it manages to stay entertaining and enjoyable as a film. I had a similar feeling after seeing ‘Spotlight’ – but even more so, seeing as this affects almost everyone.

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A certain politician is called to account – and not a politically correct callout by any means. I won’t name who it is because I don’t want to spoil the film, but I will say I respect the director Oliver Stone greatly for not being afraid to show someone popular in an unfavourable light.

Snowden premieres in Sweden on 16 September.

Hello, My Name Is Doris

3.5 Stars

Cute ‘n sweet

Sometimes a film is only as good as the strength of its main character. You care about what happens to them, and therefore you want to watch the movie. I’ve been completely turned off films simply because I found the main character irritating and difficult to relate to (Notably, Amélie and Into The Wild). This is where Hello, My name is Doris shines. Doris (Sally Field) is such a loveable and charismatic character, you can’t help but root for her.

There’s the saying ‘Age is just a number’, but when the age gap gets up to 30-something years, it starts to seem like it can only belong in the realms of fantasy. This is precisely what happens when Doris develops a major crush on the young new art director at her work, John Freemont (Max Greenfield).

This isn’t your usual mass-produced romantic comedy with Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, or equivalent. Sally Field is absolutely perfect in her role as the quirky Doris. Even though she is 69 years of age, she manages to put forth a youthful exuberance which makes her so endearing.

There are some amusing moments, but there isn’t much laugh-out-loud material here. It’s more of a light-hearted drama than a full-blown comedy. Yet at the same time there isn’t too much heavy material either. If you’re after a cup of hot cocoa and warm blanket movie on a Friday night, this is it!

Hello, My Name Is Doris premieres in Sweden on 27 May.