Review: By the Sea

bytheseajolie_pitt

 

DIR/WRI: Angelina Jolie • PRO: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie • DOP: Christian Berger • ED: Martin Pensa, Patricia Rommel • DES: Jon Hutman • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Mélanie Laurent

 

By the Sea, written and directed by Angelina Jolie-Pitt and starring both herself and her husband Brad Pitt, is the first time these two have been on-screen together since Mr. and Mrs. Smith a decade ago. This time their film tells the story of a deeply unhappy middle-aged married couple. Oh dear.

So as our story begins, Roland (Brad) and Vanessa (Angelina) are in the South of France for their second honeymoon, in what appears to be a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. He drinks too much and she spends too much time moping around, popping medicine and not eating anything. After a loooooooooooooong, sloooooooooooooooooow first act, a newly-wed couple is introduced, and it just so happens Mr. and Mrs. Just Married are in the room next to Roland and Vanessa, who soon discover a peep-hole which they can use to view them having sex, and from there things get even…. weirder.

Now if there’s one thing this film definitely has in its favour it’s that it can’t be faulted on a purely technical level. The locations are beautiful, and the cinematography, courtesy of DOP Christian Berger, is beautiful. The colour-palette is brilliant, adding to the atmosphere by showing us the world as seen by a depressive: dull, and nowhere near as vibrant or colourful as it usually is. On top of this the sound design is incredibly crisp and sharp, also adding to the immersion.

The acting from Pitt, Jolie and the supporting cast is on point and there’s an ambiguity to proceedings which works well. Usually in stories like this, the husband is framed as some brutish, insensitive oaf who doesn’t actually care for his wife, whereas here things aren’t that simple. Roland clearly cares deeply for his wife, and makes it clear with the little gestures he makes, such as when he straightens her glasses, and knows when she needs to be left alone. At the same time, it is clear that she has not made married life easy for him, and if we had had time to actually get to know the characters, I’m sure they would have been quite interesting.

The flashback snippets imply what may be causing her depression, and the claustrophobic cinematography in their bedroom conveys how  trapped she feels in there, trapped in her own depression.

Unfortunately, everything else about this film is plagued with problems. The film is a bundle of good ideas balanced by poor execution. The atmosphere-building is good, but there’s too much of it, and it soon wears itself out, then keeps going for good measure – and when the film finally gets to its emotional peak, it’s anti-climactic to say the least. Of course you need to take time to establish that the characters are depressed, but there’s a line between establishing a plot point and beating the audience over the head with it, and if you keep beating people over the head with the one and only good plot point you were able to come up with, then they’re going to get very bored very fast.

By the Sea wants to be a big, serious, dramatic, slow-paced mood-piece, but it doesn’t have enough ideas for a feature, and would have been much better off as a short film, and, as a result, it’s relentlessly padded to the point of monotony; its plot very loudly and dramatically goes absolutely nowhere; no-one’s character is developed in any way – not even the two leads, and when you can spend two hours with a character and know barely anything about them, then you know the writing has failed miserably.

 

Darren Beattie

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

By the Sea is released 11th December 2015

By the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

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Maleficent

Maleficent-Dream-Trailer-2014

DIR: Robert Stromberg • WRI: Linda Woolverton • PRO: Joe Roth, Scott Murray • ED: Dylan Cole, Gary Freeman • DOP. Dean Semler • DES: Chris Lebenzon, Richard Pearson • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Reilly, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville

‘Star power’ is a curious thing these days, selling more gossip magazines than movie tickets. In an era when franchises, reboots, prequels, sequels and spin-offs dominate the box office, established characters are more important than established actors in producing a hit. While Maleficent seems consistent with this trend at first, retelling the familiar story of Sleeping Beauty with the antagonistic dark fairy as protagonist, the film’s marketing tells another story. ‘Angelina Jolie is Maleficent’ scream the teaser trailers, with posters, banner pop-ups and bus panels solely focused on her name and darkly-horned, chiselled white head. Jolie, whose biggest role in recent years has been a voice in the Kung Fu Panda movies, could not make a more visible return to the big screen than as Maleficent, a larger-than-life presence with an iconic costume and an unmatched capacity for throwing shade.

Taking obvious cues from Wicked, with a nod to Snow White and the Huntsman and marching to the same beat as the phenomenal Frozen, Disney’s Maleficent capitalises on a desire for alternate perspectives on well-known stories, as well as a concurrent trend for difficult, anti-heroic protagonists whose chaotic evil ultimately restores the balance of a difficult world. The film opens with a young, spirited Maleficent ruling over an enchanted moor, the idyllic home of many a magical creature. When invading forces from a nearby kingdom threaten the harmony of her land, Maleficent’s forceful retaliation ultimately results in a devastating betrayal, triggering the chain of events familiar to audiences from Sleeping Beauty. The film recasts the evil spell cast on Princess Aurora (Fanning) as an act of revenge by Maleficent against the king (Copley), and follows the aftermath of this curse on Maleficent herself, the princess and her three fairy guardians (Staunton, Manville, Temple), and the princess’ father, King Stefan.

Maleficent is directed by Robert Stromberg, better known for his Oscar-winning work in visual effects and production design – his talents neither wasted nor unnoticed in how beautifully-rendered, shot and designed Maleficent is throughout. The world of the film, from the colourful, lively moor of Maleficent’s childhood to the grey, thorny forest after Stefan’s betrayal, is well-realised, and simpler moments like the ‘True Love’s Kiss’ are as quiet and visually simple as the battles or Maleficent’s spell-casting are over-the-top. Maleficent’s reveal at the christening, as well as her later appearance to Aurora in the forest, are glitteringly gothic and breathtakingly lovely, emphasised by Jolie’s cool performance and dangerous, velvety tones.

Jolie is pitch-perfect, in every wicked smile, agonised scream, and expression of concern, ranging from dispassionate to urgently needful. Her glowering at the adorable baby Aurora and later curt dismissal of her affection are highlights, with the growing affection she feels towards the child subtly progressed and played, even if it is loosely-motivated by the script. The film plays with her image too, with Jolie’s ground-sweeping gown inexplicably transformed into a catsuit by the time the action scenes roll around; and a curious line about how the man who loves her is willing to cast off the ring he wears just to hold her hand is interesting in the light of how she met her current beau.

Elsewhere, Elle Fanning is cheerful, bubbly and pretty, perfect for a princess, if rather vacant – the fairies wished for her to be beautiful and happy, but couldn’t they have wished for a personality, too? Speaking of the fairies, even if all three were combined into one fairy character, she’d still have little to do, but Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple  regardless do their best to be funny and charming. Sam Reilly as Maleficent’s shape-shifting minion, Dioval, is quietly impressive, while Sharlto Copley as Stefan (with, for some reason, a Scottish accent replacing his native South African tones) makes for an enjoyable villain. Not quite as deranged as his last bad-guy role in Elysium, Copley’s paranoia and blinkered bloodlust is convincing, if never very well-developed.

Credited to Linda Woolverton, with ten ‘based on’ credits from other sources, the greatest issue is the rather weak script. An inconsistency within the tone, structure, even the language used suggests either a great deal of revision or poor attention to detail.  Many threads feel unfinished or disorganised – the third fairy never grants Aurora a wish (no excuse for that lack of personality I joked about above); The fairies are sometimes interchangeably referred to as ‘pixies;’ and the motivation behind several key moments appears to serve the visuals rather than the plot. Most bafflingly, the final battle between Maleficent, Dioval and the King’s men takes place at an utterly needless time, when what they are fighting for is no longer really an issue, except the film needs an impressive climactic set-piece, and nobody pays to see peace in 3D.

Rather like Frozen, the ending of Maleficent contains a welcome, well-intentioned appeal to female solidarity and sorority, which is just grounded enough in the world of the film to succeed where other plot points fail to take hold. Even if the structure and focus of this film and its characters are easily confused or sacrificed to the visual splendour of its production, its premise and performances are strong, the lead performance particularly transcendental: Jolie really is magnificent as the malevolent Maleficent.

Stacy Grouden

PG (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Maleficent is released on 28th May 2014

Maleficent – Official Website

 

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The Tourist

The Tourist

DIR: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck • WRI: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes • PRO: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Ron Halpern, Tim Headington, Graham King • DOP: John Seale • ED: Joe Hutshing, Patricia Rommel • DES: Jon Hutman • CAST: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany

The Tourist has one of the most promising line-ups ever: featuring the talented Johnny Depp and the gorgeous Angelina Jolie, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), and written by both Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and the author of one of the greatest films of all time, Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects). However, even with all those gourmet Hollywood ingredients, this film is little more than greasy fast-food cinema.

An incredibly pretty film, The Tourist must have been funded almost entirely by Venice’s Tourism Board, as the sweeping shots of the city often take precedence over other silly little things – like character development or plot. The camera takes its time panning around posh hotel rooms and around lavish locations, instead of getting to the point and telling an actual story.

In an ‘homage’ to films from the ’50s and ’60s, the epic orchestral soundtrack plays constantly, trying in vain to add some lift to the flattest possible scenes, and instead gives a surreal and comical feeling to the film. It really is quite cringeworthy to listen to that OTT soundtrack climaxing away in the background as the two people on screen just sit down, eat some dinner and shoot the breeze.

The plot is just awful: like something that was written by a computer programme named ‘Screenwriting 101’. The completely unoriginal, boring characters plod along through a number of uninspired misadventures damaging a great deal of Venice’s infrastructure along the way.

The two leads might as well have been cousins, for all the chemistry that was between them. However, I did enjoy it when Angelina threw some pretty hilarious ‘shapes’ with her determined strutting. And the bad guy… what a character. He constantly tries to out-evil himself with some diabolically dastardly, diabolical dialogue: ‘I once murdered a pregnant waitress for putting too much pepper on my food.’ Good for you Reginald Shaw!

It’s not that The Tourist is the worst movie ever, it generally covers its bases: it’s vaguely entertaining, pretty to look at and is star-studded; it just so happens that its got all the emotional depth and intricacies of a slice of toast.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Tourist is released on 10th December 2010

www.thetourist-movie.com

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Salt

Salt

DIR: Phillip Noyce • WRI: Kurt Wimmer • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Sunil Perkash • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Stuart Baird, John Gilroy, Steven Kemper • DES: Scott Chambliss • CAST: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor

What is it with bad guys and back-seat driving? They’re always at it: ‘Go down that alley’; ‘Use the hard shoulder; ‘Run over those people’. I guess it’s one of those bad habits they pick up, like monologuing. I only mention it because Chiwetel Ejiofor can’t stop back-seat driving as he chases Angelina Jolie around the Eastern seaboard in Salt.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who has escaped from her employers who, luckily for her, run the least secure government building in the world. Seriously, a laptop in the backseat of a taxi is nothing compared to these guys. Anyway, she’s on the run because a defector (Daniel Olbrychski) has alleged that she is a Russian sleeper agent. So she sets out to prove her innocence, or rescue her husband, or perform her secret mission, basically she just jumps off things – off bridges, off moving vehicles, off bridges in moving vehicles.

Salt follows the spy movie handbook to the letter. Martial drums beat over the Columbia logo and we cut to a bleak Eastern bloc locale, people say things like ‘this man doesn’t exist’ when they mean ‘I can’t find his file’, there’s the obligatory hair dying scene, and the audience are expected to be on the edge of their seats watching coloured bars slowly filling up on computer monitors. This isn’t meant as a criticism, it’s actually all pretty good fun for the first half. It’s a like a big cheap knockoff of the high street spy franchises, The Bourne Identically if you will.

Of course, like almost every other summer blockbuster made in the last seven years, it outstays its welcome. Which is surprising because unlike those films it isn’t stultifying overlong. In fact it clocks in at a very disciplined 100 minutes, so it really has no excuse. The main reason is a plot that’s pretty shaky to begin with and totally loses the run of itself as Salt gets tangled up in a scheme to start a nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union (they’re baaack). It’s also due to the fact that the film looks a bit dull and cheap. Setting a spy thriller in what seems to be a succession of motorways in bleak midwinter isn’t exactly a recipe for excitement and a lot of the sets look like they were borrowed from a TV show with less then a tenth of Salt’s budget.

But Jolie is good fun as Salt and the character herself is an excellent creation. This is a woman who can steal a hat for an impromptu disguise and when we see her next she’s found a stole and pashmina to match. You do not wanna mess with her. There’s enough good stuff to build on that hopefully a sequel can focus on what the genre is really about: silly hats and jumping off stuff.

Geoff McEvoy

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Salt
is released on 20th August 2010

Salt Official Website

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Changeling

Changeling
Changeling

DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: J. Michael Straczynski • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Joel Cox, Gary Roach • DES: James J. Murakami • CAST: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore

Angelina Jolie stars in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial masterpiece, Changeling, as Christine Collins, a single mother in 1920s Los Angeles whose son goes missing. A corrupt, misogynistic police department answers her hopeful prayers by returning to her a boy they claim to be her son. Fishing for much needed praise from hovering press agents, the police captain is momentarily able to silence Christine’s protest that this boy is, in fact, not her missing son. Based on a true story, Christine’s struggle to find her missing boy lands her smack in the middle of a battle between her drive to be reunited with her family and the police departments’ nefarious efforts to silence her before the embarrassing truth of their mistake can come to light. Jolie’s brilliantly emotive performance turns this drama-cum-thriller into an Oscar®-worthy contribution to ‘stranger than fiction’ historical cinema.

Harkening back to Hollywood’s golden age of epic melodramas, untouchable starlets and the American auteur, Eastwood creates a visual atmosphere that is both fresh and antique. Even as the film opens, the old black and white Universal Studios symbol from the 1930s greets the viewer, followed by an intriguing slow pan over neighbourhood streets. Slow moving model-T’s and the cable cars of LA line the tree shrouded roadway as soft colour begins to filter in giving the mood of the film a soft Technicolor glow. Together with the sweetness of old, Eastwood remains a recognizably styled filmmaker, marking his work with a rawness too contemporary to be mistaken for classic Hollywood.

Eastwood is known for his ‘actor first’ directorial perspective, directing films as he would want to be directed if he were the actor. Often, scenes are unrehearsed and wrapped in one take. The result of this method is a dynamic realness and humanity perhaps lost on over perfected productions.

In the Changeling, Jolie bares her very soul in the unguarded and honest way typical of her performance style but also of Eastwood’s methods. Jolie, who would already be considered American royalty, much like Hollywood starlets of yesteryear, is postured through out the film in facial close-ups, much like her royal predecessors. Lit like a visual song that only cinema can seem to capture, Jolie’s face tells the story of Christine Collins’ strength, suffering and hope. While in the golden age of cinema, a starlet needed to be fresh and youthful, Eastwood is more interested in gritty reality rather than glossy, imposed beautification. Jolie appears haggard, tired and imperfect as she suffers, though this is not exaggerated either.

From Unforgiven to Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood has found compelling stories of feminine inequality more than just a brave subtext. Eastwood’s women are allegories for rebellion against the expected roles that women have played or been forced to play in an unequal and unjust past. Changeling is a tribute to an obscure and forgotten heroine who brought down a corrupt infrastructure by refusing to accept the label of a foolish, emotional woman. Much like Eastwood’s directorial style, the truth of Christine Collins is much more pertinent than anything that could have been imagined.

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