Gerard Barrett’s new film Brain on Fire stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Susannah Cahalan, a journalist at the New York Post who suffers from an inexplicable illness that has her hearing voices, hallucinating, battling bouts of paranoia and lashing out during violent episodes.
Described as a a medical mystery psychological drama, the full cast includes Richard Armitage, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tyler Perry, Thomas Mann, Vincent Gale, Nicole LaPlaca, Navid Negahban, Agam Darshi, with an appearance by Jenny Slate
DIR/WRI: Olivier Assayas • PRO: Karl Baumgartner, Charles Gillibert, Thanassis Karathanos, Jean-Louis Porchet, Gérard Ruey • DOP: Yorick Le Saux • ED: Marion Monnier • CAST: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
In Olivier Assayas’s latest interrogation of the nature of performance and identity, Juliette Binoche fearlessly tackles the role of Maria Enders, a celebrated actress who comes face-to-face with several uncomfortable mirrors of her own personality. When Enders makes the fateful decision to accept the role of the older woman in a re-staging of the play that made her famous, with her own original part now taken by a Hollywood starlet, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), it would seem that the stage is set for a backstage showdown between maturity and youth. However, as the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that the greatest challenge to Enders’ sense of self may come, not from Jo-Ann, but from her own personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart).
Although the set-up is complex, Clouds of Sils Maria is Assayas at his most formally accessible. The running time is manageable, the narrative is linear, and the ragged jump-cuts that brought electricity to Irma Vep (1996) have been replaced with perfectly-judged fades to and from black. With the exception of one hallucinatory sequence on a foggy mountain road, the film has a calm surface, calibrated to showcase the uniformly strong performances.
As the veteran star facing an uncertain future, Binoche is completely arresting, minutely charting each ripple of doubt that disturbs Enders’ apparent self-confidence. The degree to which Binoche is (or is not) playing a version of herself is presumably intended to tantalise the audience, although it’s notable that Enders, who is splendidly dismissive of populist science-fiction, takes a harder line than Binoche, whose previous English-speaking role was in Godzilla (2014).
The film’s true revelation is Kristen Stewart, whose mumbled interiority proves remarkably complementary to Binoche’s regal bearing. More than earning her status as the first American to scoop a French Cesar award for Best Actress, Stewart makes something very real, and often quite poignant, of Valentine’s struggle with Enders, the friend/employer/idol, who both awes and stifles her. While Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska made a delightfully grotesque pantomime of the star/assistant relationship in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (2014), Assayas, Binoche and Stewart approach the same topic with greater analytical perception as well as greater sympathy.
Moretz has what is necessarily the smallest and most cartoonish of the lead roles, but she attacks it with gusto. Brief “found footage” glimpses of Jo-Ann’s near feral volatility are totally convincing, as is her honeyed poise at other moments. She and Binoche have a great scene late in the film when the gulf between Jo-Ann’s personae threatens, briefly, to close – although Assayas is, of course, too cool-headed to permit a full showbiz tantrum to appear in unmediated.
As much as Clouds of Sils Maria is about its central characters’ negotiation of “roles”, it’s also about the way in which Assayas tackles generic convention, inhabiting it while observing it from without. Clouds of Sils Maria is as much a backstage melodrama as Demonlover (2002) and Boarding Gate (2007) were “erotic thrillers” – that is to say, theoretically only. The result is that Clouds of Sils Maria can occasionally feel rather dry, with what would remain subtext in a film like All About Eve (1950) or The Star (1952) openly discussed between Assayas’s characters.
Although Clouds of Sils Maria is an unapologetically talky film, the good news is that the talk is consistently stimulating, especially when delivered by the unexpected but terrific pairing of Binoche and Stewart. Beyond that, by creating characters with self-awareness enough to elevate subtext to text, Assayas opens up the possibility for deeper, perhaps mythic, dimensions to exist in the unspoken realms of the film. Grander, intangible themes are persistently evoked by Assayas’s landscape shots of the Swiss Alps, a location as crisply bracing and coolly mysterious as the film itself.
DIR: Lynn Shelton • WRI: Andrea Seigel • PRO: Kevin Scott Frakes, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan, Myles Nestel, Raj Brinder Singh, Rosalie Swedlin • DOP: Benjamin Kasulke • ED: Nat Sanders • DES: John Lavin • MUS: Benjamin Gibbard • CAST: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Kaitlyn Dever, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper
Growing up is not an easy thing to accept, particularly when all those around you are blazing a trail in their lives and you seem to be looked upon as the unproductive one. This is the main focus of Lynn Shelton’s ninth feature film, as Megan (Keira Knightley) finds herself 28 going on 16. The film is interesting in that it is female-centred in a predominantly male-dominated genre (much like Bridesmaids from 2011).
The film follows Megan, a woman in her late twenties who has simply drifted through life, having all decisions made for her. This is thanks in no small part to the pampering she receives from her father (Jeff Garlin), who still employs her as a sign-holder. One of Megan’s friends is getting married and, while all her other friends have started families and got good jobs, Megan is still more than happy to continue living an uneventful life, and is still with her lovable but dim high school boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber). However, when he proposes, and she finds her father cheating, Megan’s world is rocked. Her safe haven of a world has been threatened, and she leaves.
In an attempt to recapture her adolescence, she buys alcohol for a group of teenagers, and becomes particularly close with the group’s leader, Annika (Moretz). Telling her boyfriend that she is attending a week-long, self-improvement seminar course, Megan stays in Annika’s to try to come to terms with the fact her fun-fuelled young days are over.
Shelton’s film is solid overall, particularly in the first half. Megan’s conundrum is something everyone can relate to at some point in their lives as the shackles of our ideal younger world are threatened by the looming presence of adulthood. What is undoubtedly the film’s strongest point is the outstanding acting performances by all the cast, particularly Knightley and Moretz. Considering the high-calibre films Knightley has featured in over the past decade, it is amazing how comfortable Moretz is alongside her on-screen, and she gives a truly compelling performance as the younger embodiment of Megan’s personality.
Knightley’s performance is also one of assured quality. She is remarkably suited to the role, and really lets the audience connect with the character. Even when Annika and her friends ask her to buy them alcohol, Megan is unsure as she isn’t comfortable being the older person, rather wanting to be the person having the alcohol bought for them. Another interesting scene is where she pretends to be Annika’s mother (who has left her father) at a teacher meeting and when Annika is being questioned about her ‘plan’, Megan realises she is no better than her.
Unfortunately, the film slightly falls apart in the latter half. Annika’s father (Sam Rockwell) seems unusually comfortable with having a complete stranger over ten years older than his daughter sleeping in her room. The film, while being intelligent in its opening, falls into typical clichés in its second half, and its ending can be predicted a good half an hour before the final credits roll. What promised to be an interesting premise was not built upon, and one really wonders if Megan’s decision at the end has really made her grow up, or will she now just fall back into a comfortable state of affairs again? It makes the viewer feel slightly cheated, but the film is worth it for the acting displays on show.
DIR: Antoine Fuqua • WRI: Richard Wenk • PRO: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Denzel Washington • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: John Refoua • DES: Naomi Shohan • MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams • CAST: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo
The Equalizer is in essence a reboot of the 1980s television show of the same time. The story follows McCall (not to be confused with McClane). McCall is a man with a mysterious government-tainted past who uses his unique set of skills to help those who could not escape the clutches of danger themselves. This movie reboot is significantly darker than its predecessor and Denzel Washington works hard to reinvent a much beloved character as his own.
Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) makes a strained attempt to move on from a mysterious past but can’t help but intervene when he uncovers a young woman Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) under the control of Russian gangsters. McCall vows to help her in whatever way he can -thus unleashing a protective fury that would probably make Liam Neeson blush
The Equalizer certainly doesn’t feel like your average TV cop show reboot and feels more like a welcome addition to the Bourne saga as we witness McCall’s inability to shake off a not-so-distant pass when faced with the peril of others. It is slightly jarring as we are so used to the comedic timing of a witty ex-cop John McClane archetype, that here Washington plays a somewhat introverted, more pensive and less charismatic character which takes the film from an average action thriller to a suspenseful character-driven narrative.
Personally speaking, I am notoriously squeamish and whilst The Equalizer is expectedly gory and explosive in parts, it only occasionally feels excessive as the viewer is brought straight back into the heart of the story through its fully developed three-dimensional characters. The downside to this being the fact that we are expecting an all-out action offensive, which does unfortunately mean that the switch to character-driven dramatic thriller makes the film seem overly long in parts.
Washington gives a good performance here as we have come to expect, but Chloe Grace Moretz steals the show in a role intended for someone much older. Her talent far belies her age as she strays far away from previous roles here. Moretz has already managed to avoid teen typecasting and has shown her strengths in a variety of roles this year, solidifying her status as one of today’s brightest young actresses.
Whilst The Equalizer is far from an inspired tale and may not stay with you for years to come, it certainly defies expectation. Once you’ve got yourself set up ready for a traditional fun brainless action movie, you might be surprised to find yourself sucked in with this suspenseful and engaging thriller with characters you realize you don’t really want to see blown up.
If that’s not a good endorsement for an action movie, I don’t know what is.
DIR: R.J. Cutler • WRI: Shauna Cross • PRO: Denise Di Novi, Alison Greenspan • ED: Keith Henderson • DOP: John de Borman • DES: Brent Thomas • MUS: Heitor Pereira • Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Stacy keach, Liana Liberato
If I Stay reminds one of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers in that it chooses to use a framing device that feels superfluous to the narrative. Its hospital-based scenes (the lens through which we view the central plot) underscore a rather lively and touching narrative, but the film could have stood alone on its central plot. While The Fault In Our Stars examined youth and illness with plenty of attention given to the tiny nuances of the experience, If I Stay prefers instead to offer its viewers gratuitous crying scenes in place of meaningful interaction. It is these post-death, emotion-laden scenes that feel manipulatively designed to provoke adolescent passion. There is an insincerity in these moments that cannot be overlooked. The Fault In Our Stars felt like it cared about its characters. If I Stay cares about them only enough to get a rise out of its audience.
Based on a young adult novel novel by Gayle Forman, the film follows Mia, the victim of a car accident, as she replays memories from her life and relationships. These memories are full of good dialogue and distinctive characters, recalling the likes of Juno. Like a novel written in the vernacular, the viewer must overcome initial resistance to the stylistics of both the dialogue and the cinematography and, when that is achieved, these elements become irresistable. Mia’s parents are memorable characters, and the tension between generations is nicely capsulated in Mia’s desire to play cello while her father remains an old-school punk rocker.
The film is visually striking, and offers claustrophobic spaces in which Mia plays out her relationships. Rather than appearing dreamlike, these flashback sequences are the most vivid and colourful of the film. It is almost a shame that the car accident plot exists at all, because during these flashbacks we witness dialogue so sharp and funny that the hospital scenes come across as variably dull and manipulative. This framing failure really cuts away at the heart of the film which, otherwise, might have been a pleasant film about music, relationships, and the generation gap.
Its narrative is fresh enough that the viewer can’t easily settle into predicting what will happen. There are enough original turns of phrase and new variations on interactions to make If I Stay an invigorating watch – more than your average blockbuster. That it comes from a young adult novel in a time when young adult novels are pushing the boat out further than perhaps any other form of literature is relevant, although If I Stay is one of the tamer books around. A lot of viewers misunderstood The Fault In Our Stars – thinking it to be a kind of cry-fest rather than a well-researched portrayal of illness as an identity – but If I Stay offers the kind of empty experience that was claimed for Fault.
So it’s enjoyable, fresh in many ways, but not particularly nuanced or interesting. Worth a watch.
DIR: Kimberly Peirce • WRI: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa • PRO: Kevin Misher • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Lee Percy, Nancy Richardson • DES: Carol Spier • MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort
There is no doubt that I was incredibly sceptical about the idea of a Carrie remake. Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Carrie – originally a novel by Stephen King – is a personal favourite. Undoubtedly creepy, the film – like many old horror classics – is perhaps made more pleasurable for a contemporary audience because of its camp qualities, owing to the time that has elapsed since it first appeared on screen. By today’s standards, immersed as we are in the horror generated by big-budget CGI affairs, De Palma’s Carrie seems quaint, and therefore – in my opinion – all the more enjoyable.
Although faithful to the narrative, director Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) spins Carrie in a slightly different direction which has equal potential to please or irritate audiences. The horror aspect of the original film is stripped away, and in its place we have the story of teen bullying and high-school politics. While Carrie has – at its most basic level – always been a story about bullying, this film takes it a step further. By focusing on how bullying is perpetuated through the use of social media, Carrie resonates poignantly with today’s society in which many teens are victims of assaults mediated by online outlets. If you think that the original film’s famous shower scene is uncomfortable viewing, just add a smart-phone and it takes on a whole new level of vicious realism. By contemporising the film in this way, Carrie is made fresher and more appealing for a younger audience, although its infidelity to the horror conventions deployed in the original will not please old-school Carrie fans.
Chloë Grace Moretz – no stranger to the odd remake (think 2010’s Let Me In) – plays the protagonist. While certainly not as creepy and delightfully off-putting as Sissy Spacek’s depiction of Carrie, Moretz – with her wide-eyed innocence and youthful face – works extremely well in the role of a high-school teenager. Although technically just as pretty as the other girls, Moretz’s body language signifies the awkwardness of those in-between years, and a scene which takes place in a swimming pool at the beginning of the film poignantly encapsulates the alienating experience that outsiders like Carrie encounter in school.
However, the depiction of Carrie’s deranged mother Margaret White is disappointing. While the casting is perfect (who doesn’t love Julianne Moore?) it is a pity that although the film succeeds at modernising the characters and scenarios in Carrie, Margaret White remains relatively unchanged. While it is imperative that she is a creepy and sinister figure (as this is a large part of the story), it seems a shame that there is less of a creative re-imagining of her character than there is with the rest of the cast. Indeed, the film differentiates itself from the original by fleshing out high-school girls Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), which gives the film an interesting depth. Unfortunately, and despite her acting abilities, Moore’s dialogue seems to stem from the script of the original film, which ultimately feels disorientating in a context whereby there is an obvious attempt to breathe new life into something old.
2013’s Carrie works on a different level to its 1976 counterpart – as teen fare devoid of the horror and hysteria of the original – and will therefore make the story more accessible for a generation raised on Instagram. Whether that’s a good thing is perhaps debatable. Fans of the original will probably not be too impressed, but unfortunately this is somewhat inevitable when one chooses to remake an already much-loved film. They may not be laughing at you anymore Carrie. Arguably, they’ll be crying.
DIR/WRI: Jeff Wadlow • PRO: Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, Brad Pitt, David Reid • ED: Tim Maurice-Jones DOP: Eddie Hamilton DES: Russell De Rozario • CAST: Chloe Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, Clark Duke
Watch enough films and it’s hard not to predict the patterns in their plot, characters and just the general execution. In fact at time they are so goddamn unimaginative, you’ll swear you have already seen them (yeah, I’m looking at you, Identity Theft). But once every so often a movie will come out that provides that fantastically fresh twist on something familar and reminds you why you keep going to the cinema.
Kiss Ass was one of those films. It graced the big screen, just as those cheesetastic comic franchises were expelling the last of their death rattles, leaving the zombies and vampires to battle it out for box-office draws. Thoughtful and hilarious, Kick Ass effortlessly tackled all those tired formulas with razor-sharp wit and some of the best anti-heroes seen in a while; Red Mist, Nick Cage & Hit Girl. I’m not saying K.A. reinvented the wheel, but at the very least it pimped out the genre with some uniquely creative hubcaps.
Kick Ass 2 is nothing, I repeat NOTHING, like it’s predecessor. The dialogue is clunky, the exposition is lazy, little of importance is learned about these eccentric characters (except perhaps that Hit Girl is becoming a Hit Woman). The jokes are flat and mainly rely on exceptionally low-hanging fruit and the plot seems to be a made up of lazy clichés lifted from arguably better films (notably Watchmen and Spiderman). But what’s worse than everything listed above is that none of K.A.’s trademark irony or witty self-references made it into this sequel, which instead is doused in awkward earnestness.
What really gets my goat is that this film appears to take place in a parallel dimension to the original. In 2, Kick Ass himself has his proverbial socks knocked off when he’s invited to chill in his super-buddy’s fairly average basement, bearing in mind this is after he had previously hung out in Big Daddy’s epic war-lair. Also pretty early on in this movie he gets six shades of sh*te knocked out of him by a few thugs – when the last time we saw him, he was going badass on a mafia boss.
Look, the list of gripes I have with this film’s script would put the Simpsons‘ Comic-Book guy to shame; and presently I’m only one-third through it; the list, not the film. However even with sharper writing, it was unlikely that Kick Ass 2 was ever going to escape the shadow of its predecessor. In reality, especially when considering tone and theme, K.A.2 is a completely different film – that just so happens to feature the same actors.
It’s not all bad though; there’s no way of saying this without horrifying my mum, but the violence is outstanding. Just fantastic. Watching a young girl brutally murder baddies in increasingly inventive ways never gets old. Mother Russia, with her Hulk-like super strength, is one hell of a supervillian, with an honorable mention going to Jim Carrey for his interesting transformation as Colonel Stars and Stripes.
Although Kick Ass 2 frequently saunters into silly territory, overall it’s frantic, fun and fast-paced, and I’m not too big to admit to chortling a number of times. Low hanging fruit can still be funny.
DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: John Logan • PRO: Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee
Martin Scorsese’s latest film tells the tale of Hugo, a young boy, who loses his father and is taken in by his alcoholic Uncle. Seeking a substitute family he starts fixing things for the mob. He soon rises through the ranks earning himself the name ‘Hit-Man Hugo’. But his life of crime eventually catches up with him as the hit man himself becomes the target of a hit.
Well, not exactly – calling to mind that scene in The Sopranos where Christopher sees Martin Scorsese and yells ‘Marty! Kundan… I loved it!’ Scorsese veers off course and tackles a children’s film in 3D. Yet if truth be told it’s more a case of him taking Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and crafting a child’s adventure story into something that’s not necessarily for children and in doing so creates something much dearer to his heart than wiseguys and psychos – the magic of film itself.
Scorsese announces himself immediately in the film’s opening scene as his camera soars majestically over Paris and swoops breathtakingly through a train station, landing upon the eyes of the film’s titular hero.
Hugo (Asa Butterfield) has become an orphan and now lives secretly in the walls, passageways and ceilings of a 1930s Parisian railway station ensuring that its clocks tick tock. When he’s not on the job, he’s playing Dickens’ Oliver stealing what he can in the station in order to survive and to continue his work fixing a writing automaton his father left him, while all the time evading the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) – a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Officer Crabtree, the British spy posing as a policeman in Allo Allo – who’s determined to round up all the pesky orphans and send them off to the police station. Boo! Hiss!
Hugo gets into trouble with the station’s crusty, ill-tempered toyshop owner (Ben Kingsley) who confiscates his notebook which contain the plans for Hugo’s work fixing the automaton. In his desperate efforts to retain it, he chances upon Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and together they set off on a magical adventure. Their initial adventure soon gives way to something more than both of them could ever have imagined and this is where the film comes into its own – extending beyond its initial narrative to become a celebration of film itself.
The film looks absolutely beautiful, thanks to the ravishing production design of Dante Ferretti, Scorsese’s legendary companion and purveyor of lavish costume and sets. Added to this is the use of 3D, which for once is integral to the storytelling. The film speaks for itself and there’s no need to go into the plot details – all the better to discover it for yourself as Hugo and Isabelle do. Their adventure is ours. Such details function to provide Scorsese with the platform to engage in this eulogy for the wonder and magical quality of film and cinema, and testifies to Scorsese’s own ongoing vocation to preserve and restore old films himself and get them projected once again onto a cinema screen. The heart-shaped key that Hugo requires to operate his automaton is unashamedly symbolic of the director’s sentiments writing this passionate love letter to cinema.
Rated PG (see IFCO website for details) Hugo is released on 2nd December 2011