Archive for the Compelling Cinema Category

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, British Horror, Compelling Cinema, Enigmatic Films, Giallo, Independent Cinema, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Horror, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2013 by knifefighter

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The sense of atmosphere in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is so thick, you could chop it with a machete, and that’s a big part of what makes it so fascinating. More a character study (and a study of a specific time and place in film history) than an outright horror movie, Peter Strickland’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO nonetheless has a pervading, unsettling mood throughout.

Toby Jones (probably best known for playing Truman Capote in 2006’s INFAMOUS) plays Gilderoy, a mild-mannered Englishman who seems to have mostly done sound for children’s shows and nature programs back home, is somehow plucked from his small existence and inserted into an Italian horror movie studio. The vibe is completely 1970s, at the high of the giallo craze. Gilderoy is a fish out of water, and there’s more than a little Kafka in his situation. Many of his co-workers do not speak English. Those who do, specifically the film’s producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and the mysterious director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino), are tall, intimidating men whose comments to Gilderoy can sometimes seem more like threats.

Gilderoy is not really sure why he was chosen for this project, especially based on his previous work, but, as Francesco tells him at one point, there are people dying to do his job for free, so he should be happy to do it. The implication being that he should be willing to do it for no money, which he isn’t. But trying to get reimbursed for his flight to Italy alone is an ongoing dilemma, as he keeps getting shuttled from Francesco, to his secretary Elena (Tonia Sotriopoulou), to the Accounting Department. It’s quite clear that the studio isn’t very eager to pay for anything unless it really has to. At one point, the guy in accounting tells Gilderoy that there was no record of a flight leaving England the time he said he flew, and that they cannot pay him back. By then, Gilderoy is so frustrated (since he clearly was on this supposedly non-existent flight!) that he begins to lose his cool, and the worm finally begins to turn.

For hardcore film fans, BERBERIAN is a fascinating look at a side of cinema we rarely see. Sure, we’ve seen the making of a film from the actors’ point of view, or the director’s, but this movie finally gives us entrée into the studio where the sound engineers and foley artists do their thing. We get to see which vegetables and fruits, when smashed or otherwise destroyed, make for the best sound effects, and how a scream can be amplified and manipulated to set your hair on end.

I thought the technical aspects in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO were fascinating. But I didn’t find much of a plot here. Not that this is particularly detrimental in BERBERIAN’s case. As his ordeal goes on, Gilderoy feels more and more cut off from the outside world, and the movie does a good job of making us feel as claustrophobic as he does. The only people he sees every day are Francesco and the other sound guys. Occasionally Santini stops by to strut around and tell Gilderoy how wonderful he is for the project (meanwhile laughing behind his back in Italian with Francesco). There are also actors and actresses who come and go, spending time in sound booths to either dub dialogue or make vocal sound effects. Or scream.

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It is one of the screaming actresses, Veronica (Susanna Cappellaro)  who befriends Gilderoy. She’s the only one who really seems interested in him as a person, and who confides in him that Santini has been sexually harassing her (as he seems to be doing with all his actresses, some of whom are more responsive to his advances), when he’s not treating her and her co-stars like garbage when they don’t scream just right for his satisfaction. She decides to get revenge on Santini and the production in a way that is very effective (if bloodless).

There are scenes of menace. One particular scene involves Gilderoy waking up to someone thrashing his door and wildly shaking the knob. When he grabs a knife to investigate, he wanders out into the hall, eventually finding himself in a screening room, where the projector starts running and plays footage on the wall behind him of everything that had just happened (inside his room!).

The film the crew is making, concerning 16th century witches who rise to fulfill a curse, and who are in the tunnels beneath an equestrian school—the Italian title translates as “The Equestrian Vortex—bares more than a passing resemblance to Dario Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA (1977), which involved witches and a girls’ dancing school. Of course, we do not see much footage from the film. Early on, we see the opening credits. But the rest of the time, we only know the story based on the recitation of lines by the actors in the sound booths.

Gilderoy is clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter of the film. Whether he is ripping radishes from their stems to replicate the sound of hair being torn from a witch’s head, or listening to women scream over and over (as they are forced to do retakes), he clearly is not thrilled with what he’s doing, even if he realizes it is a unique opportunity for someone who has only done sound for films for the telly back in England (and, despite his age, who still lives with him mum).

His only contact with his former life is in the form of letters from his mother, which start out mundane enough, and which get stranger as time goes on. When an actress recites the contents of one letter, line for line, in front of him, you know something sinister is afoot.

As he is forced to redo sound for scenes over and over, we start to wonder how long this job is going to last, and then wonder if he will ever be allowed to leave. We never see him go outside. He is either in the studio (which is most of the time), or in his room. If there is horror here, it’s the horror of being trapped in an unpleasant place without knowing if you’ll ever escape. Because the longer Gilderoy stays there, the more it seems he won’t be permitted to leave.

The cast is quite good, led by Jones, who is one of those gifted actors who, because of how he looks and sounds, will never be a traditional leading man, but who you want to see more of. Aside from playing Capote in INFAMOUS, Jones’s Hollywood career has amounted mostly to small roles as a character actor (like playing one of the commentators in THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012),  so it’s nice to see him take center stage again in this smaller, British production.

The emphasis on technical details and atmosphere and subtle menace makes this a little different from the usual horror-related film. As I said early on, it’s much more interested in giving us a glimpse into one man’s life than scaring us, but the sense of dread is strong here, and seems quite real.

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Director Strickland has created a unique film that reaches in the direction of art. While it won’t appeal to everyone (it does move at a slower pace than most summer blockbusters), the audience that will appreciate it will obviously have a good time with it. I know I did.

I give BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Note: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has been having a very brief run in arthouse theaters in some cities. It is also currently available on some cable OnDemand services)

LL Soares gives  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO ~three and a half knives.

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SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Bikini Girls, Compelling Cinema, Controverisal Films, Crime Films, Exploitation Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, Hot Chick Movies, Independent Cinema, James Franco, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by knifefighter

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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If you think this is going to be just another Spring Break teen sex comedy, then you are in for a surprise. SPRING BREAKERS is another kind of animal altogether, and it’s the kind of pop/art hybrid that will be playing at your local arthouse theater, as well as the nearby multiplex. The arthouse crowd will have some idea what they’re in for, as soon as they see the director’s name, Harmony Korine. The multiplex audience will have no clue, and might just get their heads blown.

So who is Harmoney Korine, you ask? Well, when he was 19, he wrote the screenplay for the movie KIDS (1995), still probably the most notorious project he’s been associated with. But he went on to become a director in his own right, with weirdo masterpieces under his belt like 1997’s GUMMO and 1999’s JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, two movies that will seriously screw with your head. The last movie of his I saw in a theater was 2007’s MISTER LONELY, which is about a Michael Jackson impersonator who goes to live on an island populated by nothing but celebrity impersonators, and there’s Werner Herzog as a skydiving priest. I think there were five people in the audience when I saw it. In contrast, the theater was pretty packed when I saw SPRING BREAKERS.

SPRING BREAKERS is an underground film with above-ground stars, and what an interesting collection of celebs we have.

The movie begins with four girls wanting to go to Spring Break and escape from their boring lives as hard-working college students, but they don’t have enough money for the trip. Fed up with being deprived of fun, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens, who your kids might know from Disney fare like 2006’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and the TV series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY), Brit (Ashley Benson, currently playing Hanna on the ABC FAMILY series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS)  and Cotty (Rachel Korine, who also happens to be Mrs. Harmony Korine, and who was in the previously mentioned MISTER LONELY, among other films), decide they are going to Florida for the time of their lives, no matter what. So they don some ski masks and rob the local chicken shack, armed with a realistic looking water pistol and a heavy duty hammer. They get enough money for the trip, and bring their virginal friend Faith (Selena Gomez, another Disney star, from the series THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE) along for the ride. Faith is sweet and religious and doesn’t seem like the other girls at all, but she goes along for the ride, even after she finds out how they got the money.

Once in sunny Florida, the girls go wild, and then some, everyone but Faith, who has some naïve idea of this being a chance to bond with her girlfriends, when the others are just thinking about drugs and sex and booze.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

When a particularly out-of-control party they are at gets busted by the cops, the girls end up in jail. Without money for bail, they are rescued by a rapper, drug dealer, and gun hoarder named Alien (James Franco, who we saw just a couple of weeks ago as OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). With his corn rows, tattoos and mouth grille, Franco is a force of nature here, and steals every scene he is in.

Alien (“My real name is Al, but I’m out of this world”) is so much the polar opposite of OZ that it’s amazing this is the same guy, and yet Franco works his magic without having to try. Just what does he want in return for springing these cute college girls from the hoosegow? Well, Faith gets so scared thinking about that one that she takes the next bus home (no big loss, since she was the least interesting girl anyway), and the other three find that chicken shack robbery to be just the start of their life of crime, as they take part in a violent crime spree, this time with Alien leading the way.

SPRING BREAKERS is chock full of bikinis, bongs and guns. There’s also lots of Spring Break nudity (although  Rachel Korine is the only one of the main girls to really let it all hang out), and violence. So if you go into the theater expecting to just see some typical drunken behavior, you’re going to be in for a surprise.

Korine’s direction (he also wrote the screenplay) is all quirky and cool, shooting some scenes in slow-motion with musical accompaniment by Skrillex (along with Cliff Martinez, they did the soundtrack). Mainstream audiences might be scratching their heads by the time the end credits roll, but I was completely hypnotized by this one. As a long time Korine fan, I would have seen this one anyway, but the added pleasure of a rip-roaring, bigger than life James Franco, and good performances by the girls, just multiplies the pleasures.

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The girls turn in good performances. I really liked Rachel Korine a lot  as Cotty, the most uninhibited one of the group, and Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens turn in super-intense performances as the two most violent ones, a dynamic duo who even scare Franco in one scene. (Hudgens may have gained fame on the Disney Channel, but she was also in the controversial movie THIRTEEN in 2003 and was in the slightly edgy but ultimately disappointing SUCKER PUNCH in 2011. So she’s not completely new to this “edgy” thing.  As for Benson, she’s my favorite of the female leads here, hands down).

By the time Alien starts taking the girls on missions to rob other college kids at gunpoint (and a wedding!), and Alien’s arch-enemy Archie (Gucci Mane) feels he needs to put Alien in his place and starts some violence that needs payback, we have reached the point of no return, and the drunken parties have become a faint memory, replaced by the barrel of an AK-47.

One especially fun (and demented) scene features the three bad girls in pink ski masks singing along with Alien (who is playing piano beside his swimming pool) as they do a group rendition of Britney Spears’ song “Everytime.”

If the Disney girls climbed aboard this project to change their images, they succeeded,  and Harmony Korine succeeded in churning out his first potential hit with mainstream audiences since he wrote KIDS back in the 90s. And like KIDSSPRING BREAKERS will probably seem like a horror flick to some parents (especially of daughters), a nightmare about what could happen during those Spring Break vacations.

SPRING BREAKERS is big and loud and out of control. And I found myself really digging it. In fact, this might just be my favorite movie of 2013 so far.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SPRING BREAKERS ~three and a half knives.

The Reassessment Files Look at EVENT HORIZON (1997)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Compelling Cinema, Ghosts!, Outer Space, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, Science Fiction, Space with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2013 by knifefighter

EVENT HORIZON (1997)
A Reassessment File
Review by: Paul McMahon

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There was a stretch of time after I got my own place that I reveled in free weekends. Such weekends didn’t happen often, but when they did I would celebrate by hitting the video store to load up on movies. Usually I crammed six movies between Friday night and Monday morning. I first saw EVENT HORIZON during the last of one of those marathons.

The movie didn’t stand out for me back then. It struck me as excessively weird and illogical in its execution. I’ve always regarded it as a broken film that should’ve been a whole lot better. The production values were impressive, however, and though at the time I wasn’t filtering my cinematic opinions through a ratings system, I imagine that if I had been, I’d have given it half a star. At the time, I walked away and didn’t give it another thought.

Fans of the movie exist, though. I’ve met a few of them. One or two were quite rabid in their defense of it, which made it a prime candidate for a reassessment. I toyed with the idea for a while, and recently stumbled across a copy buried in a $5.00 MOVIES box at the front of my grocery store. I took it as a sign that the time had come.

(Disclaimer: As with other Reassessment Files columns, this movie came out so long ago that I feel no need to avoid spoilers. If you haven’t seen it in the past fifteen years, I recommend you check it out before reading on.)

The movie kicks off with a text backstory detailing the history of the space ship EVENT HORIZON. She was launched in 2040 to “explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy,” but disappeared just beyond Neptune. We’re told it’s 2047.

Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill—star of one of last year’s Reassessment subjects, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, 1994) suffers a nightmare featuring the EVENT HORIZON and awakens surrounded by dozens of photos of the same woman. “I miss you,” he tells one of the pictures, and we know immediately his mental train’s running with at least a few wheels off the track. He boards a rescue ship, the Lewis and Clark, and the movie’s characters begin tucking themselves into stasis for the long trip to Neptune.

To float in stasis grav tanks, perchance to dream.

To float in stasis grav tanks…perchance to dream.

Once “the Clark” reaches its destination and the crew awakens from their grav tanks, Captain Miller (played by Laurence Fishburne, who recently completed a stint as Dr. Langston on CSI, and is cast as Perry White in the upcoming MAN OF STEEL, 2013) calls a meeting so Dr. Weir can fill the crew in on the real story behind the Event Horizon. “… it’s the culmination of a secret government project to create a spacecraft capable of faster-than-light flight.” Making this impossibility possible is Dr. Weir’s “Gravity Drive,” a device he himself designed and built. Problem was, when they activated it back in 2040, the Event Horizon disappeared without a trace. Now, apparently, it’s back and stuck in a decaying orbit around Neptune.

The Clark attaches to the Event Horizon and some of the rescue crew board to search for survivors. There are none. In some areas of the ship there are greenish blobs floating in the zero gravity. “There’s been a coolant leak,” says Justin (Jack Noseworthy, U-571, 2000) as he makes his way toward the engine to restore power. The Gravity Drive, a spinning gyroscope of metal plates, seems to liquefy and then sucks Justin inside. This causes an explosion that rips through the Lewis and Clark’s hull, compromising its atmosphere. The entire crew is ordered to suit up and board the Event Horizon. Meanwhile, Justin reappears from the gravity drive unconscious and unresponsive, though his vital signs remain stable.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you're in hell.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you’re in hell.

Work begins on trying to repair the Clark for the trip home, but when the gravity drive begins draining power from the Event Horizon, Dr. Weir climbs into the bowels of the machine to attempt a repair. As he tries to locate the problem, he hears a woman’s voice calling his name, and then the lights go out. “Captain Miller? I’ve got some problems here!” he yells. The lights blink back on and the woman from all the pictures at the beginning of the film is only inches away from Dr. Weir. “Be with me, Billy,” she says. “Forever!”

The cast is impressive. Laurence Fishburne is a former Oscar nominee for his portrayal of Ike Turner in 1993’s WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT. He gives a stellar performance here, as you would expect. Kathleen Quinlan (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, 2006) plays Med Tech Peters. She is also a former Oscar nominee for her work in 1995’s APOLLO 13. The rest of the cast includes Joely Richardson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2011, as well as the TV show NIP/TUCK), Richard Jones (COLLATERAL, 2004 and SUPER 8, 2011), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER series), and Sean Pertwee (DOG SOLDIERS, 2002). All of them give great performances.

The movie is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS PREDATOR fame. Apparently, Mr. Anderson turned down the opportunity to direct 2000’s X-MEN, opting instead for this “The Shining In Space” tale and the chance to deliver an R-rated horror movie. He handles the material very well, building suspense throughout while delivering subtle homages to popular haunted house movies, including THE HAUNTING (1963), Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980), and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979).

For my part, I accepted that re-watching the film with an eye toward glimpsing what people like about it would create the possibility that I would change my mind. I did not expect that my opinion would change as much as it did. I have completely re-written this column five times now. Every time I think it through, I find that I like the movie even more. I’ve watched it three times in the past week, letting other chores and expectations fall by the wayside.

I do recognize where EVENT HORIZON fell apart for me fifteen years ago. By the time Weir enters the workings of the Gravity Drive, other members of the crew have been reporting strange occurrences. Weir has scoffed at all of them, insisting that their experiences are imaginary. The moment fear enters his voice inside the Gravity Drive, we get that “Told You So” tingle because the skeptical fool is being confronted with the same phenomena he’s been discounting all along. In the very next scene, though, he’s back to insisting that nothing unusual is happening. Such an unexplained and illogical character turn leads to questions, such as: Has Weir been taken over by the ship? Has he been driven completely mad? Has he suffered such a traumatic shock that he’s blocked out the experience altogether? Or, remembering the nightmare that woke him in the opening shot, does he have some kind of psychic link with the ship? I think this psychic link is what the writer and the director were going for.

Also, with today’s technology it doesn’t take much to pause the film during the “glimpses of hell” montage so you can gape and squirm at the brilliant and intense practical make up effects that zip past the screen. Much of it betters horror images being released today.

This film surprised me completely. I remembered it as something very different, and I find myself wondering how I missed so much goodness back in the day. Maybe cramming so many films into a single weekend wasn’t the best choice after all. Be that as it may, I’m changing my rating of the film to an embarrassing degree.

Original assessment: half a star.
Reassessment: 3 and a half stars.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m going to watch this at least once more before I move on to the next film.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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SIDE EFFECTS (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Compelling Cinema, Medical Experiments!, Plot Twists, Psychological Thrillers, Steven Soderbergh, Thrillers with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SIDE EFFECTS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A hospital room.  MICHAEL ARRUDA , wearing a white lab coat and holding a chart, addresses a young woman.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  My chart says you’re feeling depressed.  Is that true?

WOMAN:  You’re the one holding the chart.  Shouldn’t you know what the chart says?

MA:  No, I meant, is it true that you’re depressed?

WOMAN:  Yes.  I’m depressed something awful.  It’s so bad that I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

MA:  Are you married?

WOMAN:  Yes.  Here’s a picture of my husband.  (Hands MA a picture of a shirtless hunk of a man.)

MA (looking at picture of hunky husband):  No wonder you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

WOMAN:  Can you help me?  Can you give me some pills or something?

MA:  Well, I’m supposed to, but we’re such a pill dependent society, I really wish we could try some natural remedies first.

WOMAN:  Do these natural remedies work?

MA: Well, no.  But these pills, they just have so many— side effects. (CUE dramatic music.)

WOMAN:  The last pills I took made me drowsy and I couldn’t stay awake.

MA:  Oh, that won’t happen.  My partner and associate can take care of that for you.

(Door bursts open, and L.L. SOARES enters the examination room, also wearing a lab coat.)

L.L. SOARES (looks at woman):  Is this the patient?

MA:  Yes, she’s afraid the pills will make her sleepy.

LS (leans closely into her face):  Look at me.  Take a good look at my face! (contorts his face into a horrifying scowl, causing the woman to recoil in terror.)  If you find yourself feeling sleepy, you’re gonna see my face!  Do you want to see my face?

WOMAN:  N-no.

LS: The second you start nodding off, I’ll be in your room, and you’re gonna have to deal with the likes of me!  Are you sleepy now?

WOMAN:  No!

LS:  Are the pills gonna make you sleepy later?

WOMAN:  Nooo!!!

LS: Good.  You’re cured.  You can go home now.  We’ll bill your insurance.

WOMAN:  Gee, thanks.  (Exits)

LS:  I should’ve been a doctor!

MA (shaking his head):  No, you shouldn’t.  Anyway, that was our last patient of the day.  Shall we review today’s movie?

LS:  Why, of course!  You start.  I need to wash up for this afternoon’s operation.  (starts washing blood off his hands.)

MA:  Operation?  Anyway, no matter.  Welcome folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we’re reviewing SIDE EFFECTS (2013), the latest thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, and rumor has it this will be Soderbergh’s last movie, as it’s been said that he plans to retire after this.

Not sure why.  Soderbergh’s not an old guy. He just turned 50.

LS: I think he has other interests and wants to pursue things other than movies. Which is too bad, because he’s so good at it.

MA:  I don’t know.  I’m hot and cold with Soderbergh’s body of work, mostly cold.

LS:  Not everything he does it great. But he does so many different kinds of movies—he’s just really interesting. You know you’re not going to always get the same old thing with Soderbergh.

Oh, and some people may notice that SIDE EFFECTS came out in theaters a week ago in most places. We would have reviewed it earlier, but we were buried under several feet of snow last weekend in New England, and some of us even lost power.

MA:   But you can’t keep a good Cinema Knife Fighter down!  So, here we are a week later with our SIDE EFFECTS review.

LS: Anything, so long as I don’t have to review BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.

MA: SIDE EFFECTS (2013) opens with a young woman Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) getting ready to re-start her life with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum, MAGIC MIKE himself), who has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for insider trading.  She should be ecstatic, right?  But she’s not.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as she finds herself dealing with serious depression, so serious that she attempts to kill herself by driving her car into a cement wall.

LS: Ouch!

MA: In the emergency room, where oddly, she has only received minor scratches and bruises, she meets psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  When she tells him about her depression, he agrees to treat her.  He prescribes an antidepressant medication for her, and when that doesn’t work, he decides to learn more about her history by contacting her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  Banks also happens to be a paid consultant for a new anti-depressant medication on the market, and he eventually puts Emily on this new medication.

One of the drawbacks of the medication is it makes Emily sleepy, and she sleepwalks.  No big deal, until the day when in a sleepwalking stupor she stabs and kills her husband.

LS: Oops, sorry honey!

MA: From this point, the movie switches gears dramatically.  First it deals with how responsible Emily may or not be for the crime, given her mental and drug induced state, and then, when the story breaks that Dr. Banks was the doctor who prescribed the medication for her, it moves towards the pressure Banks feels when suddenly everyone and their grandmother is painting him as an irresponsible psychiatrist.  Banks loses his job, his consulting gig, and eventually his wife and stepson leave him.

Finally, the film swerves yet again when Banks begins to investigate all that has happened, and begins to discover that things aren’t as they seem where his former patient is concerned.

LS: Yeah, this one definitely took some turns I wasn’t expecting. The first half or so of the movie seemed almost like a Public Service Announcement about the way this country over-prescribes medications for illnesses like depression, and how doctors are enticed by offers of big money to push specific brands. Also, you know those commercials for medications where they list side effects that go on for half an hour? That seemed like the inspiration for this movie. With all the side effects everything seems to have—it’s a wonder we trust any drugs at all.

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MA: SIDE EFFECTS is a thriller that had me early on but lost me midway through as it became more and more convoluted with an intricate plot that just didn’t work for me.  I liked the initial workings of the story, when it seemed this would be a tale about medicine gone wrong, and just who bears the responsibility for such a thing: the patient, the doctor who should have known better, who should have known exactly what it was he was prescribing, or the drug companies who produced the drug in the first place.  These thoughts are firmly rooted in reality.  We really are a drug dependent society, and this plot, had it remained firm to its roots, would have been a compelling drama.

But screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who also penned the screenplay for CONTAGION (2011), another Soderbergh thriller I didn’t like all that much, takes it in a different direction.  People suddenly have sinister ulterior motives, and these motivations and actions become more and more farfetched, to the point where near the end of the movie, I really didn’t believe everything that was going on.  The story definitely loses credibility towards the end, and as a result, its edge.

LS: Yeah, we’re in total disagreement on this one. The first half – for me – was kind of a drag. I mean, Emily’s story was kind of interesting, but overall, I felt like I’d seen this kind of thing before, and I was worried it might become a preachy diatribe against the pharmaceutical industry. That didn’t seem all that compelling to me.

Then, when things start to change and we realize there is so much more to the story—all of this deception and the twists—and it’s really a completely different kind of movie than we thought – that’s when I started to perk and the movie hooked me. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and how Jude Law’s Dr. Banks was going to recover his life and reputation after such a devastating event.

MA:  I didn’t find it preachy at all.  I found it interesting.  I guess I was enjoying the drama and wish it had played out that way, rather than turning into a thriller, which I found less realistic.

LS: I didn’t say it was preachy. I said, it seemed to be going in that direction. Then it didn’t.

MA: Well, another problem I had with SIDE EFFECTS is I didn’t like the characters.  Dr. Banks is probably the most likeable character in the film, but he grows less likeable as the movie goes on, as the methods he uses when he tries to clear his name are just as bad as those used by the people he’s trying to expose.

LS: I found him believable, because he based his decisions on logical reasons. His motivations made sense. This kind of thing could ruin his career completely, and yet, instead of just accepting his downfall, he is determined to do something about it, and I found that intriguing. I liked that he wasn’t completely likable. It made him seem more human to me.

MA: Emily isn’t likeable at all, and it’s hard to feel sympathy for her husband Martin who was convicted of insider trading and looks for all intents and purposes as if he’s about to follow the same path yet again.

LS: I think she’s likable early on, and kind of sad. She doesn’t stay as sympathetic, but I liked Rooney Mara’s performance.

MA: I agree with you there.  I liked Rooney Mara’s performance too.

And Jude Law is fine as Dr. Banks, but I enjoyed him more early on when I liked his character better.  Once he starts investigating Emily and her motives, he fluctuates between being obsessed and crazed. It’s hard to get excited about his efforts when he teeters on being psychologically imbalanced himself.

LS: But by seeming unbalanced it added to the dilemma. Is he a trustworthy protagonist? Should we be rooting for this guy? I liked that question mark, and I think Jude Law is, for the most part, a rather underrated actor. He’s good here.

MA: I enjoyed Rooney Mara best, and thought her performance as Emily was the strongest one in the movie.  It’s really difficult to read her.  Early on, she’s sympathetic, but later, like Law’s Dr. Banks, we’re uncertain what to make of her, and she’s less likeable because of it.  Still, it’s a strong performance, and while it’s not as compelling as her work in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) she succeeds in creating in Emily a woman who at first seems unstable but later is revealed to be very calculating.

LS: Yeah, let’s not say too much about that, but Mara is an actress to watch. I loved her in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and this role was very different, and I liked seeing her play someone so removed from Lisbeth Salander.

MA: On the other hand, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance as Dr. Victoria Siebert did nothing for me.  I didn’t buy into her character or her motivations.

LS: I disagree. I think Zeta-Jones is really a master when it comes to playing stone-cold ice queens who obviously want to control everything around them. I didn’t think her character was sympathetic, but then, she wasn’t meant to be. She was meant to be formidable, and in the scenes where Dr. Banks butts heads with her, Dr. Siebert is a believably formidable foe.

MA: She’s a corpse.  That’s how much life she gave her character.  I saw and heard her motivations, but I didn’t believe them.

Channing Tatum barely makes an impression as Emily’s husband Martin.  If anything, he succeeds in creating a character I didn’t like very much.

LS: I think Tatum is very likable as an actor, and I think that comes through here as well. But you’re right, he’s not given much to do, and it’s a mostly underwritten role.

MA: This movie did remind me somewhat of Soderbergh’s earlier effort CONTAGION.  Like that movie, there’s a disconnect here that prevents it from really resonating.  There’s also something sterile about the whole production, like a hospital room, that extinguishes any sort of passion one might feel towards its story and its characters.

LS: I didn’t see CONTAGION, but I think Soderbergh is a very capable filmmaker, whether he’s making multi-character blockbusters like TRAFFIC or smaller, tightly-wound thrillers like SIDE EFFECTS. I think he’s a really gifted director, and I hope he reconsiders his “early retirement” from the medium. I think the sometimes “sterile” feel of the movie actually added a tone and feel to the proceedings that worked for me. These are medical professionals who want to keep things “sterile” and safe for themselves, so that didn’t bother me.

MA: I enjoyed the first third of SIDE EFFECTS, but after that, the film started to lose me, as its plot became more convoluted and less believable.

LS: Yep, I think the opposite. I found the first half of the movie to be functional, but not very exciting. When things start to slowly reveal themselves, I found myself drawn into this smart, well-plotted thriller. I think a lot of our readers would really like this movie.

MA: I still say that SIDE EFFECTS starts out promising but doesn’t last, and like a medicine that doesn’t work, you won’t want to stay with it very long.

LS: I would prefer to describe it as a strong, effective medication that takes a little bit to get into your system and work. But once it’s activated, it keeps you glued to the screen.

MA: I give it two knives.

LS: I give it three knives.

MA: So that’s done. What should we do now?

LS: I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the hell out of here. Last time I checked, impersonating doctors is frowned upon.

MA (looks around):  Yeah, let’s get out of here.

(They run toward the elevator)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SIDE EFFECTS  ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives SIDE EFFECTS ~three knives.

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with JOSEPH BISHARA

Posted in 2013, 70s Horror, Aliens, Barry Dejasu Columns, Compelling Cinema, Demons, Evil Spirits, Indie Horror, Music for Film, Occult, Outer Space, Paranormal, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH BISHARA
By Barry Lee Dejasu

There’s a sound for everything, including fear.  Not everyone can hear those sounds, but for musical composers such as Joseph Bishara, it’s the very realm of inspiration.

Joseph Bishara

Joseph Bishara

A veteran of genre films since the late 1990s, Mr. Bishara’s work includes the scores to The Gravedancers (2006), the Night of the Demons remake (2009), and Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11 (2011).  He also served as producer on the soundtrack to REPO! The Genetic Opera (2008).

Mr. Bishara also made a bit of a splash in the horror scene with 2010’s Insidious, a tale of creeping menace from director James Wan (Saw, 2004 and Dead Silence, 2007).  With appropriately eerie musical touches, Mr. Bishara’s presence was heard—but he also took on another responsibility, namely acting, on-screen, as a scarlet-faced demon lurking in the shadows.

InsidiousUKPoster

Something unique for you amongst other composers is that you’ve appeared on-screen in the very movie you were scoring.  How did that come about?

Basically, James just asked me to do it one day, hanging out on a friend’s film set.  For some reason, he seemed to think it’d be a good thing.  It was a good experience.  It definitely was a fun thing to do.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Will you be involved in the recently-announced sequel to Insidous?

Yes, I’ll be involved.

What do you think was the most influential film upon your work?

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was an early influence on me; I first saw it on Super 8 film; I was probably eight years old.  That really stuck in my head, that imagery always really got to me.  The visual and sonic and whatever (other) creative stuff bleeds together into something that can affect things musically.

What was your first instance of noticing sound and music in movies?

Hmm.  I don’t know if I can recall the first, but I can definitely think of some early instances where my mind was pretty blown.  Some of the first sounds that really compelled me were the early synth sounds; Tangerine Dream, that kind of stuff.  I remember seeing Liquid Sky (1982), and thinking that one really stood out as like, “Holy shit, this is different, this is…wow.”  (laughs)  It’s this kind of off-beat little… New-York-alien-drugs-synth-heroin movie.  It’s worth a look (if you haven’t seen it).  Some really interesting synth work in that.  It’s a really unique electronic sound.

LiquidSkyPosterWould you say there’s a sort of “signature” to your sound?

It’s probably more audible to others than myself; I don’t really think about it too much.  It’s more of a feeling-response for these kinds of things.  It’s not really a… I’m sure something comes up that someone else might be able to point to; you could probably tell that better than I could.

What are some older/classic movie scores you’re into, or were influenced by?

I love the Howard Shore score to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); I think it’s fantastic, I love that, and Scanners (1981).  I loved that whole wave of Cronenberg films.  It’s just such a rich collaboration.

When you’re watching a movie that you’re working on, how does the score come to you?

I think I’m fortunate enough to get started on projects pretty early.  I’m usually thinking about projects from just talking about it or at script stage; it’s been pretty cool to work that way.  It can start anywhere.  Instrumentation is what seems to come to me first.  It can come off of anything in there; even a frequency range or a pitch; maybe it’s a way of the light that everything’ll grow out of.  The first exposure to the material you’ll get these splinters that stick (and) they grow into tumors, I guess, or something (laughs).

In a film like Insidious, so much silence is used to help set the mood or create tension.  How much input do you have about using silence?

That does come up, and I voice my opinion there with James; but we’re on the same page when it comes to being okay with a lot of quiet.  I like extreme dynamics; it sounds right to me.  I kind of like hearing things that are barely there.  It’s the kind of thing that the tendency is when something is quiet, (someone will want) to turn it up—but it’s like, “No-no-no, it’s quiet like that for a reason.”  It’s the finding attention to these little things that— It’s part of the palette, I guess, having the full range from barely-there to extremely loud.

This year also sees the release of Dark Skies, from director Scott Stewart (Priest, 2011 & Legion, 2009).  When you were watching the early cuts of Dark Skies, which musical/thematic approach did you have in mind, and what did you wind up creating? 

From the script, one overall idea that stood out was that of a stripping away of familiar context.  It became a fast process of getting into the energies and finding it, taking in the concepts and talking with Scott.  He was looking for a motivic, rather than thematic, approach, and that informed the composition process.

Unrecognizable sets of sounds comprise the palette, along with crystal bowls and an ensemble of viola, cello, and bassoon.

DarkSkiesPosterAnd how about with The Conjuring?

For whatever reason, I was hearing a brass clustering pretty early in response to the stuff.  Somehow, I just really wanted to hear this really quiet shimmering flutter-tongue brass effect.  For some reason, that’s what I was hearing; it started with that, and kind of grew from that.  It won’t be until (this) summer, but it’ll be out there soon.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

What are some other projects in the works for you?

(I’ll be) starting up Chapter 2 of The Devil’s Carnival (2012).  I’m not scoring, but I produce the music.  I did REPO! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival, so now there’s the second part of that.  I’m starting that very shortly here, so that’s going to probably (take up) the next little while.

What are some movies you’ve enjoyed recently?
Off the top of my head… There’s the Maniac remake (2012), A Serbian Film (2010), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012).

With any number of movies in various stages of production, if you had dibs on them all, which ones would you “jump at” the most?  For instance, there’s the new Star Wars movie…

I probably wouldn’t be a very good choice for that.  (laughs) I would make time for anything Lars von Trier was involved with, same for Gaspar Noé.  The Funhouse (1981) is a film I’ve always enjoyed, (and so) if a remake happens, I would be interested to see where it goes.

Would you use any unusual instruments or other approaches, if you had free range to do whatever you wanted, musically?

Probably.   I don’t think about it (in terms of) unusual instruments; there’s nothing really unusual in there to me, it’s just kind of whatever it is.  That said, I do enjoy experimenting with things, in finding the sounds that things make, whether (it’s their) intended purpose or not, or even with some more experimental art instruments.  There are some pretty radical electronics engineers out there with pretty neat art instruments that generate some pretty neat sounds.

If you had full freedom to do so, what are some already-existing movies you would want to newly score?
Wow, um…  Hmm.  That’s such an exercise to even think about.  As far as what I would bring to something, it would more be purely for enjoyment, I would think. It would be (less of) a creative thing, it would be more for fun.

I’ve been drawn to making a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari score; that wouldn’t really be replacing a score, since it was silent.  That was something I always wanted to do one day.

Nosferatu (1922), that would be cool. Any of the striking-visual stuff, just because that’s fun stuff. Santa Sangre (1989) definitely. How could you look at something like that and not have something to throw out (musically)? Häxan (1922) I could get into. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) definitely.

What music is out there now, be it popular or underground, that you enjoy (and may or may not influence your work)?

I like constantly listening to new stuff.  It really kind of comes and goes in waves.  It can be an electronic wave, which’ll go into a black metal wave, which’ll go into…some other weird genre metal stuff wave, and then back into ambient, and there’ll be a lot of variety.  These days, there’s a band called Crossover, they do some pretty cool stuff.  This guy Daniel Knox, a singer-songwriter, amazing.  I did just pick up this thing recently called Botanist; it’s basically black metal with a hammered dulcimer; pretty interesting sound.

What is it about horror, and genre films in general, that you’re so drawn to?

I don’t know if I can really answer that.  It’s just kind of…  It’s where I’m drawn, it’s what feels right.  It holds my interest.  I’m generally drawn to darker material.  It’s what I like.  I’ve always enjoyed horror and more extreme cinemas; that’s just what I like to watch.  That’s kind of the world I like to live in.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Dark Skies opens February 22nd.

The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two open this summer.

And to learn more about Joseph Bishara, go to his site.

Interview © Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on a True Story, Compelling Cinema, Espionage, Intense Movies, John Harvey Reviews, War Movies with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2013 by knifefighter

ZERO DARK THIRTY Provides a Taut, Heavy Military/Spy Drama
Review by John Harvey

zero-dark-thirty-poster

ZERO DARK THIRTY is on many levels not your average military/spy drama. Let’s start with the fact that we rarely see movies examining such complex, controversial, and historic events in such a short span of time after the event itself—Osama bin Laden’s death occurred on May 2, 2011. Normally, it takes many years, even decades, before we view history through the lens of filmmaking (at least with anything resembling accuracy). At that point, the specifics (and the key players) have aged enough for us to look at how events unfolded with a kind of clinical detachment. If we see things we don’t like, then it’s easy to say, “Well, that was another time.”

ZERO DARK THIRTY, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, doesn’t provide that luxury. Just a hair over 1 ½ years have passed since the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), more commonly known as Seal Team Six, choppered into Abbottabad, Pakistan, to kill Osama bin Laden. It can be assumed that many of the key players in that top secret operation are still in their jobs and the morally-questionable practices used during the hunt for bin Laden remain … well … morally questionable.

But we’ve apparently entered a time when details of top secret operations get leaked to the major news networks and published in books (written by DEVGRU operators) almost moments after the events themselves have transpired. Like it or not, ZERO DARK THIRTY is likely the start of a trend and not a one-off event.

The movie itself details the journey of a CIA analyst named Maya (Jessica Chastain), a green recruit stationed in Afghanistan who dedicates herself to finding bin Laden with what eventually becomes monomaniacal fervor. The very first scene is Maya shadowing a CIA interrogator named Dan (Jason Clarke … an amazing performance) as he waterboards and humiliates an al Qaeda money handler named Ammar (Reda Kateb). Scenes like this, and others in the film, pull no punches. The torture is brutal, visceral, and hard to watch. Within the narrative of the film, it’s also made clear that while torture didn’t provide US intelligence agencies with the magic key to finding bin Laden, it did provide helpful information.

And here is where you locate the core of the controversy surrounding the film. It’s well known that Mark Boal based his script on first-hand interviews with military and intelligence officials who took part in the search for bin Laden. While the film is still intended to be entertainment and consumed as a work of fiction, it’s a brand of fiction that likely hews close to the truth in areas. Which areas? Well, that’s unknown and that’s why a lot of people are upset.

I have seen news commentaries stating that ZERO DARK THIRTY seeks to capture a “red state” audience by endorsing torture as a means to gather good intelligence. I have seen news commentaries stating ZERO DARK THIRTY seeks to capture a “blue state” audience by portraying torture so graphically that it’s a testimonial against the practice. I have even read a news story stating that Bigelow and Boal cynically steered straight down the middle in a crass effort to capture both liberal hand-wringing moviegoers and fist-pumping conservative moviegoers.

Personally, I think they’re all wrong.

For me, these scenes pose a moral dilemma / question to each audience member.  The question boils down to whether or not you, the person sitting in the movie seat, want to be a citizen in a country that tortures … even if it works … especially if it works. One of the smartest yet frustrating aspects of ZERO DARK THIRTY is that it doesn’t try to spoon feed you an answer to that question. You’re on your own to sort it out during your drive home.

Looking past the torture scenes, ZERO DARK THIRTY provides a taut (though longish … 157 minutes) CIA tradecraft procedural that manages to be suspenseful even though you know how the movie ends. Without being boring, the movie makes you feel the tedium and the drag of time as Maya and her peers sift through data, follow leads, bluff, struggle against bureaucracy and politics, lose friends (sometimes tragically), and do it all to the occasional historic exclamation point of a building, bus, or market being bombed and innocent lives being lost. That’s the first two hours of the film. Roughly, the final 30 minutes details the DEVGRU raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Again, we know for the most part what happened there (assuming you watched the news anywhere), but via Bigelow’s direction and Boal’s writing, the climax remains tense, suspenseful, and a little unsettling.

That the movie is solidly constructed is not surprising. Boal and Bigelow were the writing/directing team for THE HURT LOCKER (2008), an amazing Iraq war drama that won the Oscar for Best Director. Even if you don’t like ZERO DARK THIRTY for its controversial elements, you can’t deny that Bigelow and Boal have established themselves as a rock-solid presence in filmmaking and storytelling.

All around, the acting is terrific. Chastain’s Maya gives us an obsessive character with a single-minded focus that borders on a mania, but at the moment where you start to think of her as a robot, she reveals a human side that is convincing and genuine. It’s worth noting that Maya is based on a real person (referred to as “Miss 100%” in the book NO EASY DAY by DEVGRU operative Mark Own (pseudonym)).

Another notable performer is Jennifer Ehle as Jessica, a fellow CIA analyst and Maya’s closest friend during the hunt for bin laden. It is in scenes with Ehle’s Jessica and Clark’s Dan that Maya shows her more human and sympathetic side. Without these two characters, Maya’s character would come off as entirely unlikable and inhuman.

And in a movie that is quite nearly bereft of humor, the scant few scenes that provide a welcome chuckle feature James Gandolfini as Leon Panetta (he’s credited as “CIA Director” … but yeah, it’s Leon Panetta). It’s not goofy fun and the movie’s tone remains intact, but Gandolfini’s subtly-played scenes come at a time when the audience needs someone to open the pressure-release valve on all the heavy serious stuff.

ZERO DARK THIRTY is not your typical military/spy drama. There’s no sentimentality and nobody tries to pound a socio-political message into your head. The final mission is not portrayed with a sense of jingoist triumph so much as stark, detached ambivalence. Bigelow and Boal don’t tell us whether or not torture, American policy, or the war on terror is right or wrong. They leave it to us to walk out of the theater and think critically about bin Laden’s assassination and decide if it was worth it in terms of means and ends.

It’s a very good movie, but you know how when you leave a crowded movie theater everyone is laughing and chatting lightly. Yeah, I didn’t see a lot of that as I exited ZERO DARK THIRTY.

I give it four out of five knives.

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 hours & 37 minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, and Kyle Chandler
(Editor’s Note: while ZERO DARK THIRTY was released in a few cities in late 2012 to be eligible for Oscar Nominations, it was not released to the majority of the country’s theaters until 2013.)

— END —

© Copyright 2013 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives ZERO DARK THIRTY~four knives.

CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Compelling Cinema, Exotic Locales, Innovative Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Plot Twists with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by knifefighter

CLOUD ATLAS
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

It’s not often you go to the movies and see something that is truly epic these days. Sure, Ridley Scott’s latest film, PROMETHEUS was epic in scope (even if it was a bit of a disappointment – nothing could live up to the expectations for that movie!), but that’s a rarity. In comparison, the new movie CLOUD ATLAS seems even more ambitious, with stories taking place in multiple time periods, converging and echoing through each other, from the past to the far future.

So does it work?

Surprisingly, it does. CLOUD ATLAS gives us front-row seats to six different stories:

1)      The first one takes place 1849 and involves a young lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), on a long sea voyage, during which he is being poisoned by the ship’s doctor, Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) who claims to be treating him for a parasite. Ewing’s path also crosses with that of a stowaway slave named Autua (David Gyasi).

2)      In England in the 1930s, a poor young composer named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) to become the assistant of a great old composer who has been silent for several years. Intent on inspiring the man to work on a new symphony, Frobisher finds that working with his hero is not as wonderful as he expected.

3)      In San Francisco in the 70s, an investigative reporter, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is on the trail of a conspiracy involving corrupt officials and a nuclear power plant. People who help her end up dead, and she races against the clock to get her story out to the world before she can be silenced.

4)      In modern day England, a publisher named Timothy Cavendish puts out a new book by a murderous gangster named Dermot Higgins (Tom Hanks in a wonderful role). When Higgins’ henchmen come looking for money, Cavendish goes into hiding at an old age home owned by his vindictive brother, Denholme (Hugh Grant), with unexpected results.

5)      In Neo Seoul, Korea in 2144, we follow the story of a clone bred to serve consumers named Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona) and her sudden awareness that there is more to life than servitude, thanks to the intervention of a man named Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess).

6)      In the far future, a post-apocalyptic world has reverted to barbarism (including marauding bands of cannibals), and a goat herder named Zachry finds himself playing host to a “Prescient” named Meronym (Halle Berry). The Prescients are the last race on the planet who still have access to technology, and Meronym is looking for something only Zachry can help her find, that could affect the fate of mankind.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. And at first each storyline is introduced distinctly, but as the movie continues, we find ourselves constantly jumping back and forth between timelines and storylines. It resembles nothing so much as a cosmic juggling act. However, despite the fact that so much is going on, and we have so many characters parading before us, the viewer is not once confused about what’s happening. The movie is surprisingly clear, despite its complexity.

Also, despite an almost three hour running time, not once did I find myself getting bored. The time went by quickly, and I was constantly in suspense, wondering what was going to happen next to the characters onscreen.

In the future, clones are bred to sell us goods in CLOUD ATLAS.

And how epic is this movie? Well, it needed three directors to tell its story: Lana and Andy Wachowski (who gave us the MATRIX trilogy, and who leave that series in the dust with this movie!) and Tom Tykwer, the excellent German director who gave us such films as the art-house classic RUN LOLA RUN (1998) and the underrated THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000). Each of the three directors tackled different storylines, and yet it is all quite seamless.

I don’t really want to go into much more detail besides giving you the very brief synopses of each storyline above. CLOUD ATLAS is to be experienced and enjoyed, and the less you know about where each storyline is leading, the better. Because there are surprises along the way.

All I know is that I was completely enthralled by this film, in ways that something like PROMETHEUS doesn’t even come close. Where PROMETHEUS was confusing at times and enigmatic, CLOUD ATLAS is riveting and satisfying. As you can see by the descriptions, several actors appear in multiple roles throughout the movie in different eras, and it works quite well. Even if some of the makeup occasionally lets us down (Hugo Weaving’s turn as Nurse Noakes comes instantly to mind – not once did I believe he was playing a woman).

Is it perfect? No. Sometimes the whole “we are all connected” philosophy that fuels the movie seems a little preachy, and silly. We’ve heard this kind of thing a hundred times before and better (for a more compelling take on past lives and afterlives, you might want to check out Gaspar Noe’s superior ENTER THE VOID, 2009, for example). But that “philosophy” isn’t, ultimately, what defines this movie.

Based on the novel by David Mitchell, written (as well as directed) by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, CLOUD ATLAS is ultimately about its characters: believable, sympathetic human beings that we grow to care about over the course of the film. Not all of the storylines are equal. The tale aboard a ship in the 1800s was probably my least favorite of the stories, and the ones set in the future were among the best for me. However, I found myself eagerly involved in all of them. And yes, by the end, the stories do seem to all be connected, and resonate throughout each other.

The acting is top-rate. I haven’t seen Hanks or Berry this good in a long time, and people like Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Keith David and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles are fascinating. Bae Doona as the clone Sonmi-451 in the New Seoul storyline might be the most compelling character of all.

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry – among several other actors – play multiple roles in CLOUD ATLAS – and do a pretty awesome job at it.

If you are a fan of the MATRIX films and of Tykwer’s previous work, you will be astonished how this movie is a big step forward. If you didn’t care for the MATRIX films (and I know I started to lose interest after the first one), then CLOUD ATLAS will redeem the Wachowskis for you.

I was truly dazzled by this movie, and I recommend everyone go and experience it for themselves.  I give CLOUD ATLAS, four out of five knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives CLOUD ATLAS – four knives!