BERLIN SYNDROME

“…the palpable sense of tension and desperation that builds so ominously, is expertly enhanced by Bryony Marks’ sparingly applied, rather eerie soundtrack.”

Wayward Wolf.

Almost all of the feedback that I’ve heard since seeing Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome (some weeks back now), has been in some way negative, and quite frankly I find that baffling.

Shortland’s film – based upon Melanie Joosten’s novel, with a screenplay by Shaun Grant – tells the tale of a young Australian photojournalist, Clare (Teresa Palmer), on holiday in Berlin. Here she falls for a quietly charming Berliner, Andi (Max Riemelt), and a holiday romance quickly blossoms.

As with all good holidays though, Clare’s quickly comes to an end, and having waved goodbye to her Berlin beau, she reluctantly prepares to move on. Unable to quite bring herself to leave, however, Clare performs a swift u-turn and surprises Andi by extending her stay a little longer, and they spend one final passionate night in Andi’s apartment.

The following morning, with Andi having gone to work, Clare gathers her things and prepares once again to leave. Only, she can’t. The apartment has been locked. With no spare key and having exhausted all other possibilities, Clare resigns herself to a further day in Andi’s apartment until he returns from work.

Clare will wait patiently until the evening. They will laugh about the unfortunate mix up, and she will then head off that evening.

Or so she thinks.

Berlin Syndrome is, more than anything, a refreshingly original take on the whole ‘kidnap’ film genre, exploring this concept from both the victim and the perpetrator’s point of view. What initially appears to be something of a mutually exciting rendezvous, quickly dissolves into something of a toxic partnership; a free spirit unfortunate to find herself seduced by a troubled man with a very genuine antisocial personality disorder.

From short-term lover to distressed prisoner, to resigned captive, Clare goes through the entire gamut of emotions, trying in vain not only to escape her imprisonment, but given  the hopelessness of her predicament, to also come to terms with her lot.

Andi on the other hand, far from being painted to be some sort of mysterious, one-dimensional Nosferatu type, is observed going about his daily business as a teacher and dutiful family member; a repetitive routine built upon an enormous lie which, on admitting to his work colleagues that he has a new girlfriend, becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. Clare’s continued non-appearance at social functions sparks suspicions and doubts within the minds of Andi’s colleagues as to whether she even exists at all.

Andi’s assessment of his relationship – and indeed even what constitutes a relationship in the first place – is bordering on tunnel-visioned and autistic in its single-mindedness. Somehow justifying everything in his own mind, he ignores Clare’s repeated, somewhat peripheral (to him) cries for help and pleas for mercy.

Considering the remote location of Andi’s apartment and his attention to the very smallest of details when it comes to keeping his ‘prison’ secure, if Clare is to ever escape, it’s going to take something particularly imaginative.

Gradually, however, with the passing of time, Clare’s omnipresent hopes of escape gradually diminish, whilst her reliance upon and empathy towards her captor steadily intensifies.

Shortland’s piece is a fascinating glimpse at this most dysfunctional of ‘relationships’, built as it is upon distress, delusion, reluctant acceptance and outright fear. Rarely if ever does Shortland resort to sensationalism, adopting instead an approach that is subtle and thought-provoking, steering almost entirely away from the predictable or clichéd. And the palpable sense of tension and desperation that builds so ominously, is expertly enhanced by Bryony Marks’ sparingly-applied, rather eerie soundtrack.

Teresa Palmer is excellent portraying this particular damsel in distress, whilst Max Riemelt’s turn as the unpredictable, insecure, Andi, is cold, aloof and lacking in compassion – exactly what’s required.

Berlin Syndrome doesnt’ necessarily redefine the genre of ‘kidnap cinema’, but through its clever exploration of both the captor and the captive, and of the rather muddled grey area that constitutes the awkward ‘bond’ between them, it provides a refreshingly honest dose of bleak realism in this well-balanced, uber-tense and compelling tale.

 

 

 

 

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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

“Andy Serkis… Hollywood’s least seen, green screen creature creator – is once again the man ‘behind the mask’, so to speak…”

Wayward Wolf.

Rife with political overtones, religious parallels and symbolism, War for the Planet of the Apes (WPA from hereon in), is the third and final instalment of this rebooted franchise, very loosely based upon 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

The leader, Caesar, and his legion of fellow apes, are living peacefully in a forest, though with the omnipresent threat of human attacks, they do so within a prevailing heightened sense of security.

One such raid on their ape stronghold leads to many fatalities on both sides, but Caesar’s troops drastically out number the raiders, defeating them comfortably. He elects to spare the lives of the remaining four human soldiers, sending them on their way with a stark message of warning for their Colonel, (Woody Harrelson).

But the Colonel is bloody-minded and hell-bent upon the destruction of all apes. Caesar’s warning therefore is predictably not heeded. Consequently a second raid takes place on the apes’ base by the cover of night, resulting in the tragic death of both Caesar’s wife and eldest child.

Fearing further turmoil and repercussions, this colony of apes decides to move on from their forest dwelling, en masse; all except Caesar that is. He is understandably unable to let go of the deep-seated hate that now burns within him, and he vows revenge upon the Colonel and his forces.

Though intent upon this being a solo mission, a reluctant Caesar is ultimately joined on his journey by a small band of strong-willed allies, and together they head off in search of justice.

The original Planet of the Apes franchise hasn’t aged well as a visual spectacle, and it takes a strong suspense of disbelief in order to be convinced by its assorted vaguely simian-faced protagonists. WPA, on the other hand, making full use of today’s CGi technology, is an altogether different beast. Whilst it would take a harsh audience indeed to pick upon the film’s visual aspect as being in any way worthy of criticism, I do however still struggle greatly with the general concept of talking apes riding horseback whilst spraying machine gun fire at their enemies. Call me old fashioned.

Of course, the entire film depends heavily upon the understanding that we take such things to be normal, and on that basis, it’s only fair to surmise that WPA is a pretty well put together piece that nicely rounds-off the franchise.

Andy Serkis in particular – Hollywood’s least seen, green screen creature creator – is once again the man ‘behind the mask’, so to speak, and the combination of his rubber-faced antics and a huge CGi team, the size of which would give any film’s accountancy department palpitations, produces admittedly impressive results in realising Director Matt Reeve’s vision.

Reeves of course has previous history in creature features, directing this film’s predecessor, the solid enough offering, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but arguably his finest piece was – and with good reason – the excellent, Cloverfield, a stripped back monster movie that left an awful lot to the imagination – unlike WPA which, though it touches upon a number of underlying issues, something that separates it from most Hollywood big budget fodder, is still crafted very much from the ‘in-your-face’ school of blockbusters.

That said, there are at least elements within WPA which hint at this being a little more than just a piece of mainstream buffoonery. Underlying political and social threads a-plenty run through the piece, but it’s arguable whether any of these really hit the mark in any sort of meaningful fashion, and leave any sort of thought-povoking lasting impression upon the audience.

Resorting to the Jar jar Binks school of employing a ‘cute’ yet slightly irritating and inappropriate character that the cynic within me can only see as some form of  marketing ploy with which to shift merchandise, WPA, on balance, successfully serves up a concoction of big screen action and thoughtful drama which will please many and crucially put those all important bums onto seats.

That after all, above everything, was almost certainly the brief handed to Reeves before a single frame was shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A GHOST STORY

“…most impressive of all is the director’s attention to the timing and application of the smaller details and elements within the film…”

Wayward Wolf.

Whilst initially leaving me a little confused with regard to one or two of the slightly more complex elements of the narrative, David Lowrey’s A Ghost Story is nevertheless, a very fine film indeed.

Visually constrained into something akin to a photo slide format – a round-cornered slightly elongated square screen – this is an early hint (and subliminal pointer?) as to the sense of history, the past and of memories that this film skilfully evokes.

A Ghost Story is indeed a ghost story, but not in any sort of conventional sense. Instead, it is told from the perspective of the recently deceased, C (Casey Affleck), who returns, from the mortician’s slab, to the old, history-riddled house in which he and his girlfriend, M, (Rooney Mara) had been living together. Adorned in the sheet that had covered his dead body, two eye holes have been cut from this deathly shroud, revealing nothing but matt, jet blackness.

The ghost of C, unseen, will stand by, a passive reluctant spectator, as the future unfolds relentlessly in front of him, unable to offer comfort in the grieving process of M, and unable to despair when she finally finds someone new in her life and moves on. The ghost of C can merely turn its head to passively survey life from the beyond.

Indeed life continues to unfold unabated all around a spirit that is seemingly powerless to achieve ‘closure’ within its somewhat cursed afterlife, until finally, almost consciously, it takes control of its own ‘destiny’.

David Lowrey’s use of long drawn-out scenes of relative inactivity, whilst on the surface seems a little indulgent and potentially momentum-sapping, but is in fact integral to this film’s flow; a sort of mirroring for the viewer of the ghost’s own sense of frustrations at being a helpless onlooker, unable to offer any sort of meaningful influence over events. Not only this, but such a directorial style offers ample opportunity for the viewer to consider and contemplate not only the film’s poignant narrative and existential overtones, but their own particular history, place and space in time.

Daniel Hart’s wonderfully evocative soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment, wrapping the piece within its own sonically haunting cloak, and drawing maximum affect from A Ghost Story‘s overriding sense of melancholy.

There’s much to admire in Lowrey’s haunting tale, which, whilst admittedly drawing influences from elsewhere, is a piece nonetheless high on originality. But most impressive of all is the director’s attention to the timing and application of the smaller details and elements within the film – so as to knit and tie the increasingly complicated threads of this story together into some form of coherent whole.

With strong, brooding performances from Mara and Affleck, and a fine cameo from ‘Prognosticator’ (Will Oldham), the end result is a wonderfully poignant film that explores the nature of time, and the ongoing quest for resolution and meaning in our lives, and it’s all profoundly moving in a way that surprises as much as it ultimately impresses.

Stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIFTED

“…Director, Marc Webb, uses his strongly-commercial touch to good effect here…”

Wayward Wolf.

 

On paper, Gifted offers nothing particularly new to the tug-of love emotional drama genre, but so well realised is this charming little film, that thankfully such a potential issue never really springs to mind, or if it does, it’s never really able to take root.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans), lives with his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), in a modest, slightly dishevelled house in Florida. Mary, as the film’s title suggests, is a particularly gifted child, streets ahead of her peer group, academically-speaking.

Home-schooled for her entire life to date, the time has come – at her father’s insistence – for her to attend a conventional school. This however soon exposes her father’s worst fears, and indeed justifies his decision to enrol her there. Mary is severely lacking in social skills, unaware of how to properly integrate within her own age group.

With Mary’s best friend being a ‘sassy’ middle-aged neighbour, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), it’s clear that the youngster has had something of an unconventional upbringing, something that her father is keen to address by ensuring that she learns to socialise more with her own age group.

Of course, balancing this with the need to ensure that Mary’s remarkable gift for mathematics is suitably nurtured is the tricky part, but Frank is determined, for the good of his daughter, to make it work somehow.

Of course, nobody had banked on Frank’s now estranged mother in law, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), suddenly appearing out of nowhere, putting a spanner in Frank’s plans, insistent that her late daughter (Mary’s mother) would have wanted Mary to attend a special school for particularly gifted children. Her proposal that Mary uproots and comes to live with her, goes down like a lead balloon with Frank, but he is all the time wary of the need to do right by Mary, and thus, is faced with something of a major moral conundrum.

Ultimately, it is evident that all involved must not let their own emotional baggage dictate what is best for the child. Something that is always going to be easier said than done.

As mentioned previously, Gifted doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, and whilst it may hint at some of the moral and emotional dilemmas explored so devastatingly in the likes of, say, Kramer vs Kramer, it does so on an altogether more superficial level.

That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, and Director, Marc Webb, uses his strongly-commercial touch to good effect here, making this piece both emotionally affecting and accessible, not to mention genuinely amusing in places.

With an impressive cast with whom one can truly relate – McKenna Grace in particular excels as the precocious child prodigy – Gifted stands up well as a charming little drama conveying an overall sentiment that is sincere, reassuring and above all, convincing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DUNKIRK

“Nolan’s vision is rich in both feel and flow. A most visceral and enthralling effort…”

Wayward Wolf.

Hans Zimmer has a film soundtrack CV as long as your arm. For many years now he has been one of the go-to Hollywood composers – very much a Jerry Goldsmith of his time in that respect. Revered, and rightly so, for both the impact and the prolificacy of his work.

His soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, is arguably his crowning achievement to date.

It’s a quite astonishing effort, in fact. Admirable for its simplicity, yet breathtakingly tense and evocative in its impact. An unremitting soundscape that compliments perfectly a film that is essentially one elongated action scene.

All too rare is it that a soundtrack forms the most prominent, pivotal aspect of a film, but Hans Zimmer’s repetitive score is absolutely integral here, forming an almost symbiotic relationship with Director, Christopher Nolan’s epic war film.

The sound of a ticking timepiece and the insistent chugging of outboard motors on a plethora of fishing boats, form something of a sonic metronomic device – the very crux of Zimmer’s score. These are then mimicked instrumentally through accelerating and decelerating orchestral tremolos and staccato passages of varying intensity. Eerie chromatic glissando string lines are then weaved in and out on top of this, morphing at times into the unsettling sound of German dive bombers and the like.

It’s breathtaking, sensational stuff.

But whilst Zimmer’s score no doubt enhances the entire cinematic experience greatly, it’s not to take away from the nuts and bolts of the film itself. Nolan’s vision is rich in both feel and flow. A most visceral and enthralling effort charting the progress (or rather lack of), of a desperate band of thousands of men and boys, stranded on the beaches of Northern France, embroiled in a desperate game of survival – sitting ducks to wave upon wave of enemy fire.

Whilst we can rightly point to the on-screen presence and qualities of Kenneth Brannagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and not to forget a particularly measured, yet heroic performance from spitfire pilot, Tom Hardy, Dunkirk is not a film of star names or star turns. There is little by way of character development here, and in this instance, that’s not a bad thing, almost as though to emphasise the point that all of these allied soldiers, no matter their rank or background, were mere numbers here facing the same grim uncertainty.

Nolan’s direction is both strong and purposeful but never overly-indulgent, and never distracts from the film’s core theme and message.

Once again though it’s Zimmer’s score which takes centre stage, having the last, glorious word when the tide of events finally turns in the Allies’ favour, with a stripped down, minimalistic interpretation of Elgar’s Nimrod.

It’ll have the hairs raised on the backs of even the most peace-loving of non-patriotic pacifists.

Dunkirk is a very fine war film indeed. A brilliant, big screen contemporary re-imagining of one of the most significant episodes of World War II, conveying, without the need for overly-gratuitous violence, a most harrowing vision of war.