Category Archives: Mystery

Vogue

LFF: Gemini

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Lola Kirke ventures into neo-noir with Gemini, an underpowered and half-baked thriller that leaves you with nothing to do if you’ve already figured out its (signposted) reveals.

She plays personal assistant to Zoë Kravitz’s celebrity, Heather, and their relationship is fleshed out during the first portion of the film. These early segments flirt dangerously with the idea of being about something (God, anything), but its undercooked thematic breadcrumb on celebrity worship is consigned to first draft fodder.

The two spend the night karaoking after Heather shies away from an acting opportunity. It’s pleasant enough but there’s an inescapable feeling that the movie is passing time – crude stabs at humour (Gemini is annoyingly overconfident in how funny it is) and stilted dialogue do nothing to dispel this feeling, hindering the good work made by a stylish opening shot and Gemini’s moody jazz-electro score.

When the plot really finally gets to work – with a murder mystery that Lola Kirke’s character is made the prime suspect of – the editing decides to take a tea break. This is bland filmmaking with blindingly obvious missed opportunities for visual flair, offensive in how unbearably underwhelming, rather than bad, the whole thing is.

If you’ve figured out the twist – stating there is one isn’t exactly a spoiler considering its genre – then Gemini is a laborious watch. Kirke bounces between ill-defined characters and battles through sloppy cop-out plot devices (Example: a hotel key card that’s somehow mistakenly left for her), trying to make up for the mess with an endearingly bumbling performance.

Gemini peters out, unable to elucidate a point or elicit a reaction. If the exasperated closing scene has been lamented as a sour note to end on by other critics, I reckon that it’s just keeping in line with the rest of the film.

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: The Fits

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

When a film pose questions, do they have to be answered? The Fits stages a mystery – a girls’ dance troupe is plagued by a series of seizures that have no discernible explanation – but doesn’t seem all too interested in figuring it out. The film instead uses these fits as a backdrop to explore the identity and development of its central character, Toni, an eleven-year-old tomboy played with tremendous vulnerability by Royalty Hightower.

She slowly involves herself in the dance group, gradually learning the moves and straying further away from her initial routine of training in the boxing ring with her older brother. She makes friends, gets her ears pierced, and plays in empty swimming pools. It’s a simple, contained story, exemplified by director Anna Rose Holmer’s decision to stage most of her narrative in a single location: the sports facility. Yet The Fits isn’t entirely grounded. Its eccentric score overrides its mundanity, and the fits are filmed almost as dance sequences. There’s an element of the supernatural to the seizures, an awareness of the metaphorical significance that they possess, despite several people, notably adults, treating it as a very real and scientific threat.

The film shares many similarities to Carol Morley’s The Falling: they both sculpt their narrative around seizures in a group of girls, and tie them to themes of self-discovery and sexuality. But The Fits is The Falling’s less woozy American cousin, a more placid interpretation that trades complexity for focus. It may lack dramatic intensity for the majority of its runtime, but its admirable restraint lets loose in its final, euphoric moment: an ambitious stab at surrealism that both conflicts with its tone and makes perfect sense. It may not answer its own questions, but The Fits doesn’t need to when its final image speaks for itself.

-Gus Edgar

Arrival

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There seems to have been something of a sci-fi Renaissance recently, with each year supplying a groundbreaking hallmark of the genre. 2013 was Gravity, a film with unrivalled effects, visually astounding and constantly breathtaking. 2014 was Interstellar, offering intense cinematic and emotional spectacle. And 2015 was The Martian, giving us an inspiring appraisal of the good of humanity. 2016, then, can only belong to Arrival, a film that serves as a cry for intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi, not needing to rely on bucketloads of CGI or showy futuristic lingo.

Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist with the weight of the world thrust upon her when twelve egg-shaped UFOs carrying aliens appear, dotted seemingly at random across the planet: she must translate their dialect in order to discover the purpose of their arrival before the threat of military retaliation is fulfilled. Assisting her is Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist who’s devoted to Banks as much as he is to his job. Her unorthodox approach to the task at hand is garnering results, but growing distrust and paranoia spread across the research camp and various governing bodies altogether threaten to derail the mission entirely.

The film functions as both a metaphor for the growing separation and antagonism between the world as a whole, and a philosophical insight towards many ideas that if I were to reveal them to you, would spoil the movie’s emotional impact. It is not necessarily, however, an alien flick. The aliens in Arrival serve as a vehicle for the film’s integral themes. That’s not to say that their presence isn’t worthwhile, but that venturing into this film in want of a gun-ho alien quasi-horror wouldn’t fulfill expectations.

Denis Villeneuve’s take is much more intellectual – but this is to be expected from a director with such a mature filmography. His influence on Arrival isn’t as tangible as usual – he instead allows the film’s superb script, written by Eric Heisserer, and based on Ted Chiang’s short story, The Story of Your Life, to prosper. It’s a wonderful script, made poignant and dramatic through the overbearing tension and uncertainty it creates, emphasised by the twisting narrative. Villeneuve’s role is to maintain these emotions, and he handles this incredibly effectively. Memories of Bank’s daughter, whom she lost to cancer, are intertwined in the story seamlessly, and he sustains the uncertainty behind both the unknown purpose of the aliens’ arrival, and their odd, potentially threatening behaviour.

Despite the less significant (though still just as important) role Villeneuve has to Arrival’s success, there’s still room for his directorial flourishes: he employs a visual trick, that was also used in one of his previous films, Enemy, to establish how entrenched Banks is in the alien language she’s trying to decipher. His record of creating visually interesting films doesn’t go amiss either; Roger Deakins may not be at the helm this time, but Bradford Young displays a keen eye for stunning visuals – a long take of clouds scrolling past the alien vessel during our first proper look at it is as beautiful as it is calculated. Slow pans of the ship’s surface during Banks’ introduction to its interior are particularly effective in conveying the alienness of the whole ordeal, and its power to overwhelm – which it indeed does, as we hear the diegetic sound of Banks’ heavy, stumbling breathing, amid Jóhann Jóhannsson’s droning, otherworldly score. The film as a whole manages to overwhelm, and astound, not necessarily with spectacle as in Gravity and Interstellar, but simply with a sharp, powerful script.

Amy Adams herself is remarkable as Banks, conveying her utter confusion and determination beautifully; although each other actor delivers serviceable performances, this is a film that belongs to her, her character saturated with complex philosophical ideas about humanity and its intent. The film often hinges on Banks’ reaction to revelations, and Adams certainly delivers.

Jeremy Renner’s character’s bum-note of a final line aside, Arrival is a cerebral, imaginative, emotionally satisfying sci-fi that bears potent metaphysical concepts and a tour-de-force performance from Amy Adams. It’s a brilliant, brilliant addition to an ever-evolving genre. I can’t wait for 2017’s sci-fi showpiece, whatever it is…

Inherent Vice

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Incoherent Vice would be a much more suitable title.

Incohesive, long, and dialogue-heavy, Inherent Vice has all the potential to flounder. Yet under the steady (or rather, wild) hands of director Paul Thomas Anderson, the film becomes a psychedelic, incredibly enjoyable ride brimming with wit and melancholy. The film follows Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (played in routinely magnificent fashion by the now ever-reliable Joaquin Phoenix), and his exploits to help his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fey (Katherine Waterston, also exquisite) investigate a kidnapping of notorious real-estate billionaire Mickey Wolfmann. From there, the plot descends (or ascends, depending on your perspective of the film) into sumptuous lunacy; a mystery involving the coveted and secretive ‘Golden Fang’, a fascinating encounter with a figure named Adrian Prussia, and a charming, nostalgic tale involving a Ouija board all intertwined into the flick’s increasingly crazed plot.

It’s a stoner noir that gives the audience the impression of being stoned themselves – a startling achievement by both P.A Anderson and Thomas Pynchon, the writer of the book that this flick is adapted from. It’s not about the end result, but about the journey; plot threads aimlessly disappear and reappear, often left unresolved amid the concoction of brewing story lines; told from the perspective of Doc’s weed-frazzled mind. Yet despite the apparent attempt to confuse and toy with the audience, the flick is never not-fascinating. As the opening credits appear, you’ll find a big grin spreading across your face – barely disappearing during Inherent Vice’s 148-minute run time.

Part of this is due to the film’s soundtrack – just like its plot, it’s a daring and muddled mix in equal measures, an amalgamation of Jonny Greenwood’s terrifically periodic score, and the various offerings of artists, each with a booming, bombastic track to deftly support what’s on screen; Vitamin C, Here Come the Ho-Dads, Simba, and Les Fleur all stand-out as proudly and brilliantly as Doc’s sideburns. They also help contribute to Inherent Vice’s wonderful, tonal atmosphere – the turn of the 1970’s portrayed on screen with expert precision.

The atmosphere created is also helped enormously by the director’s use of large format film, fabricating a musty, saturated quality that wouldn’t be possible to produce otherwise. Inherent Vice also features the best cinematography of any film released in 2014 – which is saying a lot when considering Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel were both released last year. Each shot is filmed with typical P.A Anderson-ian perfection, outmuscling his previous effort, The Master, for beauty alone.

And all this praise without truly referring to the acting – yes, the acting is something special too. Joaquin Phoenix brings his deranged, frustratedly lackadaisical persona to the forefront, and it works wonders. Doc is equal measures of composure and insanity, a brewing mix of hippie goodness that is juxtaposed expertly by the straight-faced ‘Bigfoot’ (Josh Brolin), a hippie-hatin’ detective that surprisingly features as the figure that prises the most laughs from the audience. Less surprisingly, he’s portrayed excellently by Brolin, shrouding himself in a subtly affectionate sentimentality; his character depth, where sexuality and sentiments towards Doc remain ambiguous throughout, elevates the film to a whole other stratosphere. He’s a character with a comical facade and an aura of sadness.

Katherine Waterston, who plays the main female lead as Doc’s ex-girlfriend, must be mentioned too. A relatively unknown face, she brings fragility and vulnerability to the storyline, where her chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix forms much of the crux of the film. She stands out expertly in one particular scene – a sensual, sorrowful discussion with Doc that culminates in silently affectionate sex; leaving the audience in a similarly hushed state. The scene is a showcase of Waterston’s acting range and capabilities, and she handles the challenging task with aplomb.

The same can be said for all of Inherent Vice’s bloated jumble of characters, each adroitly played; Martin Short helming a terrific cameo, and only Owen Wilson debatedly miscast. Their encounters with Doc contribute as the overall chassis of the plot, and if you can withstand the initial tedium, it plays out beautifully. Inherent Vice works on so many levels; an accurate portrayal of life in 1970, an intriguing mystery and crime drama, a fantastic character-study, and a poignant tale of love and paranoia. Inherent Vice may not be for everyone, but if it works, it works wonders – a gem of a film with a myriad of vibrant characters and a plot as smart as it is unhinged.

– Gus Edgar