The Fifth Estate (2013)

“A Thought-Provoking, Well-Executed Depiction of an Intriguing Story” 10/10

 

The Wikileaks story was one of the biggest news events of recent times due to its controversial nature, and it seemed to appear from nowhere. Suddenly the media was buzzing about leaked confidential documents and the mysterious character of Julian Assange. The Fifth Estate is a dramatic biography based on these real events, and tells the story from the perspective of one of Assange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) colleagues, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl). I knew about the story but only what had been covered in the media, and it turns out that it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The Fifth Estate is filmed in such a style that it tells the story without it feeling like a documentary – it depicts the unfolding of events from the beginning of the Wikileaks launch to its climactic ending in a way that makes you feel like you understand the entire story clearly, but without effort. It is incredibly linear and easy to follow, and wonderfully visual: the use of graphics to depict the website itself, and the private messages that Assange and Berg use to communicate new leaks, are woven into the acting scenes, reminding you that this is part of a covert world that many of us are entirely unfamiliar with. Particularly well done is the portrayal of the Wikileaks “office” inside Assange’s head, which again reinforces the idea of the secret world of the story.

Most of the film is told from Berg’s perspective and as a result many of the scenes just involve him and Assange. Benedict Cumberbatch shines in one of his most impressive roles, depicting Assange and his mannerisms with a spooky accuracy, and there is a constant air of mystery and depth to his character that remains intriguing throughout the film. This is the first time I have seen Daniel Bruhl in a main role, but having seen him in Inglorious Basterds (2009) I expected a good performance and was not disappointed. Bruhl’s character is every bit as intriguing as that of Assange, and I found myself constantly trying to work him out and understand his underlying motives. I felt that there was an interesting dimension to the relationship between Assange and Berg, a reliance of sorts and a constant fear of misplaced trust, although this is subtle throughout and therefore hard to work out if it is intentional. There are also some great supporting roles to watch out for from the likes of David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi and Alicia Vikander, who all bring their own character’s dimension to add to the mix.

After I saw this film when it first came out I was interested in finding out more about what Julian Assange’s perspective of the story was, and I came across a document published on the Wikileaks site giving his side of the story. It is an incredibly interesting read, and a lot of it ties in with the final scene of the film which is a monologue from Cumberbatch. I felt that I had a fairly solid view of the story whilst watching the film, and then that final scene changed everything. The document from Assange confirms my change of heart about the story, and echoes the message he is always trying to put across: if you want the truth, go out and seek it for yourself. Everyone will of course have their own opinions about the events that unfolded surrounding this story, and I am not in any way dismissing the version presented in The Fifth Estate; instead I choose to believe that there is truth to be found in both the film and from Assange’s perspective.

The Fifth Estate held my interest from the second it began to long after the final scene had ended: it is highly thought-provoking and throws some challenging questions at you about the way we view the world, what we believe to be true, and what we do not and may never know. I can’t recommend this film highly enough.

 

Bad Lieutenant (2009)

“Cleverly Styled But Really Strange” 5/10

 

As the title suggests, this is an unconventional film about an unconventional police lieutenant, and it’s quite hard to pin down an opinion on it because it is unlike anything I have ever seen in terms of style and story.

Having seen several Nicholas Cage films, I was fully expecting to see him play his typical worldly-wise middle aged man role despite having read the synopsis (think the National Treasure [2004; 2007] and Knowing [2009]). I was surprised to see him play a completely different character and it was oddly refreshing to see him break away from his typecast. Cage is completely believable as an erratic drug addict, his odd behaviour and strange visions of iguanas (when you see the film, you’ll understand) strangely draw you in to his rough, “trippy” world. The film often loses you, at points it is hard to understand how the current scene links to the previous, but that is all part of the effect. Even the supporting characters are fuzzy and it’s hard to work out who is taking drugs and who isn’t. The story makes sense but doesn’t necessarily follow a typical linear structure; it’s slow but you never feel like there’s something that doesn’t matter to the overall storyline. It manages to project Cage’s character’s decline onto every other aspect of the film in such a way that you don’t really notice until the very end. It’s downright bizarre.

It’s difficult to put your finger on whether or not this film is enjoyable, and the reasons why. If nothing else, the story is cleverly presented to perfectly depict the decline caused by addiction, and leaves you feeling fuzzy-headed yourself. A strange viewing that very much keeps you thinking once it has finished.

The Other Guys (2010)

“Surprisingly Humorous Stereotypical Cop Parody” 6/10

The Other Guys is a stereotype of its parody-cop-film genre, but before you write it off completely, it bites back with some genuine humour. As is to be expected, it is full of silly moments and unbelievable clichés, but there were also a surprising number of laugh out loud moments. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play two unconventional detectives who are paired up after both facing disgrace and ending up with a police desk job. They jump in on a case and end up with a lot more than they bargained for, predictably causing mayhem along the way.

The characters portrayed by Ferrell and Wahlberg are not a far cry from their usual typecasts: Ferrell is the geeky oddball and Wahlberg is the “tough-guy-jerk”, and there are similarly stereotypical roles played by supporting actors such as Eva Mendes and Steve Coogan. Initially this is off-putting, but once you get into the film this becomes less cringey, however I would definitely suggest giving this film a miss if you aren’t a fan of both Ferrell and Wahlberg. In typical parody-cop-film style, the film is full of predictable situations topped off with outrageous stunts and cheesy one-liners, however the stunts are fairly impressive and some of these lines provide unexpected laughs. Several of Ferrell’s lines felt like a nod to his character of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman (2004), although his nerdy cop role in this is a far cry from the hilarious news anchor. The relationship between Ferrell and Wahlberg may start off ridiculous, but ends up being quite an enjoyable pairing. It doesn’t present anything new or ground-breaking to the genre, but I didn’t really expect anything different.

Strangely enjoyable despite being one huge stereotype, this film is unexpectedly entertaining if you’re in the mood for some lowbrow humour and cliché. Expect cheap laughs and crazy car chases aplenty.

 

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

“Over-Hyped But Interesting and Immersive” 6/10

 

I eventually got round to watching this film and found it intriguing. It had initially sparked my interest after it shot to fame at the Oscars, but I felt, possibly as a result of the hype surrounding it, that it fell a bit short of my expectations.
There are no terrible aspects of the film, but there were definitely features that far outshone others. Set in the slums of Mumbai, the filming is raw and honest, showing a vulnerable side to India. The story switches constantly between the past and present, gradually unravelling the tangled events in the life of Jamal (Dev Patel); however this constant switching distracted somewhat from the clever way in which the storyline is woven together, despite the fact that the revelation that past events all link to the current situation. On occasion I found it difficult to follow how one piece of flashback linked to the current scene, and at places in the middle of the film it felt slightly repetitive; thankfully, a balance of well thought through flashback links exists.
The flashbacks provide the best acting within this film, as the story is mostly enacted by young children who play their roles well. The relationship between Jamal and his brother in particular is demonstrated best through these younger actors. I found the love story aspect of the film to be somewhat less convincing however, possibly because I felt that this aspect was one of the biggest causes of repetition within the film and was rather predictable from the beginning.There is a distinctly cultural feel, as expected, which I think was the most interesting focus of this film. Many of the scenes, from within the slums, to the way the characters interact with one another, are unlike typical Western life, and are at time shocking. This was the most interesting concept of the film – the scope for thought and comparison between what different cultures consider “normal” life – and the film encapsulates you within this context.
An interesting watch with a good story, boosted mainly by the visuals of the film which help simultaneously cover the imperfections of the script and enhance the overall immersive feel. Ignore some of the hype and lose yourself in the unusual setting to allow the story to flourish.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

“Artistic, Romantic Escapism” 10/10

Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the most breath-taking films I have ever seen.  As a fan of the more artistically styled film I was captivated throughout.  The entire film is quiet and dark with an eerie feeling of timelessness that matches the souls as old as time itself, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton).  The film centres around their eternal love, highlighting the modern world through the light, easy-going spirit of Eve and the tortured romantic Adam.  Despite being set in the modern day it is completely unlike vampire films of recent times, presenting a visually beautiful story of true romance.

Artistic is the epicentre of this film.  It is entirely set at night so it has a sleepy, soft half-light, in the empty, mysterious streets of Detroit and Tangier.  The script has a minimal feel, giving the impression that every word is important, and there are some great moments of dark comedy scattered throughout, mixed with cultural and literary references and philosophical observations.  Everything about it is slow and measured and perfected, even down to the synchronised movements of Adam and Eve.  The acting is stunning, with a particularly beautiful performance from Tom Hiddleston, who carries the role of the suicidal vampire who has grown tired of the disrepairs of the world with a darkly sexy air.  Tilda Swinton provided a light to Hiddleston’s dark, offering a rescue at the darkest of moments.  There was yet more contrast with Eve’s wild and unpredictable younger sister (Mia Wasikowska) and the wise, worldly Marlowe (John Hurt).  The clash of characters adds to the charm of the story and the style.

The film is slow-paced but contrary to other opinions I didn’t feel that it dragged on in any way.  It presents a lot of truths about current society which really made me think.  Naturally, it remains true to some vampire film stereotypes: dark, sexy and romantic.  If you’re a Tom Hiddleston fan in particular I recommend this, his portrayal of such a flawed character is simply stunning.  However even if you’re impartial, I would highly recommend this film, everything about it is breath-taking and gorgeous.  It achieves artistic without clouding the message of the film and draws you in to its perfect eternity and escapism.

Captain America (2011)

“Action-Packed Family Adventure” 8/10

Captain America tells the heart-warming, action packed story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a weedy but determined man desperate to join the military and fight for his country in World War II. After being turned down for military service repeatedly he receives an offer he can’t refuse from Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who promises to change his life and make him a hero – Captain America is born.

This is a great action packed family film that tells the heroic story of Captain America. The film uses some impressive digital technology to make Evans look small and skinny, a far cry from his superhero self. The special effects are reasonably impressive and add to the overall action impact of the film. The story in itself is like the other current Marvel films: lots of fast-paced action scenes with some heart-warming moments scattered throughout, and it flows between the softer and punchier scenes enough to capture your attention constantly. Chris Evans takes on the role of the iconic superhero convincingly and is the perfect antidote to the evil scheming of the enemy Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). The film’s supporting actors Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan and Tommy Lee Jones add to the overall appeal of this film.

This is an enjoyable, if occasionally cheesy, punchy superhero film that charmingly displays the classic comic book story in a way that all ages can enjoy. Whether you’re a Marvel fan already or this is your first taste of it there is something for everyone in this action-packed adventure.

August: Osage County (2014)

“Beautifully Dysfunctional” 9/10

I was excited to see this film, having seen the play a few years ago at the theatre where I worked. I was captivated by the story and the tense style of the setting and was curious to see whether the same effect could be created on screen, and I wasn’t disappointed. Set mainly in a dark, stuffy house, you get an instant feel for the back story of secrets and suppression as soon as it begins.

The film opens quietly but throwing you instantly into the turmoil of the main character Violet, portrayed by Meryl Streep, and her dysfunctional family. As the story begins to unfold you get a real sense of the afflictions facing each character and the scenes and dialogue flow from one spilt secret to the next, and it is captivating to watch Streep wholeheartedly embrace the role. The acting and setting really bring this story to life: watching, I felt like I experienced every emotion and heartache; and got an overwhelming sense of the mania of being trapped in the Weston household, just as I felt watching it on stage. The acting is first class: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are on top form and I felt this was one of their best performances. Impressive performances were also given by actors that I am less familiar with such as Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, and Juliette Lewis. Surprisingly though my heart was stolen away by one of the smallest characters through an incredibly sweet and humble performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m a fan of his other work and it was enjoyable to watch him in a role that is so far away from his recent characters – portraying the awkward but endearing role of Little Charles.

Tracy Lett’s story flows beautifully, although it is very dialogue-heavy so if you’re more of an action fan you may get restless. There are also plenty of plot twists and turns which keep you captivated. The culmination of the film is dark and edgy and full of emotion, and I’m still in two minds about whether I found the ending satisfying, but in a way the not-so-perfect final scene is fitting for such a raw piece. The style reminds me of Silver Linings Playbook (2012) in the way it makes you feel like you’ve lived through it whilst watching the story, and I would definitely recommend this film if you enjoyed that. This isn’t a typical happy ending film but it is refreshingly real and beautifully portrayed.