“I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!”
Amleth, The Northman
The Northman’s thin plot takes the barest bones of Hamlet — a son sworn to avenge his father and kill his usurper uncle — but succeeds in transplanting this revenge tale into a compellingly foreboding world of Norse mythology. Robert Eggers seeks verisimilitude not only in bringing to life Viking reality but also their mythology and ritual practices. Atmospherically akin to The Green Knight, the pacing requires patience though Viking violence provides more action. The budget and scale may have increased dramatically from Eggers’ previous projects like The Lighthouse, but The Northman retains the same intensity through personal conflict. Alexander Skarsgård is a brooding presence, hulking and animalistic, humanised through his gentler interactions with the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy as an understanding counterpoint. The characters are (or feel themselves to be) pawns to the whims of fate, and the cinematography reflects this with vast Icelandic vistas that dwarf individuals in the frame. It may be difficult to find joy in the world Eggers has created but the uncompromising experience is more gripping than most big budget modern cinema.
“Ellison, we didn’t move in a few houses down from a crime scene again. did we?”
Sinister delivers an atmospheric horror experience by starting out more like an detective thriller as true crime writer Ellison investigates a grizzly murder, with the supernatural only encroaching later. This provides a novel take on the “found footage” concept as he pieces together murders from a box of old Super-8 reels containing amateur snuff films. Although the plot draws together derivative elements from other films, like The Shining‘s struggling author who has dragged his family across the country, it remains compelling until cast adrift by the rote supernatural elements. Ethan Hawke is Sinister‘s lynch pin, unravelling believably as Ellison, his desperate desire for another hit novel clashing with his duties to his family, while his alcohol use renders the viewer’s perspective unreliable. Sinister manages to maintain its tense atmosphere and is routinely unsettling, though it still falls back on predictable jump scares and diminishing returns in repeated sequences of Ellison watching old footage in a darkened room.
“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”
Predestination is a cerebral, tightly constructed science fiction film from the Spierig brothers who created the refreshingly original vampire world of Daybreakers (also starring Ethan Hawke). Telling a good time travel story requires leaning into the paradoxical nature of causation rather than believing oneself smart enough to write around it (even if you are Robert Heinlein, on whose short story the film is based). Here, as the title suggests, the question is whether there are immutable events that are destined to occur. The film’s central mysteries are not overly complicated and those paying attention should be able to predict several story beats in advance. Watching the neat arrangement unfurl remains satisfying and in fact the explicit reveal in the final few minutes may feel rushed for those not already up to speed. Although she may receive second billing, Sarah Snook is arguably the film’s true lead, with the most nuanced and varied performance. Another interesting choice is the alternate 1970s setting, reflecting Heinlein’s then-future setting for the story. It is remarkable that Predestination fits into a running time of just 97 minutes, and its strict focus on the essential can leave it feeling a little sparse. However, for fans of thoughtful science fiction, this is a hidden gem that deserves greater recognition.
“I may look like a nice, well-adjusted English lady in a sensible cardigan, but these days it’s a thin veneer, and it’s started to crack.”
Based on the book by Nick Hornby, the film’s first hurdle is the preposterous premise of a woman inadvertantly connecting online with the rockstar recluse with whom her partner is obsessed. Provided you can suspend your disbelief, however, there are some great performances to enjoy in this light British romantic drama. Rose Byrne swiftly earns the audience’s sympathy with gentle charm, whilst Ethan Hawke shows aspects of his performance in the Before trilogy. The real theme is less romance than how we respond to regret either by remaining tied to the past or by looking to future possibility. Juliet, Naked may not offer any deep answers, but it is enjoyable to watch unfold and ends with a hopeful tone whilst avoiding the saccharine endings that plague most romcoms.
“You read the newspaper? Every day there’s people shooting each other. You know what I do when I see that? I look to see what guns they’re using, and I ask myself: why not my guns?”
Lord of War succeeds in portraying the ethical apathy and mercenary attitude that fuel the arms trade. Following the fortunes of an ambitious Ukrainian American entering this world ought to heighten the tension through personal stakes, but it unfolds in a fashion largely predictable to anyone familiar with crime drama. For such an extravagant character, Nicolas Cage’s performance is surprisingly muted, resulting in large swathes of the narrative being communicated in a flat voiceover monologue that lacks the energy of, say, The Wolf of Wall Street. Whilst its subject matter is important, in focusing on Yuri’s competing conscience and ambition, Lord of War fails to engage in the political complexity of this world, simply alluding to the powerful connections he has made. The film is bookended by its most powerful messages: first, an impressive opening sequence that follows a single bullet from a munitions factory all the way to its eventual use against an African child; and secondly, presented in passing with closing text, the bleak fact that the world’s five largest arms dealers are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“A soldier will always choose death over humiliation.”
Commander Arun Filitt
After some interesting initial worldbuilding with hints of Avatar, this bloated space opera swiftly buckles due to its shallow story and disengaging lead characters. Although it all looks fantastic, and there are some exciting sequences, ultimately its running time is far too long to support a largely predictable story, and many scenes feel present purely to show off special effects. There might be a little more artistry than other generic effects-heavy blockbusters, but it is a far cry from Luc Besson’s past foray into space opera with The Fifth Element.