Showing posts with label Psychological. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psychological. Show all posts

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Field in England

The latest offering from the darling of the British critical community Ben Wheatley, A Field in England is a psychological-historical drama set during the Civil War. An example of a growing trend, the film was released simultaneously in cinemas as well as on DVD, download and on TV. This multi-platform release meant that on 5th July there was no excuse as to why anyone couldn’t see it. Personally, I watched it on the free-to-air Film 4, the film’s primary funder.

The movie blends genres and styles but features a pleasing cinematographic style which oozes confidence. The choice to film in black and white feels at first to be a misjudgement but as it progresses; the beauty of the monochrome is exposed. There are some stunning landscapes and close-ups captured which juxtapose the attractive, relaxed landscape with the anguish and torment of the characters. Those characters suffer from little development and much confusion but are lit and filmed with utmost care and professionalism.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Conversation

In between making two of the most heralded films of all time in 1972 and 1974, writer/director Francis Ford Coppola made another film. That film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. That film was The Conversation. A taught psychological thriller, The Conversation isn’t as grand in scale or as epic in scope at The Godfather movies by which it is sandwiched but it’s a deeply intriguing look inside the world of audio espionage and the consequences of it. Gene Hackman leads a terrific cast as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who has second thoughts about handing in his latest recordings for fear that those he has recorded will be killed, a repeat of a previous job which still haunts him years later.

The film opens onto a magnificent scene which forms the basis of the whole movie. Initially shot from high up on a rooftop the camera details a large plaza in which hundreds of people are milling about, talking and eating lunch, people watching or simply passing through. The shot is alive with detail and beautifully constructed but as the camera slowly zooms in you begin to focus your attention on a mime. Eventually the mime starts to copy a man drinking a cup of coffee. That man is Harry Caul (Hackman). Caul is in the plaza spying a young couple who are slowly circling, deep in conversation. Once at ground level the camera cuts to several other angles, showing the other members of Caul’s team hard at work, attempting to record the conversation. I have seen few better opening sequences than the one detailed above. It’s slow to build, intriguing, interesting and opens up several possibilities for how to proceed.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Side Effects

I was in America recently and thought it would be a good opportunity to see a movie which won’t be out here in the UK for a while. Unfortunately I was there at a rare time during which there was little in US theatres which wouldn’t be in the UK by the time I got home. So instead I saw Side Effects, a film I hadn’t had a chance to see in England. Side Effects is said to be the final movie by Director Steven Soderbergh, the man behind films such as Erin Brokovich, Solaris and Contagion. Although not a huge fan of his entire back catalogue I think losing Soderbergh to film making would be a shame. He has produced some very fine films over the years with Side Effects being one of them.

We join the story days before Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) is released from a four year prison sentence for insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is eagerly but nervously awaiting his release. In the days following his return, her mood shifts towards anxiety and depression and when she drives her car straight into a wall she begins to see Psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks tries various methods and drugs before discovering the new drug Ablixa seems to control Emily’s moods. The drug gives her the side effect of sleep walking though, a side effect which turns out to have disastrous consequences for Martin, Emily and Dr Banks. The event destroys Banks’ career and while trying to clear his name he discovers a deeper, seedier plot.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Mothman Prophecies

This 2002 supernatural thriller is based on the true events of a 1967 disaster that struck a small town in West Virginia. It wasn’t a film I’d ever heard of and had read nothing of it before seeing it. The DVD was leant to me by a friend at work. I have serious problems with the idea, plot, direction and acting but my enjoyment increased the longer I stuck with it. Despite finding little pleasure for most of the two hours, by the end I was satisfied that I’d seen a fairly gripping and occasionally interesting thriller.

Two years after his wife’s death, newspaper columnist John Klein (Richard Gere) is driving south from Washington DC to Richmond, Virginia when his car breaks down. To his shock he discovers that he has broken down far west of where he thought he was and is in fact on the West Virginia – Ohio border, in the small town of Mount Pleasant. The town is home to some unexplained apparitions and premonitions which mirror those that plagued his wife in the hours before her death. People even begin drawing pictures that look like her own and when the predictions begin to come true, Klein attempts to track down the strange Mothman who is spotted all over town.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Berberian Sound Studio

An homage to Italian giallo horror films and the mechanics of cinema itself, Berberian Sound Studio stars Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a shy Englishman who gets a job as a Foley artist on the 1970s Italian film The Equestrian Vortex, an giallo horror with typical themes of Satanism and extreme violence. Gilderoy, man more at home capturing the sounds of the English countryside, is like a fish out of water and struggles to get to grips with the Italian way of film making as well as the horrific violence on screen. Set inside a claustrophobic sound studio, the film follows Gilderoy as he slowly becomes more and more dishevelled while trying his best to create the sound to accompany the terrifying visuals, none of which are ever seen on screen.

The film reaches a critical point around seventy minutes in from where everything goes a little strange. It can be described as being without plot and its ending is confusing to say the least. The preceding hour though is amongst the best I’ve seen from a 2012 film and up until the final third it was well inside my top 10 of the year. What is good is that prior knowledge of giallo isn’t necessary in order to enjoy it. I’ve only seen one giallo film in the last year, Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, and know very little about the genre but still really liked the film.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Girl

The Girl is a TV movie about the three year working relationship between Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his two time leading lady Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) star of TheBirds and Marnie. The plot, which has been widely criticised by people who knew the great Director, focuses on his attraction towards his starlet and her rebuff of his advances. Much like a great Hitchcock thriller the film takes a dark turn as Hitch forces Hedren to go through arduous scenes over and over again and puts her in compromising positions sexually.

I’m a fairly new convert to Hitchcock having seen seven of his films in the last year, all for the first time. The Birds is one of the few Hitchcock movies I had seen before I began blogging but not for a long time. It’s been on my list to watch for a few months but I hadn’t got around to it yet and this put me in a quandary; what to watch first? I decided to watch The Girl before re-watching The Birds but now I’m slightly fearful that its portrayal of the Director may put me off the film and perhaps Hitchcock in general.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia from a knock to the head on the same night that his wife was killed. The affliction means that although he can remember things from before that night, he is unable to store any new information for more than just a couple of minutes. His lack of short term memory causes huge problems for Leonard, especially as he is in the middle of a man hunt to track down his wife’s killer. In his pursuit Leonard is aided or hindered (he’s not quite sure) by a man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and a woman called Natalie (Carri-Anne Moss). All Leonard has to rely on are photos with notes written by himself and tattoos drawn all over his body which point to clues and reminders.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Memento is completely mad, difficult to follow and ingenious all at once as Director Christopher Nolan has since followed it up with the likes of Inception as well as his multi-billion dollar Dark Knight franchise. As twisted and confusing as Inception was though it has nothing on Memento which is presented in two separate but ultimately converging narratives. The first is filmed in black and white and is presented in a traditional linear way with scene following scene until the finale. The second and certainly more unique narrative strand is in colour and opens with the film’s finale before working its way back to the opening. The result is an incredibly complex and often frustrating plot which can leave you with more questions than answers.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


Gone is a sometimes tense but often boring psychological thriller from Brazilian Director Heitor Dhalia, working in the English language for the first time. Amanda Seyfried stars as Jill, a young woman living with her recovering alcoholic sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) after an alleged attack on her the previous year. The police dismissed her abduction and attack claims after finding no evidence and Jill was eventually admitted to a mental institute. Back in the present, Jill returns home one morning, after a nightshift as a waitress to find that her sister has disappeared. With little help from the police Jill takes it upon herself to track down Molly and her assailant, attracting the attention of the law towards herself in the process.

The film has frequent flashbacks to Jill’s alleged attack which come to her as she edges closer to tracking down Molly. The plot also opens lots of avenues for possible answers but leaves the audience feeling disappointed once the answers start arriving.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


"Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past - someone dead - can enter and take possession of a living being?"

A Detective, John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) is chasing down a criminal over the rooftops of San Francisco when he falls and is left hanging on a gutter. When a cop comes to his aid he falls, leaving the Detective racked with guilt and a new found fear of heights which brings on vertigo. After retiring from the police force he receives a call out of the blue from an old college friend (Tom Helmore) who asks Scottie to follow his wife who isn’t herself. Scottie follows the young woman, named Madeleine (Kim Novak) as she drives to strange places then claims to forget ever being there. There appears to be some sort of paranormal explanation to the proceedings as Madeleine keeps returning to the significant places in the life of a long dead relative of hers. Tragedy strikes at an old church which leaves Scottie facing questions about his own sanity. Slowly he must try to bring together the pieces of a puzzle which appears to be come from a box a few pieces short.

I recently read that Sight and Sound voted Vertigo as the greatest film ever. It was a combination of this fact and my recent discovery of Alfred Hitchcock’s films which drew me to this movie. Having now seen it I strongly disagree with Sight and Sound’s placing of Vertigo at number one but still believe it is a good, but not great film.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Red Lights

"How did you know that?"
"I'm psychic"

Psychologist and paranormal investigator Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) a physicist travel around debunking supposed paranormal activity from bumps in the night to stage psychics. Dr. Buckley wants to investigate their most challenging person to date, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a redound psychic who is making a comeback after a thirty year absence from the stage. Dr. Matheson warns Buckley against this though after having come up against him in the 1970s and failing to prove him a fraud. With the help of student Sally Owen (Elisabeth Olsen) Buckley defies Matheson and begins investigating the illusive Silver.

As a radical atheist and sceptic the film’s ideas appealed to me. I was delighted to watch the scientists make fun of and debunk people who claim to see ghosts and be able to read minds. The script treats these people with distain and isn’t afraid to mention how these people can be responsible for giving stupid people false hope and can even cost lives. The cast is also amongst the best of any film this year. With actors such as Signourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, the delightful Elizabeth Olsen and my all time favourite actor Robert De Niro, anything less than a great film would be a disappointment. Well, this isn’t a great film but it isn’t terrible either.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Mulholland Drive

Ooookaayyyy…. So. On Mulholland Dr. L.A. a woman (Laura Harring) is in the back of a car. In the front seat is a man with a gun to her head. Before he is able to fire at her another car hits theirs killing everyone but the woman. She escapes through scrub land and finds herself in a small apartment complex where she is able to sneak into the apartment of an old woman who is leaving town for a while. Meanwhile Betty (Naomi Watts), a young woman with acting aspirations arrives in L.A. and arrives at the same apartment which belongs to her Aunt. She goes inside but finds the escaped woman in the shower. The woman is unable to remember her name and after telling Betty all she remembers is an accident, the two of them set about trying to discover her identity. For some reason the woman’s bag is full of $100 bills and a single blue key. After much searching and seemingly unlinked sub plots a blue box is discovered and opened with the key. After that my internal monologue went a bit like this; “Wait... No So… That means… No… But… He was… Hang on… Ay?... Huh?... Who’s that?... Oh of course… Nope.

This is a completely mental film but I thought it was great. For two thirds it is a mystery with the odd surrealist moment thrown in. I found this part of the film really interesting and complex and had no idea what was happening or where it was going. Despite this I was enjoying the ride. Then it goes crazy. Suddenly people aren’t who they were and characters appear in strands of the story that they had no connection with. One character goes from an amnesiac to a lesbian to the partner of a film director in a couple of scenes while another goes from a vibrant and talented young woman to down and out prostitute. I don’t know how or why and on further reading it turns out that the cast didn’t either.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Tale of Two Sisters

Kim Ji-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird & I Saw the Devil) directs this tale of two sisters who are put in a mental institution after the death of their mother. When the sisters are bought back home by their father, they not only have to deal with their difficult new stepmother but also strange goings on inside the house.

The film confused the hell out of me and despite just watching it and then reading the plot synopsis online; I’m not entirely convinced I’ve fully understood it! I think it is a film that would benefit from a second viewing. You are never really sure what is real, what is imagined and what is misdirection and it takes a lot of effort to stay with what’s going on. The confusion isn’t aided by a fairly drawn out and slow first act in which very little happens. The third act more than makes up for the slow and dull beginning however. It is frantic and edgy and had my head spinning.

The horror element is more psychological than jumpy and there are very few visual scares. The film uses sound to good effect though to help raise and maintain tension. Kim Ji-woon’s directorial style is plastered all over the place. The film is incredibly stylish and uses some wonderfully beautiful and technically brilliant camera angles and sweeps. It is worth watching just for Kim’s technical ability behind the camera.

Another reason I’d recommend the film is because of the fantastic performances. In particular those of Im Su-Jeong (I’m a Cyborg…) as one of the sisters and Yeom Jeong-ah as the mother in law. Both performances are excellent and helped to keep me gripped while I was struggling with the plot.

Unsurprisingly, as with so many other Asian horror movies of its time, the film was remade in America with the title The Uninvited. That film lacks the gore and horror of the original and currently holds a 4.5/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When will Hollywood learn?

This film is by no means a masterpiece but features a confusing story which should keep you gripped. The acting is great and the direction, superb.     


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Three Extremes

WARNING - Adult Content. Do not read this post if you are easily offended.

Three Extremes is a trilogy of short horror films from three of East Asia’s most celebrated directors and whose films are at the more extreme end of Asian cinema.

The first segment Dumplings from Hong Kong director Fruit Chan is a disturbing and gruesome tale about a middle aged actress whose husband is having an affair with a younger woman. She visits seedy back street ‘doctors’ who prescribes her something that she is told will rejuvenate her and make her more attractive to her wayward husband. The prescription is, wait for it and get ready to double take, to eat chopped up human foetuses that have been prepared as dumplings. This is probably the most sick and disgusting idea I’ve ever seen in a film and didn’t blink for about a minute after it was revealed. And if you think that is bad, the ending is worse! What adds to the already horrific nature of the film is that the music used is more reminiscent of a French romantic comedy that a sick Asian horror. The film is well acted and directed and has a grimy and seedy look to it which works well. It is a shocking and deeply disturbing film that I shall not forget in a hurry. The slurping, crunching noise alone is enough to put me off dumplings for life.

With Dumplings setting the tone, the second segment is Cut from visionary Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst). The story revolves around a film director and his wife who are kidnapped by a psychopathic extra from his films and forced to play his sadistic games. While not as upsetting as Dumplings, Cut is a deeply unsettling psychological horror with darkly comic undertones. Park is the master of suspense and uses is to great effect here. His use of light in early scenes is also superb. The film additionally features immaculate cinematography and a wonderful tracking shot in its opening scene. The story is twisted and features great acting from Lee Byung-hun (I Saw the Devil) and Lim Won-hie who brings an air of farce to his psychopathic, ogre character. The film looks beautiful and despite an ending which confused me is my favourite of the three.

The final segment is Box from acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins). His film is more subdued and sombre than the first two and much less frantic. Its pace is slower and feels more like a feature than a short, despite being only around 40 minutes long. The story is of an ex circus performer who is haunted by the ghost of her sister who she was accidentally responsible for killing as a child. As a child she was jealous of her father’s incestuous relationship with her twin and that caused her to lock her sister in box before a fire. That’s as far as I can go with the plot because I’m not totally sure what is real, a dream or imagined but it gets pretty weird! I was a bit too confused to enjoy it as much as the other two but it is beautifully shot and has an interesting idea behind it.

All three films are worth watching if you can stomach the more extreme end of modern cinema. All three are made by film makers who are masters of their craft and in the case of Park and Miike whose films I am familiar with give you a sneak peek at the sort of films they are making every year.     


Saturday, 10 March 2012

I Saw the Devil

Some countries seem to excel in particular genres. For Korea it is thrillers, and particularly thrillers with a strong psychological edge and with revenge as the predominant theme. Of the top twenty rated Korean films on IMDb since 2000, half are explicitly themed around revenge.  I Saw the Devil is another example of Korea’s excellence in this genre. It is also one of the most brutally violent films I’ve ever watched. The fact that it was even censored in Korea should give you some indication as to the level of violence.

The police are on the hunt for a serial killer played by Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) but when Choi’s character Kyung-chul brutally murders the pregnant fiancé of Intelligence Agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun – The Good, the Bad, the Weird) he ends up with another man on his tail, a man who will stop at nothing for vengeance. Soo-hyun tracks down Kyung-chul and beats him senseless, but instead of killing him or handing him over to the authorities, Soo-hyun plants a tracking device inside the murderer so he can keep track of his every move and continue to enact his violent revenge over and over again.

The most obvious talking point regarding this film is its traumatic violence. Although it generally comes in short, sharp bursts, it is frequent and excruciating to witness. I’m not a fan of the Saw films and haven’t seen Hostel but along with Kill List this is probably the most violent film I’ve ever seen and I had to turn away from the screen on a couple of occasions. This is not a film for those who are easily put off by gore, brutality and violence. Although I think that the level of violence in warranted in the story, I thought that at times it did slightly detract from the telling of it. It did however show the lengths that Soo-hyun would go to in order to get revenge.

The film is directed skilfully by Kim Ji-woon, a man known for expert camera work and beautifully stylized films. Beautiful cinematography along with vengeance is another trademark of Korean cinema and is apparent here. Kim gets wonderful performances from his actors and both leads do a marvellous job. I cannot think of a more unsettling or memorable screen villain from recent times as Choi Min-sik’s Kyung-chul. He is a total monster without any redeeming features. Lee Byung-hun’s Soo-hyun is more complicated. He shows great emotional depth at times but as the film progresses he becomes more of a monster himself and the line between good and evil is not only crossed but trounced upon. In amongst the repugnant violence that both central characters exhibit, there is an undercurrent of real emotion and despite the overbearing brutality, this does come through on the screen. Both performances are incredibly powerful. The minor cast feature little but there are good performances from a cannibal and his partner who are met along the way.

Though violent, this scene is also darkly comic

I Saw the Devil is a film that is going to stay with me for a long time. This is in part down to the violence but I think more so because it is a well made and acted film with a strong central theme and a terrific and jaw dropping ending. It is dark and frenzied and although I wouldn’t say it is enjoyable, it is a fine film that sits rightly amongst the likes of Oldboy and Confessions.


Monday, 5 March 2012


Confessions is a Japanese psychological thriller about a teacher who seeks revenge after two of her pupils kill her young daughter. The film is told mostly through a series of written confessions in the shape of diary entries, letters and blogs, each being narrated by the character doing the writing. These intertwine and converge to complete a thrilling and uneasy film, full of twists and suspense.

The film opens with an impressive thirty minute monologue delivered by Takako Matsu who plays the principle character and teacher of a class of unruly thirteen year olds. The monologue, set in a classroom, is interspersed with flashbacks to her daughter’s death as she announces calmly to the class that her daughter has been killed by two of their number. She then goes on to let the class in on whom the culprits are and explain that she has laced the milk that they just drank with the HIV virus. The whole scene is performed magnificently by Matsu who delivers the monologue in an ominous yet calm and distant monotone. After this, the teacher warns the class that if anyone tells their parents then she will infect them too, and leaves the school for good. The rest of the film follows the lives of the two murderous school children over the next few months of their lives as they and their class deal with what has happened.

The film features some of the cornerstones of Asian cinematic themes. The story is one of vengeance which features prominently in the likes of Takashi Miike’s harrowing Audition and Park-Chan wook’s superb Oldboy, not to mention Quentin Tarantino’s Japanese inspired Kill Bill. Another theme of the film is juvenile delinquency, something that features significantly in Japanese horror due to Japanese children’s world renowned respect for their elders and good behaviour. This fear of aberrant children has been used to greatest effect in Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale but is taken to new heights in Confessions. Without giving too much away, some of the younger characters in the film are beastly and could give We Need to Talk About Kevin’s title character a run for his money. Other themes include loneliness and abandonment and as we learn more about the back story we begin to understand more about the motives for each of the central characters. This is never straight forward however and is released in a series of bluffs and counter bluffs which unbalance the audience.

I was slightly put off by the over-stylised directing, art direction and cinematography and was sometimes left wishing that Tetsuya Nakashima would just let the film play out without the slow motion, oddly placed shots of inanimate objects and cut scenes of clouds as the story is strong enough and powerful enough not to need it. I get the metaphor of the gathering storm but the film reminded me far too much of Zach Snyder and that’s never a good thing. I also found the choice of music slightly odd. It was a mixture of western pop songs and classical music interspersed with white noise from a guitar. Sometimes the white noise added to the tension but the story created enough tension without it while I thought the western pop music was misplaced.

The acting from the main cast was excellent. Takako Matsu conveys the heartbreak at losing her daughter while also she also maintains a creepy and calculating air to her. The three main child actors are also fantastic and deserve special mention. All three perform excellently and don’t have easy roles to play. It is rare to see acting of this standard from such a young cast. The rest of the cast are a bit hit and miss but don’t feature too much anyway.

The film’s suspense and mystery build to a horrifying yet strangely satisfying end in the third act and it completes a wonderfully thrilling and well told film that features some astonishing acting and a compelling and gripping story.


Monday, 6 February 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

If anyone ever writes a book of the worst film titles in history, Martha Marcy May Marlene will be sure to feature. This is a great shame as the film itself is fantastic.

Featuring Elizabeth Olsen in a breakout role, the film cuts between Martha’s (Olsen) time as a cult member and after fleeing, her stay with her older sister and brother-in-law. The scenes of Martha in the cult are often dark and chilling. She is degraded and abused but seems powerless to resist what is happening. Later, we watch as she is in the cult’s inner circle and now the one who is doing the abusing. While with her sister, Martha is distant, confused and scared. She often doesn’t know how to act around ‘normal’ people and this results in inappropriate and odd behaviour. Martha is obviously deeply traumatised by her time with the cult and becomes increasingly paranoid that they are still watching her and waiting to take her back.  

Martha feels uncomfortable back, in the real world

Olsen’s central performance is outstanding. Innocent and awkward yet beautiful, she is thoroughly believable as the sort of young girl who could get caught up in a cult. She is also excellent while back in normal society, playing a young woman who is trying to forget what she has been a part of. Her performance is the highlight of the film. John Hawkes who plays cult leader, Patrick, is also fantastic. He is domineering and powerful yet has an air of attraction about him. You can feel and understand why the young men and women are drawn to him and kept under his spell. His is a performance that should also draw great plaudits.

Martha under Patrick's spell

There are two disappointing things about this otherwise exceptional film. The first is the title. I spent the whole film trying to remember what it was called and it left a nagging feeling in the back of my mind throughout. I went through all the female names I could think of beginning with ‘M’ and tried combining them. ‘Is it Mary Martha Maud Marlene? Mia Michelle Margaret May? It became very frustrating! My second problem is the ending. The film builds up ninety minutes of tension and just as it reaches a crescendo, ends. This was a shame as it kind of left the audience hanging. I understand that sometimes a film wants to leave the ending up to the interpretation of its audience but I didn’t think it worked this time. It wasn’t The Sopranos.

Apart from those two, admittedly small problems, Martha Marcy May Marlene (is that right?) is a wonderful film with a fantastic central performance from Elizabeth Olsen, who we are sure to see much more of in the future.