Movie Review: Stoker [2013]

Stoker [2013]

Stoker [2013]
Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer)
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Running Time: 99 minutes

Stoker will forever be known as Chan-wook Park’s first English language feature film, and the comparisons to his Vengeance trilogy are hard to avoid. However, it is best to go into his latest film with an open mind. Stoker is strong enough to stand on its own, comparisons be damned.

The film begins with a funeral for Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), a wealthy man who passed away in a car accident on his daughter India’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday. She remains in the care of her estranged mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), but they are soon joined by Richard’s long-lost brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode). Right off the bat it seems that something is amiss with Charlie. Goode plays him to smarmy perfection as he weasels his way into the household. Evelyn falls for his charms rather quickly; India, not so much.

Stoker [2013]

India is a complex girl. She’s quiet and often gets picked on at school, but she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself. The loss of her father has clearly been quite damaging, and Charlie’s insistence on building a friendship with her is not exactly welcomed. Yet as she learns more about her seemingly-vagrant uncle, she begins to discover things about herself that she perhaps didn’t know before.

As such, Stoker is something of a “coming of age” tale. However, it’s unlike any such tale you have seen before. After all, this is a Chan-wook Park film with a screenplay written by Prison Break star, Wentworth Miller. Stoker is completely unnerving during its entire running time, and it seems determined to leave its audiences feeling as uncomfortable as possible. Violence is kept to a minimum, but Park plays with a number of social taboos, all using a distinct visual style that only he can offer. His use of color and flawless transition shots are a thing of beauty, even if at times they do distract from the film itself.

Stoker [2013]

The cast here is terrific, led by the very talented Mia Wasikowska. Best known for playing Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Wasikowska thrives in this much, much darker role. It’s also great to see Nicole Kidman deliver another strong performance in her limited screen time, but perhaps most surprising is Matthew Goode. He has one of those faces where he feels instantly familiar, but beyond his pretty face is a disturbing interior that comes out more and more throughout the film. While Wasikowska is the star, Goode is the one who keeps the wheels turning.

Stoker is arguably Chan-wook Park’s most accessible work, but it’s still not for everyone (even notable amongst critics, given its 66% Rotten Tomatoes average). For those willing to brave the incommodious atmosphere, this is a rare great film released during the first quarter of the year. Park has transferred his talent masterfully to Hollywood, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

8/10

2012 Movie Mini-Reviews: Dredd, Seven Psychopaths, The Paperboy

I was able to indulge in a movie marathon of sorts over the weekend, catching up another few films that I missed out on last year. Here are some quick reviews for all three:

Dredd [2012]
Dredd [dir. Pete Travis]
I always know I have come across a great comic book film when it has made me want to read some of the comics afterward. The only other franchise that has made me want to do so is Batman, namely Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Now I can say the same for Dredd, a gritty action film that surprised the hell out of me.

Dredd feels like a throwback to the old school, ultra-violent 80s action movies, but in a setting not unlike last year’s kinetic Indonesian film, The Raid. Karl Urban stars as the eponymous character, a badass police officer who acts as a judge, jury and executioner. He is partnered up with a rookie, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is a mutant with psychic abilities. When the two of them are sent to investigate a triple homicide, they are locked into a 200-story slum tower block by the evil drug lord “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey, completely unrecognizable from her even more sinister role as Cersei in Game of Thrones). Now, rather than capture a suspect and leave, the officers must fight for their lives to escape.

In terms of plot, Dredd is remarkably simple, but there is enough style to draw you in and not let go. This is a dark, brutal film that never really lets its foot off the pedal. Some of the visual effects — such as an overabundance of slow motion techniques — seem to have been created for 3D and therefore fall flat on DVD, but these are just small issues in what is otherwise a very enjoyable action flick. 8/10

Seven Psychopaths [2012]
Seven Psychopaths [dir. Martin McDonagh]
Seven Psychopaths is the second collaboration between director/writer Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell (the first being 2008’s critically-acclaimed In Bruges), and it doesn’t miss a beat. Farrell stars as Marty Faranan, a struggling screenwriter who gets tangled up in a ridiculous series of events when his best friend (Sam Rockwell) steals the Shih Tzu of an explosively-tempered gangster (Woody Harrelson). Like In Bruges, the writing is extremely clever and loaded with biting dark comedy and Tarantino-esque violence. Occasionally a joke will fall flat, but then another will pop up shortly after that will bring out the major laughs.

The cast here is incredible, with some noteworthy supporting roles from Christopher Walken (in his best performance in years), Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton. There’s even an amusing wink at Boardwalk Empire during the film’s opening scene, as it involves cameos from two of my favorite actors from the show: Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg. The real star here, however, is Sam Rockwell, who is an absolute riot for most of the film. His monologue in the desert is hilarious, and it is one of the best scenes I have come across this year. Seven Psychopaths may be too spastic for some, but I had a great time with the film. 8/10

The Paperboy [2012]
The Paperboy [dir. Lee Daniels]
The Paperboy is a hot mess of a film, one that revels in its trashy Southern Gothic atmosphere. The film follows two brothers, Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Jack Jensen (Zac Efron), who are investigating a death row inmate (John Cusack) that they believe may be innocent. Or rather, Ward is looking to get a story out of this that he can write for the Herald. He doesn’t really care if the man is innocent or not. They become involved with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a middle-aged woman who has fallen in love with the inmate despite never meeting him.

There are many different subplots at play in The Paperboy, and as such the film never really knows where it wants to go. Occasionally there are random moments of incredibly bizarre actions — there is a certain scene involving jellyfish that everyone seems to talk about — and director Lee Daniels often appears to just throw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see if it sticks. The lack of proper direction is frustrating, but there is still an entertaining film underneath (albeit a rather filthy one). If there’s one thing the film nails, it is its visual appeal. The washed-out color tones are a perfect fit for the sticky Floridian setting. The Paperboy is all over the place, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this gather somewhat of a cult following someday. 6/10

Have you seen any of these? What did you think of them?

Movie Review: Rabbit Hole [2010]

Rabbit Hole [2010]

Rabbit Hole [2010]
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Feeling down in the dumps? Then you may want to steer clear of Rabbit Hole, an extremely depressing film that follows the lives of a grieving couple eight months after their 4-year-old son was tragically killed. The parents, Becca and Howie (played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart), are desperately trying to get their lives back on track. They try going to support groups, but Becca has issues with how other couples turn to religion for healing. They entertain thoughts of selling the house, getting rid of their child’s belongings and thinking of everything they can to distance themselves from the situation. Nothing seems to work.

It doesn’t help that there are signs of their child everywhere. Becca’s sister (Tammy Blanchard) announces that she’s pregnant, which brings out natural feelings of jealousy. The family’s dog brings back memories; after all, it was this dog that their son was chasing after when he was tragically hit by a car. Even seeing mothers with their children in a grocery store raises signs of grief in Becca. She is considerably worse off than Howie, who deals with his issues in more subdued ways.

Rabbit Hole [2010]

As you can expect, this is all pretty brutal stuff. Watching the parents fight with each other while trying to obtain some resemblance of the life they used to have can be really hard to watch. This is because of incredibly powerful performances from Kidman and Eckhart, who together have fantastic chemistry. Their roles in Rabbit Hole rank among their career best, and they take a seemingly basic plot and push it to another level. The movie seems like something that has been seen and heard before, but it rises a step above others thanks to its magnificent acting.

Thankfully, director John Cameron Mitchell found a way to squeeze in some bits of humor to try to occasionally lighten the mood. One scene in particular had me busting up when Howie and an acquaintance (Sandra Oh) at the support group enter the meeting while stoned out of their minds. These moments of laughter are few and far in between, but they are very welcome when they appear.

Rabbit Hole requires one to be in the right mood upon watching, and tissues should definitely be on hand while doing so. This is a movie that is oftentimes uncomfortable, but it is a very well told story aided by great performances. It’s a shame that this slipped under the radar last year, as it is one of the better 2010 releases I have seen.

8/10