Tag Archives: Andrea Riseborough

Hidden (2015)

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This is an intriguing little drama-horror-thriller that you should avoid reading about with the exception of this spoiler-free review.

I say that because the premise is not immediately apparent and only slowly reveals itself, layer by layer, as the narrative progresses. It’s a film that maintains your attention because you don’t know exactly what is going on and you want to find out.

All we know is that there is a family of three, a father (played by True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard) and mother (Oblivion’s Andrea Riseborough) and a young daughter (Emily Alyn Lind). They live “hidden” in an underground bunker of sorts, dark and bare, but we don’t know why or exactly what they’re hiding from out on the surface (well, that poster’s a bit of a spoiler).

It’s clear they’re alone and terrified, and, as the film moves along at a measured pace, the tension and claustrophobia continues to grow.

I really can’t say much more than that other than to say it’s a neat low-budget flick that’s worth seeing on DVD on VOD services if you happen to come across it. The performances are solid and the writing and direction of brothers Ross and Mark Duffer is confident — you can tell they have a very specific type of experience in mind and know just how to execute it.

As a film that hinges on its mysterious premise and inherent intrigue, Hidden does occasionally play tricks that are sometimes obvious or don’t always work. If you don’t buy into the family’s predicament you probably won’t be able to stay with it till the end.

Granted, it’s not the type of film that will truly terrify you with its horror elements or captivate you with its family drama, but there are enough thrills and surprises to make this well-made, atmospheric slow burn an enjoyable experience.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Birdman (2014)

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I was real amped up to see Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I had zero idea what it was about and had only seen the poster and flashes of the trailer — but I was convinced it would be brilliant from all the critical acclaim and award nominations. Even word-of-mouth reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with only one claim of apparent “pretentiousness.”

And so it saddens me to say I found Birdman a relative disappointment. It’s indeed a remarkable film that deserves the accolades — whether it is the stylish and complex direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu, the worthy Oscar-nominated performances of Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, or the ridiculously impressive script (co-written by Iñárritu) — but the totality of the viewing experience felt ultimately hollow. It’s a technically amazing work of art that didn’t connect with me at a deeper level for whatever reason.

Birdman is a coal-black comedy; a filmmakers’ film for Hollywood and Broadway insiders. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former Hollywood star who once found fame as the masked superhero Birdman but now finds himself fading into obscurity in the internet age. To regain relevance and self-respect, he writes, directs and produces an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story — with himself in the lead role, of course — on Broadway. That’s the core of the film, though there are always subplots spiralling around him, from his feisty rehab-returned daughter (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan) to his undermining new star recruit (Edward Norton) and occasional fling (Andrea Riseborough). Also in the all-star cast are Naomi Watts, playing a first-time Broadway performer, a slimmed-down and surprisingly serious Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s lawyer, and Lindsay Duncan as a theater critic out to get him. On top of all that, Riggan has his old character Birdman talking in his ear all the time, AND he might have actual superpowers.

It’s a delicious mess of interesting ideas and characters that moves around at neck-breaking pace, but the script and direction of Iñárritu manages to keep Birdman a very tight and controlled experience where everything is by design. One of the most noticeable things about the film is the deliberate lack of cuts. Apart from a few minor exceptions, most of the movie rolls along as though it was filmed in one long continuous take, with the camera moving around from one set piece to another and following one character after another. On the one hand it keeps the pace up and the action fluid without breaks, much like real life, while on the other it provides a nice contrast to the stage production depicted in the film. I was impressed by it (as I was when I saw Gravity the year before) and didn’t find it a distraction, though at times it felt like a decision intended to add to the “wow” factor of the film’s technical superiority as opposed to something that adds substance to the film’s narrative.

The film also weaves multiple ideas and techniques in a clever way by embracing traditional movie cliches — the aging actor’s last hurrah, the rebellious offspring, the egotistical performer trying to steal the limelight, the biased critic, etc — and putting a twist on it. The choice of Michael Keaton as Riggan/Birdman was obviously intentional, given that Keaton hasn’t exactly done much since he played another masked crusader all those years ago, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that Edward Norton was chosen to play an actor with a reputation of being difficult to work with. Yet both guys run with the roles and deliver arguably two of the best male performances of the year to nab well-deserved Oscar nominations.

With all these established names in the cast, it’s probably more difficult for the acting to be poor in this film than for it to be absolutely terrific, and even watching it you get the sense that the actors are having a lot of fun showing off what they can do.

I actually think Birdman is in some ways very similar to The Grand Budapest Hotel (review here), coincidentally another Best Picture nominee leading the Oscars pack with nine nominations. Both critically-acclaimed films are tightly wound and have bold, supremely confident scripts filled with rapid-fire dialogue that will probably be used as examples in screenwriter classes around the world. Both are also clever comedies, though the humour in Birdman is darker and more subtle.

Just like The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, I also found Birdman difficult to form an emotional connection with. In both cases I was in awe of the production — the script, the direction and the acting — and yet I wouldn’t consider either one as a film I loved, a profound experience, or something I would want to watch over and over again. To put it another way — I can point to truly great things about the films rather than point to the films as truly great. The individual components of Birdman are undoubtedly top-class, but the whole came across less than the sum of its parts. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Birdman or was not entertained by it, it’s just that I found myself more impressed by it than being genuinely fond of it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Oblivion (2013)

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I won’t lie. Oblivion looked pretty awesome from the trailers and I had expected a lot. Which might explain why the film was kind of disappointing. It’s perfectly adequate and beautiful to look at, with moments of tension and occasional thrills. But in the end, it is a film that falls way short of its lofty ambitions and does little to separate itself from other post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks in recent years.

It is no surprise that the film was directed and co-written by Joseph Kosinski, who made his silver screen debut with Tron: Legacy in 2010, another sci-fi flick that values style over substance. Kosinski’s background is in CGI commercials, including for video games Halo and Gears of War, and he definitely brings that video game feel to Oblivion.

The story is told largely through the point of view of Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a technician who fixes drones on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been rendered uninhabitable following the attack of an alien race. Harper resides in a futuristic home with his mission and personal partner (Andrea Riseborough), who maintains regular contact with a woman (Melissa Leo) from headquarters.

Not surprisingly, things start to fall apart for Jack following an encounter with Scanvengers and a frightening discovery. He starts to wonder if everything he believes is real, and whether the reality he knows is an illusion. I don’t need to say much more, but you can already tell from the brief summary that Oblivion has a fairly typical sci-fi storyline about one man’s search for the truth, and that truth is probably what you suspected all along.

I guess that’s where my problem with the film lay. While it had its fair share of action-packed moments, including several high-speed chases and explosive gunfights, the film travelled at what felt like an intentionally slowed pace so it would come across as more of a “thinking man’s” sci-fi movie. But the thing is, the more I thought about the movie the less sense it made, and the less clever and creative it felt. It just wasn’t as original or intelligent or “different” as it thought it was or wanted to be. The plot twists were also rather predictable and the ending was overdone.

That said, it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie, which did have its moments. Tom Cruise, notwithstanding all his crazy shenanigans off camera, is his usual solid self and delivers a performance that carries the film throughout. I particularly liked his interactions with Riseborough, and thought he had much more chemistry with her than with Olga Kurylenko, who appears midway through the film. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, felt like a poor casting choice, mainly because his star power meant he would get some screen time in the trailers, which is essentially a big spoiler, and also because that damn voice is so recognisable. Also underused was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), who plays one of Freeman’s henchmen.

The film placed a strong emphasis on visuals, with sweeping landscapes, cool-looking machines and gadgets. All that is good stuff, but it’s a shame the screenplay couldn’t make the film more engaging from an emotional and intellectual standpoint. A lot of questions were left unanswered and the questions that were (kind of) answered didn’t have impact I had been hoping for. In the end, I’d say Oblivion was perfectly adequate, but by no means a sci-fi classic or even one of the more memorable sci-fi films I’ve seen in the past decade.

3 out of 5