Review – Searching

Every so often, a film comes along and exceeds all of the virtually non-expectations I have for it. Searching is one of those films, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s had that effect on a lot of people.

The film follows David Kim (John Cho) who has drifted from his daughter Margot (Michelle La) since the death of her mother. When Margot goes missing, David pulls out all the stops to bring his daughter home. Sounds pretty straightforward, but I can assure you that Searching is anything but.

Straightaway, the film gets off to an interesting start with an opening sequence that is majorly reminiscent of the opening to Pixar’s Up. I don’t know if it was something done intentionally, but I thought it was a nice touch and was an effective way to quickly get the audience emotionally invested in the characters.

John Cho and the character he played were both fantastic. It was the little details about David that worked wonders for the authenticity of the whole film, which is something it has been widely praised for. Things like how he didn’t instantly know what everything was or how it worked – these weren’t the biggest of things to include but they did make the biggest difference. Cho’s performance did a fantastic job of showing a father’s desperation in searching for his daughter. He was really easy to get behind, which I think is half the battle sometimes. These characters can often come off as super abrasive, and sympathising with them can be challenging as a result. David had a willingness to listen that meant he was actually a help, rather than a hindrance to the investigation, and remained very composed despite his desperations and so was massively more likeable.

Deborah Messing starred opposite Cho as Detective Rosemary Vick. Her part in the film turned out to be far more important than I had originally expected, and I think the way the story utilised Vick was brilliant. Messing was good in the role, and gave us just enough to believe she was all she said she was.

The writing for Searching is superb. Every part of it is so well crafted. Obviously I’ve already commented on some of the main characters, so I’ll now take a moment to talk about the story. What I loved about it was the fact it gave you all the hints you needed to work things out yourself, but did so s subtlety that you didn’t always pick up on it until it was too late. This meant that every turn the story made was entirely plausible, and you never once sat there thinking, ‘well, that was just for the sake of being twisty’.

The final thing I shall mention before signing off is the way Searching was filmed. It dawned on me ver early on how screen recordings were being used, however it hit me at the end that the entire film was shot this way. I loved this concept, not only for it’s originality, but for how it proves how accessible filmmaking is with a bit of creativity. I also have a lot of admiration for the amount of stage management this set up must have required. I know the difficulties I encounter when I open more than 3 windows at a time. To have been able to execute this as cleanly as it was done must’ve taken a lot of organisation, and I can only commend writer and director Amersham Chaganty for his vision here.

Searching was a surprise for me. A film that I’d have known very little about beforehand if it wasn’t for a trailer being forced upon me at a cinema screening a couple of months ago, it seems to have come out of nowhere, and that could very well be the secret to it’s apparent success so far. It takes an ultra-realistic and highly original approach to a type of story that I don’t think has been told as artfully as this before. You see real people on the screen thanks to the wonderful jobs all the actors have done, and the plot keeps you guessing until the final moments, meaning you cannot take your attention away for a second. I’ve a funny feeling this is a film that will be making it’s way onto the top ten lists of many people at the end of the year, and it’s really not hard to see why. Get yourself a ticket booked and see this film because you absolutely could do far worse.

Review – The Game

Every so often, I’ll watch a film that will well and truly make my brain go numb.

Not in the sense that it is so amazing that I can’t begin to comprehend it, but more so the fact that I have no idea what is going on, nor do I have any desire to find out.

That’s how I felt when it came to watching The Game. David Fincher seems to love a mystery revolving around a treasure hunt. Unfortunately this isn’t one of his best efforts. The film plods along and never once gave me much to grab onto in order to stick around for the duration. There’s no mesmerising female antagonist such as that handed to us by Gone Girl, and there is most certainly not a prolific serial killer waiting at the end of the saga as was the case in Se7en. Instead, what we get here is a rich guy who is one hell of a dick, and bad things happen to him. I mean, excuse me for struggling to get with the programme here but why exactly would anyone want over two hours of that?

I’m pretty indifferent to Michael Douglas’ acting – perhaps I’ve not seen his best films yet. I didn’t find his performance as Nicholas Van Orton to be anything special, but it wasn’t terrible either. Average is the word I’m searching for here, I believe. I was, however, excited to see Sean Penn’s name attached to this film, then I felt a wave of disappointment crash into me when it turned out he was playing a character who would appear for all of three scenes.

Everywhere this film turned, it just offered up something that fell massively below my expectations. I bet for the entire first two-thirds of the film there was nothing that got the heart racing for me. In fact, I almost reached a point where I didn’t finish it. I haven’t felt more disengaged with a film for a long. The Game really did not float my boat at all.

All that being said though, I can’t really drag it through the mud because it wasn’t terrible. Nothing extraordinary, but certainly not bad. Shall we just say that I experienced some creative differences with the people who helmed this project and move on?

One thing I absolutely cannot fault is the score. It did an excellent job of creating mystery and tension throughout the film, regardless of whether either of those two things ever amounted to anything. At least it hinted at what the film was trying to do, even if it never managed to execute any of the plans the the music seemingly laid out.

Needless to say, I was left severely underwhelmed by The Game. On paper, it did all the right things – intriguing premise, decent cast and a director who is bit of a dab-hand when it comes to the mystery genre. But it just fell flat. At no point did it ever really start to get going, and as a result, I found it very hard to actually stick with the film until the bitter end. And when I did finish The Game, the final outcome was not worth it. Overall, I must admit that I should’ve admitted defeat far earlier.

Review – April Flowers

After finding a journal, a young woman embarks on a quest to find it’s owner, but becomes hopeful that she may also find something else along the way.When April (Celina Jade) discovers a lost journal on the subway, she has a flick through the pages in the hope it provides her with some clue as to who the owner is. She gets more than she bargained for, however, as she realises that the owner of the book is a fantastic but perhaps troubled writer. She very quickly becomes obsessed with the book, it’s contents and her visions of the owner, and is intent on returning the journal to the person it belongs to. As the the search unfolds, April continues to build up the fantasy in her head, to an extent that may jeopardise very real relationships that already exist in her own life.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of April Flowers. It certainly isn’t the type of film I would usually go in for, and there were elements of it that I definitely wasn’t a fan of. That being said, however, there were aspects of the film that I thought were interesting and brought up questions about human nature and how we define things in life.

The lead performance here massively helped the film in getting it’s ideas across. Celina Jade portrayed April with an air of uncertainly that I think is within all of us to an extent. She was torn between the relationship she had with Jared, played by Jon Fletcher, and what could have been with the journal’s owner. It was a performance that everyone can relate to in some way or another, and this made it very easy to get on the same level as Jade’s character.

Perhaps my favourite performance in this film came from the actress playing April’s best friend, Laura. She may not have had the largest role in the story, but when she did make an appearance, it flowed very well. She is a very natural actress, and her character had a vital part in providing April with perspective on the situation she found herself in. 

I have to admit that I wasn’t the greatest fan of the style of this film. The narration provided by Helen Stern didn’t feel necessary. This would have been something that worked far better for me had the narration been done by the same person playing the protagonist here i.e. Celina Jade. I just didn’t really know who the narrator was supposed to represent. If it were up to me, I’d have preferred that April narrated her own story as if she were writing in her own journal as it would have fitted in better with the framework of the film.

I mentioned at the beginning that the film raised a number of questions about many things that we’re all quite familiar with. The way it drew attention to the way we view decision-making, especially when it comes to relationships and strong emotions, was something that really resonated with me. We’ve all been in situations where we could go either way and still worry about what the outcome could mean for us, and this film just seemed to capture the difficulties that surround these moments with ease.

All in all, April Flowers was not my type of film, but when I looked at what it was trying to say, I found a lot that I could relate to, which did it a lot of favours. There are performances here by actors who I think show a lot of potential, and the same thing can be said for the film’s writer and director, Christopher Tedrick, as he did such a great job of exploring something that is a complex part of human nature.

Review – Rear Window

A wheelchair bound photographer has only the rear window of his apartment to fill his time while he recovers form a broken leg, and believes he may have witnessed a murder taking place during his recuperation period.

Legendary photographer L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart) has been confined to barracks after getting a little too close to the action at his last job and breaking his leg. Between visits from his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and lover, Lisa (Grace Kelly), all he has to do is stare out of the window of his apartment at what his neighbours are doing. Before long, however, the mundane goings-on take a more sinister turn, or at least Jeff thinks so when he spies activities that only point towards murder in his eyes. He has a hard time convincing his friends and associates of what he’s seen, which leaves everyone wondering what really happened between two of the neighbours.

The Talking Stars podcast recently did an episode focusing on the films of Alfred Hitchcock – a director whose work I had seen next to nothing of when I heard news of this special episode we were doing on his films. This meant I had homework to do. The Hitchcock film with which I made my maiden voyage was Rear Window, and here’s what I thought…

I quite enjoyed James Stewart in his role. His performance was typical of what I’d imagine men were like during this time, and in a way, was quite true to what many men would be like today. I could feel his frustration as he tried to convince those around him of what he believed he had seen, although I needed some convincing myself as to whether or not a murder had taken place.

The main female performances here were one of the things I liked most about the whole film. In my eyes, Thelma Ritter and Grace Kelly didn’t play women that would have been most in line with the period. Both had a rebellious streak, evident in the scenes where they went to investigate one of Jeff’s neighbours’ apartments. This was nice to see as Rear Window was created in a time when women were very much expected to know their place and stay there. For them to be the ones who carried out Jeff’s dirty work for him was good to see.

This film’s subject matter is what I would say has secured it’s place in history. Looking out of windows is something that we all do, especially when we think something of interest is going on outside. Hitchcock captured the element of human curiosity terrifically well within this setting, and such elements have never changed, and perhaps never will. On the face of it, it is such a simple area to explore, but evidently there is so much to be gained from it as the film has stood, and continues to stand, the test of time.

On the whole, Rear Window was a nice introduction to the films of Alfred Hitchcock for me. I liked the main characters, and found some scenes to be very funny. It has certainly developed for me an interest in films from the master of suspense, and so I am eager to watch more from him. 

Review – Mystic River

Three childhood friends whose lives took separate turns following a tragedy are reunited by circumstance when dark days return.

Back in the summer of 1975, the lives of three school friends changed forever when one of them was abducted and sexually abused for days. Thirty years down the line, those three boys are brought back together. Jimmy Markum’s (Sean Penn) daughter is murdered , and the cop leading the investigation is Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon). Bad times bring out traces of the old friendship, even with Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) – the victim of the abduction on that fateful day all those years ago. However, the investigation into the murder turns it’s attention towards Dave when a few things begin to stack up against him. What was it that happened to Jimmy’s daughter, and can that friendship from years ago stand up against the tests it is currently facing?

A film I’ve been wanting to see for a while now is Mystic River, and finally I was able to watch it last week. It was very much worth the wait I can tell you, although there is part of me that is still not quite over the stupid ending it was given.

This film was an absolute powerhouse for performances. Tim Robbins played long-tormented Dave Boyle, and my God, wasn’t he tremendous. the years of torture and suffering he had gone through were prominent in the display put on by Robbins. He made Dave a very unreadable character at the same time however, and I think that is what made the performance so wonderful, and fully deserving of the Oscar he received for his efforts.

Sean Penn joined Robbins as a fellow Oscar winner with his performance as Jimmy. I found Penn to be very moving as his character struggled to come to terms with the death of his daughter. I thought he showed lots of different dimensions with his portrayal of Jimmy, who was a bit of a gangster in some ways. It was one of those roles that I think show just how talented Penn is, and how versatile he can be, even within the same role.

We all know what a seasoned professional Clint Eastwood is when it comes to film, whether he be on screen or in the director’s chair. He does something where, for me, he just strips everything back to the bare bones and builds it back up using super solid acting as the foundations. This style of directing can be seen in American Sniper and Million Dollar Baby, and again here. Eastwood certainly seems to know what is is he is doing, and Mystic River is yet another example to prove this.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the only real criticism I have of this film is the way it ended. I don’t know who exactly this ‘creative’ decision was down to, but I must say I feel as though where the story ended massively let down the rest of the film. A small snippet of a review I saw said something like, ‘Short of greatness, but superb anyway’ – don’t quote me entirely on that, however. I can’t help but feel that had the film have needed sensibly, Mystic River may have reached this greatness that is spoken of.

All in all, I would certainly urge you to take the time to see Mystic River is you haven’t already. For the terrific cast and absolutely stellar performances alone it is worth it, but is is the undertones of the film that mean it will not leave you in a hurry. It begs the question of whether you can ever fully detach yourself from your past, and I think it is this quality that makes the film stick in my mind at least – regardless of what I thought about the ending. 

Review – Shutter Island

A U.S. Marshal is called to a hospital for the criminally insane when one of the inmates goes missing.

Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel to Shutter Island to investigate the very mysterious disappearance of one of the hospital’s patients, Rachel Solando. She had been put there after drowning her three children. Teddy is a WW2 veteran, still traumatised by things he had seen when he helped liberate a concentration camp and hit harder still by the death of his wife after their house was set on fire. He has a hard time accessing records and feels that there are people at the hospital trying to obstruct the investigation. It comes to his attention that there are 67 patients, however management insists that there are only 66. Teddy knows that whatever is going on, it is up to him to try to solve it, however it seems closure will come at a serious cost.

I didn’t really like Shutter Island. I only watched it after months of my friends asking whether or not I had seen it, and I must admit I certainly didn’t think it was worth the wait. Coming from Martin Scorsese, I was expecting big things anyway, and the number of people who recommended it to me definitely gave me hope that it would be a very good film, but I just didn’t like it.

Shutter Island featured the trusty partnership between Scorsese and DiCaprio – a collaboration that has happened on a. N umber of occasions now. DiCaprio’s performance as Teddy was good – his desperation to find the missing patient was second to none. Ruffalo as his partner, Chuck, was also very good. Ben Kingsley added a touch of class as Dr. Cawley, the lead psychiatrist at the hospital and then a few other familiar faces appeared as well. However, and I know this is probably just because I didn’t like the film in general, none of the characters really grew on me. None of the cast were anyone that I’m particularly fond of and so I wasn’t prepared to hang my soul on any of them. At least if the film had have starred an actor or actress I quite liked, I might have been more willing to fall for it.

I really was quite disappointed with this offering from Scorsese. After recently watching a number of his films, I’ve come to expect a high standard from him and Shutter Island did not meet it. The whole thing that I think got critics raving about this film is the big reveal at the end… that me, my mum and my dad had figured out halfway through it. When watching films such as Casino and The Departed, I never really knew what to expect from minute to minute. With this, the whole thing it rested on was the ending, and seeing as we successfully worked it out at roughly the 104 minute mark, that wasn’t all that good either.

All in all, I wouldn’t encourage you to invest two and a half hours of your time in Shutter Island. If you do, make sure you watch it all in the one go – I can’t help but think that I may have enjoyed the film slightly more had I have watched it in one session during the day as opposed to over two rather later nights. Still, no matter what time I’d have seen it, I stand by the idea that it would never have been my cup of tea. 

Review – Prisoners

On a Thanksgiving weekend, two little girls go missing and it is up to a desperate father and a detective to find them.

Whilst having dinner with friends, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) has to face every parents worst nightmare; his six year old daughter, Anna, has vanished along with her friend, Joy. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that he kids had been playing around earlier. The man who’s heading up the investigation into the disappearances, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), arrests the driver but lack of evidence leads to his release. Time goes by and the pressure mounts, knowing that with every moment that passes the chances of finding the two girls decreases, and Keller decides that there is nothing for it other than to take matters into his own hands. But just how far would he go for the sake of his daughter’s life?

YESSS! I finally got round to watching Prisoners. Whilst I was on holiday, I found a wonderful DVD shop and spent a good while looking through it. And I found this, and I’m so happy I did because I’ve been wanting to see it for ages. Was it worth the wait? I’d say it was, for the majority of the film at least. The story was so gripping, and it stayed that way throughout, which from a crime thriller is what you want – something that you can’t tear yourself away from.

On the back of the box, Time Out says it is ‘brilliantly acted’, and they are not wrong. Each of the lead performances were something fierce. Jackman as Keller was incredible. He was completely believable as he set off on his quest to find the missing girls, whilst also trying to hold it together for his remaining family members. He seemed to feel that he was expected to find the girls and you could sense the desperation in him. It was a very moving performance and, like Time Out said, brilliant.

Then we move onto Gyllenhaal. As always, he was amazing. He really got into the role and gave Detective Loki that special touch he gives any character he plays. He also got plenty of screen time which made me very happy. There is just something about his presence that can make a film for me, and was the main reason I wanted so badly to see Prisoners. I mean, yes, I’m the first to say he’s very easy to look at, and I suppose that always helps, but he is a remarkable actor and he goes for lots of tough roles in some very good films, so you can see why I get excited when I see his name on a poster somewhere.

As for the story, I also thought that was very good. There were all manner of twist and turns that I thought refreshed the whole thing constantly throughout, and this also meant you could never really say who had had anything to do with the children’s disappearance. In a way, for the style in which the story played out, I thought it was very similar to something you might see on True Detective as it was superbly tense and very dark. However, saying that, it was also a bit of a slow burner and therefore it might not be something to be enjoyed by huge action fans as it revolved massively around the storyline and the characters and not big explosions.

My one major problem was the ending, purely because I think they forgot to put one there. The way it finished, I thought, was ridiculous, but that seems to be something that has a habit of happening with some of the very good films I’ve been watching – they have been terrified for two and a half hours and then they just finish with absolutely no warning whatsoever.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Prisoners for many reasons, the main one being that I got a lot of Jake. Only joking – the story was so captivating and the characters all very complex. What more could you want? Oh right, a proper ending would be nice, but you can’t have everything I suppose.