Tag: Nicole Kidman

Destroyer

destLost in the shuffle of award season comes a police procedural so hard-boiled it could break your teeth.  LAPD Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is not one for small talk; her steely nature and gaunt face (along with some Rami Malek calibre prosthetic dentistry) casts a striking central figure that occupies the lens like an oncoming freight train.

Neo-noir elements are slathered liberally over this cop thriller; it’s a nihilistic slow-burn that takes a while to get going, but like all good cop dramas, once hooked you’re desperate to see how it ends.

Prowling the sun-drenched suburbs of present-day L.A. in search for Silas (Toby Kebbell)—a bank robber who has recently re-emerged after wronging her years earlier—Bell’s search leads her down a rabbit warren of wrong turns and dead ends. What begins as standard police procedure becomes a primal cry of motherhood as the story investigates how the crime at hand has stained her relationship with her daughter. The chilly utilitarian connections in Destroyer certainly make for a stark moral universe.  However, welcome relief comes in the form of Bell’s undercover partner (Sebastian Stan) who manages to break up, albeit too briefly the film’s dusty scapes and drained palette with the soft glow of their relationship.

From her first outing with the critically acclaimed Girlfight, Karyn Kusama has honed her skills, becoming a noteworthy Director of women-centric tales.  Here, her decision to hang the whole film on Kidman’s performance has paid off. While Kidman may not be the first name you’d think of to play a vengeful haprd-ass, her immense scope has repaid Kusama’s gamble, delivering the film its driving force.

And driving it is, with a kinetically charged second half that makes good of its slow beginnings and offers a final twist that packs a decent wallop. But despite this, and Kidman’s compelling performance, Destroyer will most likely find itself lost in the white noise of awards season and seems destined for the scrapheap of obscurity. Shame, it deserves better.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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Top of the Lake: China Girl DVD review

topIt is the first question on everyone’s lips when enquiring about season two of any TV production; How does it compare to the first?  The exceptionally good True Detective, (which tonally shares a lot with the Top of the Lake) suffered the dreaded fate of the season-two-blues. Its initial overwhelming success seeming to shackle writer/director Nic Pizzolatto with unreasonable expectations and crippling time constraints for a follow-up of equal quality. 

Unfortunately, expectations tend to grow legs over time—as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, I’ve become very fond of Top of the Lake’s first season so was bound for disappointment.

Thankfully, my pessimism was unfounded because despite it lacking the narrative purpose and visual poetry of season one, Top of the Lake: China Girl is, for the most part, a solid production. This season is a lot more introspective in scope than the former and elects to explore the seedier internal wilderness of urban life and the devils within. Comprising of six episodes, it picks up five years after the devastating events that took place in New Zealand.

Having returned to Sydney where her estranged daughter lives, Detective Robin Griffen (Elizabeth Moss) uncovers a dark connection between the murder of a prostitute and her own troubled past. She reconnects with her daughter whom she had previously given up for adoption (the result of a teenage pregnancy—information we were privy to in season one).  In a wicked twist of fate, Robin begins to discover that her personal life and the case she is working on are intertwined. 

China Girl’s tenuous plot is tethered together through some deft writing that distracts you from the implausibility of it all. Writer/Director Jane Campion has a penchant for telling women-centric stories and here she successfully mixes an intimate personal drama with a wider story arch. Like a leaky sewer pipe China Girl drips with male sexual oppression and counterbalances this with a level of female rage appropriate to our current age of feminine resurgence. It is a white-hot example of Campion’s modus operandi, and is wonderful to behold her feminist approach to filmmaking. 

Visually, series two isn’t quite as indulgent as its predecessor and lacks its graceful purpose.  This is partly due to the location, but also a change in cinematographer, from Adam Arkapaw’s (who, coincidentally worked on True Detective season one) fawning New Zealand landscapes to Germain McMicking’s grittier urban Sydney.  The change in visual style is the first thing you’ll notice and China Girl feels a lot more cop-procedural than season one.

The DVD offers six short bonus features that explore behind the camera, its locations, interviews with Campion and her cohorts and other ephemera. Although they are interesting, they are too short to offer much depth.  The DVD set contains two discs with three episodes on each (optional subtitles included).  Each episode is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and uses a 1.78:1 screen ratio.

DVD hits shelves Thursday 27th June. 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

tkoasd“Our children are dying, but yes, I can make you mashed potatoes.”—it is a line that typifies the strange world of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. His films are clinically measured without an ounce of extra fat and feel like they sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum of film-making, if there was such a thing. His previous outing, The Lobster, with its blunt and robotic dialogue, was as peculiar as it was amusing and The Killing of a Sacred Deer is tonally much the same, if perhaps a little more disturbing.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a seemingly emotionless film, detached and devoid of any warmth. You’d think it has little to offer, but its world of odd characters and absurd situations offer a rewarding mix of dark comedy and painful catharsis.  Steven (Colin Farrell), a renowned cardiovascular surgeon, and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, are happily married with two children. When a patient dies on Steven’s operating table he feels duty-bound to take the dead patient’s son, Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing. However, when Steven’s own children begin suffering a clinically unexplainable condition things begin to unravel. Steven’s relationship with Martin takes a peculiar and sinister turn when Martin offers Steven a horrific solution to their problem.

Farrell and Kidman offer typically measured performances, but the real surprise is Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), whose portrayal as Martin feels like watching a toddler with his hand on the proverbial nuclear button. It is a tour de force of uneasy acting that delivers the perfect balance of ambivalence and malevolent intention—his character taking on an almost biblical role (suggestive of the binding of Isaac) that is central to the film’s exploration of what it means to atone for our transgressions.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer will no doubt divide its audience. The awkward mix of unconventional storytelling and inaccessible characters might be too impenetrable for some. For others (myself included), The Killing of a Sacred Deer remains a macabre psychological satire told in a very unique and refreshing way.
   

You can see my published reviews here.

Lion

Grab Cut Insert Cut F:PHOTOMediaFactory ActionsRequests DropBox46593#weinsteinlion_markrogers-3472_(1)_lg.jpgLion is directed by a relative newcomer to the feature film set, Garth Davis, who has taken the reins of bringing the seemly impossible true story of Saroo Brierley to the big screen. Adapted from the book A Long Way Home (written by Saroo himself), Davis has brought about a film that is harrowing, tragic, beautiful, and thought provoking.

It begins by introducing Saroo (who is superbly played by young Sunny Pawar) in his home village, beautifully sketching out village life from the perspective of a five-year-old. From the loving relationship with his brother and mother to the playful nature of his walk home, his world is wonderfully captured through the lens of master cinematographer Greig Fraser (Bright StarKilling Them Softly). Tragically, while waiting at a train station for his brother to return, Saroo inadvertently wanders onto a train bound for Calcutta hundreds of miles away. Search hard enough and many of us can remember brief times as a child of accidental separation from our parents and the fleeting but undiluted feeling horror that ensued. This feeling is conveyed in gut-wrenching scenes that capture impoverished India in all its Slumdog-esque filth, colour, and chaos. The tragedy of an innocent five-year-old lost among it all, while being beset upon by the denizens of unscrupulous intent, is difficult to watch.

Fortunately pockets of humanity lift little Saroo out of his desperate situation to where he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (played by Nicole Kidman and David Denham).

Twenty-five years on and Saroo (Dev Patel with an unwavering Aussie accent), who is now firmly ensconced in the Australian way of life, begins to recall flashes of his early life. This triggers what becomes the obsessive task of piecing together his own origins based on the unreliable memories of his five-year-old self. The obsession puts a strain on the relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), and his adopted family. There is a scene where Saroo remonstrates his mum over her selflessness and unswerving commitment and love for her adopted children. It is a short but powerful scene where Sue Brierley’s anguish is caught in one wonderfully acted moment by Nicole Kidman, demonstrating in her limited screen time what a class actor she is.

If I had one quibble, it concerns the chemistry between Patel and Mara. Both are good actors in their own right and yet their on-screen combination felt a little forced and over drawn. Despite this, Lion is a beautiful and moving film made all the more compelling because it is a true story … make sure to bring your tissues.

Rating: 4 jalebis out of 5.

You can see the published review here