Tag: Willem Dafoe

The Lighthouse

tlhVerdict: An unnerving and claustrophobic monochrome nightmare at sea.

You will never look at seagulls the same after watching Robert Eggers latest film, The Lighthouse, a tale of nautical superstitions and closely guarded secrets set in the late nineteenth-century. His first film, The Witch, was among other things a feminist film. The Lighthouse, similarly is a cold-hard stare at toxic masculinity, exploring what happens when two mismatched men are forced to cohabit in a lighthouse, on a rock in the middle of the sea, farting, drinking, masturbating, and beating on seagulls. It’s unsettling at times, yes, but also utterly mesmerising.

As Eggers once quipped “nothing good happens when two men are trapped in a giant phallus.” And he’s right, but before you dismiss The Lighthouse as some sort of ugly stew of perverted male squalor, think again, because this well-considered journey into the mental abyss has been meticulously crafted by a director at the top of his game.

At its centre is Thomas Wake (Dafoe), a salty-sea-dog-turned-lighthouse-keeper and his new assistant, the quiet and guarded Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), who have four weeks to go about their duties on the weather-beaten island before relief arrives. But when a storm delays the impending relief, it tests their mental resilience. Wake becomes jealously protective of his lighthouse and his insistence that only he “tend to the light!” leads Winslow to become curious about its attraction. The film cleverly flirts with magic realism, as the mystery of the “tended light” is slowly revealed.

Shot in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, which is to say, almost completely square, The Lighthouse is a claustrophobic and suffocating experience. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s who also worked with Eggers on The Witch, and his brooding camera evokes photography from the period, which is hauntingly complimented by the unceasing cry of the island’s foghorn, moaning as if in labour with Eggers’ new film.

Add to Eggers’ formal brilliance two highly committed performances from Pattinson and Dafoe and you have a thrilling gothic vision of madness that may well be an oppressive experience, yet is something to be admired.

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

At Eternity’s Gate

aegThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly director Julian Schnabel’s take on Van Gogh’s life places us deep inside the disquieting mind of the Dutch genius in this film which is part biopic, part fever dream, part expressionist cinema.  It’s mesmerising, if somewhat nauseating stuff; a rich tapestry of movement and colour that feels as painterly as cinema gets.  Attempts to capture Van Gogh’s work through cinema is nothing new, most notably the recent effort, Loving Vincent, which literally painted each frame of his story. But where that film seemed gimmicky (albeit painstaking) here Schnabel’s vision feels authentic and true to Van Gogh’s pursuit to capture light on canvas. 

A word of warning, though, to those who suffer the uneasy effects of a shaky handheld camera; this film is constantly on the move, and following Vincent’s crazed exploits through the rural French town of Arles might be a bit much for some. I was both wowed and sweating with motion sickness; a strangely uncomfortable but rewarding experience.

The film traces Van Gogh’s most prolific period but tends to gloss over many of his more infamous exploits, focussing instead on his relationship to his art. Rather than ply us with a forensic understanding of the Dutch master, the film concerns itself more with the world of experience. 

Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent is spell-binding. His face, itself a richly creased canvas, delightfully communes with the world around him capturing Van Gogh’s’ array of anguish and wonderment with an impassioned depth. The excellent supporting cast are worth noting too with Oscar Isaac (as Paul Gauguin) and Mads Mikkelsen (as a consulting priest) bringing two memorable performances.

Ultimately though, the main star is Benoit Delhomme’s (The Theory of Everything) deeply rich cinematography. Undoubtedly, some will find his bold camera work a distracting annoyance and might consider At Eternity’s Gate to be a victim of its own style. Depending on your tolerance, At Eternity’s Gate will linger in your mind or uneasily in your tummy long after viewing.

At Eternity’s Gate opens in theatres 20th December.

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

Murder on the Orient Express

motoe.jpgHaving seen Albert Finney’s rendition of Agatha Christie’s famous detective in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is one of the few times I was thankful for my shocking memory—I couldn’t remember “whodunnit”. 

This time around a very moustachioed version of Hercule Poirot is played (and directed) by Kenneth Branagh.  He is a Belgian detective, world famous for finding solutions to the most complicated criminal mysteries and, as the title suggests, there’s been a murder! The slightly less moustachioed Ratchet (Johnny Depp) is the unfortunate recipient and doesn’t last the whole train ride I’m afraid. It’s no surprise, then, that all the remaining first class passengers on board the Orient Express have a motive for murder … Ratchet, it turns out, was not such a nice fellow, having blood on his own hands from a prior indiscretion.  Thankfully, Poirot is onboard to piece together what becomes a complicated puzzle.

Branagh does an adequate job as the obsessive compulsive genius, although in comparison to the slightly unhinged charisma of previous Poirots (Finney, Ustinov, and Suchet), Branagh’s version is found somewhat lacking. Despite this minor quibble, the remaining ensemble is perfectly cast. Depp deliciously slides in to a role that feels perfect for him (yes, I mean the pre-death version). Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. do commendable jobs while Judy Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Willem Dafoe all chip in with archetypal roles dripping with as much intrigue as their screen-times allow. 

Michael Green’s (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) screenplay handles some fairly weighty exposition without a gratuitous use of flashbacks—and thus keeping the film’s action onboard the titular locomotive. Green’s watertight (if somewhat wordy) script keeps things tantalisingly just out of arms reach.  Although, I’d like to have seen each of its many characters fleshed out a little more—perhaps an impossible task for a two-hour film.

Nonetheless, Branagh has directed a thrilling ride through the mountainous snowscapes contrasted with some murderous machinations in tow, making this first class ticket as opulent as it is chilling. And despite a few missteps, this train is still worth jumping aboard.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.