Tilda Swinton

REVIEW: Doctor Strange (2016)

After an accident that permanently damages his hands, neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels the world in search of healing. He’s drawn into the world of the mystic arts and is taught the sorcery skills and the path to enlightenment by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) to protect the world.

Stephen Strange is a brilliant surgeon but an incredibly arrogant and rude man. His relationship with fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), is strained due to his superiority and it only get worse as he refuses to accept that his career as a leading neurosurgeon is over. Strange isn’t a likeable character and while he does go on a journey and changes, he’s still not a particularly pleasant guy.

Doctor Strange is an origin story, and an origin story that is very similar to that of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Iron Man. However, Cumberbatch lacks the humour and charisma of Downey Jr, which means that Strange feels like a very bland hero. Humour and Cumberbatch don’t really work together, in fact the only moments of humour that really land in Doctor Strange are when McAdam’s Christine is performing surgery while a magical battle is happening around her.

The bad guy in Doctor Strange is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a sorcerer who’s got dark plans. He seems like an interesting antagonist, especially when he has a dialogue with Strange, but unfortunately you don’t get to see him that much – he’s there for a fight scene and then disappears until the next one.

Doctor Strange has some incredible visuals. While there’s a fair bit of exposition to introduce the concept of multiple dimensions and the astral plane to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when you get to see characters interact with and move between these dimensions, it’s stunning. Characters can bend reality to their will, leading to mind-bending visuals. It’s like a city is inside a kaleidoscope, and as the city folds into itself, characters are fighting with magic while contending with the constantly moving environment.

The performances are generally decent but not great unlike the spectacular visuals – but a great-looking film doesn’t make a great film. There are moments of wonder and excitement in Doctor Strange, but otherwise it’s not that memorable. 2/5.

REVIEW: Letters from Baghdad (2016)

letters-from-baghdadA documentary about Gertrude Bell, the most powerful woman in the British Empire who helped shape the destiny of Iraq after World War One.

Letters from Baghdad is an interesting blend of archive footage and letters from Bell and first-hand accounts from her friends and colleagues. Bell’s letters are a voice over from Tilda Swinton while the letters and accounts from other people are from actors, playing the part of the real historical figures as if they were being interviewed. It’s an interesting setup that takes a little while to get used to but having all these first-hand account soon pulls you into the rich history of Iraq and Gertrude Bell. Also Bell’s letters helps you feel more connected to her as she not only writes about her day to day life in Iraq but her opinions on the people she meets and how she does miss her family, her father especially.

Gertrude Bell is a woman I had never heard of before seeing this film. Bell travelled across Arabia, sometimes being accused of being a spy, working in archaeological digs and ended up being recruited by the British Government to draw the borders of Iraq. She knew T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and Winston Churchill, she socialised with Muslim, British and German women alike and Iraqi royalty. It is a shame that she has been all but written out of history. She did a lot for Iraq including setting up the National Museum of Iraq practically single handed.

Letters from Baghdad is not only a historical documentary, it does shine a light on how British and American involvement in the Middle East has both aided and hindered the region throughout history, but it also looks at the attitudes of the time towards women in positions of power and who have independence, and how some of those attitudes have still not changed a lot.

If you want to learn more about Iraq’s history and a remarkable woman that has almost been forgotten from history, then do check out Letters from Baghdad. 4/5.

Letters From Baghdad – Official Trailer from Letters from Baghdad on Vimeo.

REVIEW: We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-posterEva (Tilda Swinton) struggles to love her strange son Kevin (Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller depending on age) due to the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started and is final act will be beyond anything anyone could imagine, and Eva struggles to deal with the consequences.

We Need to Talk About Kevin jumps in time between the present where Eva is trying to deal with the consequences of her sons actions and various points in the past as Kevin grows up. As the film progresses you slowly realise what it is that Kevin has done and why the community has turned against Eva.

The film is unsettling because you know something bad is going to happen and you’re just waiting for that moment. You’re also waiting for someone to take Eva’s concerns about her son seriously. Her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) seems to miss all the times Kevin is acting up, instead he is the fun dad who plays video games with his son and gives him the benefit of the doubt.

The cinematography is stunning and with the eerie soundtrack, adds to the tension that slowly builds throughout the film between Eva and Kevin. Swinton and Miller have weird chemistry between them and both their performances are incredible. Really it is Swinton’s film and her performance is mesmerising, while Kevin is almost like this negative presence you feel at the back of your neck.

We Need to Talk About Kevin poses the nature vs nurture debate to the extreme. Should Eva have tried to understand and love her son more? If she did, would she have been able to stop him? Or was there something not right with him from the beginning and there was nothing she could’ve done? But if that’s the case, surely it’s still Eva’s fault for she is his mother and he came from her?

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a brilliant mix of family drama, thriller and horror, it’s an unsettling film to watch but it’s also compelling and you can’t look away. 5/5.

REVIEW: Snowpiercer (2013)

snowpiercer elenasquareeyesSet in a future where the world is in a new ice age and all life on the planet has died except the lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe. On the train a class system emerges where people like Mason (Tilda Swinton) control the train and those at the tail end struggle to survive.

Snowpiercer is a phenomenal film. That might sound like a bit of an over-exaggeration but it’s really not. It does a great job building this desolate world and the class system on the train that you can believe in and accept all the characters and their motives. Curtis (Chris Evans) becomes the sort of leader of the people from the tail end of the train, he is the one who puts their plans into action and makes the tough choices. You learn more about him as the film progresses and really his journey through the train is a much a physical one as a mental one.

You could say there’s some typical characters for the genre, there’s the wise old man (John Hurt), Curtis’ right-hand man (Jamie Bell), the tough mother figure (Octavia Spencer) and the silent genius (Kang-ho Song) but through brilliant performances and an interesting script, they become more fleshed out and compelling.

The action sequences in Snowpiercer are gripping and well shot. The fights are all in such a confined space that it sometimes gets claustrophobic and the violence really is brutal. The cinematography is also worth a mention, the way colour is used at various points of the film is interesting and it really is like another character in the film.

The film does a great job at showing that actions have consequences and people will die. It may be a sci-fi film but it has a great social commentary amongst the action and the dialogue and chemistry between the characters is one of the highlights of the film.

Snowpiercer is an amazing film that everyone should watch and it’s really one of those films that work even better if you go into it knowing as little as possible. 5/5.