Tag: alicia vikander

Seventh Son

Seventh Son (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

If one signs up only for the scenery then “Seventh Son,” loosely based upon Joseph Delaney’s novel “The Spook’s Apprentice,” receives a most enthusiastic recommendation. It offers eye-catching vistas of verdant meadows, ominous forests, tranquil lakeside homes, perilous cliffs, a cloister hidden in the mountains, a walled but lively city burned to the ground. But outside the handful of terrific visuals, the story is a bore for the most part. It is correct for the plot to be straightforward: Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the last knight of his kind, is on a mission to end the life of a witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), who killed his apprentice of ten years (Kit Harrington). The journey toward the destination, however, is problematic: it is riddled with pesky asides, like a romance between Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), the new apprentice, and Alice (Alicia Vikander), a half-witch whose mother is loyal to Mother Malkin. I found most of the action sequences to be somewhat exciting and well-choreographed. But nearly every time the action dies down and the two lovebirds must exchange words and make physical contact, the movie screeches to a halt. It isn’t that Barnes and Vikander do not share chemistry. A looming apocalypse is simply far bigger than whether or not they’ll end up together. Perhaps a more crucial shortcoming: We never get a chance to appreciate the apprenticeship, what it entails outside wielding weapons and learning concoctions. As a result, the picture is like store-bought soup: if not without flavor, it is missing a memorable personality, spices that make the dish pop or taste special. Screenplay by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight. Directed by Sergei Bodrov.


Submergence (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting a typical romance in which a potential couple meet, court, and live happily ever after are in for a big disappointment because, although beautifully photographed, Wim Wenders’ “Submergence” is more adult-oriented than fantasy-leaning escapism. Rather than focusing on plot, it is interested in showing challenging circumstances, building a perfect mood to capture longing and loneliness, presenting the details of one’s work, and underlining the distance between lovers than it is about showing its subjects physically interacting to make the viewers swoon. Its vision is without compromise and I respect that.

Notice the atypical technique in which succeeding scenes are presented. It is fluid, like water, an important symbol in the picture, almost as though we are seeing the images through a flow of consciousness or deeply personal, somewhat guarded memories. It is important, I think, that it is presented in this manner so that audiences get an impression of the feelings of incompleteness that the two lovers undergo when they are separated. Because of their occupations, there is no two-way letter-writing or texting involved. And in addition to the subjects not knowing each other for very long before they must separate, there is only uncertainty. Here is a film in which we grow increasingly unsure whether the protagonists would see each other again—a rarity in the romance sub-genre.

Danielle and James, a bio-mathematician preparing for a deep-sea dive and a British spy posing as a water engineer, are played by Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, respectively. They share solid chemistry as their characters meet in a stunning seaside hotel in Normandy. As intuitive performers, closely observe their body languages as requisite lines are uttered with subtlety and passion. Because by also focusing on the unsaid, it provides us a more complete picture of what these characters are about and what they hope to achieve. It is critical that we feel or understand Danielle and James’ love for what they do, their personal and professional missions, so that we buy into the idea of why they ultimately choose to put themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

Yes, the dialogue offers some scientific jargon, which may be a challenge to sit through for some, but I think the focus ought to be on the intention behind these words. The dialogue is written so beautifully that at times, for example, Danielle may choose to use opaque words in order to hide her feelings of awkwardness with a man she just met. But what makes James interesting, for instance, is that he is a great listener, a skill that is required in his line of work, and so he is able to pierce through the fog and reach her. Still, however, she offers surprises in store. Their meeting is only the setup for the plot but it is so strong, it could have been an entire picture on its own.

Beauty and brutality collide when Danielle and James follow their respective paths. Hydrothermal vents in the deep Atlantic Ocean look like alien worlds while jihadists treat precious human lives as insects to be crushed at the slightest sign of annoyance. Interiors of ships, particularly of a laboratory filled with curious equipments, are polished and elegant while interiors of war-ravaged buildings, particularly the unsanitary clinic, highlight the fears and overall unhappiness—torment—of a community. We are meant to wonder whether Danielle and James’ contrasting worlds are so different, they might end up getting sucked into them, extinguishing every chance of getting back together. But what’s brilliant, I think, is the picture does not simply rely on a romantic reunion.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Although ultimately a respectable reboot of a popular video game series, “Tomb Raider,” based on the screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, is light on dramatic gravity the longer one thinks about it. This is a shortcoming that cannot be overlooked so easily because the lead, Alicia Vikander as central figure Lara Croft, is solid in her role as she attempts to sell the emotions demanded by the plot. In order to become more than yet another mindless action-adventure, it is necessary that the material takes its time to lay out the foundations of the story so that we have an understanding of character motivations and what is at stake. However, content-wise, it is during these extended periods of time that the picture is most uninteresting.

Vikander commands a style of acting that demands that we regard and study every part of her, from the way her body posture changes as more details of the dialogue are revealed to the smallest evolution of emotions gracing her delicate features. I enjoyed her performance because she approaches the role as a dramatic actor first and a potential action star second. Notice I picked the word “potential” because I am not sure her look will appeal to the modern audience. Can viewers of today embrace someone as an action heroine when her body does not showcase well-defined muscles and her mannerisms, including the way she takes up space, lean toward feminine? It is a vastly different interpretation of the character compared to Angelina Jolie’s, the Lara Croft of the early 2000s.

I hope the modern viewer appreciates what Vikander puts on the table because she dares to offer something fresh and different. I can imagine her growing into the role if the series were to continue. She absolutely has the range for it. But what must grow with her, significantly, is the writing—specifically, the way the dialogue is written so that it comes across as mature, highly intelligent, commanding a sense of mystery and wonder. In this film, there are instances when the dialogue is so skeletal, to claim it is merely expository is generous. We see through the charade so easily, we get the impression that the performers are more intelligent than the characters they play, creating a most distracting experience. Furthermore, I saw the twists and turns of the plot coming from a mile away. Building slow burn intrigue and the ability to surprise are not the picture’s strong points.

Expectedly, and appropriately, the film’s strong suit is the action sequences. Unlike numerous modern action pictures, it never feels the need to shake the camera vigorously in order to create a sense of realism. Instead, it is still and it welcomes the viewers to appreciate how the action unfolds. Credit to director Roar Uthaug for the enjoyable scenes set underground where Croft must solve deadly riddles and evade booby traps under a time crunch. There are creepy images, but the place remains curious and inviting. In addition, notice how the editing attempts to match the energy of the images unfolding on screen.

The villainous Vogel is boring, non-threatening, and uninspired. When holding a gun, he looks like a wimp who is out of his depth. When not holding a gun, he just looks pathetic. The fault lies in the screenplay, not the actor (Walton Goggins), since it does not bother to provide good reasons why he is much more detestable or threatening than his henchmen. The writers merely rely on the fact that Vogel is bad because he is the leader of a group that enslaves folks to locate a tomb containing the remains of mythical and deadly queen.

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Danish Girl,” directed by Tom Hooper, is a classy, heartfelt, and beautifully told story about a person, biologically male, who is born in the wrong body. For a subject that many people at this time may find difficult to understand, let alone connect with, the film has the courage to respect the audience and its subject by telling this specific story without sensationalism. It is spearheaded by Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander’s first-rate performances who play Einar Wegener and Gerda Wegener, respectively, married painters in 1920s Denmark. He specializes in landscapes while she excels in portraits.

The film is most effective during long takes. Notice how it takes its time to allow us to settle into a scene by aiding us to carefully observe the characters move and speak. This is accomplished by employing confident still shots, well-calculated close-ups, and minimal score. Such scenes are allowed to breathe, too. For instance, when a paintbrush dances on a canvas, we hear the bristles move. Sometimes it is soft and calming. But there are times when it is intense and cross.

It is very important that the work gets the look, mood, and tone exactly right not only because it is a period drama. Given that the material aspires to capture a complex subject, it is critical that we buy into the reality of the environment which serves as a conduit to the people who live in it. This is most pivotal during scenes when Einar looks at a frock, starts caressing it with his fingertips, and begins to overlay it on his body. If the dress were wrong or if the look of the room where the dress hung looked unconvincing, such intimate moments would likely have been silly or laughable.

It shows the love between the married couple without relying on words to constantly remind us how they feel about one another. This is where Vikander and Redmayne’s instincts as natural performers come in. Like great actors who came before them, they know how to modulate facial expressions just so, beginning with the eyes, to communicate a spectrum of emotions often in one shot. These are highly efficient performances; we get a real impression that Einar, later renamed Lili, and Gerda really have been married for six years and sometimes they know exactly what one is feeling or thinking without having to voice out what they need or want.

The movie is not about gender reassignment surgery although the story gets to that point eventually. Notice that the majority of the two-hour running time is devoted to the unconditional love shared between the painters. The key word is “unconditional” because, in a way, the film indirectly asks the audience what they are willing to do, or give up, for the happiness of the person, or persons, they love.

The beauty of Vikander’s interpretation of the character is that she may not completely understand her husband’s situation but she is willing to skip fully comprehending and actually be present, to be there to offer support and acceptance. This is why “The Danish Girl,” based on the novel by David Ebershoff and loosely based on the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, is a strong statement piece that remains highly relevant today: Too many parents of LGBTQ youths are not willing to find a way around deeply held conventions or beliefs and simply love their children over everything else.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

A CIA agent, Solo (Henry Cavill), and a KGB operative, Illya (Armie Hammer), are forced to work together in order to infiltrate an organization that kidnapped a scientist who has found a way to enrich uranium through an easier process, making it possible for almost anyone to create a nuclear bomb. Accompanying them on their mission is a mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander), a woman that Solo had just extracted from East Berlin—and Illya tried to prevent from escaping. They must learn to put their differences aside somehow and work toward a common goal.

Based on a 1964 television series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” directed by Guy Ritchie, has an eye for fashion, good-looking people, and lighting the actors just so in order to make their bodies look modelesque, but it is a limited action-comedy because the screenplay lacks the necessary edge to get the audience to invest in its story. It is superficial for the most part, but one cannot deny that it is partially fun and the performers, especially Cavill and Hammer, share chemistry.

The most enjoyable action sequence in the film is presented during the opening minutes. Right away the differences between the American and the Russian spies are highlighted which creates great tension. The former is more suave and debonair while the latter is more brutish, commanding tank-like qualities. Quite amusing is the part where Illya tries to stop a moving car using only his hands and Solo is so amused at the whole spectacle, he chooses not to kill his enemy to prolong his enjoyment. Their differences make the sequences worth watching because of the way these vastly different characters attempt to solve problems that appear in front of them.

Less interesting is when they are forced to forge a partnership. Although amusing lines are still present, especially when they relish each other’s limitations, the threat and thus suspense is no longer there. This is because there is a lack of a defined and memorable villain who is at least equally charming as Hammer and Cavill. The screenplay creates a plethora and varying degrees of distractions, such as a possible romantic connection between Gaby and one of the agents, but none of them are especially complex, worthy of our time to explore or navigate through.

One grows tired of the plot and story eventually. I found myself admiring the sorts of wine the characters drink, the hotel rooms and how they are organized, the quality and color of the suits and dresses worn, how the performers’ hair is styled and how it would look even more magazine-ready when it gets ruffled or wet. It is a beautiful-looking movie, certainly, promoting a luxurious, rather fantastic lifestyles of international spies—which is perfectly all right because it aims to entertain—but there is a deficiency when it comes to the requisite dramatic gravity in order to make the story interesting beyond what is on the surface.

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” based on the screenplay by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, is a tolerable and passable comedic action-thriller with enough charm that helps to keep it barely afloat. Yet despite its glaring shortcomings, I smiled about half of the time because I had a feeling the people on screen are having a blast especially during the verbal sparrings between Cavill and Hammer’s characters.