Tag: daniel radcliffe

Beast of Burden


Beast of Burden (2018)
★ / ★★★★

It has been said that the best way for a filmmaker to criticize a movie is to make one’s own, but the would-be thriller “Beast of Burden,” written by Adam Hoelzel and Jesper Ganslandt, is a failure compared to the far more impressive “Locke,” as both pictures mostly take place inside a particular mode of transport—a small plane in this instance—as the expressive lead is required to tell a seemingly straightforward story using only his rawest acting abilities. While Daniel Radcliffe does what he can with the role, there is no script to work with here.

Sean (Radcliffe) is tasked to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border. Unbeknownst to his employers, Sean is also working with the DEA to take down the drug cartel. While the setup is familiar to action-thrillers and may excite some, the execution is botched beyond repair. For more than half the film, Sean simply retrieves phone calls as if he were a telemarketer stuck in a backdrop of an action-thriller. It is boring, repetitive, and commands no tension whatsoever. In the middle of it all, I wondered if better material might have been made had the premise were scrapped altogether and instead I were watching a documentary, a day in the life of a top-ranked telemarketer in which he or she must persuade the person on the other line to buy products they likely won’t need. At least in this scenario, the situation and the voices behind the phones would be real, not some unconvincing fabrication.

Flashbacks are employed and they are designed to elucidate Sean’s situation, particularly how desperate he became to agree on taking the job in the first place. However, these instances that are meant to shed light end up confusing the viewer. The reason is because these flashbacks offer no context, let alone details and specificity, on top of not lasting very long. How can we make assumptions and therefore form our own conclusions when we are not given time to absorb whatever is supposedly going on? Eventually, attempting to put the pieces together feels like a colossal waste of time, that the joke is on us for even attempting.

Radcliffe is a capable actor, equipped with many interesting techniques to create convincing characters. I admire that he takes on numerous and varied roles, even willing to push himself physically to deliver exciting performances. However, this film reveals that he cannot rely on charm alone to carry a film. He disappears completely in the role—and not in a good way, particularly during moments in which he appears to be ad-libbing in order to communicate the great distress his character undergoes. Because the screenplay offers nothing to back him up, not once do we forget that we are watching an actor act.

The photography is most unappealing. I would even go as far to say that it is downright ugly. The story takes place at night and so everything is awash in shadows and darkness. But there is a lack of artistry in how the film is shot. The small space that Radcliffe sits in, for example, looks like a cramped booth in a cheap studio. Not one of the buttons on the plane looks real or even functional. And, finally, when the character makes it out of the plane during the final act, we are supposed to be in Mexico but it looks like the setting is some random swamp in the middle of nowhere.

Jungle


Jungle (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on a true story survived by Yossi Ghinsberg’s harrowing ordeal in the Amazon rainforest in 1981, “Jungle” is a highly watchable picture, filled to the brim with horror, beauty, and curiosities that come with adventure. Although occasionally hindered by dramatic techniques, such as the utilization of repetitive hallucinations and sudden flashbacks, which lessen the raw power of being stuck in a life-threatening and increasingly impossible situation, the escalating tension and solid acting overcome its limitations.

Greg McLean directs the picture with an understanding of similar films from the 1970s in which the jungle is itself a character but not one that is meant to be conquered or comprehend. It is the correct decision to preserve its mystique. However, the filmmaker ensures that we are confronted by the place by focusing on its beauty, at least initially, and then shoving us suddenly so that are face-to-face with its many threats. The nature of the material forces the viewer to wonder if one could survive in the wilderness for weeks.

The picture is shot beautifully, particularly the wide shots of small villages where residents are shown simply going about their day. I enjoyed how the pacing takes its time so that the viewers can have an appreciation of a place. For example, we spend a good amount of time in the market where tourists frequent. As a result, we get to learn a bit about the relationships with locals and foreigners; what visitors choose to see, or do, or photograph; the wide selections of street foods; the wonderful cacophony of business as usual. It is teeming with life, so colorful that one can almost taste the various spices in the air, so the setting is most inviting. This serves a great contrast against the horrors about to unfold in the Amazon jungle.

Daniel Radcliffe plays the tourist Yossi, a young man whose parents expected him to attend university but instead deciding to take a year off to travel and experience what the world has to offer. Credit goes to casting director Ben Parkinson for selecting a character actor for the role. Because in order for the ordeal to be convincing, the performer must deliver a gamut of thoughts and emotions both during scenes of desolation and desperation as well as in how he connects with those he meets along the way (Alex Russell, Joel Jackson), kindred spirits who yearn for adventure outside of the familiar. A performer who always commits to his roles, I was surprised to have seen another side of Radcliffe’s craft that I have not seen before. It makes me want to see him partake in more physically demanding roles.

The picture might have been stronger had screenwriter Justin Monjo found a way to communicate Yossi’s psychological breakdown outside of the standard moments of delirium. Perhaps a fresher route is to have focused solely on behavior. We do not need to see inside person’s mind when his actions clearly exhibit a level of increasing irrationality. An argument can be made that focusing on behavior is more terrifying because it leaves the remaining factors to the imagination. The heart of most survival pictures, after all, is horror.

Horns


Horns (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Due to grief, anger, and alcohol, Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) manages to destroy the memorial of his recently deceased girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). The next morning, he wakes up with a throbbing pain on his forehead—two horns have begun to grow and there does not appear to be a way of removing them. But the horns come with an ability. They allow people nearby to disclose their most inner thoughts and secrets which is useful considering Ig wishes to find out who killed Merrin.

Based on the novel by Joe Hill and screenplay by Keith Bunin, “Horns” leads with an interesting concept but it fails to truly deliver when it comes to its core mystery. I found the identity of the killer to be far too easy to predict. Within the first twenty minutes I had a guess about who it might be and I was right. Thus, the film becomes a waiting game and I was amused by the main character running around and asking the wrong questions.

Part of the problem is that the supporting characters fail to move beyond caricatures. Because they do not come across as real people reacting to real events, categorizing them and making conjectures about their motivations is not at all a challenge. There is only one supporting character that is somewhat able to move outside the box. Dale, Merrin’s father, is nicely played by David Morse and his dramatic scenes more or less work because of sheer performance. I wished we had gotten a chance to know more about Dale and less about Ig’s childhood friends (Joe Anderson, Max Minghella, Kelli Garner, Michael Adamthwaite) even though they are absolutely necessary to the plot.

The picture tends to go overboard with its special and visual effects. Computer graphic snakes look fake and laughable at times while Ig’s transformation is too literal. Fantasy elements that work effectively are less hyperbolic and non-visual. For instance, we are provided a couple of scenes involving strangers who cannot help but reveal their hidden shames and wishes. These are the highlight of the film because they are comedic but horrible and so we hope to hear more.

It has a running time of two hours for no good reason. The revelations are anticlimactic and require a suspension of disbelief which is difficult if we have not grown to love or care about the characters getting hurt or ending up dead. Thus, there is a flatness during the third act. Just when one thinks the movie is over, it keeps going and becomes more unbelievable.

“Horns,” directed by Alexandre Aja, has got its visuals pat but there is very little characterization and feeling. Its premise captures the attention and perhaps the way to maintain it is for the material to be taken to extremes—make it scary or suspenseful from time to time then suddenly turning certain situations really funny but in a twisted or sick way. Ig’s so-called detective work is dull.

Victor Frankenstein


Victor Frankenstein (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Victor Frankenstein,” written by Max Landis and directed by Paul McGuigan, is only a marginally interesting reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel because it largely suffers from an identity crisis. Although the story’s core in this particular interpretation is the partnership forged between a scientist and his assistant, numerous subplots are introduced eventually in which the details provided are not as interesting. As a result, when a subplot is front and center, the material’s pacing slows suddenly and we grow tired of having to wait for Dr. Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) to continue with their most macabre but fascinating experiment.

The look and feel of the picture is highly attractive. From the costumes worn by various men and women from disparate social classes outside to curious jars housing strange specimens inside the laboratory, there is always something worthy of appreciation. During the film’s less effective scenes, such as Igor’s rendezvous with a love interest, one wonders at the possibility of a straight-faced period film and how that style might translate in a story that involves bringing the dead back to life.

How Dr. Frankenstein and Igor’s partnership evolves over the time is worth examination partly because McAvoy and Radcliffe approach the material with a level of seriousness and urgency. One gets the impression that they enjoy their roles through their level of commitment, especially during confrontations where the two characters who love science must argue their ideals. Particularly note-worthy is how McAvoy portrays a scientist who is really, really into his work and a scientist who has possibly gone mad. The difference is slight but important. A lesser performer could have easily given a one-note performance.

A subplot that works—to an extent—involves an inspector (Andrew Scott) and his partner (Callum Turner), on the heels of the scientist and his assistant’s big secret. One of the best scenes involves Inspector Turpin’s visit to Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, the former highly observant and patient while the latter tries to keep a lid on the collection of body parts in the next room. The picture might have been more elegant and exciting if the screenplay had provided more opportunity for the cat-and-mouse game to evolve and flourish.

The final act is a near-disaster because special and visual effects take over—a common mistake that is easily made simply because there is budget for it. The beauty of the material is the sensitive portrayal of the “hunchback” and the man who rescued him from the circus. It is something new, an angle we have not seen from prior “Frankenstein” films. It is a colossal mistake, certainly an act of sabotage, to sweep such a unique element to the sidelines and embrace a more digestible—and predictable—way of wrapping up the story.

What If


What If (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), a medical school dropout, and Chantry (Zoe Kazan), an animator, meet at a party and sparks fly between them almost immediately. The problem: Wallace is still trying to get over a breakup while Chantry has a boyfriend of five years (Rafe Spall). Recognizing that it is difficult to find another person that one whom can connect with almost on an instinctual level, Wallace and Chantry decide to be friends. The more they spend time together, however, it becomes clearer that maybe they ought to take their relationship on another level.

Directed by Michael Dowse and based on a screenplay by Elan Mastai, “What If” is an overlong, too-twee-for-its-own-good romantic comedy that goes nowhere fast. Despite solid performances by Radcliffe and Kazan, not even their effortless charm can perform miracles on a sinking ship. The ship could not sink any faster so that the torturous experience could finally be over.

The soundtrack is overbearing in that it gets in the way of real emotions. Instead of employing silence from time to time in order to highlight realizations and sudden turn of events, cutesy folk music is used to make us feel warm and cuddly. I did not buy a second of it. The material is supposed to be inspired by Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…” but other than the question of whether or not the opposite sex can truly remain just friends, this movie is like that romantic comedy classic if its brain and subtleties were taken out.

The supporting characters are either malnourished in terms of development or supremely unlikeable, from Ellie—Wallace’s sister who happens to be a single mom—to Dalia—Chantry’s sister, a typical blonde bimbo who talks like her IQ is in the single digits. Because the supporting players come across fake, the world that Chantry and Wallace inhabit neither feels real nor does it offer anything substantial or interest. They exist for the sake of having color commentaries, bland dividers from one scene to the next.

I hated how Chantry and Ben’s relationship is handled. They are supposed to be living together for five years, but not once do we feel that they were once happy or they are happy but are currently going through a rough patch. A litmus test when it comes to characters who are supposed to have known each other for so long is whether the audience can imagine how their past must have been like. Here, we do not get that opportunity. It is all about what is in front of them—Chantry and her increasing feelings for Wallace and then Ben trying to advance his career. Their life together is one-dimensional.

“What If” is based on a play by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi. One has to wonder whether the play is adapted properly to the screen. What the picture lacks is a sense of real intimacy between people who are afraid to cross certain lines. Instead of trying to be cute, it should have attempted to be honest. Because honesty does not result from cuteness but cuteness can result from honesty.

Kill Your Darlings


Kill Your Darlings (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), future pioneer for what is now known as the Beat Generation, gets an acceptance letter from Columbia University and is ecstatic because it means he is one step closer toward becoming a writer. But actually being on campus and attending classes, he quickly discovers he doesn’t quite belong. This changes when he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a writer who engages and challenges Allen, commanding such a live wire and charismatic personality that sometimes the two end up being in trouble with the authorities. Meanwhile, a man named David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), Lucien’s older male lover, becomes increasingly jealous.

“Kill Your Darlings” is not a straightforward picture. At times it works because we get the impression that we are simply dropping into a specific period of time where future literary icons converge. And yet at times the approach is ineffective because certain subplots that deserve to be explored in order to truly highlight trends and themes are pushed to the side. Despite its limitations, the film demands a recommendation for its good performances.

The relationship between Ginsberg and Carr lies in the center and so Radcliffe and DeHaan must take control of every scene when it is only the two of them interacting. The actors do so beautifully, consistently letting go of what is safe or predictable. Since they often make fresh choices on how to express specific emotions, a level of danger and mystique inspires us to keep watching and ask questions in terms of where the friendship is heading—a romantic route, one that is solely platonic, or something more destructive. Sometimes it appears to be embody all three and that is exciting.

I enjoyed it on another level because I had a chance to measure who is the better actor. In a lot of movies, I can watch a scene and about ten seconds in, I can point at the person who is delivering stronger work. Here, it is a bit of a challenge. I had the pleasure to observe and really think about why the actor decided to choose a certain avenue over another. Sometimes it is about a partnership, too. One might think Radcliffe is the stronger performer and another might say DeHaan is the standout. But one thing is certain: Radcliffe and DeHaan not only have natural chemistry together but they continually work on it.

The best scenes involve Ginsberg and Carr knowing exactly what the other is trying to say without being direct about what they really want or feel. In my eyes, Radcliffe is a level above DeHaan in terms of performance because I felt he is less self-conscious or more relaxed in terms of line delivery, where to put his body, when to turn on the intensity in the eyes, when to remain still—and how to remain still—in order to hold a shot. Clearly, he knows exactly what he is doing. Prior to this picture, I was already convinced Radcliffe is a good actor. But I must say that his work here made me look forward to how else he can improve over the rest of his career.

Subplots that fail to reach completion include: Ginsberg’s mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) being hospitalized and how that has changed or impacted Ginsberg’s experiences in Columbia as well as its role in Ginsberg’s evolution as a writer; a lack of a solid background about Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster)—I was not convinced that someone who had not heard of their names would have any idea why they were important or how good of a writer they were; and a dearth of elementary information with respect to the relationship between Carr and Kammerer. The third is most problematic because the final third of the film attempts to deal with complexity and yet there are no tracks available for us to follow.

Due to its lack of depth, there are sections in “Kill Your Darlings,” written by Austin Bunn and John Krokidas, directed by the latter, where discerning viewers are bound to think that it might have been a better movie if it had been three hours long. In a way, it is most fortunate because the casting directors chose smart in selecting its lead actors.

The Woman in Black


The Woman in Black (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young father and a widower, was assigned by his London-based law firm to go to the country and peruse through the documents that Mrs. Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) left upon her death. If it was certain that the firm had her final will, her gothic mansion, known to everyone around it as the Eel Marsh House, would be ready for clean-up and sale. Arthur assumed it would be a relatively easy job. When he arrived at the village, however, the residents were very unwelcoming and keen on sending him back to where he came from. Soon enough, he had a chance to visit the supposedly abandoned house and began to see a woman observing him from the grounds. Based on a novel by Susan Hill and screenplay by Jane Goldman, the greatest strength of “The Woman in Black” was its understanding of the importance of building suspense prior to delivering a genuinely scary moment that either left its audience startled or horrified. I enjoyed the way it kept me interested as to why the distressed townsfolk were so opposed to Arthur’s visit. While we suspected that it probably had something to do with his assignment at the secluded house, we weren’t sure as to how that was related to the three seemingly happy children who jumped to their deaths in the first scene. By not giving us immediate answers, I actually ended up wanting Arthur to finally get to the house and do a bit of investigation in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. The creepiness increased tenfold when the camera loomed over the estate. It was surrounded by a marsh in which tides came and went depending on the hours. At times the road was unavailable which meant that Arthur wouldn’t be able to escape when his encounters turned grim. When he was left alone to look around the house, the picture was at its best because the filmmakers highlighted the stillness that surrounded our protagonist as well as when the stillness was threatened by supernatural forces. Typicalities occurred such as a ghost appearing behind Arthur when he wasn’t looking but a handful of them were executed so convincingly, the clichés were almost negligible. The most chilling scene involved a nursery room with a rocking chair that seemed to defy physics. It was enjoyable on more than one level because while the direction forced our senses to focus on sounds and images, the horror elements–like dolls moving and stopping on their own, the eventual reveal of the malevolent ghost and the like–also challenged us, if we wished, to recreate an image of an unhappy life that had driven the woman in black to do the things she did. This could be connected to the moment when we first met Arthur as he held a blade to his neck but changed his mind for his son’s sake. This led to the picture’s main weakness. I wasn’t totally convinced that Radcliffe was a young father who was grieving for his wife’s death. Although he had no problem conjuring emotions like sadness, the angst behind his eyes and actions weren’t quite there. I felt that a certain level of realism within the character to be important because the reason why Arthur decided to take the job and continued to perform the job despite eerie warnings was because he wanted to provide for his son. Instead of an engaging beginning, since certain emotions didn’t feel true, I found it rather languorous. “The Woman in Black,” directed by James Watkins,” could have also used an ending that didn’t feel so saccharine that it derailed its consistently minacious tone. It was an example of how toxic a cliché can be if there was nothing else behind it other than lazy or confused writing.