Tag: gemma arterton

Byzantium


Byzantium (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) have a secret: they have been “alive” for over two hundred years. They are vampires and on the run from a trio of men (Thure Lindhardt, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel) who appear to know what they are. With a fresh corpse lying face down in their apartment, Eleanor and Clara escape to a seaside town. The plan is to allow enough time for their trail to cool off and earn enough money before they move to a more secure location. Meanwhile, Eleanor gets the attention of Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a waiter she meets after playing a beautiful melody on the piano.

“Byzantium,” based on a play by Moira Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan, is acted quite exquisitely but it is a trial to sit through. Its look and feel is quite somber, heavy on the eyes with dark shades of red and occasionally poorly lit indoors, so the molasses slow pacing does not do it any favor. Though a much needed adrenaline surges through its veins in the third act, it is too late. I long ceased to care about the figures sulking about on screen.

Part of the reason why it does not work involves the execution of the so-called attraction between Eleanor and Frank. While the actors look good together at times, the dialogue feels too much like a play. They give each other plenty of longing glances but what they have is not allowed to evolve into something interesting. The script is stuck on one idea only different words are utilized to communicate the same thing. As a result, the passion is barely an ember. The relationship needs to be scorching hot—to be a bit more exaggerated—and readily able to move forward at right time so the film demands the attention consistently.

It is plagued with one dimensional characters—somewhat of a surprise because the story jumps between the past and the present which means that it has more of a chance to show certain characters on a deeper level. Clara should have been the most complex. We see her having a difficult background but there is no bridge between she and us. Therefore, it is difficult to care what for what she values. Instead, she is reduced to looking sexy without actually being sexy. This is from the director who helmed the effortlessly seductive “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.”

The three men on the hunt for the two women are boring. A discussion about rules that must be adhered to—yada yada yada—remain so vague that it is frustrating to follow. In addition, their methods appear so ordinary during the first half. In the third act, however, elements of camp are introduced. Is this intentional? An act of desperation because halfway through the director realized that the majority of the picture is soporific? How are we supposed to swallow what is happening when the tone is suddenly schizophrenic? It was a mess; it could not end any sooner.

When the picture has nothing to say—which is often—the melancholy piano comes to the rescue and attempts to fill in the empty moments. Clearly what we have here is a screenplay that fails to connect and translate a play onto celluloid.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Eleven children are missing and the town is desperate to hold someone responsible. Despite a lack of evidence, they welcome anyone in suspicion of being a witch to be burned at the stake. To gain control of the madness, the mayor hires Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), siblings who hunt witches for a living. They discover that a sabbath called The Blood Moon, led by Muriel (Famke Janssen), a dark witch, is to occur in three days and one more child, a girl born in April, will be kidnapped for sacrifice.

A sinking feeling enveloped my senses while watching “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” written and directed by Tommy Wirkola. Instead of being a fun, silly, and engaging action-fantasy, the picture is largely composed of random scenes of ostentatious–at times gratuitous–violence. Meanwhile, the story moves slower than a snail’s pace. By the time the third act comes around, it is near impossible to care about what will transpire.

There is no strong connective tissue to pull the scenes together in such a way that is practical with respect to its own universe. As a result, it is often choppy. To compensate, when the next scene begins, there is almost always an attempt at explaining what is going on and why characters are taking certain courses of action. It gets boring real quick because it rarely breaks away from this approach.

The script is inconsistent and the dialogue is as dead as a fish that has been out of the water for a week. Characters like the siblings are allowed to utter anachronistic phrases which, I guess, is supposed to make them sound cool or modern, but others–though not all of them–speak with archaic tongues. Further, there is no punchline in the would-be amusing remarks. Perhaps the contrast might have worked if the screenplay had had a solid grip with its universe. Instead, it sounds like the filmmakers are trying to appeal to or impress the younger audiences, specifically those who crave only empty calories of visual acrobatics, instead of treating their work with dignity.

My favorite character is a troll named Edward (voiced by Derek Mears). He is so ugly but he has such a presence. Unlike the witches and the witch hunters, the troll does not pose as if it were in a photoshoot after a big action scene. It just walks away and when the attention is back on the humans, my mind goes back to the creature with gigantic face and hands. I started to think about how the film might have had a bit of an edge if the story were told through the troll’s point of view, a reclusive being feared by humans and treated by witches as slaves.

There is a subplot involving Hansel and Gretel’s history regarding their parents and, of course, a house made up of confections. But the subplot is not neatly tied into the main story. It simply appears and disappears whenever it is convenient. By the end, the whole thing is as mind-numbingly dull as it is frustrating because its potential just sits there.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed


The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

The first five minutes of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” written and directed by J Blakeson, observed from a distance how two men prepared to kidnap an unsuspecting Alice (Gemma Arterton). I immediately thought there was something strange with how the kidnappers paid particular attention in preparing the woman’s bed. Did they want her to feel comfortable so they would feel less guilt? Did they personally know her? Were they doing it for the money or was it simply to hurt someone who was close to her? Vic (Eddie Marsan) was the more methodical of the two criminals. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to achieve them. Danny (Martin Compston), on the other hand, seemed to follow orders without question. What I found most impressive about the film was I didn’t care much about Alice (or whether she would make it out alive) yet I was always fascinated with what was happening. For me, the driving force of the picture was Danny and Vic’s complicated and volatile relationship. When Danny’s loyalty began to stray, there was an unrelenting tension because we knew that Vic was very intelligent and much more dangerous. Vic was huge in stature, had a booming voice, and his calculating nature made him a predator. Danny was a bit lanky, inclined to whisper, and his transparent lies made me wince. He was under Vic’s control and I desperately wanted him to untangle himself. But how could he when he was stuck in the apartment as much as the victim? In a way, he was also a prisoner. There were a handful of twists that I didn’t see coming. However, the twists didn’t feel at all gimmicky. Since Vic and Danny had to be secretive while performing their job, keeping quiet as often as possible, I was able to learn a lot about them with the way they responded to situations that weren’t in their favor. Just when I thought they would react one way, they took a different route and surprised me. I wished that Alice was more likable because I wanted to root for all of them. When I’m torn in several directions, I find myself that much more emotionally involved. Instead, I thought she was devoid of charm, whiny, and spoiled. She needed to be more resourceful in her attempt to wriggle herself out of the two crooks’ plan. The majority of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” took place in an apartment, but it was as suspenseful as globetrotting adventures of the same breed because of the constantly evolving power play between the three characters. Unlike most movies about kidnapping, the film didn’t rely on the question of whether or not Alice would make it out alive. It challenged itself by observing who could handle the most pressure when the situation arrived at a tipping point.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Three Persian princes (Jake Gyllenhaal, Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbell) invaded a holy city protected by a princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton) because their royal intelligence led them to believe that the city provided weapons to Persia’s enemies. In truth, the false information was created and spread because someone wanted a special dagger that had the ability to turn back time. Based on the video game of the same name, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” directed by Mike Newell, plays out like a typical video game: the main character Dastan (Gyllenhaal) was heroic and had a heart of gold, he met villains-turned-friends (Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint) along the way, and the identity of the big bad was eventually dramatically revealed even though we could see it coming from a mile away. But prior to watching the film, I decided to have an open mind and not take it too seriously. Surprisingly enough, I quite enjoyed it because its energy reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ action-adventure “The Mummy” although not as funny and creative with the action sequences. I thought the film worked best when it showcased the fighting scenes such as when Dastan would try to evade the enemies by jumping from one roof to another à la Jason Bourne in Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum” only with more sweat and sand. However, I have to admit that the bickering between Dastan and Tamina did get under my last nerves. I knew that they were going to end up in each others’ arms eventually so I kept wondering when they would actually be useful together in order to finally drive the story forward. Perhaps Arterton was to blame because although she was beautiful on the outside, the way she played her character lacked charm. I thought she could have played her character with more cheekiness and far less self-righteousness. I didn’t understand why Dastan would fall in love with her because she acted like a spoiled brat for the majority of the time. When she wasn’t, she acted like a common damsel-in-distress. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” ticks all the boxes in terms of what makes a good and entertaining action flick. I especially liked the visual effects toward the end when Dastan and the princess went under the holy city and danger was literally found in each step. However, I wish the filmmakers would’ve challenged themselves more (or, more importantly, challenged us more) by toning down certain evil looks by characters that had murky allegiances so that it would have been less predictable.