Tag: olga kurylenko

Mara


Mara (2018)
★ / ★★★★

The ineffectiveness of “Mara” brings to mind remakes of Japanese horror films that plagued the 2000s. There is nothing special about it, just a series of soporific incidents that lead up to an investigation followed by a would-be twist ending that leaves the viewer bewildered that the writers actually thought they could get with such mediocrity. Not even the look of the supernatural entity is inspired: long black hair, face rarely shown, body movements reduced to random ticks and convulsions. When it appears, the supposedly creepy score screams readily and directly at the viewers’ eardrums. Because it offers nothing new, the film, ironically, is a sleeping pill.

I wondered why the writer and director, Jonathan Frank and Clive Tonge, respectively, felt the need to tell this story. The opening seconds inform the audience that forty percent of the population experience sleep paralysis. It goes beyond culture; some accounts are so intense that there have been numerous reports of demon visitations. Despite a mildly intriguing premise, the filmmakers fail to get the audience to care. For most of the film’s running time, people end up dead and yet there is no suspense or intrigue. There is not even one character worth rooting for.

Olga Kurylenko plays Kate, a rookie forensic psychologist who is called upon to examine a woman whose husband passed away in his sleep. The wife is the prime suspect. We all know how this goes: a tyro investigator is thrown off the deep end, she begins to experience what she doubted, and by the end she ends up sounding and acting like a crazy person. Kurylenko does she can with the role but she is not given anything particularly interesting to do or say. Without a strong protagonist, or at least one with interesting thoughts or motivations, the mystery to be solved ends up feeling light and forgettable. There is no excitement injected in the dramatic parabola that must be followed. If you cannot forge a path, at least traverse it with zest.

So-called scares are as generic as they come. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In this case: a person sleeps, she walks up paralyzed, she feels pressure around her body like something is climbing on top of her but without making physical contact (at first), and she sees an entity from across the room. Throughout the course of the picture, this figure gets closer. And the whole charade is supposed to be scary. I guess if you’ve never seen a supernatural horror film it can be. Or if you have an extremely low tolerance for such nonsense. A rule of horror: It isn’t about the scare but how it is executed.

“Mara” offers a minefield of genre clichés. If you were to take a shot after encountering every cliché that is without a hint of freshness or an iota of intelligence behind it, you’d end up dead from alcohol poisoning. This is what results when a material lacks genuine inspiration.

Oblivion


Oblivion (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are stationed on war-ravaged Earth to repair drones and they have two more weeks until they can return to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons where the rest of the humans reside. But when Jack investigates a crash site, he opens a hibernation pod containing the body of a woman (Olga Kurylenko) that has somehow made it into his dreams and memories. It has been five years since the mandatory memory wipe.

For a movie set in the future with a lot of history involving a war between humans and an alien race called Scavs (short for “scavengers”), “Oblivion,” based on the screenplay by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt, is surprisingly thin in story—not at all one that we can get into and get our hands dirty. Instead, it is taped up with amazing visuals and wacko twists. Neither is good enough to pull off an enveloping experience.

The look of the picture is worth admiring. Seeing American landmarks demolished, surrounded by water, or almost completely covered in sand urged me to look closer at the screen. Because the images are seemingly without fault, it is easy to buy into the reality that there really was a nuclear war many years ago, along with catastrophic events incited by the destruction of the moon, and the repercussions of the attempted invasion linger.

Cruise’s performance stands out each time the camera is on him while he is surrounded by a vast nothingness. During those scenes, even though his character is not interacting with someone face-to-face, Cruise puts a story in his eyes. I believed the yearning and confusion in Jack’s fragmented memories. When the action scenes arrive, we care about what happens to him even though we do not completely forget that we are watching Cruise the movie star. Later, we are asked to evaluate who Jack really is.

This is where the problem lies. While the surprises remain connected to the story, there is a lack of a believable weight behind the revelations. Without revealing too much, I was not convinced that the writers thought about them completely especially how such information would impact the psychology of the characters. Not enough time is given to them—and us—to absorb what is really going on and what they might imply. Yes, the twists took me by surprise but I was not emotionally invested. On the contrary, I found them laughable at times. To me, the final scene is a complete misfire, straddling the line between convenience and manipulation.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski, there is no denying that “Oblivion” is easy on the eyes, but it is not written with enough intelligent and subversive layers, qualities that separate merely passable and truly memorable science fiction films, so that we are entertained on a sensory level and are inspired to really think about the emotional and psychological challenges the protagonist must go through after his discoveries. It is unremarkable.

To the Wonder


To the Wonder (2012)
★ / ★★★★

As a director I admire for taking his time to really helm a picture and consistently push the boundaries of what the cinematic medium can bring to us, it is most disappointing that Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” does not offer anything refreshing or new. It is closest to “The Tree of Life” in style but, as a whole, it comes off excruciatingly dull, almost as if the writer-director’s name is slapped onto the end credits but is actually made by an ardent but ultimately talentless impostor.

The figures on screen talk in a whispery, raspy tone to the point where it is so unnatural, clearly they are trying too hard to sound thought-provoking. Couple their bits of dialogue with would-be contemplative classical music and occasional utilization of narration to add a glimmer of context, the work ends up artificial, too controlled for what should be an enveloping experience of how it is like to be so wrapped up in being romantically involved with another. I did not feel for any of the models on screen.

Though negligible, the basic premise is this: Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) meet in Paris and move to Oklahoma. When Marina’s visa expires, she is forced to leave the country. While Marina is overseas, Neil reconnects with a woman in his past, Jane (Rachel McAdams), whose farm is on the verge of bankruptcy. To its credit, while the set-up sounds like a sort of a love triangle, it is not.

It is not the actors’ fault that the material is so dry. The screenplay is so self-indulgent, it leaves very little wiggle room for the performers to interpret their characters in meaningful ways. I wondered why they were cast in the first place. Get an unknown face to play Affleck’s role and it would not have made a significant difference.

Many images are recycled from past Malick pictures. There is a recurring theme involving water, which symbolizes life and sustenance (in this case, of a relationship), in which similar figures, including angling and duration, can be seen in “The Tree of Life” and “The New World”–characters step in the water and their sense of being is renewed. Another involves people running or walking through wheat fields and grass, summoning “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line.” These are symbols of freedom, an out of body experience, and being one with nature–living things that grow directly because of the sun.

In addition, the images are repetitive. How many times must we endure looking at a man and a woman kissing, caressing, and holding hands? They are shot so slowly that it borders on fetishistic. For the lack of a better term, I found the whole thing to be sickening. Since the subject of marriage is brought up, especially from the standpoint of religion, I felt as though the writer-director has created a work with an underlying message: that in the eyes of God marriage is strictly between a man and a woman.

“To the Wonder” is suffocatingly, maddeningly esoteric. It will test anyone’s patience. There are beautiful people on screen but close to nothing is communicated. Actually, what I got from this film is less than nothing. It stole two hours of my life. And that is something I would never have imagined saying about a Malick film.