Tuesday, 15 November 2011

REVIEW: The Awakening

Dir.: Nick Murphy
With: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West

‘The Awakening’ came as a very pleasant surprise. It is a classic ghost story with a somewhat feminist twist. Rebecca Hall (gawwd I love her!) plays Florence Cathcart, a well-educated writer and part-time ghostbuster from London in 1921. She is inquisitive, charming and extremely likable from the start. The main part of the film takes place at a boarding school for boys where one of the students had suffered a seemingly supernatural death. At first, Florence is sceptical and applies all her intellectual abilities to unshroud the mystery. Slowly, her confidence and courage seem to diminish, as the school appears to hide more than one secret.

Ultimately, this is a film about loneliness and loss, set in post-war Britain where over a million people died from influenza or the war. The main characters all seem to have been affected by this in one way or another. Dominic West in particular gives a good performance as a history teacher, still shell-shocked from the trenches. It is Rebecca Hall, however, whose performance should be noted; her Florence has the right balance of seriousness and fragility, making her more believable. I found myself very invested in her character. I foresee a big big future for her, I loved her in 'Vicky, Christina, Barcelona' and in 'The Town'. She also strikes me as someone who would be great on stage too. Yes, she is my girl crush.

And yet, ‘The Awakening’ is not perfect, there are quite a few unexplained and unnecessary plot twists. Certain moments were also very predictable and, for those who had seen ‘The Others’ and ‘The Orphanage’, a lot of this film would seem to be a mere pastiche of those famous works.. On the positive side, it is also highly atmospheric, convincing and beautifully shot. It won’t scare you out of your wits but it has the right amount of jumpy moments to have a laugh about later.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

REVIEW: Miss Bala

Dir.: Gerardo Naranjo
With: Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez

‘Miss Bala’ does not make for an easy watch. The story follows Laura Guerrera, a young girl from Mexico who applies for a place in a local beauty pageant. However, bad luck throws her right in the middle of a drug war and she catches the eye of a notorious gang leader, Lino. We as the audience are conditioned to hope for the better but in Laura’s case things go from bad to worse and by the end of the film it is made apparent how corrupt and rotten the political core in Mexico is.

Laura, played by Stephanie Sigman, gives a brilliant performance. She is in the majority of the frames and literally carries the whole film. Her complicated emotions range from absolute shock, horror to responsibility and resolve. Constantly, she is faced with new moral dilemmas but manages to do what seems to be the right thing. Laura’s helplessness is emphasised by her grace and fragility but hoping for a knight in shining armour is plain silly in this context. I found that I was truly invested in her character and every turn of her terrible adventure felt like a blow.

The intensity of the film also depended on Lino’s character as portrayed by Noe Hernandez. His Lino is a hardened criminal whose slyness and cunning leave no hope for his opponents. He is abusive, predatory and there is a sense of power about him; the scenes of him ogling Laura are the most unpleasant ones in the whole movie.

Overall, this is a well-crafted film that manages to address important and highly unpleasant issues from a very human perspective. My only criticism is that it felt a little too long. The snappy action scenes were often interrupted by prolonged moments of confusion that were rather tiring. It was produced by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna - nice to see the famous pair making such interesting and socially relevant indie movies.