EIFF 2011: Bleak Night Movie Review 0 8

Sung-hyun Yoon’s Bleak Night is one of those modern Korean dramas that moves at its own deliberate pace, taking the time to explore its issues and make its points. Similar in vein to the work of director Kim-Ki Duk (3-Iron) – although certainly not as meticulously shot – Bleak Night is an effective, emotional drama when it wants to be but often its languorous pace and vague plot gets in the way.

Bleak Night centres on a grieving father and his quest to find out what happened to his son as he died in a (undisclosed) accident. The film takes the form of flashbacks as we get pieces of the puzzle bit by bit as the boys look back on the past as they are politely “interrogated” by the father.

It’s very hard to get that sort of fractured narrative right. Choosing the style of jumping back and forth in time, forcing the viewer to play catch up as names and events are thrown around in conversation, is a risky move. This storytelling technique works in part for Bleak Night but it leaves things frustratingly vague and sometimes downright confusing in places. Indeed it forces the viewer to concentrate more and that’s almost always a good thing as it usually means it, as it does in this case, that the film has something worthwhile to offer. You just have to work that bit harder as a viewer to get it.

Many teen school dramas have dealt with the issue of bullying before but Bleak Night brings something new to the table in that respect. It doesn’t just say “look how horrible he is being to him” but looks at all sides of the story, gently exploring why the bullying is taking place and not just how it affects the victim but the people around him. And the fact that the bully (for lack of a better word) is the one who has died adds an extra layer to it all.

A little too vague and unclear at times (although the lack of solid catharsis at the end helps the film tremendously), not to mention at least 20 minutes too long, Bleak Night seems almost like the shadow of a truly great film. But it definitely has a lot to offer in the way of emotionality and quiet power, exploring important and very relatable issues of friendship, loyalty and regret with admirable subtlety.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Man on a Ledge Movie Review 0 11

Man on a Ledge movie review

With a title as blunt and, quite frankly, stupid as Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge, it’s right not to expect all that much. I wasn’t looking for an awards-worthy thriller with great acting or insanely witty dialogue. But I also wasn’t expecting it to mess up its quite brilliantly simple premise.

The film at least starts off well enough, delivering a premise that while outlandish is not totally unbelievable. We have a mysterious man (Sam Worthington) who appears to want to kill himself by jumping off a building. However, as we can easily guess, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

We have a man… on a ledge… who is he? why does he want to kill himself? Why does he appear to be stalling for time?… The trouble with Man on a Ledge is it starts well, at a competently intelligent level but as the thread is pulled more and more and the real story behind the false front is revealed it becomes increasingly ridiculous until any semblance of believability or relatability is thrown out the window (so to speak…). And the way it attempts to weasel its way into being an emotional story with a purpose makes it all the worse.

The film fails to merge together two duel, related storylines into an enjoyable complete package. The stuff with Worthington on the ledge, with Elizabeth Banks as the negotiator, is far more interesting and engaging than the Ocean’s Eleven wannabe antics happening elsewhere.

A cast of talented actors including Worthington, Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick and Titus Welliver is practically wasted here on half-hearted characterization, preposterous plot twists and trite, cliché-ridden character motivations. All this distracts from the already overly convoluted plot to the point where it’s hard to really care about anyone, even the guy who’s threatening to jump. Like the spectators below, I almost wished he would just do it and get it over with!

Minute-by-minute you can practically see the film’s IQ drop lower and lower until it finally descends into one of the most absurd, nonsensical endings to hit the screen in quite some time. And to add insult to injury it ultimately ties everything up far too conveniently for its own good, fumbling and stumbling on its way there, leaving an aftertaste of smugness in spite of its stupidity.

As a whole Man on a Ledge is not entirely devoid of entertainment as it at least keeps you guessing, even if one answer is as ridiculous as the last. Those willing to completely shut their brain off might get some dumb enjoyment out of it. But when you set everything up with an intriguing premise like this it’s all the more disappointing to see it turn out as dumb as you feared.

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This review was previously published at Blog Critics.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Review 0 9

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a difficult film, both in its subject matter and how the viewer is asked to take in the events. But even in its more ambiguous moments, the film is undoubtedly powerful and haunting, helped largely by the lead performance of exceptional newcomer Elizabeth Olsen.

The film tells the story of Martha (Olsen), a young woman who escapes from a cult she was part of in the Catskill Mountains, led by the mysterious Patrick (John Hawkes). After escaping she is picked up and stays with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and in flashbacks we see her experiences as part of the cult while she tries to return to a normal life.

This type of ambiguous storytelling can often backfire, creating confusion and frustration where fascination should go. Fortunately, for the most part anyway, Martha Marcy May Marlene handles that ambiguity very well, making for an experience that allows you to both to fill in the blanks and read what we do get presented with in any number of ways.

The film is anchored together, and perhaps even raised beyond what it otherwise would have been, by the stunning performance of newcomer Olsen. She is sister of famous twins Mary-Kate and Ashley… but don’t let that put you off! Olsen is a real find of an actress, giving an attention-grabbing debut performance (tragically overlooked by the Oscars) as a girl tormented and confused by her past experiences. It really is pretty difficult to take your eyes off her every time she’s on-screen, not just because of her looks but her vulnerable yet strangely enigmatic presence.

While clearly the stand out, Olsen isn’t the only performance of note here. The incomparable Hawkes, finally getting some of the spotlight and recognition he has deserved for years, is a terrifying character here, his weird and subtle charm making his actions and warped attitude all the more frightening. The likes of Brady Corbet and Sarah Paulson also give impressive performances.

This is tough subject matter we’re dealing with here and writer/director Sean Durkin certainly doesn’t pull any punches. There are indeed scenes which some viewers may find very disturbing – namely the cult leader’s “treatment” of the female members – but these scenes are there for a purpose and not just there for the sake of being provocative.

Nevertheless Martha Marcy is provocative but in the best of ways. Emulating the work of such directors as Michael Haneke (his Funny Games films in particular) and Lynne Ramsay, Durkin creates an uncomfortable and unsettling atmosphere, making for what could very well be described as a horror film. In the same fashion as Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, there might not be jump-scares or lots of gore but a chilling sense of fear and dread runs throughout the whole thing nonetheless.

Martha Marcy May Marlene doesn’t offer any easy answers, it’s not interested in spelling everything out for or making it easy to understand all the themes it’s aiming to get across. Through intelligent means the film allows us to read the events in a way that makes sense to us, and a terrifically vague ending is the ultimate embodiment of that. Quietly powerful, haunting and often downright disturbing, this is an impressively bold directorial debut with a mesmerizing performance at its centre.

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This review was previously published at Blog Critics.