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Me Before You: Sugary, Tear-Jerking Romance
Adapted from the best-selling novel written by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You is an expectedly tear-jerking romantic drama that despite offering a relatively engaging storyline, might as well have been another Nicholas Sparks-inspired sob-fest, thanks to its inescapably sugary and formulaic structure.
Me Before You tells the story of Louisa 'Lou' Clark (Clarke), who is having trouble securing stable employment in the face of a pressure to earn so that she can keep food on the table for her and her family. After losing her job at a café, Lou – without a single qualification to her name - is offered a position as a caretaker for Will Traynor (Claflin); a privileged young man who, after a horrific accident two years before, is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.
Unable to deal with their son's deteriorating physical and mental condition, Camilla (McTeer) and Stephen (Dance) hope that his new caretaker will be able to somehow get him out of his rut. Little did they know, of course, that the two, who naturally don't manage to click straight away are soon to fall madly in love.
Me Before You is one of those movies that, even though you already have a pretty good idea where the story is headed – and that the initial 'dislike' between the lead characters is only a precursor for better things - you will still sit there invest keen interest in the storyline and wait to see it play out. However, although there's a pleasing familiarity and warmth to the story, there are a number of flaws in Moyes' screenplay that buckle the movie's natural flow and tonal balance. The more dark and dramatic elements of the story, for example, which arrive in the terribly predictable third act, are clumsily built and resolved, resulting in a strong disconnect from the audience and from whatever was shown in the storyline's previous two acts.
Performance wise, both Clark and Claflin make a strong onscreen pair and their blossoming romance, although is as sweet as it needs to be, feels a little forced and unlikely at times. Stepping back from riding her dragons on HBO'S Game of Thrones, Clarke is pleasing as the bubbly misfit who tries really hard to always make the best of things, while Claflin is solid as her pessimistic, angst-ridden opposite.
However, whilst they definitely try to do their best, their characters, just like the screenplay as a whole, rely far too much on the most basic romance clichés to make anything stick.
Those going in expecting an action-packed sci-fi adventure, complete with explosions, flying space-ship battles and a full-on war between humans and their extraterrestrial visitors, will be severely disappointed with Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Taking on a more philosophical approach to things, Arrival is an intelligent and a thought-provoking alien-invasion thriller which revels in its own complexity and manages strike all of the right chords, but for a few missteps.
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story titled Story of your Life, the film begins with the arrival of twelve mysterious alien spacecrafts which position themselves at twelve different locations around the globe, igniting fear and paranoia amongst the residents of Earth.
Recruited by Colonel Weber (Whittaker), linguist Louise Banks (Adams) – along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Renner) – is brought to Montana to help deal with the possible threat by making contact with the aliens in order find out who they are and what their intentions may be.
However, establishing communication with the visitors is not as easy as one would have hoped with Louise soon discovering that the aliens have their own language which uses symbols to communicate. Deciphering their tongue into a language they can understand is no easy task and with the threat of a global war between humans and aliens on the verge of a breakout, Louise must work hard to suppress her own personal demons in order to get the breakthrough she, and everyone else on the planet, needs.
Following his success with a character-driven drama like Prisoners and intense drug-thriller, Sicario, Villeneuve turns to sci-fi this time and manages to deliver yet another impressive – and by far the most ambitious – piece of work. Tackling some rather big questions about life, time and what makes us human, the script - written by Eric Heisserer - works as both a character-focused drama and a sweeping sci-fi adventure. Drenched in an enigmatic aura of the unknown, the pacing is slow and purposeful with Villeneuve unraveling the story’s mysteries steadily but thoroughly, keeping the tension and momentum high, while composer Johann Johansson’s original score, infuses the story with plenty of atmosphere and mood.
Delivering yet another powerful performance, it’s not a stretch to say that Amy Adams is the true star of the show; embracing her character’s strength and vulnerability with plenty of presence and grace, Adams delivers on all fronts, while Renner, although not used as much, is quietly effective.
All in all, Arrival is a winner and although it does struggle a little bit with trying not getting too lost in its own complex ideas, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, touching and moving sci-fi films you will see this year.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.