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Rating History

Eyes Wide Shut
12 days ago via Movies on iPhone

For many, Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest directors America has ever produced and has offered up some of the most thought provoking films throughout his career. Unfortunately, his last film didn't receive the credit that it deserved. Literally days after delivering the final film, Kubrick died. However, in some senses, I'm actually glad Kubrick didn't have to witness his swansong's much maligned backlash. A big factor in this was the poor marketing campaign. For the first time, Kubrick released a film in the internet-age where information was readily accessible on the secrecy of its production. Rumours abound, it was flaunted as a sexually explicit bonkfest with Cruise and Kidman and the trailers teasing the audience with the real-life, married couple's nudity certainly didn't help matters. In truth, what (little) you see in the trailer is essentially all there is in the entire film between the couple. Added to which, there were rumours that Cruise would be shooting heroine for the film and wearing a dress. Needless to say, those who flocked in their droves to see such controversy where left sorely disappointed. What they really missed, though, was a rich and provocative meditation on sexual desires and the human psyche.

Plot: Happily married New York City doctor, Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) appears to have the perfect life with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman). When she admits that she had a potent sexual fantasy about a man she never met and was tempted to cheat on him, he is left reeling from shock, and goes out into the Manhattan night where he meets strange characters and enters into a world of sexual adventure for the first time in his life.

Within minutes of the film's opening, we are voyeurs in the lives of our main characters. We witness them at a party where Alice flirts with an older lothario who imparts his wisdom that women only got married in order to lose their virginity, freeing them to do as they pleaded with other men. Meanwhile Bill is being accosted and propositioned to an upstairs bedroom by two beautiful models, promising to show him "where the rainbow ends". Despite these encounters amounting to nothing, they set the tone for the rest of the film in how this seemingly contented married couple will have their fidelity questioned.

It's moments like these that showcase Kubrick's command of space. I love his ability for crafting a place or scene that is vast yet strangely intimate. He gives a place importance and here it is no different. Despite being set in the vibrant sprawling nightlife of New York City, we seem enclosed in the lives of our two main characters. Kubrick's craftsmanship was just as evident in the The Shining whereby he conveys the loneliness and isolation of his characters and somehow manages a palpable sense of claustrophobia within grand open spaces. If for nothing else, it brings his actors to the forefront and enhances their performances. Speaking of which, Cruise and Kidman are very brave and dynamic here. Their real life marriage (at the time) effectively seems to permeate the characters - giving a very intimate portrayal of a strained, unfulfilled relationship. It should also be noted that with Kubrick's fastidious approach to filming that the psychological torment that he put his actors through led to the break-up of Cruise and Kidman not long after filming wrapped. Much was said about Kidman's performance but this is by-and-large Cruise's film. He's the anchor and it's among his strongest work as he absolutely smolders on screen as his Dr. Harford is always heavily weighted on and there's an escalating sense of danger in his experiences.

Kubrick's last film is not just one to be viewed but one to be immersed in. That's the absolute beauty and captivating nature of the film. It draws you in and, much like the protagonist, you have no idea what you're in for but you're swept along with it as if in some hypnogogic state. As a self-proclaimed admirer of David Lynch, Kubrick has managed to make a film that the idiosyncratic Lynch would be proud of. In the latter stages it becomes quite an intriguing, surrealistic mystery that begins to question Harford's perception of events. Over the course of the evening, Harford experiences a prostitute, a proposition from a teenage girl, the suggestion of his sexual orientation and, of course, an en masse orgy. But, is this the world that he's been cloistered from experiencing a reawakening? Or are these manifestations of his sexual fantasies and desires? These are the questions that begin to surface as the film's dreamlike, ambiguous nature grows stronger.

It's not just what's underneath Eyes Wide Shut that's impressive, though. On the surface, the film is
also visually stunning. Kubrick shoots on a grand scale where production designers Leslie Tomkins and Roy Walker capture both the interiors and exteriors with lavish flamboyancy. There's also an abundance of colour on display and cinematographer Larry Smith deserves the utmost credit with his stunning contrast of warm and cold colours that adds to the foreboding atmosphere that's tangible within the themes of the film.

An avant garde, near masterpiece from Kubrick. Consider, if you will, David Lynch directing Martin Scorsese's absurd, dark comedy After Hours and you'll get a little closer to understanding it. Premature judgement has harmed the film but it is still, admittedly, not for everyone. It's not the explicit orgy that people expected but a deeply surreal, and hypnotic, psychological exploration of sexual tension, paranoia and jealousy. But if viewed from a subconcious perspective it is a hugely rewarding experience. Sadly, it was Kubrick's last film but it's also one of his finest.

Mark Walker

Bram Stoker's Dracula
21 days ago via Movies on iPhone

During the early 90's there was a reinvigoration for classic horror characters that were tackled by some of the most reputable names in the movie business. Under the watchful eye of director Mike Nichols, Jack Nicholson put his spin on the werewolf in 1994's Wolf while Kenneth Branagh managed to convince Robert DeNiro to take on the lead in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (also in 1994). Two years previously, however, it was Francis Ford Coppola who reimagined Bram Stoker's lengendary tale of Dracula and he done so with some of the most visually impressive work he's ever produced.

Plot: In 1897, young lawyer Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) travels to gloomy Transylvania to close a deal on 10 London properties purchased by Count Dracula (Gary Oldman). However, the Count happens upon a photograph of Harker's betrothed Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) who strongly resembles the undead vampire's lover, Elisabeta, who died centuries ago. Inspired by the photo, the Count imprisons Harker and sets forth for London on a reign of seduction and terror to find his lost love.

The Godfather's, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now are considered some of the cinematic greats and just a few from the resumé of Francis Ford Coppola at a time when he was at the forefront of filmmaking. However, when Bram Stoker's Dracula was released it came when, the once great, Coppola had fallen on harder times and he was unable to recreate the quality that his name had become synonymous with. Many would even claim that Dracula continued his poor run of projects but as a reimagining, it's actually quite a stunning piece of work.

One thing that can't be said about the film is that it lacks style or is anything less than ambitious and hugely extravagant. It's obvious that it's Coppola intention to provide a fantastically visual experience and if the film is to be judged on that alone, then it's a massive success. Production designer Thomas Sanders really earns his crust in his recreation of this timeless story and he's helped, immeasurably, by Scorsese's regular cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus as every movie artifice in the book is utilised to beautifully, hyper-stylised effect.

Although faithful to Stoker's original source material, narratively, the film has holes bigger than anything an old Transylvanian could sink into your neck. However, on this occasion, it doesn't really matter such is Coppola's ability to sweep you up in a romantic, Victorian love story while adding a much needed humanity to Dracula's character and motivations. This isn't just a generic horror tale involving coffins, stakes and garlic, this cuts across each characters personal journey; from lovers Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker to vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, with each of them afforded equal and ample screetime. That said, the least said about some of the performances, the better: Winona Ryder is an actress that I've never taken to so anything she delivers doesn't really work for me and as Harker, Keanu Reeves is plain woeful. Reeves is no thespian and often comes in for criticism but this is, unequivocally, the worst he's ever been and his accent alone is so cringeworthingly bad that it's hard not to feel embarrassed for him. To be fair to him, though, you get the felling that even Reeves knows he's out of his depth. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins doesn't fare much better as Van Helsing. Normally, Hopkins delivers strong work but he absolutely hams it up here with another poor grasp on an accent that he simply can't get his tongue around. On the periphery, there's an overindulgent Richard E. Grant, an overzealous Sadie Frost and a very entertaining Tom Waits as the deranged, insect eating R.M. Renfield. Anyone familiar with Waits' ability to assume different personas in his musical work will see that this is a perfect role for him. When all is said and done, however, the majority of the meat on the films' bones rests with the leading man and Gary Oldman really delivers the goods. He's absolutely superb. Of all the main performers, Oldman is the only one who seems to understand what the tone of the film should be. He knows when he's required to crank it up or play it down and his range as an actor is on full display. He, at once, makes Dracula a broken-hearted romantic while also capturing a genuinely sinister and foreboding presence.

With an abundance of atmosphere and visual mastery, Coppola lays the old cliched vampire to rest and ressurects the gothic tale in true creative style. It's certainly not without its flaws but you've got to admire Coppola's chutzpah to do things vastly different from any other adaptation. His handle on mood is masterful while his composition is breathtakingly imaginative.

Mark Walker

Baby Driver
Baby Driver (2017)
27 days ago via Movies on iPhone
½

With his "Cornetto trilogy" and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Edgar Wright has amassed a fervent following. He's a director that can seemingly do no wrong in many people's eyes but this enthusiasm is one that I've often questioned. I don't think that Wright has produced enough overall quality to be considered so highly in people's estimations. Stylistically, he's fantastic and there's always an energy and a plethora of good ideas on display but I've always struggled with how much mileage he tries to squeeze out of his material and how he brings his stories to a close. Baby Driver, as enjoyable as it is, suffers a similar fate.

Plot: Crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey) is a meticulous planner of robberies but the one Ace in his pack is getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort). Baby has a partial hearing impairment but when he's listening to music, there's nothing he can't do when maneuvering a vehicle. Baby doesn't want this life anymore, though. All he wants is to spend time with his new girlfriend, Deborah (Lily James) but when she comes under threat, Baby is forced back into working with Doc and a crew of unstable thugs in order to break free for good.

There's a lot of impressive ratings and reviews flying around for Baby Driver and they seem to be coming from very reputable critics into the bargain. I would love to feel invited to the party but for as much as Baby Driver is exciting and hugely enjoyable it has issues that prevent me from agreeing with the majority of overly positive buzz surrounding it. For a start, the film begins so enthusiastically that the rest of the film never quite matches its early promise.

Credit where it's due, though, Wright has crafted a very clever take on the heist film and plays things out with a blend of La La Land's musical numbers and the stylish and exciting getaway scenes from Drive. It would seem that there's certainly one thing Wright got wrong and that was his failure to cast Ryan Gosling. Throw his expertise into the mix and this could have achieved another half star. Jesting aside, if you don't put Baby in the corner and just let him do his thing, there's plenty to enjoy here. The eponymous Ansel Elgort is a more than able lead and he delivers a fine central performance where his reservation is complimented by his background in dancing. He's abley surrounded with an impressive and colourful collection of support as well; Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx trying to outdo each other in the menacing stakes is a lot of fun in itself and it's great to see them spearheaded by the reliable and infinitely watchable Kevin Spacey. There's no denying that it's a great cast but even they are overshadowed by the structure and panache of Wright's approach. It's his use of music that's the biggest draw and Wright skillfully blends an abundance of classic tracks that seemlessly fit the action onscreen - he even times Baby's movements to the beats of the particular song that plays at any given time. From this, it's obvious that he's done his homework on synchronising this whole thing together - with the occasional nod to the influence of Tarantino and how he incorporates music in his films.

The thing is... apparently Wright had been mulling this project over for two decades. With that in mind, I'd have thought that within that time he would have been able to iron out some flaws in his screenplay. I feel as if I'm being unfair on the film as it's not my intention to overly criticise something that I found to be very lively and entertaining but I'm a bit taken aback that most critics seem to be glossing over the film's problems. These are most apparent in the denouement where Wright seems to run out of ideas. Shootouts become preposterous and his villains become caricatures while the motivation and behaviour of Spacey's character, in particular, changes so dramatically that you're left wondering if you've missed something. There's so denying that the film is a welcome breath of fresh air but it's not groundbreaking in any sense and, again, fuels the fire that Edgar Wright endeavours often have. It's a great idea and it's delivered with aplomb but on a basic basis it's nothing more than entertainment. This isn't a bad thing per se, but it's not revolutionary or likely to achieve any classic status.

Despite succumbing to formula, Edgar Wright does a good job of providing the thrills. It's not perfect but I'd still goes as far to say that it's his most accomplished endeavour. It's snappy, it's fast paced and it has an abundance of style. These attributes alone make it worthwhile.

Mark Walker

Carol
Carol (2015)
38 days ago via Movies on iPhone

As a talented writer, Patricia Highsmith has been responsible for the source material of some great film adaptations; Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hossein Amini's The Two Faces of January are a notable few. However, Todd Haynes' Carol is an adaptation of the 1952 novel The Price of Salt which Highsmith wrote under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan to avoid harming her reputation and ruining her career. This was a novel that would've caused widespread controversy for such a high-profile author at this time and it wasn't until 1990 that Highsmith was credited. Now, over 60 years later, Todd Haynes brings it to the screen for a contemporary audience and affords it the respect that it's been deserving of for too long.

Plot: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), is a young woman who longs to be a photographer but for the moment finds herself working as a clerk in a department store. It's here that she encounters Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman with a wealthy background. There's a spark between them and what begins as a friendship soon develops into an unexpected love affair that does not follow the conventional norms of 1950s America.

Opening with Carter Burwell's sweeping music, Todd Haynes takes us back to New York in the 1950's where it's obvious from the very first moments that meticulous and extensive production design has went into this. Put simply, it's a breathtakingly beautiful film. Haynes basks in a luxurious palette of colours that's captured so magnificently by Edward Lachman's cinematography where the deep hues radiate from the screen and the attention to detail is so precise that it's difficult to accept that a director can achieve such exquisite sophistication. Visually, there's so much going on that absolute credit must go to Haynes' entire crew; Judy Becker's production design is flawless while Sandy Powell makes a huge contribution with her striking costume design.

The look of the film is one thing and it's undoubtedly a thing of beauty but Haynes also has the cast to convince you of this melancholic love story. Anchoring the film are two exceptional lead performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Both were deservedly Oscar nominated for their work and are an absolute delight to watch as Haynes gives them plenty of time to breathe and allows them to take ownership of their characters. Their subtle facial expressions and nervous eye contact always hint at something more. There's such nuance and delicacy to their performances that every moment of contact, be it eyes or physical touch, resonates so strongly that words often aren't even required. We regularly observe their characters through windows, door frames and at a distance which suggests an eavesdropping secrecy and Haynes often depicts them separated in crowded rooms, hinting at the difficulty of their taboo relationship. Such an approach from Haynes is a masterstroke. Even when the characters are distant from one another, the closeness and longing from them is palpable. Although this received widespread critical acclaim and garnered 6, thoroughly deserved, Oscar nominations it really isn't for all tastes. Some viewers may struggle with its languid pace which can make the film difficult to connect with - especially in its initial stages. That said, there is so much going on stylistically that your still swept along with the melodrama.

Todd Haynes has crafted a gorgeous evocation of the 1950's era. It's hugely confident filmmaking from a director that seems to excel when approaching complex social issues during a time when society was less accepting and appearances were everything. Like his Far From Heaven before it, this is a stunning work of art that has, at its centre, a truly devastating and melancholic love story where individuals struggle with their freedom of expression.

Mark Walker

Blue Valentine
41 days ago via Movies on iPhone

Back in 2004 when Ryan Gosling was still a relative unknown, he caught a break by starring in a little love story called The Notebook. It was a huge hit among the ladies and he charmed the knickers off many a bored housewife. Needless to say, Gosling became a star overnight and he developed a very enthusiastic female fanbase. Try asking a lot of women, or even some men for that matter, what they think is a good romantic movie and The Notebook will generally get a shout-out. As a little social experiment, I'd like to offer up an alternative to those who love Gosling, The Notebook and those who love to see romance triumph over adversity by suggesting they watch Blue Valentine. It's the polar opposite of that sentimental and clichéd pap and could induce nightmares to those of a more sensitive nature when it comes to how relationships are depicted on screen.

Plot: Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a young, working class couple who finds themselves at a testing juncture in their marriage. Cindy has ambitions and looking for more from life while Dean has remained the same person and shows little chance of changing. This puts a lot of pressure on their relationship as resentment and bitterness begin to appear and the dissolution of their marriage becomes an inevitability.

Apparently borrowing from the Tom Waits album of the same name, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine is a perfectly fitting title. It's a contradiction in terms of how something can be so sweet and beautiful yet also so cruel and depressing. That is the tone and exploration of Cianfrance's tragic love story. As we are introduced to the lives of Dean and Cindy we witness their courtship and their marriage while it's juxtaposed with their breakup. The earlier moments of their relationship is filled with happiness, hope and genuine love and affection while the latter times are so deeply painful and emotionally devastating. The real stroke of genius here, though, is in Cianfrance's decision to avoid a linear structure. He intercuts with opposing time-frames which allows him to dissect the whole meat and bones of these two characters' lives together with a detailed analysis of events and behaviours. As a result of the non-linear approach we, as viewers, are taken on a rollercoaster of emotions and given a fly-on-the-wall experience of this affair that's told with an unflinching realism.

Alongside co-writer's Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, Cianfrance achieves a meticulous balance to the film. It could have been so easy to side with one character or the other but as we see these people (warts and all) we come to understand that neither one of them is solely to blame for the breakdown of their relationship. I found myself taking it from a male perspective and seeing Cindy as cold, distant and unloving but then I could see it from her perspective and how Dean refused to grow or challenge himself. As Cindy wants more for her life and career, Dean is content with simply being a husband and father. Neither one is in the wrong but, unfortunately, they become incompatible due to their individual wants and differing needs.

In order for it all to come together, though, it demands commited performances. And that's exactly what we get from Gosling and Williams. The verisimilitude of this relationship is owed to the magnificent work that two leads put into it. In order to achieve the requisite authenticity, Gosling and Williams improvised a lot of their lines and even rented an apartment together for a month where they shared the stresses of daily life by living within the same meagre budget of their characters, going shopping, cooking meals, sharing the same bathroom and exploring different ways of picking fights with each other. Their commitment and approach to the roles really pays off and they are entirely convincing in their fluctuating ranges of emotion. Williams was rightly afforded an Oscar nomination for her work (losing out to Natalie Portman for Black Swan) but Gosling was disgracefully overlooked. This is one of those films where the performances are inseparable and it remains some of the very finest work both Williams and Gosling have delivered.


A very bleak but tender anatomy of a relationship that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Boasting extraordinary performances from the leads, it's so sobering and realistically depicted that it's uncomfortable to watch. Never have I seen a relationship on screen that's depicted with such brutal honesty with a simple viewing being enough to save some couples a fortune in relationship counselling. It may not be the best film for a romantic evening with your other half but it's the best film about the challenges that a long term relationship brings. Outstanding work by all involved.

Mark Walker