Skip to main content

We call it confabulation.

Before I Go to Sleep
(2014)

(SPOILERS) An interesting cast (and Nicole Kidman) can’t do much with Rowan Joffé’s adaptation of SJ Watson’s 2011 bestseller. Before I Go to Sleep is a thriller about a woman with anterograde amnesia, who can only store up the memories of one day before she resets herself. This a movie daft enough that it makes the condition seem like a ludicrous invention, one suggesting unexplored options that might undermine the whole conceit (what happens if she decides to pull an all-nighter?), but not daft enough to really go for broke and have fun with its inherent ridiculousness.


Joffé, son of Roland (remember him? He’s been regularly making movies no one has bothered seeing since the end of the ‘80s), received decent notices for the unnecessary recent re-adaptation of Brighton Rock, so why he felt the need to squander that goodwill with this tripe is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the paucity of the material does serve to highlight his slick and well-honed technique, even as it also emphasises that he can’t work wonders as a screenwriter. Or maybe it’s a case of what works on the page is exposed in all its holey glory on the screen. Ridley Scott, ever with an indiscriminate appetite for the tripe, produced.


Hubby Ben (Colin Firth) informs Kidman’s Christine of her condition when she awakes one morning. This is something he does every morning before going off to work. She soon (as in, soon after getting up) discovers she has been seeing a doctor, Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He advises her to keep her attempts to regain her faculties from her husband, who might not understand. To this end, Christine is given a video camera to log her thoughts each day. She will play it back to herself the next morning, so creating a self-taught guideline to follow. Inevitably, suspicions arise of just what Ben is up to, and why he’s keeping things from her. And, just as inevitably, suspicions of Nasch’s motives also accumulate.


For 40 minutes or so, this is passable enough, a mixture of Memento and Suspicion, continually shifting the sands of what may or may not be the reality of the situation. It’s absurd from the off, but the hermetic nature of the plot allows for some resistance to overt interrogation.


Alas, when the actual reveal comes it’s of the most banal kind, and driven by conventions rather than anything really plausible to the characters. Nor does it bear no scrutiny in terms of the basic logic of the situation. To pull off this kind of charade, you need to flaunt the absurdity (like De Palma would). Joffé’s cast are too reliable; Firth’s almost makes you buy Ben, Strong gets to play a normal (-ish) guy for a change, and Kidman is as unappealing as ever but better deployed than in Paddington.


Ben is revealed as your decidedly non-classic post-Patrick Bergin psycho at the drop of a hat (or play of a video), and the hows of this impostor status invite ridicule. How did Mike (the real name of Firth’s character) get by posing as a teacher under a faked identity? Why would real Ben, even given his estrangement, have no contact whatsoever in four years, even to check up on her? Why didn’t Nasch find out her son was alive? For a doctor so obsessed with a patient, he’s remarkably clueless. It’s also no wonder Mike eventually completely loses it, taking her back to the scene of the crime and having a meltdown, after four years of incessant whinging from Nicole. As for real Ben and son showing up at the end, it’s good to know they finally care when prodded to do so.


Now, if they’d got John Lithgow to play Ben/Mike (and the real Ben, and Christine too) that would have been more like it.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You counselled him and then he shot himself.

First Reformed (2017)
(SPOILERS) This uneven at best Roman Catholic – I know, it concerns a protestant church, but who are we trying to kid? – eco-guilt picture from Paul Schrader that has been hailed as his best in years, which it probably is, but these things are relative. Schrader has made, for the first hour or so, an engrossing study of faith, doubt and despair, but his choices after that, particularly during the last half hour, undo much of the effort.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…