Salman Rushdie once wrote, “Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” It’s a quote that resonates throughout “Lavender,” a new psychological thriller starring Abbie Cornish as a woman whose ghostly, fragmented memories haunt her.
In this elegant and eerie movie from “The Last Exorcism II” director Ed Gass-Donnelly, Cornish stars as Jane, a photographer who snaps pictures of old, dilapidated homes. One house in particular seems to have a draw on her, but after photographing it she has visions, one of which cause her to run her car off the road. Suffering memory loss, she undergoes therapy to stimulate repressed memories, a treatment that works all too well. Soon strange boxes appear, seeming to be clues to a past she had long ago left behind. Jane’s unfinished business comes flooding back in the form of long forgotten memories of a tragic and unsettling event.
“Lavender” is a hallucinatory study of the hidden horrors of the mind, a look at false memories and how they can be used as a shield from madness. It follows a well-trodden path—previously explored in mind movies like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Shining”—but Gass-Donnelly’s deliberate, almost trance-like direction lends plenty of atmosphere to the story. He effectively milks an emotional response with an anxiety inducing score by Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson and an assured performance from Cornish.
Cornish is at the very center of “Lavender,” grounded and eerie at the same time, she’s a sympathetic character with a hint of menace. This character driven story gives Cornish the chance to explore the psychological implications of a woman uncovering her uncertain past.
“The Wizard of Oz” has lived at the very center of popular culture for more than a hundred years. David Lynch cribbed from the story for his film “Wild at Heart,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is filled with references from books and isn’t C3PO just the Tin Man in a gold suit?
A new film—actually a remake of a much-loved 1987 movie—brings a new Tin Man to town. “RoboCop” stars Joel Kinnaman as the half human, half robot police officer who struggles to find his heart.
Set in 2028 the story takes off when Detroit cop and family man Alex James Murphy (“The Killing’s” Kinnaman) is almost blown to bits by a drug dealer looking to silence him. Burnt on eighty percent of his body, missing limbs, deaf and blind in one eye, the bomb appeared to have done the job. That is until OmniCorp, a multinational company run by ruthless businessman Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) sees a marketing opportunity with the fallen hero.
The company’s totally robotic law enforcement drones are being used worldwide with effective but deadly results. OmniCorp wants to expand into the lucrative American market but is stymied by Senator Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier) and his question: How can a robot know what it means to take a life if it has never lived a life?
Murphy is the answer. The catastrophically injured officer becomes the ghost in the machine, an organic brain for a mostly robotic body in a suit tailored by Daft Punk. He’s a rootin’, tootin’ crime fighting machine, but will the human part of the robot fight its way to the surface and allow Alex to get his robo-revenge on those who have done him wrong?
Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” was social satire that used ideas about corporations and privatizing the police as a jumping off point for some pointed—if action packed—commentary. Today’s “RoboCop” doesn’t have the same shock appeal.
In our world where Detroit has gone bankrupt, unable to afford decent policing and national food chains use yoga mat chemicals in their bread, the black humor of the first film is now a dark reality laced with some man-machine ennui. It’s less fun than the original, but does have some high points.
Swedish born Kinnaman gives the character a Nordic sense of ennui that would make Ingmar Bergman grin. Alex is, for a while at least, tormented by the idea of his very existence. He brings some stoicism to the role and does an OK job of jawbone acting under the heavy mask but the emotional connection that Peter Weller forged with the characters (and the audience) in the original is missing. Murphy’s wife is nicely played by Abbie Cornish but despite some scenes with her and his son David (John Paul Ruttan) the story is focused elsewhere.
More expressive are Gary Oldham and Michael Keaton. Oldham takes a generic, morally divided scientist and gives him spark, while Keaton relishes playing the bad guy. Samuel L. Jackson also livens things up as a Glen Beck type TV host who fuels the flames of controversy with incendiary statements like, “Has the US Senate become pro-crime?”
All three are big performances that stand out in a big, loud movie, but central to the story is a smaller role from Jay Baruchel as OmniCorp’s head of marketing. He’s a corporate weasel who works amoral marketing angles to make RoboCop palatable to the public. “He transforms!” he says. “Kids love it. Focus numbers are through the roof.”
Baruchel doesn’t over or underplay the character, he simply allows him to breath and in doing so creates the most chillingly realistic portrait of venality in the film. He’s the real wizard behind the curtain.
“RoboCop” is a more generic film than its predecessor. It simply doesn’t have the vulgar verve that Verhoeven brought to the original, but between the explosions and bullets it does tackle some big, timely questions about drone warfare and corporate responsibility. The movie doesn’t exactly take the time to tackle and then wrestle these ideas to the ground, but hey, at least the new suit is really cool. It’s enough to make Oz’s Tin Man jealous.
In recent years filmmakers haven’t been content to simply tell one story. Recently Steven Soderbergh semi-successfully wove together a multitude of storylines to create the germ-o-phobic tapestry of “Contagion,” and “360” sees Antony Hopkins leading a mind bogglingly large cast of characters vying for screen time.
Madonna is a little less ambitious in “W.E.,” melding only two stories together. But you know what? It’s still one too many.
Cutting between 1990s New York and the scandalous 1930s love affair between Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) that shook the world, the film struggles to make a connection between the two story threads.
In New York Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) is a desperate housewife, the wife of a doctor who becomes obsessed with the decades old love story. She visits Sotheby’s every day, admiring the Simpson artifacts up for auction. There she meets a handsome security guard (Oscar Isaac) who helps her see happiness through her fog of depression.
Running parallel to this is Simpson’s story.
If you squint, and look very closely you may be able to find a thread of logic that connects these two stories, but as presented it’s a stretch. The Winthrop story is simply tiresome and takes away from the historical aspect of the story, which, in light of the recent success of “The King’s Speech,” might have worked as a love story.
Certainly it doesn’t work as an historical piece. It is sumptuously laid out and shot, but Madonna (who also co-wrote the script) seems content to ignore Simpson’s Nazi sympathies and some of the unseemly aspects of her relationship with Edward. Nonetheless Andrea Riseborough as Simpson and James D’Arcy as Edward acquit themselves quite well, it’s just a pity they don’t have a more focused movie to showcase their talents.