Film Review: TULIP FEVER (UK 2016) **

tulip fever.jpgAn artist falls for a young married woman while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the Tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam.

Director: Justin Chadwick
Writers: Deborah Moggach (screenplay), Tom Stoppard (screenplay)
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell

Review by Gilbert Seah

The press is having a field day with the news of the new film TULIP FEVER based on a scandalous affair set in 17th Century Amsterdam. When the film critics were asked to sign an embargo for their reviews to appear no earlier that 1 pm of Friday, the film’s opening day, something must be afloat. The film was expiated to be awful. In addition, rumours were going around that TULIP EVER had been siting on the shelves for 3 years.

To be fair to the film, the film was in production in 2014 and the film was scheduled for a 2016 release. So, the film was on the shelf for a year and not 3. As for the embargo, the studios have their reasons. The film is not that bad, though it is not that good either. Despite the film’s flaws, it is quite watchable and pleasant viewing.

For one, the film has an impressive cast that includes Oscar Winner Judi Dench, hardly recognizable in cloister apparel. She is the Abbess who specializes in growing tulips. The film also stars rising start Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell and Christoph Waltz. This is Waltz in his strangest role not as an antagonizer but as a victim of various plots. DeHaan, who has become quite the household name now with this third big expensive flop in a row after A CURE FOR WELLNESS (in turn quite a good film despite flopping at the box-office) and the same could be said for VALERIAN.

The film is told from the point of view and voiceover of a maid, Maria (Holly Grainger). She works hard for her mistress Sophia (Vikander) who was bought from the orphanage for a wealthy Cornelis (Waltz) who is desperate to have a son. Maria has an affair with a fishmonger (O’Connell) who delvers fish to the household. Sophia has an affair with a painter, Van Loos (DeHaan) behind Cornelis’ back. When Maria becomes pregnant ,s he blackmails her mistress as she knows of Sophia’s affair with Van Loos. Sophia decides to have Maria’s baby as her own to fool her husband. Complications arise in this complicated tale of deceit, with tulip truing brought into the picture.

It is are to market a film in which those who plot and have various affairs flourish and the poor faithful and believing husband doesn’t. He ends up, forgiving his transgressors and even grating them his residence.

The film is set in Holland, in the 17th century when tulips were the talk of the town. Business people were trading on tulips, very similar to the stock market at present. As expected, while many may make their fortunes, oner less fortunate ones stand to lose everything.

TULIP FEVER benefits from an interesting though hardly credible story. The period setting in Amsterdam helps too, despite the film shot totally in English with largely English and European actors. TULIP FEVER ends up an interesting failure. It costs only $25 million to make, so it might just make a little profit.



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 valerian.jpgA dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Pierre Christin (comic book), Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book)
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen

Review by Gilbert Seah

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is the new widely anticipated French science fiction action film written and directed by Luc Besson best known for THE FIFTH ELEMENT and LUCY. The film, based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières is to date the most expensive French film ever made at a price rage of $197 million euros. To break-even it has to make $350 million worldwide. It is a big a risk as James Cameron’s AVATAR but the film is stunning in its visuals and imagination and comes highly recommended for Besson’s vision and delivery of this space opus to the big screen. It be best seen in 3D and on the biggest screen possible.

The film opens with an alien species on a distant planet. They speak a different language and lead a different lifestyle, in tune with nature giving their planet back what they receive from it. This is reminiscent of the blue AVATAR creatures in the James Cameron’s film. An apocalypse happens and their planet is destroyed. On the other side of the Universe, a dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. Nothing makes much sense in the film’s first half, but writer/director Besson keeps the audience’s curiosity strong. It is during the second half that the story comes together, becoming more of a conventional film with the fight between good and evil, with Valerian and Laureline being the space fighters and peace keepers working for ‘the government’.

But it is not the story that will astonish the audiences. The visionary action sequences consisting of computer generated landscapes and creatures of all shapes and sizes will mesmerize. The best of these are three information selling beaked liked creatures who speak both simultaneously but separately forming sentences that are hilarious and brilliant. The capture of the jellyfish on the mammoth sea creature providing some genuine action and thrills and the butterfly bait fishing are inspirational set pieces. Another memorable scene has Laureine wearing a huge hat with the top of her head exposed only to find her brains about to be eaten by an Alien Emperor, the way Chinese used eat monkey brains as a delicacy before the practice was banned.

Much negative reviews have been posted of the lead actor’s Dane DeHaan’s performance as Major Valerian. DeHaan is a young 31-year old American actor with some Dutch background, hence his Dutch surname, who has proven himself able to carry a lead role in the recent but badly received A CURE FOR WELLNESS. In that film DeHaan demonstrated a different kind of hero, a vulnerable one, as in this one, full of character flaws like impulsive decision making, unlike other space action heroes like hans Solo or Luke Skywalker. His partner, co-fighter for good against evil and love interest, Lareline is played by Cara Delevingne who emits sexiness and charisma. They do exhibit good chemistry on screen, and her speech on love at the film’s end though cliched, works. Supporting performances by Clive Owen as the villain and Ethan Hawke are also impressive.
Rihanna plays an alien dancer who performs a Sally Bowles in CABARET type dance forms one of the film’s best musical dance numbers – amazing and unforgettable combined with special computer effects. Music is by Alexandre Desplat.

For all its flaws, Besson’s brilliantly conceived film still scores top marks as a futuristic space action adventure. Much better than THE FIFTH ELEMENT and the new STAR WARS film series.


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Film Review: A CURE FOR WELLNESS (USA 2017) ***1/2

a_cure_for_wellness.jpgGore Verbinski
Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Justin Haythe (story by) |
Stars: Jason Isaacs, Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth

Review by Gilbert Seah

The director of THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films turns serious with a new psychological thriller written by Justin Haythe (THE LONE RANGER and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD). Like the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films, A CURE ROR WELLNESS is over-long and can be shortened, but it is still a surprisingly entertaining suspensor, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

An ambitious young executive, Lockhart (Dane DeHaan, his most memorable role being in CHRONICLE) is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets (Do NOT drink the water!), his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests there longing for the cure. He is being watched and confined by Volmer (Jason Isaacs) who has darker designs for Lockhart. Lockhart, in the meantime falls in love with Hannah (Mia Goth) another patient at the facility. The question is whether Lockhart can escape or end up committed forever. The film might have been inspired by the classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.

The film is realistically shot in English and part German as the mountainous parts of Switzerland is mainly German. The film was filmed largely at The Babelsberg Film Studio, located in Potsdam-Babelsberg outside Berlin, Germany, the oldest large-scale film studio in the world. (METROPOLIS was shot there.) The film is a handsome production, with special effects and stunning shots by cinematography Bojan Bazelli.

Relative newcomer Dane DeHaan makes a believable naive young executive falling prey to a dark evil that challenges his sanity. Equally good, if not better, is young Mia Goth who plays a waif who is as innocently creepy as Sissy Spacek in CARRIE. There is a nice cameo by English actress Celia Imrie (THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL) who plays a small but important role as a Baroness.

The film is a tad too long at 146 minutes with many repetitive scenes. How many times has Lockhart been warned by Volmer for roaming around and getting lost in the facility? How many times must Lockhart see the toilet handle shaking. And how many times must Lockhart wake up from a nightmare in cold sweat for the purpose of director verbinski scaring the audience with a false alarm?

To be fair to Verbinski, he has staged some very creepy scenes, the one in the village pub being one of he creepiest I have seen in a while , In this scene, Hannah puts on a song from the jukebox, that turns out to be the creepiest, haunting music I have ever heard. She dances in her skimpy dress with the heads of onlookers turning around to watch this strange creature dancing, only to have her felt up by the local village thug who yields a curved blade when later rescued by Lockhart. Lockhart is at the telephone making a long distance call at the point Hannah is being molested, the timing adding to the suspense, in the film’s best scene.

The film has not had that much publicity so far, but it comes with my high recommendation as a taut suspenseful thriller with super eerie European atmosphere. Creepy and scary, the film will keep one absorbed in suspense from start to end. The film also delivers, subtly, the message that wellness comes from oneself, through self-discovery.




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