Guest Review: The Promise (2017)

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Directed By: Terry George
Written By: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 minutes

It has taken more than ten years for Terry George to return from Hotel Rwanda with another sweeping historical narrative – again about genocide. The Promise is a sobering, beautiful disappointment. The film has a beautiful score and decent cinematography, but is hindered by two competing and uncomplimentary story-lines, flawed casting, and lackluster performances by usually gifted actors.
One thing that The Promise does right is its dogged determination – at least in the beginning – to accurately recreate the Ottoman Empire at its peak. The diversity of the Ottoman Empire is highlighted in the script and on the screen: crowded streets and classrooms alike brim with a rainbow of skin colors and a wide variety of clothing styles. This attention to detail falls to the wayside later on: extras become less and less Armenian with every passing scene, leaving me wondering if the casting department doubts an audience’s ability to see facial features through dirt.

That initial pursuit of realistic cultural immersion was also highlighted in moments like the one when our stars leave a stuffy party full of people in European clothing to hit up the nearby belly dancing club where they drink absinthe, sugar cube ritual and all. The effort to establish the Ottoman Empire as a progressive, inclusive, educated, and wealthy place is palpable.

Unfortunately, The Promise falls short constantly. The focus of the film is what can only be described as a love square: one man is betrothed to a woman but he falls in love with a different woman who is already romantically involved with another man, but she also falls in love with that first man. On its own, this might be a decent movie, but this love square has been placed in the foreground of a genocide. The result is a bad love story (because the backdrop is too dark) and a bad historical drama (because the love story is more carefully developed than the history).
The flashes of the Armenian Genocide that we get are stark: labor camps, cattle trains full of people, violent killings, riots, executions, people on the run and trying to hide. They deserve a telling that does not hide them behind a petty romantic squabble. This is a story that is more than 100 years old and is still illegal to tell in Turkey. 1.5 million people were killed in five years. That story can be told without a love story.

Casting was poor. Oscar Isaac is a great actor, but why a man who is nearly 40 years old is playing a medical student who is betrothed to be married in two years is completely beyond me. He also does not look particularly Armenian. Neither does Charlotte Le Bon, who plays his romantic interest. Angela Sarafyan who, is both a phenomenal actress and an Armenian was cast in a lesser role. I would have liked to see her as the leading actress and a younger, more Armenian man in the place of Isaac.

I get the feeling that this set was not especially actor friendly, which is evident in a lot of lackluster performances. Christian Bale’s character (which should not exist, but that’s a rant about American centrism that we can save for another day) had many a stale outburst. Marwan Kenzari gave a consistently mediocre performance. Charlotte Le Bon seemed out of place in the 20th Century.

It is unfortunate that The Promise fails in its execution because the film explores many prescient themes:

In what ways might people respond to an atrocity? What compromises of our own character might we make when put in a difficult situation? How do we know what side of a story is the true one, both journalistically and personally? What sacrifices might we make for the sake of our families and our friends?

I can only hope that we’ll get the opportunity to explore those questions in a different movie. With any luck, it will be about the Armenian Genocide, because clearly we still haven’t found it in ourselves to tell that story in the way it deserves to be told.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘The Promise’? Well, what did you think? 

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A trio of brand new trailers: FREE FIRE, LIVE BY NIGHT and THE PROMISE

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Yaaaaaaaaaaaaassss!!!

Sorry ehm, now that I got my giddy enthusiasm out of the way… [well just enough so I can actually do a post, ahah]

Well if you’ve visited my blog long enough you’ll know how much I’ve been crushing madly on Sam Riley… and he deserves every bit of my love… and then some. Anyway, today we’ve got three trailers, two of which has two Batmans AND a Scarecrow too 😀

FREE FIRE

Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

I’ve been waiting for this trailer since the day I heard Sam was cast in it… so that was about a year ago! I mentioned it here, can’t believe it’s been four months since we got its first official photo!

Well, today we didn’t just get ONE but TWO Free Fire trailers… the top one is the official UK trailer and below is the RED BAND trailer… more blood

Some lucky folks got to see this at TIFF Midnight Madness last night w/ the cast and crew… yes including my Sam!!


Well, early reviews have been mostly positive!

The main reason I’ve super excited for FREE FIRE is because Sam Riley‘s in it… but of course the cast is amazing! Besides Sam we’ve got Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor, and Noah Taylor.


I know Sam isn’t in the movie much, heck he’s not even mentioned in the trailer (what a travesty), but he’s been mentioned quite a bit in the early reactions of the movie on Twitter!! I have a feeling he isn’t gonna survive in this movie, and neither is many of the cast, but from the reviews sounds like director Ben Wheatley isn’t killing people off so soon. It’s a game of survival so I guess it wouldn’t be fun if everyone dies in the first act, ahah.

People are saying it’s as violent as the promos made it out to be, but also a lot of fun. Nothing like a good sense of humor to break all the tension of a group of trigger-happy gangsters stuck in a warehouse full of guns! There’ll be gunfire alright!


I’ve actually met Jack Reynor once… now if only I could meet Sam one day!!! [I believe I will!] 😉


I hope we get this one on the big screen, no US release date yet but the lucky UK folks will get this in March 2017.


Live By Night

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A story set in the Prohibition Era and centered around a group of individuals and their dealings in the world of organized crime.

Now this one I’m actually surprised to see a trailer so soon! But hey, I love pretty much everything Ben Affleck‘s directed, especially Gone Baby Gone, so I’m excited on that front. Now that he’s Batfleck, I do keep thinking that his gangster character Joe Coughlin looks as if Bruce Wayne’s dark past prior to him finding a conscience and becoming Batman to save his city from gangsters, ahah. It looks intriguing, though I’m not crazy about Scott Eastwood’s casting. I mean everyone else is great… Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, etc. I only wish his screen time is small [I didn’t see him in the trailer but that could be my selective perception, ahah]


The Promise

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Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

Seriously there’s barely ANY buzz on this movie! Aside from that super boring generic title, it’s got Christian Bale AND Oscar Isaac?? Bale is sporting a similar beard as in The Dark Knight Rises for some reason, and Isaac is doing a Turkish accent? Y’know what, I don’t know what to make of this trailer… it’s a love triangle set in the Ottoman Empire… sounds really juicy but somehow the trailer is just… okay. What was the promise in the title? I must’ve missed it in the trailer. Y’know generally I’m always wary of love triangles, it’s prone to clichès and schmaltziness, which is what I detect here too despite those two great actors. Montréal-based actress Charlotte Le Bon plays the woman in the center of the triangle, I’ve just seen her in Anthropoid. I’m not as impressed w/ her there as I was in The Hundred-Foot Journey. Well, I might go to the press screening if there’s one, otherwise more like a rental.


What are your thoughts on any one of these new trailers?

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FlixChatter Review: Anthropoid (2016)

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I love historical-based films that really made you want to read more about the actual events. Anthropoid, based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, is one such film. WWII history buffs would surely know about the ‘Butcher of Prague’ monster that was Heydrich. He’s known as the main architect behind the Final Solution, the Nazi’s plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. “It’s assassination, not murder,” one main character said about Heydrich early in the film, “murder implies he’s got a life worth living.” 

To say this is a dangerous operation is putting it mildly. Now it would be appropriate to call this select group of Czech commandos ‘Suicide Squad’ because none of them have special powers and there’s no rescue mission after they carry out their operation. The film center on Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), a pair of Czech paratroopers who were dropped in Czechoslovakia. Right from the start, this film was suspenseful and intense. As Gabčík’s foot was injured when he landed, they had to find shelter and medication, as well as face traitors who threaten to expose them.

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The two Irish actors gave a compelling and very human portrayal of the two main paratroopers. I can’t say if their Czech accent was spot on, but at least it wasn’t distracting. I was most impressed with Cillian Murphy who always gives an understated but captivating performance. Gabčík is the more experienced of the two, and I learned later that Kubiš actually replaced the original soldier who was injured in training. I’m not as familiar with Jamie Dornan (nope I don’t care to watch that Fifty Shades movie), and at first I thought he’s too much of a pretty boy for the role. But I think he acquits himself well, showing the inner struggle and anxiety of carrying out the mission. Kubiš’ hand tremble as he tried to shoot a traitor, but later on he fought valiantly just like the rest of the resistance group.

Anthropoid is appropriately gripping and intense, but not overly somber. The two men, despite knowing it’s a suicide mission, did fall for two women whom they met during the operation, portrayed by Charlotte Le Bon as Marie and Anna Geislerová as Lenka. I was more drawn to the more restraint relationship of Gabčík and Lenka, but I’m glad the romance never overshadowed the real story or took the focus away from the main mission. Toby Jones and Harry Lloyd particularly stood out from the resistance group. It seems that Jones’ become a top choice for WWII-related roles with accents.

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There are two main parts to the story, the events leading up to the assassination event and the aftermath. Filmmaker Sean Ellis (who co-wrote the film with Anthony Frewin) stayed true to the historical event, which some critics call boring and by-the-numbers. Now, the filmmaker might lack narrative ambition, but I have no problem with the decision to stay close to the real story. I do think there’s enough drama and stylistic elements that separates this from a documentary. I find myself on the edge of my seat practically the entire time, as even the slower moments of just people talking and planning the operation itself is brimming with suspense that they could get caught at any moment. There’s also an apparent conflict within the Czech resistance group, as some fear (reasonably so) that the Nazi would destroy their country in retaliation.
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The actual assassination itself was pretty well-staged. I already knew what happened from reading about it, but seeing it portrayed on screen was still quite thrilling. I guess one lesson from this is they ought to get a proper weapon from America instead of using the British Sten gun that’s apparently prone to jamming. The group originally thought they had failed this mission, it wasn’t until a week later that they found out Heydrich’s fate. Some historians wonder if this covert operation was worth it, considering the huge cost Czechoslovakia paid in its aftermath.

Two Czech villages are leveled to the ground and over 5000 Czech people were brutally killed following Heydrich’s death. But as the famous quote says ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,’ it’s no doubt these men were true heroes. They fought bravely for their country at the cost of their own (as well as their families) lives. Even if that mission made the Nazi top officers (even Heydrich’s bosses Hitler & Himmler) think they’re not so invincible after all, who’s to say it wasn’t worth it? The sheer brutality of Germany’s reprisal also led to the Allies to dissolve the Munich Agreement.

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I wouldn’t say this is an enjoyable film given the harrowing subject matter, but I was engrossed in the story throughout. There’s a particularly brutal torture scene that warrants its R-rating but overall it’s not loaded with violence or gore. The group’s last stand at the crypt of a Czech Orthodox church is especially intense but still grounded, not resorting to typical Hollywood bombast. The sepia-toned film is beautifully-shot on location in Prague and the music adds a haunting atmosphere to the whole operation.  The 1940s costumes and vintage set pieces adds authenticity to the period. I’d say this is a pretty stylish film despite its small budget of $9 million.

I’m glad I saw this film on the big screen. It’s an important subject matter that is worth learning about and it certainly made me want to learn more about the actual events. It may not be flashy or spectacular but Anthropoid is a solid and fascinating film. Apparently Ellis started working on this film in early 2000s after seeing a documentary and his passion on this topic showed on screen. This film also made me itch to go to Prague and I definitely would visit the historical locations featured in this film.

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What are your thoughts on Anthropoid?