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Match Point

Pro tennis player Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is an ambitious man always looking for the next rung in the social ladder. Whilst teaching tennis to Tom (Matthew Goode), the son of a wealthy businessman, Chris meets Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and sees an opportunity to charm his way into this wealthy family. Chris marries Chloe and enjoys his new found lifestyle. When Tom’s fiancĂ© Nola (Scarlett Johansson) arrives on the scene, Chris’s judgement goes out the window, and a passionate affair begins. Chris then has to decide which he likes more: the lavish lifestyle that he’s created for himself or a woman with whom he feels he has an affinity with. The answer tests Chris’s belief in the game of chance and luck and may have devastating consequences for all concerned.

Chris is presented as an amoral selfish person who feels ‘he can have his cake and eat it too’. He manipulates everyone around him to his advantage and always tries to stay one step ahead of the game so he can hang onto his new life. Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris gives an excellent performance that shows great range, moving from desperation to obsession with good effect. Scarlett Johansson is great as Nola, giving her character a bewitching charm, which makes the audience totally believe how Chris falls for her. Johansson’s performance uses sympathy as Nola at first resists Chris’s charms, but then this turns into an obsession, which neither can put out. Emily Mortimer and Matthew Goode provide solid support as the siblings caught up in Chris’s and Nola’s affair, with neither having a clue what is happening. The rest of the cast also make much of their small roles, including Brian Cox, who plays the siblings rich father.

Director Woody Allen makes quite a few departures from his usual work with this film. This is the first film he has made exclusively in England, the first with a running time of over 2 hours, and is his most darkest film that he has made recently. Allen gets right under the skin of his characters and shows all the foibles and complexities that make them seem very real. Despite the fact that Chris has everything he has ever wanted, he still wants more, and this puts in danger all that he has achieved. The script written by Allen, brings many layers to each characters personalities, and the strong ensemble cast rise to the challenges laid out by him.

The cinematography shows off the beauty of not only the English countryside but also the city and provides an ample backdrop to the dramas of the story. The music, always an important ingredient in Allen’s films, make scenes more relevant bringing the appropriate tension to the unexpected plot twists. The pacing of the story is generally well presented, and allows the drama to unfold naturally giving each character their chance to shine.

Anyone expecting the usual Woody Allen laugh fest may be disappointed by this film. This is at times quite a disturbing and bleak film about passion and greed, and the lengths one person would go to keep what he has. The two lead performances of Meyers and Johansson are both excellent and crucial to the believability of what happens. Woody Allen has taken quite a few risks with this, and thankfully it has paid off with a film that rates among the best of his recent works.

Rating out of 10: 8

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Hostel

Three young travellers, Paxton, Josh and Oli, are travelling around Eastern Europe, looking for adventure and the chance ‘to score’ with the ladies. They are told of a hostel located in the province of Slovakia, which has women only too willing to ‘cater’ for young men. The men eagerly trek to their destination and find the story they were told is true, and hence have the time of their lives. After a night of indulgence, Oli mysteriously vanishes, leaving his two friends to search for him. Whilst searching, Josh disappears, leaving Paxton all alone to unravel the disappearances. What he discovers is a hidden lair where all sorts of dangerous ‘pleasures’ are available to wealthy clients. By searching for the ultimate holiday thrills, the trio end up encountering the ultimate terror.

‘Hostel’ features a cast of unknowns which keeps the audiences on their toes as to ‘who will die next’. The trio of men aren’t particularly likeable, and the ‘hero’ in this film, Paxton, is the least likable of them all. Jay Hernandez as Paxton successfully manages to turn the audiences initial dislike of his character into one that they hope survives the horror that he faces. Hernandez is the strongest actor of the men, and succeeds in making his role more than the usual one dimensional stereotype that’s usually portrayed in horror films. Derek Richardson and Eythor Gudjonsson as Josh and Oli respectively, try to inject some personality traits into their roles, but aren’t on screen enough to make any impact. The rest of the cast playing the sinister villains/townspeople, are very effective and downplay their parts perfectly, which adds to the creepiness of the whole film.

Eli Roth, whose first film was the scary ‘Cabin Fever’, uses the ‘have sex and die’ template that was used in many of late 70s/early 80s horror films. As in those films, the characters here indulge in ‘forbidden pleasures’ and pay the price later. Roth also tries to add some social commentary on how wealth can corrupt people into thinking they can do whatever they wish - and to whom. Having his characters fall prey to evil in a foreign country brings a sense of isolation, where the language barrier, etc adds to their despair. The underlining message of ‘traveller beware’ is very evident in this film.

The unusual choice of location of Slovakia is interesting, and Roth manages to utilise all he can from the scenery, which considerably adds to the plots eeriness. The special effects in any horror film are important, and here it is used very well, and is quite gruesome in places. However Roth is careful not to dwell too much on this, making sure that the real terror comes from the reactions of the victims. The villains aren’t masked crazies or supernatural beings, but real humans who derive pleasure from pain, which makes things believably grisly.

Overall this is just as well put together as ‘Cabin Fever’, and manages to sustain the suspense until the final reel. The near total humourlessness is evident, and doesn’t resort to ‘knowing post modernism’ such as the ‘Scream’ films. This is simply a straight up horror film that aims to provide gory thrills and have audiences on the edge of their seats - which it succeeds in doing. The true horror in this film is not what occurs on the screen, but the fact that this could actually happen.

Rating out of 10: 7

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