20 April 2012

A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers

Every once in a while, I get on a genre kick. Sometimes it's horror, sometimes comedy or foreign. This week I was all about biopics.

First up:
"Bright Star" (2009)
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Ben Whisaw (Keats), Abbie Cornish (Fanny), Paul Schneider (Mr. Brown)

** (2 stars)

Based on the poet John Keats secret love affair with Fanny Brawne near the end of his life. Fanny comes from a somewhat established family and is of the age when she must think about marrying, and more importantly, marrying a man with money. Her best prospect is family friend and failed poet Mr. Brown, who teases her life a child on the playground. Enter young Keats- poor, mysterious, talented. Fanny is immediately drawn to him and their secret rendez-vous commence. Tragedy strikes when Keats contracts TB and is sent off to Rome to convelese. Months later, he is dead at 25- a failed poet.

If this sounds like spoilers, I apologize. However, history tells us these things so I don't feel I'm ruining anything. That you know the romance is ultimately tragic was part of the marketing campaign.

The film has a great premise. Part biography, part history, part love affair; how could it go wrong? But, wrong it does. The film feels overly long dispite coming in just under two hours long. The acting is good, Cornish and Schneider especially. Cornish displays the naivity and ideality young woman possess, and that many a heroine of romantic lore have been written around. Schneider, perhaps best known for independent films "All the Real Girls" and "Lars and the Real Girl", has a fantastic Scottish accent and teases Miss Brawne as if it's an Olympic sport. Whisaw is fine as Keats, but it does not compare to his "star making" turn in "Perfume" or more recently on BBC's "The Hour".

Furthermore, the film is boring. Too much film is spent on voice over's of letters written and poems being tried out when it could have shown the action to a much better result. Campion is the champion (pun intended) of quite, moody, romantic fare. Her approach is no different here, though I feel she was far more interested in her subjects personally than she was at making us fall in love with them.

The movie did make me want to know more, mostly because I was left knowing so little, so I jumped to Wikipedia for an overview. Five minutes browsing the internet left me with a much better taste in my mouth. Why didn't they play up the secrecy of their affair? No one knew until Fanny's death when she bequithed the love letters to her children. Her life was far more intersting during and after her time with Keats, I wish the film had focused more on her.

Next, I finally say Cronenberg's "departure" film.

"A Dangerous Method" (2011)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Awards: Golden Globe nomination, Best Supporting Actor- Viggo Mortensen, London and Los Angeles Critics Association Best Actor- Michael Fassbender, Venice Film Festival Golden Lion- David Cronenberg

****(4.5 stars)

Just after the turn of the century and prior to World War I, a destraught Russian woman, Sabina (Knightley), is delivered to Jung's Zurich clinic. She is histerical and fights help with every fiber of her being. Jung begin's what was then refered to as "the talking cure" on her, based on his readings of Freud's papers. As Sabina gets better, so does the relationship between student and teacher, both of Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina) developes. Together, Freud and Jung work to develope and create what becomes psychoanalysis. As Sabina gets better, she begins a long-term affair with the married Jung that releases him from his own mental confines. She goes back to school and becomes a therapist herself. However, this love triangle soon becomes toxic to many involved ending in the infamous rift between these two masters of the mind.

The biggest surprise in this film may be Knightley. She physically embodes a woman suffering from past trauma's and guilt. The opening scenes in which her whole body fights her revelations is brilliant. Fassbender may be the most exciting actor of his generation. Jung could easily become an unsypathetic character, yet he creates a man flawed and accepting of his own flaws. Mortensen and Cronenberg should have a contract, along the same lines as Time Burton and Johnny Depp, and make as many films together as possible. Both bring the best out of the other and the unscene relationship that must be evident off camera bleeds into the performance.

The film makes clear the stylistic differences between Freud's and Jung's approach to the psyche that is easy for the layman to grasp. Again, it is the female character that is almost more interesting. Sabina graduates and becomes a respected psychoanalyst. During the war, she moves back to Russia with her husband and family. During World War II she refuses to leave her home and is killed, along with her children, by the Nazi's. That she is no longer forgotten is wonderful.

I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the birth of our understanding the mind, to those with a major crush on the actor's or director (guilty!), or to anyone interested in a movie that makes them think. I certainly understand you may need to be in the right mind set for such a film, but try to get there!

Cronenberg is a director that continues to grow even though he doesn't need to. Having made his name as the Canadian father of horror, he know puts that same eye to detail, destruction, and psychology to more realistic forms. His next project, "Cosmopolis", takes him back to the future armed with the character development he has perfected in recent years. Not even the presence of Robert Pattinson is enough to turn me off this film.

18 April 2012

Hello Blogging My Old Friend

Wow! I hadn't realized how long my hiatus was until I started working on this post. Thankfully, I've got the whole interweb thing figured out and finally working so I will not be away for so long again. Can I just say I really missed you?

So much has happened, too much really, that I'm just going to focus on the films shown at my eponymous movie club. I'm really trying to take it back to my original intention so we are alternating between older/classic films and more modern fare. This year, I'm also trying to focus on a different genre each month and choosing a film that perfectly encaptures it.

Where we left off:

"The Apartment" (1960)
Director: Billy Wilder (Seven Year Itch, Sunset Blvd., Some Like It Hot, legend)
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray
Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Director, Best Editing. Nominations: Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Best Sound

"The Apartment" is one of my favourite movies. I can remember seeing it when I was fairly young (big shocker) and didn't know what it was about. Now, it amazes me that this movie was made at all and I wonder if it could still be made successfully today. What would it be rated? Surely not the PG it received from the Hays office.

"I'm too old for that sort of thing, I mean; in a VW."

Bud (Lemmon) is a young man trying to work his way to the top at work. Unfortunately, he's a bit misguided and lets executives use his apartment for their trysts. When his boss Mr. Sheldrake begins to use it, he brings over the colourful and carefree elevator operator Bud likes named Fran (MacLaine). Soon it becomes apparent that this scheme isn't going to work out and Bud must come to terms with the consequences of standing up for the girl of his dreams and potentially losing his career.

"The mirror is broken."
"Yes, I know. It makes me look the way I feel."

"The Apartment" is full of the typical bon mots we expect and love from Lemmon and MacLaine and McMurray (of My Three Sons fame) is deliciously evil as a boss and lover with few morals or ethics. It is a must see for fans of comedy and the actors, as well as a must for those who place a high emphasis on award wins.

"Tomie" (1998/1999)
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Starring: Miho Karro, Mami Nakamura, Yoriko Doguchi

I saw this movie for the first time after the cover art caught my eye at Blockbuster. It is the kind of movie you watch and when it's over ask yourself, "What the heck just happened?" I couldn't have told you the story or what it was about other than there was a head in a bag and it grew a body (as if you need to know anything more than that!). I must have watched it three times and could never say more than that! If you like it, there are also several sequels of varying success. Watching this again with the club made me feel a bit silly. The plot is not nearly as absent as I remember, but the film is still an easy entrance to the world of modern Japanese horror films and perfect if you have a group with members who are uncomfortable around anything scary.

Tsukiko is a troubled young woman who can't remember what happened in her past to make her so. She seeks the help of a psychiatrist who through hypnoses uncovers a name- Tomie. Who Tomie was and why she is haunting Tsukiko becomes the core of the movie. At the same time, a detective is investigating a rash of serial murders that also uncovers the name Tomie. A young man has the aforementioned head in the bag and talks to it. It talks back. I won't give away more for fear of ruining it, but the identity of the killer, Tomie, and what happened to our heroine as a child are all revealed.

Perfect for lovers of Asian cinema and Japanese horror especially. Also good for anyone looking for a good mystery with a bit of blood in it.

"The Searchers" (1956)
Director: John Ford (Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, How Green Was My Valley)
Starring: John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Vera Miles, Jeffery Hunter
Awards: DGA nomination, AFI #1 Western, AFI Top 100 Films #12

To agree with AFI is a bit redundant, but this is my favourite Western as well. It showcases the quintessential Wayne hero/curmudgeon and is beautifully shot, acted, and written. What else would you expect from the grandfather of Westerns, Ford?

"Ethan, I gotta ask you and Martin to take a ride to the State Capital."
"Is this an invite to a necktie party, Reverend?"

Shortly after Ethan Edwards (Wayne) comes home from the civil war, his brother's ranch is attacked by Indians (sorry P.C. people!) and everyone is killed except his youngest niece who is kidnapped. Ethan forms a search party and spends years looking for her. Finally, he finds her, all grown up, and played by Natalie Wood in what would normally be an embarrassing performance. Having lived with the Comanche for so long, can she be rescued?

"That'll be the day."

"The Searchers" is a long movie, but one with enough weight and importance behind it to make the time sail by. The male actors really shine as does Miles, as the young woman in love with a member of the searching party. The film holds true today with its themes of racism, family, and war. A must for Western lovers, but seriously; if you're a fan of Westerns you've probably already seen it. Otherwise, it is simply a must see for everyone.

[side note: A great drinking game- Drink every time Wayne says something snarky or acts like a smart ass. You'll be pleasantly buzzed before the end of the first reel.]

"La Haine (Hate)" (1995)
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde, Said Taghmaoui
Awards: Best Director (Cannes), Best Editing, Film, & Producer (Cesar Awards), Best Young Film (European Film Awards), Best Director & Film (Lumiere Awards), Empire Magazine 100 Best Films of World Cinema #32

Mathieu Kassovitz made a name for himself by making films that addressed social and political subjects in a youthful and fresh way. Most American movie goers will know him as the love interest in "Amelie" and I encourage you to seek out his French films as well.

"Jusqu'ici tout va bien..." ("So far, so good...")
Centering around the race riots in the Paris ghettos, "La Haine" follows the lives of three friends during a 24-hour period. The trio represent an almost unlikely alliance in France: Vinz- Jewish, Said- Muslim, and Hubert- African/French. Each responds slightly differently to the riots and police brutality effecting their community. They both try to go about their day as normally as possible and try to find someone to blame for the beating of their friend Abdel. The ending is one that you will talk about for years to come and the conversation that stemed from this film was one of the best in the clubs history.

"La Haine" doesn't pretend to have the solution to Frances difficulty, not does it delve to deeply into what caused this horrific level of hate amoungst the haves and have nots, the white protestant and everyone else. It does give you something to think about. The film regained the spotlight again in 2005 after Kassovitz criticized then Home Office Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (now President) made racist comments following another bout of riots in and around Paris. The transcripts of those conversations is priceless!