Archive | May, 2012

Jane Eyre

31 May

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Writers: Charlotte Brontë (novel), Moira Buffini (screenplay)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender and Jamie Bell

Motion picture rating: PG-13

Runtime: 120 minutes

 

Do we really need another film version of Jane Eyre? Probably not after the 1996 film with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg and the 2006 BBC adaptation with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. It’s an odd choice that is made stranger by the director’s role being taken by the relatively inexperienced American Cary Fukunaga. The omens, so to speak, were not positive for this adaptation. The results, however, are surprisingly good.

The story of Jane Eyre has a classic central theme of a put upon girl too smart and too ‘modern’ for those around her. The heroine’s childhood is decidedly bleak and thereafter she starts to live a small life as a governess in a large northern manor house. She is employed by the stern Mr Rochester, but he rarely visits and Jane appears at ease with her isolation. We get glimpses of Jane’s spirit in her interactions with Rochester where she displays intellect, poise and confidence – so much so that she quickly intrigues her employer and they develop an unconventional friendship.

The scenes between Jane (Mia Wasikowska – Tim Burton’s Alice in 2011 too) and Rochester (Michael Fassbender – last year’s hardest working actor) are excellent. These are the heart of the film and the best elements of it. Both characters are similar in personality, inwardly lonely and full of pride, but clearly coming from either end of the social ladder. Their conversations fizz and burn and allow the two strong actors to really push each other.

The acting here is top notch as is the cinematography and choice of locations. The northern country landscape is harsh and mysterious. A washed out and muted grey colour palette is retained throughout and accompanied with an interesting musical score. The overall package is good. It warrants another adaptation and suggests that Fukunaga the director is a talent to watch.

Justice (or Seeking Justice)

22 May

Director: Roger Donaldson

Writers: Todd Hickey (story), Robert Tannen (screenplay), and 1 more credit

Stars: Nicolas Cage, January Jones and Guy Pearce

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 105 minutes

 

 

 

The urban fear of crime is a subject that has powered a few controversial films and books. It is often blended with a related fear of immigrants and immigration. The result, from Magnum Force to Death Wish (set to be remade) and to Sin City, is more often than not dark and dramatic with plenty of parallel debate about vigilantism and appropriate responses. In times of recession these themes are prone to resurface and in Justice we have a fairly interesting take on it.

Nicolas Cage, who starts off in full over-acting style, but then reins it back in, is a high school teacher in a deprived part of New Orleans. He is inspiring for his students, clearly of liberal sensibilities and he has a young and beautiful wife (January Jones) who is a musician. On her way home one evening, Jones is attacked and raped. Cage is horrified by his wife’s injuries and he is feeling highly frustrated and vengeful when a stranger, played rather well by Guy Pearce, offers to right the wrong. The deal is simple; Pearce represents a “few citizens seeking justice” and they can punish the rapist if Cage agrees to return the ‘favour’ at a later date.

The set up to Justice is good and the first hour fully held my attention. After a shaky start, Cage settles into his role nicely and Pearce grows more sinister as he starts to manipulate him. The story unfolds at a good pace, but accelerates in the final 45 minutes and that increase in speed can’t quite cover the holes in the plot. In essence Justice becomes a more traditional action thriller and the intriguing conspiracy theme suffers for it. By the end this film is not completely ridiculous, but it is a bit too big and baggy and felt to me like a missed opportunity.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

19 May

Director: Brad Bird

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and 1 more credit

Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 133 minutes

 

 

 

This is number 4 in the long running MI series and this one was the most successful critically and at the box office. So we can expect further adventures with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as splendidly backed up with the unforgettable MI theme tune. In fact, the last scene of this one almost guarantees one more as Ethan and his team – the nerdy Brit geek (Simon Pegg), the beautiful kick-ass IMF agent Carter (Paula Patton) and the cool government spook (Jeremy Renner) – kick back, grab a beer and toast their recent adventure a la the A Team (or any other team action flick).

I still have little idea what the IMF in this incarnation actually does and trying to follow the plots of any of the MI films is an impossible task, but this is high octane escapism and nothing more. In this one the story concerns a lunatic Scandinavian, some nuclear launch codes and impending Armageddon, but it’s hardly important. This film, as per the others, takes us around the world for some eye-popping stunts and gives Tom Cruise a thorough physical workout.

Cruise is in phenomenal shape here. He is a genuinely odd person away from films, but in work like this he is so completely committed that it is a sight to see. Most of the stunts are on a massive scale and bone crunching with the Cruiser there in the middle of each. Again he gets to do some flat out running straight at camera, a signature move, but also he swings from the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), makes a prison break and jumps around an indoor car park. Behind all of this action are plenty of MI gadgets of course, lots of noise, flashes and general mayhem.

For me this is a good action movie and a decent 2 hour watch, but not a lot more. The MI films may not aim to, but they fail to stand up to the Bourne ones and Ethan Hunt is not an interesting central character. Where this #4 of the MI franchise works well is in the fast and playful action scenes and that has a lot to do with Brad Bird the director. He comes from Pixar where he made one of my favourite films of all time; The Incredibles. Here he shares some of that Incredibles magic and MI4 benefits massively with the some unique cartoon like set pieces.

Dream House

10 May

Director: Jim Sheridan

Writer: David Loucka (screenplay)

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts

Motion Picture Rating: PG – 13

Runtime: 92 minutes

 

 

 

One has to be sceptical when a film with multiple A-list stars gets a limited run in cinemas, gets zero promotional support from said stars and comes in with a modest 90 minutes runtime. I must have blinked and missed this one at my local cinema. I vaguely remember the background story that Craig and Weisz hooked up on set and married soon after wrapping it. Besides that, it’s interesting to a point that Jim (My Left Foot) Sheridan directs and that once again we are back inside a haunted house for supposed thrills and chills (like The Awakening, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark etc.)

My scepticism going into Dream House was very well founded. This is a terrible film. It is so bad that I can understand why the stars refused to promote it, but I can’t understand why they signed on in the first place. It starts off with some very odd Capraesque scenes of family bliss, moves into a period of very low impact shocks and then properly unravels in the second half. The plot radically changes direction at the mid-point and is mainly signposted by a serious change to lead actor Daniel Craig’s hairstyle.

I am not lying when I say that the 3 most influential films on Dream House have to have been The Shining, Ghost, and Shutter Island. Imagine putting those pieces together or even wanting to! And whilst I still love The Shining, both Ghost and Shutter Island did little but annoy me. Here their plot devices are crudely merged and the result is maximum annoyance. Dream House wastes Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz whilst Craig just looks sad and confused. Really very poor.

Shame

7 May

Director: Steve McQueen

Writers: Abi Morgan (screenplay), Steve McQueen (screenplay)

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan and James Badge Dale

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 101 minutes

 

 

 

Shame is the story of what appears to be a healthy and successful 30-something living and working in New York. Brandon has a minimalist apartment, a good job and clearly an active sex life. That aspect is revealed within a brilliant 8 minute opening that includes an incredibly clever scene on the subway. Brandon stares at and then flirts with an unknown female passenger. She reciprocates and sexual tension develops. Their hands briefly touch, but she exits the train. That Brandon follows her, and the way that he does so, reveals all. Suddenly he is a predator and ever so slightly out of control.

From the mesmerizing opening Shame gets darker and sadder. Brandon has a sex addiction and he is barely in control of it when his estranged sister Sissy comes to stay. She disrupts his routine and triggers anger and confusion in what is a far more damaged character than initially presented. Brandon spirals downwards. He and his sister are strangely uncomfortable in each other’s presence. They are both damaged and seem to share a dark secret from their past. Whilst Sissy is expressive and loves too easily, Brandon is highly self-controlled and withdrawn.

Brandon’s sex addiction is portrayed carefully and sensitively. It is a passionless and robotic lifestyle as per most self-harming addictions. Brandon seeks thrills in prostitutes and porn, but these are meaningless and shameful exercises. He is falling and the speed of descent is dramatically increased with the arrival of his sister. Playing Brandon is Michael Fassbender, without doubt the best and most fearless British actor working today. He is phenomenal. He is in every frame and completely open. As such Shame is a powerfully intimate film.

This movie combines a lot of British talent. Carey Mulligan, a tremendous actor, once again owns her character as Sissy and the director Steve McQueen is frighteningly good in just his second full length film. His eye is sharp – for framing, pacing, lighting and for angles. The camera mostly stays away from Brandon as a detached observer, but then pushes in unexpectedly. Scenes of Brandon jogging at night and on a ‘normal’ date at a busy restaurant are perfectly shot. Shame is a sad, moving and thought-provoking film from a team of highly talented and committed film-makers.

Haywire

6 May

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Lem Dobbs

Stars: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime:  93 minutes

 

I have written before (see the Colombiana review) about the emergence of kick-ass female action leads, but with Haywire we have something extra. The director Steven Soderbergh saw Gina Carano on TV in one of her Mixed Martial Art (MMA) fights and decided then and there that she deserved her own movie. That has happened before with men such as Van Damme, Seagal and Norris, but not for a while and never with such a critically acclaimed director.

Haywire gives MMA star Carano plenty of room to demonstrate her fighting prowess. The opening scene involves her viciously trading blows with Channing Tatum and thereafter she brawls with Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and dozens of extras. What plot there is concerns Carano’s private team of spooks and mercenaries betraying her and thus feeling her wrath. It is not a million miles away from what Tarrantino did with Kill Bill, but the look and feel is very different.

Soderbergh is trying for a 1970’s Euro spy aesthetic and as such we get washed out tones, limited dialogue and plenty of cool ‘70’s backing music. As such it does look good, but we have been here before with Soderbergh (The Limey, Out of Sight) and never has he worked with such a thin plot. His cast is solid though with Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas also in there supporting first time actress Carano. For her this is a decent effort. She fights as well as Jason Bourne, is less wooden than Seagal and Norris (who isn’t?) and also looks smoking hot in a cocktail dress.

Tyrannosaur

3 May

Director: Paddy Considine

Writer: Paddy Considine

Stars: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan

Motion Picture Rating: 18

Runtime: 92 minutes

 

 

 

Three of the most daring British actors alive have now written and directed three incredibly powerful modern dramas with their first films as director. Gary Oldman had Nil by Mouth, Samantha Morton had The Unloved and now Paddy Considine delivers Tyrannosaur. All three actors had difficult and testing childhoods and their first self-made films bring those experiences vividly to the screen. In this harrowing film Tyrannosaur, dedicated to Considine’s mother Pauline, we are witness to lives full of desperation, violence and threat.

Tyrannosaur is about two people trying to make sense of their small and dark lives around a Leeds estate. Joseph lives alone, has a drinking problem and is prone to acts of impulsive violence. Within the first 5 minutes of this film we see Joseph kick his own dog to death and get into a bar brawl. Hannah works in the charity shop on the edge of the estate. She is quiet and respectful, a Christian that wants to help others, but she appears fragile from the outset. The story of Joseph and Hannah is the story of Tyrannosaur – of lonely people in despair reaching out and finding each other.

There are a few scenes where Joseph, acted with real force by Peter Mullan, just sits and stares at Hannah. He is in awe of this faithful and earnest woman. He is transfixed by her Christian outlook and completely at a loss as to how to treat her.

All of the acting in this film is intense, but Olivia Colman as Hannah is an absolute revelation. A well-known British TV actress she may be, but this performance is so raw and heart-breaking that it physically affected me. That her character is subject to horrific domestic abuse from her husband underlines a key theme that we all know so little about others’ lives behind closed doors. This is a powerful film that is very well directed by Considine. It is not easy to watch, but it has to be watched. Mullan and Colman should have won every acting award going in 2011.

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