Archives for December 2011

Coming in 2012 …

2012 is a banner year for me – it will mark my 5th year as a film blogger! It started out REALLY slow, but I have now found my niche and my voice in the movie blogosphere.

In celebration of this event, the plan is to have some special “anniversary” postings throughout the year.

In addition, I hope to expand my coverage of live events, including screenings, film festivals and, if I can swing it, interviews from various sectors of the film industry. I also am planning on doing a “readers’ corner” of sorts where I review books about films that I think fellow cinephiles may be interested in.

First up – The New York Times Arts & Leisure weekend and a Q&A with Carey Mulligan on January 8th.

 

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey thus far.

Best wishes, great health and prosperity in 2012!

A Dangerous Method (2011) directed by David Cronenberg

UK Promotional Poster

A Dangerous Method is a historical drama based on the stage play The Talking Cure by playwright Christopher Hampton * (Dangerous Liaisons -play and screenplay, Atonement – screenplay). David Cronenberg, director of sci-fi thrillers Videodrome and The Fly (1986), and most recently of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises fame, directs the cast which includes Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross.

A Dangerous Method tells the story of the relationship between Jung and Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a patient he is treating for a psychosexual dysfunction. His fascination with the nature of her condition leads him to employ the analytical method of Freud (“the talking cure”). He goes to Vienna where he finally gets a chance to meet his idol and ‘father figure.’ Although the two gentlemen get along, there is an air of tension about; the film portrays this as being partly down to Freud’ possible resentment of the comfort in which Jung lives, courtesy of his wife’s wealth.

Back home in Switzerland Jung and Spielrein’s doctor-patient relationship develops into a friendship and eventually leads to a sexual relationship. The consummation of this relationship, one could imply, is as a result of Jung’s conversation about human nature and desire with Otto Gross, who himself is referred to Jung by Freud.

It is at this point that Jung’s relationship with Spielrein takes center stage and its implications become one of the primary drivers that place a wedge between Freud and Jung.

Not necessarily know for fully straight-on dramatic pieces, much less one based on historical events, this is a change of pace for David Cronenberg. I like to think of this as a kindler, gentler Cronenberg, even if the subject matter, which deals with psychoanalysis and sexual repression/expression, is quite layered and complex.

Christopher Hampton’s intimate knowledge of the source material shines through and allows the film to be adapted and expanded cinematically. Too often when a story is translated from stage to screen, it presents a great challenge for the screenwriter – how to make the environs, which are initially dramatized for the restrictive space of a theater’s stage, breathe.

Viggo Mortensen transforms himself (yet again), this time as the father of psychoanalysis. So much of his portrayal of Freud is in the nuanced looks, glances and expressions. These nuances told me more than any speech or soliloquy could possibly have. I am not sure another actor would be able to pull it off.  It has been often stated that some director-actor pairs create something special on screen. In my opinion, this film confirms what I already know about the pairing of Cronenberg and Mortensen – they are such a pair.

Fassbender’s Carl Jung is a man who despite all efforts to repress his desire, finally surrenders. Similarly, you can see the tension and anguish on his face and in his body. This is yet another in a string of performances where Mr. Fassbender takes full possession of his character.

Rounding out the ‘big three,’ Keira Knightley turns in a solid performance as Sabina, a woman who starts off as a ‘mad woman’ to a refined but still passionate doctor who affects Jung and Freud in ways they could not imagine. I have always been a fan of Ms. Knightley and she seems to be coming into her own as a thespian who is constantly seeking to challenge herself with complex and demanding roles.

In an all too brief appearance as Otto Gross, Vincent Cassel’s “and” credit is more than deserved. In his brief time on screen, he accomplished what was asked of him – he turns the tables on the doctor-patient interaction and in his talks with Jung creates a point of crises in Jung from which there was no turning back.

Last, but certainly not least, lying in the background of the film but ever present is the lovely musical score by Howard Shore, frequent Cronenberg collaborator who is a three-time Academy Award and two-time Golden Globe winner for his work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy; he was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his score for The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorcese.

Solid direction, fantastic writing and very fine performances, courtesy of an outstanding cast, make this film a must see.


* The play itself is based on the book, A Very Dangerous Method, written by John Kerr.

iluvcinema’s Take on 2011 in Motion Pictures

In these, the waning days of 2011, I decided to take a moment and reflect on the year that was in the world of motion pictures. Here in no particular order are some of the highs and lows:

(1) Battle: Los Angeles vs. Battle: South London

This is no contest – South London hands down! Thanks to the gem of a film Attack the Block. Sure the kids are not trained thesps, the budget was low and the aliens are basically fur balls with LED fangs, but they will win out every time to having Ne-Yo in my company of soldiers.

 

(2) Silence is Golden (and potentially Oscar-bound)

The Artist has captured hearts and minds the world-wide. It is a magical transport to a time and place too soon forgotten.

 

(3) The Last Time I Saw Paris

Was at the cinema. Sure I went to Paris this summer, but the Paris of Woody Allen‘s imagination in the absolutely gorgeous Midnight in Paris was an experience that left a huge smile on my face.

 

(4) A Girl Walks Into a Bar …

… and I walk out. This Straight to YouTube feature (we are told the first of its kind) really bored me with its very self-aware level of quirk and supposed sharp, quick and witty dialogue.  But maybe that is the point, some people like that type of stuff. I am just not one of them.

 

(5) Year of The Fassbender (even GQ Magazine thinks so)

I think at the time of publishing this I would have seen just about every film that he had a principle role in: Jane Eyre, X-Men First Class, Shame and A Dangerous Method. He is getting all sorts of buzz, nominations and awards from his performance in Shame – yeah. And he does not seem to be slowing down in 2012. Worthy particular mention is the release of the hotly anticipated sci-fi horror Prometheus (directed by Ridley Scott).

 

(6) Superhero Schmuper-Hero

I am pretty much over superhero/comic book adaptations at this point. Things have gotten so that in 2011 when it was announced that we have two reboots of what we were told were already reboots (Superman and Spider Man) I was less than thrilled. Granted, I liked X-Men First Class and Captain America (but skipped Thor) and will probably skip a few that come along in 2012.

 

(7) So Long Dear Friends

I will not attempt to go through the list of all of those that were lost in world of cinema, so I will defer to the lovely and haunting tribute that TCM has put together in memory of ….

 

(8) Reading is Fundamental(ly) Rewarding

Readers this year were rewarded for their loyalty with some quality movies being released that are based on beloved books. This is one reason that Harry Potter, The Help, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, among others, occupy precious space on my bookshelf / Kindle Fire.

But I guess there is always an exception that breaks the rule:

Something Borrowed

 

(9) Who Knew? Ladies, We Can Be Funny Too!

Maybe the response to Bridesmaids was an overreaction due to the drivel that has  been  shoveled at us and called ‘comedy for ladies.’ And maybe it was not. I went to this film by myself and laughed quite a lot. Well done, Kristen Wiig and co! Let’s just hope that we do not have any downwind derivative comedies of a similar ilk (who am I kidding, eh)?

 

(10) Potter-ing is such Sweet Sorrow

What an epic end to a film and book franchise that I came to so late but wholeheartedly loved (insert sad face).

 

 

(11) And last but not least …

To all my faithful and loyal readers/commenters who have made it a pleasure this year for me to post my thoughts and reactions from the world of cinema.  Your voices have made this part of my life very rewarding and for that I sincerely thank you.

 

 

A Brief Look at The Guard (2011)

Who ever thought the following words would be uttered: Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle are comedy gold ?

The fact is they are in The Guard, an independent Irish film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. Brendan Gleeson is the guard in a town on the west coast of Ireland. Our introduction to Boyle’s method of policing (and life in general) is, shall we say, a bit unorthodox. Whether it is pilfering drugs off of recent accident victims, or inappropriately handling corpses, Sgt. Boyle is not anyone you would want on your beat.

A recent murder in the area is revealed to be part of a larger drug smuggling operation that has international implications. The FBI, represented by Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), is called in to assist the locals with the operation. They are looking for three men they suspect are involved in the trafficking a boatload of missing narcotics. Add to that the disappearance of a local officer, and our boys have their hands full.

After a rather rough start Boyle and Everett establish a tenuous camaraderie, which comes in handy by the time the film reaches its climax.

For the role of Sgt. Boyle, Gleeson has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Actor (Comedy or Musical). In the role of the straight man that is also a fish out of water, Don Cheadle delivers. Cheadle is no stranger to comedy, but he hits the mark in this film, which showcases his versatility. Rounding out the talented cast are Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and Fionnula Flanagan.

With a complex blend of raunchiness, humor, drama, tragedy, (very) foul language and brief flashes of violence, one of these elements could easily get lost in a film that runs just shy of 100 minutes. But the McDonagh aptly finds that balance to give the audience a satisfyingly entertaining film.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) directed by David Fincher

On Christmas Eve, a friend and me decided to go to the movies and catch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Before I get into my reaction, let me state for the fact: my relationship with this film can be described as rather layered at best. First let’s mention the book – at present, I am only a partially through it. But I do have every intention to finish reading this and the other two books of the Millennium trilogy. I only started reading the book after so many people recommended it. Prior to that I had no intention of reading the series.

But I was well aware of the popularity of the novel and its Hollywood adaptation; in fact this is the second cinematic incarnation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I have previously seen the Swedish three-part film series – well most of it anyway. While I liked the first two installments, I gave up about 30 minutes into the third film.

So you can imagine my trepidation in watching this glossy, Hollywood-stylized version of such dark source material. In general I am not a fan of these Hollywood “re-imaginings” of already established foreign films. Ultimately, my fear was that this big-budget Tattoo would be sanitized and cleansed of some of the source material’s (and Swedish film version’s) ‘grittier’ aspects.

As I walked out of the theater, all those concerns had vanished. I never should have doubted Mr. Fincher. In the end, I personally feel like this version was superior to its Swedish counterpart.

The head of the once-powerful industrialist Vanger family (Christopher Plummer) recruits the recently disgraced co-publisher of Millennium magazine Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig). Blomqvist’s assignment is to investigate a 40-year old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. During the course of his investigation, Blomqvist enlists the services of asocial hacker/private investigator/wunderkid Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who he has a somewhat loose association with – she was the person who investigated (often through not-so-legal means) Blomqvist for his current assignment. Together, they begin to piece together just what happened all those years ago. Will they ‘solve’ the riddle before it is too late?

I think the narrative is good, in fact, I think that it is almost indestructible. The mystery and eventually piecing together of all the disparate elements are very thrilling and you are left on the edge of your seat, wondering what is behind it all. The Swedish version did a good job in telling the story, but I felt as if the quality steadily declined. In contrast, David Fincher (and screenwriter Steve Zaillian) exceeded my expectations in capturing the spirit of the text and at keeping the story moving. And in spite of the glossiness of the production, I was satisfied to see that some of the tougher elements as were described in the text were pretty much preserved in the film.

That said, as has been pointed out to me by many book readers (who completed the book), by the time we reach the end of the film, key plot elements were changed in the Swedish version; the Hollywood version stayed truer to the Larsson text, although with some minor alterations.

Another aspect of the film that I was pleasantly surprised by was my reaction to the soundtrack; an awesome opening sequence revealed that Trent Reznor of Nine in Nails composed the musical score. When I saw his name appear, I must admit that not being a fan of NIN, I was a little less than enthusiastic. But for the second time in this screening, I was proved wrong; the musical accompaniment matched the pace and the tone of the film very well. This seems to be part of a greater trend in Hollywood – the replacement of ‘traditional orchestral scores for modern, edgier music.

The casting was absolutely superb. Every character was just as I imagined them to be while reading the book. Along with the casting you have the acting, all of which also hit the mark. Along with the principle characters, I would like to note the performances of Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgård.

Lastly, Jeff Cronenweth wonderfully photographs the desolate and sombre Swedish landscape.

Now, for the not-so-good news. One reservation I have with the film is – the dreaded clock-watching! At almost 3-hrs, it is a rather long film and I have to admit as I got towards the film’s final 45 minutes, I sat there thinking, “they could have tightened this up a bit.

The second thing I wanted to point out is the matter of the film’s release date. Of course this has nothing to do with the film proper, but I think it was an odd choice to release such a downer of a film around ye merry ole holidays. Looking at the box office receipts for the opening weekend, confirms that movie audiences probably thought the exact same thing. I am certain, however, that over the course of Tattoo’s cinema run, the receipts will pick up.

These criticisms aside, I ended up liking this film a lot more than I had anticipated.

I look forward to finishing the books and catching the second and third parts of the film franchise.

 

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Woman in the Window (1944)

Hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable holiday weekend. Well I am back with my latest edition of the weekly series, Tuesday’s Overlooked Film. Again, special thanks to Todd Mason of Sweet Freedom for collecting all the contributions.

This week, I thought I had a film all lined up, but then I read a post by frequent commenter to this site, ‘Jack Deth,’ on the website, Front Room Cinema. His post was about the Top Ten Femme Fatales. As one may have guessed, many of them came from the film movement/genre known as film noir. That immediately put me in a noir-ish mood, having also just recently sat through TCM’s ‘Noir Christmas.’

This inspiration lead me to the 1944 feature, The Woman in the Window, directed by Fritz Lang. It starred Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. It is based on J. H. Wallis’ novel Once Off Guard.

At the beginning of the film, our protagonist, the milquetoast Professor Wanley (Robinson) is headed towards his gentlemen’s club while his family is away. He passes a shop window and sees an oil painting of the lovely Alice Reed (Bennett). After a night in the club, Wanley departs only to run into the subject of the painting in the flesh. This chance encounter leads Wanley and the audience on an unexpected journey that comes to a shocking conclusion.

At the time of its release, The Woman in the Window was a minor critical and commercial success. But as with many things, over time, this film became forgotten by the masses – with the exception of the most ardent of noir fans.

This principle cast and director would collaborate again in 1945’s Scarlet Street.

Now on Video: Midnight in Paris (2011)

In the opening sequence of Midnight in Paris, we are introduced to the City of Lights via picture-postcard montage. Instead of finding this trite and cliché, quite the opposite happens … what we see is a love letter of sorts to a place that simultaneously inhabits the present, past and most importantly, our own imaginations.

The irony of course is that in a city known for love and romance is that the relationship between the main character Gil (as played by ‘Allen-in-Proxy’ Owen Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) is anything BUT romantic. They are a couple with very different worldviews. When we first meet Gil, he is a struggling writer – struggling in the sense that he is a hack Hollywood writer who wants to be taken seriously as a novelist. His hope is that the move to Paris will inspire him, like those literary greats who have come before him – especially those of the Jazz Age, a period of time which he greatly admires.

After a night of drinking with Inez and a couple of her friends, he decides to traverse the city on his own; he soon finds himself lost and on the steps of an old church. Suddenly, the bell tolls midnight; this is when the magic begins …

A cab pulls up and Gil is taken away by cab to 1920’s Paris where he meets the Fitzgeralds (Scott and Zelda), Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Dali among others.

He also finds love in the form of Adriana (portrayed by Marion Cotillard), one of Picasso’s muses.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald

This leaves Gil in an interesting predicament- torn between his present life and staying in the past. It basically seems that as his life in the ‘past’ is gaining momentum, his present life is falling to pieces. However, with a trip back to Adriana’s “ideal” era (1890s) comes a revelation that leads him to the following epiphany – while there is no harm in looking to the past with a sense of romance and nostalgia, be careful not to inhabit it for the sake of the present. Be sure to relish the here and now – it is the time that matters most.

How this stacks up against Allen’s best work is something that I am not prepared to do. I never considered myself a Woody Allen devotee, having only really discovered him in the latter portion of his career. On balance, the results for me have been mixed at best. In the case of Midnight in Paris, I would say that it probably ranks among one of my favorites during this period of his work. Allen really seemed to capture the spirit of the time.

Among the actors the performances that stood out for me were that of Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen. It is a credit to their craft that I found them to be so obnoxious. In the case of McAdams’ Inez, one may even wonder how the likes of Gil ended up with her in the first place.

One detail in the film that I found interesting was the introduction of the ‘icons of the Jazz Age.’ At times I felt it was a roll call of sorts … just to be sure the audience knew who they were. This is a minor quibble at best and did not take away from my enjoyment of the film at all.

In the end, Midnight in Paris can be summed up as a beautiful, fantastic trip around a magnificent city.


Midnight in Paris is currently available on DVD and BluRay.

 

Happy Holidays!

Sundance First Look Screening Series: How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Last week I was invited to and attended a Sundance/Ford Foundation First Look at one of the documentaries in competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – How to Survive a Plague directed by David French. The film was a project of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program (DFP).

This ‘first look’ was an opportunity to watch a work in progress, a wonderful behind-the-scenes insight into the film making process.

We were treated to a two series of clips from the film; at the end of the sequence, Mr. France was accompanied on stage for a panel discussion by:

  • Dr. Ellen Cooper (President, ClinReg Solutions LLC and formerly of the N.I.H.);
  • Rolake Odetoyinbo (Positive Action for Treatment Activists, Nigeria);
  • Sara Rafsky, the daughter of ACT UP activist Bob Rafsky;
  • Peter Staley, founder of AIDSmeds.com;
  • Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute.

Terry McGovern, senior program officer at the Ford Foundation, moderated the panel discussions. The discussions provided some perspective and context to what we had seen in the preceding clips.

There are a multitude of things to be said about this film. For one, I was amazed about just how ignorant I was about what was going on essentially on my doorstep during this critical time. Granted I was very young, but in hindsight I feel like I should have been slightly more informed. The film has a very profound statement to make about the history of “treatment activism” and its relevance in the world today.

Secondly, as was indicated in the second panel discussion (which lead into the open mic question and answer session), there is so much more of the story to be told. While the ‘plague’ is pretty much under control in many segments of the Western World, there are still pockets in the West and even greater parts of the developing world that are suffering through the AIDS crisis and for whom AIDS is the dominant global health concern.

One final thing I observed as a result of watching the various film clips is that the film is the perfect way to memorialize the trove of recorded material (primarily amateur) the filmmaker had. This became a talking point during the course of the Q&A session – David French mentioned that this is the first time much of the video footage has been seen by the public. In fact, a lot of the footage was originally recorded on VHS tape; How to Survive a Plague saved a lot of this material from being lost forever.

The pieces of the documentary that we saw were equally informative, sometimes humorous and overall very touching; so touching, that many of the members of the audience were moved to tears at a couple of moments.

At the conclusion of the evening, it seemed that the hope of Mr. French and all those involved in the film project is that in revisiting this recent chapter of healthcare and social history, the documentary will reignite the discussion and lead the next generation of those directly impacted by AIDS crisis voices to be heard.

Once finished, I am sure the will be a great visual history lesson exploring how the rage of a group of individuals was corralled and eventually channeled into effective activism.

ABOUT THE FILM

Faced with their own mortality, an improbable group of mostly HIV-positive young men and women broke the mold as radical warriors taking on Washington and the medical establishment. How to Survive a Plague is the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and ’90s, filmmaker David France puts the viewer smack in the middle of the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making.

 

ABOUT THE FILMMAKER

David France, a New York magazine contributing editor, was the longtime national affairs editor at Glamour and senior investigative editor at Newsweek until 2003. His work has been published in nearly every major magazine in the country, including The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone. France has received the National Headliner Award, the GLAAD Media Award, and top honors from the New York Press Club and Amnesty International. How to Survive a Plague marks his documentary film debut.

To find out more about this film, go to the Official Facebook Page.

Another Day … Another Trailer

As I have said in my previous post, this has been a great week for movie trailers.  Today it was the trailer for …

RIDLEY SCOTT’S PROMETHEUS!

… which is scheduled for release in June, 2012.

Synposis (courtesy of 20th Century Fox):

Ridley Scott, director of Alien and Blade Runner, returns to the genre he helped define. With PROMETHEUS, he creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

The Prometheus team have really upped the ante – we were treated to three official teasers to the official trailer, which can be seen here:

To paraphrase Ridley Scott, it is going to be epic!

As always, feel free to post reactions below. Visit the official Prometheus Facebook Page to see what others are saying.