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.

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.

 

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.

 

The Artist (2011) directed by Michel Hazanavicius

So I decided this weekend to see what all the fuss was about regarding The Artist. The words I heard were MAGICAL – INCANDESCENT – REMARKABLE. I always remain skeptical when I hear such praise vaunted on a picture. When I get to actually see the film, my concern is that it will not live up to the hype. However in this case, the praise is well deserved and well earned.

The Artist is set in Hollywood at the point where the silent and sound era converged. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a larger than life matinee idol of the silent era. A chance meeting with upstart Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) seems to be the point where both of their fortunes change. As Peppy makes a start in the film industry, George offers her advice that she will not forget.

With the dawn of the sound era, George Valentin popularity is on the decline; one final effort on his part to capture the glory days – he becomes the sole creative force behind his final outing, Tears of Love. The result is complete public rejection, financial ruin and the dissolution of his marriage (his wife is portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller). All he has left is a few artifacts of his past life and the companionship and loyalty of his chauffeur (James Cromwell) and precocious dog.

As George’s world comes tumbling down around him, Peppy Miller’s star is on the rise. She becomes a darling at the dawn of the sound age. But she never forgets the man who helped her at the very beginning of her career.

I do not want to give away too many of the plot details after this point, for fear that it will ruin the experience for you; that is a big clue that I think you should see it.

You will leave this film feeling many things – among them that this is a remarkable feat this is, especially in the days of the Hollywood blockbusting machine. It is great to see that there is an audience who clamor for an imaginative, well made, beautifully photographed and expertly performed throwback.

© The Weinstein Company

Granted as much as I am a fan of classic cinema, I never was hugely into silent films; I could probably count the number of films I have seen my two hands. But there is something, dare I say transcendent and magical, about the notion that so much can be conveyed with looks, expressions and physicality – no words necessary. To add to the experience, the orchestral accompaniment made me imagine I was sitting in the cinema of the 1920′s. There definitely is something to be said about the importance of a musical score to the film experience. And nowhere is this more evident in silent cinema.

This picture is a lovely ode to that bygone era.

The Artist is directed by Michel Hazanavicius and is a French production with English title cards.

Shame (2011), directed by Steve McQueen

Abbot Genser/Fox Searchlight Pictures

On its surface, Shame appears to be a straightforward dramatic piece about a man battling with sexual addiction. Encapsulating it so succinctly in these terms really does the film a disservice. The lead character, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), obviously has a problem, but the way I see it, this problem is the symptom and not necessarily the issue that needs to be directly addressed.

The sexuality DOES feature prominently throughout the story, but this is not a film exclusively about that subject. The clue to the story is in the title. This ‘shame’ applies to both Brandon AND his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Something about their disordered upbringing leads them to two very different places in life and ways of expressing their pain. At its core, they are both are self-harming – Sissy’s actions are more visibly destructive while Brandon’s turmoil is internal; in many ways it is more painful to watch.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

We get a glimpse into just how messed up Brandon’s ability to emotionally connect with others is in his attempt at some sort of normal relationship with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), a work colleague. The mutual attraction and fascination with one another is obvious, so one would expect it to result in a satisfying ‘encounter.’ However, it should come as no surprise that things don’t fall neatly into place and the sequential scenes of (1) the failed attempt at consummation and (2) Brandon’s actions after Marianne leaves wonderfully illustrate exactly how out of balance his life has become.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

While the story is clearly told from Brandon’s point of view, I felt it was as much Sissy’s story. After all, they are siblings and have a shared experience and dysfunction which stems from someplace really dark (and scary) from what the audience can gather.

At this point, it has just dawned upon me that I have not really gone into details about the plot (what Brandon does for a living, what has made him and his sister this way, etc.). In the film, these are not given much specific attention and are not really outlined.  On some level, this is all irrelevant.

Shame is an emotional, visceral piece that draws you in based on the strength of the performances of the leads; leads that strike a very fine balance between dealing (or not) with their troubles and trying to get on with their lives.

And, as in life, there are those much needed moments of levity. In Shame these moments come mostly in the form of Brandon’s boss, Dave (James Badge Dale).

It is obvious from his second outing as a film director that Steve McQueen is able to create visually arresting, raw films that leave his audience captivated.  As compared to his debut, Hunger, I feel that Shame is a little more attainable to its audience. I liked Hunger, but it was a tough watch. It was very sparse on dialogue and very heavy on visuals, some of which were disturbing at times. Shame definitely has its moments too, but I feel like this film is a more mainstream appeal. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), McQueen’s next feature is Twelve Years a Slave, based on the true story of a free man kidnapped in New York and sold into slavery in the Deep South; it is scheduled for release in 2014. Media sources have listed Brad Pitt, (the underused) Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as the principal leads.

In the end, Shame gives its audience pieces to the puzzle of these people’s complicated lives. At its conclusion, the narrative comes full circle (?) and we are left wondering what lies on the other side of the abyss that Brandon and Sissy have found themselves in. There may be a few hints there but only enough for us to speculate and always wonder.

Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, 1946)

The pedigree for the 1946 Warner Brother’s feature is quite impressive -

  • directed by Jean Negulesco
  • co-written by noted playwright Clifford Odets
  • based on a novel by Fannie Hurst (Imitation of Life)
  • starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield.

When I first heard about this film, my expectations were tempered by the fact that it was a drama starring Joan Crawford. Joan Crawford is an interesting screen presence for me – on one hand I do not mind watching her films (Mildred Pierce and The Women especially), but on the other hand, there is that overly stylized/campy aspect to her appearance and performance; this is particularly true for many of the films she did during this period in the 1940′s.

On its surface, I thought Humoresque would devolve into this generic type of “women’s picture” melodrama. Of course, in many ways it lives up to this promise. However, at the conclusion of the film, I was left with a genuine sense of melancholy. In the last 10-15 minutes of this film, the climax/falling actions are sublime and features quite possibly one of the most beautiful intercut sequences I have seen in quite some time.

In my estimation, Joan Crawford’s performance is the best of her long and somewhat varied career. I usually hesitate using superlatives, especially in this case since I have not seen every Crawford performance; but in this case, if this is not her greatest,  it has to be in the top three.

Watching this film also brought me to a renewed appreciation for its director, Jean Negulesco. His filmography is substantial and includes in it many films that I consider among some of my more enjoyable classic film experiences:

  • A Certain Smile
  • Johnny Belinda
  • Phone Call from a Stranger
  • Three Coins in a Fountain
  • The Best of Everything

He is also responsible for films such as:

  • Titanic (1953)
  • Daddy Long Legs (Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron)
  • Boy on a Dolphin (Sophia Loren/Alan Ladd)
  • How to Marry a Millionaire (Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell)

So if you are a fan of romantic dramas of the 1940s or 1950s, Humoresque  is definitely worth a look see.

If you have seen any films of Jean Negulesco, what is/are some of your faves? Enter in the comments below.

Weekend Two-fer (Friends With Benefits and Captain America: the First Avenger)

Warning: Reviews may contain spoilers

Today I have decided to give you a two for one deal. I saw Friends With Benefits a couple of weeks ago, but was saving the review for its official release. My delay in putting the finishing touches on it lead to the decision to combine the review with Captain America: The First Avenger which I saw on Sunday.


Captain America: The First Avenger

For the uninitiated, as the title states, Captain America is the first Avenger. In sort of a movie flashback, we see how Steve Rodgers, the 4F candidate becomes America’s “supersoldier.” During his latest attempt to enlist in the Army, he catches the attention of German scientist Dr. Erksine and eventually becomes part of the secret Army program that transforms him into our superhero.

At the same time we have the parallel story of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who in a spilt from the Nazi regime takes the special weapons division of the Reich (Hydra) and suits it for his own evil purpose. You can guess what his ultimate objective is.

The convergent protagonist/antagonist stories lead a race against time for our heroes to save the world from a seemingly unstoppable force of evil.

Overall I thought the film was very enjoyable; one reason is the cast. In previous films, Chris Evans has always come off as being a bit of a flashy young hot shot. In Captain America, he plays the role of Steve Rodgers pretty straight and does a good job of it. Hugo Weaving is well, Hugo Weaving – no one does sly villainy quite the way he does. Tommy Lee Jones has many laughs in his role of the gruff, curmudgeonly army officer. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. It similar movies that are brimming with acting talent, it is very easy to get lost in the star count, but in Captain America, there is a very good balance. I must credit the direct Joe Johnston, who was able to get these performances out of his cast.

It would be foolish of me not to mention my favorite part of the film – the visual elements – set design, cinematography, costumers and makeup. I LOVE the vintage look and feel of the picture. I did feel like the production adequately evoked the spirit and look of the WWII era.

Nowadays, most pictures seem to run a minimum of 120 minutes, which can help or hurt a film. At 125 minutes, Captain America passes by at a solid pace and did not lead to much clock-watching on my part. That said a little more could have been to tighten up the story it did feel like some scenes were in just for the sake of it. But that is a minor quibble at best. Actually I have one more quibble – the fact (yet again) that the 3D did nothing to enhance my cinematic experience.

In the end, there is not much that could be done to ruin this film (for me). It is definitely a movie where I must simply take it for what it is – a decent comic book story, pretty well acted.

It is important to note that in the Marvel universe, this is the final film that will introduce us to the principle Avengers. We will next see Captain America and company in the $300million spectacle The Avengers set for release in May 2012.

HINT – stay for the ENTIRE credits and then some.


Friends With Benefits

This Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake starrer began a little shaky for me but at its conclusion, I must admit that I actually enjoyed it. I do not know why it pains me to say something like this, but funny is funny and this film had me laughing quite a few times. Granted it is not “This generation’s When Harry Met Sally” as I have seen it described in some promotional materials, but it was a light-heartedly entertaining movie.

As for the plot, it is pretty straightforward:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Boy + girl Become Friends
  • In a moment of madness/passion whatever, boy + girl decide to hook up – the caveat being that as long as the sex is emotionless and they keep it apart from their friendship. Do you think that is going to work?

This of course s a slight variation on the When Harry Met Sally story in which the theme was that men and women CAN’T be friends because of the sex getting in the way. This film also has the misfortune of following the relatively poorly received No Strings.

This similarity is unfortunate because in spite of the oft-told theme, I was quite amused by this film. The leads obviously have chemistry especially as the movie moved along. The film’s saving grace for was courtesy of the wonderful supporting players, including Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins and Woody Harrelson.

What seemed not to work for me however are elements of the film that you could tell were placed in the film for the sole purpose of getting a laugh. I speak particularly of the “film within a film” – its purpose is   to serve as a device by which we not only get cameos from the likes of Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, but is a send up of Hollywood’s bland treatment of film romance and New York City. The delivery ended up being a bit “blah” for my tastes.

Also someone who loves playing “I know that location” when watching films set in NYC, one thing that got to me was the jumping around between midtown, downtown and all around town in a relatively short period of time. If only it were that easy.

In conclusion, while not up there in my all time favorite rom-coms, I must admit that Friends With Benefits was definitely a pleasant surprise.

I would recommend this movie for: A girls’ night/date night out or in (home viewing).

Before Sunrise/Sunset Double Feature

 

What I found interesting about the Before Sunrise/set was the different tracks each film took – first part sweetly romantic the second part a bit more cynical. In spite of this each installment of the Richard Linklater-helmed films was markedly understated in its delivery. It would not have worked any other way.

In “Before Sunrise” we are introduced to two characters who are embarking on a journey – both literally and figuratively. Through their esoteric philosophical debates on this journey, I was left with the sense that these are two people trying to find there place in the world and understand what it all means. Along the way they find each other and in each other find what they feel like are kindred souls. At the conclusion of “Before Sunrise,” we are left with some ambiguity about their respective futures, and whether they be together or apart.

Fast-forward nearly a decade later and in “Before Sunset” the bloom has definitely gone off the rose and what we encounter are two people very much involved in the world having to deal with what I think are typical dilemmas that accompany being thirty-somethings (at least I think so). The questions left at the conclusion of “Before Sunrise” are eventually answered and new questions are raised (What if her grandmother did not die? And more immediately pressing, will he make his train?).

At times (especially in “Before Sunrise”) I felt disconnected from some of the “meaning of life” dialogue, but not so much as to alienate me from the films. I think I was too caught up in the romance and chemistry of the two leads.

To ask me which one of the movies I prefer is very hard question for me to answer. I definitely related to some of the weighty, “angsty” issues dealt with in “Before Sunrise,” but I have to admit that I really loved the relaxed nature and brisk movement of “Before Sunset.” At times I did not feel like I was watching a film at all but rather was an invisible, silent third member of a conversation between two people.

Both films share the thread of the wonder we encounter as we pass through life, the people we meet and what it all means in the end.

Always the “Bridesmaids” (A Review)

An audience’s reaction to comedic material is purely subjective. What one person views as a side-splitting comedy, another person can view as tedious.

As a result, I have found that relying on reviews of comedies to be a very tricky business. And as a result, I generally do not “recommend” many comedies either.

So for this weekend’s screening of Bridesmaids, I decided ahead of time to go into it with as little information as possible. No reviews, previews, or trailers – nothing except the movie poster, which I could not avoid in New York City. I even managed to dismiss the From the Makers Of … tagline sitting atop the poster. I pushed the envelope even further by seeing Bridesmaids by myself – realizing that often what makes a film so much fun to watch in the cinema is reacting to how others around you.

All of these factors in consideration, I would have to say that it was a film that exceeded my expectations and I found myself laughing quite often.

Story wise, the plot is pretty straightforward – “bestest,” oldest friends Annie and Lilian (played by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, respectively) are on very separate life trajectories. Wiig is a failed entrepreneur forced to live with a pair of odious siblings (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson). As goes with someone whose life is headed in a southward path, she also has “relationship issues.” Lilian, on the other hand, is a bit more stable and very early on, announces that she is engaged. As her oldest friend, Annie is immediately appointed the maid of honor. At the engagement party, we are eventually introduced to the remaining bridal party. It reads like this:

  • The Bored Housewife, Rita (played by Wendy Mclendon-Covey)
  • The boorish sister-in-law, Megan (Melissa McCarthy)
  • The “Disney” princess, Becca (Ellie Kemper)
  • The Stepford Wife and “new” best friend, Helen (Rose Byrne)

The establishment of this Motley Crew sets the stage for a series of events at which I found myself laughing consistently. And beyond the laughs, there is an emotional heart dealing with issues of friendships, fear of failure and finding our place in the world, even for those in our 30’s.

As an engaging side story to the wedding events, Annie enters a world of new romantic complications with a Wisconsin State Trooper (Chris O’Dowd).

Of course this is not a film without flaw. At over 2 hours in length, several scenes could have been excised without sacrificing story. On the other hand, these scenes did deliver the laughs they promised.

The ensemble cast, led by Wiig and Rudolph were obviously having a blast while making the film. In the cameo/supporting category, Jon Hamm is good/loathsome as a rakish-Don Draper type, circa 2011. On a more touching note, it was nice to see Jill Clayburgh in her final screen credit as Wiig’s mother.

The story was co-written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolu and directed by Paul Feig whose background is mostly in television productions as a writer, director and actor. Bridesmaids is Feig’s third feature film.

Just based on the poster, it is obvious that the movie-marketing machine were positioning this film a female version of The Hangover. On a practical level I get it – it is sort of a Netflix promotional indexing system (“if you loved X, you will definitely like Y”). However, that calculus does not always work and in a worst-case scenario can confuse (and even turn away) a potential viewer. So one piece of advice I can offer is to try to watch a film, in this case, a comedy, based on its own merits.

If you are looking for a funny night out with the girls (or guys) see Bridesmaids. You might be surprised.

Hanna (2011)

Saoirse Ronan is "Hanna"

Usually immediately following the screening of a film that I know will be featured on my blog, I jot down a few thoughts or notes highlighting some of the points I would like to mention. In many ways I should have done this after my Tuesday night screening of Joe Wrights latest project, Hanna. But for whatever reason (possibly the late night) I did or could not muster up my resources to do so.

Instead I gave myself a “day off” to think about what I wanted to say. This was very dangerous territory I was entering; after all in reflecting upon Hanna I almost feel like I am trying to recount a very vivid, wicked dream  – and you know what they say about attempting to recount a dream accurately …

Alas in this case I do have enough of a recollection to talk about what I observed over the course of the approximately two hour running time. I will spend this time highlighting some of the major elements of the film – including the director, the performances and the music.

Since his feature film debut (Pride and Prejudice), what I admire about Joe Wright as a director is his remarkable talent to thread sequences of images (movements) into a cohesive constructive narrative. At times, such as in Atonement the sequences are a bit out order, but he is able to execute with great affect. It creates almost a dreamlike experience for the viewer. This is how I felt in Atonement and it is definitely my reaction to Hanna. You really get a sense of “otherworldliness” without dipping too much into the world of the overly fantastic; there is still a realistic feel to what you are seeing. It is simply part of your task as a viewer to figure out exactly where you are. In less capable hands, what you might end up with are a bunch of scenes that ultimately lead the audience nowhere.

Much of the credit of adding to this atmosphere must obviously go to the actors who made the experience worth the price of admission. Especially notable is Saoirse Ronan in another great turn. She is able to turn in a performance that says a whole lot with very little … as Hanna she is able to convey a savage innocence while at the same time come across as a potentially threatening figure.  To get this type in an adult is one thing but to see it from a person so young is remarkable and you can only imagine what she will be like in future roles.

Now onto the music – much has been made about the techno-inspired score as composed by The Chemical Brothers. I am not particularly a fan of techno music myself so when I heard about this music/film collaboration I had my reservations.   Ultimately they proved to be somewhat unfounded. The combination of some “traditional” musical scoring matched up quite well with the more upbeat, frenetic music that often signaled key action and plot movements.

You may have noticed that I have gotten this far into the piece without talking about some of the other visual/narrative “tips of a hat” that are implemented in this film. Without giving away too much, in fact ANY of the plot (the trailer in this case was pretty good – gave you a sense of the movie without giving TOO much), I will say that you are indeed in for a ride – a dark, twisted, fantastic, thrilling, sometimes violent, at other times amusing fairy tale the Grimms’ would have surely loved.

Hanna. Directed by Joe Wright, story and screenplay by Seth Lochhead; screenplay by David Farr. From Focus Features. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, and Eric Bana