Thursday, 22 September 2011

REVIEW: Melancholia

Dir.: Lars Von Trier
With: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard

Never in my life have I had a physical reaction to a film. It seems I can take pretty much anything without wincing too much, be it gore, violence or horror. This is the first time ever when I thought I was going to throw up in the cinema. “Melancholia” is the heaviest and most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. It is so depressing, they need to think of a new word for depressing. This is quite bizarre considering that the whole film looks like an elegant photoshoot at a beautiful country chateau surrounded by greenery, there is no violence and everyone in it seems sedated in a glamorous sort of way. Yet, its atmosphere and music drove me absolutely insane – my heart was beating like mad and I was very nauseous.

The film is about two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst who won the best actress at Cannes this year for this) who is successful on the outside and manic depressive on the inside, she is getting married to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is much more level-headed and ends up orchestrating the whole wedding. The wedding is an absolute disaster – the relatives are all barking mad, Michael is no more alive than a piece of furniture and Justine doesn’t really want to be there. However, this family drama pales in comparison to the trouble in the skies – an unknown turquoise planet called Melancholia may or may not collide with Earth, thus extinguishing all forms of life. This film is an unusual take on the end of the world – there aren’t any screaming masses of people, no theatricality, just steady camera work and calm gazes. Justine is the only one who seems to be happy with the prospect of dying soon, others deal with it much worse. In a way her character reminds me of the girl she played in “The Virgin Suicides”.

I am the last person to say that cinema should always be pleasant and I guess it is a good thing to have this sort of evil genius creating works that can drive you to the darkest places. I am curious as to what Lars has against women – in his films they are either the root of all evil or plain crazy. Here at least the two sisters are the only people who manage to meet Melancholia with some dignity and poise, the men all prove to be auxiliary.  

“Melancholia” is very suffocating, unnecessarily long and, as I said, completely and utterly miserable. I marvel at Lars Von Trier for managing to make his audiences feel whatever he wants them to feel with the aid of elegant music and style. Having said that, I shan’t be watching any of his films for another couple of years. I literally had to go to the nearest park after the cinema, to catch my breath and look at the trees and the birds, life affirming as they are.  

"Melancholia" is out in the UK on the 30th September.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

REVIEW: Jane Eyre

Dir.: Cary Fukunaga
With: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judy Dench

Adapting a classic is always a daunting task, in the case of “Jane Eyre” it is doubly so – not only is Charlotte Brontë’s tale of passion and horror a much loved literary work, but there are also numerous film and TV versions of it; the most admired ones being the film with Orson Welles and Jane Fontaine and the BBC series with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. Both these works are united by the fact that it is the male actors whose performances are the most memorable. For me personally, Timothy Dalton will always remain the definitive Mr Rochester – dangerous, wild and endlessly charismatic.

Cary Fukunaga’s modern adaptation does not shy away from the stateliness of its source – the film is very beautiful and classy, in a Nordic, cold sort of way. The cinematography reminded me of Vilhelm Hammershoi’s paintings, especially the great restraint of the grey hues in the scenes with the Yorkshire moors. The film also closely reflects the main themes of the novel – there is the somewhat Gothic sense of terror and dread, oppression, isolation and an ardent sense of longing. Although, “Jane Eyre” appears to be quite slow moving and calm, there are moments when you have to clinch your hands together, for the tension is at times unbearable.

The story is told in flashbacks, I think that there weren’t enough scenes from Jane’s miserable childhood, I always found them to be the most terrifying. However, Jane and Rochester’s first meeting is done superbly well. The development of their relationship is fascinating to observe – there is much repressed eroticism and sometimes Rochester plays his little game of seduction only too well; Jane on the other hand is so suspicious and distrustful of his intentions that she often ends up rebuking him unknowingly. My main criticism is that the key moments of the story, i.e. the failed wedding and the meeting with the mad wife did not have the same degree of drama as they did in the novel. The magnitude of Jane’s suffering and disgust was not fully revealed.

As I said above, it is the performances of various Mr Rochesters that are the most celebrated; this version presents us with a glorious Jane Eyre. Mia Wasikowska seemed to have understood her character perfectly – she is “poor, obscure, plain and little”, yet she possesses a great inner strength, a bright mind and enough of self-deprecating sense of humour that you end up totally falling for her. Her turn as one of most beloved literary heroines should be praised and recognised I think. Michael Fassbender does not try to outdo Welles and Dalton in their own game and instead of being a giant beast of a man, he gives us a Rochester who is smouldering, cynical, lean and very intense. His gloomy smile is scarily sexy, might I add. Judy Dench also provides a wonderful support as Mrs Fairfax, a housekeeper who means well but does not catch on to half the things that go unsaid between the two lovers.

All in all, this is a good adaptation with some great scenes, a beautiful scenery and soundtrack. It doesn’t surprise you or knock you out, as the all-consuming passion of the novel is a tad too toned down. Still, I recommend you watch it, Charlotte Brontë wouldn’t be turning in her grave I am sure.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Toronto International Film Festival review - Friends With Kids

Dir.: Jennifer Westfeldt
With: Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Megan Fox

I find that the past decade has been colonised by very poor comedies. For some reason, Hollywood producers seem to think that your gender defines your type of humour – if you are male, you would go and see gross-out comedies, as a woman you would be expected to enjoy romcoms; both types got more and more heartless, synthetic and forced with time. Of course, there were a few good ones like “Superbad” and “Legally Blonde” but these exceptions confirm the general trend rather than defy it. It is sad to think that the days when comedies could be enjoyed by both men and women equally and had a coherent storyline are gone.

With all this in mind, it is a great pleasure for me to introduce you to “Friends with Kids”, an indie comedy that just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, directed and starred in it as Julie, a 30 something New Yorker with a close bunch of friends (most of the cast from "Bridesmaids"). Her closest friend is Jason, played by Adam Scott, together they begin to notice how the rest of their friends’ lives change once they start having children. Although both Julie and Jason want children at some point in their lives, it is the marriage aspect they wish to avoid. So, they come up with what appears to be the perfect solution – having a child together and raising the baby on equal terms, as friends.

The best thing about the movie is the dynamic in the group – it feels so realistic, the dialogues sound natural, in a way you could undoubtedly imagine your own friends speak the same way. Each individual in the group represents a certain type of friend, lover, partner and parent – you end up recognising yourself or people you know and relating to each character. There is a lot of warmth and heart in this picture and I am pretty sure that it won’t leave you untouched. Another extremely impressive aspect of it is the humour – it is very finely calibrated and combines raunchiness, irony, slapstick and satire. The audience were laughing constantly throughout the film. One of the funniest moments in it was the most awkward and cringe worthy sex scene I’d ever seen – when Julie and Jason try to conceive – just imagine having sex with your closest friend of the opposite sex….brrrr… I still have goose bumps.

There are two revelations in the film – Adam Scott, who is a great romantic lead, with much charisma and perfect comedy timing. He also delivers a wonderful speech in the movie, defending his decision to have a child with his best friend – it hits so close to home and leaves you quite shaken. Additionally, Megan Fox now appears to have shed her vixen image and fits in well with the rest of the crew, as a beautiful dancer with no patience for children. Her performance is unforced and quite down-to-earth.

During the Q&A session after the film, Jennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm and Megan Fox went on stage to answer some of the questions. Turns out that Adam and Jennifer are very old friends, which makes sense when you think of their amazing onscreen chemistry. The script took Jennifer four years to complete and I am very happy to report that her labours produced a funny, charming and soulful film, to be enjoyed by all shapes and sizes – a rare beast these days. The distribution dates are still to be confirmed, I will write more once they are.

Monday, 5 September 2011

REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

Dir.: Woody Allen
With: Owen Wilson and half the acting world

I insist that you listen to this while you read the review - click here.

Now that you’re in the mood, I may begin. Woody Allen continues his European tour with this ode to Paris. As with the previous cities, Allen idolises the French capital and paints it in enchanting golden hues. The film opens with a long montage of post card shots of the city’s main sites. This is how you are supposed to imagine Paris if you’d never actually been there. As with London and Barcelona, we do not see the dirt and the grime of city life, instead we are introduced to the blemish-free lives of the well-off protagonists. Or rather, the protagonist. The lovely Owen Wilson plays the main character, Gil, he is a self-described “old Hollywood hack”, on a visit to Paris with his materialistic fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her Tea Party parents. He, on the other hand, is a nice guy, naïve and non-assuming which probably prevents him from having a little faith in his own literary talents. Unlike his soon-to-be family, Gil does not care much for the luxuries offered by the Parisian boutiques; he spends most of his time dreaming of the days gone by – 1920s in particular. He is certain he was born a little too late and finds the present to be completely dull and unsatisfying.

Et voila! One night, after leaving his companions behind, he is picked up by an old car and journeys precisely into Paris of the 20s. The film’s real charm begins here. He meets his literary and artistic idols, from Scott Fitzgerald to Salvador Dali. As he repeats his journey every night, he finds mentorship, advice and friendship amongst the greats. Soon though, the artists and the authors are overshadowed by a mysterious woman, Adriana, who appears to have slept with half the bohemian world. Adriana takes a liking to Gil but she has got the same bug as him – she finds her own time to be too boring and yearns to live in Paris of the Belle Epoque. The scenes that take place in the 20s are much more alive and engaging than the ones in the present, the parties are wilder and the people are more interesting and good-looking.  

Don’t worry, I haven’t ruined the plot for you, not at all in fact. I think that if you, like me, love the art and literature from that period, you will fall in love with this movie. The wonderful cameos from all the best actors are an absolute pleasure to watch and I was giggling the whole time at how “accurate” their fleeting portrayals of the personnages célèbres were. The dialogues are highly amusing and there are plenty of memorable lines like ‘so, how long have you been dating Picasso for?’ The art director must have had a field day shooting this because the period look was achieved extremely well. The soundtrack was also derivative of the 1920s and as soon as I got home I looked for songs by Cole Porter and Glenn Miller.

The film itself was too much ‘on the surface’. There is a nice line in it that artists should not be defeatist about life; their job is to offer a way of coping with it. With all its witticisms and indisputable charms the film does not really do that; whatever Gil learns about his life in the present and how to cope with it, it is too cliché and saccharine to have any real meaning. But you know, not every film has to be an essay on the meaning of life, some are there for pure enjoyment and entertainment, and “Midnight in Paris” does so with flying colours. Right now I am feeling very inspired to re-read “Tender is the Night”, go see some surrealist art and buy a flapper dress.

"Midnight in Paris" is out in the UK on the 7th October.