Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Dangerous Method (2011)

A Dangerous MethodA Dangerous Method analyses the friendship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the start of psychoanalysis and the disagreement that ended their friendship.

I didn’t like it. I nearly didn’t make it past the first scene. Jung is conducting his initial intake with extremely agitated Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). She’s emotionally unstable but Knightley’s extreme facial contortions and sputtering are distracting and exaggerated. Her accent goes from Eastern European to American to Latina at random. Her cray cray is ferocious but not believable.

How would they introduce the “talking cure?” How did these two men engage upon their first meeting? How would they detail their collaboration? What caused their schism? I was excited to see it all.

Initially, we are teased into believing that there exists an intellectual connection binding Jung and his wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon). He’s not passionate about becoming a father. Soon, with Sabina’s help, he’s performing psychological tests on Emma that reveal she is ambivalent about their relationship and having a child. After that, she is just his child bearer, obsessed with giving him a son.

Jung starts connecting with the psychologically improving Sabina, who reveals she wants to be a doctor. We learn that as a result of the violence inflicted upon her by her father, she is a masochist.

There’s a lot very wrong here. The acting is lacking. The characters are unlikeable. The relationship between Freud and Jung is tepid. The usually fiery Mortensen is half a step above catatonic. His accent is English and not Austrian. We get few insights into Freud. His scenes with Fassbender aren’t dynamic. Fassbender turns around the best acting but still cannot help this movie. The writing is terrible. Take for instance, this whopper delivered by Sabina:

“I felt it against my back. Something…slimy like a, like a…like some kind of a mollusk moving against my back.”

There’s too much going on here. Jung’s attraction to Sabina, Sabina’s attraction to him, Jung trying to keep their affair from Freud and Emma, Freud interpreting dreams, Jung’s wife trying to keep him, yet the missing link is audience interest.

Director: David Cronenberg

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 99 very long minutes

Scale: 2

The Help (2011)

The HelpThe Help introduces us to three spritely ladies in 1960s civil-rights-era Mississippi: recent college graduate and wanna-be writer Skeeter (Emma Stone), Aibileen (Viola Davis), an African-American maid who’s been documenting her life since the death of her son and Abilene’s best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), a feisty maid who pushes the segregation boundaries. The rumblings of change are about to disrupt all three of their lives.

Skeeter lands a job as a household tips columnist but is thirsting to write something meaningful. Maintaining her friendship with her best friend, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), is becoming more challenging, as Hilly is increasingly cruel and pushy. Charlotte (Allison Janney), Skeeter’s mother, is worried about Skeeter’s single status. Skeeter quietly begins a writing project from the perspective of “the help.” Her clandestine meetings with Aibileen yield disturbing tales about what really happens in Elizabeth Leefolt’s (Ahna O'Reilly) house while Aibileen is raising Elizabeth’s girl, Mae Mobley.

Skeeter’s writing yields interest from a New York editor but she’s pushing Skeeter for content sooner than she can get the help (besides Aibileen) to open up. They’re reluctant for fear of retribution and losing their jobs. Can Skeeter get the information needed to bring to light the ugly tales of segregation?

Minny is fired after using the “whites-only” toilet at Hilly’s house. She goes to work for the black sheep of the community, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who has been trying to break into the Southern belle bridge clique after getting knocked up by and marrying Johnny (Mike Vogel), Hilly’s ex-boyfriend. Minny gets her revenge on Hilly for firing her. It will have you rethinking pie. Minny and Celia make a funny duo. They do a lot of cooking and talking. As an aside, corn pone is mentioned a lot. I had never heard of it and had to look it up (it’s an eggless cornbread typically fried).

The Help is enjoyable. Stone, Davis and Spencer are standouts. The rest of the actors are excellent. If you like it, you might consider reading “The Help,” the 2009 novel the movie is based upon by Kathryn Stockett.

Screenplay writer/Director: Tate Taylor

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 145 minutes

Scale: 4

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Sessions (2012)

Helen-Hunt-John-Hawkes-The-SessionsDon’t read this review. Look up movie times for The Sessions and go. As you watch the screen (popcorn in one hand, soda in the other, empty wallet on your person), you lose yourself in the room with the naked Helen Hunt and John Hawkes.

Based on the true story of Mark O’ Brien (Hawkes) who after recovering from polio as a boy is confined to an iron lung. He could leave the metal box for only three hours at a time. He’s a poet and journalist. In his late 30s, he’s approached to write a piece on the disabled and sex surrogates. Around the same time, he decides he’s done being a virgin. He meets with a sex surrogate, Cheryl (Hunt). His “research” yields an essay called "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate".

iron lung diagramAn iron lung (above) is no laughing matter, yet my companion and I, and especially a guy behind us in the small theater laughed a lot.

Strong plot. Great acting. The secondary characters deserve their own movies. Mark’s first caregiver Amanda (Annika Marks) is an emotional seesaw. Rod (W. Earl Brown) is the tough caregiver who pushes Mark. Vera (Moon Bloodgood) is calm and supportive. William H. Macy’s Father Brendan backs Mark’s goal once, he gets past the sex-before-marriage part. Carmen (Jennifer Kumiyama) is the sexually empowered gal in a wheelchair who tells Mark what she likes in bed. Even Rhea Perlman has a bit part. But, it’s the hotel clerk (Ming Lo) who won me over. Even the ‘80s are accurately portrayed with shoulder pads, paisley shirts, clunky boots, cargo pants.

The Sessions spotlights sex surrogacy and gives a peek into the job and its difficulties. Hawkes and Hunt are spectacular. Hunt’s body is amazing (she’s 49) but nonetheless, she’s brave because most of her scenes require full frontal nudity. Both leads deserve acting awards. Hawkes is filmed horizontally for most of the film. It’s distracting but the cinematic discomfort provides the angle with which the world saw him and how it may have been hard to connect.

I teared up. I laughed. I loved it. For a serious topic, this one is hilarious and lighthearted, not the standard for one about disability. Don’t miss it.

Screenplay writer/Director: Ben Lewin

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 95 minutes

Scale: 5

Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation) (2011)

The 2011 Oscar winner for best foreign film, A Separation opens with a couple requesting a divorce. Simin (Leila Hatami) is leaving Iran as planned. Nader’s (Payman Maadi) father has Alzheimer's and he won’t leave him behind. We don’t get details about their lives before they could look at one another without contempt and communicate without screaming, but we get idea it was a decent marriage. Now, their issue is what to do about Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), their eleven-year-old daughter? Does she go with her mother or stay in Iran with her father? The judge orders Termeh to decide.

A SeparationOnce Simin moves out, Nader hires stranger Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for his father while he’s at work. Razieh brings her young daughter to work. Giant problems begin immediately.

Each character has his/her quandaries. Nader’s father doesn’t speak, but the drama surrounds him. Razieh is conflicted, burdened and trying to do the right thing but knowing what that is becomes extremely hard. Termeh is often the adult, holding her parents to the moral code with which she’s been raised.

A Separation takes on perspective, desperation and tradition. The cultural differences, especially around legal matters and customs, are fascinating. Judges are in the vein of Judge Judy, prisoners are handcuffed to easygoing guards and the legal system operates with loose norms related to evidence collection and witness testimony.

This movie is not filmed in the omniscient point of view where we know what all the characters feel/do/expect. It pits perspective against honesty and asks tough questions. You will interpret the situation and nothing that happens is predictable. In the end, I re-watched nearly the whole movie again to try and get those missing bits. You are left contemplating a lot. Impressive. See it.

Writer/Director: Asghar Farhadi

Country: Iran

Genre: Drama

Run time: 123 minutes

Scale: 5

Portlandia (Season 1) (2011)

PortlandiaFred Armisen. Carrie Brownstein. Skits satirizing Portland. Quirky guests. Filmed in Portland. All terrific reasons to watch season 1 of Portlandia. I was a latecomer, expecting that like SNL, it would be unfunny skits that relentlessly beat you with empty gags.

Portlandia works because Brownstein and Armisen have chemistry. They’re having fun making mediocre skits memorable. Their love letter to Portland comes through soaked in sarcasm. The short musical numbers are pleasant surprises. Brownstein combines ripping guitar with her distinctive vocals. Armisen brings his musical flair.

Kyle MacLachlan is Portland’s bike-riding mayor. Amy Mann is a cleaning lady to Brownstein and Armisen, who cannot believe she is cleaning houses. Sarah McLachlan makes a related guest appearance. Jason Sudeikis is a cult leader on an organic farm. Brownstein and Armisen’s hippy bookstore clerks make Steve Buscemi buy something after using the bathroom. Aubrey Plaza and Heather Graham visit the bookstore. Gus Van Sant interviews film makers (Armisen and Brownstein) about their movie starring Selma Blair. Even the real Portland mayor, Sam Adams, appears. Cacao.

I watched season 1 in a marathon viewing over a weekend. It has been suggested that to watch it in this condensed fashion gives more cohesion, especially with recurring characters. That when watched one at a time each week as they air doesn’t build momentum. I will watch seasons 2 as I did season 1, clustered episodes and laughing out loud.


We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About KevinWe Need to Talk About Kevin confronts taboo topics: a mother’s inability to bond with her child and a mother dealing with the aftermath of her child carrying out a school massacre. Told in flashbacks, you are tipped off early that something awful has happened. The clues come together for the disturbing conclusion.

Kevin (Ezra Miller) isn’t an easy child. He enters the world crying and doesn’t stop. As he ages, he resists her relentless efforts to play, engage and be her son. He refuses to potty train, so at a late age, Eva is still changing his diapers. He creates a schism between Eva and Kevin’s father, Franklin (John C. Reilly). She looks to him for support; Franklin doesn’t see the gravity developing: Kevin is a sociopath. He victimizes his mother and when little sister Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) is born, Eva is unable to protect her from Kevin’s wrath. You think Franklin is spared in Kevin’s manipulative system but Kevin has cast him for a different part.

We Need to Talk About Kevin elicits discomfort and helplessness. It seems to ask, what would you do? Eva’s frustration is palpable, but I wondered if anyone else was noticing that Kevin was off. Would Kevin get away with his behaviors at school? We never hear how he’s doing at school or about friends. Does he have any friends? These details are too important to ignore. We know little about Kevin’s life outside his relationship with Eva. Is it realistic that Eva would be the only one to feel his wrath? What about Franklin’s zeal in getting Kevin more powerful bows, even after he’s hurt his sister? Would he be this clueless? Seems implausible that Franklin shows little concern. This is where it feels more like a horror flick.

This is Eva’s story. It gives insight into how parents of perpetrators of mass killings might get treated in the community afterwards. The acts against her are extreme and cruel, considering what you learn at the end. The movie is based on the eponymously named 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver. The book likely delves into and mitigates my aforementioned beefs. There’s a lot about this one that kept me rapt until the credits, but the story has its holes.

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 112 minutes

Scale: 3

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Blogger: Michelle Fredette: Looper (2012)

I loved Looper.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in LooperThe basic premise is this: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe. In 2044, he’s a looper. This means he stands in a cane field at a designated time. There’s a tarp. A guy appears on the tarp, sent from the future, his head covered, his hands tied behind his back. The moment he appears, Joe blows him away. Then he takes his payment, a handful of silver bars strapped to the guy’s back, wraps the guy up and disposes of his body. Every couple of days a new guy. In the future, time travel has become possible but is illegal. A bunch of young men like Joe, who don’t have much to look forward to and don’t take a lot of persuading, have been recruited by a menacing Jeff Daniels and his crime syndicate to dispose of troublesome rivals. The loopers have a pretty good time when they’re not blowing guys away, relative to the poverty and general degradation they would otherwise face.

There’s a catch though. To tie up loose ends loopers have to kill their future selves. Because the guys sent back to be offed always arrive hooded and in the same orange jacket, they don’t know it’s their future self until they flip the guy over and find gold instead of silver bars. That’s the signal that they’re done looping. They can go live it up for the next 30 years, until it’s time for them to be sent back to pay the piper. Who is themselves.

Bruce Willis is future Joe. He has found something to live for, and he doesn’t want to be offed. Plus, there’s a wrinkle, a future super criminal called the Rain Maker has it in for the loopers. He’s sending them back with a vengeance. Bruce Willis Joe escapes before he’s blown away. He’s on a quest to find the boy who will grow up to be the Rain Maker and kill him off, and by so doing, reset his future. Young Joe has to find old Joe and kill him because what happens if he doesn’t is quite quite gruesome.

At one point, present and future Joe sit across from each other at a diner. This prolonged profile shot gives us a chance to admire the resemblance between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis created by a prosthetic nose worn by Joseph Gorden-Levitt. Also they did something with his eyebrows. I’m not sure it was necessary. There’s no love lost between these two versions of the same guy. To young Joe, old Joe is an impediment. He feels no connection to him and certainly no empathy. He’s all about the now, and that now demands that old Joe go. Old Joe knows all too well who he’s dealing with in Young Joe –- a callow, insensitive guy who (we see through shots of the 30 years between them) never cares about anyone or anything until well into middle age.

There are some artful aspects to Looper. You would expect no less from Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed Looper as well as the fantastically stylish if somewhat overdone Brick. The world of 2044, when Joe is young, is a desperate place. Things are run down. People are impoverished and slightly feral. Buses just sit across the middle of roads, abandoned. The loopers party. They take drugs through eye drops. We learn this through loops of their experiences, which are pretty much the same from day-to-day, giving another meaning to the title.

Much of the second half of the movie takes place on a farm where young Joe lies in wait for old Joe. I heard some grumbles that things slowed down too much at this point. For me, this is where things got interesting because they got personal. Emily Blunt is there.

My biggest rave about Looper is the ending, which is emotionally satisfying and complete. It’s got an elegance that movies dealing with time travel rarely manage because they are too busy trying to be clever. Looper isn’t just clever, it’s smart, breaking a few time travel tropes, particularly the one where time travelers strive not to alter the future, with great confidence. After all, the future has little to recommend it – what’s to protect?

Michelle Fredette

Michelle Fredette is not a hired killer. She does not perform on a tightrope, or get shot from a cannon. She rarely engages in extramarital affairs with CIA chiefs. She wrote this review.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

It’s 1956. Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) has just married playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). She’s deep into her drug use and her demons are winning. Sir Laurence Olivier (the always amazing Kenneth Branagh) hires Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a recent Oxford graduate, as third assistant on production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

My Week with Marilyn

The set is a flitter with expectation of meeting the iconic and attractive Monroe. She shows up late, flubs her lines, disagrees with Olivier on whether her character would actually utter those lines and then, stops showing up. Olivier’s frustration yields to anger and impatience. His wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) is jealous of Monroe’s youth and the way her husband looks at her.

Monroe’s instability and depression call the shots. Some days she’s unable to leave her bed and lacks the psychological stamina to act. Her acting coach Paula (Zoë Wanamaker) is usually able to keep her together. Miller leaves and Monroe is inconsolable. Now, no one can help her.

Enter Colin Clark. Clark like the rest of the crew is smitten with her. She is having difficulty dealing with the public’s expectations. She’s surrounded by yes people. Colin is guileless. He answers her questions honestly yet diplomatically. Monroe is no dummy no matter her drug haze. She detects his ability to be honest, despite the disdain he receives from the others. He soon learns firsthand everything he has been warned about.

I was surprised by the humor in My Week with Marilyn. You get witty banter and well-timed quips. This is much needed, especially with the portrayal of Monroe as an emotional vampire. She’s able to make anyone feel special, yet also able to drain energy in an attempt to heal her deep sorrows and emotional voids. Her pain is palpable, as are the frustration and sorrow she creates for those who fall under her spell. She lives in a fish bowl where she needs to be loved, yet the constant attention and desire does nothing to fill her voids. She continues in her cycle of moving on—from one man to the next—still seeking the love that will end her pain. Oy, Marilyn.

This movie is based on two journal-style books Clark wrote documenting his time on the set and with Marilyn: The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn.

Director: Simon Curtis

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 4

Albert Nobbs (2011)

Going in, I knew the Glenn Close played a man in Ireland in the 1800s to eek out a living when jobs for women were scarce. As it rolled, I stared at Glenn Close, assessing whether or not I’d be able to decipher that her character was a woman had I not known her already. Soon though, I got lost in the story and forgot about Close.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

McTeer & Close_Albert NobbsAlbert Nobbs (Close) is a quiet professional working as a waiter in a Dublin hotel. One day, a housepainter, Hubert Page (Janet McTeer)comes round to do work at the hotel. Mr. Page is forced to bunk with Mr. Nobbs for the night; Nobbs isn’t happy about this arrangement. He’s really a lady who has lived as a man for the past 30 years. Due to an errant flea in a corset, Mr. Page finds out. Mr. Nobbs has a meltdown, scared that Mr. Page will reveal his secret. Nobbs is close to meeting his dreams of opening a tobacco shop, gaining a bride and running the shop together.

Mr. Page goes on to reveal his own secrets. Suddenly, Mr. Nobbs has an ally, someone with whom to share his reality and dreams. Mr. Page and his wife encourage Mr. Nobbs to go for it. He fancies Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a maid at the hotel, but young Helen has fallen for a new hotel employee, bad seed Joe Mackins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)—an alcoholic who encourages Helen to lead on Mr. Nobbs in hopes that Nobbs will give Helen money which they can use to flee to America. Helen turns up pregnant. A devastating ending follows.

Based on "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Close played the role on Broadway in the 1980s and worked since then to get the movie made.

This is the first period piece I’ve seen about transvestites (or were they lesbians?). That point is never overtly stated. I wondered how Mr. Page figured out his arrangement with his wife. How would Nobbs plan to do that with Helen?

McTeer needed more screen time. With Mr. Page’s gait and confidence next to introverted Nobbs, the acting is strong. It’s hard to believe that Mr. Nobbs is played by the same actress who boiled the bunny in Fatal Attraction—that’s range! Brendan Gleeson is hardly recognizable as the hotel doctor; Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays himself as a hard-drinking hotel guest.

Director: Rodrigo García

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 113 minutes

Scale: 3.5