Shame

For the second of his feature films, visual artist Steve McQueen has chosen to work again with the star of his first, Michael Fassbender.

The description of the film gives only an impression of what it is about.  This from IMDb, for example: 

In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life — which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction — is disrupted when his sister Sissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay

But the real point of the film lies in what is unsaid and unexplained, and that’s what makes it so compelling.

By the end, it doesn’t matter that Brandon is addicted to the sexual act, or that his sister is a needy self-harmer.  What matters is that we start to realise that the siblings are perhaps the product of a troubled childhood, or victims of past events, and their behaviour is the only way they know of dealing with it.

The film is about the shame of addiction (of any type), of not being able to break free from it, of battling inner demons.

It’s a powerful film which I won’t be rushing to see again, but which I am very glad I saw.

Oscar Nominations – first thoughts

The full list of Oscar nominations was announced today and, as ever, the timing of the general UK release of many of the films means that there are several which I haven’t seen.

There are also several which I missed when they came out, mostly because I chose not to see them.  The question is now, do I force myself to go and see something which I have little interest in (eg War Horse) just because it has been nominated?

Let me ponder and get back to you.  In the meantime – here are my first thoughts on the major categories.

Best Picture

War Horse – it had to be here, but I have little interest
The Artist – should win, but may be just too much for Hollywood
Moneyball – is it really Oscar-quality?
The Descendants – on the list to be seen asap
The Tree of Life – surprised at its nomination, but did love the film
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen – no thanks.
The Help – missed it
Hugo – a children’s film by all accounts, will probably win
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – just had to look it up

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs – no idea
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – a good performance
Viola Davis, The Help – missed it
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady – a walk-over, despite an awful film
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn – an impersonation, not an Oscar performance

Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life – just had to look it up, seems interesting
George Clooney, The Descendants – highly praised, but I need to see it to be convinced
Jean Dujardin, The Artist – not sure if the acting deserves such an accolade
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – a dull character in a dull film
Brad Pitt, Moneyball – really? Oscar?

Conclusion so far is that the only film I will go out of my way to see that I missed is The Help. If they’re new out, then I’ll go and see them.

After all the hype about Drive, I’m surprised it’s not there. And where’s Senna?!!!

The Iron Lady

Oh dear.

OK, let me start with the good things.  Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman. Their outstanding performances were the only things which kept me going through the screening. Olivia Colman only has a few scenes, but as Thatcher’s daughter Carole, she is heartbreaking watching her mother slipping away.

Meryl Streep will clearly win every award going for this portrayal of the once most powerful woman on the planet who succumbs to old age and illness like any normal human. And she will deserve all the gongs she gets.

However. This film is all over the place for lots of reasons.

There is much discussion around the way the story is presented, about whether the mixing of past and present works in this treatment.

I am firmly of the opinion that it doesn’t (work). If you want to make a film about how old age and infirmity catches up with even the strongest of us, then fine, go do that.

But you can’t make a film with Thatcher as the central character without examining the politics and emotions that accompanied the 80s and most of the 90s.  The authentic news report footage of riots, bombs and protests barely scratched the surface, and explained nothing.

Jumping backwards and forwards in the time-line made the story clunky.

And I spent most of the film trying to guess which of the cabinet ministers were being impersonated by the array of British actors on display (hat-tip to Anthone Head though, who did a reasonable Geoffrey Howe).

I can’t decide if you should see this film purely for Streep’s performance, outstanding thought it is. I think I was supposed to feel sympathy for the elderly, infirm woman on the screen but I didn’t.

Meryl Streep isn’t that good 😉

The Artist

I had been extremely irritated that this film had made it to the top of so many critics’ ‘Film of the Year’ lists for 2011, when it wasn’t even relased in the UK until 31st December.  

I was even more irritated when I found out that it wasn’t actually going to get out of London and make its way up to Manchester until the week after!

In other words, The Artist had a lot to live up to.

And I am happy to report that it was definitely worth the wait.

Plot-wise, it’s a simple story which doesn’t tax the brain. But it is a visual treat throughout – the height of Hollywood glamour, just at the point where talking movies were becoming established. There is an inevitable nod to Singing In The Rain, and the lead actor bears more than a passing resemblance to Gene Kelly. And of course there’s the dog!

Most of all though, this is an extraordinary piece of film-making. A black and white, silent movie in 2012?  It probably shouldn’t work. But it absolutely does.

The first film I saw in 2010 was Avatar, in 3D. The Artist was the first film I saw in 2012. And there is no contest for the one which warrants repeat viewing. 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I’ll come clean and say straightaway that 

  • I haven’t read the books, and
  • I have seen the Swedish-language films of the books.

I was a bit dubious about seeing this – I wondered if there was any point in remaking a perfectly good film, purely so that it was acceptable to English-speaking American audiences (it’s not about the money, money, money  …).

Well I suppose you could say that this will bring the story to a much larger number of people – but that leads me to the argument of “What’s the matter with watching subtitles?” and that’s a whole nother post.

Daniel Craig was surprisingly good in the role of Mikael Blomkvist – the journalist charged with getting to the bottom of a 40 year old mystery.  Rooney Mara was a slightly more vulnerable Lisbeth Salander than the iconic character created by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish-language version, and also did a great job.

Yes, there are some difficult scenes, and yes, they are justified (in my opinion) in explaining Lisbeth’s motivation.  

I’m still to be convinced that this version of the film has brought anything extra to the story, but it wasn’t a let down in any way – after all, it’s a good plot, with twists and secrets, and I enjoyed watching it.

Melancholia

Lars von Trier is unconventional to say the very least, and while I woudn’t say I like him as a director, I certainly don’t dislike him.

I find with his films, the best thing for me is to sit down, watch what he has put on screen, then go away and reflect for a while. Then I feel able to formulate comments.

There are lots of very strange things about this film from a narrative point of view, but visually I thought it was very powerful.

Kirsten Dunst appeared to be barely able to hold her wedding dress together, just as she was barely able to hold her emotions together. The opening shots of planets colliding were intense, and Charlotte Rampling’s performance as the bitter mother was short but awesome.

I think as a chronicle of severe depression this is an excellent observation, with the mysticism of the planet adding to the atmosphere.  The depressive sister finds it so much easier to accept that she has no control over what is about to happen, whereas her control-freak sister cannot deal with it. 

And the choice of music was fantastic – I actually stayed to the very end to find out what music had been used.  It turned out to be the Prelude for the first act of the opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner.

The more I think about it, the more I like this film. Quite a lot.