Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Bright Star

[For those curious, this is a regular feature over at The Film Experience. Previous entries can be found here.]

Bright Star is easily one of my favorite films. Just the quiet simplicity of it is something that should be appreciated more in other films. Whether it's Campion's direction, the performances from Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish (both of whom still have yet to receive their proper moment in the Hollywood spotlight) or Grieg Fraser's cinematography (how does he not have an Oscar nomination yet?), it's a film that's (fittingly) visual poetry.

The best shot of Bright Star
It's this shot that I feel sums up the entirety of the film. It combines the two passions of John Keats' short life: writing and Fanny Brawne. It's this bit of editing by Alexandre de Franceschi that makes me adore the film even more.

I truly and deeply hope that more people will seek this film out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

White Swan, Black Swan Blogathon

Sati of Cinematic Corner has come up with a clever idea for a blogathon. The rules are as followed:
1. Choose max 3 characters to write about.
2. You can also feature characters from TV series.
3. We are not looking for doppelgangers - we are looking for one person with two sides. For example in
Black Swan you can write about Nina and her alter ego but not about Lily and Nina, which are two different people. You can write about Gollum/Smeagol but you cannot write about Bette and Dot - the Siamese twins from AHS: Freakshow - because technically they are two different people.
4. Write about why you chose the character.
5. Provide a theory on what causes the two different sides and what are the signs and contradictions between the two.
Admittedly it wasn't easy to choose one character, let alone three. A few I came up with originally were basically dual personalities (Primal Fear, A History of Violence, Seconds) but I didn't like them the more I thought about them. Finally I opted for those characters that hide behind a mask for the public eye. My choices are:

Eve Harrington
All About Eve (1950, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Suzanne Stone
To Die For (1995, dir. Gus Van Sant)
Tom Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, dir. Anthony Minghella)
My explanations start after the jump. (Also: spoilers!)

Saturday, April 18, 2015


A running theme throughout Xavier Dolan's films involves focusing on strained relationships, particularly those of the familial sort. The most telling film with this theme is his debut I Killed My Mother. (Tom at the Farm is a lesser example.) But his newest film Mommy depicts a more volatile mother-son relationship than Dolan's first film.

Mommy focuses on the fraying bond between Diane (Anne Dorval) and her ADHD-addled son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). In a fitting gesture, Dolan casts Dorval once again as the suffering matriarch. (She did such a role before in I Killed My Mother.) But there are very distinct differences between Dolan's first and newest films.

While I Killed My Mother is told from the perspective of the son, Mommy is clearly told from the perspective of the mother. And with the different points of views, both films don't want the viewer to take sides. They just want you to watch the chaos unravel.

And as expected from a Dolan film, the performances are great. Dorval and Suzanne Clement, both Dolan regulars, provide an insight into two complex women. (You just don't see roles like these in many American films, do you?) And Pilon, a complete unknown outside of Canada prior to this, definitely shows promise for a thriving career.

Mommy is a fantastic film. Thanks to the work from Dolan, Dorval, Pilon and Clement, it's a portrait of the stormy bonds we share in our lives. Seriously, be sure to see it.

My Rating: *****

Monday, April 13, 2015


Yann Demange's '71 is by no means a film for the weak-hearted. It's a deeply intense film with suspense so thick, you could cut it with a butcher knife. It's also a brilliant film.

The film is set during the Troubles, a vicious time in recent Irish history between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants. It was a time of violence, bloodshed and unrest, and Demange effortlessly depicts the brutality. (Certainly not for weak stomachs.)

It's not just Demange's work that makes '71 so effective. There's also David Holmes' music and Tat Radcliffe's cinematography, both of which adds to the film's suspense (though the latter might not always please everyone). It's because of these that the film is so brutal.

Which brings us to Jack O'Connell's work. As he has proven over the previous year, O'Connell gives a performance that's raw and unflinching, something that only the boldest of actors would be willing to put themselves through. Suffice to say that O'Connell is going to be an actor to keep an eye on.

'71 is a brutal and vicious film to watch, and it's also fantastic. Thanks to the work of those involved, it's a film that you won't soon forget. Also, this would make for one hell of a double feature with Carol Reed's Odd Man Out. (It would also be an ideal time for O'Connell to do something more light-hearted. After all, his three breakout films -- the other two are Starred Up and Unbroken -- saw the living shit getting beaten out of him, so taking on a lighter role before getting typecast would be wise, don't you agree?)

My Rating: *****

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Richard Attenborough's Shadowlands is one of the many quiet films to come out of the United Kingdom during the 1990s. Yet for some reason, it isn't held in the same regard as Howards End or The Remains of the Day. It's hard to see why; it's a very well-realized biopic.

The film focuses on the relationship between British writer C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) and American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). It highlights the early days of their courtship and how it met a tragic end. A familiar premise to some, maybe, but it can be told beautifully in the right hands.

Mich like Bright Star and The Invisible Woman in the following years, Shadowlands doesn't linger on the physical act between the famed writer and his mistress. It instead focuses more on the personal connections between the two. It's something that should be applied more to films of this nature.

And the performances are very good. Much like his work in The Remains of the Day, Hopkins delivers a quiet turn as Lewis, one of silent longing and affection. Winger meanwhile provides a nice foil to Hopkins' role, one that's more outspoken than his more reserved personality. Yet through subtle changes, both become more comfortable around each other.

Shadowlands is easily one of the lesser-known biopics of the last thirty years, and it's unfortunate that not many people have seen it. Thanks to the work from Attenborough, Hopkins and Winger, it's a deeply realized film.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Fisher King

The opening moments of Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King show shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) basking in his fame in his own arrogant way. He promptly gets knocked down several pegs when one of his broadcasts inadvertently causes a mass shooting. The next three years have him spiraling out of control.

Enter Parry (Robin Williams), a homeless man who saves Jack from a couple of thugs. What follows is a journey that involves redemption, romance and the Holy Grail. (No, seriously.)

Gilliam is known for his surreal work like 12 Monkeys and Time Bandits. (He is a member of Monty Python after all.) But with The Fisher King, he makes a decidedly more accessible film for the masses. It's a dark film, certainly, but it has its moments of whimsy. (The Grand Central Station scene is why cinema exists.)

And Gilliam also got memorable performances from his actors. Mercedes Ruehl steals every scene she's in. (No surprise on how she won the Oscar.) Amanda Plummer displays a quiet, mousy air to her role. (A stark contrast to her more famed role in Pulp Fiction.) Bridges has a damaged, fiery edge not normally seen in his other roles. But the star is clearly Williams. His performance switches from comedy to drama, sometimes within the same scene. (His declaration to Plummer is a beautiful example.) Oh, did we lose one of the greats last year.

The Fisher King is a charming and dazzling film (though not dazzling in the way you might think). It's a film where all its elements work wonders both by themselves and together. Be sure to see it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, April 3, 2015


Opinions have changed within the last hundred years. Before, we lived in a society that if you weren't a straight white male, you weren't going to get very far in life. Granted, that's still somewhat a situation nowadays but the amount of bigotry has lessened considerably.

Such opinions on homosexuality have altered since the days of Stonewall and days before. Indeed, people have become more open (pun not intended) on the matter in recent years. But even before this was no longer a taboo, people like Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal were daring enough to write about it. (Strictly writing. They had limitations back then unsurprisingly.)

E.M. Forster was one of several names to focus on homosexuality in their work. For Forster, it was in the form of Maurice, which surely would have sparked outrage had it been published in the era it was written in. (Forster wrote it after Howards End but it wasn't published until 1971, a year after his death.) The scandal that would have ensued aside, it's a quiet yet deeply moving piece of literature.

James Ivory's film keeps the spirit of Forster's novel very much alive (albeit there are a few minor tweaks here and there). Like the other Ivory-directed Forster adaptations (A Room with a View and Howards End), it displays a defiant nature beneath the genteel veneer. And seeing as how the film was made in a more liberal time than Forster's, it allows Ivory to depict what Forster could merely allude to.

So which of the two is better? Both Forster's novel and Ivory's film are achingly beautiful pieces of work and neither have a weak point. So again, it's hard to determine which is the victor. Then again, there is another choice...

What's worth checking out?: Both.