Jane Eyre Casts A Spell

And…the temperature of my Fassbender Fever continues to rise.  In the most recent adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, director Cary Fukunaga is blessed to have the ever-impressive Michael Fassbender playing the charismatic ~ and enigmatic ~ Mr. Rochester alongside the equally talented Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) as the title character.  Both actors are more than up to the task of portraying these classic literary characters in this bewitching rendering of the gothic mystery/romance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit (not without a modicum of shame), that I have never read Jane Eyre, nor do I recall seeing any of the umpteen film or television adaptations that have been produced of it over the years.  So this was my very first introduction to the well-known work…which I’ll admit probably helped rather than hurt my experience of it.  Granted, making the acquaintance of Mr. Rochester in the form of the magnetic Michael Fassbender did nothing to harm it, either.  But again, just as in my review of Fish Tank, I sincerely believe I am capable of distinguishing between my love for Fassbender and the true quality of a film ~ and this is a beautifully done picture in every sense.

I was swept away by the film, nearly forgetting I was watching performances, a particularly impressive feat when it comes to period pieces, when one must adjust to the more formal language of the time.  The majestic English landscapes (both lush and barren) gorgeously evoke the sweeping emotions of the narrative, especially those of the wonderfully rich character of Jane.  Save for the flashbacks of her as a child, Wasikowska is in virtually every scene of the film.  She is superb as the restrained Jane, more often than not conveying her thoughts and feelings through the most subtle of facial expressions and body language.  Jane is a remarkably strong, honorable and admirably self-respecting young woman ~ it is impossible not to root for her or to feel her pain, joys and sorrows.  It’s not often in a period piece one has the opportunity to see such an independent female character, one who is left to fend for herself from a young age…all of which underscores the desire to see her find true happiness.

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Jeff, Who Lives At Home ~ Not As Much Fun As Cyrus, Who Also Lives At Home

Written & Directed by Mark & Jay Duplass

Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong

Jason Segel is Jeff, a 30-year-old stoner who lives at home with his mother (played by Susan Sarandon).  Obsessed with signs (both in the literal sense and, amusingly, in reference to M. Night Shyamalan‘s film of the same name), he is searching, rather aimlessly, for his “purpose”.  Segel is entirely winning despite the somewhat stereotypical character set-up.  Jeff is a gentle giant with a heart of gold, well-meaning even in his haphazard missteps (at which everyone in his family pokes fun).  Segel is perfect in this role and shows greater range than I’ve ever seen in him, beautifully and convincingly straddling the line between hapless lug and sincere loving soul, between comedy and drama.  It is really he who holds this film together and had me invested in any way.

Ed Helms, on the other hand, plays his narcissistic moron of an older brother, Pat, who is continually judging Jeff even when his own life is in actuality no less (if not more so) in disrepair ~  his marriage (to the always fabulous Judy Greer) disintegrating, with good reason (who could blame her?!), making ridiculous choices (like purchasing a brand new Porsche on a clearly meager salary), and holding “business meetings” at Hooters.  Not that Helms doesn’t have some humorous scenes (I do think he is a gifted comedian), but it really is tough to like or sympathize with him in any way since most everything he says and does here is idiotic.   Continue reading

Fish Tank ~ Reeled In By the Bait

Consider yourself forewarned that this will be the first of many reviews to come on films featuring Michael Fassbender.  After seeing him at year’s end in films such as A Dangerous Method and Shame (a stunning, searing performance for which he should have earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination), I have become a full-on Fan (yes, that’s with a capital “F”).  I have caught Fassbender Fever…in a big way.  And am therefore working my way through his filmography.  Yeah, he’s more than easy on the eyes ~ and as some may know, offers plenty of himself on which to feast the eyes (see Shame for full-frontal Fassbender).  BUT there is much, much more to this man than just a handsome face (and breathtaking body).  He is a terrifically talented actor, who shows great range and has yet to disappoint in anything I’ve seen.

His performance in Fish Tank is no exception.  Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, the film won Best British Film at the 2010 BAFTAs ~ with good reason.  It is a unique coming-of-age story centered on Mia, a foul-mouthed, back-talking, rebellious teen who has been kicked out of school and is struggling to find a way out of her stifled, unsupportive home life in a British housing project with a bitter, unloving single mother and feisty younger sister.  (Father, whoever he is, is nowhere in sight nor is he ever even mentioned.)

Changes are set in motion when the girls’ mother brings home new boyfriend Connor (Fassbender), who ultimately has a profound effect on each of the women in the family (in various ways and for various reasons), but on no one more so than Mia.  It is fascinating to observe the changing dynamics and ripple effects created by Connor’s charismatic presence, which, in the beginning is primarily positive for these women lacking any sort of stable, supportive male figure in their lives.  It is Mia’s struggle to differentiate between Connor as a father figure and a man to whom she has a burgeoning attraction, that ultimately proves to be the stimulus for change ~ and growth ~ in Mia’s life.

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Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) ~ From the Heart, For the Heart

Monsieur LazharI fear no words can do this extraordinary film adequate justice.  A Foreign Language Film nominee for this year’s Academy Awards, it simultaneously filled (to the brim) and broke my heart.  Quiet and gently-paced, director and screenwriter Phillippe Falardeau’s film is an exquisite depiction of the universality of loss and grief.  None of us, no matter our age or circumstances, are immune to tragedy touching our lives.  Yet in that sobering reminder, there is also a message of hope, for through that shared experience is great potential for healing.

Monsieur Lazhar has fled his native Algiers (for reasons to which we become privy) for Montreal, Canada, where he is seeking asylum.  He convinces the principal of a grade school to hire him as the replacement for a well-loved teacher who has committed suicide in her classroom (the reveal of which is tastefully handled, so please don’t let that bit of information dissuade you from seeing this lovely and powerful film).

It is deeply moving to witness the relationships that develop between this kind, gentle, Monsieur Laznharpatient man and his classroom of students, as well as the ways in which they are ultimately able to help one another to cope and come to terms with the emotions they are each experiencing.  There is something so pure and honest about what unfolds between this teacher and his pupils ~ they all possess both innocence and innate wisdom in relation to their grief, regardless of age or experience.  And thus the lines between teacher and student are touchingly blurred.  Continue reading

Comic-Con Ep. IV: A Fan’s Hope…and a Newbie’s Introduction

Whether you know ~ or care ~ anything about Comic-Con, the annual comic-book and Sci-Fi convention in San Diego, California that draws over a hundred thousand fans each year, this is a thoroughly enjoyable documentary film.  Despite my proximity to San Diego, I have never been to Comic-Con, nor have I ever had any burning desire to attend; however, I’ve always been curious about this much-talked-about yearly convergence of self-proclaimed “geeks” ~ and this was just the ticket into that wonderfully weird and wacky world. Continue reading

Friends With Kids

Written & Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt

Cast: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Megan Fox, Ed Burns

Adam Scott & Jennifer Westfeldt

Kristen Wiig & Jon Hamm

Jason (Adam Scott) and Jules (Jennifer Westfeldt) are long-time platonic friends who decide to have a child together (before it’s “too late”), split custody and care 50/50, while each continuing to look for “the One”.  Their married friends (comically ~ and at times, heartbreakingly ~ played by the reunited Bridesmaids clan listed above), are in equal measure shocked, wary and even offended by the idea (not that they share their feelings with the pre-natal pair).

Although a relatively novel idea at its premise, it is also one of those story-lines in which you know the inevitable outcome from the outset, so I wasn’t sure whether it would work.  However, I actually liked and appreciated the journey on which it took me to get from that tentative spark of an idea to the predictable conclusion.  It felt earned, refreshingly honest and on-the-mark…in fact, increasingly so as the film progressed.

The conversations and situations that ensue are actually timely and interesting and are, for the most part, handled deftly by the talented and likable cast, who, with their easy rapport, are easily believable as friends .  While Rudolph and O’Dowd play the more comedic couple, Wiig and Hamm’s screen couple prove to be surprisingly straight and serious, to great effect.  Westfeldt has a sharp ear for dialogue ~ even if she doesn’t knock my socks off as an actress (if only because she seems to play the same character in every film she does), I very much respect her work and direction.  And although Adam Scott is one of my favorite comedic actors on television (as the self-deprecating Ben opposite Amy Poehler‘s Leslie Knope in the fantastic Parks & Rec), he quite convincingly comes to the plate with a fairly raw emotional scene at the film’s end ~ a scene that entirely worked for me.

Maya Rudolph & Chris O’Dowd

A likable cast, cute kids, the guilty pleasure of gorgeous Manhattan & Brooklyn locations and sets and (at least for this single “middle-aged” childless gal) thought-provoking subject matter, all made for an emotionally honest, intriguing and enjoyable journey.

The Hunger Games…Didn’t Quite Fill Me Up

Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley,  Donald Sutherland

The highly anticipated film adaptation of Suzanne Collins‘ hugely popular trilogy of Young Adult novels has me questioning anew what exactly it is that makes page to screen work versus not…and whether I’m better off either NOT seeing the film if I’ve read the book (and liked it) or NOT reading the book and seeing the film instead.  It’s probably safe to say that in most cases, the book is far superior to the film adaptation…although now and again, they “get it right” and manage to convey the brilliance on the page in equal measure to the screen (the film version of Ian McEwan‘s novel Atonement comes to mind, as do most, if not all, of the Harry Potter series of films…)  But I digress, as obviously such a debate deserves its own separate discussion.

Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss Everdeen

Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch) and Lawrence

I just recently read ~ and enjoyed ~ The Hunger Games myself, (which, incidentally, seems made to be a movie).  Although Harry Potter it was not (will anything ever match that creative genius?), I did end up getting sucked into and invested in the characters and the (albeit dark, savage and morbid) story.  It’s still a bit difficult for me to grasp that material of this nature ~ kids killing kids, by force of their “government”, no less ~ was intended for such a young audience (heck, it’s heavy subject matter for any age).  Despite getting drawn into the dystopian world of Panem and growing quite fond of many of the primary characters/protagonists (Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, et al.), I’m still not sure I buy (or perhaps I just don’t fully understand) the reasoning behind (the NEED for) the Games themselves in this fictional landscape.  It is, as a good friend of mine who has yet to read the book or see the movie said as we were discussing the premise, “a hard pill to swallow” and I couldn’t agree more.  All of that said, I felt there was great potential for a film version of the novel and thus had high expectations.  And while parts of it worked, overall it fell short for me in capturing the emotion, feel and intricacies that the book did. Continue reading

Project Nim (2011)

Documentary by James Marsh

I’d wanted to see this documentary for quite some time, so was excited to finally sit down and watch it last night with a friend.  Sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment, I think in large part due to my dislike of the filmmaker’s documentary style.  James Marsh also made the critically popular documentary Man On Wire (chronicling tightrope walker Philippe Petit) about which I felt the same (more on this in a bit).  Project Nim documents the story of a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky who became the subject of a scientific experiment spearheaded by a Columbia University professor in the 1970’s.

What I expected to be a moving, emotionally engaging, intelligent account of our closest primate relative being raised among humans as opposed to its like species turned out to be a veritable freak show!  The majority of the “players” in the experiment came across as delusional oddballs who seemed more like they belonged on the Jerry Springer Show than at a higher education institution conducting experiments with an innocent primate in the name of science.  Continue reading

We Need To Talk About Kevin ~ Worth Talking About

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Tilda Swinton & John C. Reilly

Wow.  I am still reeling from this one…I think this is going to be one of those that really sticks with me long after I’ve seen it.  (Sidenote: I viewed this on 1/24/12 and now that I’m entering this review well after the fact, I can say with certainty that I was right!  It did indeed stay with me…perhaps longer than I’d have liked, which is, in my experience, truly an indication of its power.)

I knew going in that it was going to be disturbing and difficult subject matter, though not how it would be presented or play out.  Indeed it was horrifically harrowing, yet I was engrossed and engaged from start to finish.  Though it left some questions unanswered (and there were a few aspects with which I took issue), overall I thought it was a superbly-done and extremely well-acted film.

We learn early on that the son (the Kevin of the title) – and first child – of Tilda Swinton’s character, Eva, commits some sort of heinous act on par with a Columbine or other such violent school tragedy.  We are, bit by bit, led to the final reveal of that through both flashbacks and scenes set in the present day.  It does quite a nice job of building characters and setting the stage without revealing too much.  In fact, nothing quite prepares you for the extent of the tragedy that ensues…

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Pina ~ Poetry in Motion

Director: Wim Wenders

I made a special trip to a theater nowhere near my neighborhood (and in L.A., that really means something!) in order to see this documentary in 3D.  I’m glad I saw it, but my feelings about it shifted throughout the film…  

…the phrases that played (danced?) across my mind as I watched the film were…bizarrely brilliant, weirdly wonderful, and mystifyingly mesmerizing.  Just when I would begin to think that I wasn’t “getting it” or that it was just too avante garde for me, it would draw me back in and take my breath away.

Pina is a Wim Wenders film dedicated to the late, great dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009 (though we’re never told at what age or how ~ it’s only alluded to that she went suddenly or, as some of her dancers put it, “too fast”).  It is Bausch’s work that is featured primarily throughout the film, interspersed with snippets of “interviews” with her international band of dancers, which really only give us their experiences of her.  We never get any sort of biographical information about Bausch, of which I’d have liked more.  The interviews (and I use that term loosely), are unique in that they, in many instances, use few words, instead using close-ups of facial expressions (in fact, in a few cases, no words are spoken ~ all feelings regarding Bausch and each dancer’s experience with her are communicated solely through the faces of the dancers being interviewed).  It’s actually quite remarkable ~ and is perhaps perfectly fitting given the art form being celebrated: dance/movement in place of words to convey emotion ~ pain, love, longing, loneliness, loss, joy, laughter, even aging…

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