Friday, January 27, 2012

Fassbender's Oscar snub is a shame

The taboo subject of sex addiction has been explored several times in the past, i.e. Showtime's Californication, American Psycho or the 2005 documentary I Am a Sex Addict, all of which portrayed it in a light-hearted manner. Shame is different. It's not a pretentious P.S.A. style narrative about the obvious hazards of addiction, nor does it intend to fully dissect or define sexual addiction. It explores something much deeper. It intends to portray one man's negative path of shattered emotional disconnection through his vices.

Much like in American Psycho, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a businessman living in New York, wearing the facade of a normal 30-something-year-old, but concealing some serious peccadilloes (minus the murdering thing). He has good self-control, able to work steadily during the day and release his demons (no pun intended) in a seedy night club, or sometimes even at work. He occasionally comes across a few slip-ups (ever hear of a USB drive?), but nothing he can't smooth talk his way out of. That is until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) temporarily crashes in his apartment. Both share an awkward and apparent distant connection. They're both broken internally, but as much as she tries to reconnect with her brother, Brandon pushes away because it's obvious they share the same dark and concealed past that led him to his current state.

It's not a film about sex addiction, Brandon's addiction is the result of some past trauma the audience is left in the dark about. To say his character has relationship issues is an understatement, his emotion-void sexcapades--which there are plenty of--are testament to that. And in case you heard George Clooney's comment about Fassbender at the Golden Globes--he wasn't kidding. But I digress. As devoid Fassbender is of emotions in his racier scenes, he is able to produce some emotionally-packed scenes and one of the best performances of 2011, without a doubt.

Written and directed by Steve McQueen (not the one you're thinking of), he wastes little space in his film to get his point across. New York City was the perfect setting. A dimly lit restaurant, a shady downtown sidewalk and dark bars add the notion of an unclear mindset, a dark past Brandon is suppressing, waiting to re-submerge into light. But McQueen is technically savvy here, he shows us little of Brandon's past, only in emotional breakdowns and close-ups of his facial expressions. We know nothing about how Brandon came to be how he is, but as long as we watch for McQueen's technical cues, there's little need. In one scene Mulligan's character sings an original song. We don't need a thorough background, we deduct from the lyrics more-or-less what's happened. These scenes can stretch for a few minutes, but they perfectly execute the point.

Mulligan, known for her smaller independent roles, hasn't failed to impress yet. However, as fearless as her performance was, it lays in the intentionally dark shadows of Fassbender's performance.

 Harry Escott adds a hauntingly poignant score, appropriate to the film's theme.

It is a true shame some prestigious film institutions could not recognize an amazing performance from Fassbender, perhaps it was the taboo theme or the NC-17 rating? Either way, all I have to say is: Fuck you Academy!

Raing: A

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Old Cinema rising in contemporary Hollywood

It has no color, no big spectacle of CG or special effects; other than the score, little to no sound, and it doesn't have Tom Cruise in it; yet it's arguably one of the best films of 2011.

Cinema has been revolutionized since the early 1900's, with inventions like animation, 3-D, digital projections, color and sound. The way audiences experience movies is changing year-by-year and growing within this digital era. The next step would be something like 4-D. We can wait another 15 years for James Cameron to develop that or we can look to the past to remind ourselves of how far cinema has come and pay tribute.

Michel Hazanavicius does just that in his latest film The Artist. Much like Scorsese's Hugo, The Artist also pays tribute to black and white cinema. Where Scorsese paid homage to the birth of film and early directors, Hazanavicius focused on the late 1920-30's when sound was introduced to film.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent-film star at the peak of his stardom. Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is a lively 20-something trying to make it in Hollywoodland. After a much publicized run-in with one another, Peppy ends up as an extra on Valentin's latest movie set. The chemistry between them can't go unnoticed, but the two part ways for he is a married actor on the cusp of his career and she is just fighting to get noticed. 1929 was a huge year for film, with the introduction of sound in The Jazz Singer, or 'talkies' as they were coined. This is problematic for George, he believes this is a "phase" and continues acting in and directing silent pictures, but as we all know this "phase" has lasted almost one-hundred years. As his career dwindles down, Peppy's is thriving and soon becomes the next "it-girl." George is now struggling to get noticed on the streets and Peppy is hurting to see the man she has always admired at such a low-point; the question is can the two find happiness again?

You can call it a love-story; the women crying in the row in front of me, in the theater, certainly would have. Or you can look at the respectively paid acknowledgement to early cinema, like I did. For movie-lovers it's an egg-hunt to search for those marks of respect. It's easy, the film is a homage to black-and-white, silent pictures. But if you're a cine-phile, you'll easily pick out the opening scene's praise to Metropolis, how a later scene parallels to a famous low-key lighting scene in Citizen Kane and pick up on a quote from Grand Hotel, not to mention a score inspired by Vertigo.

Never mind Kim Novak's obvious dislike, this film respectively gives thanks to such films and most importantly--is such an entertainment to watch. Dujardin's gives a superb performance as an actor trying once again to rise in an age of sound. His dramatic scenes are punctuated by the lovely Bejo whose enthusiasm radiates off-screen. The only show-stealer is perhaps the amiable Uggie the dog (Water for Elephants).

I can't go without mentioning Ludovic Bource, whose score effortlessly carried the various moods and tones throughout a film with almost no talking in it. For a film that showcased the early days of film, with no sound, it also demonstrated how far music has revolutionized cinema today. I'm going to take my chances now and say this film wins Best Picture at this year's Oscar's (or at least, I hope).

Rating: A

Friday, January 13, 2012

Top 11 of 2011

Here's my list of the top 11 films of 2011, along with the worst and some mentionables.*

Top 11 (in no particular order):
Worth Mentioning:
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Terri
  • The Future
  • Limitless
  • Horrible Bosses
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love.
  • Water for Elephants
  • Hanna
  • Like Crazy
  • Rango
  • Another Earth
  • X-Men First Class
  • Win Win
  • Super 8
  • Beginners
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • A Dangerous Method
  • Jane Eyre
  • Hugo
  • Take Shelter
  • Ides of March
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • The Help
  • My Week with Marilyn
  • Young Adult

  • The Darkest Hour
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I
  • Paranormal Activity 3
  • The Three Musketeers
  • 30 Minutes or Less
  • Bridesmaids (yes, one of the worst!)
  • I Am Number Four
  • The Rite

And of course the most disapointing:
  • The Descendants
  • Tree of Life
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Thor
  • War Horse
  • Carnage

*These films are subject to change, as I have yet to see many films of 2011 (curse you Netflix). Be sure to check back in a month for a more updated list. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Von Trier manages to attract and not repulse

Its ominous presence looms closer with each passing day and consumes with an insatiable appetite every ounce of energy within its range.

The planet that targets Earth and threatens its inhabitants is not the only antagonist in Lars von Trier's latest film Melancholia.

Known for his relentlessly dark and cynical films, like the 2009 sacrilegious Antichrist, von Trier indulges us with the same depressing tone in this drama centered around a family who deals with a family member's mental illness, all while preparing for a cataclysm between their earth and a passing planet--Melancholia.

Kirsten Dunst leads this film, playing Justine, a bride with a morbid personality trying to get through her wedding night without wasting away into her miserably contagious attitude towards everything and everyone. This includes her husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) who holds hope she'll pull through. Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is the gentle-natured character who cares for Justine, but worries for her own sanity when Melancholia fails to recede from its trajectory towards Earth. Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, John Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland round out this A-list cast.

The plot makes you depressed just reading about it, but leave it to von Trier to bleed out any speck of hope or possible pleasure. I'll never look at musicals the same way after Dancer in the Dark. But there's something special about this film compared to his others. For one thing, it actually makes sense, or rather as much sense as you'll make out of any of his other films. One thing you'll never be while watching a von Trier film is bored. He employs symbolism and metaphorical images in almost every scene. Melancholia explores the mind's psyche and the paranoia associated with it. It delves deep into the issue analyzed in this film and more than anything is original.

Consistently overlooked during award season, I'd like to see this film get a few nominations, at least in the acting categories, i.e. John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling. If you have yet to see any of his earlier work, let Melancholia be your gate-way film. It'll give you context of what von Trier is about and at least an appreciation for his originally dark storytelling. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Rating: A-