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Archive for July, 2015

Shame

The irony of Shame is that if director/writer Steve McQueen had given his main character, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a drug or alcohol addiction instead of a sex addiction, this film would have been taken more seriously. Viewers, take note: this isn’t a porno film dressed up as art film about angsty characters. This is a serious, compelling character study about a man in the grip of an addiction that gives him a “high”, but no pleasure.

On the outside, Brandon looks the part of a successful New Yorker. He’s good looking, well-groomed, has a good job, and a nice apartment in the big city. Inside, however, Brandon is falling apart. He needs his fix several times a day–at home, at work, it doesn’t matter–and his fix is sex, any way he can get it (masturbation, Internet chat rooms, one night stands, prostitutes, the seedy backroom of a gay nightclub). His addiction is taking over his life. While Brandon is the master of the mechanical sex act, true intimacy frightens him and he actively pushes away the two women who actually care for him (Marianne, the co-worker with whom he has a briefly affair and Sissy, his equally screwed up sister).

As Brandon, Fassbender alternates between predatory and desperate. In the opening scenes of the film, he flirts with a woman on the subway and then follows her off the train, much like a stalker. In another scene, he is involved in a three way with two prostitutes, but, far from enjoying it, his face is contorted in pain and despair. After a while, you come to dread the next sexual encounter since it’s like watching Brandon cut himself with a razor blade.

Let’s be upfront: yes, there is a lot of nudity in this film, but it has never been less sexy. Or, to put it another way, there are more “sexy” scenes in Jane Eyre where there is no nudity than there is in Shame although the latter has way more naked people.

Carey Mulligan plays Sissy, Brandon’s sister, a sometime jazz singer who’s as self-destructive as her brother. Nothing is explicitly stated about their childhood, but the implication is that they came from an abusive home. Brandon obviously cares about his sister, but he also deeply resents her clingy, dependent nature and her constant demands on him and that push-pull forms the basis of their dysfunctional family dynamic.

Steve McQueen (the British director, not the American actor) creates a largely silent film where the emphasis is on the actors’ facial expressions. There is very little dialogue and, in many of the scenes, the camera is in behind the actors furthering the sense of isolation. One of the underlying themes of the movie is the emptiness of a society where sex is ubiquitous, but true human connection is hard to find.

 

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Jane Eyre

I was eager to see this adaptation of Jane Eyre, in part because I wanted to compare with North & South (written by Charlotte Bronte’s contemporary and BFF, Elizabeth Gaskell) and in part because I wanted to prepare for Mia Wasikowska’s visit to similar Victorian Gothic territory in this fall’s Crimson Peak.

Unfortunately, in spite of solid casting, a good script, and beautiful cinematography, this adaptation falls flat in one critical area–the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester. There is simply no build up to their relationship and without that the entire premise of the movie–their love for one another and the dilemma that causes for both of them–collapses entirely.

Briefly, Jane Eyre is a Victorian Gothic coming of age novel. Jane, a genteel girl from an impovished background, has left her loveless home and miserable boarding school to come to Thornfield Hall as governess to Rochester’s ward, Adele. On the surface, everything seems fine, but Jane begins to suspect that something is very wrong at Thornfield. There are screams in the night, sightings of a mysterious woman walking the halls, and unexplained mishaps that no one wants to talk about.

Jane’s employer, Mr. Rochester, is one of the biggest mysteries of all. Rochester is moody and changeable–one day the agreeable lord of the manor, the next biting everyone’s head off. In spite of the difference in their ages (Rochester is a good twenty years older than Jane) and stations, Jane and her employer fall in love and plan to marry. But (cue ominous music) is Mr. Rochester hiding a dark secret?

As it happens, the answer is yes (and its a doozy). Can love conquer all or will Jane find someone else?

Jane Eyre is a great story, but I would recommend a different adaptation over this one.

 

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Saw something scuttle behind the bottom of one of the light poles as I was walking up to the library. As I looked closer, a vole darted out, we were both startled, and headed in separate directions. I’m not sure if there are more voles on campus this year or if they are just making more appearances.

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The other day I saw a squirrel rush out, bite the cap off of a newly emerged toadstool, and procede to chow down. Now I know why squirrels often act so squirrely: they’re high on mushrooms.

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I love Westerns and I’m always interested in seeing how modern filmmakers interpret the genre. First up is Slow West starring Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Slow West Poster

Kodi plays Jay Cavendish, a naive young Scottish aristocrat who travels to the American West in search of his true love, Rose (Caren Pistorius). Michael plays Silas, the outlaw drifter who is persuaded to act as Jay’s bodyguard. As they travel together, the two begin to bond–Jay starts to lose some of his cluelessness and Silas begins to question some of the decisions he’s made in his life. Unbeknownst to Jay, however, there are a gang of bounty hunters (led by Ben Mendelsohn) looking for Rose and her father. Can Michael and Jay find them before it’s too late?

This movie reminds me a great deal of Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s surreal Western allegory starring Johnny Depp. Like Dead Man, Slow West isn’t as interested in being a realistic depiction of the Old West as it is using the Western backdrop and characters to tell a modern fairy tale. While I don’t want to give away the ending, I can say that Slow West is much less of a downer than Dead Man is.

There are no happy endings in The Homesman, based on the book by Glendon Swarthout (The Shootist), and starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.

Homesman Poster

In mid-19th century Nebraska Territory, three women have been driven mad by the hardships of Plains farming and need to be transported back to Iowa, a month’s long journey. The feckless men of the community won’t do it so it’s up to Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), a gutsy spinster farmer, and a no-account claim jumper, George Briggs, that she rescued from hanging, to brave bad weather, brigands, and hostile Indians to do the job.

Although the movie never explicitly says so, the implication of the film is that the underlying cause of the womens’ madness is the cruelty, indifference, and incompetence of the men in their lives and the societal expectation that a woman isn’t really a woman unless she’s encumbered with one of these sorry bastards.  Mrs. Svendsen’s husband is abusive, Mrs. Sours’ young husband seems incapable of helping his desperate wife, and Mrs. Belknap’s husband cares so little about his wife’s plight that he won’t be bothered to leave his farm.

Even the resolute and competent Mary Bee is not immune to the social isolation of the Plains. Although men outnumber women in the Nebraska Territory and Mary Bee has an excellent and prosperous farm, she can’t find a husband among the social rejects available to her. The bachelors she attempts to court find her too plain and too bossy. It says something about the quality of her suitors that the most eligible men in this film are the Pawnee war party–and they’re more interested in her horse.

As I said, the film doesn’t have a happy ending yet it’s the film which has stuck with me the most over the past few days.

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Melissa McCarthy Goth

Had the same problem. Love the Goth style, but I’m too upbeat to make it work.

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Richard Armiage North South Meme

Couldn’t resist adding this meme from BBC’s North and South mini-series or, as I like to call it, the most unromantic romantic Victorian drama ever.

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