The Invisible Woman

January 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes (“Coriolanus”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”)

In a follow up to his 2009 directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” actor Ralph Fiennes returns behind (and in front of) the camera in “The Invisible Woman,” the story of literary legend Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his secret mistress, a school teacher named Nelly (Felicity Jones).

The performances in “The Invisible Woman” are one of the stronger elements of the film. Fiennes, who is a consistently strong actor, delivers again on the expectations of a solid leading role. As a celebrity like Dickens, Fiennes is able to channel not only the magnetic personality of a public figure, but the passion, intelligence and grasp of language that an author like Dickens would possess. Jones, who is still in the process of introducing herself to American audiences, is also good as Nelly. Where Jones succeeds is taking a relatively quiet and subdued character and finding areas to give her a dramatic performance. The character itself might be a little bland, but Jones does everything she can to elevate it.

The crux of the film relies on the relationship between Fiennes and Jones, a relationship humorously juxtaposed from their father/daughter relationship in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “Cemetery Junction.” While their relationship is spoken of in a lyrical and poetic sense, there are very few moments where we actually see their love for each other physically displayed. As a result, their romance never quite hits a fever pitch and the most affecting scenes come as consequences and results of their relationship, rather than the relationship itself.

The film is at its best in its portrayal of the unease of Dickens’ affair and its toll on those around him, such as scenes where his wife and his mistress interact, as well as the coldness Dickens had to display in an effort to keep suspicions about his affair quelled. Despite these strong sections and strong performances, the relationship between Dickens and Nelly never hits those moments of intensity and therefore comes off as occasionally dispassionate. As a result, and due to some slow pacing and general dullness, “The Invisible Woman” just narrowly misses the mark.

Shame

January 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) and Steve McQueen (“Hunger”)

Over the span of a year he’s played iconic comic-book villain Magneto in “X-Men: First Class,” classic literary character Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre,” and groundbreaking Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in “A Dangerous Method,” but it still took Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) showing off a little more than his acting ability to get some serious consideration this awards season. Not that Fassbender going full frontal in “Shame” was the only reason he’s received universal acclaim for his portrayal of a New York City sex addict. The role, which Fassbender nails with unflinching confidence, is meaningful to witness. It’s impossible to turn away from it.

While most warm-blooded Americans enjoy sex, clean-cut businessman Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) craves it like a heroin addict needs a fix. Brandon sleepwalks through each day – going to work, downloading ridiculous amounts of porn, and trolling the city at night for his next female conquest. At times, he doesn’t even have to make much of an effort. One seductive glance at an attractive red head on the subway and she’s practically having an orgasm in her seat. The life Brandon is accustomed to is disturbed when his equally troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment and triggers painful memories he’s always ignored.

In “Shame,” all those unearthed emotions are exposed brilliantly by both Fassbender and Mulligan, who through their brother/sister relationship demonstrate their lack of boundaries when inhabiting the same space. Director/co-writer Steve McQueen (“Hunger”) skirts the idea of sexual abuse or incest in their past, leaving the audience playing a kind of cinematic shrink.

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place,” Sissy tells her brother during one powerful scene. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) don’t reveal those nightmarish scenarios she’s referring to, instead focusing on the emotional destruction it has caused. What we’re left to watch is a damaged man whose addiction controls his lifestyle; someone who only finds contentment through physical pleasure. Retreating to a bathroom stall during the workday to masturbate, one might wonder if instead of coming, he should be crying.

Stamped with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, Shame does have its share of fairly explicit sex scenes all necessary in context. The sex, however, isn’t what should arouse intrigue. Fassbender and Mulligan deliver on each of these complex roles an artful take on the fear of intimacy. Together they explore a taboo subject rarely confronted in film and prove there are more important issues than just what’s happening between the sheets.

The Iron Lady

January 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“Shame”)

Call it Oscar grubbing if you want, but it’s not Meryl Streep’s fault that she’s so damn talented. Well, technically, it kind of is.

Still, when it was announced Streep would play former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a film that would cover the British politician’s life and career, it was almost guaranteed she would be a shoe-in for a record 17th Academy Award nomination unless something disastrous happened along the way. As Streep performances go, you can’t do much better than what she does with “The Iron Lady.” As biopics go, however, the film feels like someone is giving a history lesson using a set of sketchy CliffsNotes. While it certainly has the opportunity to be an inspirational take on one woman’s groundbreaking contribution to a nation, it instead transforms Thatcher into a tragic character with limited emotional trajectory.

While Streep’s presence makes a deep impression on the acting front, Thatcher’s does not from a narrative aspect. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in “J. Edgar” earlier this awards season, the mammoth-sized lead role overshadows what turns out to be a well-intended and compassionate — but ultimately misguided and uninspired — reflection on such an influential individual. Constructed through flashbacks, some of which come from the frail mind of Thatcher (who is introduced to audiences as a senile old lady advised not to leave her house alone anymore), it’s difficult to see why screenwriter Abi Morgan (“Shame”) makes these twilight years the base of the script. Thatcher constantly forgets she is no longer prime minister and hallucinates that her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) is not only alive and well but just as charming as he was when she first met him after graduating from Oxford. Alexandra Roach plays the young, opinionated Thatcher to a tee.

As the story continues through Thatcher’s rise through Parliament from Education Secretary to Leader of the Opposition, director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) and Morgan are not able to grasp the larger-than-life events and concepts that mark Thatcher’s legacy. Reference to the Falklands War in 1982 is reduced to stock footage and a couple of scenes featuring Thatcher in a war room possibly playing Stratego.

Despite the flaws in the script, Streep, as in her performance as Julia Child in 2009’s “Julie & Julia,” immerses herself inside her character with attention paid to the faintest of details. It’s scary how deeply Streep melds into Thatcher. Unfortunately, she’s really the only major asset here.