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.

Only God Forgives

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”)
Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”)

As much respect as a Danish filmmaker like Nicolas Winding Refn should earn for having the ambition to create something as polarizing and unique as the violent 2008 biopic “Bronson” with an unrecognizable Tom Hardy, and the 2011 art-house action film “Drive” with an always-smirking Ryan Gosling, there’s no reason any of his outings should ever be as purposeless and self-gratifying as “Only God Forgives.” Refn has made a movie for himself – a bizarre exercise in light, beautiful style and unnerving silence – and doesn’t seem to care if anyone else buys into the experience. Whether you enjoyed “Drive” on any level, “Only God Forgives” plays by its own set of absurd rules.

Reuniting with Gosling for the first time since “Drive,” Refn, who also wrote the screenplay, tells the story of Julian (Gosling), a drug dealer living in Bangkok who is coerced by his irritated mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) to search out and kill the person responsible for his brother Billy’s (Tom Burke) death. The all-too-familiar revenge set up never becomes engaging as we watch Julian, playing some kind of modern-day samurai warrior, creeping through the Bangkok underworld like he was waking up at home at 3 a.m. to get a glass of water. If a giddy, child-like Gosling annoyed you in “Drive,” here he replaces his million-dollar smile with a brooding look of resentment. That’s about all you should expect from Gosling, who spends most of his time starring into the distance, covered in an eerie red radiance or hiding in the shadows. Cinematographer Larry Smith (“Bronson”) does a fantastic job making Bangkok look like the most picturesque rat-hole possible, and composer Cliff Martinez (“Spring Breakers”) is once again on point with his electronic flair, but that’s just about as far as “Only God Forgives” can be commended.

The film is so aware of its own joylessness, it has nothing else to do but sulk in it…and then sulk some more. There not much else it can do with characters so thinly written and relationships that are emotionally nonexistent. Maybe that’s the point Refn is trying to make with a character like Julian. He is disconnected from normalcy and will only come out from the dark if he is forced. But Refn should’ve given audiences something to latch onto – a personality for Julian, perhaps, or a reason to care about his end goal. Instead, Gosling grimaces and glares. And we groan.

Easy Virtue

June 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Stephan Elliott (“Eye of the Beholder”)
Written by: Stephan Elliott (“Eye of the Beholder”) and Sheridan Jobbins

On paper, an era piece starring Jessica Biel just doesn’t look right. It’s like Cameron Diaz in “Gangs of New York” or Angelina Jolie in “The Good Shepherd.” It gets the job done, but seems incompatible and obscure.

Biel, however, proves that she can break past her well-known status as a Hollywood sex symbol to play an independent 1920’s American woman in “Easy Virtue,” an adaption of Noel Coward’s play of the same name. Here she flips a British aristocracy’s world upside down when she marries into their family.

Not only is Larita Whittaker (Biel) American, she also smokes, races cars, and speaks her mind no matter who’s around. Although somewhat endearing at first to a few members of the family (with the exception of the uppity matriarch – played by the wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas – who is offended even by her bleached-blonde bob), Larita slowly gets under everyone’s skin with her bubbly personality, vulgar opinions, and floozy-like reputation when her new hubby John (Ben Barnes from “Prince Caspian”) brings her to the family estate.

Larita, however, isn’t going to bend for anyone, including her spouse who has never worked a day in his life and is comfortable being catered to hand and foot while at home. What is supposed to be a three or four-day stay for the newlyweds turns into weeks. Soon, Larita realizes there really is no exit strategy from what she refers to as the “petrified circus” unless she plans it herself.

As a comedy of manners, “Easy Virtue” is mostly chippy and light on its feet especially when peppered with a very interesting soundtrack (a jazz version of Rose Royce’s 70’s hit “Car Wash” is one of the more ambitious song choices). There are few gags that run too long and other than Thomas, Biel, and Colin Firth, who plays the man of the mansion, everyone one else in the family blends well into the British countryside like all the other set pieces.

In the final act, debut screenwriter Sheridan Jobbins and director/writer Stephan Elliott (“Eye of the Beholder”) decide to turn playful sarcasm between characters into all-around revulsion. From here, “Easy Virtue” is no longer an energetic collection of zingers and quickly changes tone. It’s the darker turn where “Virtue” stops being a farce and makes a mad dash into melodramatic mediocrity. How very unbecoming.