Tag Archives: carey mulligan

Challenge Week 51: Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

Lately if you ask me whether I’m into costume dramas and period films, I’d say nah, not really. And then something like this comes along and reminds me that actually, I am. I watched quite a bit of this kind of thing as a teenager – films based on Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, etc, and loved them, but for some reason I’ve kind of fallen off the period train, and I don’t know why, because there are lots of more recent examples I’ve loved too.

I’ve avoided reading Thomas Hardy (even in grad school, when I was, uh, supposed to read Tess of the d’Urbervilles and didn’t…shhhh) because I have a preconception of his work as pessimistic and depressing. But this film came across much more like Austen or Henry James than I expected, with Carey Mulligan as the independent young Bathsheba Everdeen who juggles three different suitors who offer her wildly different things. It’s kind of a cliche, I suppose (especially given how easily I can compare parts of it to other similar stories from this time period), but the whole thing worked for me like blazes.

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Heading to the AFI Film Festival 2011

One of my three big festivals of the year starts today (for me; the opening night premiere was J. Edgar last night, but I didn’t go to that), and there are a boat-load of fantastic films at AFI Fest 2001 Presented by Audi. Thanks to Audi’s sponsorship (among others), tickets are again free for all screenings this year, and if you’re in the LA area, there’s still time to reserve tickets to various screenings at the AFI Fest website. A lot of things are still available, other things aren’t right now, but they always release more tickets the day before the screening online, or at the box office the day of, or you can wait in the rush line and there’s a good chance you’ll make it in. The fest gathers the best of the other festivals throughout the year, with high-profile films from TIFF, Venice, Cannes, Sundance, SXSW and others showing up. Here’s the list of what I’ll likely be seeing (getting some major things I won’t be out of the way first). My main reviews will be going up on Row Three, but I’ll try to get festival impressions and capsules up over here as well.

All the trailer links open in a lightbox, so you won’t have to leave the site to watch them.

Big-Name Films I Won’t Be Seeing

Some of these are gala screenings I’d hoped to see but ended up not being able to get tickets, a few others are ones that fell to the vagaries of scheduling because as much as I wanted to see them, they were against ones I wanted to see more. The good news is most of these are going to be easily available in regular release within a few weeks, so it’s no great loss.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Béjo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
Country: USA/France
Synopsis:Silence is golden in director Michel Hazanavicius’ delightful and dialogue-less black-and-white feature about Hollywood’s bumpy transition from silent films to “talkies.”
My take: Let’s see, a B&W silent film made in 2011 set in Hollywood during the late 1920s? HELL YES. This movie was friggin’ MADE for me, and the fact that it’s gotten raves at every festival so far this year doesn’t hurt, either. Most anticipated not just of the festival, but of the year.

Carnage

Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Country: France/Germany/Poland/Spain
Synopsis:Razor-sharp and acidly funny, CARNAGE strips away the thin veneer of civilization to find the savage heart beating just below the surface. Adapting Yasmina Reza’s smash comedy play “God of Carnage” to the screen, Roman Polanski assembles a dream cast to portray two sets of New York City parents locked in a showdown after their children clash on a playground.
My take: Polanski plus these four actors piqued my interest already (as well as hearing very positive feedback from the play), but seeing the trailer sealed the deal. This looks HILARIOUS in the best way.

Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie
Synopsis: A searing examination of sexual compulsion, the film features two extraordinary performances. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a seemingly normal New Yorker trapped by his erotic compulsions. Carey Mulligan pivots 180 degrees from her sweet and vulnerable performance in AN EDUCATION as Sissy, Brandon’s needy, neurotic sister.
My take: This sounds both incredible and really hard to watch, at least it would be for me. I want to see it eventually, though, for sure, if only to see what is almost sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance from Fassbender.

My Week With Marilyn

Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Michelle Williams gives a luminous performance as Marilyn Monroe, ably supported by Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in this intimate portrait of the tragic Hollywood icon.
My take: Advance reviews from people I trust take the film down a few notches for being pretty much your standard biopic, reinforcing the legend more than looking at the actress, but have had nothing but praise for Williams’ performance. As a huge fan of both Williams and Monroe, that’s enough for me.

A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Merila Zarei
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, this drama is a complex portrait of an Iranian family torn apart by a divorce and an escalating feud.
My take: This is Iran’s official Oscar entry, and everything I’ve heard about it has been great. As I said above, I’m into Iranian film lately, but I’ve mostly seen the underground variety; I bet this is not one of those, what with the country choosing it to represent them at the Oscars and all.

My Planned Screenings

I likely won’t make it to quite all of these, because some of my schedule for later days is still a bit in flux. But they’re all at least tentatively on there for now. I’m also planning on hitting two or three of the short programs, but I don’t usually research those in advance, just fit them into my schedule as possible. I will recommend Shorts Program 1 if you’re attending the fest because it has The Eagleman Stag in it, which was easily the best short I saw at LAFF – it won the best short subject award at that fest, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come up for an animated short nomination at the Oscars.

Melancholia

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland
Country: Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy
Synopsis: Denmark’s most celebrated and notorious filmmaker returns with a drama about depression, severely dysfunctional families, and the end of the world.
My take: I’m generally a fan of von Trier, provocateur that he is, and if anything, this looks like his most accessible, most lyrical film in…ever, really. It’s getting praise even from people who don’t like him, while not losing the support of those that do. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

The Day He Arrives

Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Yu Jun-sang, Kim Sang-joong, Song Sun-mi, Kim Bok-yung
Country: South Korea
Synopsis: In director Hong Sang-soo’s sublime black-and-white vision of Seoul in winter, a filmmaker’s visit to an old friend reverberates with déjà vu-inducing parallels and repetitions.
My take: Hong Sang-soo’s HaHaHa was one of my favorite films of last year’s AFI Fest, so I was excited about this as soon as I heard about it a few months ago and was really hoping AFI would program it.

This is Not a Film

Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Starring: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Banned by Iran from filmmaking for 20 years and threatened with imprisonment, Jafar Panahi offers a remarkable portrait of an artist at the crossroads.
My take: I’m slowly gaining a thing for Iranian film, especially underground Iranian film (I’ve seen and enjoyed one at every festival I’ve been to so far), and though I haven’t seen any of Jafar Panahi’s films, I’ve certainly heard of some – The Circle and Offside are both well-known in world cinema circles. Filmmaking is risky in Iran, though, requiring permits and government approval – Panahi’s personal account of running afoul of the government is sure to be amazing.

Pina

Director: Wim Wenders
Country: Germany/France
Synopsis: Wim Wenders captures the world of choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance company in spectacular 3D with thrilling performances of many of her most famous works.
My take: I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but my best experience with it was Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams last year, and I think Wenders’ use of it in a dance performance piece could be amazing as well. Even the 2D clips in the trailer are pretty exhilarating.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Tilda Swinton gives a remarkable performance as Eva, a reluctant mother whose life is shattered beyond repair by her son’s Columbine-like atrocity.
My take: Personally, I don’t gravitate toward school-shooting movies, but everything I’ve heard about this one says that it’s far from your typical take on the genre, instead focusing on the parents in a way that almost turns the film into psychological horror.

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Review: Never Let Me Go

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[Rating:4.5/5]

Science fiction in the vein of Never Let Me Go is a rare thing – not showy or obvious, no aliens or space travel, no visible scientific apparatus, nothing really even explicitly stated. Yet the characters’ lives are utterly defined and guided by science fiction elements, and the kind of ethical questions implicitly explored are those of classic science fiction going back to Asimov and Wells, here told with a poignant humanism and thoughtfulness rarely found on the screen today. The way understanding of the characters’ situation gradually dawns as the story unfolds is part of the pleasure of it, so I’m going to try not to spoil it as much as possible. (Even though it’s been long enough now since release that if you’ve remained unspoiled, you’re kind of amazing and you should definitely go into this film knowing as little as possible – not because it depends on not knowing what’s going on, but because it just gives it that much more oomph and poignancy if you learn gradually along with the film.)

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up together at what seems to be an upscale boarding school in rural England, going through the joys and squabbles that any children do, but there are signs that things may not all be as they seem. We learn more about who these children are and what the school is as the story unfolds, but we remain firmly focused on their relationship with each other, especially as Ruth and Tommy begin dating, leaving Kathy a patient but longing third wheel. This is a story primarily concerned with relationships, but relationships that are predicated on and intensified by these individuals’ particular status in society.

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The film succeeds on nearly every level and doesn’t fall victim to the stifling over-faithfulness to it source material that I feared it might – Kasuo Ishiguro’s novel is a difficult one to adapt, and there is a lot of streamlining here, especially in straightening out Ishiguro’s meandering timeline and eliding a lot of the portions of the story not essential to the central relationship among the three children. This means there is much less time spent on Ruth as a child, which is perhaps the film’s one weak point. Keira Knightley does a fine job as Ruth, capturing her winning vivacity, occasional vindictiveness, and ultimate frailty well, but the character doesn’t seem as fully fleshed out as she is in the book. Carey Mulligan adds another great performance onto her CV, portraying the mousy but stronger-than-she-seems Kathy with great nuance and sympathy. And upcoming Spider-Man Andrew Garfield holds his own against the two women as the troubled Tommy. Sure, there’s stuff in the book that was great and is left out here, but the choices made are solid and make for a strong and coherent film.

Much like the novel, the film takes a matter-of-fact yet thought-provoking perspective on the central underlying fact that governs the character’s lives – never didactic nor preachy, but encouraging you to construct the rest of society (which exists as a sort of negative space against which our characters appear in sharp relief) and the ethical concerns that the film brings up but doesn’t answer. I love this way of approaching difficult questions, and I actually really appreciated Kathy H’s final few lines of dialogue, heartbreaking in their humanist acceptance of things which are both unacceptable and, within the context of the story, inevitable. The balance in the film, as in the book, is tipped well toward people rather than ideas, but that’s as it should be for this story, and it’s through the people that the ideas come into focus. It may be a little safe and comfortable for people who like their science fiction edgy and provocative, but that’s not what Never Let Me Go is, and what it does it does superbly.

Oh, and also – kudos to the casting director on finding a DEAD RINGER for Carey Mulligan to play young Kathy. And also, also, to Rachel Portman for her pitch-perfect score.

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