Strange Bedfellows on Sunday Nights

Ever since the heyday of The Sopranos, HBO has conned me into appointment television on Sunday nights.  It’s the only night of the week I watch TV religiously.  Over the years when my favorite HBO show has been on a long hiatus or they occasionally produce a dud (John From Cincinnati, I’m looking at you, lame surfer dude!), AMC and Showtime have been there to pick up the slack.  Sometimes two great series will be running at the same time…but not since Mad Men and Dexter ran parallel seasons a few years ago have there been stranger back-to-back bedfellows on Sunday nights than The Killing (on AMC) and Game of Thrones (on HBO). Continue reading

Making the Case for Susanne Bier

Danish director Susanne Bier allows her work to speak for itself...if you would just take the time to watch and listen.

Interconnected stories, family secrets, dead or absent parents, broken relationships, emotional distress, and people struggling to reconcile the stubbornness of their ideals with the harsh nature of their realities — these are the recurrent themes in the works of Susanne Bier.

Danish auteur Susanne Bier is the greatest female director working today.

There, I said it. And why do I have to qualify my statement by pointing out that she is a female director — why can’t she just be one of the greatest directors working today? Well, I would argue that she is. But female directors often don’t get a fair shake. Let’s be honest. It’s a man’s world out there, especially when it comes to directing and producing films. Also, while female directors are just as capable of honing their own unique styles as their male counterparts are, they often have a harder time expanding their horizons outside of the niche they build for themselves. Hence we have Sofia Coppola seemingly lost inside the dreamy world of privileged princesses, Nicole Holofcener quite pleased sticking to her astute dissections of bi-coastal bourgeois guilt, and glass-ceiling breaker Kathryn Bigelow hellbent on directing almost every film as if it was a personal f-you to her ex-husband James Cameron and all the big boys out there who think women can’t direct from a man’s point of view.

Meanwhile, male contemporaries of Bier’s like Lars Von Trier or Joe Wright create visuals just as experimental as Bier but have consistently applied their signature avant-garde styles to films across genres and outside of any niche (though one could make an argument that lately Von Trier has been trapped inside his own personal hell). Wright’s ability to put his stamp on films as seemingly disparate as Pride & Prejudice and Hanna is something no female director I know of has been able to do (which isn’t to say they can’t).

All that aside, I’ve never met a Bier film I didn’t like…a lot. In many ways she does for family melodramas what Christopher Nolan has done for crime thrillers. In fact, she seems to enjoy repeatedly killing husbands (see plotlines below) with as much relish as Nolan enjoys killing wives.
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Shooting Circles Around the Heart of Joe Wright’s Hanna

"So this one time, there was this girl named Hanna, and she was like a super freak, but still totally cool, even though she killed people and stuff."

Hmmm…who knew?  That Joe Wright is quite mad, isn’t he?

In his fourth film, Hanna, director Joe Wright shatters all sensible expectations.  It’s almost as if this (and not the regally refined Pride & Prejudice) was his first film.  Or could this be the first Joe Wright film?  Maybe the rest were compromises, and it is here where he throws everything and the kitchen sink at us and begs, “How do you like me now?”

The art-house action film is a rare breed indeed.  Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run are probably the most well-regarded.  Hanna, about a teenage girl/uber-assassin out for revenge, will likely join the ranks of those two and in some ways surpasses them.

So in this demented girl-power, Euro-trash, Clockwork Orange-esque, quasi-futuristic, 80’s-retro-ish, techno-club music, beat-boxing kaleidoscope of a film, what does Joe Wright throw at us?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Here’s the laundry list of treats (potential spoilers ahead) in store for audiences who take on Hanna: Continue reading

Sidney Lumet Dead at 86

Legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet (1924-2011), whose cinematic depiction of his hometown of New York is rivaled only by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen in terms of lasting and prolific impressions, passed away in Manhattan on Saturday, April 9th, at age 86 from lymphoma.

You can’t say the man didn’t have a long and fruitful life, as he directed films for over half a century from the 1950’s all the way through the 2000’s, with successful stints directing stage and TV as well.  I had feared for a while Lumet might be near the end as the workaholic who never turned down a job had no projects in the works since 2007’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which I initially named as the second best film of that amazing year behind only There Will be Blood.

For me, Lumet will always be remembered for directing one of my top five favorite films of all time – Network. Continue reading

Tales of Woe

In a telling bit of dialogue about a fourth of the way through Cary Fukunaga’s impeccably directed adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a brooding Rochester (Michael Fassbender) asks the alarmingly beautiful Jane (Mia Wasikowska) to tell him her tale of woe.  You see, all governesses have tales of woe.  They make great stories.

While Jane Eyre targets the refined literary crowd with its tale of woe and romance, the surprisingly adept but still a bit creaky contemporary haunted house tale of woe, Insidious, targets the not-so-fickle horror crowd.

Mia Wisakowska bewitches in Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre.

Nineteenth century feminist literature is not typically my cup of tea.  I’ve not read Bronte’s tale.  Nor have I ever seen any previous film adaptation, and they are legion.  But like the works of Shakespeare, I know the story.  Rave reviews, including a most excellent piece from Wonders in the Dark‘s own Sam Juliano, peaked my interest.  Superb production values, understated but quietly sweeping cinematography, and a note perfect score from Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli help make this a world-class endeavor.

But the greatest appeal of this latest adaptation (apart from the uniformly excellent performances) is Cary Fukunaga’s direction.  Continue reading