Battle of the British Biopics: Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game

Below is The Spin on three end of the year awards hopefuls…all British biopics about tortured geniuses that when viewed together represent the best and worst of classic Oscar-bait.

Mr. Turner

First up is the finely pedigreed Mr. Turner from Academy darling writer/director Mike Leigh detailing the waning years of famed eccentric proto-Impressionist maritime artist J. M. W. Turner.  The film contains a lot of what one comes to expect from a Leigh project: Timothy Spall superb in the lead role, gritty yet refined attention to realism, fantastic supporting turns from a sometimes improvising cast, and excellent dialogue (the dark, dry, British humor runs delightfully amuck here).  The film also contains some surprises, most notably the perfectly lit cinematography from Dick Pope who photographs the film like a moving painting, masterfully capturing the scenes and environments (the approach of a retired warship he would later paint coming into harbor while Turner and his friends row out to meet it is fantastically rendered) that inspired Turner’s art. Continue reading

Weird Films I Have Seen

Three weeks…three really weird films from Netflix focused on three (or more) psychologically disturbed women.

Where do I even begin?  Let’s start from the beginning.

The Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodovar

Remember the episode of Seinfeld where George was dating the woman who looked like Jerry and Kramer was far too eager to diagnose the “perverse sexual amalgam” and “George’s man-love for a she-Jerry?”  Ah, funny stuff, right?  Good times.  Good times.  Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is kinda like that episode of Seinfeld only imagine George is a renowned plastic surgeon (played by Antonio Banderas) with a deeply personal motivation for creating the perfect skin-graft for burn victims and his girlfriend is the man who raped his suicidal daughter whom against which he holds a fetishistic vendetta.  Wait…what?  No…that’s not right. 

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is like David Lynch’s Lost Highway re-imagined by a hysterical Spanish woman with a gender-identity crisis.  Yeah…that’s it…that’s the ticket.  Or maybe not. Continue reading

Duh, Winning! – In the Cinematic Doldrums

Despite last year’s anomalous presence of standouts like Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer, late winter and early spring are typically the cinematic doldrums, unless you like animated kid’s stuff.  This year seems even more vacuous than usual, probably due to the high quality of left-over “I’ve seen it already!” Oscar fare and the still fresh memories of last year at this time when things weren’t so bad.  But in a multi-media age, one need not look far and wide to find ways of “Sheening It” and winning, duh!  Here are three very different films (Cedar Rapids, Never Let Me Go and Carlos), available through different venues that, for better or for worse, all have tiger blood running through their veins.

In Theaters:

Anne Heche, your career was in free-fall? Don't worry, we gotcha!

Cedar Rapids – Successfully combining the “Dumb Guys Gone Wild” humor of films like The Hangover with the contemporary societal mirror-holding of films like Up in the Air while channeling it all through the gentle “family is whoever you want it to be” humor of Springtime quirky-indie comedies ala Little Miss Sunshine, Cedar Rapids quietly fires on all cylinders and wins.  Continue reading

Doubt and Revolution Plague The Duchess

SPOILER ALERT:  Her hair does catch on fire!

With the debates and baseball playoffs still holding most of my attention, films have had to take a backseat.  So I’m eschewing my traditional review format here for the moderately successful The Duchess.  Saul Dibb’s “inspired by a true story” costume drama about the Duchess of Devonshire is a fairly entertaining run-of-the-mill feminist bodice-ripper.  It’s one of those movies impeccably shot, full of costumes and pageantry, and featuring A-class acting that is hard to dislike, but just doesn’t have that special “it” due to our familiarity with this stereotypical story of a woman of immense wealth and power who is forced to chose between her true feelings and what society demands of her.  In the titular role, Keira Knightley acts the hell out of her part, and for the first time, seems to fully inhabit that old-school “Movie Star” mold.  Ralph Fiennes, as the Duke, delivers a master-class in the portrayal of an elitist creep.  It’s another classic turn from the chameleon-like British thespian who really should have had an Oscar on the mantle a long time ago.  Featuring hearty doses of smarmy satire and stuffy 18th-century social mores, The Duchess is no Barry Lyndon, but it fits the bill as an HBO-style production of Masterpiece Theater.

However, I couldn’t help but think the best things about this recent trip to the cinema were the trailers, and thoughts of the film teasers oddly plagued my devouring of the main course.  Yes, there was the preview for Oliver Stone’s inexplicable W (opening next week) which looks funnier and funnier with each new TV spot.  But there were also two subtly thrilling trailers for some prime-time Oscar bait:  In one corner, we have what looks to be a stunning film adaptation of a controversial stage-play that touches on the Catholic abuse scandals among other heady topics starring a habited Meryl Streep, a frocked Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a perfectly cast Amy Adams as a naive nun.  I have faith no art-house film buff will want to miss Doubt.  In the other corner is Sam Mendes seemingly stirring and evocative adaptation of Richard Yate’s novel, Revolutionary Road, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a young couple on the brink of emotional ruin in a 1950’s suburban purgatory.  The cinematography and the acting in this, as in Doubt, looks to be amazing.  While a perfectly adequate The Duchess will quickly fade from memory, these two films, based on their trailers and pedigree, look to be the type that viewers and critics will write home about at the end of the year.  I can’t wait.

To watch the trailers, visit:

W:  http://www.wthefilm.com/

Doubt:  http://www.apple.com/trailers/miramax/doubt/

Revolutionary Road:  http://www.revolutionaryroadmovie.com/

CAPTION:  Thank god we’re off that sinking ship!

A Review of Joe Wright’s Adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”

(01/04/2008) I rarely do this, but I felt compelled after a second viewing of Atonement to admit where I may have been off base with my initial review.  I judged the characters rather harshly, but on second look felt them worthy of forgiveness from the audience.   I was especially unfair to Keira Knightley.  Her emaciated appearance adds a bizarre element to her character in that it could be viewed as a physical manifestation of her character’s lovesick nature.  She loses herself and her body in this role much like Christian Bale did in The Machinist and Rescue Dawn.  There were also certain nuances in her body language and performance I witnessed the second time around that made the film richer and more emotionally complex.  Joe Wright’s camera adores Keira, lingers on her unique features, and makes her a far better actress. I also found the ending, which at first look seemed all too clever, to be a fitting conclusion and mirror of the film’s greater themes that honored the source material from Ian McEwan.  Atonement is a brilliant and haunting piece of work.  I still can’t get the Dunkirk tracking shot out of my mind.  The rest of my original review appears below unabridged. –DHS

Suite Britianna, 10 December 2007
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A budding young writer named Briony witnesses an innocent act she doesn’t fully understand between her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and long-time family servant Robbie (James McAvoy) one restless summer day on her family’s lavish country estate in 1935 England that leads to scandal in Joe Wright’s dreadfully sumptuous adaptation of Ian McEwan’s international best-selling novel, “Atonement.” Four years later, all three characters try to find their own personal sense of peace or redemption during WWII.

This brief synopsis does nothing to explain the intricate complexities of the plot and actions that take place. Although Keira Knightley’s performance is slightly off-putting due to the fact she appears like she just escaped from a concentration camp (surely young British socialites did not look like this in the 1930’s), the stunning cast shows full range here racing through curious emotions: spite, lust, recklessness, and selfish wanton abandon. The facial expressions, especially from the children in the early scenes on the estate, are priceless. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic as they are often vain, self-absorbed, and quite silly in their drama, but they are fascinating to watch. The first third of the film is played like a “Masterpiece Theater” production of “The Great Gatsby” as seen through the eyes of Nancy Drew.

However, what makes “Atonement” soar is the impeccable direction of Joe Wright. He makes the most audacious coming-of-age as an auteur since Anthony Minghella delivered “The English Patient” back in 1996. Wright displays a near Kubrickian mastery of sound effects (notice the strikes of the typewriter keys) that transition from scene to scene and often bleed into the amazing score from Dario Marianelli. Wright also crafts a finely textured mise-en-scene that visually translates McEwan’s richly composed story onto the screen with near note perfect fashion. Nothing can really prepare you for how well directed this film is until you see it, and the scene of the three soldiers arriving on the beach at the Dunkirk evacuation is one of the greatest stand alone unedited panning long shots ever captured on film. It left me gasping.

That scene leads to the heart of the film. The often clichéd romance at the core is trumped by Wright’s depiction of Robbie, a single man forlorn and obsessed, his dizzying inner turmoil reflected against the grand canvas of a chaotic world at war. Likewise, Briony’s redemption comes not in the too-clever conclusion at the end of the film, but in the intimate and symbolic confessional at the bedside of a dying French soldier. These moments leave lasting impressions, and left me imagining that if Joe Wright were to ever adapt Irene Nemiorovsky’s “Suite Francaise” onto the silver screen, he would knock it so far out of the park it would leave “Gone With Wind” spinning in its gilded Hollywood grave.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0783233/usercomments-93