The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl movie poster

Release: Friday, November 27, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Lucinda Coxon

Directed by: Tom Hooper

The Danish Girl, at least at a glance, looks poised to pull a Dallas Buyers Club and receive recognition, and possibly even win top prizes for both leading categories next February. The field is getting pretty stacked though, and if Leo can just get a word in edgeways . . .

Even though he’s in the lead here, Eddie Redmayne recalls Jared Leto, who last year transformed himself from 30 Seconds to Mars vocalist to Oscar-deserving thespian on the back of his scintillating turn as a transgender prostitute. Even with Leto’s prior roles considered, the story of him becoming Rayon was one of the highlights of 2014. He couldn’t do it alone though as surely he fed off of Matthew McConaughey’s own intensity.

Similarly in The Danish Girl Redmayne is half the picture, entirely dependent upon the chemistry he shares with his Swedish co-star Alicia Vikander, who officially gives Marion Cotillard something to worry about. No longer does the race for first place in the Best Leading Lady poll seem like such a given. Vikander is arguably best in show in a film that will be remembered for heartwarming (and breaking) performances first and story second.

Slight in build but dapper in a suit, Redmayne is introduced as an upstanding but quite shy young man, a talented painter named Einar Wegener whose landscape portraits are fairly highly sought after. He lives in 1920s Copenhagen with his wife of several years, Gerda, herself a painter. The story is very much one that takes place behind closed doors, chronicling Einar’s transition from a man into a woman and becoming one of the earliest recipients of gender reassignment surgery, a journey inspired by Gerda’s insistence her husband stand in temporarily as a model to allow her to finish off a painting. He dons high heels and stockings, pretends to wear a dress and appears altogether comfortable doing so.

The Danish Girl isn’t made with impatient viewers in mind, nor purists who believe biopics have an absolute obligation to recount every single fact as they happened. Over the course of two hours the film massages an ache into a deeply seated pain, transforming a seemingly ordinary, loving marriage into a relationship fraught with doubt and tested to its very limits as Einar begins to more deeply embrace a new identity.

While there is strong focus on the moment, the film isn’t suggesting a simple game of dress-up was the moment the artist first realized something about them was different. Einar simply believes now more than ever he was born a woman and would prefer to identify as such. Gerda, meanwhile, has a difficult time accepting the game is no longer a game. Director Tom Hooper wisely introduces issues that had potentially been ongoing for years, such as the couple’s infertility problems, among other things. Einar adopts the name Lili Elbe to reflect another phase in her own personal evolution.

Lili also experiences chronic physical pain on a monthly basis, prompting her to seek medical advice. Of course, these are more austere times and as far as doctors are concerned, there’s something psychologically wrong with Einar for believing he’s been born a woman. Homosexuality isn’t exactly viewed in a positive light, much less the concept of a man (or a woman for that matter) identifying more strongly as the opposite gender. These circumstances were considered, at best, exotic fantasies generated by feeble or perverted minds. Supporting actors playing doctors may be on the fringe, but they contribute significantly to that sense of intolerance and it can be pretty uncomfortable.

Hooper’s weaving of fact with fiction works very well all things considered — there’s little mention of the couple’s marriage being annulled by Danish courts in light of Wegener’s groundbreaking surgery, and the real Lili underwent four procedures instead of the two the film implies she had. The Danish Girl blends two powerful performances with a keenly observed screenplay that places a premium on dignity and courage. This is an extremely human movie, perhaps presenting more layers to a single person than any other film this year.

The intimacy is palpable, and not just in terms of the performances. Danny Cohen’s camerawork deserves recognition, for he assembles a patchwork of beautiful shots of the natural world, a few the source of inspiration for some of Einar’s work, and life in romantic European cities such as Copenhagen and Paris. The Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic, where the surgeries were performed, looks like a castle cloaked in thick tree cover. Elegant cinematography expertly parallels the inner beauty the deeply conflicted Girl so desperately seeks.

Indeed, and much like Jean-Marc Vallée’s exploration of the societal stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS, this is a beautiful production in more ways than one, its committed performances so clearly sympathetic toward their subjects. Structurally sound but not particularly inventive, in its pursuit of the depth and complexity of the things that make people what they are The Danish Girl bears significant weight.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 5.04.20 PM

Recommendation: Another showcase for Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who is arguably better than her male co-star), The Danish Girl is putty in the hands of critics. Moving in the way that you deeply care about the fates of all involved. Dazzlingly shot. Some scenes are highly predictable and formulaic but there is no denying this is a winner. (All the same though, Eddie I’m sorry but my allegiance will still probably lie with Leo come February.) 

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “I’ve only liked a handful of people in my life, and you’ve been two of them.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Maggie

Release: Friday, May 8, 2015

[iTunes]

Written by: John Scott III

Directed by: Henry Hobson

In defense of a very deliberately paced, melancholic film misleadingly billed as a thriller, Maggie serves as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hour (and a half).

Of course, describing Arnie’s role here as the best thing he’s ever done may seem a relative compliment. There has been no shortage of instances in the past where he has invited parodical criticism without trying. Admittedly memorable, if not slightly comic phrases — most lasting no more than five words or so — have come to define the hulking Austrian and his career as an actor.

It’s just as understandable that many would automatically dismiss as fruitless any attempt he might make to go another direction; to not use his accent as a term of endearment or his muscular bulk, now slipping a bit in his older age, as a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to Henry Hobson’s directorial debut all that remains of the familiar Arnie is his larger-than-life physicality, but even that is somewhat tempered by Claire Breaux‘s suitably understated wardrobe selection.

Rather than obliging himself as some sort of perceived menace or spectacle he’s simply Wade Vogel, a father who must sit and watch as his only daughter succumbs to a deadly virus that converts the living into flesh-craving zombies. Broad shoulders slump; a tough face wrought with wrinkles brought on by wariness. A spirit broken by the knowledge that the ugliness of this apocalyptic event has hit home since Maggie was somewhere she should not have been.

Triumphing over the ubiquitousness of a zombie apocalypse is the love Wade has for his daughter (Abigail Breslin). The relationship is front-and-center, making the film steadily more challenging to endure. Maggie takes its time in tracking the virus as it takes hold of her, though the slow burn isn’t done any favors by the ‘thriller’ classification. There are as many thrills in Maggie as there are desperate pleas from Arnie for his family to get to a chopper. Still, where there isn’t much in the way of action and excitement there also isn’t really a place for it in this deeply personal examination of a family in crisis.

It almost goes without saying that Arnie’s young co-star delivers a heartrending performance as well. This isn’t quite as memorable a lead as her beauty pageant hopeful in Little Miss Sunshine, yet Maggie is a role she can be truly proud of. Breslin embraces a thoroughly challenging character arc, effecting a personality that’s easy to empathize with. Of course, she is a teenaged girl and this is the apocalypse, so who knows what she’d be like under different circumstances. That’s beside the point, though. Together, Breslin and Schwarzenegger make for a fantastic duo that instantly gives this story heft.

There is something to be said for Maggie‘s relentlessly bleak outlook. This isn’t a happy movie. A conclusion seen a mile away, there isn’t a great deal anyone (least of all Wade) can do except hope to be as prepared as possible when the illness takes over completely. A hauntingly beautiful score permeates deep, draped over many a scene like a dense fog, arguably contributing further to the sense of futility in fighting the inevitable.

Though the scene is a zombie outbreak, the allegory isn’t exactly hiding. Maggie’s torturous transition from human into something less than so — more accurately, Wade’s refusal to turn her over to the authorities, preferring to care for her as long as he can — undoubtedly reflects the strength of families afflicted by cancer and similarly devastating diseases. In that context especially, Schwarzenegger doesn’t seem to be the go-to guy. But he’s brilliant. He carries the burden of this tragedy so well it’s difficult to believe this was at one point (and soon to be again, apparently) the Terminator.

Recommendation: An emotionally devastating piece that doubles as a fascinating spin on the ever-popular zombie genre, Maggie isn’t for the casual watcher. This one takes a little determination, but the reward is watching Arnie transition from a physical to a true actor, and witnessing the chemistry he and the young and talented Abigail Breslin have together. That’s how I’d recommend the film: for great characters. I’d also recommend a couple tissues, they might come in handy. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Third Person

117247_gal

Release: Friday, June 20, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Putting it mildly, Third Person is a rather luke-warm rumination on romance whose title feels fairly appropriate considering how much the content likes to emotionally strand the viewer for over two painfully long hours. In fact the lethargic pace is such that it’s easy to get the impression the director really doesn’t care whether you’re occupying a seat or not.

Clearly working within a certain blueprint, Paul Haggis at best treads water with his latest entry, a trio of love stories taking place simultaneously in Paris, Rome and New York. Whereas ten years prior he was comfortable allowing his cameras to settle on moments of pure and unnerving racial tension in his Best Picture-winning Crash, here his commitment to painting reality like it is just doesn’t feel as inspired. The structural similarity also suggests possible creative burn-out on Haggis’ part, though the recycled formula is less of an issue as the quality of this final product.

What dooms Third Person more than anything is one doozy of a predictable denouement that can be all but seen coming from the film’s opening title sequence. It’s the kind of unimaginative revelation that sends up red flags as to whether Haggis even bothered. It is also the second suggestion that inspires the thought that this was a film made with no real discernible audience in mind. Perhaps its just catering to the audience with the least discernible tastes in romanticism.

Upon this chessboard of troubled relationships Haggis has placed several bland characters, ones slightly improved by the big names portraying them.

Liam Neeson is once again a hardened, scruffy tough man. . .well, a writer. . .named Michael, and Olivia Wilde is Anna, a woman with a dark history. They’re introduced to us in a rather surreptitious manner; indifferent camera angles lingering on a young, beautiful woman and her significantly older, more moody male counterpart passive-aggressively suggests something ain’t quite right with the girl.

The second pairing finds James Franco playing a successful artist, apparently named Rick (at the very least, we learn character names aren’t worth much in this universe), and who is having trouble with an ex of his who had attempted to hurt their son. Spotlight on a Mila Kunis who might not have ever achieved this level of irritating. Not even as Meg. Shut up, Meg.

The third relationship takes place in Rome and blossoms between Adrien Brody’s Scott and a mysterious Romanian woman named Monika (Moran Atias). The two bump into one another at a dive bar, wherein Scott, a clothing designer harboring a disdain for Italian fashion, learns that Monika is on the trail to meet up with her long-missing daughter who was kidnapped by a Russian gangster. Awkwardly ingratiating himself in the woman’s personal affairs from the get-go, this thread might be the most woefully developed and conceived of the three as Brody does his best to force something out of almost literally nothing. Ice-breaker conversation at the bar comes close to inducing an early nap time.

Whereas the other stories experience less boredom, the intertwining scenes that flip between Michael and Anna’s affair versus Rick and Julia (Kunis)’ troubled history instead just cause a headache and a good bit of confusion. One might be able to admire Haggis’ ability to thread the needle in certain spots — his delivery of certain heartbreaking pieces of information do indeed almost break the heart they’re so painful and twisted in their morality — but these brief spurts of brightness are perhaps the only compliments you can pay Third Person — noteworthy or otherwise. More often than not the multiple tiers of varied trust issues add up to nothing more than a rambling, incoherent mess. A more detailed review of it would start to feel much the same.

If 2004 was the Crash, well, we should have been prepared for the burn.

james-fucko

1-5Recommendation: There’s not a whole lot that Third Person presents compellingly. Love stories trend much the same way as the millions that have come before, yet the involvement of three stories punches up the intrigue factor just a little. But if I can recommend this film on a performance-basis, I see no reason to outright say ‘No’ to this. The actors do fine work. But the script and Haggis most certainly do not. May I recommend the rental. . .and then the very frequent scene-skipping to get to the good parts. Which basically involve Olivia Wilde. Okay, okay — and Liam Neeson.

Rated: R

Running Time: 137 mins.

Quoted: “I need you to look at what you did, I need you to face what you can’t face, and I need you to tell me the truth.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Gimme Shelter

110965_gal

Release: Friday, January 24, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Gimme Shelter finds Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson playing down their beauty profoundly as Hudgens goes from literal rags to riches in this powerful and emotional drama about life on the streets.

The High School Musical starlet ditches the cute smiles and glitzy performances at the behest of writer/director Ron Kraus and the considerably somber true story upon which this film is based. Twenty-five-year-old Hudgens takes on the challenge of overhauling her unreasonably good looks with her lead performance as Agnes “Apple” Bailey, daughter to abusive mother June (a virtually unrecognizable Dawson) and absentee father Tom (Brendan Fraser).

The film opens with a visibly troubled young girl giving herself a radical haircut, and barely escaping an apartment building with her life after being violently attacked. She manages to flee in a cab but has very little money so the driver throws her out onto the highway. From there, her journey only becomes more desperate and lonely as she attempts to find some way to escape the hostile streets of northern New Jersey. Her goal is to track down her father and seek refuge for a little while until she can, as she puts it, “get back on her feet.”

Her father, a big-time Wall Street executive, doesn’t know what to do when Apple (don’t you dare call her Agnes) shows up in his life suddenly. She’s hostile, perpetually morose, and somewhat confrontational, which might be expected given the fact that she’s bounced from orphanage to orphanage for virtually all of her sixteen-year existence. She is the definition of a walking tragedy. Even if Hudgens at times overplays the part, she’s never less than convincing and despite her prickly outer shell, we feel compelled to sympathize for her. . .although that’s not really what she seeks from anyone.

Feeling unwanted at Tom’s house after she reveals that she’s also pregnant, she again takes to the streets in an effort to. . . who knows. There’s little hope for sanctuary at this point in the story, and the complaints lodged against Gimme Shelter‘s stifling melodramatics start to seem justified.

This is the painful journey of a young girl hurting on a level few are going to be able to comprehend. Hudgens’ portrayal of Apple is like holding up a mirror to reality. What she represents is a truth for thousands, perhaps millions of youths who wander around in our midst, continually struggling to rise above their current circumstances. Hudgens’ performance (not to mention, a disturbing turn from Dawson) is compelling and cannot be ignored. However, despite the genuine passion of all involved, where things become a little unstable is in Kraus’ handling of the third act.

Given the substantial amount of time we spend watching her suffer, it stands to reason we are going to experience some sort of upswing. Something must surely go her way. Kraus certainly thinks that in order to offset the hopelessness experienced throughout the majority of this film, we’re going to need a soap opera-like finale. He is seeking balance, but it hardly comes across as such. What should feel like awakening from a nightmare, turns into something of a dream; an equally dramatic twenty minutes of Hollywood idealism on how this situation should always be resolved. The saddest thing is that so often it does not go this way.

In short, one of Apple’s largest personal issues is her inability or disinterest in cooperating with others; that all changes in the space of a movie minute. Granted, a few developments in this scene occur that drastically would change her outlook on life, but the time she spends with her latest caretaker (Ann Dowd) seems rather contrived and unrealistic. Considering her disdain towards all foster homes, her newfound joy in this place is random and doesn’t feel earnest.

None of this is to say that Apple (and the girl upon whom she is based) doesn’t deserve happiness but given the backstory, these kinds of struggles aren’t the kind one easily “puts behind them,” as Tom suggests in an earlier scene. Apply this to our moviegoing experience: we can’t exactly put all of what happens to the embattled girl behind us as easily as Kraus would like us to.

On the whole, and omitting some of the major design flaws in the story, Gimme Shelter packs a heck of a punch. It features some terrific performances that are going to be overlooked, simply based on the release date of this film. January is a month not known for quality releases, and while this film isn’t award-worthy by any means, it’s certainly not deserving of the critical backlash it has already earned. It’s hard to believe that this is Hudgens here, and ditto that to Dawson’s June Bailey. Her inexcusable behavior exemplifies Dawson’s dramatic abilities. Brendan Fraser factors in nicely as well, as does the iconic, booming voice of James Earl Jones.

He may have admitted to being Luke’s father, but he sure should be Apple’s as well; he’d make for a far better one than Tom.

gimme-shelter1

3-5

Recommendation: It’s not a movie of subtlety. Gimme Shelter uses a girl’s troubled youth as a platform to spread anti-abortion sentiment (a fact that I personally have no issues with, but you need to know it is there), and a need to start finding ways to serve the nation’s (and the world’s) underprivileged youth better. Moving beyond the B.S. of politics, there are wonderful performances contained herein that you should not allow yourselves to miss. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a pretty moving one.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “I’m okay; I’m not scared.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com