Room

'Room' movie poster

Release: Friday, October 16, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Emma Donoghue

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

How does one begin to describe a film like Room? Do I write a poem? Do I send Lenny Abrahamson a letter saying ‘thanks?’ Do I wax lyrical about the emotional highs and lows only a film about a mother and son being isolated in a garden shed for years can provide?

Nah, not really. I’m not feeling any of that. What I do feel is that I’ve had the life force sucked out of me after watching this, the big screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel. If this is meant to be uplifting, it’s uplifting in the way One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was uplifting.

What I see in Room is an indictment of humanity; we are an unapologetically ugly species. I see relentless psychological torment, a young woman’s life pointlessly sent off the rails after she helped a man “and his dog” one fateful night. I see suffering not just in the moment but in the aftermath of a highly improbable escape from confinement.

Lenny Abrahamson devotes roughly half the running time inside a shed in the backyard of some nondescript home in suburban USA. This is where we first meet the characters, going about their day, interacting with each other and finding creative ways to pass the time. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) says hello to all of the inanimate objects he’s surrounded by upon awakening. Repressed anger be damned, ‘Ma’ (a never better Brie Larson) is going to make sure her son celebrates his fifth birthday properly.

Life is a certain way for these people. It doesn’t take much time or effort to realize it’s neither healthy nor normal. But after some psychological ingenuity on the part of Ma, life shall prove to be even more difficult on the outside. Indeed, there will be a transition, not just for the characters but for how we are able to invest in the performances. Given the novelist is also the screenwriter here, is it safe to assume the book is just as dull and arduous in the second half?

‘Room,’ as Jack calls it, is compelling in a morbid kind of way. Maybe all I need to say about this is Sean Bridgers. Given so little to do, the man effects a thoroughly despicable human being, an archetypal abuser who probably blames the economy for his being such a shit-bag. However he’s in the frame so infrequently he can’t take all the credit. In fact he’s pretty incidental compared to the weight of Larson and Tremblay’s performances.

If you’ve heard the word already, it is true: these are some breathtaking performances. Were it not for the depth of Larson’s commitment to pretending to be Tremblay’s mother, Room would be unwatchable. It is such a thoroughly depressing film, tracing the trajectory of that commitment as the pair are faced with an entirely new set of challenges. The real world is both exciting and maddening. Jack is the ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark room. At nine years old, the Canadian youngster is a revelation.

He informs the film’s deeply introspective narrative, professing his interpretation of the world around him. His descriptions give the film a jolt of inspiration; it’s better when Tremblay talks to us. When he’s not we’re like the psychologist who finds their first major breakthrough with a patient who’s generally been unwilling to talk about a past trauma. Those breakthroughs happen all too infrequently though, and we’re left with the difficult task of telling the patient that everything is going to be okay. We promise.

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Recommendation: Room proves an acting showcase for its young stars. And honestly, it is a credit to those efforts that I have reacted, perhaps to a great many’s surprise, somewhat unfavorably. That a film inspires an emotional reaction at all is one of the highest praises you can give a film. While recognizing Room‘s brilliance, it’s still ultimately not something I’d ever care to sit through again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “There’s so much of ‘place’ in the world. There’s less time because the time has to be spread extra thin over all the places, like butter. So all the persons say ‘Hurry up! Let’s get going! Pick up the pace! Finish up now!’ Ma was in a hurry to go ‘boing’ up to Heaven, but she forgot me. Dumbo Ma! So the aliens threw her back down. CRASH! And broke her.”

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

TBT: Fargo (1996)

Get the heck out of here, August. Take all your bad vibes with you. Not that this month has been a particularly bad one for watching movies, new and old alike. But, sheesh, would you just please get out of the way so the fall season can begin? And I’m looking forward to more than just good movies as well as lower temperatures — it’s soon the beginning of football and later, the basketball season. And then, the inevitable cold grip of winter. (Although I will say I don’t get to look forward to anything like my friend in the north Ruth does on that front.) Watching this movie today gave me a taste of what she may be dealing with within the next few months, so my thoughts go out to her. I’m thankful I don’t have to deal with the conditions found in

Today’s food for thought: Fargo.

Chilling out since: Friday, April 5, 1996

[DVD]

So Fargo is an odd one. Not purely because of the content — it is quirky and at times pretty uncomfortable, no doubt about it — but owing more to the fact I could barely react after finally undertaking the journey. High production values, coupled with the Coens’ affinity for quirking out and all that are qualities that I admire about it, but if I have a duty to actually love what I’ve watched, then I’ll have to force the feeling.

And yet, I’m not comfortable saying I dislike it either. I’m frustratingly indifferent to the whole thing. Beyond the peculiar accents that implied lots of vocal coaching for the principals, the wood chipper murder scene and Frances McDormand’s unflappable Marge Gunderson, there’s not much about Fargo that will stay with me. To further muddy the waters, I can’t disagree with its success at the 69th Academy Awards ceremony, being nominated for an impressive seven awards and winning two — one for its original screenplay and another honoring McDormand’s lead performance. In fact I see the film just as deserving of a gold statue for its subtle yet effective production design. That’s the trifecta of achievements that has earned Fargo its reputation over the last two decades, at least as I see it.

Do I blame the reputation itself for my own lackluster experience? Maybe a little, but then that kind of argument feels more like an excuse, an object for me to hide behind because     . . . well, you know, popular opinion can be a hell of a tide to swim against. Fargo is so very Coen-esque, but give me The Big Lebowski any day over the farcical trials of a few northern Minnesotans. Of the two dark comedies, bowling alleys made for a more compelling visual motif than a snow-covered highway. But I get the point. Fargo was never intended to uplift and inspire the kind of ‘happy’ laughter The Dude and his oddball friends do. Fargo is downbeat, its amusement derived from the ineptitude of many of its characters. That and the sheer hopelessness of the winter season.

When Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a desperate car dealer, hires a pair of thugs to kidnap his wife in an elaborate scheme to extort nearly one million dollars from her wealthy father (his boss), Wade (Harve Presnell), things go pear-shaped for the criminals, leaving Jerry in an awkward position between them and Wade, who is unaware the actual ransom is only $80,000. Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (a particularly nasty Peter Stormare) are transporting the wife when they’re unexpectedly pulled over by a state trooper just outside of Brainerd. The encounter turns ugly quickly when an enraged Gaear shoots and kills the officer and hunts down the unfortunate kids who happen upon the scene moments later.

“Looks like a triple homicide,” deduces a curious Marge the next day. And, yah, I get what is going on here, too. I’m supposed to be mesmerized by her very un-mesmerizing attire, a uniform of brown and gray, vivid when set against a never ending sea of white. No doubt about it, her presence is visually significant, a kind of modest icon who seizes every opportunity to provide the film (or more critically, viewers) a modicum of reason. Her intuition at the scene of this odd crime scene suggests that, aside from her doting husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch), the coalition for reason in Fargo is considerably weak.

I have a high threshold when it comes to films that are deliberately weird. I get along great with Lebowski, find something thrillingly disturbing in A Serious Man, and even accept characters who are meant to be enjoyed less than they are pitied, people like Llewyn Davis. The Coens managed to at least pique my curiosity even if their collaborative effort failed to fully engage me. Emotionally I was kept at an arm’s reach as I witnessed a crime story devolving into a mere battle of wits between Officer Gunderson and that slimy little Jerry fella. Performances from Buscemi and Stormare helped boost my enthusiasm — more so the former than the latter — and offset this sense of duty I felt for having to put up with Macy’s sniveling little scumbag of a car dealer. (Credit where credit is due, though: my frustration with his character is once again derived from his high caliber acting; if he weren’t good he’d have elicited no reaction from me at all.)

For a film that has been as lauded as it has over the years I exited feeling more or less unchanged, as if I were watching the movie with glazed-over eyes. I kind of feel guilty. While I will forever maintain that Fargo was robbed of a production design award — saying I exited feeling unchanged isn’t quite accurate actually, I just felt cold and lonely at the end — I feel similarly robbed, with expectations perhaps unreasonably elevated to insurmountable heights given its reputation as “an American classic.” What did I miss on my first visit? I suspect I’m going to have to go back and watch again because now the guilt is starting to feel a little more like paranoia.

Recommendation: Fargo is the Coen brothers at perhaps their most idiosyncratic. This is a production filled to the brim with strong performances and the filmmakers’ penchant for finding comedy in the funereal. Aside from McDormand’s policewoman I feel like there’s not much to recommend about this film, despite everything I have ever heard about it. But maybe I just need to sit down and give it another chance. Not exactly a prospect I’m looking forward to though. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

TBTrivia: The snow plow that drives past the motel at the end of the film was not part of the script. Signs in the area warned motorists not to drive through due to filming, but a state employee ignored 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 

Ernest & Celestine

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Release: Friday, February 28, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Ernest & Celestine may only be an hour and twenty minutes long, but within such a short time span a world is created that no viewer can possibly walk away from willingly. No, they’ll have to call upon the indie/arthouse theater bouncers to physically remove me from this theater seat! (And. . well, it looks like they are doing that right now so I’ll have to be brie. . . .)

The one word that perfectly sums up this adventure? ‘Adorable’ comes to mind. ‘Warm.’ ‘Fuzzy.’ Yes, these are all good. But the one that really sticks out:

‘Awwwwww. . . .’

Work with me, people. Onomatopoeia counts, especially if the film in question is an animated feature, because that’s the sound we make throughout most of these things. This one in particular is an English-language version of a French adaptation of a popular Belgian children’s book series. It tells the story of an intrepid little mouse, Celestine (voiced by the young Mackenzie Foy) who melts the icy heart of the big, lumpy bear Ernest (Forest Whitaker).

Neither of the two seem to really fit in to their respective societies: with the bears living above ground, and the mice being relegated to the network of sewage systems below. Each population must fend for themselves in a world dominated by fear and a hilarious misunderstanding of one other. Mice fear bears for bears love to eat mice, but the sheer irony of it is that bears are just as fearful of the little rodents they’d sooner throw their paws in the air and surrender than put up a fight.

Ernest is a poor bear who lives alone and is now having trouble finding any food to survive the winter that is officially upon his doorstep, so he scrounges his way through the local village in a feeble attempt at filling his tummy. Police aren’t having any of it, though, and justice is swiftly brought to the panhandling bear. However, Ernest and his problems aren’t the first things introduced to us. Instead, the film opens up and immediately immerses us in the underground society of mice, where Celestine is settling into bed for another unpleasant night at the orphanage overseen by a dreadful mousekeeper (yes, that’s a term invented by yours truly) mysteriously referred to as The Gray One (Lauren Bacall).

This misery of a mouse likes to tell her children all sorts of horrible stories about the bears, though Celestine is inclined to not buy into them. Her encounter with one in particular will affirm that indeed, not all bears are bad. In fact, they can be quite lovable.

As a member of a society that builds and chews things for survival, Celestine is studying to be a dentist. Her instructor, the Head Dentist (voice of William H. Macy), has taken a keen interest in Celestine, as she hasn’t been keeping up with her teeth collecting like all of the other students. He demands she go out and scoop up 50 in a single night. During this mission, Celestine finds herself in hot water when, in the process of taking a tooth from one bear cub, she is caught in the act and chased out of the house by the terrified bears. She proceeds to stuff herself into a trash can to sleep for the night, where she is later found by Ernest while he’s out looking for leftovers again.

From minute one, Celestine is intent on Ernest forming a different opinion of her, other than the one he probably already has thanks to his being a bear and all. But Ernest isn’t like most and would rather Celestine just disappear not because she’s a mouse but because he’s a grouch and prefers to be left alone. When the two find themselves wanted fugitives after breaking into a candy shop, Ernest has no choice but to put up with Celestine for the time being. He takes her back to his secluded woodland hut, where he at first puts her in the basement. . .below ground, where mice belong.

As days turn into weeks and weeks into months the odd pair’s bond only strengthens, with Ernest slowly warming to the mouse’s presence. . .after his initial reluctance to break the rules. And the little squeaky one is just happy that someone finally cares about her. Unfortunately, while all is bright in Ernest’s neck of the woods, the town has formed a search party (bear and mouse police forces remain segregated until a hilarious scene in which they all meet in pursuit of the pair) to arrest and jail the pair of perceived renegades. The proceeding adventure is incredibly endearing to watch unfold.

Joint directorial efforts from Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar ensure Ernest & Celestine is consistently charming, absorbing and gleefully funny. Imaginative use of animation, coupled with the film’s innocuous tone and subject, might make the film seem as if its catering to a young crowd. Yes, the film is relatively harmless, and yet there are larger themes at play here, even beyond the amusing comparisons to the outlaws Bonnie & Clyde. The friendship between the two animals certainly functions on the surface as an odd-couple dynamic. These characters are well-developed and well worth loving.

On the other hand, as the film develops, we see more than a. . e-hem. . .bare resemblance to the relationships in our world that often face judgment — relationships of a non-traditional variety. The beauty of the film is that it’s open-ended in what qualifies for ‘non-traditional;’ defining what these are doesn’t matter, but recognizing the parallel does. This is a concept that children won’t necessarily pick up on while watching mice and bears running around on a beautiful watermark palette. But the allegory is as obvious as a bear caught in a mousetrap.

silliness

4-5Recommendation: A great little escape that features a terrific voice cast who turn in endearing work. There is no harm in bringing the kids along for a family viewing here, but a wide audience ranging from the single adult to the young married couple truly benefit more from some of the story’s subtler suggestions about coexisting in a judgmental and often misinformed society.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 80 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know the story of the little mouse who did not believe in the big, bad bear. . .?”

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