Mildred Pierce, the five-part HBO dramatization of the acclaimed… MoreMildred Pierce, the five-part HBO dramatization of the acclaimed novel, is a unique miniseries unlike any I've seen. Set in the depression era, it follows the rise and 'fall' of Mildred Pierce, an ambitious, independent woman, who finds herself starting a thriving business. All the while, she tries desperately to get the approval of those around her, namely her narcissistic, privileged, and highly manipulative daughter. It's a series that examines love, class divisions, social norms of the 30s, and our propensity for self delusion.
The execution of Mildred Pierce is an interesting one. The series took a while to become enthralling for me, as I was unsure of where the piece was going, caught off guard by some of the antiquated dialogue, and confused on what the film was trying to say. The beauty of this series, however, is that through the unfolding five parts, we see an organic transformation of the story and the characters. It feels ever so real, and, by the end, becomes completely absorbing.
As a character study, I found the series to be largely fascinating. The dynamic between Mildred and her daughter, Veda, is unlike any I've seen depicted. Veda's self-absorption is so over-the-top, it does occasionally border on unbelievable. Yet here we have characterization so uncomfortable, we can't help but confront it. Veda misconstrues everything around her, constantly looks for slights that don't exist, always trying to create a victim mentality despite having a privileged life and a devoted mother. The pains Mildred goes through for such approval is staggering, and heartbreaking. In the end, Veda's abhorrent behavior seemingly poisons those around her, leaving Mildred awash in betrayal and abandonment.
Overall, it's a series that deserves to be watched, and one that will undoubtedly leave an impression.
Having not actually read the source material or seen the countless… MoreHaving not actually read the source material or seen the countless other adaptation of Jane Eyre, one can only judge it based on what it accomplished, and against the genre that it's a part of. As a 19th Century period piece, Jane Eyre is a successful film. It's very well executed at most every level, with excellent production values, world building, compelling performances, and a mostly engaging narrative.
I say mostly engaging, as the film does get a bit dull towards the end, with a notable descent in to melancholy. In additoin, there are parts of the film that feel too compact, as is the pitfalls of many films from novels. Yet the heart of the story is a fascinating one, with the film remaining anchored with the character of Jane Eyre, played rather brilliantly by Mia Wasikowska. Her Jane Eyre is one brimming with emotion, complexity, and drive, yet one ever so elegantly restrained with a sort of melancholy venire. Wasikowska conveys this to an amazingly raw extent, giving the film most of its narrative power. Fassbender's Rochester is also a fascinating character, though one could have wanted more from his characterization (his back-story was very unclear). Still, his chemistry with Mia is palpable.
The direction is mostly strong, having a solid pace up until the end, when the film seems to slow and meander a bit. We get a sense that with all of the characters on screen, there is a lot to be had, yet the constraints of the medium mean that only certain storylines could be fleshed out. Eyre's later inheritance and uncle is one plot line that was frustratingly glossed over, which is disappointing considering the interesting direction Eyre's character development was taking. Still, with what the film chooses to focus on, it does well.
An overall effective piece.
Starring and directed by the talented Ralph Fiennes, The Invisible… MoreStarring and directed by the talented Ralph Fiennes, The Invisible Woman sheds light on a chapter of the life of Charles Dickens unfamiliar with many, that of his affair with the young Nelly Ternan. Fiennes treats his subject with great respect and seriousness, making Invisible Woman a very weighty film. It's methodically paced yet very well executed. The story evolves slowly, yet organically, and treats the characters with such respect, it's a hard film not to admire.
As with any period piece, its world building is a huge part of its success. With Invisible Woman, Fiennes creates a very believable Victorian-era world, one with bubbling progressive ideas yet still stifled by its more conservative, austere, ways. His Charles Dickens is an intellectual, gentle, and passionate man, yet one with just enough detachment to those around him so as to fuel his creative eccentricity. Enter the charismatic Felicity Jones, someone whose earnestness no doubt earns Dickens's affections. This relationship is conveyed with great authenticity, with fine performances by both, especially Jones, who conveys a great deal of emotional nuance. The dynamic between the two anchors the film, and serves as a gateway to an interesting character study of Dickens, who tragically dejects himself from his wife and family, yet does so out of honesty. He's a man who strives to be good, though not always sure how to do it.
The film can be slow for those not involved with the narrative, but I found the film to be largely enthralling, with convincing portrayals, authentically rendered characters, and a message that resonates.
Snowpiercer is the perfect example of a film whose supposed cleverness… MoreSnowpiercer is the perfect example of a film whose supposed cleverness and originality gets away from itself, backing itself in to a corner of inaccessible whimsy and oddity, without establishing a solid foundation for its narrative. Set in the future, the film envisions a world covered by snow and ice, with the lone survivors boarding the Snowpiercer, a self-sustaining train that travels around the globe. The train, divided in a class system, finds itself in an uprising when a tail passenger, Curtis, leads a group of mistreated and forgotten passengers to take the train.
The film's premise is undeniably absurd in many respects, with the film seeming to uphold this absurdness with its surrealistic, self-aware approach. In this sense, the film has a number of comedic overtones, as if it's not taking itself seriously. This can be fine, and work well as a satirical piece, yet the film insists on melodrama, making it seem disjointed and tonally confused. The quirkiness thus never works, never being funny and never working on a dramatic level. The absurdness only undermines what the film is trying to achieve, and the narrative notes are never successfully hit. The performances are equally as disjointed, with the cast feeling as if they were acting in different movies, with no real cohesion. The characterizations are shallow, the action scenes boring, and the dialogue inorganic.
A disappointing misfire.
Inspirational, insightful, uniquely realized, and undoubtedly… MoreInspirational, insightful, uniquely realized, and undoubtedly fascinating, Temple Grandin is yet another strong biopic from HBO. Based on the life of Temple Grandin, an amazing woman with autism who has added both hope and understanding to the condition. It's through her work that we understand the autistic mind as a complex one, capable of remarkable brilliance, thinking visually and able to replicate and recall images to an unbelievable degree.
The film goes through Temple's life and major experiences, but does so without a "by the numbers approach". It accomplishes this through an amazing performance from Claire Danes, who completely inhibits Temple Grandin. The narrative allows us to better understand her mind by giving us flashes of the sort of visuals she experiences, while always keeping narrative focus. The film doesn't pander to her or those with autism, but rather transcends condescending notions by showing the underling ability that often goes unnoticed and cultivated.
Overall, it's an effective, resonate, and strongly executed biopic.
Not being familiar with its source story, or the other numerous film… MoreNot being familiar with its source story, or the other numerous film adaptations, I went in to Great Expectations with no real notion of how the story would unfold. What I got was a period piece, to be sure, but one that was obviously based heavily on a literary source. It was a film of impressive scope and performed well, but a film that felt helplessly full, too many plot lines to follow, and too little time to adequately explore it.
The basic premise of the story finds a young orphan suddenly finding himself with a mysterious benefactor, seemingly destined to become a gentleman, for inexplicable reasons. The novel, penned by Charles Dickens and published in the 1860s, is certainly a product of its time, with its unique social criticisms and rather quaint plot devices, along with an indulgence toward melodrama. Originally published as a serial, it would seem the narrative is more fitted toward a miniseries. As a stand-alone film, it simply feels cramped. The characterizations, though well acted, never really have any lift because they are never given the time to unfold organically. The narrative developments are never enthralling, and often confusing, being more concerned with hitting on the story's major plot points rather than creating its own self-contained story. This is not to say the film is without merit, there's plenty to admire but, in the end, it never establishes itself as an appealing film in its own right.
Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is a rare example of a sequel that is… MoreDawn of The Planet of The Apes is a rare example of a sequel that is able to live up to its predecessor, while also serving as a promising platform for future films to come. It not only builds texture and depth to the series, but it manages to be an exceedingly enjoyable summer film in its own right, with excellently executed action scenes, an emotionally compelling narrative, and undoubtedly visceral in its appeal.
In this sequel, we see Caesar at the head of a large band of advanced apes, one with idealistic inclinations and a cool head. It is with this premise that the film takes a rather interesting direction. Instead of focusing on the ape v. human hostilities exclusively, the film instead seeks to examine the enemy within, and hence serves as an effective, if obvious, allegory for human nature and, at its base sense, the struggle between evolution and the appeal to fear. The apes take on a different, antagonistic approach, after a carefully staged coup by the monstrous Koba. This all makes for some interesting dynamics, with the ape characters receiving the bulk of the characterization work. This does, however, somewhat hinder the human characters, who take a backseat to the series. This is not particularly a criticism, save to say they were far less compelling. Led by Jason Clark and supported by performances from Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman, the humans simply were simply outshined by the more interesting ape cast. This is largely a symptom of shallow characterizations for them, along with very familiar territory. Particularly underserved was Gary Oldman, an enormously talented actor whose part was far too sparse. Still, the focus on the apes remained a smart choice, setting the stage for a series that continues to impress.
Overall, the film steadily gains momentum, enthralls its audience, and gives us a refreshing take on an iconic series.
In what is essentially a conclusive condemnation of the tragic West… MoreIn what is essentially a conclusive condemnation of the tragic West Memphis Three case, West of Memphis does a brilliant job of exposing the injustice of the Arkansas authorities, the ineptness of the judicial system up until the end, and yet the hopefully undertone of perseverance that ultimately, in some way, carried the day. Though it treads on similar ground as the laudable Paradise Lost series, West of Memphis is a superb overview of the case, and a captivating account of the latest developments. Populated with celebrities and talking heads, the film never feels self-congratulatory or aggrandizing, yet presents the information in a cool headed, yet passionate manner. What results is something truly compelling, emotionally jarring, and lasting in its impact.
Director Amy Berg quickly proceeds through the trial quickly, and spends the majority of the film on the later appeals and newly surfaced DNA evidence.
What we get is a truly expansive and fair view of the case, with the tragedy of the three wrongly convicted men always serving as the undertone. The interviews here are incredible, reaching most of the key players involved, giving us their stories in a coherent narrative that weaves together the developments so as to paint a picture so apparently obvious, we are only befuddled by the necessity of it. It's a penetrating look at the ignoring/manufacturing of evidence, and the astoundingly shallow case against the men. Here we see not only new DNA evidence, and new witnesses come forward, we see people who, by the grace of God, finally felt compelled to come forward and recant their testimony, erroneous testimony fueled by delusion and police pressure. The film does not stop there, however, it follows through past the Alford Plea, and gives us a sobering reality--victory can come in forms that we aren't accustomed to, and sometimes validation can only come from within.
A must see. 5/5 Stars
Heartfelt, compelling, authentic, and visceral in its emotions, Short… MoreHeartfelt, compelling, authentic, and visceral in its emotions, Short Term 12 is an amazingly impacting film. The story follows Grace, a young 20 something woman who works as a supervisor at a home for at-risk teens, along with her boyfriend. It is through Grace that we see the tragedy of the youth's lives, the anger, depression, confusion, and yet the hope that still abounds. It's a film of sadness, but also of love.
Too many films along similar lines have resorted to clichés or forced storylines to tell their story. This is not true of Short Term 12, which has an emotional intensity that is rare, and does this without melodrama. The characters in this film are treated with respect, not idealized or pitied, rather they are shown as what they are, we see the different coping mechanisms employed, while also understanding the underlining issues at hand. The family dynamics, and the dynamics amongst the youth feel real and organic to the story. The script is both finely written and poignant, delivering us a snap shot in a world that is hard to really face, but one that rings true.
The film is populated with fantastic performance, headlined by Brie Larson, in a role that should certainly serve as a launching point for her career. The direction, the pacing, the script, all are pitch perfect in a film that unfolds within itself without the use of gimmicks or plot devices. It's a methodical burn without being slow, subtle without holding back.
A must see.
Devil's Knot is a dramatization of the infamous West Memphis 3 case,… MoreDevil's Knot is a dramatization of the infamous West Memphis 3 case, in which three children were brutally assaulted and killed in a small Arkansas town.
Through documentaries such as the brilliant Paradise Lost, many doubts have been raised regarding the guilt of the convicted teens, since released as the result of a rare Alford Plea. That their convictions were extremely dubious is obvious, and the outrage over the 'investigation' of the case certainly seems just. The task for the film, however, was to take this heartbreaking and infuriating story, and translate that in to something dramatically compelling. What results is a bit of a mixed bag, something more akin to an abbreviated retelling, and not necessarily a self contained film.
The story itself is inherently compelling, and enthralling with its mystery and bizarre outcomes. This automatically gives Devil's Knot an advantage. To its disadvantage, however, the material had already been covered in numerous award-winning documentaries. For the film, I was hoping for a more dramatic piece, whereas with Devil's Knot we are introduced to the players, some of the emotions, and the mystery, yet nothing really new is offered. Despite some good actors and decent performances, it occasionally has the feel of a TV movie, in that the scenes are compressed and fast acting, that characterizations take a back seat to a "by the numbers" approach to filmmaking. An example of a film that treads on familiar territory yet enlivens it would be Zodiac, a film that's true to the spirit of the case while also making a compelling argument for its existent as a film.
Overall, the story itself is one that needs to be told. It's done competently in Devil's Knot, to be sure, making it worth a watch, though a piece that should take a back seat to what came before it.