George MacKay – The Spectacular How I Live Now

Often, we forget, or have not quite reached the age yet, or perhaps are this age, but the nature of teenagerdom is embodied by the word “Now”. This is what was missing from, say, The Hunger Games or The Host, the sense of urgency, the feeling of living in the eternal present, alone, misunderstood.

When we first see Elizabeth, (sorry, Daisy), she is accompanied by a blast of angry music. Even the colour and intensity of the title cards suggest that this girl means trouble. The bleached blonde hair, facial rings, and American accent disguise it, but there is conflict in the persona of Daisy. Perhaps this is because she is played by Saorsie Ronan, who cannot help looking sweet and innocent. Daisy has been sent to live with her cousins in England, and when young cousin Isaac, (played by Tom Holland) comes to pick her up, we can tell that this world is not the one that we are familiar with now.

But yet, Daisy seems to be okay in a place where young children drive, and the threat of…well, we are never truly sure, the threat of some kind of invisible war hangs over England.

It is this threat, this sense of “almost” that desires to seep into the now drives this film, (and indeed, the book as well). Daisy is softened somewhat by her father’s lack of interest in caring for her, her aunt’s distracted nature, and indeed, the strangest English house full of moppets and unicorns one has discovered in a long time.

Now and then, there is a moment where Daisy grows out of her disaffected nature, (especially when falling for the stoic Edmond, her cousin, of whom the movie clarifies that they are “not really cousins”, and with whom she shares a sort of psychic connection.

The sense of Now starts to pervade Daisy’s life, (as well as Edmond’s), but the payoff of war does not carry as much weight as the looming threat. There is a dark social satire reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate hidden contained within this film.

George MacKay, who plays Edmond, and could not be more different than his character, gave a fascinating take on the potential of the unseen threat in How I Live Now:

“It’s very relevant for today in the sense that the enemies we face are pretty faceless now, and people do destroy things by pushing buttons, and there’s bombs that turn corners pretty much. There’s a face that’s not kind of two people hand-to-hand combat. And that’s the fear that we have nowadays is that we don’t know that something’s going to come from way off. What’s going on in Syria, there’s going to be interventions coming by submarine miles off the coast. There’s not going to be people stepping on the actual land. It’s weird”.

The concerns brought up by MacKay, and indeed though a closer examination of the movie, demands that this film, especially by teenagers, demands to be seen, now.

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Kill Your Darlings

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Kill Your Darlings is perhaps one of the most literary of all the movies to screen at TIFF, which is extremely interesting, because it is itself not based on a book, play, short story, poem.

The movie sings a choir of glorious voices. It is a paean to the power of the book, but yet it calls out to destroy old masters, in essence to “Kill Your Darlings”, and proclaim a new revolution of words.

The movie itself has such a great sense of style, pronouncing itself so grandly in the first few minutes, which actually take place near the end of the story, (note to audience goers: show up early for this film, as the aesthetic will capture your attention right away. Be seated, show up, read the book! Strangely, the less-known about the story coming into this film, perhaps the better. It pronounces its presence with the based on a true story, and for once, the less-loosely based on reality this story becomes, almost the better. Reject formal rhyme and embrace Walt Whitman!

Allen Ginsberg, a New York Jew is somehow, miraculously, embodied by Daniel Radcliffe. Dane DeHaan is perhaps less of a revelation as Radcliffe’s friend and possible lover Lucien Carr, but at least I can somewhat see the appeal. Not quite as fascinating, but still effective, are Michael C. Hall as a sort of David / Dexter hybrid as David Kammerer, a whole-faced Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, a comically deadpan Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs, and an almost entirely unrecognizable Jennifer Jason Leigh playing Radcliffe’s troubled mother, Naomi Ginsberg.

Kill Your Darlings is best when Radcliffe as Ginsberg is let loose upon his desire to write, to experiment with drugs, to experience all forms of sexuality, to awaken from a slumber and let loose upon New York City in the 1940’s.

Though the story chugs along at an extremely rapid 95 minutes, and scenes of Michael C. Hall whimpering around Dane DeHaan get fairly repetitive, and threaten to derail the momentum. But the film takes an abrupt turn around the time that the opening scene starts to regain focus, and suddenly, the alternate reality of Kill Your Darlings slowly starts to come into focus.

Like I said before, do as little research as possible before seeing this movie. Then, after John Krokidas and Austin Bunn’s vision is unleashed upon you, return to the book.

Devil’s Knot

HBO’s The Paradise Lost Trilogy. West of Memphis. A number of books, including Life After Death by Damien Echols, and Devil’s Knot by Maria Leveritt.

With so much media saturation in the case of the West Memphis Three, do we really need another account of three boys wrongly accused of a crime that they did not commit? Devil’s Knot is a resounding…possibly.

First, the good. Director Atom Egoyan, as well as screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson mines the best material from Leveritt’s Devil’s Knot to make the movie easy to watch. The book was immaculately well-researched but did not have a sense of urgency to make me want to read on. I already knew that the West Memphis Three were wrongly convicted of the crime of murder, and that a Satanic Panic had taken over the city of West Memphis, Arkansas. This made the Devil’s Knot, (which also refers to an area near where the crime took place, and intractable situation in which the boys found themselves), a sort of a triple meaning.

The case was clearly a miscarriage of justice, though Egoyan elevates more minor characters from the book to serve as our moral guides, particularly Colin Firth as private investigator Ron Lax, and Reese Witherspoon playing Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the murder victims.

Firth is all southern cool, surprisingly believable as a slick haired and bearded outsider, that is never able to fully influence the spectre of the case. Firth falls into the role with grace, and certainly appeared to be continuing the discover Where The Truth Lies.

Lax seems to stand above the fury of the town, but attempts to humanize him further, like his opening scene at an auction, a reheated subplot involving a romance with a diner waitress, and appearances by a soon to be ex-wife detract from the case at hand, (even though Amy Ryan’s presence is always welcome).

Perhaps less successful was Reese Witherspoon’s Pam Hobbs, as an initial believer turned skeptic in the guilt of the three boys. Witherspoon attempts to play lumpy, bad-haired, and corn-fried are just not easily digestible, especially when she breaks into a wide smile and reveals that we knows who she is.

The aspect captured by Egoyan that really stands out is the sense of early nineties, especially in the United States south. The setting and atmosphere are pervading, and when Egoyan stacks the cast with his usual suspects, (Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood), they fit quite well into this new environment. It was also somehow appropriate to see actors from True Blood, Mad Men, CSI: Miami populate the tale. Devil’s Knot seemed to be appropriately small-town small-screen.

Devil’s Knot presents a number of alternate suspects, but leaves open room for interpretation. The ending is far too rushed though, and much of the unexplained is left too unresolved.

 

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Blue is the Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour was absolutely masterful. Alternating between funny, heartfelt, and haunting, the tale resonated long into the night, and left me completely devastated. In short, it was one of the finest experiences of text and drawings ever put to page. Of course, this was my experience with the graphic novel by Julie Maroh, recently published in English, and released in Canada. The film Blue is The Warmest Colour was far more problematic.

However, there is one great reason to see the film, and that is for the star, Adèle Exarchopoulos. Despite being billed as a love story between its two female leads, the film belongs to Exarchopoulos. Lea Seydoux is fine as Emma, but does not command the same presence, as clearly this is Adèle’s story, (the main character also being named Adèle, despite having the moniker Clementine in the graphic novel.)

The story itself has been slightly misconstrued by earlier reviewers. Billed as a lesbian coming-of-age story, the fact that Adèle voyages into the sapphic terrain does not make this a story about a same-sex couple. In fact, Adèle does not seem to a have a gender preference of sexual partners. This clumsy metaphor seems to be shown through Adèle’s voracious appetite for food, as she is often depicted by director Abdellatif Kechiche eating spaghetti, gyros, and despite her initial reluctance for it, a plate of oysters, (see: clumsy metaphor). In fact, it is not even clear that Adèle chooses to live the lifestyle, only that, like in the graphic novel, Emma and her blue hair entrance the lust-for-life Adèle to fully indulge in her carnality.

Are the as promised sex scenes as focused on the male gaze as previously reported? Yes, I found them to be them to be a little bit too much at times. I believe that the film will not appeal to women, at least to those that do not want such an intimate look at a young girl.

In fact, a major issue that I had with Blue is the Warmest Colour is that a sense of intimacy is forced upon the watcher in almost every scene of the film, not just the moments set in the boudoir. Adèle is portrayed as sleeping fairly often, sometimes to no great effect. Often she is shown crying, fixing her hair, showering and dressing, as mentioned, eating, a sense of intimacy could have been achieved in more subtle fashions.

The intimacy affects the viewing experience. Kechiche places the camera too close to the actors. Perhaps if he had pulled back a little, the sense of intimacy could have been achieved more organically, as it does in the graphic novel.

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The Invisible Woman

The English literary tradition in film seems to run through Ralph Fiennes. Recently, he co-starred in Skyfall, in the Bond series based on Ian Fleming stories. His directorial debut was his interpretation of a Shakespeare play, Coriolanus. Fiennes is perhaps most well-known for playing Voldemort, based on the wildly popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Even Fiennes’ screen debut was as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Last year, Fiennes tried his hand as Magwitch, in the most recent movie version of Great Expectations.

Something must have hit a nerve in Fiennes, as he returns in his second time around as a director in The Invisible Woman, based on the Claire Tomalin biography of the same name. Moving beyond playing literary characters, Fiennes embodied the author, Charles Dickens. Interestingly, though, the movie is far more interesting when portraying Dickens’ muse, the eponymous Invisible Woman, Nelly Tiernan, captured bravely and fiercely by Felicity Jones. When Fiennes appears on screen as Dickens, it is hard to make out his intentions in portraying the character. Is he supposed to be seen as sympathetic? Buffoonish? Suffering from a midlife crisis?

Fiennes is much better when he retreats behind the camera and his subject, Tiernan, to shine. The story is told backwards, with an older Tiernan recalling her interactions with Dickens in flashback, but returning to her current state, as she must address the paradox of Dickens the tradition versus Dickens the man. Perhaps The Invisible Woman is most successful when Fiennes lets Dickens’ powerful presence linger over Tiernan’s life, and not try to frame the action in terms of what truly occurred.

The brilliance of Tomalin’s book is that a long chapter detailing Tiernan’s closeness with Dickens is written in hypotheticals. The invisibleness of this woman was not simply that she was content to be thought of as a secret, but that she was, for all intents and purposes, truly invisible. Very little, if anything is known of what occurred during a number of years, and the fault of Fiennes’, (or perhaps screenwriter Abi Morgan) is that the uncertainty, the might haves and the may have, are too often presented as honest truths. I do not even want to get into the scene in which Tiernan may have inspired Dickens to write Great Expectations, as literary intentions are extremely difficult to capture, in any medium.

Though Invisible Woman is fine, experiencing the story of Nelly Tiernan is a Fiennes choice.

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Young & Beautiful

How do we measure a year in the life? In François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful, the at times disparate elements of a sordid tale of a young girl’s experience as a prostitute are set apart by the seasons. What at first seems to be scattered resonants of the different times of year eventually come together quite masterfully in the final saison.

Interestingly, in Young & Beautiful, spring, printemps, does not symbolize a renewal or rebirth. The character of Isabelle, or “Lea”, captivatingly played by young, (but not that young) French actress Marine Vacth, finally completes the seasonal cycle through a dramatic foil that was once Young and Beautiful, but now has come to symbolize the role of uncertain mentor, (the same figure in a similar role is featured prominently on a cable TV show).

Young & Beautiful also features a chilling contrast of young and old in its soundtrack, which alternates at will between an arresting scene buoyed by flashing strobes set to M83’s Midnight City, to wistful ballads by Françoise Hardy accompanying Isabella as she rushes through the rues et avenues of The City of Light, (often, at darkness).

For a film that has seen comparisons to Belle De Jour and Lolita, it is quite alarming how Ozon’s lens transforms Vacth’s body from objet du désir from the very first moment of the opening scene, set the height of summer to something earthier and almost mundane at the fin de l’année. It was a very good year, a Joyeux anniversaire, but one day we wake up, and Young & Beautiful no longer springs forward. Il n’y a plus de saisons d’amour.

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Don Jon

These are familiar elements that enmesh to form an entertaining, “non-romantic” comedy. Start with the Casanova archetype. Take the Ryan Gosling character from Crazy, Stupid, Love, (don’t forget the extremely well-lit and quiet club!)  Give him the parents from Silver Linings Playbook, but tone ’em down a touch. Move the setting of SLP across the Jersey Shore, so that everybody talks with funny accents.

We need a love interest, a dime piece, so that’s obvious casting. Another established actress from Crazy, Stupid, Love let’s put her in the mix. A sister that cannot stop texting. Now, we must include the “romantic movie within a romantic movie” concept with celebrity cameos done slightly better in Friends with Benefits.

But there’s one new(ish) concept that works quite well: that is the interplay with title character, Don Jon, and his lifetime obsession with pornography.

In spite of all of the familiarity, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has plenty of heart as an actor and a director. Don Jon is extremely addictive. We may not fall head over heels in love, but can definitely lose ourselves in it.

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