Post with 2 notes
Starring: Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Vincent Cassel
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, based on his Play, The Talking Cure, and the nonfiction A Dangerous Method by John Kerr
Director: David Cronenberg
Yes, they sometimes still make intelligent, literate, well-acted films with complicated people in complex conflicts. Sometimes they’re also beautifully shot and scored. And sometimes all these things happen and the film still fails to quite register.
Carl Jung (Fassbender) finds both his work as a psychoanalyst and his life grow richer when he starts treating Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), who contorts with pain and sexual excitement when she is subjected to humiliation, a condition she developed when her father spanked her as a child. Jung is married, with a child on the way, but another brilliant but unstable psychoanalyst, Otto Gross (Cassel), convinces him that he shouldn’t repress his urges towards Sabina. Jung and Sabina conduct an affair while he is treating her, including some bondage. Jung respects her insights and he convinces her that not only can she be cured, she would make an excellent psychoanalyst herself.
Jung’s work becomes increasingly divergent from his mentor and friend’s, Sigmund Freud (Mortensen), and during their occasional visits Freud attempts to put him in his place, decrying Jung’s mixing of the scientific with the mystical, as well as Jung’s belief in curing patients, as a psychologist. Freud believes their role is only to study and get their patients to accept their conditions.
The affair covers several years, on and off, but Sabina eventually breaks away from Jung and becomes an analyst in her own right, even visiting Freud in Vienna and accepting an offer of some of his patients, as his health is failing. This is a betrayal to Jung, as he and Freud have severed their friendship over Freud’s threats to blackmail Jung with his knowledge of his unethical affair with Sabina. By the end of the film, Sabina has married a Russian physician—a kinder stand-in for Jung, that is, one who doesn’t indulge her masochism—and leaves both famous men behind.
It makes sense for David Cronenberg to take on this project, as his films have often explored the connections between sex and violence, as well as father/son or mentor relationships, and there is a cold thrill to some of the intentionally clinical sex scenes. It’s a beautiful looking film as well, with a thoughtful use of a piano arrangement of parts of Wagner’s Siegfried. Knightley gives a powerful performance, nearly shocking in her contortions and affliction. Fassbender and Mortensen are best in their scenes together, though part of this success is that the language is rich. When Jung and Sabina try to deal with their emotions, which makes up a fair amount of the film, it’s more conventional, and it’s difficult to really feel the depth of Jung’s feelings for Sabina. They seem to be aware that their relationship’s dysfunctions are beneficial to their professional lives, which is interesting but dry. Just because characters compares themselves to ones from Wagner’s opera, and play that music, doesn’t mean their relationship is as compelling. It’s maybe the same kind of problem Scorsese faced with The Age of Innocence, a period film where characters have deep passions but the tenor of the times demands a level of reserve and coolness that is difficult to overcome on film, especially when violent passions are oft-used part of the director’s tool kit. I enjoyed a lot about the film, but the whole was less than the sum of its parts.
Post with 3 notes
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and Charlize Theron
Writers: Jim Spaights and Damon Lindelof
Director: Ridley Scott
In this “first cousin” to Scott’s influential and innovative Alien, a 2093 expedition to a faraway planet is intended to answer questions about who or what made mankind, but becomes instead more or less the state-of-the-art sci-fi/horror spectacular most people were expecting.
Original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Rapace is Elizabeth Shaw, who with her lover and fellow scientist Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green), believe they have tracked the inspiration for several cultures’ cave paintings back to its source in deep space. The Prometheus expedition is funded by Weyland Corp, its founder (Pearce, in old man makeup) dead but said by the Weyland rep, Vickers (Theron) to be a superstitious, curious man. Vickers makes it known that the scientists are merely employees and not free to make any call on their own. Prior to all this set-up, we have already seen a strange, pale, humanoid infected with some sort of organism, mutating as he falls into a waterfall, and we’ve also gotten to know David (Fassbender), the preening android who keeps the ship running and reports to Vickers and a mysterious other party, but who also has spent the past two years learning about humanity while the others were in status, watching old movies, learning languages, and somehow tapping into their dreams and memories.
Both the humanoid and android are signs early on that Scott and his writers have other things on their minds besides gooey, chest-bursting alien action, and all credit to them for exploring the origin of humanity, and what it really means to be human. The problem with the film, then, or at least the biggest problem, is that ultimately, one question is provided an answer but not a meaningful one, and the other question is left unanswered. Instead, we do get a suspenseful film with one good shock after another, especially in the third act, when the film becomes cluttered with action and an unnecessary and obvious development for Vickers, as well as bits that, while good on their own, also feel a bit like Scott playing to what the audience expects. Yes, you’ll see a recognizable, early version of H.R. Giger’s famous alien. Yes, you apparently can’t have an android without eventually decapitating him. And yes, one or two women will run around in their underwear, wet and vulnerable.
Still, the design work is always impressive (not just Giger but Moebius seems to have inspired some of the architecture), and Scott still has the capacity to surprise, especially in a horrific, unsettling scene inside a cramped surgical pod, a perversion of the act of birth (and depending on your views, it’s even a perversion of abortion). The performances are mostly good, depending of course on how much the script gives the actors to work with. Rapace doesn’t have the fire and grit of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, but she’s not supposed to. She’s very resourceful, but she’s also a believer; she’s one of the few people on the expedition who are hoping for answers of a spiritual nature. To some extent, that might even be true of Fassbender’s David, but whether an android can find religion aside, it’s a sly, magnetic performance that contains a lot of the humor of the film. David is about the only character here I would like to get to know better. The same could possibly be said for Janek (Elba), where the British actor once again plays against type as a gruff but warm, no-nonsense pilot who has a taste for old, old rock and roll, but with reserves of compassion and heroism that come into play later. Theron is good in a chillier role than she’s used to, but the plot mechanism to warm her up is rote. It’s a case where the writers either should have left the character unexplored or beefed it up, but her motivation here is half-baked. Pearce is also dealt an unfortunate blow, all the technology at Scott & Co’s disposal not able to sell an actor in his 40s as a dying old man. Why a real actor in his 70s or 80s wasn’t case instead is a mystery.
It was appropriate to bring Damon Lindelof into the Alien franchise. The other films share a common theme of human beings as pawns of immoral/amoral corporations and military complexes, whereas Lindelof’s major work, Lost, found human beings as pawns of gods. He transfers that theme here, tying it into the Greek myth of the Titans, Prometheus bringing fire to humanity and being eternally punished for it. But here, there are hints that even these cold, superior Titans are perhaps experiments themselves, that they are but pawns of an even higher power. There are some tantalizing elements in the film that suggest Scott wanted to make a film of ideas. Perhaps the only way to get this made was to tie it into his greatest success. In this way, Prometheus is closer to Blade Runner, in that it’s actually about something. It doesn’t get a pass because it asks questions and few big budget films do. It succeeds somewhat despite these questions, because of the great skill and imagination employed. The headier elements are what disappoint, what gnaw at you after it’s over and the popcorn thrills are fading.
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
I’m not sure why I didn’t see this earlier. I’ve always liked, though frequently stopped reading, the X-Men books, and enjoyed the original film trilogy and Wolverine film well enough, with qualifications. I guess I saw this quasi-prequel as kind of pointless. I’ve certainly read plenty of variations on the X-Men and Magneto origins, and the thought of pushing this one back closer to the original comics timeline of the early ’60s, and tying it to the Cuban Missile Crisis, seemed, again, pointless and sort of silly. And if I’m being honest, there was probably some dumb fanboy part of me concerned that there was no way they could make this work, continuity-wise, with the other films.
It so happens that the writers’ almost gleeful dispensing with continuity is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film. Just to be clear, the basics are here: Erik Lensherr/Magneo (Fassbender), was a WWII concentration camp Jew whose anger at the Nazis triggered his power. Charles Xavier is a rich telepathic mutant who wants to help others like him, and eventually befriends Erik, their missions and worldviews differing but overlapping for most of the film. We also find typical X-Men story meat such as government fear and young mutant desires to either be normal or accepted for the special creatures they are. What makes all this work is sturdy craftsmanship in the writing, direction, editing, effects and music, but it’s the novelty in how all these things are played out that keeps this from being a rehash. Xavier (McAvoy) as a swinging London playboy using his mutant theories as pick-up lines? Groovy. Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) as his best friend, stifled by his disapproving big brother act and hurt by his failure to accept her true appearance? Works for me. Add to that some enjoyable ’60s settings, and a reasonably good cast of villains led by Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) and some powerful if anonymous soldiers, and the various plot threads, romantic entanglements, vengeance scenarios and shifting alliances play out very well over the course of an over two hour film that doesn’t feel like it has any real fat on it.
Hardcore fans will naturally question some things. Alex Summers/Havok is, in the comics, Cyclops’ younger brother, so what is he doing here in 1962 and where is Cyclops? Hank McCoy/Beast is also of a similar age. Angel (Zoe Kravitz) is now a hot African-American girl with insect-like, not birdlike, wings. But, you know, who cares? As long as one doesn’t worry about having to tie into a series of movies with other actors that aren’t all that classic to begin with, this is a lot of fun. My only concern with character choices was the Shaw sidekick Azazel, who is literally just a red Nightcrawler who kills people. It seems like there must have been an earlier draft with Nightcrawler in this role and then it was decided the murders just didn’t jibe with the character. There’s also a guy who makes whirlwinds who is never even named, which feels like a cheat for some reason. I also felt bad that one of the two black characters, Darwin, is killed very quickly. As far as real flaws, while it’s true that the actors playing Banshee and Havok aren’t given much to do (Banshee is more of a contemporary California duuuude and Havok is just a mean dick to Hank who can’t control his powers), the only actor who really comes up short here is January Jones, who seems mainly cast as eye candy. She doesn’t have that sexy swagger or sense that she’s capable of leadership that the character usually has, and her voice has no presence. For that matter, Bacon is very pro forma in the sneering villain role. Fortunately, McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence are all capable of giving dimension and individuality to their characters.