A festival favorite and one of the strongest summer contenders for the awards season – The Beguiled – has premiered, so, let’s review it!
IMDb summary: The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.
- The Beguiled was both written and directed by Sofia Coppola, latter of which was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival – she became the second woman ever to the Best Director Award. I’ve seen some of her films (The Bling Ring and Lost in Translation), but I’ve always had her other pictures on my ‘To watch’ list. I really need to do a movie marathon consisting of not just hers but of The Coppola’s family tree films.
- The movie’s script was based on a book A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan and the main topic being explored was the taboo issue of female sexuality and, especially, the repressed female sexuality and its dangers. Thus, all the character development mostly revolved around this issue, with not much attention being paid to anything else. The actions of the women did not make them into likable characters, while their choices at the end of the film were really quite shocking, which, I guess, was the intention. I did like the jab at the ‘Southern Comfort’, though – it’s the food that kills you. Literally.
- The writing for the lone male character was the best and he was the most well-rounded individual. His slay manipulations could really be seen in Colin Farrel’s (The Lobster, Fantastic Beasts) performance: he knew what each of the ladies wanted him to be and fulfilled that role. He was the older brother and an adult of the world to talk to, he was someone to impress and a potential suitor. Mostly, though, he was the personification of the budding sexual fantasies. These type of manipulations in his demeanor and the bursts of anger made me kinda see his demise as weirdly justified.
- Coppola’s directing was full of classical elements, like the steady camera, the old school ratio, and the long shots. These long shots really dictated the pacing of the film. The Beguiled was slow but carefully crafted, however, I did feel that, on a few occasions, some shots were lingering for too long without any intensity in them to make up for the lack of literal action. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way Coppola realized the setting of the Civil War, with the noises of the battle going off in the background, but never allowed it to overpower the romantic drama happening within the house. The Beguiled wasn’t a Civil War film but a romantic thriller set during it. For the first hour, it was quite innocent (flirty and cute), while the last half hour was full of unforeseen cruelty and insane choices (all those repressed feelings were just bubbling over).
- I’ve already briefly touched upon Farrel’s smooth performance, so, now let’s look at the female cast. Nicole Kidman (Genius, Lion), Coppola’s usual partner Kirsten Dunst (Hidden Figures, Midnight Special), Elle Fanning (Trumbo, The Neon Demon), Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man), and Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms, Pete’s Dragon) all starred in the picture. The sexual tensions and frustrations were palpable in all of their performances with the exception of the youngest cast member Laurence.
In short, The Beguiled is a beautiful and slow art-house cinema offering that focuses on a theme that is still not as widely discussed as it should be, in the year 2017.
Trailer: The Beguiled trailer
Nowadays, the majority of wide theatrical releases are mainstream films, so, whenever I get a chance to see a more experimental motion picture, I take it! Thus, without further ado, let me tell you about The Neon Demon.
IMDb summary: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
- The Neon Demon is sort of a horror film. I, personally, don’t really watch any horror movies. However, this one intrigued me because it wasn’t just a straight up mainstream horror flick with jump scares and ghosts. It had elements of psychological drama and thriller. Moreover, it was created by a very artsy indie director Nicolas Winding Refn. I loved Winding Refn’s Drive and I also kinda enjoyed his other film with Ryan Gosling – Only God Forgives. The Neon Demon also explored the world that I’m interested in – the fashion business. The previous films about fashion that I have seen were all very light – Zoolander 1 and 2, The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic. On the contrary, The Neon Demon was unapologetically dark. While overall I enjoyed the movie, I also had some problems with it. Basically, I thought that it was visually rich, but lacked substance and was narratively hollow.
- Visuals: the director Nicolas Winding Refn is know for beautiful visuals, so it is no surprise that The Neon Demon was a stunning film to look at. Half of the praises should go to Natasha Braier, for her amazing cinematography. If you freeze any frame of the film, you would get an amazing photograph. All of the manipulation of lights, colors and geometrical shapes was remarkable. The slow motion and the close-ups really fit with the slow pace of the film as well. The picture has quite a few bloody scenes, especially near the end, so be aware if that bothers you.
- Narrative: the film was written by the director, the screenwriter Mary Laws and the playwright Polly Stenham. I felt that the writing was the weakest part of the film. The main character – the innocent girl from a small town that comes to the city to become a model – was such a cliche. Her transition from innocence to confidence was way too quick as well. All of the faults of the fashion industry were also really predictable. The portrayal of men as sexual predators and the depiction of women as vain and jealous individuals were both stereotypical choices.The film also missed a few plot opportunities. Keanu Reeves’s character appeared in 3 scenes and then disappeared. The over-the-top ending didn’t help the film either.
- A few ideas of the story that I liked were the fact that beauty can make money and that beauty has an expiration date. These concepts weren’t really that original but I appreciated their inclusion and depiction. The movie also had quite a lot of symbolism. For me, some of the symbols worked, some didn’t. The symbol of mirrors was cool, but the scene with the cougar kinda went over my head when I first saw the film. The soundtrack by Cliff Martinez was pretty neat too – I liked the inclusion of Sia’s song Waving Goodbye. In general, the whole film felt very much controlled, maybe even strained and over-constructed. There wasn’t really anything organic or natural about it, but I guess the fashion world is really artificial, so the movie set in that world should give off a feeling of fakeness and manufacture.
- Acting: I enjoyed the majority of the performances. The conversations between the characters seemed a bit awkward at times but I think that they were intentionally awkward – those scenes were uncomfortable to watch and one must never feel comfortable when watching a more experimental film. Speaking of the actors: Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) was okay as Jesse. I feel that the lack of originality in the writing for the lead character ruined Fanning’s execution a bit. Karl Glusman was good as Dean – the most normal character of the picture. Jena Malone (The Hunger Games and BvS Ultimate Edition) as Ruby was an absolute scene stealer and really went all the way in this role. Her sex-scene was more than disturbing. Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Gigi was good as well, but I though that model Abbey Lee (Mad Max Fury Road) as Sarah kinda stole all her scenes. Keanu Reeves had a few scenes as Hank and I, personally, thought that anybody could have played his part. Lastly, Desmond Harrington as Jack was a believable sort of artsy and kinda shady photgrapher.
In short, The Neon Demon was/is defintely an experimental film. It is not easy to watch and might be considered an unsuccessful experiment by the majority of the mainstream audiences. I did enjoy it but kinda had to make myself sit through it at first. Visually, it is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, while plot-wise it could have been more refined and more sophisticated. If you want to try any of Winding Refn’s films, I suggest you start with Drive, as it is the most accessible one. Maybe leave The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives for some other time. I also want to check out his Bronson film, as it stars my favorite actor – Tom Hardy.
Trailer: The Neon Demon trailer
Hi Hi Hi!
Welcome to the last (probably) review of the awards’ season! This time, we are talking about Trumbo!
IMDb summary: In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.
- To begin with, one of the reasons why I have enjoyed Trumbo is the fact that I love movies about film-making, like Singin’ in the Rain, Hugo or even Argo (that’s also the reason while I’m looking forward to Hail, Caesar!, coming out later this month). I enjoy seeing the behind the scenes and inner workings of Hollywood. I believe that Trumbo succeeded in depicting the movie business quite accurately, at least as far as I know.
- The movie’s story focused on the beginning of the Cold War and the ‘Red Scare’ and McCarthyism era of the US history. I have actually just studied this topic in my English Class, while reading Arthur Miller’s (another writer who has been questioned by House of Un-American Activities Committee) The Crucible – a really nice play, which one can enjoy even without knowing its controversial context. Personally, this whole idea of ‘catching communists inside the country’ seems to be an example of that terrible kind of patriotism – the one that is born out of fear, stupidity, and human error as well as hypocrisy. However, I also think that while socialism (communism’s less radical cousin) looks good (a.k.a. democratic) on paper, it is impossible to apply to real life, because, as my anthropology lecturer put it during the last lecture, egalitarianism is a romantic myth/dream. Read Thomas Moore’s Utopia if you want a proof of that. But, I’m going off topic, let’s go back to the actual film.
- The movie focused on Dalton Trumbo – an accomplished and famous screenwriter, who was one of the members of the Hollywood Ten because he refused to testify before the HUAC and fought for his beliefs and for his right to even have these different beliefs. I have seen a few films written by Trumbo – Roman Holiday, Exodus and Spartacus (the filmmakers of Trumbo used some actual footage from these films. I think they might have tampered with the footage of Spartacus to make actor Dean O’Gorman look like the actual Kirk Douglas (the actor who played Spartacus in the 1960’s motion picture) – that close-up scene looked suspiciously different to me). I also want to watch a few other movies, based on Trumbo’s screenplays – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo – a war drama whose poster was visible in the fictional Trumbo’s office – and The Brave One. I liked that they didn’t try to portray Trumbo as an untouchable hero – he had his flaws (for one, being very inconsiderate of his family). I don’t know if he was like that in real life, however, in the film, since he wasn’t completely perfect, he looked/felt more realistic/more developed as a character. Seeing a film about a screenwriter also rekindled my dream of becoming a scriptwriter myself someday.
- The picture was written by John McNamara, whose based the screenplay on a book by Bruce Cook. I enjoyed the story of the film – after watching a lot of serious and heavy films I appreciated the lighter tone and the funny moments (although, the subject of the film was still heavy). Trumbo didn’t try to judge anyone and didn’t have that big of an emotional impact on me – on this occasion, I see it as a good thing, but it also might work against this film. Going back to the story: I think that some of the temporal transitions were very vague and too quick – it was easy to get lost in the film’s plot. In addition, the movie could have been focused up a little bit – there was no need for that many side storylines (sick friend, betrayal, problems with a daughter, wife’s backstory, that whole thing with Hedda Hopper). Speaking about the visuals, Trumbo was directed by Jay Roach. I have seen a few of the films that he has produced, but this was my introduction to him as a director. He did a nice job but there wasn’t really anything spectacular that is worth mentioning. I did like the usage of real film and newsreel footage, though. Lastly, I felt that the film was edited quite unevenly – more than once I felt that the scenes were cut short unnecessarily.
- The motion picture had a huge cast, led by Bryan Cranston, who played the titular character. Cranston was amazing in the role and I was really happy to see him on the big screen once again, although, I do miss him on Breaking Bad and that TV show in general. Other cast members included Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo, Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird, Elle Fanning as Nikola Trumbo (who aged up really quickly and then stopped aging all together), John Goodman as Frank King, Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Virgil Brooks and Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas to name a few. All of the actors did a nice job with their limited screen-time.
In short, Trumbo was a great biographical drama with amazing performances from the whole cast and an easy-going tone. It showcased what happens when art (and business) get mixed up with politics.
Trailer: Trumbo trailer