Movie review: Tulip Fever

Movie reviews

Hello!

After being pushed back a few years, Tulip Fever has finally reached theaters! Does it have any Oscar potential as its cast list suggests?

IMDb summary: An artist falls for a young married woman while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the Tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam.

Writing

Tulip Fever was written by a playwright and occasional screenwriter Tom Stoppard. His most recent previous film script was the one for 2012’s Anna Karenina. The film’s story and the writing, in general, started out promising but quickly wasted all the said promise. The opening, which set the context of the tulip market and the 17th Amsterdam, as well as the initial details of the actual plot, was quite interesting. However, the more the narrative unraveled, the more unbelievable it became. The ending was especially unsatisfying because the movie didn’t commit to going the full on fantasy route and having a fairytale ending but also wasn’t grounded enough for a realistic conclusion, so it just had one that landed somewhere in the middle. All the characters in the picture were way too interconnected and the twists and turns in the story were mostly lucky coincidences. The drama and the emotional core felt really fake and manufactured as well. Basically, Tulip Fever felt as an old school literary adaptation, which it was exactly: a contemporary yet classical historical romance novel (by Deborah Moggach) with typical yet modernized characters that was turned into a film.

While the final product did not turn out well, as I have said, the promise was there in the details. It was really interesting to see the love and the lack of love juxtaposed through sex scenes. I also liked the exploration of the women’s roles in a patriarchal system and how cunning they had to be to survive, and yet, how they also felt bounded by their duty (Vikander’s character was never entirely sure about her actions) I also appreciated the portrayal of Christoph Waltz’s character – a clueless man, living in privilege, and not even understanding his privilege yet not being malevolent about it. I also liked the hints at the concept of friendship and the hardships it has to endure when spanning multiple caste levels. Lastly, I was really glad to see a historical drama focusing not on The British Empire but on the player that preceded it in the world domination – Holland/The Netherlands.

Directing

Justin Chadwick, who has received some recognition a few years back for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, directed Tulip Fever and did a fabulous job with a flawed script. While he went along with the over the top dramatization of the story, nothing bad can be said about his visuals. Tulip Fever was a gorgeous looking movie, with beautiful and rich shots, full of textures and colors. The costume department should also get a raise because their spectacular collars contributed a lot to the magnificence of the look and helped prove the point that Holland was a powerful country. The artistic close-ups of Vikander reminded me of a fashion film or a high-end makeup ad too. If a movie career doesn’t work out for Chadwick, he should check out the advertising business.

Acting

Tulip Fever had a stellar cast, full of Academy favorites, old (Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz) and new (Alicia Vikander). Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Danish Girl, Jason Bourne, The Testament of Youth, Anna Karenina) did a fabulous job and she and Waltz (Spectre, Tarzan) made an interesting pair. Their more formal scenes had a feeling of warmness and respect, while their more intimate scenes felt very uncomfortable (which was the goal). In turn, Vikander’s and Dane Deehan’s (Valerian) scenes felt realistically intimate (sexier than Fifty Shades, though, that’s a low bar to be aiming for). BTW, I bought Deehan much more as a struggling lovesick artist than an action hero.

Judi Dench had a fun, although highly fictional role, in the film. Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, Money Monster)and Holiday Grainger (Cinderella, The Finest Hours) delivered neat and likable performances (Grainger’s voice fit the role of the narrator very well). Glee’s Matthew Morrison, Tom Hollander (MI5, The Promise), and model-turned-actress Cara Delevigne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad, Valerian) also appeared. Lastly, Zach Galifianakis (The Lego Batman) played his typical role, that wasn’t necessary for the movie at all.

In short, Tulip Fever was a beautiful looking but a poorly written picture that had some stellar and wasted acting performances too.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Tulip Fever trailer

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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