Tag Archive: carey mulligan


far-from-the-madding-crowd-2014My relationship with Far From the Madding Crowd has always been one of admiration, particularly considering my general attitude towards period dramas, as they are usually a genre I tend to dismiss. The text, the one and only Thomas Hardy novel that I have read, has been adapted many times in the past, the most famous being the 1967 film version directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie as its lead, Bathsheba Evergreen. With a film adaptation held in high regard, why the need to remake, you may ask? Well, Hardy’s novel features a very strong and important figure in the form of Bathsheba, a head strong and resiliently independent woman caught within a time and struggling with customs designed and controlled by men. It makes perfect sense to want to introduce this character to a new generation of women as a symbol of resilience and strong will in the face of the patriarchy.

Taking place within the hills of the West Country, young woman Bathsheba Evergreen (Carey Mulligan) inherits her Uncle’s farm and sets out to make it one of the best and most regarded Farms in the area. She must avoid distraction, however, from three different men who all fall for her defiant character. There is the quiet yet dedicated farmhand Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), respected yet older Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and the younger, hot-headed soldier Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Bathsehba must decide where her heart truly lies, and face the consequences of what those decisions may lead to.FarFrom2

Schlesinger’s film is iconic for its sumptuous cinematography and the lead performance from Julie Christie. Likewise, this update, directed by The Hunt‘s Thomas Vinterberg thrives with vibrant cinematography. There is nary a frame which doesn’t dazzle in regards to its texture and colour palette, with nearly every image worthy of being hung above a fireplace for all to enjoy. The modest yet captivating locales of the West Country have never looked better than in this framing of Hardy’s work, which makes the full most use of the Dorset and Somerset locations throughout the different seasons to present images of startlingly, yet uncomplicated, beauty.

Strength also lies within the performances on display, as Mulligan makes Bathesheba as much as her own as Julie Christie did back in the 60s. Mulligan looks more fragile on screen than Christie, and it seems to be an element of herself that she is very aware of, as her soft features allow for a very dynamic performance to flourish, capable of being both vulnerable and strong , allowing for the natural strength of character to shine through. Schoenaerts adopts a very convincing English accent to deliver a very sympathetic performance, which is very much pivotal to the story, as he shines against the admittedly strong casting of Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge. Sheen is given less screen-time but perhaps the more interesting back story of any of the suitors so it is a shame that we don’t see him come into the fold more than we do. Sturridge gives a convincing air of cockiness and over-eagerness as the young hot-headed Sergeant, and does a great job of ensuring that the iconic fencing swordplay flirtation pulses with sexual tension.

Where the film falters, and funnily enough it is where every adaptation of this particular novel falters, in in the story itself. It is all fairly low key, which much of the satisfying drama coming from seeing Bathsheba poke fun and transcend the patriarchy. It is at these moments that the film really holds its strongest motives, and as well as when it strikes the best chord with its audience, and also allows for much of the humour to come to the fore. However, some of Bathsheba’s actions are quite questionable (flip-a-book? Really?) and often distract one from the narrative itself. Vinterberg struggles to stage much else of the drama in that engaging a fashion. Yes, the images look brilliant, but Vinterberg trips up quite a few times when it comes to constructing an ending that fromtruly resonates. The performances certainly ensure that we’re still interested by the somewhat melodramatic events that colour the final act, but the lack of palpable tension and pacing unfortunately result in a flat finale.

I much prefer this adaptation to the 1960s version, if only because it’s nicer to look at, but its cast is equally, if not more, compelling. Vinterberg is a director who really does care for the image, as there is nary anything in frame that doesn’t need to be there; there is so much visual richness here to bask in, amounting in one of the more aesthetically pleasurable cinematic offerings so far this year.

4/5- Compelling and well-crafted performances populate one of the most beautiful period dramas of recent memory. Sumptuous and attractive.

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inside-llewyn-davis-1The brother’s Coen have worked within numerous genres throughout the course of their film making partnership. They’ve jumped from the caper, to the crime flick, to the Western, yet all of them have that distinct Coen-esque vibe, namely down to the off-kilter humour and wickedly dark streak of tone. Inside Llewyn Davis is a much more focused affair from Ethan and Joel, particularly following from the more grandiose offering that was their last film, True GritDavis represents the pair at their most restrained and subdued, but no less captivating and intriguing, as we dive into a brief moment in an individual’s somewhat unremarkable life.

Set against the backdrop of 1960’s New York Folk scene, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling folk singer who, since the suicide of his singing partner, has been coasting from numerous venues on the generosity of acquaintances and their sofa’s. Aimless with no motivation, fixed address, or desired goal for his career, as well as being stuck with a ginger moggy, we witness Llewyn at a moment in his life where certain choices have the potential to change the fabric of his reality and put his life on a track with a destination. One such opportunity offers Llewyn the chance to go to Chicago and play for a renowned record manager. Whether Llewyn acts upon these opportunities  is up to only one person; himself.

Inside Llewyn Davis sees the Coen’s at their moodiest. Their focus is on the concern of artistic integrity, and the compromises some artists may be too stubborn to make in order to become commercially successful, or to simply turn a decent inside-llewyn-davis-2buck. The Coen’s themselves have never quite threatened their integrity in such a way. Any integrity that they did lose with the one-two disappointment of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers was by no means a result of compromise, and was quickly restored with their films of the latter half of the 00’s. But their contemplation on the notion of integrity within this film feels as if it has come from somewhere personal, somewhere deep within themselves, something not perhaps that they have experienced, but something that they fear could happen if they are not careful.

What makes this thematic exploration even more intriguing is the fact that we very rarely feel sympathetic towards Llewyn. He is a man of self-destructive tendencies; he never faces up to his responsibilities, he is incredibly rude to the friends who kindly give him a place to sleep, and has little regard for the consequences of his actions. He is also a man capable of being very mean-spirited, we suspect as a result of frustration towards his own failings. He cannot be happy for someone who is more successful than him. He is undoubtedly a talented individual but lacks the fore-sight and humility to truly grasp any opportunity that is in front of him. With this type of character as the focus of the film, you’d expect the narrative to involve a means of re-awakening, re-discovery and redemption, but no. The film’s bravest move is perhaps to show that everything that Llewyn inside-llewyn-davis-3encounters through the course of the brief 100 minute run-time has very little affect on his character.

Why then should we care? Frankly, the Coen’s never give the impression that they want you to particular sympathize with this character, they desire to present us with a window into an oft-forgotten period of folk music culture (on the brink of Dylan’s arrival) and they want us to experience such a period through the eyes of an individual who has every bit of potential to lead the craze, but ultimately chooses not to. The character and film would be close to intolerable if the actor portraying Davis was nothing short of excellent, and thankfully in the form of Isaac, the Coen’s have crafted a truly memorable anti-hero. Isaac demonstrates unique skill and craft in both his abilities as an actor and a musician, making Llewyn an extremely watchable presence. He exudes an affable aura despite his character being somewhat of an ass. He lends Llewyn an air of naivety and child-like mis-comprehension, painting him as a man who is not capable of negotiating the adult world. Much of the supporting cast do not have enough screen-time to truly make an impact, as they are simply individuals Llewyn happens to wade between or stumble across in his aimless life, but they are a talented bunch of players, featuring the likes of Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, and F. Murray Abraham.

While undeniably provoking and engrossing, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the most cynical films from the brotherly pairing. Despite containing a very cute cat and a wonderful soundtrack, the film is never optimistic, with much of the humour once more coming from moments of social awkwardness and cringe-worthy embarrassment. It is a inside-llewyn-davis-4coldness of touch reflected in the simply spectacular cinematography. Each frame is glazed with misty-eyed melancholy, drained of colour and hope but beautiful none the less. The music of the picture as well exudes personal sorrow and expert craft, demonstrating the cast’s genuine musical talents.

The bottom line is that the Coen’s have done better. There is no side-stepping that fact. Inside Llewyn Davis feels too small, self-contained and a tad thematically limited to stand up with their heavy hitters, like No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo (Barton Fink remains my personal favourite). There is something a bit too cold about the Inside Llewyn Davis that makes the proceedings feel a bit more off-kilter than usual for the pair. It is a sombre piece of cinema that seems to be profoundly elegant without having much to say. None the less, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the most beautifully photographed films of recent memory with an exceptional central performance and an intriguing narrative focus that marks it as yet another great, if not masterful, work from the Coen Brothers.

4/5- A story about a man at the crossroads of life, Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen’s at their most melancholic and graceful. A bleakly beautiful film powered by an affecting central performance from Oscar Isaac.

great_gatsby-1It is always fun when you can deem going to the cinema as a form of revision. Next week I’ll embark upon pretending to know things about 20th Century North American Literature, and hopefully the questions will allow me to discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece; The Greats Gatsby. Scott’s classic work involving the delirium of the 1920’s Jazz Age and the deconstruction of the American dream has been brought to the big-screen a couple of times before, most famously in the guise of a Francis-Ford Coppola scripted adaptation starring Robert Redford as the titular Gatsby. While certainly aptly performed, the film lost much of the novel’s nuances and subtleties. When it was announced that Baz Moulin Rouge Luhrmann was to direct a new adaptation, it was safe to assume the resulting product which be the same case; lots of style leading to the imagery lsoing somewhat of its potency by simply being take too literally. But, with Luhrmann at the helm, I was certainly was looking forward to seeing how the imagery would be depicted in his unique visual flair, as he is a director very capable of beautiful imagery. Employing a similar technique that the director applied to Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann’s period movie features a modern hip-hop soundtrack, amplifying the resonating nature of the themes of the novel. But, would his style be too much for the material, as it has proven to be in the past?

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) a young War Veteran who has somewhat lost sight of where he is going in life, moves to New York to become a stock broker, simply because that is what everyone is doing. As he re-tells his tale, we follow the young would-be writer during his experiences in the first feverish summer he spent in the Big Apple, living on the West Egg, Long Island. There he lives next door to the mysterious and illusive Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who repeatedly throws large extravagant parties, populated by the who’s who of the young New York socialites. Carraway soon finds himself in a rare position; he receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s party’s, something no one has ever received. Upon meeting the man himself, Nick becomes hopelessly intrigued by the effortlessly charming gentleman. He soon discovers the reason behind Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle; it has all been in the hope of gaining the attention of one Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby and Daisy fell in love five years ago, but have since been separated by War and social boundaries, leading to Daisy falling into a marriage with the wealthy, great-gatsby-3respectable but brutish Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgarton). Striking up a friendship with Nick, Gatsby uses his new friend to get close to Daisy in the hope of fulfilling his perfect fantasy. But soon, as truths are revealed, Gatsby’s facade, and entire world, begin to crumble all around him.

The Great Gatsby is the great American tragedy; showing the American dream to be an entity fueled by optimism but lacking any grounding in the real world.  Carraway’s narration is wonderful in Fitzgerald’s prose, in its ‘within and without’ nature. Here though, something has most definitely been lost in the translation. The proceedings do not start well, by any means. The film is given the framework of Carraway re-accounting his tale to a Doctor at a Sanatorium. It is a rather lazy form of narrative framework and is only set up to allow the for the incredibly cliched ‘revelation’ that Nick has written the novel. Not only that, Luhrmann opens in the film in stylistic over-drive.  The colour palette is polarizing, the camera-work is dizzying, nigh on incomprehensible with awful editing to match. It is far too over whelming and too driven by obvious over-use of CGI, amounting in an exhausting first act that is embarrassing and leaves a bitterly sweet taste in the mouth.

Thankfully though, the film soon finds its footing, and this is largely thanks to the presence of one man; DiCaprio. Once he enters the scene (in a sequence that is just on the right side of OTT) he carries the picture with ease, taking over from the awkward Maguire, who also becomes much more comfortable in the role within the company of DiCaprio. His Gatsby exudes charm, but is tormented by a deep inner darkness which boils to the surface on occasion. His performance paints the portrait of a man who is entirely convinced that his destiny should unfold in the fashion he has imagined for himself. and he finds it incredibly hard to accept when the circumstances appear to stop this from happening. Mulligan’s portrayal is easily as affecting; she is positively stunning in both performance and appearance, portraying the most perfect incarnation of Daisy that a fan of the material can possibly hope to imagine. Edgarton impresses as well in the commanding role of Tom Buchanan, intimidating yet carefully measured and much smarter than he initially appears. Gatsby-3

Luhrmann’s style certainly works to both benefit and discredit the film as a whole. He is capable of producing sumptuous imagery, but he relies far too much on the capabilities of green-screen rather than on the practicalities of set design. I understand the over-use of effects in terms of emphasizing Gatsby’s over-abundance in commodities and the such, but it is ultimately too over-whelming and distracting to the story. The soundtrack certainly works for the most part, but is perhaps not as radical as I would have hoped (the best use of track resides with Lana Del Ray’s ‘Young and Beautiful’). Special mention must be given to Craig Armstrong’s orchestral score, which is at times left battling with Jay-Z’s composition, but ultimately wins out in terms of which music I found more memorable and important to the fundamental experience of the film.

The nuances of the novel are once again diminished in the transition from page-to-screen, somewhat as a result of making a great deal of the imagery more accessible, and in some cases quite patronizingly so, for film audiences who may not be quite so well-read as others. The Green Light most certainly bashes you over the head numerous times. Yes, we get it Baz; SYMBOLISM. But Luhrmann does know, occasionally, when to reign in his visual flair and allow the actor’s to wrestle with Fitzgerald’s prose. The confrontation between the major characters in the Plaza Hotel Suite. The hugely talented cast carry this scene particularly well and it is easily the most impressive scene; ironically the scene with the least visual grandeur. It proves that the style is at its best subdued and that the film is at its best when allowing for Fitzgerald’s prose to be carried by the performances of its cast; namely DiCaprio, Mulligan and Edgarton. FL01_010.jpg

The compromises made with the novel may anger some purists of the text, but aside from the awful framing device, I found the film to be a well measured adaptation that preserves the grand themes of the novel, if once again, losing some of the delicacy employed by Fitzgerald. The film could have been a train-wreck, but what we have is the best Gatsby adaptation thus far, and perhaps are ever likely to get. It is, like its hero, far from perfect when you scratch beneath the glossy surface, but it entertains and manages to maintain a steady pace, despite a testing running time. The Great Gatsby will not be remembered as a classic literary adaptation, it will never gain that respect, nor does it deserve it, but it clearly is thoroughly respectful of its ancestry and will no doubt introduce a new generation to the world of Fitzgerald’s prose. And what’s the harm in that, Old Sport?

3/5- A visually over-whelming experience which loses a great deal of the novel’s heart and subtlety as a result. Thankfully, what is left of the heart is pumped strongly by some fine performances and an ambitious spirit.

I’ve been struggling somewhat since I saw this film to figure out exactly what to write about it, so I am sorry if this review seems to read more like a stream of consciousness as I try to figure out what to say. The reason I’ve been finding it difficult to articulate my response to  Shame is because it is a film that really puts you through every emotion, a literal roller-coaster of emotions. It is at times rather hard to watch, as I’m sure you are aware of its explicit nature. It is an intense experience that certainly leaves you in a bewildered and rather strange place. Despite all this, it is a movie to be greatly admired, from the artful direction by Steve McQueen, to the blistering performances from its two leads; Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

The story follows Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan, a seemingly normal guy on the surface who is successful in his work, gets on well with his workmates, and lives a prosperous life. Nothing on the surface seems out of the ordinary. But his private life is much different. Brandon is a sex addict. Sex is on his mind 24/7, and he goes to great lengths to ensure that his addiction is satisfied, be it the internet, masturbation (both at home and at work) or ordering prostitutes. Brandon also has to contend with his over-bearing and needy sister Sissy (Mulligan) , a very talented yet incredibly troubled Singer, who comes to stay with Brandon during the course of the film. The tensions between the two only go to worsen their respective conditions, pushing both of them towards a path of self-destruction.

The narrative follows Brandon vicariously from a seemingly random moment in his life, in which by the end of it we hope he tries to find resolution to his problem (I’ll leave it to you to make your own mind up about the ending). The fact that we follow Brandon so intensely is what leads to what some may consider the film’s more uncomfortable moments. It must be said, the sex scenes are not designed to be erotic in the conventional Hollywood sense. They are made to feel uncomfortable and somewhat saddening, as we see Brandon continue to fall victim to his over-powering addiction. We are not entirely aware that he has a sexual addiction from the beginning of the movie, it is as we continue to follow his middle-class life, that we become aware of the extensiveness and the seriousness of his addiction. It is true to say that in this day and age if we have a desire we want fulfilled, we want it done quickly. And we have the means to do that, and this is reflected in Brandon’s addiction. The world supplies him with the services to fulfill his desires, through the internet mainly, yet the film also highlights that although we are following an individual, there are other people in the world with the same desire, and are willing to help Brandon fulfill it, and not just because they are making a profit from it, proving Brandon is not alone, which is somewhat of a scary thought. What makes the experience uncomfortable is the extent in which Brandon goes to in order to fulfill his desire. By the final act in which he goes on the ultimate spiral of self-destruction, we realise it isn’t just an addiction of desire, it is Brandon’s form of self-harm. He lives a rather closed off life, he is batting inner demons, demons which begin to come to the surface when his sister, who very much has her demons out on display for all to see, comes to stay, forcing him to confront his problems. Only, his way of confronting these problems is to push the boundaries of his addiction to shocking results.

The relationship between Brandon and Sissy is what drives the narrative and gives the film its emotional backbone. The topic of sex addiction threatens to make the film, and its lead character, a rather detached and cold experience, which is why having the family topic present adds depths to both character and story, no matter how bizarre the relationship may seem. I’d hate to see what Brandon and Sissy’s experience was growing up, as these two are seriously fucked up individuals. McQueen and Abi Morgan’s script makes subtle suggestions to their past; with Sissy stating that “we’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place,” but it is the allusiveness of their past which makes the relationship interesting. A particular stand-out sequence has the two siblings confronting each other in the living room, saying harmful things to each other, all the while a cartoon plays out of focus on the television in the background. It is a wonderfully inventive example of juxtaposition; you expect siblings to sit down together in front of the television when they are children and perhaps have a bit of a squabble, however in this context it is two very troubled adults having a discussion which will end up having rather disastrous results. The relationship may not have come across as layered and conflicted as it does if it weren’t for the performances of Fassbender and Mulligan. Fassbender is a force to be reckoned with at the moment, and he is on ferocious form in this movie. He can go from charming, to detestable to down-right frightening just like that, and you are utterly convinced by him. It is a brave and committed performance which drives the film through every moment. Mulligan portrays a very different character, much less reserved, a tornado of an individual who brings about destruction wherever she goes. This a completely different character for Mulligan and only goes to exemplify her range as an actress. Compare this performance to, lets say Drive, and you wouldn’t think it was the same actress. She works perfectly against Fassbender as an over-bearing, yet wholly tragic character (even though it lasts too long, try not getting chills during her rendition of New York, New York).

Steve McQueen has followed up his debut film Hunger (which also features a fantastic performance from Fassbender) with an even braver movie, something which I didn’t think was possible. His direction is incredibly natural, he always relies on the lighting of the environment, letting shadows fall where they may within the New York setting, a city which is as full of mystery as it is glamour. He really has a knack for making his movies feel raw and real; there are moments in Brandon’s life which you can surprisingly relate to (all of us have had that date with the awkward waiter). Sex scenes have certainly never been shot in such a way, reflecting Brandon’s impersonal attitude to something which, in a perfect world, you share with someone you care about, but that isn’t the case sometimes. Some people may find it slightly irritating that some loose ends aren’t tied up, but as McQueen himself said, that is life, sometimes the loose ends aren’t tied up. Shame reflects how we really don’t know what goes on behind close doors, how a person you may think you know may lead a dark life. I’d like to think none of my friends are sex addicts in their own time, but the film does bring that question to light; how well do you really know the people in your life? And it does so in a bold and profound way. In short; it’s art.

5/5- Intense, artistic and undeniably brave. It may be hard to watch at times, but it is a fascinating character study featuring two stunning performances from Fassbender and Mulligan.