STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014)

October 23, 2014

stonehearst Greetings again from the darkness. A surefire indication that a movie is a must-see for me are the words “based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe” … no matter how loosely. Then, set the film in a creepy turn of the 20th century insane asylum, and cast Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson, and consider me exceptionally excited.

From the opening moments, there is a certain nostalgic or throwback feel.It recalls the “B” movie feel of so many from the 40’s and 50’s that I grew up watching on late night TV. Imagining the production in Black & White rather than color, and picturing Vincent Price as one of the leads, probably give this one more credit than it earns. Despite the stellar cast – also featuring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, David Thewlis, and Sinead Cusack – it doesn’t manage to generate any real suspense or feeling of danger.

Director Brad Anderson works mostly in television, but has kicked out some films of interest along the way. These include Session 9, Transsiberian, The Call, and especially The Machinist. Here, he has an exceptionally deep and talented cast, yet manages to waste Mr. Caine and Mr. Gleeson with minor roles. Even Ms. Beckinsale is treated as simple eye candy with a stunning wardrobe that defies logic, given the circumstances.

Three characters that deliver some fun are Sophie Kennedy Clark as Millie (the nurse), David Thewlis as the comically named Mickey Finn, and of course Sir Ben Kingsley as Silas Lamb. Kingsley is one of the few actors who can walk the fine line between elegance and madness, and leave us wondering (even if we really know). He thrives on scenery-chewing roles and this one definitely qualifies.

The script avoids any real insight or statement on the cruel treatment of the mentally afflicted from the pre-psychoanalysis days brought on shortly thereafter by Freud. Allowing the inmates to run the asylum does make it clear that insanity comes in many forms with differing degrees. In fact, I would challenge viewers to name one truly sane person in this film. Loosely based on Poe’s short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, what the film lacks in tension and terror (it’s not Shutter Island), it mostly makes up for in production design and nostalgia.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: a throwback to the asylum movies of the 40’s and 50’s brings you a warm nostalgic feeling

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you prefer not to see electro-shock therapy administered to Michael Caine

watch the trailer:

 

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CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

October 27, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ambitious and mesmerizing. Those are the two words that best describe my reaction to this stunning film based on the David Mitchell novel. Hopefully, you have not come here for answers to the many mysteries offered up by this most unique film experience. If you are the type that loves to think, analyze and discuss complex movies, you will be challenged and satisfied. If you prefer your stories clean, straightforward and gift-wrapped, you will be like some of those in my audience who walked out of the theatre at various stages -not to return.

 While there are no easy explanations for what we see on screen, this is undoubtedly one of the more complex and multi-faceted and challenging movies to watch. There are six stories that span approximately 500 years (beginning in 1849 and going through 2346 or so). We see many actors playing multiple characters of various ages, crossing racial and gender lines depending on the specific story.  We track the progression/regression of their souls through time. This will prove more challenging to you than it sounds on paper, as the make-up work is some of the most extreme ever seen on screen.  Many will describe the film as messy or convoluted, but the argument can be made that those traits add to the fun. Certainly, this won’t be to the taste of most; however, if you thrive on life’s puzzles, the film will hit your sweet spot.

 The six stories are co-written and directed by Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run) and The Wachowski’s (Lana and Andy, The Matrix trilogy). These six segments are split evenly between the two director groups, yet then blend seamlessly thanks to the truly expert editing of Alexander Berner. You will recognize the influence and similarities of such films as Master and Commander, Cocoon, Silkwood and Blade Runner, as well as many others.

Filling the costumes, donning the make-up and spouting the dialogue in manners that you often won’t recognize are such disparate actors as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Donna Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. Especially entertaining are Hugo Weaving as a sadistic female nurse and Hugh Grant as a violent tribesman. The best laughs in the film are courtesy of the great Mr. Broadbent whose facial expressions are near clown-like in elasticity.

 As for the themes and points of the film, that is a topic for debate. A couple of lines of dialogue offer some clues. Hanks’ nasty ship doctor spouts “The weak are meat the strong do eat“, and we notice the recurring theme of the strong dominating the weak across all story lines. There is another line: “One can transcend any convention so long as one can conceive of doing so“, that provides the glimmer of hope in each story. Love and oppression are always present, but it’s clear to me that the human spirit remains strong and is capable of overcoming oppression in the past, present and future. You may disagree but our debates will be colorful … and may change after a second viewing!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy assembling the pieces of multiple storylines and numerous interconnected characters OR you just want to see Hugo Weaving play the toughest on screen nurse since Nurse Ratched

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer movies to be short and sweet (this one is almost 3 hours and anything but sweet)

Watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQFAPeaJOf8


ONE DAY

August 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have not read David Nicholls‘ novel, but my understanding is that it is extremely well written and its loyal readers really connected with Emma and Dexter. If that’s true, then this film version is even worse than I thought while watching.

This literally is my least favorite type of movie. An uninspired movie that assumes its viewers are unable to think for themselves or judge the actions of its characters. In other words, the filmmakers take for granted that we will accept whatever is shown on the big screen.

 First let me say that I completely understand the school girl crush that a young Emma (Anne Hathaway) has on her classmate Dexter (Jim Sturgess). He is handsome and charismatic and comes from more money than she. I also understand Dexter’s attraction to the lovely Emma. She is very pretty – despite the ridiculous over-sized glasses used for effect in the early scenes – and very intelligent, and a significantly nicer person than he.

What makes absolutely no sense is her continued attraction to this drunken, empty soul for the next twenty years. She is too smart to pine away the years hoping he will wise up and coming running to her. We are supposed to believe that she has no interest in any other relationship except the non-threatening one with flopping stand-up comedian Ian (played by Timothy Spall‘s son Rafe) and a “boring” French Jazz Pianist.

 Dexter’s mother is played by Patricia Clarkson. As she is dying from cancer, she tells him that she believes he will grow into a good man, but isn’t there yet. I guess we are supposed to take her word for it. Instead we only see Dexter go from a selfish pig as a TV personality to a defeated man who must perform manual labor for the first time in his life. My issue is that a defeated man is not necessarily a good man. A man resigned to his life has not necessarily reached enlightenment. Where is Emma’s proof that he deserves her? Where is the indication that her life with him will be better? I tell you where … in the mind of that school girl from years ago.

 Please don’t mistake my words as that of one who has no faith in romantic stories. There are so many ways this story could have turned that it would have captured me. Instead it chose a path that assumed I was ignorant … totally accepting of the ridiculous story being laid out in front of me. 

My final comments on the film involve the cast. Anne Hathaway is an incredibly talented performer. She is not, however, British. Her accent is terribly distracting. Jim Sturgess is a handsome guy, but just not showy enough to pull off the TV personality role. Patricia Clarkson is a fantastic actress, but she is not British either. Seriously, are there not enough British actresses? The casting reeks of a money-grubbing production team. As for director Lone Scherfig … her previous film An Education was cinematic excellence. This is an unacceptable follow-up and we expect better next time.

Since I usually look for the good in movies, I will say the locations of Edinburg, London and Paris were beautiful and different than we usually get from the movies. That provided the only real enjoyment from this highly disappointing movie.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: this is the only way you can see some beautiful scenery from the U.K. and France, and can block out the horrible story onscreen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the book and don’t want to spoil that good vibe

watch the trailer: