Capsule Review: Jane Eyre, Run Lola Run, Martha Marcy May Marlene 

It’s about time that I finally get to write about female-centric films, particularly these three titles that are captivating and stimulating in their own strange ways. A gothic period drama, a foreign thriller, and a psychological drama, each film probes the female psyche with stylish finesse that creates canvasses of individualism in poignant, kinetic and disquieting atmospheres, respectively. These films are also notable in spawning a fountain of new talent: auteur directors and auspicious actors in their flourishing filmographies. More than what meets the eye, these eponymous characters are kindled in varying dark undertones; their complexities shed in an intriguing new light that undresses a deeper characterization of women in cinema.

@@@@@

JANE EYRE (2011)

Before True Detective and the upcoming Crimson Peak, Director Cary Fukunaga and Mia Wasikowska teamed up in the moody yet mesmerizing onscreen adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s literary classic. Oozing with passion and pulsating with conviction, Fukunaga’s JANE EYRE revives the fictional heroine with gothic intrigue and unflinching grittiness that shape Jane to be the redeemed protagonist she truly deserves. The tribulations she experienced in her formative years have steeled her as a woman of agency that is tested when she becomes a young governess to the ward of the enigmatic Mr. Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Wasikowska ideally captures Jane’s willowy physique and youth but her acclaimed performance is anchored deeply on her mature beliefs and impassioned declarations that reverberate to the core of her character. She contains the emotional flare of Jane to a nuanced effect, much like Fukunaga who deftly infuses gothic and supernatural influences in a romantic period drama and remain consistently perceptive throughout the film. Fassbender fills in the role of Mr. Rochester with charismatic mystery, breathlessly piquing the audience’s (and Jane’s) curiosity about his identity and secret. Judi Dench also stars as the benevolent Mrs. Fairfax. JANE EYRE is palpably fervent both in its feminist nature and sensible commentary on its narrative setting, thus stirring itself as an empowering and potent film, not just among the earlier cinematic versions of its source material but also in the history of period adaptations.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

.

RUN LOLA RUN / LOLA RENNT (1998)

Transported to a world where fate and willpower collide, RUN LOLA RUN’s tenacity is one-of-a-kind; an experimental showcase of mixed art whose thematic strength comes from the unwavering determination and stamina of its titular character. With only 20 minutes to fulfill a call for help, Lola (Franka Potente) runs along the streets of Berlin, carrying with her numerous possibilities in her brief social interactions. RUN LOLA RUN toys around the casual dynamics of cause and effect with fortitude as the main variable; thus surprising in its unnatural execution of three scenarios, albeit three runs that Lola undergo to achieve the best possible outcome. Despite following the same route, the film becomes unpredictable on the obstacles which Lola encounters differently. Through her agility, persistence and resourcefulness, she becomes an unlikely heroine to cheer for. RUN LOLA RUN may be uncanny on presenting how willpower could win against chance. Perhaps this is what the film suggests; a philosophy on how destiny and determinism plays and duels in infinite circumstances and what prevails in the end is the matter of one’s consciousness, which this German thriller has vividly and effectively depicted.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)

Elizabeth Olsen makes a startling debut as a young woman who escapes a cult and struggles back to normalcy in Sean Durkin’s harrowing psychological drama. Stripping its lead star of naivety for a revealingly complex role, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE unmasks the workings of a cult through the broken and manipulated mind of Martha (Olsen) who reconnects with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), after abandoning the abusive cult ran by its beguiling leader, Patrick (John Hawkes). Implied to have a troubled life before joining the group, the mystery behind Martha’s two-year excursion is illuminated through flashbacks that maliciously blur her adjustment to the normal life. As the camera captures in cool yet murky colors the questionable daily routines of the cult, Martha accustoms herself to the blind beliefs Patrick instilled on his followers which rationalizes the abnormal nature of their household. But the real challenge is grasping Martha’s behavior whose damaged personality makes her an ambiguous yet affecting character that Olsen outstandingly pulls off. She shows an overwhelming emotional complexity that grounds the film’s authenticity. With a solid supporting cast pulling Martha’s mindset in a tug of war of false and true realities, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is an intimate yet vicious dip in the mind of a victim, a prey psychologically vexed by a predator. Closed by a vague cliffhanger, the film maintains its perplexity since the beginning, but with a more troubling afterthought on Martha’s impassiveness towards her future than her tormented past.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Advertisements

Film Diary: Closer (Tribute to Mike Nichols, Part 2)

CLOSER (2004)

Love and lies are what makes the world go round in CLOSER, Director Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the award-winning stage play that dips into precarious corners of romance among its four characters who are driven of passion, jealousy, and deceit. The film is teeming of discourse and introspection on its central idea – love plagued by infidelity and dishonesty that are eloquently conveyed in the modern-day setting. It explores the dynamics of its beguiling quartet through the permutation of impassioned pairs, contesting over their notions of love and relationships. The intriguing premise around its striking ensemble may have drawn viewers closer, but the quarter of the whole is more satisfying than the overall. For all its grand romantic rhetoric, CLOSER is more of a collection of vain abstractions than an empathic character study. The passion is palpable but impersonal, thus not transcending to where the medium intends it to be.

vlcsnap-2015-04-19-15h01m28s250

No matter how personal its themes are, CLOSER tends to feel aloof. Maybe because of how imposing yet unambiguous its proposition is. How untruthfulness can destroy relationships is the universal truth after all, but the film attempts to overcomplicate itself that the tension doesn’t feel organic anymore (that could spell the difference in effectiveness between on stage and onscreen). The experimental couplings don’t necessarily achieve the desired compelling results but two actors in particular are revealing that they upstage the other two. Natalie Portman in her surprisingly provocative demeanor (before Black Swan) and Clive Owen in a commanding supporting role (both were Oscar-nominated) brought their characters’ passion as close as it can get to the audience. The actors may have stood as prop for the film’s subject matter but Portman and Owen are more affectingly flawed than Julia Roberts and Jude Law. It’s not their fault anyway, as the romantic drama is weighed down by imbalance that favors its contrived emotional milieu than the essence of its characters.

vlcsnap-2015-04-19-15h17m48s95

Though CLOSER is more engrossed in idea than the persona, it is articulate on the pronouncements of love, lies and lust and becomes persuasive of the world it presents. The dialogue is eloquent regardless of its agitated, sensual and somber nature as the script is also penned by the same playwright, Patrick Marber. Being the director who observes the truthfulness of human emotions, Nichols doesn’t shy from the rare, blistering romantic drama that CLOSER successfully channels. His realism shuns the melodrama with the ample amount of frustration and insecurity that sharpens the bluntness of each line. While the frank conversations maybe devoid of metaphoric significance, the film compensates through the sober strums of Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter” that opens and closes CLOSER in similar scenes with Alice Ayers (Portman) as the only redeemed character. Her disarming beauty, stubborn precocity and envied youth are somehow objectified that sets the story in motion. But her entanglement with Dan (Law), Anna (Roberts) and Larry (Owen) was, for what it’s worth, settles her in the most resilient position. And she does say the most concise break-up line in history.

vlcsnap-2015-04-19-14h17m50s203

A romantic roundabout that speaks the malice of love, CLOSER is more observing than feeling. The film’s objectivity on love and its unattractive dimensions are baffling, considering how fundamental the supreme emotion is to the existence of its characters. Nichols’ second-to-the-last film showcases one of the most depressing insights on love… but parts with the importance of loving one’s self. How can someone love if he/she is incapable of accepting his/her true identity and banishing his/her insecurity? (At least that’s how I grasp the film’s less self-absorbed message.)

CLOSER is an inviting romantic drama whose payoff deviates from what was anticipated. Love should bring people closer, not farther. But perhaps it’s the film’s intention to create such scenario to ponder the consequences… With that, I compromise.

RATING: 3.0/5.0

Film Diary: The Graduate (Tribute to Mike Nichols, Part 1)

I could only say little about the renowned director Mike Nichols who had long been making inimitable films decades before my ordinary existence. His understanding of the human ethos is directed through the intimate exploration of the many faces of tragedy, be it the perfectly recognizable post-college malaise in THE GRADUATE and the treacherous trials of love in CLOSER. These two flicks are quite seductive on their own; the former famously identified by its iconic quote and the latter through its quartet of attractive leads. Nichols is also notable for selecting the felicitous accompanying folk music that enriches the overall cinematic experience. Without further ado, here are my takes on two of Nichols’ mainstream films.

@@@@@

THE GRADUATE (1967)

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-13h04m44s155

Hello darkness, my old friend…

In describing coming-of-age films, ‘timeless’ comes into mind when the movie is still ripe of its emotional resonance, years since its release. The genre’s potent ability to evoke such feeling and memory makes the metaphysical bond with the film more personal. It’s not just by recognizing the emotive gravity of that moment, but also finding one’s self in that scene at one point in a lifetime.

If there’s a film that accurately captured a moment in my life, it would be Nichols’ Oscar-winning film (as Best Director), THE GRADUATE, starring a gangly and fidgety Dustin Hoffman who finds himself lost post-graduation. Simply put, this coming-of-age film perfectly understands and embodies the empty void the ex-student feels after finishing one’s education. It’s the only movie that articulated excellently the existential crisis I felt after graduation. What do I do with my life after finishing school? How do I begin the rest of my life after completing the only thing that I’ve been doing since kindergarten? THE GRADUATE doesn’t grill its lead character about philosophical and radical rhetoric fitting for his scholarly standing. The young, promising intellectual introduced as Benjamin Braddock was weathered to become uncertain and unguarded whose compulsiveness to evade his career indecision took him off the road. The ending may not be the most optimistic but it is realistic. Awkwardly funny yet affecting of its youth’s cynicism and idealism, THE GRADUATE is consistent in evoking the authentic malaise that people who were once in Benjamin’s shoes had felt, including me.

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-13h33m41s114

First meeting.

Benjamin’s infamous affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) becomes his main diversion during his post-collegiate and pre-occupation existential limbo. What follows was a whirlwind of events that brought out Benjamin’s assertiveness from his timidity. The essence of coming-of-age films is rooted on the self-discovery and personal growth that bloom from life-changing decisions of its precocious and/or impetuous young characters. Benjamin wouldn’t recognize the man he had grown at the conclusion. However, his neutral impression in the last scene finds him on the same page in the beginning, haunted by uncertainty.

THE GRADUATE is a poignant splice of life easy to identify with. The feeling of ambiguity, anxiety and apprehension altogether simmer into the vulnerability of not knowing what to do in the future. Amidst the troubles on the heels of his recklessness, Benjamin discovers passion in pursuing what he wants and fights for it in the end. While the film is ambiguous on the regret over his climatic choice, the ending establishes the necessary maturity of his character existing in the permanence of uncertainty. THE GRADUATE is sympathetic on his predicament but it also emphasizes the inevitability of growing up (making more informed choices as the first step). The fear of what the future could bring can’t be overturned and Benjamin realizes it in the end. All he could do is be committed to his life-changing decision.

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-13h43m32s131

Benjamin (Hoffman) catching a break.

Remarkably blending with Benjamin’s personal journey in THE GRADUATE is Nichols’ fine choice of folk music from Simon & Garfunkel, whose quintessential melodies foster the film’s soul. Comforting yet brooding of the lead’s problematic situation, “The Sound of Silence” plays as Benjamin arrives from the airport; his uneasiness already palpable and the same song lulls during his nightly rendezvous with Mrs. Robinson. “Mrs. Robinson” is an ode to the movie’s ageless and most famous pop cultural reference. “Scarborough Fair” bookmarks Benjamin’s change in priorities as dictated by his heart.

Timeless and endearing, THE GRADUATE is one of those films that nurtures the being. While it led me to look back to my unemployed days/post-graduation days worried from purposelessness and failure, it also inspired me to look ahead. It’s a scary, uncertain tomorrow but the only direction for the graduate is forward. Speaking for every graduate, I‘m entitled to make mistakes, as long as I learn from it and use them to become better version of myself.

No more turning back, okay?

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-15h00m50s192

P.S.

Now I know why Summer from 500 Days of Summer cried. I didn’t cry anyway, but I felt what she felt. And so should you.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

UP NEXT: Why “Closer” makes me glad I’m single.