Jamie Bell

Movie Issues: Snowpiercer

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Movie Issues: Snowpiercer

This week the guys dive deep into the world of the South Korean/American film known as Snowpiercer. In the distant future the world has been thrown into a ice age and the only remaining humans ride in a train that never stops as it goes around the whole world. The front end is the super rich and powerful, the back end the poor and the weak. The backend has had enough and is going to fight their way to the front and change the way things are. They’ll stop at nothing to get there no matter the cost. It’s a rich movie that really explores how far you would go to survive. Please download and listen in as the guys really get into the movie and discuss it from top to bottom.  Read On

Movie Issues: Snowpiercer

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Movie Issues: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is a 2013 South Korean-American science fiction film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette. Making his first English-language debut film is South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho. The movie stars Chris Evans, South Korean actors Kang-ho Song and Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris. This is one of the most interesting and compelling films of 2014 so far. It’s powerful and exuberant. Hands down one of the most thought provoking films you’ll see this year.

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Jane Eyre (2011)

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Jane Eyre (2011)

As many long-suffering high schoolers did, I read Jane Eyre in 9th grade and hated it.  Later, of course, I reread it and loved it!  Even as I warmed to Charlotte Bronte’s surprisingly astute judge of the psychological damage inflicted by the callous societal attitudes of the day, I never really got why Jane went for Mr. Rochester.  Simple as that.  In a culture of withholding and cruelty, his “charms” could best be described as “as expected” rather than alluring on any level.

In this adaptation, screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Cary Fukunaga finally helped me get it.  From Rochester’s hysterical secret to Jane’s default setting of undeservingness, Buffini takes them both to a place of mutual respect and understanding.  It may not necessarily be true to the text as such (it has been quite a while) but it’s true to the spirit of Jane.

Casting Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as the glowering antihero was equally as inspired a choice as using Colin Firth in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice:  both of them are unconventionally handsome and gentle actors thrust into roles that radiate unpleasantness and are difficult to warm to.  Rochester’s irrational grumps and rages feel more human coming out of Fassbender, not unlike Firth’s cold and cutting remarks.  It’s the only way to insert humanity into them onscreen in the truncated time span of a film.

Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is stoic and unselfconsciously beautiful, frail-looking but strong as bamboo when tried.  We can see all her internal scars, feel the effects of her abusive upbringing, even as the movie is forced to rush through the extent of it.  From such a barren life grows a fierce weed, almost mannish her lack of guile or vanity — and from thence her appeal.  It’s funny how literary and contemporary men always decry women for leaving their feminine place, but are yet always drawn to the outspoken, independent, fearless women they decry.

This version of Jane Eyre is light on Rochester being cruel to her himself, and in that fails the story just a little — but I confess I enjoyed it more for that.  I also liked the sense of Rochester being in the world when Jane has not been.  Not only in terms of his bastard ward, but just his whole clearly grown-up-ness and jaded weariness — yet still he is weaker than this beaten down servant girl.

My one quibble is a sort of narrative device that confused me — and likely might have done for anyone who hadn’t read the book at all.  The whole episode with St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters, I had forgotten happened at all.  So when we’re shown the flight across the — moors? heath? — by Jane, twice, it’s not immediately evident where it falls in the timeline, both times.  It can be worked out and it’s not vital, but it rendered a scene a little contextually confusing, implying through editing that Rivers helped her find her job at Thornfield, the Rochester house.  It’s only a quibble.  I enjoyed this film very much.  I hope you will too.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 3/11/11

Time in minutes 120

Director Cary Fukunaga

Studio Focus Features

Defiance

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It may have been a mistake to watch Defiance in a double feature with Valkyrie. These two WWII movies could not be more different in tone, though both are portraits in bravery above and beyond reasonable hope. Where Valkyrie is very military and fawning, sort of, Defiance is gritty, earthy, trembling, and intense. The premise, if you’re unfamiliar, is the true story of a group of Jews hiding from the Nazis in the dense Belorussian forest of Lipiczanska. The little commune that built up around the thoughtless survival instinct of three brothers Bielski (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell) grew into a full community. It is more to live than just to survive (as Wall-E also reminded us), so that we know what we survive for.

Here are a people so hounded, so surrounded by hatred and fear and death and loss, yet still able to pull together and retain civilization in the bleak Belarus winter. It’s a story about that, but it is also a story about the Bielski brothers’ relationships with their grief, with each other, with survival – and the legend that grows around their names as a result of their ad hoc protectorate.

As a WWII story, it’s inspiring, and even new. As a film, it’s tense and nerve-wracking and sobering. To witness such conditions, such resources, such fear, such stakes is always harrowing. Director Edward Zwick is no stranger to painting a rich canvas for his actors to stand out upon (Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall, for example) and he does not disappoint here. The near-monochrome of the winter, their ever-present grimy and threadbare existence is portrayed with even more depth than the plot points.

Thanks to the consistent but occasionally dense Eastern European accents (a welcome dip into realism after Valkryrie’s British/American flavor), I missed a number of character names for actors whom I wish to praise. The coughing teacher and the Red Army leader were too sparingly used but gave great performances. Schrieber, Iben Hjelje, Mark Feuerstein, and Mia Wasikowska stood out for me as favorites — partially for their open, optimistic faces, and partially for making me believe they were beleaguered Belorussians fleeing Nazi persecution, despite their familiar faces.

It’s a simple, solid movie, worth seeing indeed, but I fear more like a satisfying Chinese dinner over time. See it before the world forgets about it.

MPAA Rating R-violence, language
Release date 12/31/08
Time in minutes 137
Director Edward Zwick
Studio Paramount Vantage

Comments Off on Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

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If the beginning of Nicholas Nickleby reminds you of Emma, don’t be too alarmed: that music is by Emma composer Rachel Portman and both films were directed by Douglas McGrath. It’s a tenderly artistic and quaint opening, but sadly, there the similarities end. Nicholas Nickleby is a six hour play based on Charles Dickens’ 420 page (per Amazon.com) novel, filled with travail, pathos, zillions of characters, and some heady themes, whereas Emma is much simpler and too the point. As film adaptations go, condensing 420 pages into 108 minutes of screen time is both unfair to the screenwriter and to the audience. It is not at all surprising that I and my companions felt that much information was glossed over or missing outright, and occasionally the filmmakers took the supposed reader familiarity for granted.

Actor Charlie Hunnam plays adult Nicholas, who oozes angelic beauty and goodness in a surprisingly off-putting way. One of my companions wisely noted that in Dickens’ world of stock characters, such a noble and selfless hero such as Nickleby would be portrayed a someone very handsome. Hunnam is an alarming soup of the qualities Val Kilmer, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Cary Elwes most likely to be valued by Calvin Klein. Far too pretty even for commercial use, it was surprisingly distracting, and not in a swoony “he’s so dreamy” kind of way. Hunnam’s humble performance is buoyed by an unbelievable cast of supporting players (wisely advertised on the poster, or else we would not have gone). All the best moments belong to these fine actors. Here’s the menu to tempt you: Juliet Stevenson, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Dame Edna Everage, Tom Courtenay, Christopher Plummer, Anne Hathaway, the charming pair of Timothy Spall & Gerard Horan, and even Harry Potter’s David Bradley.

Christopher Plummer chews his opulent scenery as evil Uncle Ralph Nickleby. A troupe of actors including Alan Cumming, led by Mr. & Mrs. Crummles (Lane & Everage) bring much needed pleasure to the dismal squalor of the lives of these unfortunate, good people. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) lurches sweetly and determinedly through the role of hapless Smike. Most deliciously, with nasty grit and gusto, Jim Broadbent digs into the role of Squeers, the head of the wretched Dotheboys home. Squeers’ wife (Juliet Stevenson) is, if possible, even more cruel. Such affable actors in such wicked parts, it’s a delight to see them play and relish their squalid roles. Unfortunately, all their sublime little performances could not make up for the glaring omissions of key plot issues, not cut the treacle of Hunnam’s dimply beaming puss.

Like many of Dickens’ tales, Nicholas Nickleby uses the injustices and social ills of the time to draw clear morality tales of karma and devotion. Suspending disbelief is usually no problem, but the lickety slpit treatment of a deeply complex work comes off as frivolous and very black and white.

Much as I wanted to enjoy this film, the distraction of near-constantly wondering “what just happened?” and the oppressive beauty of Nicholas prevented me from being fully satisfied. Why was his being too pretty a problem? He twinkled so, he was never dirty, and his behavior was so dashedly pure, I couldn’t trust him one bit. (Ironic, and not Dickens’ intent, but true). Call it my modern perspective, but no one is that good and that pretty; no one can look like that (especially in the shorthand of film) and have a need to develop any tender sensibilities or a personality unless it is to beguile. Maybe it’s my own problem, but the supporting cast alone makes it worth a look.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/27/02
Time in minutes 108
Director Douglas McGrath
Studio MGM/United Artists