The Two Faces of January – DVD Review

The Two Faces of January

Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are an American couple touring Greece in 1962 after fleecing investors back home and fleeing the country. At the Acropolis of Athens they bump into tour guide and con artist Oscar Isaac who latches onto the pair in pursuit of their money and Dunst’s feminine charms. Events back in the states catch up with the trio, blood is shed, and soon the three are on the run from the law. Who can be trusted? Will they make it out of the country? Who will Dunst choose, her husband or the man she hardly knows? Will they all make it out alive?

If you haven’t yet noticed The Two Faces of January is a thriller in the most traditional fashion. With its authentic period style, crosses and double crosses, and romantic trysts suggested at but never explicitly shown this film could easily have been made fifty years ago. Being such a slave to convention and possessing such an old-fashioned manner is both to the film’s credit and detriment. The look and feel of the piece is admirable. Every shot is gorgeous and benefits from the production’s globe-trotting filming schedule while the actors are shot in a sympathetic light that showcases bone structure and lets all three leads resemble classic Hollywood icons.

Where traditional thriller mechanics disappoint is in allowing the film to become completely predictable. Maybe not completely predictable, I won’t pretend to have seen every twist and turn coming, but certainly when a character is double crossed or revealed to have an ulterior motive I wasn’t exactly falling out of my seat so much as nodding slowly to myself in a knowing way. Feeling as though you know what is going to happen is a terrible situation to be in when watching a thriller as you are never overly concerned about what actually does happen. Add to this the fact that both male leads are unlikeable untrustworthy types and I was struggling to generate much empathy for them.

The Two Faces of January 2

As for Dunst’s leading lady; she is the biggest casualty of The Two Faces of January‘s retro feel. While these days we expect, but don’t always get, a female character with some level of personality and backbone this is something that the film fails to provide. Dunst is for the most part a prize to be won and a pawn in the struggle between Mortensen and Isaac. Dunst is seemingly ambivalent about who she ends up with and is equally happy being rescued by either man. When any scene of dramatic importance takes place Dunst will reliably be asleep, waiting in the bedroom, waiting at the top of the stairs, or simply elsewhere not troubling anybody. A feminist icon this character is not.

Quibbles aside The Two Faces of January is a perfectly fine throwback thriller with serviceable acting and beautiful scenery. Just don’t go in expect to see anything new. Writer/director Hossein Amini has certainly got a fine eye but perhaps could have spent some more time energising the plot when adapting from Patricia Highsmith’s original novel.

Both DVD and Blu-ray discs have the same special features which is something to admire in itself. These take the form of the usual collection of featurettes, interviews, and deleted scenes. The interviews focus mainly on celebrating the fact that filming took place in multiple countries; more Wish You Were Here then anything in depth. There is also a blooper reel which felt slightly odd considering the po-faced tone of the film itself.

The Two Faces of January is out on DVD and Blu-ray next Monday 15th September.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Hayao Miyazaki Retrospective #3

Kikis Delivery Service

Next up, for those of you who are watching these films in order, is Kiki and her black magic delivery service. In some ways this is the most ‘Western’ of the Miyazaki films so far, in that it is a story about witches and talking cats instead of tree spirits and planetary energy.

We are first introduced to Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) who is a young witch living with her family in a rural house. It is nearing her 13th birthday and she is excited about spending the traditional year away from home that witches undertake as a rite-of-passage. She hasn’t found her special skill yet but is eager to learn so leaves with her talking cat (an amazing Phil Hartman) to find herself in the local city, as is tradition.

Kikis Delivery Service 1

When she gets arrives she finds it hard to fit in and ends up making friends only through delivering something as a favour. This leads to her living with the pregnant baker Osono who allows her to set up a delivery service, which allows her to perfect her special witchcraft skill: flying a broom. She meets a young boy who is obsessed with flying and therefore finds her fascinating and develops a crush on her. She also meets a free-spirit painter named Ursula (Janeane Garofalo) who teaches her about painting and allows her to stay.

One night Kiki is delivering something to a rich spoilt girl and has to fly through the rain, which makes her ill. She then begins to lose her witch powers – referred to as “artist’s block” by Ursula. The rest of the film is about how she gets her powers back. The narrative is a classic teenage-girl coming-of-age story with plenty of puberty / teen angst / menstruation metaphors thrown in. The film also has some nice feminist-y moments, mostly involving Janeane Garofalo.

Kikis Delivery Service 2

The animation is amazing throughout the film (as usual) and although there are no bizarre creatures to marvel, Jiji the talking cat fulfills the Miyazaki obligatory cute thing quota. What I really like about this film though is the insight it gives into Japanese relations between generations. All of the Ghibli films have a lovely elderly character in, but this film seems to show the naturalness that Japanese people have in speaking across generations. I know that this is only a cartoon – but try to imagine the same story happening in a British or American narrative and it simply wouldn’t work.

Upside Down – Trailer

An intriguing trailer has been kicking around the internet for a new Sci-Fi romance called Upside Down starring the recently defended Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess. What makes this trailer particularly exciting is that it keeps being pulled down from around the internet, it is the forbidden fruit of the trailer world.

With a plot involving a second world directly above our own but with opposite gravity, think about it for a moment, it is almost too easy to describe the film as feeling like a cross between Inception and Another Earth. Sadly I like an easy life, so watch the trailer below and marvel at what is a cross between Inception and Another Earth.

[flashvideo file=wp-content/uploads/Upside_Down_Trailer.flv /]

Observant people will have noticed that the trailer is French, this is because there is no release date yet in any English-speaking country. For anyone like me with only a few choice French phrases (Où est mon petit-déjeuner?) I have translated the text from the trailer with help from various different translation websites, each giving slightly incoherent responses.

Imagine another world with its own gravity just above ours. The laws of the universes oppose them but nothing can separate them. Next year love will change our view on the world.

Fingers crossed someone wears a thick jumper at some point so I can lump this into the Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction category.

Reassessing Kirsten Dunst

I can’t help but feel that before her acclaim for Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst was given short shrift. While she may be an acclaimed actress now, it seemed like a long and successful career has become overshadowed by weak romantic comedies (Elizabethtown, Wimbledon and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) and her unimpressive role in the Spider-Man films, these being the films that gave her the widest exposure. Below I pick out nine films from the length of her career, showing that Dunst has been doing good and varied work long before Melancholia came along.

It’s time to reassess Kirsten Dunst.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
At just 12, Kirsten had to play the very complex role of Claudia, a young girl who is turned into a vampire. Struggling to grow up in an unchanging body Dunst gave a very mature performance and was absolutely terrifying at times. One moment that will always stay with me is the sight of a young girl slitting Tom Cruise’s throat and him bleeding out on the floor. Shame the sequel Queen of the Damned did not live up to this vampire classic.

Oh, how I loved this film. It combined “cutting edge” CGI, Robin Williams (a man who couldn’t put a foot wrong when I was young) and animals running amok; all of which make for a child friendly film. Kirsten took the role of the sister in a pair of siblings who play an old board game in their new house, only to unleash the jungle on suburbia. “There is a lesson you will learn: sometimes you must go back a turn.”

Small Soldiers
Another childhood favourite, another case of toys getting out of control and another film which is just as good today. When toy soldiers get military chips implanted in their circuits, they take their role as soldiers very seriously and humans aren’t on their side. Dunst was mostly the love interest here, but for a 10-year-old me that was more than enough, and she got to dabble in some violence too.

The Virgin Suicides
In Sofia Coppola’s debut Dunst stars as one of a group of beautiful and elusive sisters, all of whom defy understanding and are heading towards the inevitable tragedy. Possibly Kirsten’s first opportunity since Interview with the Vampire to do some “proper” acting, this being a film focussing more on mood and character than the high concept plots of Jumaji and Soldiers. Alarming to think that at the age of 17, Dunst had five films out this year.

Drop Dead Gorgeous
Another of those five films in 1999 is one of my all-time favourite comedies, a mockumentary following contestants in a beauty pageant. An extremely dark comedy, one involving murder and anorexia, Dunst gets an opportunity to showcase her comedy chops. The film is also notable for featuring the great Allison Janney along with early appearances from Amy Adams and Brittany Murphy.

Bring It On
No child of the nineties doesn’t secretly love this cheerleader comedy, one of the classics of the teen comedy genre of the late-nineties/early-noughties. The plot is simple, the new cheerleading captain (Dunst) has to lead her team to victory at the national championships, but the execution is a joy to behold. Say it with me, “Brr! It’s Cold In Here!” Another film where the sequels (not involving Kirsten) pale in comparison.

Get Over It
I fully accept than no-one else seems to have seen this film, let alone enjoyed it. I saw it by chance on a plane and since bought the DVD to prove to myself that it exists. This high school comedy is essentially a re-imagining of Twelfth Night, with the students in the film also rehearsing a musical adaptation of the same play. I urge you to see out this forgotten gem, you won’t be disappointed, because I imagine your expectations are pretty low. The film starts and ends with a musical number, I’ll leave it at that.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Confusing, thought-provoking and flawless, this is a film I can return to an infinite number of times. Dunst plays the receptionist (and then some) of a doctor who offers a service in which patient can remove all memories of a loved one from their mind. While the main story is about Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s characters, Kirsten has a sad little arc impacting on the main plot. “Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.”

Marie Antoinette
When Sofia Coppola reunited with Kirsten Dunst to make this lush period piece the reception was one which the real Marie would not have been unfamiliar with. In the film’s defence I would say that it subtly conveys the story of a young woman who is forced to leave her own country to marry a man who shows no affection. The film is gorgeous, Dunst is great in the role and there’s plenty of humour and tragedy to be found if you give it a chance.

UPDATE: As you can see in the comments below, this post does not reflect the views of the entire Mild Concern team.