Madame Bovary – LFF Review

Madame Bovary

Growing up in a convent Emma (Mia Wasikowska) was always a little different from the other girls. Whatever she was supposed to be doing Emma would be doing her own way and dreaming of the day she could leave. Madame Bovary starts with Emma getting her wish and marrying country doctor Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). In theory by becoming Madame Bovary Emma is setting off to live her dream life of luxury and excitement but the reality is much less glamorous. Charles turns out to live a simple life in a modest house with a single servant. He is a kind man but dull and unambitious. While Emma yearns for the bustle of the city Charles is quite content to live out his quiet life in the countryside. Left alone in the house for most of the day Emma soon finds herself becoming less the grateful wife and succumbing to the dual temptations of material goods and extramarital romance.

Emma’s life is lived through the visitors she receives at her house and one of the more frequent faces she sees is Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans). Lheureux is a merchant who offers to sell Emma her every heart’s desire. From furniture to clothes and from jewellery to silverware there is nothing that Lheureux will not supply the Bovary couple and he happily allows Emma to rack up a mountain of debt. Another face who regularly pops by is Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller) a young aspiring adventurer. Leon takes a shine to Emma and though she rejects his romantic advances he reawakens her sense of adventure and before the story is told Emma has taken her fair share of lovers. From a humble upbringing Emma learns to live a life of decadence and self-indulgence at the expense of her mild-mannered husband. Naturally Emma can only spend money she doesn’t have, and toy with the hearts of many, for so long before her life starts to unravel around her.

Madame Bovary 2

Much like the titular character Madame Bovary is beautifully presented but mostly empty on the inside. The costume and set designs are sumptuous, detailed, and presumably accurate and the film as a whole is greatly aesthetically pleasing. The acting, led by the always impressive Mia Wasikowska, is top-notch and everyone involved throws themselves into their roles with gusto. The ingredients are all there but the end result is somehow unsatisfying. While being a relatively enjoyable film Madame Bovary never quite manages to find its stride and events seem to plod on rather than move forward. Even when the situation becomes dire for our protagonist it is hard to sympathise because not one of the characters are especially sympathetic.

Emma is a selfish young woman who comes across as spoiled and ungrateful, Lheureux is a greedy, manipulative, and selfish man, and Emma’s various lovers are heartless and weak in equal measure. The only character who might stir up sympathy in the audience is poor Charles Bovary but the wet small town doctor is portrayed as pathetic enough to not really warrant our support. With nobody to root for the stakes never rise and the outcome of the film is difficult to care about. Despite the best efforts from a quality cast the script from Felipe Marino and director Sophie Barthes doesn’t put enough meat on the bones of the story. Though enjoyable enough I just didn’t care about what was going down on-screen.

Madame Bovary is a lack-lustre period drama that is less than the sum of its parts. While I must admit to being unfamiliar with the source text this adaptation leaves solid performances lost in a bland melodrama.

Madame Bovary has no UK release date yet.

BFI LFF 2014

The Double – LFF Film Review

The Double

Only a few minutes into Richard Ayoade’s second film as director I wrote in my note book in capital letters “I LOVE THIS” and ninety minutes later I did not disagree with myself. Ayoade’s first feature Submarine was a hilarious story of young love that was very much grounded in reality but shot with a distinctive style that stood it out from the crowd. With The Double Ayoade has truly evolved as a film-maker as he has taken his unique eye for film and run with it to create a surreal masterpiece that David Lynch would be proud of.

In The Double Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a man who is so dull and unremarkable that no one notices when his exact double, James Simon, starts working at his office and slowly begins to steal his work, win over his coworkers, and steal the love of his life. The Double is set in a universe similar to ours but slightly askew as the world resembles a vision of the future from forty years ago. The technology is timeless in that it has not nor ever will exist; computers are resplendent with knobs and dials and the underground train stops inside the office building. Ayoade has created an entire world in which to set his doppelgänger thriller.

While the entire cast, and many more of Ayoade’s friends, pop up in minor roles this is far removed from Submarine. Everything within The Double from the lighting and set design to dialogue and camera movements is heavily stylised and the film moves with an occasionally dreamlike, occasionally frenetic pace. At first the film was a little jarring, and I never quite found myself connecting with some of the characters, but this is a film that isn’t here to patronise its audience so you have to hold on tight with both hands and let the film take you where it wants you to go.

In this bizarre, almost dystopian reality, we watch as Eisenberg struggles to battle his much more successful double. While Simon finds himself gradually removed from people’s memories and his employer’s computer system his double James is being heaped with praise and is romancing every woman in Simon’s life. Simon’s life was bleak enough as it was without someone coming along and showing him how he could have been living it. As Simon finds himself pushed to the brink of his mind and his existence the conflict comes to a head and the film ended with me just the wrong side of baffled. The only trouble with truly surreal cinema is that it will never quite connect on the same level as a film about a young boy falling in love.

I really can’t do justice to the unique visuals of The Double here in writing. Or for that matter the sound design which was INCREDIBLE, trust me. Instead you are going to have to seek out this gem for yourself when it get’s a UK release.

Some may find it impenetrable but I absolutely love this timeless masterpiece. Slightly too baffling for five stars but a bold and brave film by a director who seems set to continually impress and surprise. Actually… go on then, have your five stars.

The Double is in UK cinemas from 4th April 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Lawless – Film Review

Lawless is the story of a gang of bootleggers in prohibition-era Virginia whose booming business in bootleg moonshine is threatened by the arrival of a new deputy in town. I honestly wish there were a little more to the plot than that but sadly this is what we have to work with. Any subplots are so underdeveloped I don’t want to raise your expectations around them.

“Based on a True Story” is normally a signal that a real life event has been taken and distorted beyond recognition in order to turn it into thrilling cinematic fare. It would seem that this step was skipped as Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless as while the film may well be accurate it turns a story of drink, corruption, gangs, romance, and violence into a painfully dull two-hour slog.

Shia LaBeouf takes the lead as Jack Bondurant, the young enterprising member of the bootlegging gang and our narrator. LaBeouf is at his least irritating in this role but still isn’t particularly convincing as anything but the affable fool. Tom Hardy is good as ever as his brother Forrest Bondurant and provides a few laughs with his performance as a big strong man who gets flustered around women. Sadly Hardy is given little to do beyond grunt and wander round in a large cardigan from H&M. Saying that compared to the way Jessica Chastain is treated Hardy should be grateful for the character development he gets.

As Maggie Beauford, employee to the Bondurants and love interest to Hardy Chastain arrives without explanation, is given a token nugget of back story, and then after getting her kit off is relegated to little more than set dressing. Gary Oldman is treated just as badly as charasmatic mob boss Floyd Banner we barely see and who is quickly dropped from the film once he has served his purpose. Mia Wasikowska suffers similarly, providing Shia with an uninteresting and inconsequential love interest but having no real story or personality of her own.

Guy Pearce is given a bit more of a role as the evil deputy Rakes but is for some reason playing him as a panto villain. I half expected him to arrive in every scene preceded by a crack and a puff of smoke hiding his face behind a cheap cloak as the audience boo and hiss. And the hair! Pearce has had his hair combed into such a severe and unattractive parting he can’t be anything but the bad guy.

Even with a pantomime villain I struggled to get behind the gang as while they were pitched as loveable rogues the gang were quite happy to remove a man’s testicles in the name of revenge when the time came. Everything about this film is on one level; there is no depth or meaning to be found. The brothers are bootleggers who experience some trouble and little else happens. All secondary characters are seen only when they directly affect the brothers which would be fine but for the fact that the brothers are unsympathetic and at worst boring. I would have been happy to sacrifice a few scenes of LaBeouf pratting about or Hardy’s non-relationship with Chastain in favour of getting to spend more time with Gary Oldman.

With an anticlimactic climax and a strangely wholesome epilogue Lawless lumbers off the screen with as little fanfare as it arrived. In the film as a whole there is no one to root for and a plot so basic it is impossible to become fully engrossed in. I found myself completed bored throughout and frustrated at the wasted acting talent on display. Too many interested threads are left unexplored and characters underdeveloped. Lawless is not a film we will be talking about in ten years time.

Lawless is in UK cinemas on 7th September 2012

The Kids Are All Right – Review

At last I make the time to go and see The Kids Are All Right, a film with all sorts of praise that I somehow knew very little about. Admittedly I saw it a week ago and have somehow managed not to review it, because it’s hard for some reason.

It is well written, directed and acted. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore make a great natural couple and Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska are just as good as their well adjusted but curious children. Mark Ruffalo makes a wonderful idiot, filled with good intention but no real sense of responsibility.

The film is very funny for the most part but not afraid to pack the emotional punch as the drama starts to flow in a nice, understated way.

Somehow The Kids Are All Right felt like a very tactile experience, everything had texture and lacked too much gloss and glamour. Certainly worth a watch though it is a nice surprise to see Oscar buzz around a more low-key film.

Casting Couch #1

Welcome to the casting couch, have a seat. Don’t mind that, just move it to one side and pretend it wasn’t there. Now what part was it you wanted? Your hair looks nice.

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