Film Review

Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth: my first ebook

I just finished reading Ian McEwan’s latest novel, published in September 2012, Sweet Tooth.

Having devoured several of his previous novels, Atonement, On Chesil Beach, Enduring Love, Solar, I was eager to read this latest one.

I’ve read that McEwan shadows different personality types (e.g.followed around physicists to glean their character traits – inspiration for his lead character in Solar). Reading Solar two years ago, I was particularly delighted by the accuracy which sums up the intellectual arrogance and power playing displayed by Professor Michael Beard.

As with his previous books, I also expected the delights of plot twist that elevate you from sullen expectation.  And so, with my newly acquired Ipad, and desire to try out an ebook, I bought McEwan’s latest.

Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) is yet another lead character whose mind we delight in walking around with.  A reluctant Cambridge mathematics major (whose real passion is English Literature) is led into the secret intelligence service after graduating with a ‘third’ (third class in maths). The novel captures the era of young women forging careers in the cold war in Britain era prior to the mega feminist movement – I guess quite well (having not lived through it myself).

After acquainting us with her experiences at university to securing her job with the secret service, Serena’s first major project as a spy leads her into a complicated relationship with a writer.

Without giving away too much more I will say that the portrayal of Serena was brilliant.  Having raced through this as an ebook though, I didn’t have a good sense of how much more of the book I had to go.  Based on McEwan’s previous work, I expected more ‘meat’ from the plot (to which this novel was a little bereft).

The ‘surprise’ twist ending, was not so much of a surprise (as I expected a surprise based on prior novels) and a little disappointingly obvious – perhaps this was mingled with the lack of physical sense I got from the length of the book on my reading device.

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Another Earth (2011): One of those Sci-Fi’s that ain’t quite a sci-fi?

Another Earth (2011) is described as a science fiction/drama, directed by Mike Cahill.

Rhoda (played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the film), a young astro-physicist wannabe, is about to embark on her college journey at MIT.  She dreams of the stars.  After celebrating with friends and drinking, she drives home slightly intoxicated.  There is a newsflash on the radio : an earth-like planet has appeared in the sky – she looks out the window whilst driving to gaze up at this other planet earth, and before you know it , bang – crashes into another car, killing two of its three passengers – father/husband John (William Mapother) survives.
We next meet Rhoda when she is released from her four year jail term (imprisoned for manslaughter).  She is a woman now living on the edge – having caused the death of two, and destroying John’s life, she feels utter remorse.  Instead of going back to pursue her college dreams the only job she can bring herself to perform to pass the days is as a cleaner – wearing the kind of attire which reflects her desolate mood.

ugly clothes

Several theories about ‘Earth 2’ begin to arise as the plot unfolds: startlingly, that this second Earth is a mirror image of Earth, with beings who are leading their lives in parallel to those here at home.  Rhoda clings to this hope – perhaps her mirror image did not commit this life altering accident of a crime – she enters a competition to travel over to the planet.

Rhoda’s appearance is deliberately played down (- this is a low-budget indie film after all), you can see that she is a beautiful woman – considerate and intelligent – and desperately want to see her pulled out of this miserable mess, and get back on the path to following some part of her dream.  You want her to make amends with John, whose family she had destroyed.

There are some insightful voice-over monologues in the film: reflecting on space exploration – exploration of the unknown and the curiosity we would all have about confronting a mirror version of ourselves.

I think this film had a great story – that wasn’t quite fully realised to the extent that it could have been.  The ‘small’ elements of science fiction driving the plot mainly drove the drama played out by Rhoda and John which seemed to be the focus of the film.

That being said – I wish there were more films being made like this one!

 

The Skin I Live In (2011)

Shocking. Disgusting? Compelling. Humourous?

These are just some of the words you might use to describe The Skin I Live In, directed by Pedro Aldmovar.

The skin i live in

The film is centres around Robert Ledgard (played by Antonio Banderas), a plastic surgeon (with an in-home private practice), who is developing new methods for growing and attaching artificial skin to patients who have suffered severe burns, or who require face transplants.

We first get the hint that Ledgard has been un-ethically experimenting with his ideas on humans when we encounter Vera, dressed in a full skin coloured body suit, designed to encourage secure attachment of new skin to the body of burn victims.  Her skin is surprisingly smooth, yet extremely tough (like pig skin – Ledgar uses pig DNA to create artificial skin).

We soon find out that something is all very wrong with this situation.  Without giving away too much, we learn about the tragedies that have befallen Ledgard regarding the death of his wife and daughter.

Then an act of revenge takes place, the full extent of which unfolds in a compellingly unusual way.  The perpetrator and the sufferer seem to be confused in their roles.

If you’ve read or seen film versions of  Wuthering Heights or The Count of Monte Cristo, (where epic acts of revenge take result after years of careful planning and execution) you’ll think Robert Ledgard puts Heathcliff and Edmond Dantes to shame!

Love, and having it viciously taken away from us, can lead us to do crazy things.  What Ledgard does is pure madness!

I highly recommend seeing this film.  The pace of the plot is perfectly timed with the unravelling of the twists and turns that unfold.  You need not fear gore (a la The Human Centipede).  You can expect to laugh.  You will be shocked, but also compelled to see what happens in the end.  A very unusual, but good film.

Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

‘The Elephant Man’ is a biopic of the life of John Merrick (played by John Hurt), who had severe facial (and other) deformities due to the disease Elephentiasis.  Filmed in black and white, we first encounter Merrick as the Elephant Man on display at a freak show in Victorian era London.

Regarded as an imbecile, Dr Treves (played by a young Anthony Hopkins) encounters Merrick at the freak show and pays a sum to Merrick’s brutal keeper to examine him at a London Hospital.

Treated initially as an imbecile, Merrick has the chance to prove otherwise to Dr. Treves by reciting Psalm 23 by heart.  Initially we don’t know either way, whether  Merrick can speak at all, and feel sheer sympathy to the brutality and judgement that he has suffered up to this moment of triumph.

Merrick is granted permission to stay in the hospital in comfortable accomodation and is met by a flurry of people interested in the fact that this ‘freak’ is a man of culture and intelligence underneath.

Dr. Treves, at first excited by the fact that ‘discovering’ Merrick marks an important step forward in his career,  soon realises the erroneousness even of his own treatment of Merrick: that placing him in the hospital with advertisement to the public, is pretty much just another freak show for Merrick.

The film boats no ostentation in its presentation and almost feels a bit ‘B-grade’ .  However, in its simplicity of directly telling the story, it really implores  us not to judge a book by its cover.

Being shot in black and white, the few moments of elation conveyed by Merrick are well contrasted by an overall feeling of deep sadness.

Overall, a beautiful story and movie.

Ciaran Hinds and the audience get spooked in The Eclipse (2009)

Despite the title of this film, it is in NO way associated with anything Stephanie Meyer -and that Twilight series – although it does contain the element of the supernatural.  Its one of those movies that is released only briefly in Melbourne (~three weeks or less) and only at art-housy cinemas such as the Nova on Lygon St, Carlton.  After finding out that the film is an Irish film, taking place over the course of a literary festival – and had ghosts – I quickly decided that I had to see it, but missed my opportunity with its short release.

In the space of a mere month I have now watched it three times – there is something hauntingly beautiful about it.  Set in the small town of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) is an annual volunteer at the International Literary Festival in the town.  Recently widowed, Farr begins having dreams and hallucinations infused with the presence of his wife’s spirit and others who are close to him.  He meets Lina Morrel (Iben Hjejle), a supernatural fiction writer at the festival.  The festival takes place over a few days.  Farr and Morrel form a friendship during the festival over their experiences of contact with ghosts – when you encounter one for the first time, ” your brain splits in two –  one side of you is rejecting what you’re seeing because it doesn’t tally with the ordinary side of reality, and the other side is screaming ‘but this is real!”.  And so the viewer is reminded to deduce whether what Michael has experienced so far are real hauntings.

Notable elements of the movie include the visual setting and the musical score.  Cobh is a picturesque seaport town – quaint and pretty and typical of any image you see in the usual tourist guide brochures for Ireland.  We visit the small cemetary, see sunshine briefly, experience the rain (it is Ireland after all)  in limited but adequate measure to note that this is a film set in Ireland without showing off the usual cultural display.  The setting is breathtakingly picturesque – but the subtle control over imagery saves our breath for ghostly encounters.  Choral hymns – kyrie eleison interject at poignant moments of the film, and the melodic piano theme playing throughout many scenes works to evoke feelings of sadness and calm.  The performance of Ciaran Hinds is brilliant – we empathise with him through every moment of the film.

Part romance, part ghost-story and thriller – the film gently captivates  and haunts.

Aragorn makes an almighty road trip in The Road (2009)

Aragorn (Viggo Mortenssen) makes almighty road trip across post-apocalyptic America with young son.  Exposed to perils of the remains of humanity – garbage hoarding, starvation, cannibals and other weirdos.  Some really horrible scenes  – gut wrenching!  The world is in a state in which life cannot continue except on remains which are soon to run out!  Nothing can grow, dead trees abound – the only food left may be found in fallout shelters, and on other living people.

Despite all this Aragorn and son battle onward with the notion that they carry ‘the fire’ that is the human spirit – the goodness of humanity.  They do not succumb to the evil ways of gangs and cannibalism, but battle on to save themselves and protect some notion of what it is to be human in this heartbreaking environment.

This film evoked so much emotion – so much of it was so horrible, a prediciton of a possible future – when the world around us is depleted of its natural resources – and the way we behave when that time comes.  It is a confronting story of survival.  I don’t know if I could watch it more than once but it is a must see.

Film Review: The Eclipse (2009)

Despite the title of this film, it is in NO way associated with anything Stephanie Meyer -and that Twilight series – although it does contain the element of the supernatural.  Its one of those movies that is released only briefly in Melbourne (~three weeks or less) and only at art-housy cinemas such as the Nova on Lygon St, Carlton.  After finding out that the film is an Irish film, taking place over the course of a literary festival – and had ghosts – I quickly decided that I had to see it, but missed my opportunity with its short release.

In the space of a mere month I have now watched it three times – there is something hauntingly beautiful about it.  Set in the small town of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) is an annual volunteer at the International Literary Festival in the town.  Recently widowed, Farr begins having dreams and hallucinations infused with the presence of his wife’s spirit and others who are close to him.  He meets Lina Morrel (Iben Hjejle), a supernatural fiction writer at the festival.  The festival takes place over a few days.  Farr and Morrel form a friendship during the festival over their experiences of contact with ghosts – when you encounter one for the first time, ” your brain splits in two –  one side of you is rejecting what you’re seeing because it doesn’t tally with the ordinary side of reality, and the other side is screaming ‘but this is real!”.  And so the viewer is reminded to deduce whether what Michael has experienced so far are real hauntings.

Notable elements of the movie include the visual setting and the musical score.  Cobh is a picturesque seaport town – quaint and pretty and typical of any image you see in the usual tourist guide brochures for Ireland.  We visit the small cemetary, see sunshine briefly, experience the rain (it is Ireland after all)  in limited but adequate measure to note that this is a film set in Ireland without showing off the usual cultural display.  The setting is breathtakingly picturesque – but the subtle control over imagery saves our breath for ghostly encounters.  Choral hymns – kyrie eleison interject at poignant moments of the film, and the melodic piano theme playing throughout many scenes works to evoke feelings of sadness and calm – and anticipation.  The performance of Ciaran Hinds is brilliant – we empathise with him through every moment of the film.

Part romance, part ghost-story and thriller – the film gently captivates  and haunts.