Archive for January, 2012

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Darren Aronofsky (2000)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

I’ve been recovering  some very good titles I’ve adored since the first time I saw them and, unfortunately hadn’t enjoyed in very long time. It’s true, however, that the fact that it took me so long to review them, made the experience delightful.

When Requiem for a Dream saw the light, the director, Darren Aronofsky, was only 31.  It might not be an important detail to you, but for me it makes a point. Responsible not only for the filming, but also being in charge of the script, really makes me think of a genius. Perhaps, his filmography is not to extent, but all the movies have made a huge impression, not only on the critics, but also on the audience.

Everybody knows Aronofsky, thanks to his last two praised and rewarded films, The Wrestler and Black Swan, no doubt outstanding, and both commented on previous posts. This time I’m very pleased to talk about my favorite, the one that left me speechless and in shock from long time.

Situations recreated by Aronofsky are not standard at all. We witness  the way characters have to deal with their own Hell and demons, ending overwhelmed and devastated by the whole process and the tragic of their lives. These stories are perhaps too extreme, and we might think ourselves too far from them, but changing certain details and social surroundings, we’re subtle to experience something similar, and it’s really scary.

To approach Requiem for a Dream, we should first mark a division between Marion and Harold, and his friend Tyrone on one hand, and Sara Golfarb, Harry’s mother, on the other.  Rising and fall is depicted in 3 stages, everything starting in Summer, or the season of hope and happiness, Fall, things starting to get messed up, to finally collapse in Winter.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a widow  whose only son is a drug addict. Their closest contact consists on the young man, Harry (Jared Leto),  visiting his mother for borrowing her TV set, the only thing that keeps her company and her most loyal friend, to get some money at the pawnshop for dope. As part of the cycle, Sara, will always end up visiting the pawnbroker, in order to recover the TV, as part of the routine, without complaining.

Harry and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are in search of the magic trick that will ensure them money to afford to make their dreams come true. They seem to have found the score, by buying, cutting and dealing heroine.

Harry is deep in love with beautiful Marion (Jennifer Connelly), aspiring to become a fashion designer, and also very in love with substances to enhance her creativity. Marion seems to come from a wealthy family, as she has her own flat, and from time to time, in order to avoid her parents cutting her short, she dates her former shrink, Arnold, ensuring he won’t advise them of her habits and behavior.

On the other hand, Sara, hooked to infocomercials hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald), receives a phone call, announcing she’s been selected to take part in one of these quiz shows on TV. For a lonely woman, such an invitation is the best that could happen to her, and standing in front of the audience means she must be stunning. Thus, Sara starts trying strict diet in order to fit in the red dress she was wearing at Harry’s graduation, but she can’t bear starving, and will eventually succumb to a magic diet someone suggests, based on these magic color pills, what we know as uppers and downers.

For a short period of time everything seems to be working for all them, the guys dealing in Coney Island and making good money, and Sara getting fit for the TV show, but of course, when all the grounds are unstable and based on dreams out of reality, eventually the world collapses, and things change radically in a nick of time.

The business has to close due to lack of dope to deal with, money runs out,  and all the happiness and perfection vanish instantly, because the reality for these addicts is that they only care for a fix. Just the opposite, Mrs Goldfarb gets so hooked to pills, she starts taking more than prescribed, developing a constant state of paranoia, dreaming of herself introduced by his beloved Tibbons to the set, having Harry by her side…

No need to  point out that the end of this voyage, is, to say the least, shocking and terrifying.

All the plot and issues related to the three young characters does not differ from many other stories related to junkies. Their behavior is a standard pattern, if there’s money everything’s perfect, they get on well, trust each other, love is strong… as soon as there’re no drugs on the street or money in their pocket, relationships quickly decay, allowing suspicion, disrespect, and tension to rise, causing chaos. Of course, despite the events to follow are quite predictable, it doesn’t imply the intensity of this downward spiral has to lessen.

Nevertheless, what I think the big deal in this film is, has to do with  all the way to madness Sara Goldfarb has to pass through to end completely demented.

Starting from the general assumption any intake pill is a drug (forget about natural stuff), prescribed by a doctor, we must think of ourselves as potential users, depending on illness or requirements. As patients we are not walking Vademecum’s either, thus we have to trust what we are advised, considering doctors are professional.

What happens to Sara is a combination of many factors, all mixed up, results into an exploding cocktail.

Sara is alone, living a boring life based only in watching infocomercials and spending sometime chatting with her neighbors. Her son is a drug addict she doesn’t turn in because is the only next of kin she has, thus she allows him to steal the TV set, once and once again. In certain way, she’s supporting his addiction, by recovering it afterwards.

She’s not a very enlightened woman either. As soon as she receives the phone call seeding the idea of making her dream of appearing on TV come true, and bringing her the possibility of projecting  a successful and fulfilling image of her life, to the audience, she’s 100% convinced it is for real, thus she starts setting personal targets for a date not yet confirmed.

And yes, same as usual, vanity comes always the first, when dealing with such events. She wants to fit in the red dress. She thinks it’s only a matter of losing weight, but she’s not considering also years pass by. She’s so narrow minded as to associate this red dress to happiness, just because wearing it before everything was just perfect: her soon graduated, her husband still alive and by her side, and she looking younger and stunning. She wants to be popular and feel loved by her neighbors.

Surprisingly, Sara lacks of will power, so she can’t bear a strict diet program, consisting on reducing not only quantity of food, but also erasing sugar, salt and other fattening additives. The solution is to invest into these wonder diets you don’t feel hungry and weight loss is immediately noticeable, you only have to take series of pills on a daily basis. Although Sara feels the alterations, she assumed them as normal because the pills have been prescribed by a doctor, who is always right. Both her physical and mental states are soon disturbed by the pills, feeling anxiety, euphoria, hyperactivity … Everything is fine as long as she reaches her goal, the red dress.

Her weight loss is directly linked to her developing tolerance to pills. she starts suffering from hallucinations and paranoia, and in order to get going she starts increasing the dose, in order to keep balanced, to eventually lose total control, becoming completely hooked to the pills, unable to establish a drug pattern, being high 24/7, up to a point she’s a unable to differ reality from imagination, turning completely insane.

All this told, enhanced by many shots, crazy close-ups and these cameras showing oneself views, sound effects, and other technical aspects, makes an impression. Montage is super elaborated.

This last time I watched Requiem For A Dream, I had the same feeling as the first time, didn’t matter I was already acquainted with the story. As Sara’s addiction is stronger, and consequently the sequence of images is more disturbing, I started feeling uneasy. Perhaps this time it affected me even more, as I’m quitting smoking. Fact is that as Sara’s sanity is slipping, the rhythm of the film is also mental.

Not sure whether I could refer to the conclusion as a lecture, but somehow there’s a message in this film. In fact there are many, and are quite frightening. I can’t stop thinking of these two:

First one has to do with what I mentioned earlier. Everybody is a potential victim of drug abuse. You might not try cocaine, but you can be prescribed with Valium, or extasis, and depending on your physical and mental condition you could get hooked without the proper monitoring. I’ve met people hooked to relaxants to get some sleep, others playing with laxatives to lose weight. People think as junkies, they are focused on immediate pleasure or results, forgetting about side effects or extended usage consequences. And there’s the real danger.

The philosophy of achieving a goal no matter what, can easily turn against you and ruin your life. You have to be realistic, and work within your limits. Last night a close friend of mine said something about ambition, more or less the idea was that you have to set and renew targets in order to improve but always on a real scale.

Thus, divided into 3 stages, we witness the stories of four people who have dreams of a better life, and how, succumbing to their addictions, they end up hopeless and their lives ruined forever.

Requiem For A Dream is one of the most shocking and impressive films of the past decade, and one of my favorites. The subject is tough and the story is definitely one of a kind, and depending on your sensitiveness, you might find it hard to endure. Aronofsky here, reconfirmed his role as a director wasn’t going to be ignored.  And believe me, if you get to see this film, you will positively want to dig more in his work. Excellent!

JANE EYRE, Cary Fukunaga (2011)

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags , , , , , on January 8, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

First of all, Happy New Year. I’ve never been in mood for resolutions, because I don’t accomplish half of them, thus what I can say is that I will try to be posting at least once a month. Too many things in my head, writing on movies require certain concentration I sometimes lack of. Sorry!

Still having some films I’d like to talk about, but I’m going to start this year 2012, with this movie, I went to see last night, on my own, while it’s still fresh in my mind, and all the feelings and emotions provoked, are still pounding.

If you are familiar with The Brontë’s novels, then you already know their stories are characterized by portraying tortuous and stormy love stories, in which society conventions have a very important role, so as the nature environment.

I was ready for the drama, really, I don’t consider myself a weak and super sensitive girl who always cries at the movies, but I wasn’t expecting such intensity in this film as to end up crying nonstop. Never left a cinema with tears in my eyes until last night, and believe me, they weren’t caused by disappointment at all. Jane Eyre is pure poetry.

Life had never been merciful towards Jane Eyre since she became an orphan and was supposedly under Mrs. Reed’s care. Rejected and abused by the members of the family, she’s eventually cast out and sent to Lowood School to be straightened up. Hard discipline, with beating punishment, miserable living conditions, lacking any expression of affection, will mark her life forever, but Jane, as a rebel character, will develop an inner creative world she will portrait in her paintings.

Once her stay in Lowood is over, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) will have to work for living, she’ll move to Thornfield Hall, working as a governess of a little French girl, Adele, apparently adopted by Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender), due to some kind of former relationship.

These days are the closest to happiness for Jane, teaching her pupil, enjoying the company of Mrs Fairfax (Judi Dench), the housekeeper, receiving kindness and affection. Until the landlord of the estate arrives to settle  temporarily at the mansion.

Edward Rochester is the first male contact to Jane, and initially is not a very pleasant one. He’s a strong character, very moody, strong, rough, who spreads some kind of vice and corruption, completely alien to the young teacher. Still, Jane is not overwhelmed by such destructive personality, and with all the respect, she manages to earn her landlord’s respect, and complicity.

One night, Jane is awaken by the feeling of a presence by her bedroom door, and weird noises. Alerted, she discovers Rochester’s room is on fire, and she will save his life by waking him up and trying to stop the fire. The landlord’s attitude, fully in debt with the governess, will radically change, he trying to earn her body, and soul, something she will initially reject, confused about her feelings and his intentions.

Thus, a tense friendship among them will go on, with Fairfax flirting with Mrs Ingram, and Jane silently feeling tortured, because she doesn’t believe herself worth enough for the gentleman’s love.

Inevitably, once Jane receives the sad news of his beloved engagement to the superficial lady, all the cards on the table, Fairfax will declare his wish of sharing his life with her, and she will finally accept. Unfortunately, the terrible secret he’s been hiding from her all this time, will bring out just about to get married, and Jane will run away from Thornfield Hall, completely devastated, to be sheltered and adopted as a new member of the family, by the young Rivers. But she will be unable to forget who she’s devoted to.

Long sight right now while writing these lines, friends. It is really a sad story, which nowadays, with law adapted to modern times, and women stepping upwards at all levels, after a really long struggle our generation is not really aware of, perhaps could be sorted out easily. Not in that time though, when women were 100 steps behind men, and they couldn’t even freely think, nor act, and even less live.

The director, Cary Fukunaga, knew from the very beginning how to depict Jane Eyre. Not following the current canons of beauty, he looked for a cold and fragile character, still strong as a consequence of the tough times she had to pass through in her childhood. Mia Wasikowska is a gorgeous actress, capable of transmit so many emotions at just a glance, she’s just stunning at her role of Eyre. Really impressive! Those moments, subject to Fairfax’ pressure, when he’s trying to seduce her in the beginning, to finally fall in love with her, are so intense, so emotionally loaded, and she stands firm, because she doesn’t want to lose her freedom, she doesn’t want to endure more pain than is normal, and although she would give him absolutely everything he’d ask, she needs that security, a vicious character as Edward couldn’t ever provide.

What can I say regarding Fassbender? Let’s leave the hot part aside, I’m trying to be objective here. Up to date, I cannot find any weak point to his performance, and definitely he’s to be one of the greatest actors of this new decade, I’m positive. Related to his role as Edward Fairfax Rochester, he’s also fascinating. The strength and manhood he spreads, his strong and vicious character willing to be tamed by the innocence and purity Jane, seeking for an act of kindness which he thinks that will free him from his terrible burden, is just awesome. Passion is the engine of his life, but rejection is something he cannot deal with quite well. Thus, if Jane is not to be by his side, Mrs Ingram will entertain and exploit his superficial side, so he won’t be alone.

St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) is just the opposite to Rochester. On one hand he doesn’t conceive women as equals, and on the other, love issue is a weakness, and he doesn’t not tolerate feelings and passion over pragmatism, tradition nor manners. His intentions towards Jane are too honest, but how can he conquer her after the romance, and its consequent pains she’s been living with her former employer? Jane wants freedom, no matter her life can be miserable.

It’s also remarkable the importance of nature in the film, from the weather to the thick and scary woods, including the palette of tones and shadings applied. Forces of nature really had relevance in the Brontë’s universe. The darkest moments Jane passes through, are enhanced by the rough weather, especially in the beginning, when she’s getting away from Thornfield Hall, unable to stand by Edward, after his terrible secret is reveiled. She’s devastated and heart broken. The storm is full of rage, almost killing her. Lowood is dark and grey, so is her life. But when everything seems to be going well for her, the warmth also accompanies her state. Despite the age of the mansion, she feels fine with the life she’s having, enjoying teaching Adele, and the friendship of Mrs Fairfax, and the hearth provides such smooth atmosphere.

Both the woods and the mansion suffer a transformation when the master arrives. The woods, covered with thick fog and humidity, is the place where their first encounter occurs, the difficult visibility causes Rochester’s horse gets wild, him falling and twisting his ankle. And regarding the mansion, all of a sudden a strange and uneasy atmosphere is perceived by Jane. It’s as if the place was not safe any longer, and some kind of danger was about to happen anytime.

Thus, the characters, the houses, the nature, the lights and tones… everything is masterly put together in order to offer an adaptation of one of the most popular classic novels of British literature, enhancing this tortuous and painful story of love, and avoiding superficial and ostentatious resources, making of this, a direct, stunning and brilliant film.

Believe me when I reckon, it’s been too long time since I haven’t felt so many emotions thanks to a film. You might think it’s a movie for women, perhaps it is, but I really insist, it’s worth seeing.