Tag Archives: golden globe nominated

Review – Shame (18) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Few would consider having an active sex-life to be a bad thing. But what if one were to suffer from a compulsive need for sex? Such a problem exists in society. Shame, despite its faults and gloominess, illustrates the torment that this syndrome can cause people.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) eying up a girl on the train like a predator.

The film centres round Brandon (Michael Fassbender – 300, X-Men: First Class, Prometheus), a high-flying manager or executive (in a job that is not defined), who cannot control his urge for sex. In his nice, relatively up-market flat in New York City, he hires prostitutes/escorts or watches pornography endlessly. At work, he watches pornography (to the extent of having his hard-drive removed because it’s filled with viruses) before going to the bathroom to masturbate. Every woman he sets eyes upon is a potential victim of his insatiable lust.

Yet, none of this appears to make Brandon any happier. Soon his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan – An Education, Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Suffragette) comes to stay at his apartment, bringing out the worst in his frustrations and temper.

Shame’s plot is simple, but morbid. The mental torture that Brandon suffers from is excruciating (despite having an addiction that many would consider to be pleasurable). Unlike with Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, played by Ben Barnes in the 2009 film, there is no enjoyment in sex for Brandon (or deal with the devil for that matter). Sex is just a constant, agonising thirst that can never be quenched. The threesome scene near the end reveals the degree of pain this addiction causes him. (Although, how Brandon maintains his stamina for so much sex is quite remarkable. One wonders if there are enough hours in the day for work, exercise and all of that sex.)

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) sitting in her brother’s apartment in need of attention. That’s when she notices her brother’s laptop…

Brandon’s drug-like compulsion for sex and pornography has also come to seemingly destroy any chance of him having a relationship too. When he tries one with Marianne (Nicole Beharie – American Violet, The Express, The Last Fall), a pretty, young work-mate, he finds himself incapable. This is because the idea of love in sex has become an anathema to him.

Yet, apart from Brandon’s uncontrollable lust, Shame’s storyline loses direction quickly. This makes the film’s 101 minutes seem (frustratingly) like it will go on indefinitely. The plot also fails to explain Brandon’s background, as well as badly under-developing his relationships with his messed-up, needy sister; with his amiable and attractive fellow employee; and with his married, but embarrassingly desperate boss, David (James Badge Dale – 24: Day 3, The Departed, The Grey).

If the storyline (even with the explicit sex scenes) doesn’t hold the audience’s attention, Michael Fassbender’s performance certainly will. Fassbender delivers an excellent display that is as intense as it is brave and consistent. His green eyes stare at women like a hawk-bird to its prey. They also hint at an anger and pain, a deep shame, buried within Brandon that he refuses to recognise or counter. Does he do this because his syndrome is apparently humiliating and a taboo subject in society?

Fassbender might be the stand-out performer of the movie, but none of the supporting cast play badly. Carey Mulligan again gives a solid account of herself. She has a very different character here to the ones she played in Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps and Never Let Me Go. Nonetheless, she demonstrates that she can play a whiny, emotionally-deficient, unstable girl, craving affection, with equal plausibility. Similarly, despite their short and limited roles, neither Nicole Beharie nor James Badge Dale damage their reputations with their performances in Shame.

Brandon out with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), seemingly enjoying her company. But has he told her about his compulsive disorder?

The impressiveness of the acting is enhanced when considering that director Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years A Slave) takes long-held shots for much of the film. Many of the scenes have no breaks or changes in camera angles. This style of filming demands immense concentration from the actors. That they make their acts look natural is credible and significant.

McQueen’s other noticeable technique in Shame is to use silence and little music to ram home to viewers Brandon’s loneliness and internal agony. When McQueen does adopt music, it is generally the main soundtrack which is comprised of long-held notes by stringy instruments and a subtle fast-beat. The main theme tune may lack Requiem For A Dream’s soundtrack’s feel of a crisis that is spiralling out of control, but it helps to compound Brandon’s lack of self-worth and his sense of self-hatred.

Over-all, Shame passably explores a problem that is not discussed much or recognised in present-day society. (After-all, one might think, how could having sex regularly be the cause of a major psychological disorder? It should be the other way round, right?) Shame has its deficiencies, it might appear directionless, and it might make for depressing viewing. Nevertheless, Michael Fassbender’s brilliant and courageous performance forces one to empathise with Brandon’s suffering and self-harm, as well as obliges one to appreciate what the syndrome can do to people in general.

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Review – The Iron Lady (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Dementia is a cruel infliction that eats away at what an individual once was. (Lady) Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister 1979-90, was a formidable and highly intelligent woman in her day. Yet, rather than focus on her prime, The Iron Lady highlights the crippling effects that the illness has had on Lady Thatcher in her more recent years.

‘Young Margaret’ (Alexandra Roach) standing for election in Dartford (in 1951). She was then the only female Conservative candidate across the country.

The film is about Lady Thatcher (when young played by Alexandra Roach – Private Peaceful; when middle-aged and old played by Meryl Streep – Sophie’s Choice, The Devil Wears Prada, Suffragette), elderly and suffering from delusions and dementia, glimpsing back, at random, at the happy and distressing moments of her life, before she attends the ceremony of the unveiling of her portrait at the Prime Minister’s house.

The movie’s plot is simple, but is not necessarily easy to follow. This is because whenever Lady Thatcher looks back into the past, she does not do so in chronologically and there is nothing to inform viewers of the year they’re watching. Even for those who are historically fine-tuned, this can be confusing. Factually, The Iron Lady is generally accurate; yet, there are several brushes of artistic license in the movie, such as the timing of Denis Thatcher’s (when young played by Harry Lloyd – Jane Eyre, A Game of Thrones, Junk; when old played by Jim Broadbent – Gangs of New York, Harry Potter VI & VII(ii), Cloud Atlas) proposal.

Thatcher, as Prime Minister, in a cabinet meeting, telling a colleague that it is not his time to speak.

More than anything, the storyline’s approach undermines Lady Thatcher. It undermines her as a person, her ideology (the idea that the individual should not depend upon the state and that he/she should determine his/her destiny), and all that she did for the country and for women across the world. First, at 105 minutes, The Iron Lady is too short, since more time was needed for director Phyllida Lloyd (Mama Mia!, Macbeth) to have adequately visualised Thatcher’s life before and after she became a politician. Second, for a woman who sacrificed so much for politics, the film stresses astoundingly little on Thatcher’s rise to the premiership, as well as her time in ten Downing Street and her fall from office. That much of her time in office in the movie is dominated by her hardline policies towards cutting public spending; beating back rioters; and the wars against Argentina, over the Falkland Islands, and the IRA (terrorism), has a familiar chime, as if Ms. Lloyd was trying to (not-so-subtly) force her own views of the current Coalition government upon viewers. Third, to have Lady Thatcher remembering her life via flashbacks, among delusions of her late husband was callous and insensitive; especially, as the former Prime Minister is still alive. If anything, it makes even those who despise Lady Thatcher pity her. (Whoever would have thought that the die-hards on the Left would feel sympathy for Thatcher?)

Irrespective of the plot, there is an exceptional performance from Meryl Streep, which makes The Iron Lady worth watching in and of itself. Throughout the movie, Streep seemingly morphs into Lady Thatcher to the extent that one is likely to forget that they’re not watching the real person.

Thatcher in her heyday (right), and Meryl Streep (left) as the brilliant look-alike.

It is a shame for Streep that the supporting cast cannot match her display. Alexandra Roach, as ‘young Margaret’, is distinctly average, as are the two actors who play Denis Thatcher, Harry Lloyd and Jim Broadbent. The rest of the cast, particularly Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Inbetweeners Movie, Ghost Rider II: Spirit of Vengeance) and Richard Grant (Twelfth Night, Corpse Bride, Zambezia), impersonating Thatcher’s ministers Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine, respectively, play poorly with the little time they have on screen. Head and Grant do not capture their characters’ personalities accurately. Both actors appear as cowardly critics (with eyes brimming with hawkish ambition) of their leader’s policies at times of supposed crises, and Grant also fails to give Heseltine the ego that drove him to resign as Defence Minister in 1986 and challenge for party leadership in 1990.

All-in-all, Margaret Thatcher was a formidable individual in her day. She was, and still is, a highly polarising figure for many a reason. Therefore, one would expect a biographic film to be about her achievements and shortcomings as a leader, and perhaps a bit about her legacy too. Yet, The Iron Lady shows relatively little of these, preferring instead to let us watch and pity an elderly lady no longer in complete control of her mind. Despite a phenomenal performance from Streep, the film would be an insult to any human being, let alone one of the calibre of Lady Thatcher.

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Review – Friends With Benefits (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Six months ago, the light-hearted No Strings Attached came out. It starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and explored the idea of whether or not friends could have sexual relations devoid of emotion. Friends With Benefits deals again with this issue, just with better jokes and more sex.

Dylan and Jamie making their pact to have 'no emotions, just sex.'

Friends With Benefits centres round Jamie (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Black Swan, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake – Alpha Dog, The Social Network, In Time), both of whom are ‘emotionally damaged’ after being dumped by their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Jamie is a head-hunter, who flies Dylan over from LA to New York to recruit him for the advertising firm, GQ. No sooner does Dylan get off the plane, the two of them strike up a friendship that soon goes beyond the borders of a platonic relationship. The question is: can they keep it up without falling for one another?

The storyline is enjoyable and far from intense. Friends With Benefits is filled with sex scenes, but lacks the volume of nudity seen in Love & Other Drugs. However, just like in No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits becomes predictable and a little cliché by the end (as is to be expected from a romantic comedy). Even the key song of the film, the normally very pleasant Closing Time by Semisonic, feels a little overused and cheesy by the end.

Dylan's sister, Annie (Jenna Elfman). She cannot believe that her brother is not going out with Jamie.

Over-all, director-producer, Will Gluck (Easy A, Fired Up!), has put the film together nicely. There are some corny moments and conveniences in the plot, but it could have been so much worse, as The Back-Up Plan and Valentine’s Day illustrate. Likewise, the dialogue and the acting are not terrible either. There is some good banter between the appealing Jamie and Dylan, which will make the audience laugh. The humour in Friends With Benefits may lack the sophistication of that in One Day; nevertheless, it is not slapstick.

Out of the two main characters, Mila Kunis steals the show. Indeed, she is the star of the movie. Not only is Kunis strikingly attractive (even in the mornings after a steamy night), her character, Jamie, has a fun and lively personality that is the envy of single men (and possibly some married ones too). Additionally, when Jamie needs to be severe or upset, Kunis makes it look genuine. This is not the case with Justin Timberlake. Playing the young, up-coming, smooth-talking manager, he does just fine. Yet, when he attempts to be serious he looks like a petulant child not getting his way.

Dylan and Jamie going for a walk in the park.

The characters and the storyline in Friends With Benefits have their flaws. Both of the key players lack depth; as does the rest of the cast, with perhaps the exception of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins – Changing Lanes, Burn After Reading, The Cabin in the Woods). Moreover, the movie does not adequately explain why Dylan and Jamie are ‘emotionally screwed up’. (Then again, this is a romantic comedy. What was one expecting?)

For those who enjoyed No Strings Attached, there is little doubt that they will enjoy Friends With Benefits too. The latter film is fun and, in Jamie (Mila Kunis), has a girl that is the stuff of dreams. Furthermore, the movie has some amusing jokes, and enables the audience to switch off whilst watching two good-looking people making out with one another regularly. Whether one will come out believing that a friend with benefits is possible is another matter.

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