Sunday, 22 January 2012

Review: Shame

Director: Steve Mcqueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

I was not sure what to expect from a film so self-proclaimedly explicit, though I suppose centring on the struggles one goes through in the battle with satyriasis it would have been hard to avoid. I understand why Fassbender said it was a blessing in disguise that his mother couldn't make the Venice Film Festival premiere. It's also no wonder he won an award for his moving yet frankly quite disturbing performance as sex-addict Brandon.

We already know that Steve McQueen is not afraid of pushing Fassbender to physical extremes, as we saw in Hunger, with Fassbender as an emaciated Bobby Sands, literally wasting away. On this level, the troubled, angry and subversively pleasant man we meet in Shame makes for extremely uncomfortable watching. Yes, I'm pretty sure anyone watching this film will have found it uncomfortable, but it's also impossible to tear your eyes away. Fassbender and Mulligan's explosive and melancholy - not to mention borderline incestuous - relationship, and their private anguish is an utterly hypnotizing playing out of damaged lives. It is stark and crude, but beautiful, epitomised in Mulligan's haunting rendition of New York, New York, and the silent tear it moves Brandon to shed.

McQueen does little to offer his characters a route out of their ruts, and we are left with a somewhat grim dissatisfaction, from which there seems to be no escape. His morbid fatalism is a grey undertone of the whole film, both literally, in everything from the costume to the clinical lighting, and in a more pervasive way - the whole film feels overwhelmingly colourless. McQueen has crafted a stark and brilliant look at the lives of the secret down and outs, creating a complex distortion of how success and satisfaction is perceived. Shame is almost definitely worth a watch, just don't go and see it with your parents.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

War Horse

Speilberg was brave to attempt to adapt a book written in a horse's perspective (which, having been done in Black Beauty so memorably can't really be done again) and a play that shot to fame for its incredible puppetry. So, detracting the main elements of the success of its other forms, what are you left with? In fact, a remarkable film. Our heartstrings are played with the ideal balance of gut-wrenchingly sad scenes and the odd, perfectly timed laugh. I don't even think such thorough enjoyment depends on a tendency to love horses, or a tendency to love Benedict Cumberbatch (but who lacks that tendency anyway?). Tears seemed to be a fairly unanimous reaction, unsurprisingly. In fact, this would be my only criticism, I do begin to tire of films engineered to melt the hearts and tear-ducts of its audience in such a contrived way - often such a bleak film seems unnecessary, unless it can save itself on it's merit as a piece of art.
Luckily, Spielberg managed once again showed the horror of the war from a completely different point of view, in a completely new way, so there was nothing of the 'same old' attitude I've developed towards the 'genred' films that seem unforgivably formulaic. The sheer quantity of eye-candy was also something of a plus point- from the handsome horse to the men he carried. Even the scenery and camera-work was occasionally so beautiful you forgot all about the film itself. The final scene was such an incredible piece of cinema it will take a long time to forget- the colours and light on screen were like nothing I'd seen before.
Now all I want to do is see the stage production.