Archive for November, 2015

A Note on MacBeth

November 15th, 2015 No comments

MacBethThe Bard’s most loyal groupies have their favorite tragedies, comedies and histories and they tend to consider these plays sacred text, which makes adapting them for film a risky endeavor. It takes a delicate touch and a respect for the source material. Even in some masterful hands Shakespeare has not held up when brought to the screen. But in only his second feature director Justin Kurzel brings the tragedy of MacBeth violently alive with beautiful, brutal imagery and a cast of modern master.

You are, I’m sure, familiar with the plot. MacBeth, the loyal Thane of Glamis, receives a prophecy from “three weird sisters” who tell him he will one day be King. But they foretell a fruitless and short-lived reign and the lineage of his loyal soldier Banquo will rule for generations. The lust for power and subsequent fear of being usurped drives him to the brink of madness and he’s ultimately murdered by ambition. No spoiler alert needed it’s been 400 years, shame on you if you didn’t already know MacBeth’s fate.

Battle FieldCinematographer Adam Arkapaw created stunning tableaux filled with fog and filth. We’ve seen this visual approach by both Polanski and Kurosawa but this film sets itself apart by it’s dramatic use of color and hallucinatory style during the initial battle. Juxtaposing extremely warm then cool color palates was appropriately disorienting. They make full use of Scotland and Northern England’s picturesque landscapes and then mire us in the mud and muck of Glamis and cold isolation of Inverness. The production design, the costumes, all of it helped bring my favorite tragedy to life.

The entire cast was nearly perfect; I love Paddy Considine. Michael Fassbender, one of the most talented and fascinating actors working today, plays MacBeth marvelously. He’s one of the rare sorts that can display a raw brutality balanced with vulnerability as his character descends into madness. He is in full form during the banquet scene in which he is haunted by Banquo’s ghost, an ally he ordered murdered. You forget this man is a murderer guilty of regicide and start to sympathize with him; perhaps he is the victim of an unfortunate unavoidable fate that saw him murder both his king and best friend.

FassbenderMarion Cotillard plays his wife, the mastermind behind the traitorous plot. Another top talent, her challenge was compounded by the fact English is not her first language and then she needed to also master the Shakespearean verse. As expected she played the role beautifully, handling the linguistic gymnastics of the dialogue like a veteran of the Shakespearean theater. She’s one of very few actresses that can pull off such a role. This adaptation, however, I feel restrains the potential for what Lady MacBeth could be. Which is where I feel the writer has made one of his critical mistakes.

Marion_Cotillard_Lady_Macbeth-xlargeLady MacBeth is one of my favorite female characters in all literature; a strong woman who pulls the strings of her impressionable husband; a megalomaniac; ambitious to a fault then driven mad by the gruesome chain of events she orchestrated. But the first frame is of a dead child, her child. And I know you’re thinking, “did the MacBeths have a kid?” That has often been up for dispute but the real answer is No. Taking Lady MacBeth and turning her into a grieving mother opposed to the zealous puppet-master weakens her character and changes her motivations. In doing so Marion is somewhat under-utilized. The suggestion that Lady MacBeth might be unstable before she beings plotting their power grab fundamentally changes the character.

This raises the question of how to alter source material to appeal to a modern audience. The writer during a Q&A said he thought it would give something for the audience to relate to with Lady MacBeth. But that isn’t needed. We don’t need her to be relatable, that isn’t her character. I mean, this is the woman that said she would dash out the brains of a child nursing at her breast. You’re not going to relate to her, that’s why she is so intriguing. It should be a lesson for writers to see how one choice, even if it feels minor, can morph your character into something you might not anticipate.

The other flaw centers on how they handled the final acts, which made the climax underwhelming. For MacBeth I’ve always felt it needs the grand finale that you get from something like Throne of Blood (Kurosawa’s altered version of MacBeth). The merits of this film outweigh the flaws so, despite the ending, the imagery and the powerful performances are well worth your time.

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A Note on The Lobster

November 11th, 2015 No comments

Lobster-QuadThe world can be a cruel place to someone “unmatched.” You are hunted down in the forest, harassed by police in the shopping malls and you’re forced to find a match or else you’ll be turned into an animal. Or at least, this is the world of Yorgos Lanthimos’ acerbic, absurd satire, The Lobster.

 Rachel Weisz’s unaffected narration sets the tone of the film and introduces us to David (Collin Farrell). He’s an “unmatched” man with a boarder collie his only companion. The collie is of course his brother who didn’t “make it through” on his visit to The Hotel. After an awkward series of admission questions and quick orientation from an administrator David is subjected to life at The Hotel. For the first day, one hand is handcuffed behind his back as a reminder everything works better in pairs. The Hotel staff performs skits to remind the residents of the danger of living alone. And they use “awful” methods to keep them horny but punish masturbation in painful and humiliating fashion.

lobster2-xlargeThe logic of The Hotel parallels the logic of our society; you are expected to have a significant other, people suddenly seem proud of you just because you have a man or a woman on your arm. You may have won an Emmy, or cured diseases but you’re a sad case if you’re single. We’re stuck in an an over-sexualized environment to keep sex always at the forefront of thought but masturbation is condemned and we’re encouraged to use any thin connection to one and other as reason to “find a match.” In The Hotel it can be as thin as finding anyone that shares your lisp, your limp, your chronic nosebleeds or your complete lack of emotion. If you don’t have any of these superficial traits in common, then fake them. Fake a lisp, a limp, or nosebleeds and even change the emotional core of your personality.

David feigns an emotionless personality to find a match with the Heartless Woman (played by Lanthimos favorite Angeliki Papoulia) only to have his emotional state tested when she… well… I’ll let you experience the tragedy. Failing to find a match and afraid of being turned into an animal David fleas into the woods with the Loners, a group of unmatched individuals that abhor relationships as much as society abhors bachelorhood. In The Hotel David was encouraged relentlessly to find a match, here any sort of cavorting is strictly forbidden and met with punishment. You are free to masturbate though, so David has that going for him.

THE LOBSTER. Photo Despina Spyrou L_05703-0-2000-0-1125-cropWhen David meets the Near-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) living among the Loners he finally finds a real connection (he’s near-sighted to, you know). Sure, it’s still based on a singular feature of the individual, but it’s not artificial. But out with the Loners even if the connection to another is genuine you are made to feel as though it’s wrong.

The social commentary is beautifully constructed and the satire is fierce and at times disturbing. All of this comes through the wonderfully controlled, muted performances from the entire cast. They were funny, endearing and heartbreaking. It’s Colin Farrell’s best performance since In Bruges. Perhaps I was influenced by the collective experience but I haven’t seen a comedy this year that was as well written and so precisely directed. Which might be why at times it felt like a piece of classical music, hitting notes and movements with precision and allowing the audience to live within sustained moments instead of spoon feeding us one-liners in a quick cut zany world.

Lanthimos’ attention to detail adds a hilarious layer to the film. He stages random animals walking around through the forest as a reminder of The Hotel’s practices or places small drops of blood on the shirt of the man faking his chronic nosebleeds. Even when moments are tense, it adds the necessary levity.

The pacing might not be for everyone, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t at least give this film a shot. It’s the most unique romantic comedy since Eternal Sunshine. David and the Near-Sighted Girl create a special bond they must hide from the other and develop a complicated form of communication through body movement and hand gestures. And when their relationship is threatened, as the world often threatens those genuine couples, they must find a way to stay together. The ambiguous ending is something my wife would despise, but it does leave us wondering how far we are willing to go to have something in common with another. What parts of our personality and physical appearance are we willing alter in order to find companionship?

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