F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 19, 2016)

19 05 2016

Wuthering HeightsI’m not sure I could give you a plot summary of Emily Bronte’s novel “Wuthering Heights” based on the 2012 film adaptation by Andrea Arnold. High school English students looking for the newest movie version so they can avoid reading this classic tome of British literature will find themselves sorely disappointed. Film lovers, however, ought to rejoice.

As far as cinematic adaptations of novels go, this might set some kind of record for fewest lines spoken. And “Wuthering Heights,” at over 400 pages, makes for no small feat to pull off in this style. But the absence of words is never felt.  The impressionistic visual cutaway replaces the long dialogue exchange or the superimposed voiceover, effectively substituting prose with the poetry of Arnold and her cinematographer Robbie Ryan. This novel (pun fully intended) approach to filming a classic work like a textual look book and not an instruction manual earns my respect and my plaudits for as “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Since Arnold and co-writer Olivia Hetreed eschew a faithful transposing of words to screen, perhaps a review of their movie ought to do the same. Far more important than plot in any given moment is feeling. Be it the ever unconsummated passion between the taken-in black orphan Heathcliff and well-to-do Cathy or the unbridled jealousy of Heathcliff emanating from the men of the house, the film is all in the visuals. A jarring handheld shift or a quick change of camera focus speaks far more powerfully than words.

Maybe most impressively, the social constraints that most period films just tiptoe around receive forceful stylization. With tight close-ups in the limitations of the 4:3 aspect ratio, the wide vistas or the set/costume department exhibition take a firm backseat to the given emotion of any moment. All the 1800s flourishes feel like the final addition – not the springboard – into “Wuthering Heights.” An old story like this has rarely ever felt so modern.

F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 26, 2015)

26 11 2015

Red Road

With the (deservedly) heightened focus on raising the profile of women directors in the film industry, one name springs to my mind among those deserving more opportunities: Andrea Arnold. If you didn’t read through all of Vulture’s 100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring, there’s a chance you already saw her name since it falls at the beginning of the alphabet. However, you should look deeper into her imposing body of work and discover the prowess of a master.

I jumped on the Andrea Arnold bandwagon after her 2010 film “Fish Tank” gave me a new vocabulary to make sense of my formative adolescent years but shamefully only just got around to her 2007 debut, “Red Road.” This sparse, tense thriller is “Rear Window” by way of “The Lives of Others” – not a bad start for a director and definitely a deserving pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Kate Dickie stars as CCTV operator Jackie, a woman who finds herself so lonely that she begins to internally narrativize the people she observes on her screens. But one day, she takes it a little too far after watching a man and a woman fornicating in an abandoned lot. (Don’t worry, she’s not motivated by pure perversion.) Her target is Tony Curran’s Clyde, a figure with a connection to Jackie’s painful past that she unsuccessfully attempts to bury in her mind.

To say much more would only serve to spoil the suspense Arnold builds throughout “Red Road.” But in her slow burn towards an intriguing end of the road, she gives the viewer ample time to contemplate the ethics of voyeurism and interference. And, now, it makes one wonder how she wrangled the incorrigible Shia LaBeouf for her upcoming film “American Honey.”

F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 3, 2011)

3 06 2011

If “X-Men: First Class” becomes as big of a hit as the critics think it should be (it currently stands at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes), then you will most definitely want to be familiar with the name Michael Fassbender.  As Magneto, he will get mainstream recognition.  However, if you really want to sound like a film connoisseur, drop this in a conversation: “Oh, he was fine in ‘X-Men,’ but I really liked his earlier work in independent film.”

I’ve already covered one of Fassbender’s independent efforts, “Hunger,” which is a grueling experience ultimately made worthwhile and watchable by his incredibly committed performance.  However, a much more stomachable way to get acquainted with his lesser-known films to watch my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank.”  It’s a rich, deep movie that is a real treat to dig into.

Newcomer Katie Jarvis stars as Mia, a troubled teen growing up in Britain’s public housing with her much younger sister Tyler and her alcoholic single mother who pays her virtually no attention.  She longs for independence, for attention, and ultimately for escape.  Mia finds the latter in hip-hop dancing, which she only does in isolation.

But things change some when her mother brings home Connor (Fassbender), a charming Irishman who actually shows interest in her.  He manages to get Mia to put aside her loathing of family outings to go the countryside and encourages her to pursue her passion in dancing.  Their relationship becomes the focal point of the film, and its ups and downs will forever change Mia and her outlook on life.

Powerful performances from Fassbender and Jarvis make “Fish Tank” more than just your average teen angst movie; they make it relevant, personal, and authentic.  The latter is especially true for Jarvis, who was cast in the movie with no professional experience after a casting director saw her arguing with a boyfriend in a train station.  But it’s Arnold who makes the movie artful and resonant through her combination of solid writing and directing.  The film is packed with symbols, motifs, and ideas that float around in your head for days and make “Fish Tank” a movie you won’t soon forget.

(By the way, if you are wondering where on earth you can find this independent gem, look no further than Netflix instant streaming.)