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Tag Archives: Michael Fassbender
Someone wiser than I am pointed out that the best reason “Trainspotting” worked as the greatest-ever film about drug addiction was specifically because it took great pains to convey the kick, the high and the fun alongside the crash, the low and the doom. You could argue that Steve McQueen’s “Shame” — reuniting him with Michael Fassbender from “Hunger” — does the same for sex addiction. Fassbender is Brandon, a young and well-off New Yorker whose life is controlled by sex — not just having it, but, worse, the hint of it in the air. Much like a shark can sense a drop of blood in the ocean, Brandon can pick out notes of want in the seething humanity of Manhattan.
And let us make no mistake; there is something powerful and unrelentingly cruel in “Shame.” The film begins with 19th-Century classical music, intercut with the tickticktick of a clock as time runs by fast. Brandon has a seemingly comfortable life — it’s only later we glimpse how his problems really aren’t hidden at all from anyone else in his world — that’s disrupted by the arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), just back from L.A. and looking for a place to crash. There’s something going on between the two — some sense of past tragedy or the jagged pieces of something broken long ago hidden under a thick woolen blanket of not talking about it — and they alternate between comforting and confronting each other.
McQueen’s “Hunger” was a completely unexpected meshing of the personal and the political; “Shame” works as an exploration of the inner and outer world. Yes, as you’ve read in the gossip headlines, there’s plenty of sex and nudity here — all of it shot and written in a way that reminds you how most American films treat sex as if they were written by a scandalized 13-year-old boy who feels far more comfortable with murder and violence than nudity or passion. If there’s one quibble here, in fact, it’s that at times “Shame” feels less like a cautionary tale about sex addiction and more like a seductive, superbly-shot argument for it. Fassbender is excellent, and passionate and raw, but the fact is that “The Adventures of the Good-Looking Sex Addict” is a premise lacking in a certain degree of tension; I couldn’t help but imagine a better version of “Shame” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti or John C. Reilly or some other actor who could depict a more treacherous chasm to be bridged between desire and fulfillment.
Mulligan is excellent, rich and wrong in a way her normally-precious porcelain demeanor does not show, and there are standouts in the supporting cast, like James Badge Dale as Brandon’s pathetic-but-less pathetic boss and Nicole Behare as a co-worker Brandon is attracted to. (It also seems silly to single her out for praise, but Lucy Walters has two scenes and not a line of dialogue — yet makes a hell of an impression.) Cinematographer Sean Bobitt and Editor Joe Walker return to collaborate with McQueen again, and the three craft a beautiful and terrifying film, possibly the best-shot NYC indie since Soderberg’s “The Girlfriend Experience.”
There’s something sharklike in “Shame” — its unrelenting forward motion, its dead-eyed cruelty, how its sick stiff slickness as it swims between damnation and redemption has the wet flex of cartilage and not the clean snap of bone. McQueen is telling a story of addiction here, and rarely overplays his hand — a scene where a gay bar is presented as a new circle of Dante’s inferno is made up for by the quick-cut brilliance of when Brandon tries to throw out all of his porn in the name of getting clean with the grit-jawed determination of a junkie giving away his needles. “Shame” is tough stuff, but oddly tender — it has no small amount of sympathy for Brandon and Cassie, even while conveying the aerobic and callisthenic grind of Brandon’s futile lust and the cost of his pleasures.
“Shame” is another tough and transcendent drama from Fassbender and McQueen — and after a summer of seeing Fassbender clutch fingers to his temple and furrow his brows towards a greenscreen in the shabby, stupid “X-Men: First Class,” it’s a pleasure to watch him sincerely and actually act again. “Shame” ends with nothing promised, nothing delivered: its ideas and images even now battle in my head, lust and trust and want and worry, and for a film this good to truly look at the wonders and terrors of desire is a rare triumph worthy of recognition and appreciation.
The traditional period piece — especially when it’s an adaptation of a classic novel — has developed a vocabulary and grammar all of its own. Windswept moors and stately mansions, tight-cinched corsets and tightly-held feelings, longing looks and longer sideburns. What makes director Cary Fukunaga‘s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” — first published in 1847 — worthy of note beyond all those traditions and trappings is the degree of effort and emotion Fukunaga’s direction brings to the film. There’s no voice-over, no narration, and long stretches of the film involve nothing more — and, conversely, nothing less — than the play of emotions across Mia Wasikowska‘s face in the lead role. Fukunaga’s superbly executed direction and careful staging speak very rarely, and yet say so much.
Jane (Wasikowska) begins the film running from a cold stone doorway to the wet, barren landscape of rural 19th-century England, lashed by storms and wracked by sorrow. In time, we understand what Jane was running from — an unhappy childhood among distant (in every sense of the word) relatives, work as a governess for the ward of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), whose haughty demeanor hides secrets and passions. Jane is taken in by clergyman St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot no more) and his sisters; the question is whether her new home is more escape than refuge.
Adapted by Moira Buffini (who did similar adaptation work on “Tamara Drewe,” itself a modernization of Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,”), “Jane Eyre” does a startlingly good job of paring Brontë’s 500-page novel into a two-hour film. Buffini does not hyper-accelerate the plot and the dialogue, but, rather, pares them down to the bare bones of what matters. The essential heart of the story — which is to say, the essential heart of Jane herself, a woman hungering for self-determination and self-assertion well over a century before the very idea of feminism — is here, beating through every scene.
And Fukunaga is not afraid of the more Gothic and grim aspects of the material as well. Other film makers might be tempted to lighten and brighten Brontë’s novel; instead, Fukunaga focuses on turning the moods and moments other film makers might gloss over with sound-effects creaks and flickering lights into real sources of tension and feeling. Jane lives in a demon-haunted world — full of superstition and madness — and the real nature of it is revealed slowly to both us and her.
This is not to say that Fukunaga doesn’t have a capacity for some droll levity. Dame Judi Dench, as fellow servant Ms. Fairfax, manages to combine sympathy and sarcasm in several moments. And Fukunaga isn’t afraid to lightly jab at the clichés and pretensions of the sub-genre as well; at one point, Rochester’s intended asks Jane for her ” … tale of woe — all governesses have a tale of woe.” And the swoony romanticism in the material doesn’t get short shrift, either. When Rochester and Jane finally speak of their affections, it’s like a dam bursting after months of rain; at the same time, we also get to see the devastation that unleashed flood causes.
Fukunaga is aided and abetted by a wisely-chosen cast. Bell’s mix of concern and control play out admirably as his clergyman seeks to help Jane more than she may want. Dench is in fine form, as ever. Fassbender manages to keep both Jane and us on our toes as Rochester — his eyes are shark-black dead on some occasions as he speaks pleasantries he does not feel, but also warm and alive with charm as he jests and cajoles.
In the lead role, and superb, Wasikowska — liberated from the sterile CGI-void of Tim Burton‘s “Alice in Wonderland” — fills the film with energy and empathy. Jane may be trapped in a world that denies her, but she tests its bars and locks with fierce spirit and true conviction. There are long moments here when Wasikowska has nothing but the play of light and emotion across her face, and it is a tribute to her skill that we feel every moment without Jane having to utter a sound.
It would be remiss to not credit the production team — cinematographer Adriano Goldman, production designer Will Hughes-Jones and costume designer Michael O’Connor first and foremost — but at the same time, writer Buffini and director Fukunaga have freed “Jane Eyre” from the sights, rooms and clothing other filmmakers would lean on as a crutch. Anyone with a few candles, access to a heritage site and a few rental petticoats can make a film of a classic English novel; what Fukunaga and his cast and crew have done is made a film to remind us why, and how, that novel became a classic.
Australian actress Mia Wasikowska had, by any estimate, a pretty good 2010: taking the lead in Tim Burton‘s money-making “Alice in Wonderland,” followed by a part in the high-powered ensemble of “The Kids Are All Right.” Now Wasikowska’s the title lead in Cary Fukunaga’s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” Talking with Wasikowska in Los Angeles, I asked her, only half-jokingly, if after “Alice” and “Eyre,” there are any other Victorian works of literature she’s due to star in next. She laughed: “I don’t know, we’ll see. Yeah, there does seem to be a trend.”
And it’s a trend fate seems to be endorsing. “I was reading (“Jane Eyre”) after I’d finished filming ‘Alice.’ It was the first time I went back to Australia without having to go back to school, so I was at a loss. I made a list of 10 classics that I thought I should read, and ‘Jane Eyre’ was on the list. … So I started reading it, and I was up to the fifth chapter, (when) I e-mailed my agent, and I asked, ‘Is there a script around? Is anyone developing the project?’ She said, ‘No, not at the moment.’ There wasn’t anything at the time, but literally two months later she e-mailed me the script. Then I met Cary. It was a case of really good timing.”
Wasikowska may have had great timing, but that didn’t mean that the film wasn’t going to present challenges. “The book is 500 pages of Jane’s internal monologue. Everything we know is because of what we’re being told (by) her, that she’s observing. She has so much going on in her mind. The challenge with adapting it for the screen is you’ve got a limited amount of time to have actual dialogue scenes, and you can’t have Jane talking to herself the whole movie. How do you transfer all of that thought and opinion and emotion and everything she sees and experiences that we hear in the book into a visual? How do we see all that stuff? It was a case of knowing precisely what she’s thinking in those moments and hoping that comes across.”
There were also moments where Wasikowska has to play up the bumps-in-the-night uneasiness of the material. I asked if she, at times, felt as if she were making a horror film.”That’s what I loved about it, because the book is incredibly dark, and the Brontës were really dark writers for their time, anyway. As female writers, the context of their book, there’s a lot of mystery, and it’s all about the unknown and the unseen and the stuff we don’t know. I feel like Cary did an excellent job of bringing in all that: all the mystery in it, and we’re not sure what is going on.”
Even more terrifying for Mia Wasikowska than ”Jane Eyre“‘s moments of madness and horror? The combination of Victorian costuming and English weather. “There is no way that you can’t think about or be conscious of the costumes of that time. The corset really gives you an understanding of the repression that women were under. I can’t really bend down to pick stuff up, and you can only reach your arm up so high because there’s a flap on your arm. The restriction isn’t just here: It restricts your whole body. It’s excellent in order to really physically embody the character and understand that.” Wasikowska laughed. “As Mia, it sucks.”
Equally un-fun? Portraying emotionally tormented races across the windswept moors of England in the film’s opening moments. Was that as cold, I asked, as it looked? “Very cold,” she said. “I remember specifically, that was Day 2, and I think I got hypothermia. It’s not hard to imagine how horrible that would be, because it’s freezing and they have the rain towers pouring on you. Then the clothes weight an extra 20 pounds. It’s very, very cold. It’s hard enough standing on a moor dressed up in modern-day North Face clothes, let alone in the rain and in 20 pounds of petticoats.”
On a lighter note, I asked Wasikowska about her co-star Michael Fassbender, who plays Mr. Rochester. When doing scenes with Michael Fassbender, which counters his handsomeness more: What a jerk Rochester is, or those ludicrous sideburns? Wasikowska smiled. “The chops are all I have against the man,” she said. “It’s really funny. I had so much fun with Michael. He’s, as you know, an incredible actor. From the first day of rehearsals we got along so well, and we were able to encounter the intensity of the material with a lot of fun, and then take that energy and channel it into the scenes.”
Of course, it wasn’t all fun. Jane is, for lack of a better word, a feminist — even if she’s living in a time hundreds of years before that word even existed. And portraying that was an important objective for Wasikowska. “It’s rare even now for someone to have such individual thought and such strength of character, let alone in that time,” she said. “She’s such an incredible character, and she has such a strong sense of self and who she is and was born with an innate sense of self-respect. There’s something inside of her that believes she’s worthy of having a good life and being treated well and respected and finding her equal. She definitely won’t compromise herself for anybody else, which is so important for young women — and, really, anybody — to remember, because when you fall in love with somebody, you’re at your most vulnerable. It’s very easy for even people who are very strong to feel the need to compromise themselves for their partner or something like that. Jane never does that, and in the end she’s rewarded for it. It takes a lot of bravery to do that.”