Review: Carol (2015)

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Carol is an extraordinary film that renders declarations and sentiments of love utterly meaningless throughout most of its running time. Instead, mere momentary glances, small gestures and behavioural quirks are the embodiment of the central romance between the titular character Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Belivet. (Rooney Mara)

For example in their first meeting, Therese is looking around the department store where she works and when the camera brings Carol into focus, the young woman has a look of utter curiosity, when staring at her. The moment is strengthened when the older woman notices the glance and the two share a meaningful encounter.

Rooney Mara is exceptional as the young Therese. Her shy and naive nature are captivating as the film primarily explores her feelings during the deeply passionate weeks that she spends with Carol. Her subtle character arc is excellent as she initially starts out as a person who views things from a distance and is quick to saying yes without any forethought. However, by the end of the film, she has undergone maturation that results in her having a better sense of self and new- found confidence in her form of expression, which is photography.

Cate Blanchett is equally compelling as Carol. Her appearance and demeanour throughout the film brought to mind the classic Hollywood starlets of yesteryear. One particular sequence that is emblematic of this quality is when Therese is in a car and takes a photograph of Carol in the middle of a snowy shopping trip. The picture that she takes is revisited throughout the film and essentially represents Carol at her most appealing.

However, this strong facade is shattered in a scene in the tail end of the film. Carol tries to appeal to her husband that she has to see her daughter and be in her life. Blanchett’s tear-inducing fragility and shaken vocal tones make the scene stand out as a culmination of Carol’s underlying sadness.

Nevertheless, the beginning sequence of the picture is the scene that illustrates the before stated strength of the film. One of Therese’s friends interrupts a lavish dinner that she is having with Carol. There are a series shots that are focused on the subtle details throughout the scene.

For example, Therese’s eyes darting back and forth between her male friend and most crucially, a shot of Carol’s gloved hand resting upon Therese’s shoulder as she bids them both farewell. The shots in the scene speak to the film’s deft cinematic portrait of the small moments in relationships that have resonance and meaning for the people in the midst of it.

Villains at the Movies: Kylo Ren

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In the midst of the third act of The Force Awakens, the heroine of the picture Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds herself in the clutches of the First Order. Her captor Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) sits with exacting patience waiting for her to wake up. As she rises, Ren senses her desire to kill him, he remarks upon the course of action with a mocking tone. Rey replies with defiance, “That happens when you’re being hunted by a creature in a mask.” Upon hearing this, Ren removes his helmet to show the scavenger his face. The formally masked figure looks like a fallen prince with an expression that simultaneously shows a weight of conflict and intense purpose. The scene is indicative in showcasing The Force Awakens’ primary virtue, which is its central antagonist- Kylo Ren.

Ren represents a subversion of the hero’s journey that was presented in the original trilogy. We see a character who is a transition to becoming a villain, who is tempted by what he states as a call to the light, which is a fascinating reconceptualisation of the temptation motif in the Star Wars pictures. In fact, in the film’s most dramatic scene, this theme is visually conveyed in a fascinating manner. As Ben declares, he is being torn apart and hands his lightsaber to Han Solo, (Harrison Ford) the camera shows Rey and Finn (John Boyega) looking up at the sky. The clouds start to cover up the sun and the area around Ben, and Solo becomes darkened.

Earlier in the picture, during an attack on the Starkiller Base, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) remarks that “as long as there is light we got a chance.” The film strongly suggests that if the light from the sun had lasted a mere few minutes longer, then Ben would not have killed his father in cold blood, which thus illustrates the powerful calling to the light.

At the same time, Ren represents the younger generation who are shaped by the mythical heroes and villains that existed in the original trilogy. In this case, it is Darth Vader who he is inspired by in many ways. In the film’s most haunting scene Ren sits alone speaking to the charred mask of Darth Vader. He says with desperation,”Show me again the power of the darkness.” There is a tragic irony that pervades this scene as Ren perceives Vader as the ultimate embodiment of the dark side, without realising that his grandfather succumbed to the power of the light.

There is a moment when General Leia Organa says that her son had too much Vader in him, which explains why she and Han decided to send him to Luke for training as opposed to raising and dealing with his problems. In this sense, Ren can be seen as someone who is let down by his parental figures which explain why his gradual descent to the dark side is understandable. He wants to feel all powerful in a position and organisation where he can feel appreciated. However, as the previously mentioned scene alluded to even his pull to the dark side of the force is shattered by the actual reality versus the pre-conceived perception.

This gives rise to a unique quality in Kylo Ren, which co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasden cites as the following: “I’ve written four Star Wars movies now, and there’s never been a character quite like the one that Adam plays. I think you’re going to see something that’s brand new to the saga. He’s full of emotion.” The primary passion is exhibited in scenes where Ren has powerful bursts of anger that are volatile and terrifying. The unstable sound of his lightsaber punctuate these scenes as well as embody the intrinsically unstable nature of Kylo Ren’s character.

Finally, Adam Driver’s performance as the young masked figure is exemplary. His physicality is particularly striking as in some scenes Ren appears like a wraith who is seemingly floating across the terrain. However, at other times, his movements are precise and controlled. Driver also has some moments where the delivery his of lines feel like subtle homages to Hayden Christian’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. There is one particular moment where he screams out “Traitor!” with the same accentuated fury that Anakin has in his declarations to Obi-Wan in the third act of Episode III. However, Driver’s best scenes are the ones where he can facially express contrary emotions, which speak to the internal conflict of his character. The interrogation scene with Rey is the most prominent example of this quality.

Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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When the dust settles on the Marvel Cinematic Universe than Captain America: Civil War will be remembered as a momentary triumphant footnote that will be eventually be surpassed by ever increasing bigger installments. This is a depressing state of affairs because the previous Captain America films had excellently spoken to the nostalgic tendencies of their titular hero in an engaging manner then Civil War does in its 147 minutes. Part of the reason for this is because of the film’s continual tug of war between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) and the good Captain. (Chris Evens)

On the surface, it seems interesting as the conflict involves global government regulation over the Avengers because of the collateral damage that has been involved in their past attempts to save the world. However, Stark’s point of view feels contrived because of an awkwardly inserted beginning scene where a mother blames him personally for the death of her son. It seems like the writers had forgotten Stark’s previous views about a lack of control and the through line that has been created up until this point, which could have been organically built upon instead of that clumsy scene.

Additionally, Steve Rogers’s point of view is relegated to a lone voice that makes the film intrinsically one sided in its depiction of the title Civil War. Additionally, the debate feels moot once an overbearing framing plot line comes into play that gives rise to a red herring development that fundamentally undermines the last Captain America picture. At the end of all this is a glimpse of an interesting idea with a victim of one of the Avengers’ attacks primarily being responsible for the main conflict. However, this comes too late in the narrative to have any emotional resonance.

Civil War frustrates because for every idea that feels interesting it is fundamentally undermined by another element. Some of these come towards the latter half of the picture. For example, in the penultimate scene, the antagonist of the picture, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is being mocked by a government agent for his lack of success in bringing down the Avengers. He contends that he has utterly failed in his purpose, and Zemo with quiet confidence asks did I? This potent ambiguity is weakened by the next scene where Rogers sends a letter to Stark, which implies a reconciliation. One can almost hear the loud grind of the Marvel Studio’s machine in that last scene with its sickening warm reassurance.

Most annoying is that this unequal balance between spectacle and ideas was expertly handled in Captain America: The Winter Solider, which worked within the genre of the political thriller and combined it with a precise and gut-wrenching internal conflict along with an earth shattering revelation for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As for The First Avenger, it had a fascinating interplay between the perceived and actual image of Captain America while also showcasing a serious portrait of earnestness in its central hero, which had not been portrayed since Christopher Reeve’s performance as the title character in Superman The Movie.

Moreover, there were interesting cinematic flourishes in those pictures. The First Avenger had a fiery painterly shot that effortlessly conveyed the monumental struggle between Captain America and the Red Skull. While The Winter Solider had a suspenseful elevator sequence that culminated in a well choreographed and intensive fight sequence that also illustrated the inherent paranoia and danger present in the narrative. Even Age of Ultron, which shares this film’s overstuffed nature was able to show the characters angst and fears visually in a fascinating manner.