Musings on Christopher Nolan’s TENET (2020)

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that Christopher Nolan is one of those filmmakers whose films I always anticipate. Even if I don’t end up loving the film (*cough* Interstellar *cough*), I still consider his film release as an ‘event’ and this one is no different. The repeated delays–it was supposed to be released this Summer on July 17–due to Covid-19 somehow made it even more highly-anticipated by film fans, me included. After careful considerations and reading all kinds of articles on it, my hubby and I decided to go ahead and see TENET at a cinema, as it’s always intended, and we chose EMAGINE’s EMAX theater with its wall-to-wall screen and Dolby Atmost surround sound.

Let’s just say that even after a couple of days mulling over it, consuming all kinds of articles and videos of ‘TENET endings explained’ … I still can’t fully explain just what the plot is about. But then again I shouldn’t feel too bad as even some of the actors couldn’t really explain it during the press tours! Those who are familiar with Nolan’s work should expect the fact that Nolan often treats his films as a big puzzle piece… he’s not interested in spoon-feeding the audience with straightforward premise and neat endings wrapped nicely with a big red bow. If you think Inception and Interstellar is confusing, be prepared for a discombobulating treat with TENET. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal any spoiler here, but if I do, I’ll be sure to give you a fair warning.

As a scientist said in the film, ‘Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.’ I remember hearing that in the trailer and you know what, given how confusing this movie was, I’m glad I took that advise to heart. Per Nolan’s tradition, his films opens with with a high-octane action piece, this time at an opera house. It’s full of adrenaline, suspense and mystery that definitely gets you in the mood for what about to unfold. Unfortunately, I immediately notice sound issues which apparently has plagued other screenings as well. According to this article, apparently the hard-to-hear dialogue is on purpose, which I find hugely irritating. I mean, I don’t mind a puzzling plot, but how do they expect us to figure out what’s going on if exposition dialogue are delivered in muffled speech or drown out by all kinds of noise. It’s also quite eerie seeing characters in this movie using masks (it’s even on some of the posters), even if it’s got nothing to do with a pandemic.

One thing for sure is Nolan’s obsession with the spy genre, given his affinity for the Bond movies, having seen The Spy Who Loved Me as a young boy with his dad. But he said in interviews that he wants to up the ante and deliver something that’s geared towards the modern audience. Nolan basically fused his favorite genre with a high-concept of time inversion, not to be confused with time travel. More on that later, but let’s start with the Bond-ish elements. John David Washington‘s The Protagonist, who’s a CIA agent, oozes 007’s coolness and swagger, sporting one sleek suit after another and can effortlessly take out half a dozen goons in a cramped kitchen with his bare hands without breaking a sweat. His ‘Felix Leiter’ is Robert Pattinson‘s Neil, sporting tousled blond locks who looks equally dashing in a suit. The two has a fun chemistry, definitely the best ‘bromance’ in Nolan’s movie so far. I love the scene where they first met in Mumbai and later when the two try to break into a high rise apartment.

I’m surprised Kenneth Branagh hasn’t played a Bond villain yet, but well, he practically plays one here as an arms dealer oligarch Andrei Sator, complete with a droll Russian accent. In classic Bond-baddie fashion, Sator threatened our protagonist with choking him with his own balls, ahah. There’s also a damsel in distress in the form of Sator’s estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) – if you have seen The Night Manager miniseries, Debicki’s character is basically similar to Jed who’s also the love interest of an arm’s dealer.

The high-concept element here is the time inversion, where characters can move backwards in time. Some key phrases are required to understand just what TENET is about… Entropy Inversion, Temporal Pincer Movement, Turnstile, Palindrome are just a few of them. It’s the kind of movie that would require a glossary of physics to comprehend. Of course, the title itself is a Palindrome, which refers to a word, phrase or sequence that reads the same backward as forward. Clearly I had fallen asleep in physics class as the word entropy is as perplexing as Kenneth Branagh‘s Russian accent.

Apparently Nolan worked with physicist Nobel laureate Kip Thorne once again, the same physics expert he consulted with in Interstellar on wormholes and time travel. This time, he’s consulted on the subjects of time and quantum physics, specifically time inversion where characters move backwards in time. Even after reading all kinds of articles explaining the science of the movie, some things just don’t add up. SPOILER ALERT – just how in the world would a kill switch on Sator’s Fitbit would be able to activate the Algorithm to reverse entropy that would make the future cease to exist??   I find that TENET is best enjoyed when you just surrender to the movie and all its cool spectacle, like the backward car chases, instead of trying to process it all during the movie. Now, I don’t advise you ‘park your brain at the door’ the way you would when watching a Fast & Furious movie, but I would refrain from overthinking it as you are watching it. I actually have a better appreciation of it after I had spent time reading about its concepts afterwards.

That said, I’m not going to let Nolan off the hook in his storytelling style, as I think there are flaws that dampen my enjoyment. The one sequence in particular is the climactic battle at the end in an abandoned Soviet banker. There are so much information going into it, delivered by a soldier by the name of Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) that’s quite tough to follow. By the time the two set of troops are on the ground, things are moving fast, loud and bombastic that it was hard to decipher just what in the world is going on. SPOILER ALERT – it actually took me a while to realize that half the troops are attacking while inverted (that is they’re moving back in time) and the other half moving forward as normal. I wish this sequence were filmed in a way that’s more comprehensible as I practically tuned out because the massively loud sound mixing alone was simply an attack on my brain.

Another major issue I have is in regards to Sator who could’ve been a strong villain. I think his motives are pretty lame (as lame as most Bond movies) and Branagh’s performance is so uneven–at times he can be genuinely menacing but in a few scenes he’s hilarious, and not in a good way. While he’s obviously a talented actor and filmmaker, I don’t think Sator is a particularly strong villain. Oh,  I think it needs to be said that Nolan isn’t great about writing female characters either. I’ve mentioned the similarity of Kat to another role Debicki has played within the past five years that’s also a spy genre, I think it’s a waste of her talents to see her play essentially the same type of role. I do think she made the best of what she’s given, but I’d love to see Debicki portray someone who’s worthy of her prowess, both physically and in terms of her acting ability.

Many people have regarded Nolan as the ‘savior of cinema’ given how TENET was supposed to lift Hollywood’s box office during this unprecedented time of a pandemic. It remains to be seen of course how much TENET made, which undoubtedly would still be far less than what it could’ve made when things are normal. I think he is a talented filmmaker and a visionary, but I feel like he might have over-reached with this one and have substituted high-concept for good narrative. I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive, but I feel like here, Nolan seems to care more about the fantastical spectacle and time-inversion/ thermodynamics extravaganza than he is about an affecting story, so the result frankly, is a cold, detached film. I think the only bit that has a semblance of emotional resonance is the ending exchange between the Protagonist and Neil, but there’s barely any heart-string tugging moment the entire film.

If you’re on the fence about this one though, I still recommend it despite its flaws. The 200+ million dollar budget allows for the best kind of escapism cinema could give you. If you love action, there are the cool car chases + fight scenes like you’ve never seen before, a supercharged catamaran race, AND a Boeing 747 crashing into a building! Given that Nolan doesn’t like using green screens nor visual effects, that’s an actual plane being used, not a miniature one. Props to Ludwig Göransson for the dynamic soundtrack with some seriously cool beats, and Hoyte Van Hoytema for the stunning cinematography. I’m still obsessed with the song The Plan by Travis Scott used in the final trailer – I never thought an American rapper would be featured in a Nolan movie, but it worked!

Of course Nolan’s longtime collaborator Nathan Crowley is always superb on his production design, he certainly had his work cut out for him creating some of the set pieces in various locations around the world. Speaking of locations…having been cooped up for more than half a year, I live vicariously through the characters as they globe trot to London, Mumbai, Amalfi Coast, Oslo, Tallinn, Estonia etc. Of course the filmmakers made it seem so smooth and effortless to jump from place to place and nobody seems to be having the slightest bit of jet-lag.

I’d also recommend it for the actors, particularly J.D. Washington and Pattinson. Oh shout out to Bollywood actress Dimple Kapadia in her Hollywood debut playing an elegant arms dealer Priya. Washington proves even more of his star quality and given his athletic background, he’s perfect for this physically demanding role. I have to say though that I’d like to see him in something with a little more heart as I’d love to see more of his emotional intelligence on display.

Lastly, while I still think Nolan is a visionary filmmaker, I’d love to see him tackle a smaller film (maybe under $50mil) and come up with something stronger narratively instead of just a big puzzle piece. That said, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, and considering how confusing the movie is, the 150-minute running time actually doesn’t feel tedious or overlong. I only wish Nolan gave us a bit more for the heart as he did for the head. I will definitely be renting this once it’s available, and hopefully I’d enjoy it more on second viewing.

P.S. This movie is more of a 2.75/5 but since I grade this by half point measure, I’d bump this up to 3.


So, have you seen TENET? I’d love to hear what you think!

 

Musings on Robert Pattinson casting + Matt Reeves’ noir vision for The Batman

It seems it hasn’t been that long ago that I was blogging about casting for a Batman movie when Ben Affleck was cast. If some of you read it, I was actually lamenting about Affleck’s casting then, but later on I came around and actually enjoyed his performance. Now, Christian Bale remains my favorite Batman – not only was he excellent as both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, his Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan is by far the best version.

In any case, just two years after Affleck donned the cape in Justice League, and months after news about him stepping down as actor/director, looks like director Matt Reeves has found the new Batman, and it’s another Brit: Robert Pattinson. Boy, surely Twilight fans, specifically Team Edward, rejoice with delight. Honestly I was quite taken aback by it at first… I’d never think of him as the Dark Knight, and the first thing that came to mind was an image of him as the sparkly vapid vampire in Twilight which is enough to make me shudder. But the more I think about it, I’m more open minded about his casting… and after reading more about Matt Reeves’ vision for The Batman (more on that in a bit). Of course, it didn’t take long for social media to erupt with reactions for the news. Some of the more optimistic fans have come up with some ingenious Photoshop work imagining what Pattinson could look like in the role, here are some of my faves…

I remember seeing this still image from David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS where Pattinson played an eccentric young billionaire. Hmmm, perhaps their casting manager (or his agent) has some kind of magic 8-ball? In a similar way like Christian Bale, Pattinson looks much better when he does NOT smile or show his teeth, but his brooding makes me think he’d make an intriguing Bruce Wayne. Pattinson is 13 years younger than Affleck at 33 (making him the youngest actor ever to play Batman), but I think Bale in Batman Begins looked about similar in age and his character was just coming into his own as opposed to a more jaded/grizzled version of Affleck’s.

Apparently two other Brits were in the running for the role, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Nicholas Hoult. I actually like both actors, but I think both are way too pretty as Batman. Hoult especially is just so sweet looking and can’t imagine him being at all menacing. I actually tried to watch his film EQUALS with coincidentally, Pattinson’s ex, Kristen Stewart, and was bored to tears I couldn’t finish watching.

In any case, I think Pattinson has a dose of madness the role requires and he’s played quite a share of those. I saw a few of his work post-Twilight, though not extensively. I liked him in Remember Me and The Lost City of Z where he’s barely recognizable (see inset pic), and even his small role in Queen Of the Desert as T.E. Lawrence. Not a fan of his work in Bel Ami (he’s woefully miscast) and Water For Elephants was meh. I appreciate that he’s been doing a ton of independent films and seeking interesting roles that don’t necessarily capitalize on his looks or fame. In a way it’s similar to how Leonardo DiCaprio was post Titanic mania where he tried to shed his heartthrob image.

Of course with a casting for such a popular superhero, there’ll be naysayers. Some have even started petitions to remove him from the role, ahah. I think people who’ve only seen his work in the YA vampire saga should give him a chance, plus that was nearly a decade ago and he’s certainly grown as a performer. I was browsing some Cannes reviews and saw many critics praising his performance in The Lighthouse. This one from The Wrap in particular intrigues me as it alludes to the Batman casting:

…Pattinson anchors things with a sturdy physical performance that will no doubt calm those concerned about a certain reported upcoming role.


Casting aside, what I am really curious about is what kind of Batman film are we going to get? I have been so disappointed by DC’s renditions of other superheroes of late (I haven’t even mustered enough interest to see Aquaman). But I was really impressed by Matt Reeves’ Apes trilogy, especially the final one War of the Planet of the Apes, that I was excited that he’s given the reign to reboot the Batman movies.

Here’s what he told THR on his take on The Batman:

It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir Batman tale. It’s told very squarely on his shoulders, and I hope it’s going to be a story that will be thrilling but also emotional. It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been. I’d love this to be one where when we go on that journey of tracking down the criminals and trying to solve a crime, it’s going to allow his character to have an arc so that he can go through a transformation.

There’s also news circulating that this version will feature a rogues gallery of villains (per THR). Apparently so far they’re working on casting Catwoman, The Penguin and Riddler, boy how cool would that be doing casting for THIS project! I much prefer Nolan’s grounded version of Batman than Tim Burton’s, but it remains to be seen what kind of style Reeves would do here. I am intrigued by his vision however, and I trust he’s the right man for the job. Warner Bros has at least given fans, well me for one, some hope to be more than cautiously optimistic.


So what do YOU think of Robert Pattinson’s casting? If you’re not keen on him, who would you like to be cast as The Batman?

 

Guest Review: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Runtime: 1 hr 56 minutes

It is hard to adequately describe the opening scenes of the psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals (2016) but you will not forget them quickly. Picture, if you will, images of completely naked and generously sized women writhing rhythmically to a heavy beat with various body parts moving simultaneously in different directions. They slowly progress in size, with lighting and makeup that makes them resemble what could be described as artistically grotesque burlesque, all with the opening credits still rolling in the background.

If you are still watching, you are being prepared for a film that explores a twilight world of sexual transgression. It may help to know beforehand that there are three criss-crossing plotlines and you can easily lose your sense of what is happening. Gallery director Susan (Amy Adams) is an insomniac with a crumbling marriage and a disinterested career. Spoilt by wealth, she can indulge her sense of emptiness and her regrets over having cruelly dumped her first husband whose modest career as a writer was never going to meet her aspirations. Having once labelled him a loser, out of the blue he sends her a manuscript for a book she cannot stop reading.

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The dramatization of the book is a gripping stand-alone thriller. Formulaic but brilliantly acted and filmed, it is about a family driving on a deserted road at night who encounter a carload of crazed thugs. The driver is helpless as his wife and daughter endure horrific crimes, and the story becomes the quest for revenge or justice depending on your moral viewpoint. As Susan reads the book it triggers flashbacks about her previous marriage for which a flame still burns, and she begins to sense that the story is a vengeful metaphor for her own emotional and moral weakness. While these twin narrative layers twist and turn, Susan also struggles with her shallow life in the pretentious present tense of the Los Angeles art world.

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The narrative framework of this film can feel like a tangled mess but it is not. It shifts from one layer to another without warning to create a fine balance between logic and confusion while creating a powerful montage of haunting scenes. The converging motifs of sleeplessness and night trawlers equate Susan’s culpability with those of murderous road stalkers and hint darkly that while some wrongs are beyond the law they are never beyond primal vengeance. The story of Nocturnal Animals is told through Susan’s eyes and with a top-quality support ensemble. The cinematography is striking and many scenes could be framed as artworks in Susan’s gallery. This is a challenging and engaging film that echoes the message be careful what you wish for.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘NOCTURNAL ANIMALS’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Double Reviews – Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Ted’s Review

I have a confession to make, I’m not a big fan of the first Avengers film, I enjoyed it for the most part but when I watched it again on Bluray, I found it kind of dragging. So going into this gigantic sequel, I had no high expectations for it. Well color surprise because I think Age of Ultron might be my favorite Marvel film to date, I’ll know for sure when I see it again in a few days.

Things kick off right away when the movie opens; our superheroes are in the middle of a battle with the bad guys. The sequence was quite impressive; director Whedon decided to reintroduce each of the heroes by showing skill set and that they’re now working as a team. They successfully retrieved Loki’s scepter from Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and before it returns to Thor’s world, Stark and Banner decided to create an AI called Ultron without telling the rest of the team. After the events of the first film, Stark wanted to protect humans from another alien invasion. Of course every time when some geniuses create a super intelligent machine, it will take over its masters and that’s what happened here. I think most people have already seen the trailers and clips of the movie so I’m not going to discuss its plot. For this review I’ll go over the goods, there are plenty of them and not so good about this sequel.

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The goods: Whedon really improved the action sequences in this one, along with the opening sequence; there are three other set pieces that I thought were quite excellent. The fight between Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor was spectacular. The midway action sequence where Capt. America was fighting with Ultron and Black Widow on the motorcycle chasing them was eye-popping. Finally the entire climatic battle with Ultron’s minions was just fun to watch. I didn’t care for the 3D effects in the first movie but here all the 3D worked, clearly Whedon shot each sequence with 3D in mind.

Instead of focusing on one character, Whedon was able to give each of the heroes equal screen time and they’re bantering are still amusing to me. All the actors appears to be quite comfortable in their respectively role. I wasn’t sure if the addition of Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch would work in the story but they turned out well.

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I also have to mention the sound design, the movie was recorded in Dolby Atmos and it’s my favorite surround sound right behind GRAVITY. If there’s a theater that has Dolby Atmos near your time, please see it there. I don’t tend to recommend seeing movies in 3D but I was quite impressed with 3D effects in this movie. So see it in 3D and Dolby Atmos if possible.

The not so good: I didn’t care for the romance with between Hulk and Black Widow, it kind of dragged on too long and just didn’t work for me. I expected Ultron to be this super menacing villain but he kind of turned out to be bland, just the usual AI villain that we’ve seen many times before.

Despite my quibbles I still think this is a perfect summer movie that delivers everything you’d expect to see in a tent pole picture. I can’t wait to see it again.

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Ruth’s Review

It seems that Ted and I have the opposite reaction in regards to the two Avengers movies. I actually loved the first film, I even made posted 10 Reasons why I think The Avengers rocks and gave it a 4.5/5 rating. I remember being massively anticipating it, following all the buildup from Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, there’s still a sense of novelty of seeing ALL of the Avengers assembling on screen fighting a menacing villain Loki hellbent to rule earth and beyond.

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This time, I have to admit I wasn’t terribly excited for Age of Ultron. Despite all the hype, I just couldn’t muster the excitement I once had for the last Avengers movie.  That said, I figure I’d still have fun with it and maybe I’d end up loving it. Well, I wouldn’t say the movie wasn’t devoid of fun. It actually started off with a thrilling action sequence and there are some funny moments peppered throughout, but overall it’s just not a movie I’d remember in a week or so, and certainly not something I’m eager to watch again.

Ok let’s start with the good. I still have to commend director Joss Whedon for somehow not making a huge mess out of having sooo many characters in a film (11 characters total) and having to somehow give each of them adequate screen time as well as making them work as a cohesive team. All things considered, I think he did a smashing job. The scenes of the team working or playing together are the main highlights for me. I feel like they care about each other and look after each other when one of them get hurt. It genuinely feel like a team whose loyalty is tested by a new deranged enemy.

I especially enjoyed that whole Mjölnir-lifting-attempt scene where each Avenger tried to see if they could lift Thor’s mighty hammer. The look on Thor’s face when Chris Rogers tried his luck is perhaps the funniest of all. That’s absolutely hilarious and one I’m sure I’d watch over and over again when someone has posted it on Youtube. Other than that, I honestly can’t think of a moment where I actually cheered or having any kind of strong emotion towards what’s happening on screen.

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Gif Source: MTV.com

I have to say that the villain Ultron himself was okay, despite the run-of-the-mill storyline of human-created AI that ended up wanting to destroy humanity. We’ve seen that plot in a plethora of sci-fi movies and explored in a much deeper way in films with a tiny fraction of Age of Ultron‘s budget, yet somehow James Spader’s able to inject some wit and humor into that mechanical character. At least he’s more interesting than a Transformer robot, even if he’s nowhere as fun to watch as Loki was.

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As for the bad, well it’s simply an overloaded and overstuffed movie from the get go. It’s as if they didn’t have too many characters already, they added even more! I suppose Marvel have to pave the way for Phase 3 and beyond, so perhaps they’re planning a standalone movie for Vision (Paul Bettany), who looks like something out of the Body Worlds exhibit with a red cape. There are also the Maximoff twins, who were experimented on by of one of Hydra cohorts Strucker in an Eastern European country of Sokovia. Out of the two, Elizabeth Olsen fared better than Aaron Taylor-Johnson who came across so weird and awkward. Their *Russian* accent are laughable but they’re just so underwritten, though to be fair I think every character here suffers the same treatment. The Quicksilver character in X-Men: Days of Future Past was far more fun and memorable.

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I’d say that the biggest misstep of them all is the tacked-on romance between Bruce Banner (Hulk) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow). I didn’t care for that cheesy and entirely-unnecessary subplot and their scenes are so cringe-worthy that it took me out of the movie. Natasha was sharing some of the backstory of her dark childhood, and it would have been a rather emotional moment but I just couldn’t get into it as the corny romance thing was distracting me. I like both Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson, but they seem to have a more effortless chemistry off-screen during interviews than in the movie.

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I think people expecting a bunch of action in a big tentpole movie won’t be disappointed. For me, it’s more fun if I actually care about the characters and the universe presented here. As it is now, it’s just one huge bombastic film, in fact the whole fight sequence of Hulkbuster vs Hulk was so loud and verbose it reminded me of the final battle in Man of Steel. With so many characters all fighting for relevancy, the movie feels disjointed and abridged at times. The backstory of some of the characters also didn’t gel with me and felt forced and extraneous. Even the most adept filmmaker like Whedon surely was overwhelmed so I don’t blame him that he’s not going to do the final Avengers film. The Russo brothers certainly have a challenging task ahead of them to direct Avengers: Infinity War, and because Hollywood is all about the bottom line, of course it will be another two-part movie.

Oh, I have to mention that I saw this in 2D and the theater I was in had a pretty terrible surround sound. I wish I had seen it in a theater with Dolby Atmos as I still love the soundtrack, this time done by Brian Tyler & Danny Elfman. I doubt that seeing it in a better-equipped cinema would fix the weak script however. It also pains me to see Andy Serkis practically wasted here.

You could say the superhero fatigue is getting to me, so that certainly plays a factor in my enjoyment of this film. I can’t say I’m excited for more Marvel movies, except for Captain America: Civil War because I actually care about the Capt and his relationship with his friend-turned-foe Bucky, aka The Winter Soldier. Compared to the second Captain America movie, this one just felt bland and forgettable. It’s amazing how all that star power and an astronomical budget ($250 mil) only amounts to this, but then again, more is often just more, not better.

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Well, if you’ve seen this movie, what did YOU think? 

Special Collaborative Post: Recasting Jane Austen’s Screen Adaptation of Sense & Sensibility

Happy Sunday, everyone! Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend.

Today I bring you another collaborative post with a fellow blogger, and fellow British actor aficionado, Anna from Defiant Success blog. This will be a mini blog series of RECASTING Jane Austen screen adaptations. Anna wanted to do this in order of the book’s release, the first one happens to be my own personal favorite: Sense & Sensibility.

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Anna’s Picks

Romola Garai as Elinor Dashwood

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“Elinor, the eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength in understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart; — her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn. and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.”

If you’ve seen Garai’s work in the brilliant (but unfortunately short-lived) TV series The Hour, you’ll know that her role of Bel Rowley has a few shared traits with that of Elinor. Reserved, levelheaded, (un)willingly keeps her feelings to herself…she just seemed right for the part. (It also doesn’t hurt that Garai has previously played another Austen leading lady, albeit a less sensible one.)

Carey Mulligan as Marianne Dashwood

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“She was sensible and clever; but eager in every thing; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was every thing but prudent.”


I was reminded of Mulligan’s work in An Education as I was sketching out this list. Her role of Jenny Mellor is that of a young woman with a deep admiration for the arts and is experiencing love for the first time in her life before the harsh truths about her lover come to light. That description could easily be applied to Marianne as well. (Again, Mulligan has previously been in an Austen adaptation, though her character is less appreciated.)

James McAvoy as Edward Ferrars

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“He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement. But he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longer to see him distinguished—as—they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other. His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day. Mrs. John Dashwood wished it likewise; but in the mean while, till one of these superior blessings could be attained, it would have quieted her ambition to see him driving a barouche. But Edward had no turn for great men or barouches. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life.”

Yes, Austen specified that Edward is “not handsome” but considering the role has also been played by 90s-era Hugh Grant and a pre-Downton Abbey Dan Stevens, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I don’t think anyone will object to whom I’ve chosen. Anyway, McAvoy’s work in Atonement is what inspired me to choose him. Reserved and shy but passionate. (And yes, I see the irony of having him and Garai play love interests. It would certainly shine Atonement in a new light.)

Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Brandon

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“He was silent and grave. His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.”


Okay, I’ll admit the 1995 Sense & Sensibility film might have had some influence in this decision. (Another influence was Parade’s End.) There was just something about that description that made me think of Cumberbatch. (My money’s on the “not unpleasing” appearance.) And I bet that the scene of Colonel Brandon recalling his lost love to Elinor would be done beautifully in his hands (and voice).

Henry Cavill as John Willoughby

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“Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance, and while the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, he apologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so frank and so graceful, that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs. Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings.”

Basically that description there is Austen describing Willoughby as the most ridiculously handsome man you’ve ever laid eyes on. (Don’t quote me on that.) And I’ll admit I was slightly stuck on whom to cast in the role. Thankfully I’m on the internet enough to get a good idea or two, and Cavill certainly came to mind. I mean, look at him. It practically makes Willoughby’s philandering all the more stunning (though not exactly unexpected), doesn’t it?

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Ruth’s Picks

Andrea Riseborough as Elinor Dashwood

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I first saw Andrea in three films last year and was so impressed by her chameleonic ability to disappear into her characters. She’s in her mid 30s but looks youthful enough to pull off a 19 year old. I think she’d do Elinor justice as I think she can play ANY role convincingly. She has a quiet grace about her as well as a wise-beyond-her-years countenance that’d work nicely for this role.

Sophia Myles as Marianne Dashwood

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Myles has actually done an Austen adaptation before in 1999 film version of Mansfield Park, but it was a small role as Fanny’s sister. I actually thought she resembles Kate Winslet so much but that’s not the reason I cast her here. I had been impressed by her in Tristan n Isolde and the Moonlight TV show. She’s so grossly underrated but she is beautiful and has that innocent yet impetuous sensibility that would make her an excellent Marianne.

Tom Hiddleston as Edward Ferrars

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I always thought that Hiddleston is not classically handsome but yet he’s immensely attractive and charming. Now Edward is more on the shy side (unlike the more gregarious Hiddles) but I think the talented Brit can pull off reserve. Though he’s most well-known for playing the villainous Loki in the Marvel Universe, Tom has kind eyes which makes me think he’d suit this character. I also love that Tom has a soothing n gentle voice, more Dan Stevens than the stuttering Hugh Grant. Plus I think he and Andrea would make a lovely, albeit a bit unexpected, pair.
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Toby Stephens as Colonel Brandon

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Yes I know it’s no surprise you’d see Toby on here but really I can’t imagine anyone else I’d want in the role. He’s done two Brontë adaptations, Charlotte’s (BBC Jane Eyre 2006) and Anne’s (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), but never Austen’s. I could just picture his melancholic expression as he beheld Marianne for the first time playing the piano. He’s perfected that pining look as Rochester pining for Jane. Now obviously the impossibly fine-boned actor can’t be described as ‘not handsome’ (how Brandon’s described in the book) but the important thing is that he captured the essence of the character the way he did with Rochester. Plus, like Rickman, Toby has voice to die for, so I’d want an extended scene of his Brandon reading to Marianne [sigh]
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Aaron Taylor-Johnson as John Willoughby

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Initially I was thinking of Ben Barnes, who’s played Dorian Gray before, but I feel that he’s not seductive enough as Willoughby. Aaron on the other hand, is what I’d consider not simply handsome, but a truly beautiful young man. On top of that, he oozes so much sex appeal with just the way he stares at you with those gorgeous blue eyes. At 23, also pretty close to the character’s age in the book (25). Willoughby is supposed to be an instant charmer, all swagger and undeniable passion, but not in a malicious kind of way as he earnestly does love Marianne. Interestingly, his hair here reminds me of Greg Wise’s wavy locks in the 1995 version as Willoughby.


Well, those are our picks for the main characters Sense & Sensibility. Let us know your thoughts and feel free to offer your own picks in the comments!

Rental Pick: Albert Nobbs (2011)

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I actually stumbled upon Albert Nobbs as I was trying to find an interview with Janet McTeer about The White Queen on YouTube. I didn’t recall seeing any promotion for this film, but I listened to Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) and Janet McTeer (Hubert Page) talk about transforming themselves into men for their roles. A woman pretending to be a man isn’t something new in cinema. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow pretended to be a man for a role in “Romeo and Juliet” in Shakespeare in Love; although, her transformation can hardly be considered life-altering. However, something about their interview struck a chord with me.

In essence, the casting was superb. Close has fairly androgynous features already, but the makeup and costuming efforts were incredible. Just looking at the cover makes my skin crawl! Throughout the entire film, Albert is statuesque, methodical and reclusive, but I think that’s the point. One could argue this is merely to protect her true identity, but I think it’s more than that. Albert Nobbs subtly implies women, during this era (19th century Ireland), are a means to an end and constantly stunted by the whims and fantasies of men.

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Albert is a hard-working waiter at the Morrison’s Hotel, saving every coin, with the dreams of opening her own shop. However, she is so far removed from herself and her own person that she assumes the role of being invisible. It isn’t until Albert is introduced to Mr. Page do we see a spark a spark of life and emotion. Panic sets in once Albert realizes Mr. Page will be sharing her bed for the night, but we soon discover Mr. Page has a secret as well. Not only is Mr. Page* actually a woman, but also has a wife!

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*To avoid confusion, I will always refer to Albert Nobbs and Mr. Page as “she.”*

Albert’s interactions with other people are so awkward and painful to watch, but the sympathetic Mr. Page slowly reveals secrets about her life and encourages Albert to live a full and happy life. Albert, determined to succeed, sets her sights on the charming, friendly and beautiful Helen (Mia Wasikowska). However, Helen has set her sights on the new handy-man, Joe (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Joe schemes with Helen to milk Albert for enough money to buy the two of them passage to America.

It’s particularly heartbreaking to watch Albert, once again, be taken advantage of by men, but it also brings her such joy at the prospect of a life she chooses to live. As you can see from the image, below, Helen isn’t thrilled by the notion of “stepping out” with Albert. We soon discover, Helen is expecting, and the noble, self-sacrificing, Albert offers to marry Helen regardless. Disgusted at the notion, Helen refuses and chooses to believe the fantasy that Joe will provide for her and the baby.

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Just when you think the film can’t get any more depressing, a typhoid epidemic breaks out in Dublin. We learn Mr. Page’s wife (Cathleen) dies from the epidemic, but it brings about one of the more touching scenes from the film. In an act of remembrance, Albert and Mr. Page put on Cathleen’s dresses and solemnly, and somewhat bitterly, think of what their life might be like had they remained women.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s definitely filled with mixed emotions. Researching the film revealed it received mixed reviews from critics in 2011, but, undeniably, Glenn Close and Janet McTeer’s performances were brilliant. Both actresses received Academy Award nominations in addition to Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for their roles. I, too, will admit I didn’t love the film. In places it seemed to drag on, but it was interesting nonetheless. It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind film and I encourage you to rent at your leisure.

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Thoughts on Albert Nobbs? Would love to hear what you think!