Tag: Drama

Atonement (movie) review

Director: Joe Wright

Writer: Christopher Hampton

Cast: Keira Knightly, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch

Release date: December 7, 2007

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Atonement is the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel directed by Joe Wright. Briony Tallis is a precocious young girl who likes to write and tell stories. Due to a series of misunderstandings, she ends up impacting the lives of her sister, Cecilia Tallis, and Robbie Turner, the son of the housekeeper. Cecila and Robbie, despite coming from different backgrounds, have deep seated feelings for each other. After a horrific accusation ends up tearing apart their future and lives, the film looks at what happens to the three characters and how their lives changed because of it.

This is the first Joe Wright movie I have seen, and while not without hiccups, it is an impressive work.

As an adaptation, Atonement is spectacular. Aside from cutting scenes for time, the film is as good a translation of the novel to the big screen as there can be. Some conversations are even taken verbatim from the pages of the book. The hot summer day, the chaos at Dunkirk, and the sterile hospital described in the novel are recreated visually to an amazing degree.

I have nothing bad to say about this movie’s direction. Joe Wright’s filmmaking abilities cannot be disputed. He frames every shot exactly as it needs to be framed, making them either intimate or epic and overpowering depending on the scene. No matter where a scene is taking place, Wright and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey make every one of them beautiful. What better proof of this is there than the famous long tracking shot of the chaotic evacuation of Dunkirk? The editing is also great, recreating how the novel used differing perspectives to tell its story.

Of course, Atonement can’t just get on by a great look alone. It needs to have what the book did: an emotional and heady plot with interesting characters. Being a faithful adaptation of great source material, the movie would have at least some of the original’s strengths by accident or design. Luckily, Christopher Hampton’s screenplay manages to capture most of the novel’s strengths and gives a very good distillation of the original’s plot and themes. Briony Tallis, Cecilia Tallis, and Robbie Turner are some of the most memorable characters that I have had the pleasure of seeing grow and change. Briony especially, is a dynamic character that radically changes from the person we first see her as. No character is given the short stick and everyone has their moment. We see the effects of what an overactive imagination can have, and how damaging biases can be. Joe Wright uses the techniques of filmmaking to connect with the theme of how an event can be perceived differently by others depending on perspective. A scene will be shown twice, from one perspective, then another. As with the novel, it contains an ending that will completely shock and sadden you, and recontexualize the majority of what you have just watched.

Atonement boasts an outstanding cast that give memorable and believable performances. Saoirse Ronan was a perfect choice as young Briony, delivering what might be the best performance in the whole film, and one of the best child performances there is. Keira Knightly is of course, also quite good as Cecilia Tallis, and Ian McAvoy is another case of bullseye casting as Robbie Turner. The two have amazing chemistry together. A performance that I think has gone under the radar is Benedict Cumberbatch’s. It is a small but impactful role that is unforgettable and disturbing. He plays a charming and superficially likable character, but there is always an undercurrent of creepiness and a predatory nature whenever he appears. It’s a disturbing portrayal of a sexual predator.

I would be remiss not to mention the film’s score and usage of sound. Atonement has a beautiful score, one of the most relaxing and sad I have ever heard from Dario Marianelli. Lastly, the film creatively uses a typewriting sound effect during pivotal scenes, involving Briony. It flawlessly mixes in with the music, and is another case of the medium’s strengths being used to work with the material’s themes of how destructive flawed perspectives can be.

Sadly, Atonement is not perfect or even great, as a film or as an adaptation. While it is as faithful an adaptation of the novel as it can be, some aspects don’t translate well into film. Conversations and bits of dialogue that sounded good on the page sometimes sound stilted and unnatural when spoken by actual people. Which is odd because McEwan’s dialogue in the book is very good and is a pretty accurate representation of how people of that period would talk. It’s the delivery that is the issue. The third act is the weakest section of the film, which depicts Briony all grown up as a nurse during World War II. It’s shorter compared to the other sections in the film and there isn’t enough time spent with her in this stage in her life. The most memorable scene is when she finally meets Robbie and Cecilia again for the first time in years. The word “undercooked” comes to mind when talking about this section of the movie. The first act is the strongest and most consistent of the film, while the other two acts are not quite able to reach the high standard set by it.

Atonement is a very good albeit flawed movie. It does fumble the longer it goes on, but it is elevated by great performances, directing, cinematography, music, and characters. The movie has a lot of ambition, and its faults can be traced back to trying to do too much. That is something I wish I could say for more films. Despite it’s flaws, Atonement is well crafted, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally engaging. Give it a watch.

Score: 7.5/10

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Atonement review

Author: Ian McEwan

Published: 2001

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Atonement by Ian McEwan is not a good book. Oh no, it is an exceptional book. Telling the story of a lie, and how it transforms the lives of three people at the center of it. It begins in pre-World War II Britain on the grounds of the Tallis family mansion. Briony Tallis is an imaginative young girl who dreams of being a great writer. She has an older sister named Cecilia, who has a relationship with a poor but intelligent young man named Robbie Turner. As the story progresses, we see both the effects of the lie and World War II on the characters and how they change in response. All culminating in a doozy of a twist ending that will throw everything you thought about the novel through a loop.

The plot of Atonement manages to balance out romance, war, drama, and metafiction. Under a lesser writer the book would seem too scattershot and unfocused, but Ian McEwan manages to make the book so sharp, and so singular in its vision. He always reaches far, but never too far. Even when you might think that he’s diverting onto a plot point that doesn’t add up, once you reach the end it all becomes clear.

The characters in this book are multi-faceted and complex. Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie are the main characters and all three are given plenty of development. Robbie is an ambitious medical student from a humble background, while Cecilia, who comes from high society, has always had feelings for him. Briony is the closest we have to a protagonist, and she has the most radical character arc in the whole book. As a child, she has an energetic imagination that we see is used for both good and evil. It’s not entirely intentional on her part, but there is an undeniable hint of malice in what she did. This error in judgement scars her in its own way, and the imaginative, energetic child does not last. Who we later see is a sad, remorseful young lady who spends the rest of her life atoning for what she did. The relationship between Cecilia and Robbie is the kind that has been done before, but it doesn’t matter because the execution is so well done.

The central theme at play is how people can spend the rest of their lives atoning for one mistake they made, or get caught up in the mistakes of others. Robbie is sent off to World War II as a supposed method of atonement for what he did. Briony supposedly gives up her dreams of becoming writer, opting to be a wartime nurse because that is how she sees her route to redemption.

In addition to writing great characters, McEwan shows an amazing talent for description as well. Whether he’s describing exciting or mundane scenes and settings, he does so with such detail and skill that it is all the help a reader needs to imagine picture them. Some examples include:

The open French windows framed a greenish sky, and against that, in silhouette at some distance, the familiar head and shoulders of her brother. As she made her way across the room she heard the tinkle of ice cubes against his glass, and as she stepped out she smelled the pennyroyal, chamomile and feverfew crushed underfoot, and headier now than in the morning. (page 100)

The rich soil was clinging to his boots. Only in nightmares were feet so heavy. A bomb fell on the road, way over in the center of the village, where the lories were. But one screech hid another, and it hit the field before he could go down. The blast lifted him forward several feet and drove him face first into the soil. (page 223)

The underwater lights, installed that spring, were still a novelty. The upward blush gleam gave everything around the pool a colorless, moonlit look, like a photograph. (page 149)

McEwan also shows that he is very good at writing believable dialogue, not just in adults but in children as well:

“You saw him then.”

“I know it was him.”

Let’s forget what you know. You’re saying you saw him.”

“Yes, I saw him.”

“Just as you see me.”

“Yes.”

“You saw him with your own eyes.”

“Yes. I saw him. I saw him.” (Page 169)

Lastly, this book has one of the most sensual love scenes I have ever read in a book. It’s probably the most famous scene in the whole book. It’s better to just go in and read it yourself.

While Atonement has been published for eighteen years now, and it had a film adaptation in 2007, I will not spoil the major twist which recontexualizes nearly the entire plot. It’s one of those twists that completely changes how one reads the book upon a second visit. It engages in how we use stories, and the inherent deceitfulness of them. It not only casts the whole book in a new light, the various techniques used in the book take on a new light. This use of perspective is something that is used early on. One chapter will depict a scene from one character’s point of view, and the next will have that same scene but from another, more honest perspective.

As much as I want to state that it is flawless, it is not. While its characters, prose, and plot are all well written and tightly constructed, some parts of it are weaker than others. There are points where the pacing slows down too much. These are found in the second and third parts of the book. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long for the book to pick up again, and for exciting scenes or passages that give insight into the characters to come back. I would say that the second part is the weakest one, even if it does have some of the most exciting scenes. The first part and third parts are when the strongest character interactions take place.

Atonement is a great book. It has great writing, great characters, an intelligent story with weighty themes, and is only pulled down by a few pacing issues and some unevenness. It has easily earned its place on my favorite books list.

Score: 9/10

 

Roma review

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Writer: Alfonso Cuaron

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Carlos Peralta, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey

Release date: November 21, 2018

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Some may call it boring or pretentious, but for my money Roma is a truly impressive film. The latest from Alfonso Cuaron, Roma is a vast departure from his previous work: the sci-fi blockbuster Gravity. Roma is an intimate affair that centers around one woman and one family.

There isn’t really an overarching narrative to talk about. That isn’t to say things don’t happen in the film, but when something exciting does happen it’s not necessarily because the characters made a bad choice or because of a villain. It’s just a movie about life over a course of time. Our main character is a nanny named Cleo who takes care of four children. The children’s parents are going through a rough patch, but are keeping it from them. Is that all? No, but in the grand scheme of things those are the elements that are given the most focus. The reason it works is because of how convincing and real it comes across, in no small part due to the characters. Even characters that are cast in a negative light are still depicted as human beings indulging in all too real human weaknesses. This even goes for the positively portrayed characters, for they too have moments of weakness and show their uglier sides.

Roma further elevates its bare bones plot with its presentation and directing. Roma is the kind of film that cinema was invented for. It’s unquestionably a technical masterwork, with breathtaking cinematography and flawless directing that you would come to expect from Cuaron. Every shot and take, many of them long with no cutting whatsoever, is bustling with detail, and feel so real and immediate its like you’re watching a footage of real people just going about their daily lives rather than a film. The film being in black and white just adds to the splendor and beauty of it. The acting is subdued but no less emotional, from every cast member across the board. What makes it especially impressive is that the performances are done mostly through facial expressions and body language, as dialogue is very only used unless absolutely necessary. Cuaron uses both the external expressions of the characters and the events in the background to convey their emotions. I can’t end this paragraph without mentioning how great the child acting is either. It’s easy to forget the kids are acting, rather than just being kids dealing with an uncomfortable family situation.

Roma is a great example of how less can be more. The film doesn’t fall into typical traps such as playing music over a scene to make its audience feel the desired emotion. Instead, it lets the scene speak for itself. Easily the most powerful example of this is a scene in a hospital that has been built up to and foreshadowed greatly in hindsight, but when it happens it is still an emotional punch to the face, and leaves you in the same state of shock and grief as Cleo. The shot remains on both subjects, never giving preference to either, never letting you look away at what transpired.

Another technical aspect I have to give the film kudos for is its excellent sound. Everything from overpassing airplanes, ocean waves, the sound of food being handled, and everything else equal the cinematography in its beauty.

Roma is a film that is quick to talk about, but will leave its impression on a viewer for a long time. My only real regret is that I couldn’t see it in theaters, because watching it on Netflix feels like I’m doing it a disservice. The directing, cinematography, sound design, and other technical aspects beg it to be seen on the big screen. There are many words to describe it, but boring is certainly not one of them

Score: 9/10

The Leftovers review

Creators: Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta

Cast: Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Liv Tyler, Christopher Eccleston, Scott Glenn, Kevin Carroll, Ann Dowd, Jovan Adepo

Episodes: 28

Aired: June 29, 2014-June 4, 2017

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Once the screen faded to black from the final shot of the final episode of The Leftovers and the credits rolled, I just sat on the couch for a little while to think about what I had just watched. You know a work is at the very least pretty good when it can just leave you sitting there for a few moments to think about your experience. Even now as I type this review, the experience I had with The Leftovers is still in my mind. I usually write down notes when I am playing a game, or watching a show or movie to review, but this is one of the times where I didn’t not out of negligence but because I was so absorbed in what I was viewing. I’ve seen a lot of TV shows, but I am certain I have never seen anything like The Leftovers. This is the best show I have ever watched.

Based off of a novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers aired on HBO from 2014 to 2017 for three seasons. The basic premise is that on October 14th, 2011, two percent of the world’s population totally disappears in a split second. They leave behind nothing and the rest of the world is left to wonder where and why they went. Those who disappeared that day are called the “Departed” and the day becomes memorialized as the “Sudden Departure”. Society as we know it experiences a drastic change from the trauma of losing so many loved ones and friends, yet leaving behind the majority of the human population. Cults form such as the Guilty Remnant: an order of people that dress in white clothes, chain-smoke, communicate only via written language, and try to remind people as much as possible about the family and friends they’ve lost. We mainly follow the characters of Kevin Garvey Jr., Nora Durst, Matt Jamison, and the Murphy family.

This is a show where plot isn’t the focus, but character is. The event itself isn’t important so much as the effect it had on our main cast. Kevin Garvey Jr. is the police chief of Mapleton when we first meet him, with his family having fallen apart because of the Sudden Departure. Nora Durst lost her husband and two children, while Matt Jamison is a reverend suffering a crisis of faith as a result of the Sudden Departure challenging everything he has believed in. The Murphy family shows up in the second season.

The lifeblood of this show is its  amazing characters. They are all put through not just physical, but emotional trials in the show’s three season run. The solutions to their problems are never clear cut, but layered with questions often left unanswered. It would be easy for the Garvey family to have been happy and wholesome until the Sudden Departure happened, but the first season slowly but surely reveals this was never the case, and that the Sudden Departure was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. No single event broke these people, it was all a culmination of events and their responses to them. For the majority of the show, there is no villain or antagonist for the characters to rally against, but just people being as flawed as they are in real life.

It is not an easy show to get into. It is a slow show and the first season is the slowest of them all. It’s also the season with the smallest scope and the most dour tone with just a little humor for relief. It’s not a bad season by any means. It’s in fact a very good season, but it is the weakest one in the whole show. Of course, a very good season being the weakest one of your entire series is if anything another point in its favor. If you’re watching this show for answers as to what happened, then you’re watching it wrong. The Sudden Departure itself isn’t important, but the fallout from it is.

It’s in seasons two and three where The Leftovers reaches its full potential and becomes a masterpiece. It branches out and begins to tackle large questions along with its cast. We see what it’s like in a town in Texas where nobody departed, which has caused people to flock to it for various reasons. Then we move to Australia seven years after the Sudden Departure, where on the seventh anniversary people are wondering what it going to happen, if anything at all is going to happen, and what would it mean if something did happen. These are the kinds of ambitious ideas and tough to tackle questions that the audience has to deal with just like our characters. It also adds a variety of humor into the mix so that there is a balance of tone.

The Leftovers’ music is absolutely spotless. Need convincing? Go onto YouTube and look up the main theme, the first season’s title theme, and the second season’s title theme. It also has the best usage of “Take On Me” I have ever seen in the fourth episode of the third season.

Also spotless: the acting. My god are these performances all time great ones. The standouts among standouts are Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon. Theroux as Kevin Garvey masterfully portrays a strong man with also extreme vulnerability, struggling not just with his broken family but his unstable mind. Coon as Nora Durst is at the center of the most heartbreaking, emotionally draining moments of the entire series and every time manages to go above and beyond what is required of her. This is one of the roles that made her a star, and it is clear why. The chemistry between these two is palpable and real, and not once will you think otherwise. Liv Tyler also gives an excellent performance as Meg Abbott, a character whose arc may very well be the most disturbing and fascinating of them all. I could go on, but then we’d be here forever.

The episodes of the show were all either superb or quite good on a technical level. I can’t name one I would consider to be “bad” or even weak in comparison to its strongest episodes. Quite frankly most television episodes come off as weak compared to all episodes of The Leftovers. This show has some of the best episodes I’ve ever seen on TV. The three standouts of each season are to me: The Garveys at Their Best (S1E9), International Assassin (S2E8), and The Book of Nora (S3E8/Series finale). Most shows are lucky to have episodes half as good as these three are. The series finale is especially the best series finale I have ever seen. It answers the questions it has to, but doesn’t answer the ones best left unanswered. The finale’s final shot is also absolutely beautiful and powerful on a symbolic and emotional level. If you want specifics, then watch the show.

Damon Lindelof has as many detractors as he does defenders. I count myself in the latter category. I have not seen Lost so I cannot comment on its quality, but I am aware he was the main writer for Prometheus. However, if you want someone to blame for that film’s wasted potential: blame Ridley Scott. Scott pretty much threw out all of Lindelof’s suggestions and thus gave us the mess we know today. You can throw hate Lindelof’s way all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ridley Scott ruined Prometheus. I know I digressed but that had to be clarified. Quite frankly, even if Lindelof were responsible for the failures of Prometheus, after being responsible for this absolutely stunning work of art, he has more than atoned for his sins. I for one am okay with him adapting (or in his words “remixing”) Watchmen for television on HBO, in fact I am excited for it and am glad to see that he is still being given the greenlight to tackle ideas that others are afraid to.

The Leftovers is a masterpiece. It did not receive anywhere near the attention it deserved during its run, or get any Emmy nominations. But that’s fine. It doesn’t need awards to prove that its a great show, because it can let its quality speak for itself. It told a unique story it wanted to tell, it told it to a ridiculously great degree, and you can’t ask any more if it than that. Is it flawless? No, but any flaws it has are utterly miniscule and irrelevant in the long run. Watch this show and bask in its magnificence.

Score: 10/10