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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Fassbender’

Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson

Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson

“TRESPASS AGAINST US”  My rating: B- 

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

As much a sociological study as a conventional melodrama, “Trespass Against Us” unfolds among a band of “travelers.” That’s how the Brits refer to the nomadic gypsies who have lived for centuries on the fringes of society.

Our unconventional hero is  Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender), a fearless master thief and taunter of police who, with the approach of middle age, is feeling the uncomfortable pull of responsibility.

Though Chad,  his wife Kelly (Lindsey Marshal) and their children Tyson (Georgie Smith) and Mini (Kacie Anderson) live a traditional gypsy life in a caravan (i.e., a trailer or mobile home), he’s beginning to want more  than a nonstop diet of carousing and crime interrupted by the periodic spells in stir.

The problem is Chad’s father Colby (Brendan Gleeson), the head of this particular band, who has no use for such posh niceties as literacy, conventional careers or societal approval.  Colby is more than just patriarchal — he’s practically Old Testament.

So even as Chad is laying secret plans to break away from the clan and set up a new life in an actual house, he still finds himself a reluctant participant in Colby’s criminal enterprises, including the burgling of a rural estate that nets a fortune in antiquities.

Despite some action sequences, “Trespass Against Us” is essentially a character study of two headstrong men positioning themselves for a colossal confrontation. And Fassbender and Gleeson, two of best actors in U.K. cinema, are clearly up to the challenge.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film (the direction is by Adam Smith, the screenplay by Alastair Siddons). But in the end it’s somewhat underwhelming.

| Robert W. Butler

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Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender

Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender

“THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS”  My rating: C+ 

  132 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG-13

There’s a world of weeping on display in “The Light Between Oceans.”

The good news is that most of the sobbing is done by Alicia Vikander.  If you’ve got to stare for two hours at a tear-stained face, it might as well be that of this Oscar-winning actress. She makes suffering almost transcendent.

The not-so-good news is that in making its transition from best seller to big screen, M.L. Stedman’s story has lost a good deal of its power.

For all the lacerating emotions displayed by Vikander and co-stars Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz, relatively little of it is experienced by the viewer.

What was deeply moving on the printed page seems mechanically melodramatic when dramatized.  You want to be moved, but can’t shake the feeling that mostly you’re being manipulated.

After four years in the trenches of World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) returns to his native Australia a hollow man. Seeking solitude and time to rediscover himself, he signs up as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, a windswept hunk of rock 100 miles from the nearest coast.

But he won’t be alone for long. In one of the most satisfying passages in Derek Cianfrance’s film, he meets, woos and weds Isabel (Vikander), a local girl who seems to relish life on the island. Their’s is a civilization of two…the only thing that could make it better would be a baby to share the experience.

Fate has other plans.  Isabel suffers a miscarriage (during a hurricane, no less) and later gives birth to a stillborn child.  Things are looking pretty glum.

And then a rowboat floats in on the tide. Inside is a dead man and a baby girl. (more…)

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Michael Fassbinder

Michael Fassbender

“STEVE JOBS” My rating: A- 

122 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Love him or hate him, Steve Job’s life was epic…so epic that any attempt to encompass it in a traditional movie biopic is doomed to failure. (Exhibit A: 2013’s lackluster “Jobs” with Ashton Kutcher as Apple’s genius in residence.)

Leave it to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” TV’s “West Wing”) to find a way to embrace the salient features of Jobs’ life and personality while inventing a near-perfect narrative structure.

“Steve Jobs” works on just about every level, with a near-brilliant central performance by Michael Fassbender as Jobs, a jaw-droppingly good supporting cast, and effortless direction by Danny Boyle.

But it’s the script — not just the snappy dialogue but the way the story is told — that makes the film a small classic of operatic intensity.

“Steve Jobs” is essentially three one-act plays, each unfolding in real time and centering on the debut of one of Jobs’ landmark products.

The first 40-minute segment takes place in 1984 with the unveiling of the Macintosh computer. The second unfolds in 1988 when Jobs, having been fired by Apple’s board of directors, debuts his renegade effort, the ill-fated NeXT work station. Finally there’s the presentation in 1998 of the original iMac…by this time Jobs has returned to Apple in triumph.

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet

There’s an element of show-biz pizzaz and ticking-clock suspense at work here.  Jobs views each product debut as a sort of Broadway opening involving sound, video and his own central performance. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that these various Apple products are often unfinished and still plagued by bugs.  When Jobs flips the switch will they perform or just sit there?

In a sense, the film is a sort of backstage drama. As with last year’s “Birdman,” the story is captured with a roving camera (the cinematography is by Alwin H.Kuchler) following Jobs as he stalks the theaters wings and subterranean passages, always in motion, always shouting orders and making demands.

Common to all three segments is a recurring cast of characters who grow older and evolve over more than a decade:

Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is Apple’s head of marketing and apparently the only person on staff who can tell the domineering and arrogant Jobs when he’s full of shit. OK, she’s more politic than that, but basically she is Jiminy Cricket to Jobs’ Pinocchio.

Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is the computer dweeb who cofounded Apple with Jobs, spearheaded the Apple II (for many years the only Apple product that made money) and over time was nudged out of the company (albeit with a huge golden parachute). Despite the betrayal and hurt, Woz still cares about his old partner.

“It’s not binary,” Wozniak cautions Jobs. “You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” (more…)

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Frank (Michael Fassbender), Domhnall Gleeson

Frank (Michael Fassbender), Domhnall Gleeson

“FRANK”  My rating: C+ (Now at the Screenland Armour)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Frank” is such an interesting idea, I wish I liked it more.

Lenny Abrahamson’s bizarro comedy is about a wannabe musician who miraculously is invited to join an avant garde rock band.

This aggregation of misfits is lead by a mad genius named Frank who lives 24/7 with  his features covered by a huge papier mache head.

Except that there’s a whole lot more mad than genius in Frank, who is played by Brit actor Michael Fassbender (the “ X-Men” franchise, “12 Years a Slave”) exclusively through body language and his voice.  Not until very, very late in the game do we see what he looks like beneath the big noggin.

Our narrator/hero is Join (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan), a mediocre pianist/songwriter who on a beach hear his home witnesses a fellow trying to drown himself in the sea.  This poor benighted lug is the keyboardist for the band led by the mysterious Frank.  And now the ensemble needs a piano player. Like right away.

Before long Jon finds himself whisked away to a remote recording studio in Ireland where, with Frank and other band members, he begins a long process of recording the group’s debut album.

(more…)

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Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor

“12 YEARS A SLAVE”  My rating: A  (Opens wide on Nov. 1)

133 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“12 Years a Slave” is gruelling.

Exhausting.

Horrifying.

It is, one can say without fear of contradiction, the best, most complex and fully-realized fictional film ever about American slavery.

Here the full panoply of institutional evil is on display, not just the physical abuse (whippings, chains, drudgery) but the emotional toll.

There have been other movies on the subject, but most have either been a whitewash (“Gone with the Wind,” which feels unwatchable in the wake of the gut-punch that is “12 Years…”) or the stuff of lurid exploitation (“Mandigo” and, yes, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”).

Steve McQueen’s film – based on the 1853 memoir of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery – manages to reference slavery’s many evils without feeling exploitative.

Moreover, it does something I’ve never before seen.  In addition to telling its story from a slave’s point of view, it is a devastating study of the corrosive influence of the “peculiar institution” on the lives of slaveholders themselves.

In 1841 Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lived in upstate New York with his wife and family.  A free Negro, he enjoyed the rights and privileges of any citizen. He was well liked and admired and made a good living as a musician.

Lured away with the promise of work on the road, he was drugged and awoke to find himself in chains in a dank cellar somewhere in Washington D.C.  (The still-unfinished Capitol building towers over the town, providing a silent but eloquently ironic commentary on Solomon’s situation.)

Like any free man, he indignantly protests his treatment — and is beaten for it. He learns to keep quiet.

Soon, with other kidnapped blacks, he finds himself with a new name – Platt – and on a steamboat headed south to Louisiana, where he will pass through the hands of two masters.

Ford (Benedict Cumberbach) is what you might call a Jeffersonian slaveholder. An essentially decent man, he knows slavery is wrong but is too invested economically in his plantation to repudiate the practice.

Still, the slave and the master develop something approaching mutual respect – it’s pretty clear that Solomon/Platt is the only person for miles around with whom Ford can hold an intelligent dialogue.

But in a world where a black man can be hanged for reading and writing, Solomon knows to keep his light well hidden. (more…)

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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS  My rating: B-

132 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There are moments in “X-Men: First Class” that are so good they almost don’t belong in a superhero movie.

This is a backhanded compliment, I know. But that’s how I feel about the genre — the less it’s like a superhero movie, the better.

And before it backslides into the usual cliches, “First Class” delivers some very interesting stuff.

(more…)

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