Tag: neil jordan

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa (1986)
★★ / ★★★★

Fresh out of prison, George (Bob Hoskins), with a white rabbit in his arms, goes to see his boss, Mortwell (Michael Caine), with the hopes of continuing to work for him. Though Mortwell is not there to welcome him, the ex-convict is assigned a job as a driver for a call girl named Simone (Cathy Tyson) who visits rich clients all over the city. Soon, George finds himself falling for Simone because he feels that she considers him as more than a doormat, more than somebody who served seven years in jail.

“Mona Lisa,” based on the screenplay by Neil Jordan and David Leland, is not a successful fusion of the drama and crime genres. The approach is to welcome us into George and Simone’s disreputable worlds through their personal interactions, but it sacrifices the complexity of their relationships. As a result, the big picture is a blur for the most part. This is problematic because the third act, including the climax, involves life or death situations. I found myself indifferent toward who lives or dies.

The picture excels in dialogue and acting. Exchanges between the ex-con and the prostitute are never boring because they can be amusing, spicy, tender, and romantic. There is contrast not only in terms of the physicality of the characters but also in the way they come off to one another. George says what he means and means what he says while Simone is immersed in mystery. It makes sense that the two characters are the way they are because of what they have gone through or are continuing to go through. Their occupations might be very different on the surface but they relate to each other eventually because of the front that must be upheld in order to perform the job.

Hoskins and Tyson share wonderful chemistry not necessarily in terms of sexual tension but through George and Simone’s tenuous alliance—a sort of friendship. Hoskins is able to straddle the line between someone who can seriously incapacitate with his fists and rage while attempting to hide a delicate core. On the other hand, Tyson plays Simone with elegance and tenderness. Still, we suspect she knows a thing or two about manipulation though it is not often clear how she is playing the game exactly. She has to be smart and careful to reveal just enough.

An undercooked subplot involves George’s relationship with his daughter. The two share a few secret meetings—since George and his ex-wife do not get along—but there is nothing more to their newly ignited connection other than the fact that George feels uneasy when he sees young prostitutes, some as young as fifteen years old, trying to snag clients in King’s Cross. There is no freshness in the words and sentiments they share.

Perhaps most problematic is our lack of understanding of Mortwell. I suppose we are supposed to assume that he is an influential man, given his position, but the screenplay does not explore him enough. Even though Caine is very good, especially during the first scene we see him—acting with his eyes closed but still delivering the requisite intensity, the majority of the character’s menace fails to translate in later scenes. Mortwell ought to have been equally complex.

Directed by Neil Jordan, “Mona Lisa” gets away with some logic being thrown out the window but rarely does a film, especially when it is a character-driven piece, gets away unscathed without underscoring necessary foils and subplots which make the protagonists’ world go ‘round. Also, since the picture is also part-mystery, discerning eyes cannot help but notice the missing jigsaw puzzles from a distance.


Byzantium (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) have a secret: they have been “alive” for over two hundred years. They are vampires and on the run from a trio of men (Thure Lindhardt, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel) who appear to know what they are. With a fresh corpse lying face down in their apartment, Eleanor and Clara escape to a seaside town. The plan is to allow enough time for their trail to cool off and earn enough money before they move to a more secure location. Meanwhile, Eleanor gets the attention of Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a waiter she meets after playing a beautiful melody on the piano.

“Byzantium,” based on a play by Moira Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan, is acted quite exquisitely but it is a trial to sit through. Its look and feel is quite somber, heavy on the eyes with dark shades of red and occasionally poorly lit indoors, so the molasses slow pacing does not do it any favor. Though a much needed adrenaline surges through its veins in the third act, it is too late. I long ceased to care about the figures sulking about on screen.

Part of the reason why it does not work involves the execution of the so-called attraction between Eleanor and Frank. While the actors look good together at times, the dialogue feels too much like a play. They give each other plenty of longing glances but what they have is not allowed to evolve into something interesting. The script is stuck on one idea only different words are utilized to communicate the same thing. As a result, the passion is barely an ember. The relationship needs to be scorching hot—to be a bit more exaggerated—and readily able to move forward at right time so the film demands the attention consistently.

It is plagued with one dimensional characters—somewhat of a surprise because the story jumps between the past and the present which means that it has more of a chance to show certain characters on a deeper level. Clara should have been the most complex. We see her having a difficult background but there is no bridge between she and us. Therefore, it is difficult to care what for what she values. Instead, she is reduced to looking sexy without actually being sexy. This is from the director who helmed the effortlessly seductive “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.”

The three men on the hunt for the two women are boring. A discussion about rules that must be adhered to—yada yada yada—remain so vague that it is frustrating to follow. In addition, their methods appear so ordinary during the first half. In the third act, however, elements of camp are introduced. Is this intentional? An act of desperation because halfway through the director realized that the majority of the picture is soporific? How are we supposed to swallow what is happening when the tone is suddenly schizophrenic? It was a mess; it could not end any sooner.

When the picture has nothing to say—which is often—the melancholy piano comes to the rescue and attempts to fill in the empty moments. Clearly what we have here is a screenplay that fails to connect and translate a play onto celluloid.

The Company of Wolves

The Company of Wolves (1984)
★★ / ★★★★

Rosaleen’s sister was murdered by wolves in the woods. After her funeral, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson), the remaining daughter of Father (David Warner) and distraught Mother (Tusse Silberg), is taken by Granny (Angela Lansbury) to her home to tell the grieving teenager folklores about ravenous and cunning werewolves. Completely rapt in the stories, this inspires the red-hooded girl to have adventures in the forest and tell scary stories of her own.

“The Company of Wolves,” written by Neil Jordan and Angela Carter, attempts to tell a much darker shade of Charles Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood” by means of focusing more on the sexual implications of the timeless story. Images that symbolize innocence are abound: the camera’s strange fixation on featuring close-ups of dolls in contrast to the protagonist’s eyes, nightmares of giant stuffed animals stopping Rosaleen from “exploring” in the forest, and the red cloak tantamount to one’s virginity. As strange as some of the images presented, it is enjoyable, on occasion, to figure out why the filmmakers decide to show them and under what context.

However, there are many times when symbolism get in the way of the story. For example, Rosaleen stumbles upon bird’s nest in which the eggs are moments from hatching. When when one of them does, a bird does not come out of the shell. Instead, it turns out to contain a figurine of a baby. What does it mean? Is it supposed to be a fetus which implies that the main character is pregnant and is not aware of it? After all, she finds the eggs after running around with a boy (Shane Johnstone). They eventually share a kiss, but it does not show them doing anything more. In fact, Rosaleen quickly becomes disinterested–or even disgusted–of the act and pulls away. It goes without saying that kissing does not make babies.

The material should have focused more on the message. That is, the path to adulthood can be a horrific experience. The grandmother always admonishes, accompanied with a stern look, “Don’t stray from the path,” the path of righteousness–of remaining a virgin until marriage. We do not really get a chance to see Rosaleen stray so there is a lack of excitement. Through her creative stories and wild dreams, we have some ideas of what she craves to experience, sexual or otherwise. It is one thing to want to do something but it is another to actually do it. The writers needed to explore the latter if they hoped to take the picture to the next level.

Lansbury should have been front and center more often. She is excellent as Granny: tender but feisty, frail-looking but holds a certain level of authority. Her voice makes the story she is telling a bit more grim. “The Company of Wolves,” directed by Neil Jordan, takes risks in showing his audiences otherworldly elements but only about half of them pay off. Lastly, although the special effects involving the werewolf transformations seem dated, there is an artistry in the way the skin is shed so slowly, it is difficult not to look away.

In Dreams

In Dreams (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★

The movie started off with a breathtaking tour of a town submerged in water that Claire (Annette Bening) saw in her dreams. She also had dreams of a little girl who was kidnapped by a man (Robert Downey Jr.) who lived in a place full of apples. Obsessed with the details of her dreams because they came true before, her own daughter was eventually kidnapped and she had to find a way to get to the man who kidnapped her child while trying to persuade her husband (Aidan Quinn) and psychiatrist (Stephen Rea) that her dreams were real. Even though the movie asked its audiences to take a leap of faith time and again about visions eventually becoming reality and strange coincidences, I could not help but get really into the story because of the way Bening invested in her character. I mean the following as a compliment but she made a very convincing crazy person when she eventually was sent to a mental hospital. I was entertained with how some scenes were supposed to be scary or haunting but they had strong hints of comedy and even tragedy. I liked that quality because although I knew where the story was going, it still managed to surprise in small ways so I did not lose interest. Neil Jordan fascinates me as a director because of the masterful way he balances elements of surrealism and realism. I noticed he would play with the extremes but there would come a point when it became difficult to discern what was real or what was fantasy. In other movies, I am usually aware of the intermediates of the extremes. What I was not very excited about, however, was how useless some of the characters were which negatively impacted the movie’s middle portion. I saw the cops and the psychiatrist as mere distractions or hindrances instead of figures that genuinely tried to help the main character. It was one of those horror movie clichés that just did not work and I grew frustrated with the material because I knew that the director was more than capable of doing something completely different with his characters like in one of his films called “The Butcher Boy.” Since the movie was based on the novel “Doll’s Eyes” by Bari Wood, perhaps Jordan was just trying to remain loyal to the book. Nevertheless, when adapting a novel to film, there should always be an artistic leeway in which the writers could tweak certain aspects in order to avoid the obvious. Upon its release, “In Dreams” did not receive good reviews which I thought was understandable because it tried to do something different in terms of not everything making complete sense in the end. I thought it worked because we don’t necessarily understand our dreams at times and I believe Jordan was deliberate in leaving certain strands unsolved.

The Butcher Boy

The Butcher Boy (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

Francie (Eamonn Owens), a boy with a very active imagination, values two things in life: his parents (Stephen Rea and Aisling O’Sullivan, respectively) and his best friend (Alan Boyle). So when the three important figures in his life were taken away due to varying circumstances, his childhood mischief evolved into an emotional disturbance despite the people in town treating him as nicely as they could. I understand that this can be a challenging film especially to people not used to over-the-top quirkiness mixed with surreal elements. I was able to stick with the story by focusing my attention on the psychology of a child who felt abandoned and betrayed. Further, he did not have a healthy way to get rid of his negative emotions. Instead, Francie channeled his energy toward torturing a kid from the neighborhood along with his mother (Fiona Shaw), who responded by asking other guys to physically assault Francie. The town eventually unable to deal with Francie’s indiscretions, he was sent away for extended periods of time. In such institutions, he failed to face his problems because he had no one to talk to and explain why what he did was wrong. The positive feedback of violence and emotional disturbance pushed the kid slowly toward a mental breakdown. Although the events that were happening on screen were wrapped in comedic elements, I thought it was really sad in its core because nobody understood how to deal with the tragic main character in a healthy way. The theme of the picture was abandonment which culminated when Francie returned from boarding school but his best friend was no longer his best friend. The schism in their relationship was especially painful to watch because earlier in the movie we had a chance to see them so close. They even had a pact to become “blood brothers” for the rest of their lives. The fear and disappointment in the children’s eyes (especially Boyles’) were apparent but they wouldn’t express them to each other because they either lacked the right words to say what they really felt or one did not want to hurt the other. All of the strange images and quirkiness aside, I thought the picture had a clear emotional resonance and I empathized with the main character throughout even though I did not necessarily agree with his choices. Based on the novel by Pat McCabe and astutely directed by Neil Jordan, “The Butcher Boy” was essentially about a childhood gone wrong because the child lacked guidance about life’s contradictions and challenges. Watching it was highly rewarding because its humanity was actually highlighted and not dimmed by dark comedy.

Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★

After being caught up with the “True Blood” craze, I decided to visit some of my favorite vampire movies. “Interview with the Vampire,” directed by Neil Jordan, was one of those movies I saw in early high school that I loved but forgot the details as years went on. I’m surprised this one strongly held up against other horror pictures, especially vampire movies. It’s something I didn’t quite expect because the movies I used to think were scary when I was younger turned out to be silly and vapid in storytelling. Tom Cruise stars as Lestat, a vampire who was as equally hungry for blood as he was with power. He one day decided to make Louis (Brad Pitt) into a vampire because, at least according to him, he wanted to give Louis a choice to relieve his pain of losing his wife and child. Despite turning into the undead, Louis still managed to hang onto his humanity by refusing to feed on humans. This bothered Lestat and thought that Louis’ loneliness would be eliminated by giving Louis a companion–in a form of a vampire child played by Kirsten Dunst. But this all happened in the past as the details which covered centuries were revealed by Louis to an enthusiastic reporter (Christian Slater). Although I did read the novels by Anne Rice, I only could remember three things: Louis, Lestat and the passion (both good and bad) between the two. What made me really engaged about this film was not because it was scary in content. I was actually more into Louis’ humanity, his efforts to abstain from human blood, and his eventual search for those who were like him. That romanticism was reflected into the elegant designs of each room in the 18th century to the dark corners of the catacombs. Another thing that was interesting was Kirsten Dunst. As an adult actress, she bores me to death because every emotion she wants to portray on screen feels the same. But in this film, she had range: she was quite magical, menacing, fascinating all rolled into one. For me, “Interview with the Vampire” is a great vampire film because it makes the argument that vampires have the capacity to choose to be good instead of just being one-dimensional fiends who crave blood and live for centuries. Although necessary to paint the nature of vampire, the gore, the violence, and the evil were secondary. It was consistent, thrilling, and very interesting.