Tag: rooney mara

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting to be entertained by “A Ghost Story” are likely to be disappointed because it is not a horror film but a meditation on loss, loneliness, and time. In other words, it uses the idea of a ghost as a metaphor, not a literal thing that reveals itself to people when it wishes to scare them to death. While its approach is certainly admirable, the material does not embed itself deeply in the mind like great dramas do. I walked away from the picture thinking it was a rather neat gimmick than a compelling story worth further rumination.

The apparition under the white sheet is the spirit of a man (Casey Affleck) who has met an untimely demise. After his wife (Rooney Mara), also nameless, identifies his body in the morgue, the ghost follows her home and observes her grieving process. Time goes by and eventually she attempts to continue living. Her recovery signals completion when finally she moves out of the house they once shared. Yet the ghost remains and the house is inhabited by a series of tenants. The tenants, too, move on sooner or later but the ghost is left behind. This is a story that touches upon one of our greatest fears: the inability to do anything when a situation demands that we do otherwise.

Mara and Affleck are solid in portraying a couple who lead an ordinary life. Although the script does not given them many lines, these performers know how to communicate plenty using only their eyes and body language. There is a richness to their portrayal and one cannot not help but wonder how much more fascinating the characters might have been had the screenplay been less experimental or sparing with its dialogue and actually allowed the characters to express themselves as real people tend to do. In its attempt to deliver something different, at times it ends up shooting itself in the foot.

Another example that achieves mixed results is its utilization of long takes. Let us talk about the widow eating a whole pie. Must the audience really watch the performer gulp down every bite to the point where the situation becomes silly and comedic? Yes, in real life, a person who is deeply angry or upset may actually eat the entire pie. But it is the filmmaker’s responsibility to frame situations in a cinematic way. Writer-director David Lowery might have gotten away with it had he had adopted a sort of cinéma vérité style for the project.

The final fifteen to twenty minutes is when the picture completely goes off the rails. For some reason, the ghost develops the ability to experience the future, the past, and even revisit memories. It feels odd, forced, and pretentious. (Don’t get me started on ghosts communicating telepathically.) The careless leaping across time underlines a lack of substance, a desperate move to remain intriguing.

“A Ghost Story” offers watchable performances and some striking imagery, such as the decor of the house based on the people currently living there, but eye-catching superficial characteristics do not make up for the material’s lack of urgency, especially when it reminds us of our mortality, our limited time with our loved ones. Here is a film that gets in the way of itself. It is clear that there is a good idea here but it is not realized fully.


Carol (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Carol,” based on the novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith, oozes class and elegance from every pore. Under the careful and observant direction of Todd Haynes, the picture is an exercise of dramatic tension, milking every scene for what it is worth as two characters, who happen to be lesbians, fall in love in 1950s New York City.

The work transcends sexual orientation. To label it as another “lesbian movie” or “movie for lesbians” is tantamount to saying that all books are the same solely because books’ pages are bounded by front and back covers. Such a statement fails to give where credit must be given. Here, there is a specific story, there are specific characters living in a specific time with specific circumstances that prevent them from being together.

Gay or straight or anything in between, or even outside popular and convenient labels, just about everyone is likely to be able to relate to the story’s conflict. This is because, at its core, the material is about that painful yearning for wanting to be with someone rather than a calculated, predictable, trite march toward a happy ending. The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy assumes the viewers are intelligent and so the work is able to navigate the complex circuitries of being human. It works on almost every dramatic level and it is a joy to experience two people continuing to develop intense feelings for each other throughout the course of the film’s running time.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, as an older woman going through divorce and a shopgirl, respectively, are able to tap into what makes their characters tick with seeming effortlessness that there are many moments that feel so intimate, I’d completely forgotten I was watching a movie. Because their performances are able to draw us in so completely, we tend to notice the little things—like a tick near one’s lips as she hesitates to ask a question or how one looks away just subtly as she grapples with disappointment—that we typically ignore in lesser films.

The cinematography, costumes, and set decor form a strong partnership to create a gorgeous-looking film. Notice that in every scene there is something worth looking at for at least three seconds whether it be a positive image like an object in which the color pops out or a negative image such as blank wall surrounded by detailed furniture. But the beauty is never a distraction. Here, it enhances the experience. Because the picture looks beautiful, there is a subliminal and positive message that what the characters share, too, is beautiful even though people around them don’t understand or are repulsed by it, and them.

“Carol” is a highly sophisticated project that gets just about every single thing right. Imagine that it could have been just another melodramatic queer-themed film targeted toward a specific audience. Instead, credit to the writers and filmmakers for adapting the novel with utmost respect, ambition, and intelligence and delivering a film that they absolutely should be proud of.

Side Effects

Side Effects (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

A day after her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) decides to crash her car onto a brick wall. While at the hospital, she, relatively unscathed, is approached by a psychiatrist, Dr. Banks (Jude Law). Instead of hospitalizing Emily for an obvious suicide attempt, they make a deal: twice a week they are to meet and work on her depression. At first, she is prescribed SSRIs, an antidepressant, but it makes her physically sick. Word has it that a better, newer drug called Ablixa works wonders so she requests to be put on it. Initially, the drug works: she is happier, her sex drive is back, and it is easier for her to tackle every day tasks. However, the drug does not seem to be as miraculous as it is shown on the TV commercials.

At least the picture begins with a genuine air of intrigue. Events that leave up to Emily’s request to take the magical Ablixa are rooted in reality. There is something scary and true about people hearing about a certain pill from a friend of a friend’s and then deciding from there that she, too, wants to be on that drug without doing much research about it. I enjoyed that the director, Steven Soderbergh, not once shows us that Emily is capable of going to Google to learn more about the drug. This an important piece of the puzzle.

To complement Emily’s constant state of gloom, a foggy, yellow-orange color is largely utilized in the first half. It is so heavy, I noticed that its tone had an impact on me. I began to feel lethargic–but not bored–and anxious. Partner this technique with many close-ups of a woman who is suffering in the mind and body, it is easy to believe that the protagonist is depressed, that she really does need an antidepressant, a powerful one, to help her to function normally. If we do not believe in her state of affliction, the rest feels like playing dress up.

However, the events that transpire in the second half are less rooted in reality, a compilation of uninspired typical thriller elements. We are subjected to one twist after another. I suppose those who have not seen very many thrillers will find it “brilliant.” After all, not much time is given for us to digest a reversal prior to the next one. But to me, it is simply trying too hard to appear smarter than it really is. After the second or third twist, I did not care about the story any longer. Instead, I anticipated the next curveball, wondering if I could outsmart it. And I did. So I suppose it is, in a way, predictable.

The performances are solid all around. I especially enjoyed Law’s performance as a doctor who means well. There is an arrogance to Dr. Banks that the actor highlights only slightly, but it is there. Combined with his eventual state of desperation and fear of losing everything he has worked so hard to attain, we end up questioning his true motives. Meanwhile, Mara holds her own. At this point, I am used to seeing her playing mysterious characters so that spell she casts has become a product of diminishing returns. But it is Catherine Zeta-Jones, playing Emily’s former psychiatrist, who piqued my interest most. She portrays her character like a wall, so cold and difficult to read.

Written by Scott Z. Burns, “Side Effects” might have been a better movie if its tone had adapted to its mood. The first half is serious and curious while the second half is devious and, in its core, silly. There is a heavy-handed self-seriousness throughout. As a result, only half of it works. We are not welcomed into taking pleasure from the delivery of the supposedly powerful left hooks.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist for the “Millennium” magazine, had just been ordered by the courts to pay Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg) of an amount that would almost render him bankrupt as remuneration for libel. Meanwhile, Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), one of the most successful businessmen in the country, received yet another picture of a flower from his niece’s killer. Aware of Mikael’s financial situation and public embarrassment, Henrick contacted the journalist for a job involving a bit of investigating and hopefully solving a crime that happened forty years ago. Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson, the cold detachment of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seeped through the pores of every frame yet the screenplay by Steven Zaillian found a way for us to care about Mikael and his eventual partner in solving the mystery, the magnetic and enigmatic Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). There was something great at stake for the both of them. Henrick claimed that, by the end of the investigation, he would give Mikael hard evidence that would lead to his exoneration while Lisbeth was driven by her need to catch a man who had gotten away with sexually molesting and killing women in cold blood. As they became closer to the identity of the killer, the film’s mood felt more portentous and menacing, reflected by more intense winter storms and increasingly sparse score. I was most fascinated with the scenes dedicated to Mikael asking the Vanger family (Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson, Geraldine Jame) all sorts of questions about what happened or what they thought happened to Harriet. Despite the picture not having a lot of obvious chase scenes, there was an adrenaline rush because the chase took place in our minds. We looked at the suspects and ascertained the discrepancies among the pictures provided by Henrick, what the family members had to say about the matter, and how they reacted when certain questions moved toward a more sensitive subject. Watching Mikael inch toward a conclusion was like observing a doctor touching his patient ever so carefully and finding his way to the parts that hurt. We also had a chance to see why Lisbeth was the perfect partner for Mikael. She had her share of difficulties like having to report to an unethical guardian (Yorick van Wageningen), using our heroine for sexual favors every time she needed money. Despite being declared as incompetent to live on her own by the state, Lisbeth was very smart and calculating. She was more than capable of extricating herself from a man who thought he could get away with illicit and immoral activities because he was in a position of power. With Craig’s world-weary, humiliated gaze and Mara’s unpredictable bursts of intense anger, the picture was effective as a procedural and a character-driven work. But what I admired most about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher, was its courage in taking the liberty to slightly deviate from the original film for the sake of being a better movie. For instance, compared to “Män som hatar kvinnor,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the ending that this version offered provided more insight on how tough and lonely it was to be in Lisbeth’s leather jacket while luring us to wonder what would happen next.

The Social Network

The Social Network (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The first thing I did after watching David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was log on Facebook to check if I had any notifications. Whether one’s feeling toward Facebook and other social networking sites be love or hate, no one can deny the fact that such simple inventions changed how people communicate. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) desperately wanted to fit in Harvard when he was an undergraduate. He wanted to get into a private club but he didn’t have the means. He was smart but he wasn’t likable. In fact, he was far from likable. When his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) broke up with him, he went up to his dorm room and posted insults about her body and her family on LiveJournal. His only real friend was Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who also wanted to belong. Eduardo’s emotional intelligence was higher than his friend’s. Eventually, the two became partners in creating Facebook but when it was launched, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) claimed that their idea was stolen. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, came into the picture in order to bring Facebook to an international level. The film benefited from very strong performances from Eisenberg, Garfield, and Timberlake. I was delighted with Eisenberg’s performance because even though I’ve seen him play nerd-chic multiple times prior (with relative ease), I felt like this was his most complete and challenging performance yet. I hated him, I rooted for him, I hated him some more, and I felt sorry for him. The final shot of him refreshing a certain someone’s Facebook page was pitch-perfect because it showed that despite all the money and the acclaim, he had nobody so his life felt empty. Garfield, who’s been doing fantastic independent work for a while, is finally given the spotlight past overdue. He had a lot on his plate because he was the heart of the picture. He was David who had to face multiple Goliaths equipped with brains. We all knew it would take more than a slingshot and some pebbles for him to, not necessarily succeed because we all knew what would ultimately happen, but to take what he deserved. I was invested in his character because he struggled to remain loyal to his friend even though his friend had no sense of loyalty to him. Lastly, Timberlake did a wonderful job playing Parker, a fierce and forward-thinking businessman who knew exactly he wanted and wasn’t afraid to grab whatever he desired even if it was on someone’s else plate. His ego was probably as big as his ambition to be relevant again. Fincher’s confident direction mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent script made a wonderful film that highlighted not just the story of college students lives’ being broadcasted over the internet or the drama of the creation of Facebook, but also the highly ambitious, although sometimes misguided, natures of young adults today.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Five teenagers (Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy and Kellan Lutz) with a mysterious past tried the best they could to not fall asleep because a killer named Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) wanted to murder them in their dreams causing the teenagers to die in actuality. Being a big fan of the original, I’m happy with this reimagining (falsely labeled as a remake) of 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” What I liked about it was the fact that it was more story-driven but the jump-out-of-your-seats scares were still there. While the acting from the teenagers was nothing special (and I am a fan of Gallner and Dekker), I did enjoy Haley’s interpretation of the infamous dream killer. The playful personality was still there but I felt like this version of Freddy had more darkness in him. I thought it was creepy how he would let a teenager escape for kicks only to kill the person without remorse once he had this fun. Out of the series, I think this installment had the best visual effects and such were used in an interesting way. (Although I also very much enjoyed Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare.”) For instance, when a character was in a dream and he or she was on the verge of waking up, the images of the dream world and reality would mix. So in a way, the visual effects weren’t just used for kicks. They were used to enhance the experience. However, I did wish that the writers would have had more fun with the characters in terms of finding ways to stay awake. Other than taking stimulating drugs or slapping themselves silly, I wish that a character decided to watch happy movies to get rid of his bad thoughts, hoping that if negative feelings are out of his system, he wouldn’t have nightmares. I’m sure we all know people who take that approach and it would have been nice if that movie acknowledged those people and scared them a bit (or even more). Another issue I had with the film was its use of laughably bad one-liners especially from Freddy. Without the silly lines, I think I would have taken him more seriously. I’m aware that this version wants to pay some sort of homage to its predecessors but the movie could have done it by simply taking all the positive things from them and taking it to the next level. They should have left the bad qualities out the door. Maybe the silly one-liners worked back then because there were a plethora of horror movies coming out at the time but they just don’t work nowadays because we are currently experiencing a drought of exemplary horror pictures. Nevertheless, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” directed by Samuel Bayer, managed to hit some high points especially with its creative ways of killing. I was very happy with the body bag scene (my favorite scene in the original–every time I think about it, I get goosebumps) but it could have been scarier without the corny lines.