In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)

Yes, this is Angelina Jolie’s movie (her directorial debut), but don’t let that put you off- it’s quite a tale!  There are no flashy directorial moves, and the pace can seem slow, but I feel the subject matter is worth a look.  However, if you are a sensitive person, this is not the film for you!  (FYI: There are 2 versions of the film- one where actors tell the story in English and the other in Bosnian/Serbian.  I saw the English version.)  The time is the recent past; the setting is the Bosnian War.  Here is some info from Wikipedia:

The war came about as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia.  Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was inhabited by Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent), passed a referendum for independence on 29 February 1992.  This was rejected by the political representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, who had boycotted the referendum and established their own republic. Following the declaration of independence, the Bosnian Serbs, supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), mobilized their forces inside the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serbian territory, then war soon broke out across the country, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak population, especially in Eastern Bosnia.

Love in a time of conflict is not uncommon in film, but this is a compelling depiction.  This film focuses on a promising romance twisted and killed by war.  A dark-haired woman, who lives with her sister and baby nephew in a humble apartment, goes out to a bar/nightclub and dances with a blonde man; they are obviously very into each other.  There is a live band playing and the mood is joyous.

     

The encounter each other a time later when the woman, a Muslim painter named Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a prisoner in the camp run by the Serbian man, a soldier named Danijel (Goran Kostic).  Danijel meets with Ajla in private, just to talk at first, because there is no one else to relate to in the prison.  He needs to let off steam, and show her that he’s not a monster.  Danijel also softens the blow for her, while the other women are treated horribly (beaten, raped, and worked like dogs cooking and cleaning).  Is she in love with Danijel or merely protecting herself?  (It’s up to the viewer to decide.)  They think of a plan that will enable Ajla to escape the prison.   

       

Ajla is unable to escape; she sees brutality all around her, and somehow stays sane.  Meanwhile, her sister suffers a terrible loss and joins a group of rebels.  Danijel is not the typical grunt soldier, he’s the son of a particularly successful/brutal general, Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija).  His father is grooming him for leadership.  The stress of war gets to the younger man, and he turns on the woman closest to him.  He keeps her hidden away for quite a whille, but Ajla is not safe- not even from Danijel!  

I wished there was more information in this film about the politics of this war.  The secondary characters needed more development.  This film come off as limited at times, but the lead actors work very well together.  They have great chemistry with each other, and connect deeply with their characters.  (Nobody is a well-known face here, aside from Serbedzija.)  Ajla is dignified and strong even in the toughest situations.  Danijel slowly transforms from a rather sympathetic antagonist into a fallen, broken man.

 

  

Some Quick Film Reviews

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Well, you really CAN’T go wrong w/ such a stellar cast!  (Dev Patel, just 21 y.o., said how BIG of an honor it was to work w/ all these legends, in a recent NPR interview.)   My fave characters were portrayed by Judy Dench, Bill Nighy (he surprised me w/ his skill), & Tom Wilkinson.  Some viewers commented that Patel’s acting was very one-note (& I mostly agree w/ that).  Perhaps he got bogged down in the Indian accent (he’s a British desi, after all); perhaps he just needs to learn more.  The complete change of heart from Maggie Smith’s characters didn’t ring QUITE true IMO.  There are some GREAT life lessons in this film, BUT it’s NOT schmaltzy or stereotypical. 

Empire Falls (2005)

Fans of Paul Newman will be surprised by his (antihero) role in this HBO miniseries!  There are some  fine performances, esp. from Ed Harris, Aidan Quinn, Robin Wright Penn, & a young Danielle Panabaker.  I thought it started out quite strong, BUT there is something disjointed about it.  It’s set around two VERY different families in a working-class town of Maine. 

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Three reasons to see this film (in order): 1) Russell Crowe 2) Kevin Spacey 3) Guy Pearce.  I’m pretty sure this film was a star-making turn for Crowe.  Also, this is one of the BEST edited films I recall seeing.  I was surprised that Kim Basinger was so capable- she didn’t annoy me in this film!   I think you need to see it twice to appreciate it- I don’t think I paid attention the first time.

The Horseman on the Roof (1995)

This historical French film is GORGEOUS (& not just b/c of the two leads)!  There’s a LOT of natural beauty- greenery, mountains, snow, etc.  Olivier Martinez, who you may recall from Unfaithful,  portrays a true “romantic” (a individual of high ideals).  Juliette Binoche is perfect (as usual), though there is NOT much dialogue.   Plus, you have to give props to a woman who’s not afraid to act w/ a man prettier than her- LOL!   La Binoche never disappoints.

Three Quick Reviews

The Artist (2011)

I saw this charming/B&W/nearly silent film the night after the Oscars w/ my friend Anita.  We wanted to see what all the fuss was about!  It was a cute, fun, and optimistic (RARE for movies these days).  

The two French leads (Oscar winner Jean Dujardin & Bernice Bejo) had a LOT of chemistry w/ each other.  Dujardin has ALL the qualities of a leading man.  Even the little dog hit the right notes! There are also American actors in supporting roles, including John Goodman.  

The Social Network (2010)

Though this film’s main character is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg (Jesse Eisenberg, who I first saw in Roger Dodger), the actor w/ the meatiest role is young Brit Andrew Garfield, who plays Mark’s best friend Eduardo Saverin.  The audience’s sympathies lie w/ Eduardo, who was the first one to believe in (and fund) Mark’s idea.  Eventually, the two pals face-off in a lawsuit, when Eduardo’s shares in the company are reduced to almost nothing. 

Another lawsuit is brought by the creators of Harvard Connection, the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, who will soon appear in Mirror, Mirror) and their close friend/programmar, Divya Narendra (Max Minghella, son of director Anthony Minghella). [There ARE desis out in Hollywood, so I don’t see why Minghella got this role!]

Sad to say, but there isn’t much for the ladies in this film to do.  Nor are they very well-developed, aside from young Rooney Mara, who has a small/pivotal role as Mark’s ex-gf.  (I don’t want to discuss Brenda Song, so we’ll skip that.) Rashida Jones played a sympathetic lawyer, but her role was quite small.  

 

 

 

 

The Young Victoria (2009)

My mom liked this movie more than Jane Eyre, perhaps b/c of its positive/uplifting viewpoint of a courtship.  We know that England’s Queen Victoria (EmilyBlunt) and her husband, German prince Alfred (Rupert Friend) were a match made by their elders, BUT grew to love each other deeply.  In Mrs. Brown, the elderly Victoria (Judy Dench) is coming out of a LONG mourning. 

Blunt is a VERY capable actor, BUT in this film, I was drawn more to Friend’s character.   After all, he’s the outsider who has to adjust to playing a secondary role in his adopted land.  (Alfred did a LOT for the arts and nature preservation in England.) 

Jane Eyre (2011)

Jane Eyre was one of the most anticipated films of 2011, esp. for fans of Brit Lit (like me).  It was directed by a young American, Cary Fukunaga, who gives it a fresh new take.  (His mom is Swedish; his dad is Japanese).  Fukunaga doesn’t stray far from the book, as I thought he might from the early trailers.  The supernatural elements were edited out (check out the deleted scenes under the special features).

Though I feel that Charlotte Gainsbourg (who can act in English and French) was the best Jane, I liked the very realistic take of young Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska.  Gainsbourg showed us Jane’s “unearthly” side; Wasikowska is JUST the right age for the role.  She’s able to convey Jane’s brainy, observant, and innocent sides quite easily.

Every Jane MUST have her Rochester, of course!  Gainsbourg had veteran American actor William Hurt (who I ALWAYS enjoy watching). However, Hurt was too old for the role, and played up the angry/emotional side a BIT too much.  The newest Mr. Rochester is more of a fresh face (still in his mid-30s)- Irish actor Michael Fassbender.  (His mom is Irish; dad is German.)  I had never seen him before, BUT heard some rave reviews of his acting in the past few months. 

Wow, those critics and viewers were NOT exaggerating!  Fassbender is an AMAZING Rochester- “changeable,” articulate, intelligent, tortured, etc. He’s intense w/o being over the top (which is easy to do w/ such a larger-than-life character).  Being an internal actor, it looks easy onscreen.  (Soon, I’m going to check out two of his older films that are streaming on Netflix now, Fishtank and Hunger). My only complaint- he’s TOO handsome for this role.  A star is discovered! 

Yes, Billy Elliott is in this movie!  Jamie Bell in ALL grown up (and ADORABLE); he plays St. John Rivers, the young/repressed minister who helps Jane get on her feet after her cruel disappointment.  Bell does a fine job in his role, as do the two actresses that play his little sisters.  Judy Dench, who plays the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, is very understated (as the role requires). 

I didn’t think the going back and forth in time was as effective as it could have been.  My mom and one of her friends (an avid moviegoer) said the same thing.  The lighting was (intentionally) dark indoors, playing up the dark side of Thornfield.  On the other hand, the outdoor scenes are lovelier and lighter.  A good touch in this production was the use of Northern accents (accurate for some characters, like Jane).  I loved all the costumes; they were just terrific, esp. on Fassbender’s lean (an European ideal) physique.

True Grit & Winter’s Bone

True Grit (2010)

This 2010 remake of the famed John Wayne western adapted/directed by Joel and Ethan Coen brings to mind Miller’s Crossing (1990), their Prohibition era gangster drama starring Gabriel Byrne.  Unlike most other Coen brothers films, it’s w/o any irony; the viewer needs to take it seriously.  But there is some humor here.  It took a few minutes to get used to the style of speech used, but I found it quite engaging.  The cinematography is just terrific!

The protagonist, 14 y.o. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), travels from her family ranch to a small, unnamed town to collect the body of her dead father.  She explains that he was murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), a former employee who stole her father’s horse and two California gold pieces.  Then Chaney fled deep into Indian territory.

Mattie, a smart/tough kid beyond her years, seeks out Deputy Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors), b/c she learns that he has “true grit.”  She raises the money to hire him by bargaining w/ a horse trader (Dakin Matthews).  But Marshall Cogburn is NOT your prototypical white knight; he’s scruffy, out of shape, cranky, and VERY fond of whiskey.

This mismatched pair is joined by a cocky/talkative Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, who gives an understated performance), who wants to capture Chaney and take him back to the Lone Star state for crimes he committed there against a state senator.  Mattie wants to kill Chaney to revenge her father.  Though they were both fought for the South in the Civil War, Cogburn and LaBoeuf DO NOT hit it off.

This is one film that truly needed a remake; the 1969 version had some good action, but it wasn’t outstanding when it came to acting.  I have to admit, it was a BIT difficult to figure out what Bridges was saying in a few scenes.  His performance was VERY different from that of Wayne.

Steinfeld’s Mattie is a HUGE improvement over Kim Darby.  To begin with, Darby was TOO old for the role of Mattie.  And we mustn’t forget that annoying voice!

Also, b/c of Darby’s feminine Mattie, there was romantic tension between her and Glen Campbell, who (badly) acted the role of LaBoeuf.  Aside from examples like Chris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton, most country singers are NOT capable actors.  Not sure why SO many of them keep trying…

Winter’s Bone (2010)

Another unflinching teen girl, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), is the main character in Winter’s Bone, a small budget indie  set deep in the poverty-stricken Ozark Mountains.  (The film was shot on location is Missouri.)  17 y.o. Ree single-handedly raises her 6 y.o. sister Ashlee and 12 y.o. brother Sonny.  She is close friends w/ Gail, a new mother who’s married to a chauvinistic young man.  She is loving, yet tough when she needs to be.

Her absent father is out on bail, but the family doesn’t know his exact location.  He cooked meth (common in their tight-knit community); her mother became catatonic a few years back, unable to deal w/ the circumstances/pain of her life.

One day, Sheriff Baskin (Garrett Dillahunt) tells Ree that if her father doesn’t show up for his court date, they will lose the house because it was put up as part of his bond.  Ree sets out to find her father, entering a world of meth, violence, and secrecy.  She starts with her meth-addicted uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and continues on to more distant relatives.  She even gathers the courage to reach out to the local crime leader, Thump Milton.   He refuses to even see her, sending his wife and other females out to warn her to leave the situation alone.

You will quickly be drawn into the (often unseen) world of this film.  Many critics have commented on its feminist viewpoint.  Also, we usually don’t see rural poverty depicted in such a natural way.  Lawrence does a SUPERB job; I can’t recall seeing a character quite like this before!  As I was watching Winter’s Bone, I kept thinking that a girl like Ree should be studying, planning for her adult life (job/college), and anticipating the senior prom.  But some girls’ lives are NOT so easy.