Archive for April, 2012

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Days of Heaven

April 21, 2012

This is one I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while.

Released in 1978, Days of Heaven was the second of only two feature-length films made by Terrence Malick prior to his embarking on a 20-year hiatus in Paris, France. This sophomore work, however, appears to have been overshadowed by the acclaim of his more-immediately accessible debut feature, Badlands, featuring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as young lovers on a killing spree; that initial film being a far more rock ‘n roll affair, thematically similar to the hugely popular Bonnie & Clyde and loosely based on the real case of the multiple murders committed by Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, in 1958. Written and directed by Malick, and starring Richard Gere and Sam Shepard (marking the first major lead role for Gere and the screen debut of Shepard, respectively) alongside Brooke Adams and the teenage Linda Manz, Days of Heaven proved a challenging and exhausting film to make, spending two years in post-production and editing before finally being released. Today, it does not appear to enjoy the same iconic status as the more recognizable and widely seen films from the landmark era of American cinema in which it was made, despite now being critically lauded and (rightly) held to be one of the most beautiful films ever made. The following will be my own modest and humble effort to redress this unfortunate state of affairs.

Set in 1916, Days of Heaven is a tale loosely narrated by the 15-year-old Linda (and largely told through her eyes). Linda is the younger sister of Abby (Adams), a young woman in love with Bill (Gere), a manual laborer working at a steel mill in Chicago. After an altercation with his boss gets frightfully out of hand, Bill flees with Abby and Linda to the Texas Panhandle where they are hired to work the in the fields of a wheat farm to bring in the annual harvest. Bill and Abby pose as brother and sister to avoid scandalous gossip and it is not long before Abby catches the eye of the quiet, unnamed farmer (Sam Shepard). Bill learns that the wealthy farmer is ill and may not have long to live and so begins to encourage Abby to respond to the man’s advances and marry him in order to inherit his fortune. With the farmer and Abby wed, Bill and Linda are welcomed to join the family and live in the rich landowner’s home after the harvest is complete. They all share an idyllic, “heavenly” existence for some months before their situation inevitably begins to unravel and it is not long before all involved are forced to confront the hidden secrets and betrayals amidst biblical disasters and further tragedy.

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Shame

April 18, 2012

Minor spoilers throughout.

The acclaimed British visual artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen followed up his feature film debut Hunger (2008) with last year’s Shame, which went on limited U.S. theatrical release in December following a rather minor and silly controversy surrounding the film being given an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (see here). Following their prior collaboration on Hunger, McQueen once again put Michel Fassbender in the central role (in what can be seen as something of a companion piece to that earlier film), alongside solid support from Carey Mulligan. Despite widespread critical praise and a number of accolades, Fassbender was snubbed for an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his brilliant portrayal of an angst-ridden, sex-addict yuppie which led writer/director McQueen to later remark, “In America they’re too scared of sex, that’s why he wasn’t nominated.” Although the controversy surrounding the subject matter and supposedly explicit content of the film no doubt contributed to generating much-needed publicity for a small film commercially endangered by the MPAA’s decision to rate it an NC-17, and therefore helped make it profitable, this same controversy actually gets in the way of Shame to some degree. It’s a distraction that, arguably, risks provoking unnecessary hype and ill-fitting sensationalism unrelated to the true intentions of the film.

Fassbender plays Brandon, a handsome, non-satirical yuppie working in an unspecified corporate job in New York. Despite his outward appearance of success and comfort, Brandon is an empty, tortured man engulfed in compulsive sexual misadventures involving prostitutes, casual encounters, sex chat rooms, masturbating in the gents’ bathroom at work, and a thoroughly silly amount of pornography. His troubled younger sister, Sissy (Mulligan), a struggling singer with no fixed abode, turns up to stay in his apartment unexpectedly and it is not long before her presence and her destructive behaviour confront Brandon with the reality of his own damaged life and the personal hell he has fashioned for himself. Read the rest of this entry ?