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Carol • Joy

The Hateful Eight

December 31, 2015

Carol (*** ½)

It’s amazing when one pauses to consider that it’s been nearly a decade and a half since filmmaker Todd Haynes unveiled his masterpiece Far From Heaven to movie lovers the world over. The film, set against the backdrop of the conservative and puritanical world that was 1950s America, is a picture-perfect homage to the works of the king of the glossy melodrama, director Douglas Sirk. It perfectly and obsessively replicated the looks of Sirk’s films, while at the same time exploring subject matter considered too taboo for audiences who regularly frequented the director’s pictures.

Now, I mention all of this mainly because comparisons to Haynes’ earlier film are sure to be made by those who enter the world of the director’s latest work, Carol, and it wouldn’t exactly be wrong to do so. While Far From Heaven deals with a lonely housewife’s growing attraction to the African American gardener she employs, the subject at the center of Carol is the budding romance between two women, a subject definitely off limits in any mainstream film made in the 1950s. The fact that the two women are at different stages in their lives isn’t enough to quench the overriding passion that burns inside of both women, a passion that threatens to unravel the fabric of their current lives.

Carol and Therese, the two characters at the center of the film, are magnificently embodied by actresses Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, in performances that are sure to make Oscar voters take note.

Blanchett & Mara meet in Carol

Carol and Therese meet by chance, as it often happens in reality, while Carol is out shopping for a gift for her son. Therese, working as a clerk at the toy shop where Carol chances to be shopping, notices Carol from across the room. Carol returns her gaze and it’s pretty obvious for the both of them that this will be a life changing moment.

Unfortunately, societal attitudes aren’t kind to Carol and Therese and the two are more than a little guarded at first. To complicate matters, Carol is going through a divorce from her husband (Kyle Chandler) who also wants sole custody of their son and so it appears on the surface that Carol has much more at stake in the situation. It soon becomes readily apparent that the emotional toll that Therese will pay, should she lose her connection with Carol, will rival anything Carol might have to face in terms of losses.

The technical contributions in Carol are all superb but special notice must be given to the exquisite lensing of the pic by Ed Lachman­—he also photographed Far From Heaven—and veteran composer Carter Burwell, whose haunting and melancholic score underlines the drama of the film.

There are a few things that keep Carol from reaching the heights of Haynes’ Heaven—an emotional iciness around the film’s edges and a tendency for the film not to end when it should being chief among them. Still, Carol is a beautiful slice of filmmaking that’s sure to give serious lovers of film much to embrace.

Joy (***) PG-13

Director David O. Russell has had many phases in his 21-year filmmaking career, the current one being the one with which I’m least enamored. Russell used to be an interesting director with a subversive streak a mile or so wide running through his work. This was evidenced by the filmmaker’s first three pictures; Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings, all of them perfect or near perfect.

And then the seams began to show with his 2004 film, I Love Huckabees, which stepped off into such subversive waters that it even alienated me. Nothing much was heard from Russell for roughly half a decade until Producer Mark Wahlberg came calling with the offer for the filmmaker to helm The Fighter, which he graciously accepted. It proved to be an enormous hit, critically and commercially, and paved the way for the director to helm Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, both of which were big hits but seemed to be an attempt on the filmmaker’s part to pander to audiences a bit in order to get back in everyone’s good graces after years spent in the cinematic wilderness.

Russell’s latest film, Joy, reteams him with his frequent lead actress Jennifer Lawrence, along with most of the cast of his last two films.

Lawrence, DeNiro & Ramirez in Joy

What’s surprising to me is how much I took to its charms, which is probably a testament to the fact the Russell seems to be dipping into subversive waters again. This isn’t a full fledged return to the type of filmmaking that put Russell on the map but it’s definitely a step in the right direction and one that I would prefer over, say, American Hustle. I’m not sure that mainstream audiences will be ready to embrace the director’s take on the true story of Joy Mangano (Lawrence) but that may be due to the director’s insistence on stuffing as many bizarre characters into the film as possible. Mangano is 35, a single mother, and living in her family home. Her grandmother (Diane Ladd), mother ( Virginia Madsen), ex husband (Edgar Ramirez) and divorced father (Robert DeNiro) all live with her and her daughter and Joy is at her wits end as the pic opens. Turns out, however, that Joy has something of a talent when it comes to inventing things and, tired of struggling to make ends meet, decides to try and market her latest invention, a self ringing mop.

Joy doesn’t realize what a fight she’s in for in terms of finding distribution for her product. After failing to land any interest she agrees to go on the shopping network, QVC, and attempt to sell the product herself. If only it were that easy.

The film does a good job of putting us in the midst of Joy’s chaotic world. It is filled with great performances and has a breakneck pace that helps it to go down easily enough. It isn’t vintage David O. Russell but it’ll do.

The Hateful Eight (***) R

The eighth film (debatable, but we’ll go with it) from director Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight, is an interesting experiment to say the least. From a writing standpoint the film contains, as usual, some great stretches of dialogue and plotting, interlaced with scenes of over the top violence that’s not likely to win over any new fans for the veteran director. He does what he does and you probably already know whether you want to go along for the ride or not. I did and was not disappointed.

What separates Tarantino’s latest film from the rest of the titles on his resume is his decision to shoot The Hateful Eight in glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision. It’s a technique that hasn’t been employed on a major Hollywood film since Khartoum and that film was released in 1966. As lensed by veteran cameraman and frequent Tarantino collaborator Robert Richardson, the film is absolutely stunning to behold. If nothing else, it will definitely renew the argument of digital photography versus film all over again.

From a story telling standpoint, however, the film doesn’t quite have the pacing of Tarantino’s last film D’Jango Unchained, a film for which I have a very strong affection. it moves decently enough but at 187 minutes (in its roadshow version) I felt there were a few spots where it could have been shortened just a wee bit.

Kurt Russell & Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight

It takes place several years after the Civil War has ended. John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) has taken on the task of transporting prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and, along the way, picks up a few passengers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and future Sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins). Foul weather strands the foursome at an out of the way tavern, along with the tavern’s mysterious patrons (Demian Bechir, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth). What transpires next is not to be spoiled in these pages. Suffice it to say, there’s much to be learned about these characters during the film’s final hour or so. In the interim, Jackson’s character gives a soliloquy that’s not to be believed and rivals anything found in Tarantino’s celebrated film Pulp Fiction.

The Hateful Eight is atypical of most Tarantino efforts in that it lets you know right off the bat that political correctness is to be thrown out the window in the world of this film. That’s certainly going to upset some potential audience members who choose to see the film and this is your fair warning. Regardless, The Hateful Eight is some of the most potent and provocative filmmaking you’re likely to see this holiday movie season and that’s something audiences can always use more of.

Joy & The Hateful Eight are playing all over this area and in Hickory.
Carol is playing in Charlotte at the Regal Park Terrace Stadium 6.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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