Michael Fassbender & A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method (2011) – Rated R for sexual content and brief language. Strangely even though Keira Kightley is nude in it, nudity isn’t part of the rating.

In this David Cronenberg-helmed biopic, Viggo Mortensen stars as Sigmund Freud, whose relationship with fellow psychology luminary Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is tested when Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), one of the first female psychoanalysts, enters their lives. This World War I-set drama also stars Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross, a disciple of Freud, and Sarah Gadon, who plays Jung’s psychoanalyst wife.

David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors. I loved his visceral horror movies, often focused on issues of body modification and identity. They were always intelligent and original. Even his remake of The Fly was original and reinvented the story in much the same way John Carpenter did with The Thing. Unfortunately for me, he is now an important director so horror has gone by the wayside.

Michael Fassbender is the star of A Dangerous Method and he does quite well as Carl Jung. He is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors. He had wonderful supporting roles in Inglourious Basterds, 300 and Band of Brothers. He followed this up with proof that he can carry a movie in Centurion and was, forgive me, simply magnetic in X-Men First Class. Next up for Fassbender is the Ridley Scott science fiction opus Prometheus.

Cronenberg’s go-to actor appears to be Viggo Mortensen. Viggo was fantastic in Cronenberg’s last two films – A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. He is quite good in A Dangerous Method as Sigmund Freud but not quite as good as the two previous films. Still he instills a fair amount of gravitas as a father figure.

Keira Knightley is actually the astonishing one. Her portrayal of Sabina Spielrein requires a great deal of range and Keira gives quite freely of herself in this role. Vincent Cassel has a delightful time chewing up the scenery as the aptly named Dr. Gross. Sarah Gadon is just fine as Jung’s long-suffering wife but does not have as much to do as you might think.

The movie is a filmed version of a play and, in spite of the gorgeous locations used, seems like one. In spite of the cast listing there are really only five roles in the movie. The biggest flaw of the movie seems to be that of its subject matter. The movie comes across as very analytical and is of course combined with brief overviews of the works of Freud and Jung (although many of the latter’s more out there philosophies are only approached tangentially).

A Dangerous Method has very little action in it and is quite talky, albeit intelligently so. The parts of the film showing the disintegration of a professional relationship are riveting because Cronenberg and the actors make them so nuanced.

WARNING: A Dangerous Method is a very good film but it is not always an entertaining one. The first half in particular delves into a number of issues of sexual abuse/dysfunction and can be a little difficult to watch. It is not what I would call a “date film”.

Carlito’s Way – Brian De Palma week

Please accept my apologies for not updating over the past few days but we were part of the East Coast Blizzard. While 8-12 inches of snow won’t seem like much to Northerners, the Carolinas certainly aren’t prepared for it. There wasn’t any drama but my wife and I were trapped in house for three and a half days.

This is Brian De Palma week. Carlito’s Way is currently available on instant Netflix.

Carlito's Way

WATCH: Carlito’s Way (1993) – Rated R for strong violence, drug content, sexuality and language.

“Sprung from prison on a technicality, Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) vows to use his unexpected second chance to his best advantage. But every time he tries to get out of the rackets, the bad guys pull him back in. Director Brian De Palma stamps his signature electric visual style onto this searing drama about the challenges of trying to go straight in a crooked world. Sean Penn, Viggo Mortensen and John Leguizamo co-star.”

“A favor gonna kill you faster than a bullet”

Brian De Palma starts this film off wonderfully. The opening sequence is shot in black & white except for a color poster offering an Escape to Paradise, the treasure chest at the end of the rainbow throughout this film. The nightclub featured in the film is El Paraiso. There are many other touches of paradise being just out of reach for everyone.

De Palma is a wonderfully visual director. Watch all the wonderful touches as a simple drug deal early in the film starts to fall apart – a door is slightly ajar, some people’s reactions are just slightly off, the music on the jukebox is turned up a little louder. The suspense is palpable – most other directors would have played it as a sudden act of violence but De Palma lets you watch it unravel.

Al Pacino gives a wonderful performance here as Carlito Brigante. He manages to be almost as magnetic as he was in Scarface and yet is also restrained – something that Tony Montana could never be accused of. He also does a voice-over through much of the film that works quite well as a narrative trick.

Most of the other actors are a little over the top, especially Sean Penn, but it works for this film as De Palma draws in broad strokes. John Leguizamo is his usual flamboyant self. The usually solid Luis Guzman is the big surprise here. He wisely underplays to everyone and comes out in the end as the best of the supporting actors. If all you know of Viggo Mortensen is that he played Aragorn, you’ll be in for a shock when you see him in this film.

This is a very stylish gangster film. As with most modern gangster films, there is quite a bit of language. The F bomb is dropped 139 times according to IMDB. Violence is strong but not actually pervasive. I highly recommend this film as long as language does not offend you.

People Watch: Marc Antony aka Mr. Jennifer Lopez has a role in the Latin Band. Also Adrain Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli on Heroes) has a small role late in the film as Frankie.

The Return of the King (Extended version)

Okay for the last day of Sword and Sorcery week, we have Peter Jackson’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King extended version. Only this third film in the trilogy is available on Netflix instant play.

The Return of the King

WATCH: The Return of the King (2003) – Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images

“Accompanied by the duplicitous Gollum (Andy Serkis), hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue their mission to obliterate the One Ring of power in the final chapter of director Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must confront his destiny and lead the fight that will determine Middle Earth’s future. This fantasy tale for the ages bagged 11 Oscars”

Finishing off Sword and Sorcery week with The Return of the King was a no-brainer. The Fellowship of the Ring captured 4 of the 13 Oscars it was nominated for. The Two Towers got 2 of the 6 Oscars it was nominated for and was royally snubbed. It received no nomination at all for costume design, cinematography,  makeup, or any of the performances. Oscar’s tepid response to the first two films in the trilogy was worrisome. An Oscar should not be a popularity contest (though by definition it is) but a recognition of the pinnacle of excellence by one’s peers. Sadly it has always been very hard for genre material to be taken seriously by the Oscars.

Thankfully the people voting decided to recognize Peter Jackson’s achievement with The Return of the King. On the other hand they may have gone too far because The Return of the King swept the awards winning all 11 Oscars that it was nominated for (though still no acting awards). Still it was nice to see a fantasy movie so feted at the Oscars.

There’s really not much to be said review-wise about this movie. If you have not seen The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers, not only should this not interest you but it would be far too confusing to watch. If you have seen them then this movie concludes the story quite well.

Clocking in at well over 4 hours, this version is quite bloated. In fact the denouement seems to go on forever (and they still leave out the scouring of the shire from the book). If you have seen the regular version and wonder whatever happened to Saruman, that question is answered here. That is my favorite added scene and not just because Christopher Lee, one of my favorite actors, is in it. Many other small scenes flesh out the epic storyline but the ending which was too long in the theatrical version is even longer here.

As might be guessed at from the Oscar awards, all the technical aspects of this film are incredible. The music is inspiring – dire, rousing, or uplifting as needed and cued in perfectly. Cinematography has to have boosted New Zealand’s tourism by an amazing amount. Makeup, costuming, and special effects all make this seem real.

The performances, while ignored by the Oscars, are pitch-perfect for the most part. You can really tell and feel that Sam loves Frodo, that Gollum and Frodo are both tormented, that Aragorn is noble and determined, and that Merry and Pippin are frightened and committed.

In short, this film is still amazing some 6 years down the road. We think our children will always think of this as the trilogy and that it will hold up over time even more so than Star Wars did for my generation.  By the way while Frodo is most often thought of as the hero or protagonist of the story, our family is in agreement that Sam is the actual hero.

People Watch: Look for Fringe’s resident eccentric genius Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) in excellent form as Denethor