Shame

Michael Fassbender is a powerhouse of subtlety. Even in big budget fare he shines, but it’s his work with director Steve McQueen that is most recognizable. Both Hunger and Shame are McQueen visions that are fueled by the madness of a singular character played by Fassbender. It’s quite possibly a connection that they have as artists or maybe a niche in which they’ve found the ability to collaborate viscerally and poignantly.

Hunger is an amazingly powerful film that affected me deeply, but Shame is a companion piece that raises the bar and builds the apex of what I hope will become a McQueen/Fassbender trilogy of sorts. It would be awesome if McQueen’s currently in production Twelve Years a Slave is the work that rounds out their collaboration and seals in all the colors and textures and smells a McQueen film packs behind its images.

Many great directors find themselves eventually creating a triptych (whether intentional or not), and it’s not too soon for someone like McQueen (who showed his filmmaking chops very early on) to have this type of style that ultimately results in a common “theme” tying together a few consecutive works. Shame is at times graceful and at other times vicious. It diabolically wears its NC-17 rating with a sense of pride (one that maybe only Europeans can appreciate marketing-wise) that Fassbender’s character himself would shy away from for sure. The images at times are as black as the solitary confinements of the prison in Hunger.

Fassbender plays Brandon, a sex-obsessed business man with some deep-seated anti-social tendencies. While the film’s only negative quality may be the potentially inferable pointless of it all; the irresolution; it’s better viewed as a character study and less as a traditional Hollywood narrative. Carey Mulligan plays the estranged, nearly naïve, waif-like sister / subconscious-level, incestuous lover, who also, in a very Lynchian way, is a lounge singer.

Fassbender’s character arc is one of self-realization to self-treatment to self-dissolution. By the end of the film he is seemingly right back to where he was at the beginning and without correction to his ill-attended issues. The cool thing about McQueen and Fassbender’s way of dealing with this well-trodden cinematic theme is that they never supply an easily blamable cause to the matter. His sex addiction is not depicted as necessarily a power possession or release thing for him, and it’s not really depicted as something stemming from childhood. There’s really no good explanation for why he is the way he is, except that he just is.

Shame is the kind of film you’ll come back to so you can look for the nuances missed the first time around. McQueen’s way of framing a shot has always been like a great impressionist painter, and though the background here is the twinkling lights of New York City, I have no doubt he is the new Renoir using the lens as his brush and the celluloid as his canvas.

What to Watch in September

It’s a tough cinematic world out there, but I care about the readers of this blog and only want them to spend their hard earned dollars on the good films, so here’s a (sorta) completist’s guide to the 2011 Fall Season of films – starting with September. My plan is, around the middle of each month, to post the next month’s domestic (limited and wide) film releases – while of course providing my own two cents on it. The indicators should be pretty clear: if it’s got a line through it, it does not have my recommendation. That said, give it a chance if it comes on cable someday.

September 2

  • Apollo 18 by Gonzalo López-Gallego. Watch it and think about how we’ll never get to go to space again. Which is ok I guess since there’s monsters up there.
  • Seven Days in Utopia by Matt Russell. Looks like a cross between Doc Hollywood and Tin Cup.
  • Shark Night 3D by who cares. It’s sharks in 3D.

September 9

  • Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star by Tom Brady. Nick Swardson plays the socially-outcasted son of two adult pornstars.
  • Contagion by Steven Soderbergh. Eh. Pretty sure I saw this almost 10 years ago, but it was called Outbreak.
  • Warrior by Gavin O’Connor. Looks like a possibly edgier, indier version of The Fighter, although the MMA thing is getting old.

September 16

  • Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan – there’s no way I’m missing this.
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It by Douglas McGrath. A classier comedy for the SITC set?
  • The Lion King 3D by Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff. So The Lion King is getting not only a Blu-ray upgrade, but a limited theatrical release in 3D!? Oh Disney, your vaults are so leaky!
  • Restless by Gus Van Sant. The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.
  • Straw Dogs by Rod Lurie. This is one of the most painful films for me to list here. In general, I loathe most remakes of anything, but especially a remake of a film that was absolutely perfect to begin with. Peckinpah would roll over in his grave if he knew someone bastardized his (possibly) best – and most controversial – work to make an easy sale to the teenage torture-porn audiences who should just be left to their Final Destinations and $5 popcorn. Haven’t seen the 1971 version of this film with Dustin Hoffman? Try and get your hands on that first and check out my review of it here.
  • The Whale by Suzanne Chisholm. Endearing doc which looks like a cross between Free Willy and The Cove.

September 20

  • Pearl Jam Twenty by Cameron Crowe. A cineaste’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll filmmaker (ok, along with maybe Pennebaker and Scorsese) pulls together a new rock doc on the 90s other Top 40 grunge band, Pearl Jam. You know, the ones who instead of making kids want to do drugs and commit suicide, made them want to surf and stand up to bullies? Apparently, they’ve been around for 20 years now. Problem is, if I go see this, I’m just going to feel fucking old. PS. The soundtrack is released on this day as well, and it includes 30 pages of liner notes from Crowe himself.

September 23

  • Abduction by John Singleton. Decent looking action suspense flick which fits neatly into the fringes of the summer blockbusters. Nothing you haven’t seen before story-wise, but a chance to see Team Jacob’s (Lautner’s) acting ability in something other than stilted-werewolf-lover-boy for once.
  • Dolphin Tale by Charles Martin Smith. Another Free Willy in September comes you (and your children’s way)! This one looks more like a good tearjerker for the adolescents and their moms than The Whale, but at least this one will probably have the prospect of ending on a high note.
  • The Double by Michael Brandt. Political intrigue and the usual pairing of a retired CIA Operative and a younger FBI agent to help heighten the tension and provide something mid-life crisis moviegoers can sink their teeth into. Think Hollywood Homicide in… Detroit?
  • Killer Elite by Gary McKendry. Standard issue action flick, but one with a cast that I admit I’m intrigued to see play off each other: Statham, De Niro and Clive Owen (with a ridiculous Magnum P.I. throwback mustache). The updated version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in the trailer is not adding any points though.
  • Machine Gun Preacher by Marc Forster. First of all, I’ll watch anything by Marc Forster. He has a sensibility to rooting out the most unique films which appeal to both the marketing people and the critics. It’s a beautiful thing. This one stars Gerard Butler as a (I think) a real life reformed drug addict/biker who finds religion and makes it his life’s devotion to help the children of impoverished and brutalized Africa. The poster, however, looks a little goofy.
  • Moneyball by Bennett Miller. Hollywood takes a shot at revitalizing the sport of baseball by bringing in Brad Pitt and the only character Jonah Hill seems to ever play anymore – the bright, young, employee with fresh ideas on an old line of work. Looks a little too Any Given Sunday via Jerry Maguire for me though.
  • Red State by Kevin Smith. Holy crap. I’ve been waiting for this movie since 2008. What else can I say?
  • Weekend by Andrew Haigh. British indie romance about a gay couple who do pretty much nothing exciting looking for an entire weekend. Touted as an “Audience Winner” at SXSW this year – don’t let that get your hopes up. A good percentage of what they program is geared towards one specific type of hipster audience and most of the films are either pretentious or ridiculous or both. Example: MacGruber. This one looks a bit like Medicine for Melancholy only not with a black, hetero couple in the States.

September 30

  • 50/50 by Jonathan Levine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite young male leads and playing off another of my favorites – Anna Kendrick – makes this made-for-hipsters dramedy all that much more enticing. 
  • Courageous by Alex Kendrick. Overwrought drama about four law enforcement officers.
  • Dream House by Jim Sheridan. Rock solid lineup of actors, with the always-solid directing of Sheridan (ok ok, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was a joke) makes this a no-brainer. Additionally, this will be Sheridan’s first stab at helming a horror flick!
  • Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan. Anna Paquin plays a woman who witnesses a bus accident which turns out to change her life. Honestly, this could be hit or miss. I’ve grown used to Paquin as a mind-reading vampire lover, so it may be a hard transition for me in this real-world-rooted drama, but then a film produced by the trio of Minghella, Pollack and Scott Rudin can’t be all bad.
  • Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols. This film looks just plain awesome. Michael Shannon is always great as the tight-lipped, emotionally-repressed characters he exudes, but the austerity and manipulation of the dramatic elements in this film make it no question as to why it garnered praise at Cannes, Sundance and other fests. Be sure to give it a shot if you see anything in September.
  • What’s Your Number? by Mark Mylod. Anna Faris churns out another romantic comedy where she gets to trip, fall and look goofy. 

Did I miss anything? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

An Education

An Education is a film that tries to be powerful by not overtly being powerful, and I like that about it. I do think, however, that somewhere along the line the message it’s trying to send gets lost in the naïve fun we’re allowed to have while traveling with our characters. The director Lone Scherfig feels fresh this time around, even though this is by no means her first effort. Many of her work are of the Danish variety, but her last “US” film (if you can call it that) was the drop-deadpan funny Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. An Education is not quite on those same lines, instead dealing with familial relationships in a superbly understated time warp.


Everything about the film tricks you and works around your common sensibilities. Scherfig and author-turned-screenwriter Nick Hornby work hard to make the obvious sneak up on the audience when they actual expect it to happen. Its masterful storytelling in a filmic sense when in reality Scherfig and Hornby know that their audience is intellectual more than likely. They are not going to be easily put upon; they know something is set to happen, and only will be validated in their knowing when the filmmakers’ decide it so. I love that kind of power and confidence in a filmmaker.