Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Mia Wasikowska”

Alice Through the Looking Glass

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016

Tim Burton didn’t direct this follow-up to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland (gosh, was it that long ago?) but his producer credit is totally justified, as is his handing over the reins to director James Bobin (who made both Muppet movies and will be delivering the Men In Black reboot in the near future).

Central to most Burtonesque movies are the outlandishly beautiful settings, the impeccable costuming and an overriding sense of fun and adventure as the plot zips from magic land to magic land. To this end, this Alice definitely feels like the real Alice. Also emblematic of a Burton movie is a usually dark, sinister sensibility which doesn’t manifest quite as strongly in this picturesque and enjoyably boisterous sort-of-sequel.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is her independent young female self (dressed in the most beautiful Chinoiserie you’ve ever seen), busily fighting bossy men for a say in her father’s business when she is enticed through the looking glass back into Wonderland. There she discovers the Hatter is suffering self-imposed isolation. Alice is inveigled into going back in time to change the past, but must overcome conflict presented by Time himself (a terrific Sacha Baron Cohen, hilariously speaking like German director Werner Herzog) and the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter).

The film is a mass of sensational special effects creating a fantastical world which is truly delightful to behold. The supporting cast (high-profile faces and voices, all) wing their way through dialogue which occasionally evokes the rhyming couplets of Lewis Carroll’s original work, although the story veers far off into an engrossing back-story for some key characters and a startling revelation as to how one villain came to be so bad. With a finale that looks like Goya painted the destruction of Pompeii, it’s not often I’d place style over content, but Alice Through the Looking Glass is nothing short of splendid.

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Madame Bovary

I’m not sure we need another adaptation of Flaubert’s esteemed novel, let alone another period piece with Mia Wasikowska in flattened hair and furrowed brow, but there you have it.

Echoing her performance and look in the superior Jane Eyre, Wasikowska (so brilliant in everything from Stoker to Alice in Wonderland) is of course dedicated and reliable, but it may take more than beautiful costumes and historically accurate art direction to entice audiences to watch this tale of a bratty, self-indulgent woman for whom no amount of exquisitely spun silk can bring happiness.

Emma Bovary’s angst is well-trodden, but for the uninitiated: the film starts with her leaving convent life to enter optimistically into marriage with Charles, a decent young doctor whose fortunes are hoped soon to rise. Charles (an unobjectionable Henry Lloyd-Hughes) is perfectly-pitched as thoughtful, benevolent, well-meaning and only slightly dull. But there is nothing for her to do with her days, so Emma’s eye is turned first by the abundance of trinkets and gorgeous furnishings proffered by Rhys Ifans’ sleazy salesman, and then by the temptations of ill-advised love affairs.

The initial paucity of dialogue in the film actually bodes well – it starts with a painful ending, before taking us back to where it all began. There are myriad scenes where beautiful photography instead captures subtle looks and glances which say enough to set the tone. But as the script fills up with pushy men tempting Emma this way and that, we too feel unfulfilled by her endless materialism and foolish romantic decision-making.

With just her second feature film, director Sophie Barthes has scored an impressive cast (including her “regular”, Paul Giamatti as yet another speedbump on Emma’s road to happiness) and handles all the plot contrivances well.

Ultimately, however, Madame Bovary is a perfectly pleasant, well-constructed and serviceable, yet redundant addition to both the Bovary canon and Wasikowska’s CV.

Only Lovers Left Alive

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th April 2014

Having closed last year’s International Film Festival, audiences should be grateful for another chance to catch one of the most sumptuous, intoxicating and yes, possibly self-indulgent love stories of modern cinema. Under the pen and direction of indie darling Jim Jarmusch, this exceptionally romantic tale of two creatures of the night negotiating the travails of a long distance relationship is so much more than a “vampire movie”.

Wait, come back – Twilight this definitely ain’t. Rather, Jarmusch has penned an adult’s fantasy of (quite literally) eternal love which eschews fight scenes with werewolves and a nauseating threesome in order to cram in as many clever literary and cultural references as is possible in two hours. With a top-notch cast (ice queen Tilda Swinton thaws into an incredibly warm wife to Tom Hiddleston’s mopey musician Adam) and a witty, laugh-out-loud script (pretentious? Oui!), Lovers is like a delicious cinematic liqueur.

The titular lovers travel between Michigan and Morocco, lugging classic tomes and a history’s worth of musical instruments, her light to his dark in both costume and nature. They are the epitome of cool, languorous in their dealings with the world and one another in a way which makes viewing the film strangely relaxing. Even when Mia Wasikowska appears as the delightfully trouble-making sister, they all make being a vampire look such fun.

Swinton is typically excellent, but Hiddleston (best known as Loki from Thor) is simply glorious as the suicidal musician who despairs at how humanity behaves. Supported by amusing performances by John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe (his whinings about Shakespeare giving a clever slant to history as we know it) and Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin as a rock ‘n’ roller who attends to Adam’s every need, the small cast is a universal delight.

If anything, it’s all a bit too lovely to look at, and you wish the camera would stop panning for a moment so you can take in all the production detail. In-jokes abound, with the lovers effortless in their delivery of cutesy dialogue and loving bon mots. Some may find it meandering but for viewers with the patience for the scenic route (and some esoteric musical sequences), the rewards are considerable.

Stoker

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 11 August 2013

If you are feeling disheartened about the state of cinema based on what’s spewing forth from Hollywood, do not fear. Korean director Park Chan-wook knows how to make a compelling movie of real substance, and his collaboration with American Wentworth Miller, Australians Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska and Brit Matthew Goode shows you don’t even need to speak the same language to create hands-down one of the best films of the year.

Miller, best known as the star of TV’s Prison Break, shows enormous talent in his screenwriting debut with this delightfully tense gothic fairytale. Every moment is laden with unease and unanswered questions as we meet young India Stoker (Wasikowska) on the day of her beloved father’s funeral. Her mother (Kidman) is behaving very strangely for a grieving widow, and the sudden appearance of long-lost uncle Charlie seems to have an unseemly influence. Charlie decides to stay a while, and India initially reacts like any sullen teenager would towards the man who appears to be appropriating her father’s life.

A word of advice: Don’t watch the trailer first, as part of the pleasure is having the film unfold before you. Just trust me – from beginning to end, Stoker is a gourmet feast of billowing fabric, enigmatic closeups, subtle imagery and ecstatic piano music (thanks to composer Philip Glass. An unexpected duet makes for one of the best scenes in the film).

The non-English speaking Park directed his cast through an interpreter but they were clearly all of one mind, as the talented handling of the material demonstrates. Goode (A Single Man) is extraordinary as the beguiling, untrustworthy uncle, and Wasikowska nails perfectly her rendition of an easily influenced young girl who houses a feisty spirit. Even Kidman, who has a tendency to relish these “complicated” roles but sometimes falls into pastiche, plays it just right. The air is heavy with sexuality throughout, and everyone looks a million dollars.

Park’s history (a series of artistic, violent revenge movies exemplified by the critically acclaimed Old Boy) didn’t necessarily foreshadow a move into esoteric English-language arthouse – and yet, at the same time, the quality of his Korean works makes the magnificence of Stoker unsurprising.

He does cinematic storytelling at its best in this exquisite, exhilarating film.

Restless

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 1st January 2012

In Restless, Enoch crashes funerals and plays Battleship with his ghost friend, a Kamikaze pilot called Hiroshi. Annabel is a shy nature-lover with a penchant for quirky felt hats.  Rather like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, they meet in the unusual circumstance of a funeral and, against a Danny Elfman soundtrack, develop their own tentative love story, bound together by a common appreciation of death and the attempt by external forces to keep them apart.

There are elements of the story that seem surprisingly naive for director Gus Van Sant (whose last work was the brave, challenging, Oscar-winning Milk).  This film is bloated with typically youthful affectations – two outcasts wearing sassy, vintage clothing, reading encyclopaedias about birds, and playing kooky games – that may cause older viewers to sigh with frustration, but might nonetheless resonate with a younger audience.

This is not meant to patronise. There is a time and place for the joy and folly of first love, and most of us have been there. The surprise is in Van Sant’s lack of restraint, as he ticks off each of the cliches.  That said, the film is beguiling, thanks to lead performances by an off-beat Henry Hopper (son of the late Dennis) as Enoch, and the elfin Mia Wasikowska, freed from her Jane Eyre corset to play quirky Annabel. Like many a burgeoning relationship, it feels awkward at first, but gets easier, at times offering some genuinely touching moments.

Jane Eyre

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 4th September 2011

Adding to umpteen television and film adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, this latest rendition (by a clearly talented but largely unknown young director, Cary Fukunaga) delivers a beautifully photographed, affecting story of pain and mistreatment giving way to true love.

Rising star Michael Fassbender (brilliant in every role, from Hunger to the latest X-Men movie) is the mercurial Rochester, whose brusque appraisal of his young governess elicits a sharp-witted response that establishes an electric rapport between the two. Australian Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) has the perfect wan face to play the titular self-contained, emotionally bruised orphan with a tale of woe she refuses to tell. There is strong support from Judi Dench and a terrific Jamie Bell – so mature and nuanced in his performance of St John Rivers that it’s surely time to forget about Billy Elliot.

The core cast handles the archaic dialogue with ease, enabling us to enter freely into the bleak world where a teacher speaks of “rooting out the wickedness in this small, ungrateful plant”. Inevitably, as with many stories of this era, the thwarted romance includes misunderstandings and tortured longings, and some may feel the lessened age-gap between the leads is not entirely faithful, but Jane Eyre is still a satisfying watch.

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