Day: September 20, 2011

Pure Imagination: Review for “Fanny and Alexander”

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Fanny and Alexander is certainly Bergman’s most joyful film, as well as the most accessible. Though its pace is glacial, and nothing technically happens in the first 90 minutes of the five hour behemoth of an art house masterpiece, every moment in it is worth cherishing. Its long running time is not something to be derisive about, and saying “nothing” happens isn’t technically true. Like an intricate character study, the 90 minutes provide the viewer with an inexorable amount of depth and understanding to the players within the film. The nuance in every scene, the bright colors, and the general jocularity is delightful.

Bergman once said “The stage is my wife and the cinema is my mistress.” Bergman worked frequently on the stage, almost as much on the screen, and every setting and lighting piece shows his expertise of both mediums. While the setting is perhaps more lustrous than a stage could ever really provide, that same sense of wonder and imagination is obvious and painted over every frame.

Young Alexander is Bergman’s autobiographical younger self, too similar to be an alter ego. When his father dies, and his mother chooses to remarry, his life of luxury and of freeness and spirit is taken from him when she marries a puritanical, villainous bishop. Bergman’s mother had at married a similar, cold man, who took raising the young future auteur with a harsh hand.

Due to the closeness of the subject matter, at times, especially as one nears the end of the film, that this may be both a celebration of accomplishment (for it ties in all the wonderful motifs and themes Bergman has used in the past) as well as a means of closure for him; both in terms of exiting the screen (he would continue to work in television) and from his stepfather.

The carefully choreographed movements of the camera and the placement of the characters on screen are inherently the stuff of intellectual fodder. But Bergman’s naturalness and knack for setting, time, and place make it seem pleasant, emotional, sensual, without coming off as pretentious. The bright colors fill the screen and the performances are electrifying all around.

Fanny and Alexander, originally a mini-series in Sweden, is a lustrous and beautiful tapestry, weaving Bergman’s personal and professional history to make intricate and nuanced designs. Innocence is gorgeous in this sensuous, subtle masterpiece.

Grade: A

Always a Bridesmaids: Review for Bridesmaids

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Bridesmaids, when it was first announced, drew a lot of comparisons to the drunken comedy hit The Hangover. However, the two, while maintaining a similar, but not the same, style of raunchy humor, is better. It’s sweeter, almost in saccharine way despite the stench of foul humor. Best of all, Bridesmaids has a deliciously great cast.

Kristen Wiig, Most Valuable Player on Saturday Night Live, plays Annie, a rather lonely singleton whose bakery shop was shut down due to the recession. Her best friend, Lillian, (Maya Rudolph, MVP from previous years at SNL) plays her best friend. Rudolph is about to get married and asks Wiig to be the Maid of Honor. This is only a constant reminder of just how single she really is. Thus, the pain and uncomfortableness is so palpable, you could spread it like cream cheese on a bagel. It’s thick and morose, just as much as Wiig’s indigence as the film goes on.

What many people who saw the film were not expecting was how sweet and intuitive it was. The script was penned by Wiig and her friend Annie Mumolo, who used the female driven comedy to investigate friendship in a way that hasn’t sufficiently been portrayed as humorously or sweetly since Fried Green Tomatoes. The relationship between Wiig and Rudolph is mainly what is under the microscope, mixed with that sinfully good Rose Byrne as the woman who comes between them.

Byrne is stylish, poison tongued, and everything that Wiig hates, yet wants to be. She feels like she’s being replaced, as if Rudolph has a new best friend who is richer and can afford better things. She’s Best Friend 2.0. This relationship dynamic of replacement has been played up before, but it’s rarely been the center of a film. Nor has it been investigated as realistically, I think. The relationship is touching, sweet, and the chemistry is fantastic. Of course, Rudolph and Wiig are best friends in real life, which is certainly adds to the performances.

As touching and sweet as the film is, a surprising element to the film, but it can be raucously funny. Melissa McCarthy, as you probably have heard a thousand times, is a scene stealer as the crass Megan. She, who suggests a fight club as a theme for a party, is golden in my eyes. However, her chops are not limited to crass comedy; in fact she adds quite a lot of dramatic nuance in one scene.

The romance between Wiig and the chummy Chris O’Dowd is pretty ordinary and not one of the strongest points in the film. Although it does show Wiig as someone who yearns for intimacy, the relationship and the comedy that follows is nothing fantastic.

As the film slightly meanders for two hours, the question remains: is Wiig just whiny and shrewy or does her character have a legitimate problem? I feel this question goes the same for the drama Eat, Pray, Love, although with different results. While both characters are actually whiny and shrewy, only one comes off as rather sympathetic, and that is the nuance that has been generously added by Wiig. This film relied on her being an actress, a leading lady, and not just the MVP of a sketch comedy show.

Bridesmaids, though oft compared to the testosterone filled The Hangover, has the upper hand. Not only is it funnier, but its dramatic material and relatively wise examination of female friendship allows the film to sneak ahead. Even at a two hour running time, the laughs are consistent, and the acting is great. Always a Bridesmaid, and that’s exactly the way I like it.

Grade: B+