Month: July, 2018

American Pastoral: Blu-ray review

AP5Actors who try their hand at directing often yield mixed results.  For every Affleck, Eastwood, or Gibson (who gave us masterpieces such as Gone Baby Gone, Unforgiven or Apocalypto) there are their flagging counterparts. Whoever heard of a film directed by Nicholas Cage.  That’s right, no-one, because his only effort, Sonny, barely registered a blip on the consciousness of the film going public.  It wasn’t a flop; it’s only a flop if anyone cares.  It was just a bland piece of “been there done that” box ticking—a place to hang up your coat when you’ve lost your good looks (although I’m unsure if Cage had any good looks to start with).  There are plenty more ho-hum actor-turned-director efforts from where Cage came from.

Here’s one.

It’s been a while since the somewhat tepid theatrical release, but American Pastoral has finally made its way onto Blu-ray. This film represents another “have a go at directing” attempt by an A-list actor—namely Ewan McGregor, who also plays the film’s main protagonist, Seymour “Swede” Levov.  

The story begins in the turmoil of ’60s America and spans a few decades after.  The Levov family represent all that is “wholesome” about America. Together, Swede, an all-American college star and his beauty-queen wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) bring up their daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning).  Conservative, yet with a liberal edge, this well-mannered family are blissfully living the American dream when their life is derailed by Merry, who in her teens unexpectedly turns into a violent activist. Her criminal acts and then disappearance haunt Swede and rocks the foundations of his marriage and his repeated attempts to find Merry are met with heartache and ultimately a life-defining discovery.

Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, from which this film is based, has been languidly adapted by John Romano (who also wrote the Coen brother’s worst film; Intolerable Cruelty).  His rather bland hand is a seemingly safe bet for a novice director.  However, I can’t help but wonder what McGregor’s might’ve achieved had Romano injected a bit more spunk into his adaption.

But as it stands this ho-hum release feels very tame—a gunpowder factory would take more risks. What remains is a mildly engaging story maintained most likely because of the source material rather than its cinematic embellishments (or lack thereof).  

The Blu-ray offers two bonus features: Making the America Dream is an 18-minute feature that explores behind the camera, the film’s locations, costume design etc.  The second feature, American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic, is a 28-minute investigation into the film’s characters, cast, and direction. Both features offer extensive interviews and a reasonable amount of depth.  The feature is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and there is an optional director’s commentary included.  Its picture is beautifully rendered in 1080p with a 2.40:1 screen ratio and takes advantage of Martin Ruhe’s (Control) deft hand with the camera.

American Pastoral Blu-ray hits shelves 11th July.
 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Advertisements

Mary Shelley

Mary1It is apt that Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female feature filmmaker from Saudi Arabia, has made a movie about a subversive feminist from yesteryear. Mary Shelley tells the true story of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (as she was known at the time), the author of one of the greatest Gothic horrors ever written; Frankenstein. While the misogyny of the day might not have recognised her fictional monster staring back at them, this film makes it crystal clear the reasons for its creation. 

Set among the cloying mud and muck of early nineteenth century London, Mary’s ill-advised fling with the dashing poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), is in full swing. It is a romance that carries their elopement to Lord Byron’s bohemian holiday home where the first pages of her book were penned. As the dust settles on their relationship, we discover that Percy’s free-spirited and narcissist nature pushes Mary to the margins of his life. The casting of a very brooding and smouldering Elle Fanning (20th Century Women) matches a woman whose demeanour is one of hapless defiance.

The film only glances at her fascination with science, choosing instead to focus on other influences that brought about Mary’s lonely and neglected monster. Clearly, she saw herself as the creature of her creation: forlorn, outcast and abandoned.

Tonally, there are hints of Jane Campion’s Bright Star, minus the Kiwi director’s delicately infused feminist nuances or spell-binding cinematography.  This film is more conventional and literal in its scope, and screenwriter Emma Jensen’s rather safe approach to the subject matter might’ve benefitted from some more venom.  It is something that Fanning’s performance goes some way to compensate for. Her sullen portrayal is the driving force of this biopic and brings some rectifying depth to the film’s many double-entendres, innuendo and knowing looks.

As Mary says of her book; “It is a message for mankind” and it seems appropriate, in the current age of feminine resurgence, that this film has been made. And despite its conventional hand (and a slightly clumsy ending), Mary Shelley remains a fascinating and timely story.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.