“Carol” – Review

 

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Carol isn’t your nostalgia-tinged, candy-coated, melodramatic, Technicolor dreamland of a 1950s romance. Carol is darker, hazier, more thoughtful, and more particular. Todd Haynes has created a rich, substantial film, and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have perfectly illustrated two characters slinking into such a then-forbidden romance, cautious but hopeful to be swept up in it all.

Blanchett plays the titular character and Mara plays Therese, a lowly shop worker; they accidentally meet, and fate twists upon them. Their connection is undeniable, both for the characters and the actresses. I can’t see any other women playing these roles. Blanchett is always mesmerizing, but Mara truly shines here. To contrast Therese with, say, Lisbeth Salander illustrates just how diverse the roles she chooses and (effectively) plays. Their acting is subtle but powerful. It may come off as wooden or unresponsive, but I don’t see that at all. I was captivated by them. I can imagine both actresses earning Oscar nominations (they’ve already earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances). Sarah Paulsen and Kyle Chandler also play important roles, and do rather well with their characters.

Carol is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt. Highsmith is probably most known as the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Now, I’ve yet to read The Price of Salt (something I hope to do in 2016), but it would be interesting to see how Phyllis Nagy adapted it into a script, something that always interests me.

This may sound odd, but I quite enjoyed all the sequences of travel (there are many). The camera usually stays on the outside of the vehicle, remaining on (usually) Mara peering outside, almost as if she’s longing for it. The camera does, however, creep into the interior, and focuses on the passengers’ interactions, their habits, their exhaustion, their happiness. I found this visual motif to be key in understanding Therese’s journey.

It’s interesting to contrast Carol with Far From Heaven, Haynes’ 2002 film which does pay homage, in both aesthetics and script, to Douglas Sirk and his candy-coated, melodramatic, Technicolor dreamland film All That Heaven Allows, starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. It’s almost as if Carol is a foil to Far From Heaven (and many of Sirk’s films). Don’t get me wrong, Far From Heaven is a beautiful and effective movie, too, but it’s such a distinct variation on the same theme, a darker realization that I prefer; they each play together and contradict each other, which is fascinating to me. It would be interesting to compare the two further.

Carol is probably my favorite film of 2015. It’s subtle, dark but hopeful. Blanchett and Mara are perfect, and Todd Haynes has simply stretched out his streak of winning films.

The film was also shot in Cincinnati, where I live, so it was fun to spot certain buildings or skylines and see how they were transformed for the film.

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Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” – Review

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These days, books are getting longer, and so it’s become nearly inevitable to stumble upon a well-reviewed, brick-sized tome that you’re somewhat leery to read but anxious to do so. I’m not one to quit reading something; I try to persevere, even if it’s not something I particularly enjoy (I hope to find some redeeming quality).

So, after reading such great responses to Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, a 720-page epic (and a finalist for both the Man Booker and National Book Award prizes; sadly, it lost in both categories to Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings and Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles, respectively—both of which I’m hoping to read this year), I decided to purchase it on a whim, trusting those reviewers that I’d be mesmerized through all of those pages.

And, let me tell you, those reviewers weren’t wrong—not at all.

The novel charts the lives of four friends—Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm—over a few decades, from their college years to their fifties. The main focus, however, is on Jude, a quiet man with a mysterious and haunting past that dictates, or at the very least informs, his every action. I won’t give anything away here as much of the novel revolves around discovering Jude’s complexities. I’ll just say that it rivals—maybe even bests—anything Dickens ever wrote for his child characters.

Never have I so willingly endured such a heart-wrenching journey. Jude endures so much austerity and love. There are several passages that feel like a punch to the gut, but, through all that, rays of hope filter through. Some of these passages are difficult to read through, and many may see the harshness, the severity, the multitude of these sections as overtly melodramatic, or even soap opera-like. I disagree. Each individual event combines to create his complexities. His reactions to each event may seem aggravating—I won’t lie, I reacted with numerous head/eye rolls, as well as “Poor Jude”—but they make sense. In gradually piecing together his psychology, everything comes together; you see his struggles, his reactions, and confirm these to be an accurate depiction of his (little) life.

Willem, JB, and Malcolm are given less attention, especially the latter two. Though, in Yanagihara’s defense, this story is about Jude. (Though, my only qualm is that we learn very little about Malcolm, as he’s given so little page-time.) Willem plays an important role, though, as Jude’s main supporter and friend (among other occupations). Through the ups and downs of friendship, each caters to Jude’s development, and, in turn, their own. It’s a rocky road for this set of friends, but it’s a road to walk on. It’s truly worth it.

As I read the novel, I began reflecting on my own life. I saw a bit of myself in Jude, and I think many will (though I hope many will never experience the hardships he experienced). That’s the novel’s biggest asset. Because Jude is such a rich and complicated character, he seems so universal, even though his life is so specific.

I’m intentionally keeping this vague, as I don’t want to spoil too much. But I will say this: A Little Life is an incredibly exceptional book. It’s been years since I’ve read something so impactful. Don’t let the page count deter you, either, as it’s well worth your time. It’s challenging, thought-provoking, depressing, hopeful, and deeply rewarding. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

It’s currently available in hardcover, and will be available as a paperback on January 26, 2016.

Hiroshima mon amour – Blu-ray Unboxing

Next up is Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour, a cornerstone film of the French New Wave. I watched it earlier this year (or perhaps it was last summer), and I absolutely loved it. This new edition has a presentation based off the 4K restoration recently completed, and I’m extremely excited to see the film again knowing this. Here are some photos:

   
    
    
   

The Bridge – Blu-ray Unboxing

Bernhard Wicki’s The Bridge (Die Brücke) is the next film I purchased during the current 50% off sale at Barnes & Noble. Now, I know very little about this film except that it was the first major anti-war film from Germany. I’ve also heard that it’s just flat-out wonderful. Here are some packaging shots:

   
    
    
   

Autumn Sonata – Blu-ray Unboxing

The next title I purchased was Ingmar Bergman’s wonderful Autumn Sonata, which stars the that other famous Bergman, Ingrid. It also stars Bergman’s multiple time collaborator, and ex-wife, Liv Ullmann. I was lukewarm to it on my first watch, but I’ve decided to give it another go. Plus, there are some great bonus features, including a commentary by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, a new interview with Ullmann, and a mammoth 207-minute making-of documentary. Here are some packaging shots:

   
    
    
    
 

Sundays and Cybèle – Blu-ray Unboxing

The next film I purchased during the current Barnes & Noble sale was the incomparable Sundays and Cybèle by Serge Bourguignon. It’s been a little while since I last saw it (I want to say I saw it last November or December), but I remember absolutely loving it. Here are some packaging shots of the Criterion Collection release:


  
  
  

The Great Dictator – Blu-ray Unboxing

Hey, guys! It’s been quite a few months since I last posted, but I’m finally getting back on the bandwagon. Like every July, there is a 50% off sale at Barnes & Noble on Criterion Collection titles. I purchased five yesterday, and I’m hoping to pick up a few more titles before the sale’s end. First up is Chaplin’s satiric masterpiece, The Great Dictator. It’s very timely that I chose this because I’m currently reading Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes, a satirical novel that tells the story of Hitler waking up in 2011 in Berlin. I think, sometimes, we need to laugh a bit at our tragedies in order to fully comprehend what took places. Anyway, here are some photos of The Great Dictator: