Archive for the ‘Todd Haynes’ Category

The Butterflies of Savannah

May December

Director: Todd Haynes

Cast: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton, Corey Michael Smith, Andrea Frankle, Gabriel Chung, Elizabeth Yu, D. W. Moffett, Kelvin Han Yee

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Scandal in all its intimacy is what binds a community together in auteur director Todd Haynes fabulous new film May December starring Oscar winners Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice).

Far From Heaven and Carol director Todd Haynes makes cinema an art form in this stylized and lush melodrama about a Southern tabloid queen Gracie, wonderfully played by Julianne Moore, who becomes the subject matter for a TV film after the sexually adventurous actress Elizabeth comes to interview Gracie and her complicated history.

In a syrupy and toxic screenplay by Samy Burch, which would make Tennessee Williams proud and Truman Capote salivate at the salacious details, May December is gorgeously set in Savannah, Georgia in 2015, twenty years after a tawdry scandal erupted when Gracie a 35 year old married woman slept with and got herself pregnant by a 13 year old boy and then went onto marry him when he was of age. Gracie and Joe’s scandalous affair started in the back store room of a rundown pet shop in a strip mall in Savannah and after a bout in prison for sleeping with a minor, Gracie and Joe now twenty years on are welcoming their children back home to Savannah for graduation.

The handsome, strong and silent Joe is beautifully played by Charles Melton who definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Melton perfectly encapsulates the psychological state of a man child, a man at 36, but inside still a child, bewildered and confused that he fathered children while he was still a teenage and to a woman almost three times his age.

Joe acts more like a big brother to his three children than a father, while Julianne Moore’s Gracie acts as the scheming and manipulative mother figure micromanaging not only her  young husband but also the wreckage of her past life, as she expertly manoeuvres herself around the penetrating gaze of the ambitious but provocative Elizabeth, a star turn by Natalie Portman who has the acting ability to portray psychologically complex characters as she did in her Oscar winning performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Todd Haynes relishes having two powerful female stars as the two opposing main characters, sniping at each with a bitchy relish as they mockingly try to remain friends while both planning ways of exacting revenge on one another. Portman and Moore are superb in this dynamic, eating up men in their way and manipulating both their circumstances to their own maximum and sometimes lustful benefit, like the captivating monarch butterflies that are released into the humid Savannah air.  

Corey Michael Smith (Carol) is electrifying in a few brief scenes as Gracie’s damaged oldest son from her first marriage Georgie who uses the power dynamic between his mother as the subject and Elizabeth as her observer to best serve his own creepy agenda.

Bizarre and strangely uncomfortable, Todd Haynes creates a garish melodrama on contemporary sexual power dynamics in this fascinating film May December whose title in American English is a term which refers to a much older person taking a much younger lover, as tawdry and exhilarating as that can be.

May December is a provocative film, sexy in a slightly off kilter sort of way and gets a film rating of 8 out of 10. Not every viewer will enjoy this film, but those that do will appreciate its compelling originality and its deliberate sneer at the conventional expectations of socially acceptable sexual interactions.

Martini’s and Cigarettes

Carol

carol

Director: Todd Haynes

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Cory Michael Smith

Far From Heaven director Todd Haynes adapts the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt for the big screen in the visually beautiful and meticulously directed film Carol featuring Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, Blue Jasmine) and Oscar Nominee Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as unlikely lovers in New York during Christmas in 1952.

Similar to Far from Heaven which also featured a love story which was socially prohibited back in the 1950’s, Carol focuses on a love affair between an affluent married woman Carol Aird and a young shop assistant Therese Belivet wonderfully played by Mara. Blanchett brings a nuanced perspective to the role of Carol, a strong willed and affluent woman whose sexual desires for the same sex are severely limited by the narrow social attitudes of the early 1950’s America, particularly mirrored in the attitude of her affronted soon to be ex-husband Harge Aird superbly played by Kyle Chandler, who typically views his wife and daughter as his patriarchal properties which need to be possessed.

Carol has to be viewed through the long struggle for international LGBT rights which is now enjoyed by many but wasn’t the case some sixty years ago. Carol like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain depicts a socially taboo homosexual love affair which affects not only the lovers involved but also their respective partners or suitors. In this case, it is Therese’s suitor Richard Simco played by Jake Lacy who is mystified as to why Therese is constantly rebuffing his advances.

Carol’s situation is more complex as she is married with a husband and a little daughter, which really speaks to the emotional pull of the entire film. As Carol and Therese embark on a cross-country jaunt from New York to Chicago, their travels reflect their own emotional and sexual journeys as they soon realize how deeply they have fallen for each other despite the consequences.

After their initial encounter in a swanky New York department store whereby shop assistant Therese persuades the chain-smoking and glamourous Carol Aird to rather buy a train set than a doll for her daughter as a Christmas present, Haynes makes a valid point about the perceived gender typical socialization of children and how sexuality itself is in fact a social construct.

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Their scandalous affair is assisted by Carol’s ex-lover Abby Gerhard played by Sarah Paulson and as those they affect soon realize what has occurred, it’s the peripheral characters conservative viewpoints on morality which frames this tender and beautifully constructed love affair characterized by Martini’s and cigarettes.

far_from_heaven

Carol has generated a lot of critical acclaim because Blanchett and Mara both have the acting abilities to pull off such nuanced and complex performances especially in the hands of a brilliant director like Todd Haynes who after his stunning mini-series Mildred Pierce and his earlier films Far From Heaven and I’m Not There is an artist at the peak of his creative powers, both in terms of semiotics and visual arts.

Carol is highly recommended viewing, extraordinarily acted, beautifully designed and most notably directed with a flair for detail which is rarely glimpsed in the 21st century’s era of effects laden contemporary cinema.

Viewers that enjoy a mature adult drama, should definitely watch Carol, a film which does not resort to explicit nudity or shock value but critically evaluates an extraordinary love affair taking place in an exceptionally conservative era of American history.

2015 Cannes Film Festival

2015 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL WINNERS

2015_Cannes_Film_Festival_poster

Winners of the five main prizes at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival were as follows: –

dheepan

Palme d’Or– Dheepan directed by Jacques Audiard

The Assassin

Best Director – Hou Hsiao-Hsien for The Assassin

The_Measure_of_a_Man_(2015_film)

Best Actor: Vincent Lindon – The Measure of Man

Best Actress: shared between

carol

Rooney Mara – Carol

mon_roi

Emmanuelle Bercot for Mon roi

chronic

Best Screenplay – Michel Franco for Chronic starring Tim Roth and David Dastmalchian

carol_ver2

Queer Palm Award: Carol directed by Todd Haynes starring Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler

Source: 2015 Cannes Film Festival

 

 

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