Far From The Madding Crowd review

I must admit I’ve not read Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel, Far From The Madding Crowd. Had I done so before seeing the film I wonder if it would have affected how I interpreted the story and related to the characters?

I guess it doesn’t matter now.

I really just raise this point to say I went into this one fresh and with no knowledge. What I did know was that there hasn’t been a Carey Mulligan film (and performance) that I havent liked, from An Education to Shame to Drive, she’s never disappointed. In fact she’s often captivated and astonished me, she’s such a talent and holds the screen so well.

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Despite this story being adapted for the cinema numerous times before (1915, 1967, 1998) I’ll assume that you’re like me and don’t know it, or at least want a refresher. We start with Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan); she meets hunky shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthius Schoenaerts) living nearby and, as must have been the way back in the 1870s, within five minutes he’s proposing to her. She knocks him back, being too much of a free spirit to be tied down to some random shepherd, however strong, silent and hunky he may appear to be.

She moves away and gets left an inheritance by an uncle, one which includes a huge farm that needs returning to former glories. Through some shoddy shepherding Gabriel loses his flock and is forced to look for new work. He stumbles on a farm on fire and helps out and lo and behold it’s Miss Everdene’s new place. And so they are reunited.

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To keep things spicy he’s not the only man after her hand in marriage and following her around like a lost puppy. Through a bit of 19th century flirting she raises the interests of wealthy neighbour Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), but he’s just too tame for her tastes. She also meets caddish soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who turns her attentions for all the wrong reasons.

Plot wise it’s fairly simple, albeit a little infuriating. Bathsheba has three guys vying for her attention: one caring and loyal but beneath her social status, one wealthy and stable but a bit dull, and one wild and roguish but not a particularly nice man, to put it mildly.

I suppose I’m silently screaming inside – like no doubt many people before me down the years – that we all know which man she should go for, but we cannot always get what we want, or know what’s best for us – so she dances round and round. Even without knowing this story I knew the story, or hoped I knew how it would end.

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Ultimately, it’s not so much about that though, it’s more about performances – and director Thomas Vinterburg was spoilt for choice with his cast. Michael Sheen gets the thankless task of making Mr Boldwood seem proud and noble, but completely unsure of himself when it comes to courting Bathsheba. His performance – as Boldwood unravels – is hugely impressive and heartfelt.

I’ve yet to see Rust & Bone, the film that put Matthias Schoenaerts on the map, but he’s got to be giving Tom Hardy a run for his money in the strong and silent category. As Gabriel Oak he says so much, often without saying anything at all. A consummate performance marking him as one to watch with interest in the future.

Then there’s Mulligan.

In other actresses’ hands Bathsheba could have come across as quite annoying; constantly doing the wrong thing, too proud, too stubborn, too blind when she has a good thing going. But the wonder that is Carey Mulligan keeps us on her side. She makes her likeable, wilful, headstrong, emotional, precocious – and she gives her depth and relatability. In short, she carries the film effortlessly and beautifully and was nigh on perfect for the role.

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I suppose, if I had any issues at all, it would be that the film as whole felt a little safe at times. A little slow and sleepy – and a little sanitised. On a basic level, for example, when Bathsheba is working the fields in a few early scenes she has a small smudge of dirt on her cheek. To show she’s dirty. But it was a Hollywood smudge and I wanted more grit and realism.

This was a small indicator of a bigger problem. The film as a whole needed more fire, more blood and thunder. Being as clueless as to the original story as I am, maybe this was a faithful adaptation. But maybe – beyond the impressive performances from the leads – a bit of a modern spark was needed to really make it fizz and ignite.

Trailer park: Lucy, a messenger and a dame

scarlette-johanssen-lucy-trailerDing, ding! The time has come for another trailer park breakdown. If you’re unfamiliar, this is the latest in a series of posts where I provide my pick of upcoming films with a little bit of info to set the scene and, of course, the trailer to get you all fired up.

Lucy
(US release 8 August, UK 22 August)
What if we could access the full processing power of our brains? Writer-director Luc Besson explores this theme via a kick-ass heroine. In the past he’s given us Milla Jovovich and Natalie Portman and now, a lady enjoying a fine run of form, Scarlett Johansson. Her character, Lucy, is forced by the mob to be a drug mule. Unfortunately the drugs get into her system… with interesting results. This could, potentially, be Besson’s best film yet.


Kill the Messenger

(US release 10 October, UK 28 November)
Based on a true tale that saw a journalist stumble onto a story involving cocaine, the CIA and rebels in Nicaragua. From the prisons of California to the corridors of power in Washington this looks an epic ride. And if story alone isn’t enough there’s also a cracking cast which includes Jeremy Renner, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Andy Garcia.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

(US and UK release 22 August)
Good lord this has been a long time coming. But good things come to those who wait, they say. And wait we have. But this also means that this Robert Rodriguez directed prequel needs to be as good as the original… Or better, if they can manage it. Some old faces return for this tale, but new additions – Josh Brolin, Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt – look the part and seem to fit nicely into Frank Miller’s sinful world.

And the award goes to… Michael!

the-dark-knight-rises-michael-caineBit narcissistic to trumpet one’s own name in a blog isn’t it? Well tough, I’m doing it anyway. Reason being, there’s so many brilliant Michaels in the world that it’s high time someone gathered them together and sung their praises.

Obviously the below is only a snippet of the great work Team Michael has accomplished, but it’s a strong list. From drama to comedy, superheroes to period pieces these guys have got all your entertainment needs covered.

In terms of a favourite, I’m torn between the mighty Fassbender, whose career shows no signs of letting up and hasn’t produced anything particularly close to a turkey yet, and the legend of cinema that is Michael Caine – a man who’s only one of two actors to be nominated for an Academy Award in every decade from the ’60s to the present day (the other being Jack Nicholson).

So… if your name is Michael and you’re starting out in the acting profession you’re not only in good company, but have reason to be upbeat that your career too, may follow a similar path.

Or maybe you’ll just crash and burn like Michael J. Fox. After all, it’s only a name.

Michael Keaton
Beetlejuice, Batman, Jackie Brown


Michael Douglas

Wall Street, Falling Down, Traffic, Behind The Candelabra


Michael Shannon

Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Man of Steel


Michael Fassbender

Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, Shame, 12 Years A Slave


Michael Sheen

Frost/Nixon, The Damned United, Masters of Sex


Mickey Rourke

Rumblefish, The Wrestler, Sin City


Michael Clarke Duncan

The Green Mile, Sin City


Michael Caine

The Italian Job, Get Carter, Children of Men, Harry Brown, The Dark Knight Rises

Masters of Sex: season one review

Episode 101Like all good seductions, the buildup is slow. Starting a new TV show in this day and age is hard – partly because the bar has been raised so high. We’re living in a golden age of TV and, as viewers, our demands are great.

And so, what new show Masters of Sex has done so brilliantly over its first season, is tread that fine line between giving us what we want and what we need: developing characters slowly in a most pleasing way. For those that missed the boat, the story is based on Thomas Maier’s biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Hats off to writer/producer Michelle Ashford for creating this show – one of the TV treats of the year.

So there’s the platform. All you need at this point are actors who can bring your vision to life. Step forward Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Sheen, as we know, is an A-list actor. And like many actors of the big screen, lately he’s returning to TV (although, to be fair, Sheen is one of those who likes to dip in and out of both big and small screen).Episode 106

For Caplan, this marks a career high point. That’s not a disparaging remark – up to now she’s had notable film parts in Cloverfield and Mean Girls and numerous TV roles, including a stint in True Blood – however, here she is front and centre as ambitious secretary-turned-researcher Virginia Johnson, going deliciously toe-to-toe with Sheen’s Dr. William Masters.

Indeed, what makes this show work so brilliantly – aside from the compelling script and plot – is the chemistry between Johnson and Masters. Not obvious at first, but as the story progresses through the season, their intricate relationship begins to take shape. A lot lies under the surface with furtive looks and glances belying hidden intent; plaudits to Caplan and Sheen for luring us in – making us want to spend more time with these characters.

Masters-of-Sex-101That said, it’s not just their show, the supporting cast were also a joy, particularly Provost Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) and his wife Margaret (played by the brilliant Allison Janney). Rather than provide filler for downtime from the main characters (as many shows tend to do), they added meat to the bones of the overall story; each bringing a new element along the way.

So, hurrah I say, for this new show. An unexpected treat. A second season has already been signed off, so more of this tale to follow. If you missed it first time round, there’s a million ways to catch up these days, which I urge you to do. Ignore lazy Mad Men comparisons and just focus on the characters and story they have to tell. You’ll be pleasantly rewarded.