17 March 2011

Movies with mice and men on St. Pat's

I had The Tale of Despereaux adaptation from Netflix for several months before I started watching it...and then I stopped.  It didn't seem like the book.  Particularly when Chef Andre opens a secret cookbook and conjures up a man made of vegetables to help him...what???  I don't remember that in the book.  I finished the movie on St. Patrick's Day, just to get it out of my way, and it's really not a great adaptation.  A great deal of the magic from the book is lost.  The voice casting is quite good (except whenever I hear Kevin Kline with a French accent all I can think of is his charming French jewel thief from French Kiss) but I wish the direction would have decided English or American on the majority of accents because there's too much variation.  Although animated Despereaux looked quite sweet, I felt the rest of the movie was neither here nor there with the animation.  So I wasn't impressed and I'm a bit disappointed - it was such a fun book to read.

Then I decided to celebrate St. Paddy's with a bottle of Harp and little movie Michael Fassbender (yes, him again).  Only the movie wasn't a celebration.  Steve McQueen's Hunger depicts the condition of IRA prisoners at the British Maze Prison in 1981 during the "blanket" and "no wash" protests and then the last six weeks of Bobby Sands's life during the hunger strike.  McQueen attempts even-handedness in his film - a prison guard Lohan is seen at home and visiting his mother in contrast to the hell of the prison (it's really hard not to sympathize with the prisoners) - and I feel that the camera makes no judgement.  The watcher is the one responsible for drawing a conclusion. 

While the first and third portions of the film use little dialogue, the middle third of the film contains two of the best single-takes I have seen in a long time.  Sands (Fassbender) receives a visit (or has requested a visit, I'm not sure which) from a priest (Liam Cunningham) prior to the start of the hunger strike on March 1.  The two men size one another up with some witty, cutting banter before getting down to brass tacks: the morality of a hunger strike, of a suicidal course.  This is one sixteen-minute take, the camera never moves, never zooms in or out.  It's like amazing, sweaty, live theatre.  The next take is another long one, maybe seven or eight minutes, where the camera focuses on Sands as he relates a story from his childhood; it shows he is the one ready and willing to take the physical pain, that he can take the pain and reality of a hunger strike for the greater good.  Fassbender gives an amazing performance, you can't look away and he isn't even doing anything but speaking and smoking. 

There is great beauty in Hunger, whether it is a long take of a man trying to get a bee to crawl on his hand, a design created from human feces on a prison wall, or the frailty of the human body as depicted by Fassbender who underwent a medically-monitored crash diet to portray Sands at the end of his life (if anyone though Christian Bale was creepy-skinny in The Machinist this is far, far more disturbing).  This movie should have received more recognition - it is well-made, well-acted, and well-shot - but I don't recall any buzz for this movie Stateside, not even for the Oscars.  Fassbender should have at least received Best Actor buzz because his performance is gut-wrenching.  This is a movie not for the faint-hearted - it is bloody and brutal - but worth the effort of watching.

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