The Morning After: Dec. 7, 2015

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Far from the Madding Crowd


Carey Mulligan’s fierce independence leads her to success in business, but failure in love; a shining example of how strong women at the turn of the century were looked on poorly by their male counterparts. Far from the Madding Crowd is as much a love story as it is a feminist triumph, which makes it even more fascinating.

Mulligan’s Bathsheba Everdene must fend off three suitors whose intentions towards her vary. There’s the shepherd (Matthias Schoenaerts) who respects her courage, but resents her sometimes poor decision-making skills. There’s the somewhat haughty landowner (Michael Sheen) who sees her as someone who should be placed on a pedestal and lavished with gifts and attention, rather than someone respected and loved. There’s the lovelorn soldier (Tom Sturridge) who settles on Bathsheba after being stood up at the altar and who considers her the next best thing. Their pursuits vary in execution from time-biding to tenacity to beguiling charm. When she makes her decision, it’s for the worst possible reasons and she quickly comes to regret it.

Delivering two of the year’s best female performances, Mulligan is superb as the enlightened, dedicated businesswoman, controlling her own destiny in spite of societal strictures to the contrary. Schoenaerts smolders as her first suitor, succumbed to tragedy and ultimately accepting of serving beneath his former romantic interest. Sheen is strong as a selfish, driven landowner willing to send himself into poverty in hopes that she will choose him in the end. Sturridge is a bit too sleazy as Sergeant Troy, but it fits the character well enough to drive the narrative at the appropriate moments. Sumptuous period details and a compelling plot make this a film that should have gotten more attention upon its initial release.

Suffragette


The other of Mulligan’s terrific performances in 2015, Suffragette gives her the chance to display similar character motives, but in a more evocative manner. In Far from the Madding Crowd, she was quietly assertive, strong in character without being overly emotional. In Suffragette, she fires up her emotions in grand fashion, never making them feel overindulgent. Anger, sorrow and shock are effortlessly delivered in this period drama about women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom.

With an excellent supporting cast, Mulligan’s Suffragette explores the tinderbox of the equal rights movement in Britain during the early 20th century. Having no voting rights and being treated as the property of the husband, Mulligan’s Maud Watts is your average working class woman. Growing up in the textile shop, Maud slowly discovers the state of affairs in the world around her as she’s exposed to the hypocrisy, lies and violence inflicted upon her fellow women, and eventually upon her, as they fight for what is theirs: equality.

Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, in a very brief role, are all able supporters of the cause and the film, delivering fine performances of varying emotional resonance. From the steely determination of Carter’s Edith Ellyn to Duff’s sarcastic aggressiveness to Garai’s simple elegance to Streep’s blistering conviction. These are all formidable actresses standing up for equal rights in modern society when even a century passing doesn’t mean the war has yet been won.

Steve Jobs


If you’ve ever seen an Aaron Sorkin production, there’s a certain cadence to his dialogue that’s both thoroughly engaging and sometimes off-putting. Nowhere is this more evident than Danny Boyle’s look at the working relationships surrounding one of history’s leading technological innovators: Steve Jobs.

This triptych of Jobs’ life stars Michael Fassbender in an evocative performance as the abrasive and single-minded Jobs as he struggles to define himself and his successes through the myopic lens of his own capabilities. Set around three distinctive product launches, we’re brought from his self-centered collapse to his conniving re-positioning to his brilliant resurrection as a tech industry leader. It’s a structural dynamic that works far better than the conversations that make up the content.

The West Wing is one of the seminal television programs in history and that’s thanks to a diverse cast given excellent direction and scripts that pop both aurally and emotionally. It’s a series that exemplifies the absolute best in Sorkin’s capable contributions. The problem with Steve Jobs, and it’s almost a minor one, is that we don’t get much rising and falling action. Everything is metered by Fassbender’s able delivery and stretched over the course of a long, but surprisingly quick, film. The dialogue is fascinating, engaging and entirely fictitious, which makes loving the film as a factual exploration of one man’s hubris a little difficult to love. The film is a compelling look at the self-centered genius of Jobs, but one that sometimes feels a bit too precious and succinct to feel realistic.

Kate Winslet as the only person who can take and temper Jobs’ egocentrism is wonderful in support as are Seth Rogen as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Michael Stuhlbarg as Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld. Jeff Daniels does fine work as former Apple CEO John Sculley, but his character is too often presented as foil and voice of reason, sometimes simultaneously. He conveys Sorkin’s words with conviction, but he exemplifies the film’s struggles to create realism, embodying the same acerbic delivery he displayed on Sorkin’s The Newsroom, but without feeling grounded by noble intentions.

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