NEVER LET ME GO: The Film Babble Blog Review

NEVER LET ME GO (Dir. Mark Romanek, 2010)

The set-up for this film based on the best selling book by Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro: a trio of young students (Keira Knightly, Carrey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield) growing up in a English boarding school discover they are clones grown for the sole purpose of organ donation.

The school is called Hailsham and in ominous gray tones we find these youngsters – at first played by Ella Purnel, Izzy Meikle-Small, and Charlie Rowe – in a love triangle that lasts until their later teenage years.

Knightly and Garfield pair up while Mulligan is left out. Another couple in their new living quarters they are moved to after their school years called “The Cottages” tell the trio about a rumor that lovers might be granted a stay of execution for several years into their adulthood.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Mulligan who after “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” you’d think was all cried out.

But no, there’s plenty here to make her all misty eyed. Especially when things takes tragic turns. The icy cold Charlotte Rampling as Hailsham’s headmistress has harsh answers to the kid’s questions – ignore the trailers if you don’t want spoilers about that.

It’s an affecting and haunting film in many respects. Romanek’s imagery is bleak but purposeful and the performances hit the right unrestrained notes.

Garfield, who can also be seen at a theater near you in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and will be a household name in the next few years as the new Spiderman, uses his angsty shakiness to his advantage while Knightly overcomes her previous performances’ emptiness nicely.

It’s Mulligans movie however, and she owns it. Her refined acting matched with the stirring score by Rachel Portman elevates the movie’s emotional core.

The sci-fi elements of the screenplay are at a minimum so it’s easy to buy this poignant premise and savor the sad soulfulness on display.

NEVER LET ME GO may be too somber and strained for some folks, but it got under the skin of this reviewer.

More later…



(Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010)

Spoiler Alert!: This review gives away a number of key plot points because, well, I just don’t care.

Last year I wrote that a sequel to Oliver Stone’s seminal 1987 WALL STREET was one of 10 sequels to classic movies that should not happen. Despite that I had a tiny sliver of hope inside that the controversial director might pull off another timely indictment of America’s financial system.

Sadly, the return of Gordon Gekko to the silver screen is no such film. It’s as unnecessary a retread as BLUES BROTHERS 2000, which incidentally also began with the prison release of a major character.

In 2002, Michael Douglas as Gekko, 67 years old with his lion’s mane of hair now gray, walks out of Sing Sing Maximum Security Prison after serving 8 years to find nobody waiting for him. The camera circles his head to let this sink in.

The film flashes forward to 2008 and for a while it’s Shia LaBeouf’s movie. LaBeouf is an ambitious trader – think Charlie Sheen in the first film but with more ethics – engaged to Douglas’ activist blogger daughter (Carey Mulligan).

LaBeouf’s mentor (Frank Langella) at his firm commits suicide after rampant rumors cause the company’s stock to crash.

Josh Brolin, as an old school Gekko-ish hedge fund manager, is suspected by LaBeouf as being the source of the rumors. Going behind Mulligan’s back, LaBeouf consults with Douglas who wants to be close to his daughter again.

Mulligan wants nothing to do with her father. She blames him for the overdose death of her brother and she’s vehemently against the Wall Street world which makes it hard to believe that she’s surprised to find out that her fiancé is a “Wall Street guy”.

LaBeouf wants to avenge Langella, make a name for himself, and sincerely help a renewable fusion-energy company run by the always nice to see Austin Pendleton – in the same manner that Sheen wanted to help out his father’s ailing airline.

Upon learning that Douglas set his daughter up with a Swiss trust fund worth $100 million, LaBeouf finds himself caught in a web of convoluted double crossings.

Stone uses every visual trick up his sleeve to shape this material – at a point in one of several flashy montages full of split screens, tangled neon cable news ticker tape, and computer animation I felt like I was trapped in a MSNBC hall of mirrors.

The problem is that what made the first movie great is that Gordon Gekko was not a redeemable character. He was a symbol of corporate evil and a necessary one, for there are horrible fiscal creatures out there that destroy thousands of people’s lives with no remorse.

If Gekko truly isn’t a sociopath (as his daughter calls him early on), but a visionary that predicts the economic collapse in 2008 and can be won over by a disc containing his future grandson’s ultrasound – what does he symbolize now?

Douglas’s Oscar winning performance of Gekko in the first film was named by AFI as number 24 of the top 50 movie villains of all time in 2003. After his defanged depiction here that number will surely drop next time they update the list.

It’s understandable that Stone and Douglas wanted to revisit this terrain, but with its predictable plot and pat happy ending this is more than a missed opportunity – it’s a failed follow-up of epic proportions.

One of the only enjoyable elements is the soundtrack provided by David Byrne and Brian Eno. As the first film ended with the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, this one obviously tries to match the mood with a fine selection of the duo’s collaborations. When these melodies appear it’s the only time that this film feels anywhere near the league of the original.

Beyond that, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (awful title) has little point to it, except maybe to unleash a bunch of new Gekko-isms on the public.

Of the many so called pearls of wisdom the slick slimy Gekko spouts – “Idealism kills every deal” – sticks out. By sparing us the true cutthroat nature of the beast in favor of trite sentimentality, the deal is definitely dead as a doornail here.

More later…

AN EDUCATION: The Film Babble Blog Review

AN EDUCATION (Dir. Lone Scherfig, 2009)

It certainly isn’t a “meet cute” when 16 year old school girl Carey Mulligan is offered a ride home from Peter Sarsgaard in his snazzy sports car, but it isn’t exactly a “meet creep” either. Though Sarsgaard has a creepy reputation (his monologue on SNL a few years back was completely about how creepy he can be) here his character is a charming witty Englishman who has the ticket to an opulent new life for Mulligan, one filled with elegant culture and reams of romance. Or so it seems.

Set in a pre-Beatlemania Britain that Mulligan repeatedly calls “boring”, and based on a recently published memoir by Lynn Barber, the story is a simple coming of age one. Mulligan is impressed by Sarsgaard – a man able to charm her parents (a wonderfully befuddled Alfred Molina and a smirking Cara Seymour) into letting her go to a concert and dinner for their first date. He then reaches further with overnight trips to Oxford and Paris while Mulligan’s school mates blush with envy and her teacher (Olivia Williams) and headmistress (Emma Thompson) disapprove.

Our pithy protagonist is a bit taken aback when she discovers that her new beau is an art thief and a slick wheeler and dealer involved in blockbusting (the practice of moving minorities into apartments to make old racist women vacate so the apartments can be purchased cheaply), but she’s still soft for Sarsgaard.

As the first solo screenplay written by Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity”, “About A Boy”, “Fever Pitch” and their respective film adaptations) one of the best modern novelists working today, AN EDUCATION is tightly written with sharp realistic dialogue and a touching tone. It is, perhaps is a bit too tightly written as the last act has some pat payoffs and all too tidy summations of character’s realizations. That doesn’t stop it from being a sweet little gem of a movie with great chemistry between the actors and a very satisfying ending. I doubt it will win any awards but I bet it’ll make a bunch of “best of 2009” year end lists. Although, not sure yet if it’ll make mine.

More later…