Jupiter Ascending (2015)

2020 UPDATE: I’ve since rewatched this a number of times, and have revised my rating upwards. I believe it is a modern science-fiction masterpiece of sorts, and while it has a ragged quality to some of its wilder reaches, and can get a bit too frenetic at times, it makes a case for cinematic vision.


The Wachowskis are filmmakers with a strong directorial vision, who’ve put some pretty good films together (also, admittedly, some bad ones; I do not intend to make a case for any of the Matrix sequels), so when you see the kind of critical mauling that Jupiter Ascending has been getting from some quarters, well I think that’s as good a recommendation as any to get oneself along to the film in question. Sure, it’s a big confusing mess, but there’s nothing in it that seems to invite the derision it’s been getting, though this may in fact be down to a lot of similar factors to Inherent Vice‘s reception — that the plot is so elaborate that it’s turned some viewers off. But, weirdly, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, this is a much an exercise in evoking the fabric of a lost world (or, here, an imagined universe), which should always be something worth celebrating. It’s no mean feat to try and visualise the textures of such a vast system of planets (think Star Wars) and power factions (think Dune), so if there’s a bit of recycling involved, well that’s to be expected — in fact, one sequence has such an indebtedness to Brazil that Terry Gilliam himself turns up. There’s plenty enough that’s unfamiliar — new experiences and imagery, created jargon for new technology — that as a viewer you feel sympathy for Mila Kunis’s titular heroine Jupiter when, like Vice‘s Doc, she is called on to continually express confusion at what’s happening. It’s refreshing too to see a woman playing the central character for such a big film — she is a lowly Russian cleaner who turns out to be (via some method) the owner of Earth — though Channing Tatum (with quite the silliest facial hair of the season) provides plenty of valuable support as the ‘spliced’ mercenary (think Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps) who has her back. The acting star here though is Eddie Redmayne, who chews up the scenery with such a hammy performance that it goes through badness to being sheer genius, and perfectly matches the tone of the film. Other performers can be uneven, and taken as a whole it doesn’t always hold together perfectly, but as an experience it’s every bit the equal in imagination and scope as any other big budget blockbuster, and as a “space opera” it’s more interesting than any nonsense from 1977.


Jupiter Ascending film posterCREDITS
Directors/Writers Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski; Cinematographer John Toll; Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth; Length 127 minutes.
Seen at Vue Croydon Grant’s, London, Saturday 14 February 2015.

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

There’s not a great deal to be said about this likeable piece of cinematic fluff, so I’ll keep this review short. It deals with events around the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) as seen through the eyes of its Third Assistant Director, Colin Clark, who released two books on this (undoubtedly to him) memorable period of his life. It hardly answers any questions the viewer may have about Marilyn Monroe’s life (she is an evanescent presence at the heart of the film), but affords Michelle Williams plenty of opportunity to craft a fine cinematic performance, as well as showcasing a wonderfully barking egotistical turn by Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, a man surely close to his own actor-directorial heart.

Of course, the protagonist is Clark himself, played by an affable Eddie Redmayne, but he holds little real interest as a character. Clark is a young man born of wealth and privilege, who appears to have met Olivier at a family party (his father was the art historian Kenneth Clark), and is seen tenaciously going after a minor job on his latest production as the film opens. When My Week with Marilyn is focusing on Clark and his feelings — first toward costume assistant Lucy (the ever-lovely Emma Watson) and then Marilyn herself — it drags somewhat, despite Redmayne’s best efforts. It’s when Branagh or Williams are on screen that things liven up, not to mention Judi Dench as straight-talking veteran thesp Dame Sybil Thorndike.

These are not performances that expend any great effort at trying to look as authentic as possible — of course, Williams has Monroe’s peroxided blonde hair, but that seems to be as far as things go — but at capturing an essence of their spirit. In this, Williams seems to have done very well, modulating her voice to capture Marilyn’s on-screen breathiness, and the sequence of her doing a little dance in her showgirl character is delightful. Branagh goes for a self-important pompousness and gets some of the film’s biggest laughs as a result, showing Olivier to be breathlessly undiplomatic in his last directorial role. The rest of the cast is rounded out with a vast number of recognisable British character actors, ensuring as a result that the picture moves along nimbly. It’s never less than likeable and diverting, and in most moods — especially at the end of a long week, with a glass of wine in hand — that’s just fine by me.

My Week with Marilyn film posterCREDITS
Director Simon Curtis; Writer Adrian Hodges (based on the diaries The Prince, the Showgirl and Me and the memoir My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark); Cinematographer Ben Smithard; Starring Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Judi Dench; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Friday 22 November 2013.