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100- Shame [9.5]

Brandon is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment stirring memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control.

Remember the film that gave you pause for one reason or another? That scene that caused you to stop in a theater or at home and acknowledge: this is why I watch cinema. There were an abundance of times throughout Shame where I paused to think of both the immediate impact it was taking on me, and the likely long-term effect as well. Almost thirteen months ago, I set out to gain a better of understanding of what individual components make for a cinematic opus that can be talked about for decades to come. I considered the hyperbole that comes with reviewing such films, and how it can cause a reader of my reviews to come in to a film with loaded expectations. It’s with that in mind that I claim that it may damn near be a coincidence, but my hundredth film viewed since 1/1/11 is very well my favorite thus far.

There is nothing remotely sexy about Shame; rather, sex is treated as a disease in the respect that director Steve McQueen is not making a judgement, but instead, displaying the ugliness of this particular potential addiction. McQueen operates most poignantly under two parameters: filming an extensive uncut sequence (as in the record breaking sequence in his directorial debut Hunger) and shooting a long scene without dialogue. The opening dialogue free scene of Shame is an examination of the nature of what a shared glance can entail, and it’s the perfect intersection of material and action for McQueen to film. Though not necessarily a complex scene, the audience is given a tremendous amount of visual information.

The morose score in Shame undercuts the implied sadness of the sexual acts depicted throughout. Composer Harry Escott chooses not to overemphasize Brendan’s (Michael Fassbender) plight in a melancholy fashion, but instead accent the lack of joy in the protagonist’s actions. Fassbender’s sickening determination, as well as his understated morbid sexual obsession, is one of the finer acting performances in quite some time. McQueen gives him a tremendous amount to work with, as Shame doesn’t stay in one finite tonality. There are moments of humor in which (aside from Fassbender’s handsomeness) Brendan’s charm is intoxicating to the female opposite of him, but there are also scenes where his fixation is an incredibly ugly and abusive animal.

James Badge Dale as David, Brendan’s sleazy boss, shows more range than I knew he was capable of during his stint in Rubicon. Though a reveal of his character’s background felt like a superfluous detail and misstep, I was pleased to see the opposite side of what Brendan could be. David has virtually the same intentions of Brendan, and yet his execution is seemingly a world away. The viewer is left with the perspective that Brendan is less sleazy since we follow him throughout, yet how do we truly feel about his addiction? It’s portrayed in a complex, often sad way, and still we can see this tortured person as a shallow man.

There’s a tremendous intimacy to Sissy’s (Carey Mulligan) performance of “New York, New York” in a jazz club, though it correlates with Brendan’s unhappiness and detachment to emotion in a chilling way. The arrangement of the song, with its chromatic scales and minor key chord changes from the original version, is almost off putting at first. Like most successful elements of Shame, it threw me for a loop as to what my expectations were when the scene started out. Sissy isn’t just a caricature of depression and craziness in the same way that Brendan is not simply just a sex addict– these are layered people brought so vividly alive by the outstanding performances by Fassbender and Mulligan.

There is a pivotal scene between Brendan and a secretary at his company that exposes the grand difference between pure sex and lovemaking. It is very important to make that distinction, as it is the separation of what informs Brendan’s addiction and what causes him to repel. Prior to that, McQueen shoots one long, uninterrupted sequence at a restaurant. The manner in which Brendan and the secretary’s conversation shifts is almost frighteningly real, and also a thorough examination of the difference in expectations and desires that can exist between two people. Though both characters may want the same thing, the way in which they arrive to their readiness of that conclusion is utterly fascinating. Details such as this (and Brendan’s workday not being complete without the sugar rush of a Red Bull) are part of what make the film so enjoyable.

It’s worth noting that Shame may not have been nearly the monster that it is without Michael Fassbender’s performance. Time and again, he has proven himself as one of this generation’s premier actors. The man is an embodiment of the delicate line between complete subtlety and outwardly expressing a lot of emotion with very little dialogue.

One of the rules I put on this site is that I have the right to revisit a review and change a score or edit as I see fit. It is my sincere hope that I don’t return to Shame and find a need to withdraw one of my strong opinions. Perhaps instead I will find more things to appreciate past my initial viewing and it will truly enter the upper echelon of my film viewing experience.


99- The General [9.5]

Johnny Gray, a Southern railroad engineer who loves his train engine, The General, almost as much as he loves Annabelle Lee. When the opening shots of the Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter, Johnny tries to enlist — and he is deemed too useful as an engineer to be a soldier. All Johnny knows is that he’s been rejected, and Annabelle, thinking him a coward, turns her back on him.

There are stunts in The General that blew me away for a movie that is approximately eighty-five years old; moreover, I was taken aback by just how damn funny the whole thing was. There are an abundance of legends in the silent era, but Buster Keaton may be my favorite. His stone face reactions are in stark contrast to the explosions and absurdities around him, causing a hilarious disparity. The General isn’t just an exercise in nostalgic pleasure, but rather, a masterpiece of humor that has stood the test of time.

98- In the Loop [7.5]

The run-up to war makes for curious rivalries and uneasy alliances in this political satire. Simon Foster is a minor minister of international development with the British government who, in the midst of a radio interview, casually tells a reporter “war is unforeseeable.”

In the Loop moves at a breakneck pace, as one poor political decision spirals into another, leading to war. Like most successful political satires, this black comedy balances humor with preposterousness so outlandish that it’s frightening to realize these instances may have very well happened. The vile thrown between constituents and council is biting, and the snappish dialogue never falters. I was a bit disappointment with the maudlin music towards the end, as I don’t believe it was necessary to underscore the events unfolding. Regardless, In the Loop is a well executed, witty satire that is occasionally quite nasty.

97- Silver Streak [5.0]

While taking a train trip from L.A. to Chicago, mild-mannered George Caldwell makes the acquaintance of Hilly Burns. As they indulge in a brief bit of spooning, Hilly tells George that her boss is on the verge of exposing a group of vicious art forgers.

At times, Silver Streak is a Hitchcockian murder mystery. Then it delves into romance, buddy comedy and James Bond-esque action film segments. (I can practically see a movie executive pitching the film, saying “it’s got everything!”.) The one consistent thing throughout is the joy of watching Gene Wilder slide from one genre to the next rather effortlessly. Before watching his teamups with Richard Pryor, I didn’t know that the mild mannered actor had a little bit of crazy in his repertoire (though his performance in Willy Wonka certainly leans in that direction). I would’ve enjoyed Silver Streak if it was more consistent in tone throughout, but the Wilder/Pryor classic scene in a bathroom made it worth watching on its own.

96- Hunger [7.5]

The final months of Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army activist who protested his treatment at the hands of British prison guards with a hunger strike, are chronicled in this historical drama.

A large part of the first hour of Hunger is virtually silent, with sparse dialogue occasionally thrown in. It is in a seventeen-and-a-half-minute single shot scene between Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham that the film explodes. This Guinness world record-breaking scene is not done in a gimmicky fashion. An ideological debate occurs that gives the viewer an insight into what Bobby Sand’s rational was in opting for a hunger strike. Though neither him nor the priest get particularly loud, the conviction with which they deliver their different perspectives make for an incredibly electrifying scene. Fassbender delivers yet another amazing performance, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors of his generation.

95- Stir Crazy [5.5]

Down-on-their-luck friends are given 125-year prison sentences after being framed for a bank robbery.

The teaming of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor is a wonderful thing, but Stir Crazy is not. What starts off as a very funny comedy quickly becomes sillier and sillier as soon as the two enter prison. It’s interesting to watch Pryor be so subdued while Wilder is over the top, but I wish the whole rodeo subplot wasn’t a part of the movie.

94- The Wave [7.0]

During a project week, high school teacher Rainer Wenger comes up with an experiment in order to explain to his students how totalitarian governments work. Within a few days, what began as harmless notions, like discipline and community, builds into a real movement.

In addition to the pressures and uncertainties that come with being a youth, there is a yearning for identification with an ideology. The Wave is an exploration of how fascism can be seductive to young, impressionable minds. It’s an interesting choice to have the film set in Germany, as the historical context of the country frames the potential of an uprising in a fascinating manner. Though some plot developments are easy to telegraph and there is a fair share of generalizations throughout, The Wave succeeds in leaving both the teacher and students accountable for their actions, thereby letting the audience view key scenes without bias.