Tag Archives: Vera Farmiga

Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra)

Orphan‘s a peculiar failure. The script isn’t particularly good; it’s layered with foreshadowing upon foreshadowing and some very predictable turns. But it has these occasionally strong dialogue scenes between Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard. It runs out of them after a while, but they leave a positive memory.

Then there’s director Collet-Serra. He really likes crane shots in what should be enclosed spaces and he likes to use handheld when he should have a track. Orphan feels like an inexperienced director who got the opportunity to do a lot of things just because he could. Collet-Serra can’t do the two simple things Orphan needs him to do.

First, it needs him to tie a children’s story–Aryana Engineer and Jimmy Bennett get an adopted sister–to an adult’s story–Farmiga and Sarsgaard are new adoptive parents. Both of these stories (more Farmiga and Sarsgaard because of their fine acting, Farmiga in particular) have some strong moments. Scared kids is a classic, cheap movie standard and Collet-Serra can’t pull it off. It’s sort of embarrassing, because he doesn’t even seem to get it.

Second, he needs to give the family’s house a personality. He can’t. Some of it is lousy production design courtesy Tom Meyer, some of it is Collet-Serra’s incompetence.

As the film’s bad seed, Isabelle Fuhrman is mediocre. She can’t hold her accent and she’s never believable in hindsight after the big reveal.

Orphan‘s a boring thriller with bad direction and an excellent Farmiga performance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; screenplay by David Johnson, based on a story by Alex Mace; director of photography, Jeff Cutter; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Ottman; production designer, Tom Meyer; produced by Joel Silver, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Susan Downey and Leonardo DiCaprio; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Vera Farmiga (Kate), Peter Sarsgaard (John), Isabelle Fuhrman (Esther), CCH Pounder (Sister Abigail), Jimmy Bennett (Daniel), Margo Martindale (Dr. Browning), Karel Roden (Dr. Varava), Rosemary Dunsmore (Grandma Barbara) and Aryana Engineer (Max).


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The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)

It’s hilarious, of course, Scorsese finally won an Oscar for the film least like his work. The Departed is the really serious movie Mel Gibson and Richard Donner never got around to making in the late 1990s… but Scorsese–I don’t know if Scorsese adds something to the mix or if he just knew how to package the product. I imagine he finally won because The Departed showed he was firmly committed, finally, to being commercial. But there’s something subversive in Departed‘s commercial sensibilities. Scorsese and his technical crew (cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker) loose on a Hollywood picture (the connections to, say, The Devil’s Own are more plentiful than not). Schoonmaker’s editing in the film is her most innovative work because it’s new–the way the story’s being told is new… from Ballhaus’s lighting, Schoomaker’s editing, and Scorsese’s digital happy (but it’s shot on film) shots. The IMDb trivia section talks about CG composites for the film and maybe they’re an indicator… Yes, The Departed is another Scorsese mob movie (but one without storytelling sprawl), but it’s a CG-friendly, Irish Scorsese mob movie.

My friend told me, after he saw the film, it was a comedy. I never quite understood him, until maybe ten minutes in. The Departed takes all the great humor from Goodfellas (and all the stuff from Casino but makes it work) and expands on it. You’re supposed to leave, if not laughing, at least amused. It’s a Martin Scorsese blockbuster, meant to engage you and worry you (Scorsese creates a palpable, pulsating sense of dread) and excite you and then spit you out. Scorsese does such a perfect job with the technical aspects and the legitimacy of the film’s story (not having a Nicholas Pileggi non-fiction to fall back on), it doesn’t matter the film’s got a certain apathy to itself.

The apathy comes through clearest in the case of Leonardo DiCaprio. While Matt Damon gets to run wild–sort of Good Will Hunting gone bad–and have as much fun as everyone else (the film’s filled with wild, wonderful performances), DiCaprio’s the serious one here. His character spends the entire film miserable and the viewer spends the entire film waiting for him to get even a moment of relief. It’s a solid performance from DiCaprio, but pales compared to his supporting cast. DiCaprio’s story, the one the film doesn’t tell, is the traditional Scorsese story (though, still a little more commercial than usual). But somehow the mix of humor and dread make it all disappear–The Departed is about what happens and Scorsese understands (though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film with that intent of his before–not even Cape Fear–though I’ve missed the other DiCaprio collaborations) how to use the advance from the viewer to the film’s advantage.

Given how odd a Scorsese movie it is, I’ve ignored Jack Nicholson this long. It’s not going to be particularly exciting, unfortunately… For about thirty years, Nicholson has had a standard crazy performance… in The Departed, he finally manages to turn it in to a character. Maybe all it needed all along was a Scorsese mob movie (Nicholson’s character, Irish heritage aside, resembles a smarter Scorsese Joe Pesci character). Seeing Nicholson finally get those roles to pay off is great.

The rest of the actors–Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin–are all great. Vera Farmiga is quite good too, though most of her role is spent reacting to the male leads… she’s practically tacked on to the film for a female presence. It’s no surprise her role is the one without the looseness (she and DiCaprio’s scenes together, though contrived, provide a nice, non-plot-driven break… if only because, after a bunch of red herrings, the scenes don’t really affect the film’s events).

The Departed is easily Scorsese’s worst great film… the lack of artistic ambition is stunning, but Scorsese gets it too and he works with it, makes it not matter.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by William Monahan, based on a screenplay by Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Brad Pitt, Brad Grey and Graham King; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Billy Costigan), Matt Damon (Colin Sullivan), Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello), Mark Wahlberg (Dignam), Martin Sheen (Queenan), Ray Winstone (Mr. French), Vera Farmiga (Madolyn), Alec Baldwin (Ellerby) and Anthony Anderson (Brown).


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Joshua (2007, George Ratliff)

Joshua is a particularly disquieting experience. I’m trying to think of a comparable experience and the closest I’m coming to is Antarctic Journal, I think. That film may or may not have had a similar counting up toward some unknown resolution (Joshua does it with the newborn sister’s age in days). The premise of the film, first-born goes evil when a new sibling arrives, isn’t particularly inventive. Even the script’s plotting is fairly standard. The film pulls itself around at the end, but more through the excellent production elements than any scripted factor. Joshua is a 1970s New York–these films are the great marginal Hollywood New York films, a genre long gone–starring Sam Rockwell.

Rockwell’s performance makes the film. Not to discredit the terrifying kid (Jacob Kogan in this film could put Trojan out of business) or Vera Farmiga as the slipping mother or Celia Weston as the nut-job fundamentalist mother-in-law who can’t stand her Jewish daughter-in-law. But Rockwell. So much of this film is Rockwell the husband, the father, struggling to maintain. Ratliff’s wasted making thrillers. Sitting here, thinking about the film and how well Ratliff shot it, had it edited, had it scored, how well Rockwell worked in the field Ratliff provided… It’s a thing of wonder. Watching Sam Rockwell run down the streets of New York, with Ratliff’s composition and Nico Muhly’s music–it gave me pause. I hadn’t realized I needed to see moments like those on film and now I have and I can’t believe I went without.

The other nice thing about Joshua is the script’s willingness to let the viewer horrify him or herself. It’s an old trick–James Whale and The Old Dark House in 1932; it works just as well seventy-six years later. There’s also an incredibly nice save at the end–did I already mention it?–but I can’t spoil it.

Like I said, Kogan’s really good. He really seemed to understand what his performance needed to do, which is rare with kid in a thriller, especially a bad seed. Weston gets to go nuts because her character’s awful. This film’s the first I’ve seen Farmiga in and it’s a thriller, so it’s probably not a good measuring device, but she does very well in a lot of it. One of Joshua‘s major problems is it’s too thought-out. A little too intelligent in the writing of the characters and their problems. It’s incredibly boring too, but in that good way. So, at one point or another, everyone eventually gets cheated by the genre.

But it’s so well-made, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, as I write this post, my fantasy film for 2010–is that year going to be Odyssey Two or The Year We Make Contact… I guess I have a bit to decide–anyway… I want Ratliff and Rockwell to adapt Ordinary People. That fervent desire has nothing to do with Joshua, I suppose, but it’d be amazing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Ratliff; written by David Gilbert and Ratliff; director of photography, Benoît Debie; edited by Jacob Craycroft; music by Nico Muhly; production designer, Roshelle Berliner; produced by Johnathan Dorfman; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Brad Cairn), Vera Farmiga (Abby Cairn), Celia Weston (Hazel Cairn), Dallas Roberts (Ned Davidoff), Michael McKean (Chester Jerkins), Alex Draper (Stewart Slocum), Nancy Giles (Betsy Polsheck), Linda Larkin (Ms. Danforth), Stephanie Roth Haberle (Pediatrician) and Jacob Kogan (Joshua Cairn).


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