Tom Hooper directs Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, a story based on the pioneering life of Danish artist Einar Wegner who undergoes the first documented gender reassignment surgery to be transformed as Lili Elbe.
Hooper is known for his sensitive direction of unusual subject matter and for extracting awards-worthy performances from his leads. With King’s Speech he got Colin Firth the lead actor gold as the stammering stuttering King George VI as he tries to overcome his childhood disabilities and lead Britain to war against Nazi Germany. With Les Miserables he directed Anne Hathaway to a supporting actor nod as she cried singed her way to Fantine’s epic I dreamed a dream. And here he directs last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne as he grapples with what it is to be a transgendered person in the 1920s and 1930s. But the real star is Alicia Vikander who as Einar’s wife and fellow artist Gerda Wegner brings to life the Lili that Einar has since childhood tried to keep under wraps.
The first half of the movie where Einar and Gerda’s relationship is explored as husband and wife and his penchant for cross dressing and effeminate behaviour is slowly becoming more and more prominent seems a bit forced. Eddie Redmayne’s transformation from Einar to Lili seems conflict free and almost too sudden. But there is a beautiful moment when while spending time with Ben Wishaw’s Henrik Lili realises that Henrik is a homosexual who thinks he is spending time with Einar in a get up Lili leaves and a distinction is made between what it is to be a homosexual and what it is like to be a transgendered.
It is the second half where the things get a little more fluid and things seem to flow with a natural ease. Through Lili Gerda loses her husband but finds the fame she has been chasing as an artist. Her portraits of Lili sell and she wins new commissions and is the toast of Paris art-scene. There is a beautiful struggle as she tries to hold on to Einar while it is Lili that is more and more on display. As Einar tries doctors after doctors who all treat him for various mental disorders you see the struggle is real for a transgender person in the 1930s. Finally through their friend Ulla played by a ravishing Amber Heard they come across a German doctor Warnekros who performs the pioneering operation. This is where Eddie Redmayne transforms and delivers stunning performance as Lili works at a shop and tries to learn the mannerisms that make up a flirtatious girl.
The music by Alexandre Desplat is subtle as ever and underscores the silent struggles that both Einar/Lili and Gerda go through while Danny Cohen does spectacular work behind the camera to capture the stunning landscapes that Einar is known for painting and also the more personal portrait shots that are Gerda’s speciality. The scenes of the Fjords, the symmetrical shots of the Danish buildings the scenes at the wharf are all beautifully framed. The final scene of the scarf flying off at the cliff is made even more poignant because of the beautiful shot.
While not perfect in execution, primarily due to a choppy first half the lead pair turn in stunning performances and the delicate and sensitive handling of the transgender story is what lifts this from being a pure Oscar bait to being a believable and emphatic story. Do not miss The Danish Girl.
Sam Mendes directs Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux and Christoph Waltz in the latest James Bond thriller Spectre. This is James’s 24th, Craig’s 4th and Mendes’ 2nd outing in the series inspired by Ian Fleming’s novels.
The movie begins with an exquisitely crafted opening sequence filmed during Dia De los Muortos or the day of the dead in Mexico City. A parade that is an explosion of colour and energy is given a sombre almost monochromatic appearance and a hypnotic rhythm thanks to Thomas Newman’s excellent score. From there on things go full on Bond mayhem as Craig blows up a building to kill an assassin he was asked to target in a message from M ( a much-missed Dame Judy Dench). Buildings fall like dominos and a helicopter threatens to send scores of revellers below to join the dead that they have gathered to commemorate. This is also the blink and you’ll miss it appearance of bond girl no.1 the Mexican beauty Stephanie Sigman.
From then on we move to Rome to attend the funeral of the assassin that bond killed and we are introduced to bond conquest no 2. The alluring Ms Monica Bellucci. In between Mexico and Rome there is a lot of bureaucratic shenanigans going on at between M played by Ralph Fiennes who seems to be channelling his inner Voldemort and the new head of internal security C, Andrew Scott who does nothing to hide his villainous side. I think the makers of the film made a massive mistake in cast Scott as the man who would have the keys to the world-wide surveillance system – I mean come on he is Moriarty it is such an iconic role that you cannot help but see his performance as C coloured with Moriarty shades.
From Rome we are taken on a mostly pointless and unengaging journey as we are introduced to several villainous characters. The Pale King, Hinx the henchman and Franz Oberhauser who are supposed to evoke a sense of Déjà vu but it just seems gimmicky. I completely understand that Mendes wanted to pay homage to the legacy of the Bond flicks but taking visual and character cues from previous outings but it just becomes messy. And with his penchant for unnecessary psychological drama which for me was the downfall of Skyfall. The entire back story with the reason for Waltz’s hatred towards Bond just seems half-baked just as Silva and M’s relationship dynamic was in Skyfall.
The only saving graces with Skyfall were the amazing Adele’s Oscar winning title track and the new Q Ben Wishaw. With Spectre atleast Ben Wishaw is good but Sam Smith’s title track is just plain bad – it even put me off of Sam Smith a little bit and I love his music otherwise. Lea Seydoux as Bond girl is beautiful but she doesn’t have the same screen presence as Eva Green who was one of the most memorable one of bond girls in recent history. Naomi Harris as Moneypenny isnt given too much more than to play fetch and it is infuriating. Is it necessary to crowd the bond movies with so many female characters and giving them nothing more than 1 scene each ? why not have 1 solid female character. Here is an idea to ponder a Female Bond Villain – Mendes if you want to play psycho dramas there – create a female bond villain who is so hell bent on destroying bond and the world along with it just because he didn’t call the next day.
To me Bond movies are about action, a larger than life secret agent that has almost no basis in reality and almost cartoonish villains with the plot to destroy the world that Bond will stop just in time. All this catharsis of the wounded soldier and his back stories and villains with mommy and daddy issues is just not how imagine the Bond-verse to be. If Mendes wants to do American Beauty he should do American Beauty but not in Bond-verse. And what is it with him destroying all of the famous Bond Symbols? First killing off M in Skyfall and now the iconic MI6 building – WHY SAM WHY! I am frankly done with Mendes’ run with Bond.
Christopher Nolan is thought to have sought to direct a Bond movie before Mendes was handed the reins. His influence on modern action capers is very evident with his hugely successful Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception. I actually think it would be a brilliant Idea to let him have a shot at Bond. I love Craig as Bond but he seems to be over it himself and it would be interesting to see how Nolan would do with Tom Hardy as Bond. Maybe reinvent the Bond series, give us a new origins story even – clearly that hasn’t been done with this one franchise and Nolan is as good a director as any and he clearly seems to want to do it himself.