Videophiled: Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr. Turner’

Sony

Mr. Turner (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) – “When I look in a mirror, I see a gargoyle.” J.M.W. Turner, as created in the Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner and incarnated by Timothy Spall, is not what we imagine for a grand British artist. Burly, rough-hewn, with speech punctuated by grunts and snorts, he’s a man from working class stock who has acquired the necessary social decorum to interact in professional society but reverts to an almost primitive state back home. He’s abandoned his wife and daughters with little more than an allowance and turns to his maid for sexual release, but he also adores his father (Paul Jesson), is fascinated by natural science, has an almost spiritual connection to the landscapes he paints, and finds solace living in anonymity in a rented room overlooking the sea in a port town.

This is only Leigh’s third film based on historical events and set in the past—everything else in his career has been contemporary—but like his other films it is built with his cast’s commitment to research and investment in their characters. The screenplay, which follows 25 years of Turner’s life, doesn’t follow any familiar storytelling structure. It’s episodic and Leigh never worries about identifying time or place as it moves through his life. You have to work to follow the narrative but Leigh’s interest isn’t on what he did when. It’s all about how and why he paints. Not that the answers are readily forthcoming; Turner is a fascinating conundrum right to the end. Leigh is more concerned with his nature, the details of his labor (and there is a true work ethic and complete commitment to his painting), the social culture around him, even the business of painting in 19th century England. It’s an immersion into his life and it is rich.

The imagery evokes his canvases, not just the compositions and framing but the color and the light, which cinematographer Dick Pope seems to paint on the screen. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and, in my opinion, should have won for Pope’s amazing work. Timothy Spall won the Best Actor award at Cannes but received no Oscar nomination.

Blu-ray and DVD with commentary by director Mike Leigh, the half-hour featurette “Many Colors of Mr. Turner,” and a deleted scene. The Blu-ray also features the exclusive 16-minute featurette “The Cinematic Palette: The Cinematography of Mr. Turner,” which looks at the shooting, the art direction, and the digital cinematography and post-production coloring.

Also available as Digital HD purchase and on cable and digital VOD.

More disc and digital releases at Cinephiled

“Another Year,” Another Mike Leigh Film

Another Year” (Sony) on Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack

The most egregious absence from the last round of Oscar nominations was Leslie Manville. Her heartbreaking turn as an aging single with impulse issues and a weakness for wine is a fearless creation and a standout performance in a generous ensemble piece anchored by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as longtime marrieds. They’re an easy-going couple who play host to a small community of fairly dysfunctional friends and Manville’s chatty mess of a work buddy, wrapped up in self-pity and self-denial, is right up top.

There’s a lot of anger and misery around them and yet it’s amazing how this film from Mike Leugh, with such unhappiness and disappointment and even death, can also be so warming and affirming. And sometimes, even awfully funny.

Continue reading at MSN Videodrone

Topsy-Turvy on TCM

On its surface, Topsy-Turvy is not the kind of film people expect from Mike Leigh, Britain’s auteur of loose-limbed social dramas and character comedies. Set in the world of London theater in the mid-1880s, the film tackles the creative partnership between W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the reigning kings of light operetta, at a turning in their career. Their latest show, “Princess Ida,” is a flop, at least by their standards. The team shows “symptoms of fatigue,” writes one critic, while a company actor remarks “I fear dear Mr. Gilbert has run out of ideas.” Composer Sullivan (Allan Corduner) is tired (both physically and creatively) of repeating the clichés of the populist genre and has ambitions to make his mark in grand opera. And librettist and lyricist Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), called the “king of topsy-turvydom” for his whimsical tales of magical transformations of ordinary lives (an all-too-accurate description that rankles the author), is in a rut that even he recognizes but can’t bring himself to admit.

Schoolgirls three

Ostensibly a mix of historical biopic and backstage drama, Topsy-Turvy is ultimately a study in the act of creative collaboration, illustrated through the development a single production from inspiration through rehearsals to performance. And for all the period style and 19th century manners and generous scenes of Gilbert and Sullivan shows staged in their fullness, Leigh hasn’t changed his filmmaking style for this drama. Like his films before and after, he developed the script in collaboration with his actors, working out characters, scenes and dialogue based on is sketches and ideas. The result is a bright, densely-detailed delight of creative inspiration, theatrical soap opera and 19th century British culture, an Altman-esque canvas painted in the shades of Leigh’s own sensibility. Topsy-Turvy brings a freshness to the formality of 19th century decorum and conventions and an artist’s appreciation to the challenges of creative work and the dynamics of personality and creative strengths between collaborators.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies