Film Review: The Shape of Water

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I don’t think any movie has touched my soul (and my tear ducts) quite like Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. To say it’s special does it an injustice. It really is in a class of its own. It won three Academy Awards, for cinematography, art direction and make-up. He may have lost out on screenwriting and best foreign language film, but those wins tell you everything you need to know about a Guillermo del Toro film – visually, they are masterful! Born and raised in Mexico, he studied make-up and special effects under the legendary Dick Smith, known for pioneering new techniques and developing original materials throughout his long career. del Toro spent almost ten years as a make-up supervisor, while also directing and producing Mexican television programs. This experience definitely gives him a unique way of approaching the visual presentation of a film that other directors lack. I know I’m biased, but I just look at the poster for The Shape of Water and I get chills. It is beautiful, ethereal. It is otherworldly, yet not discomforting. Even the supposed monster of the piece is wondrous to look at. When the announcements were made it came as no surprise to me that it lead the Oscar race with thirteen nominations… and this was before I had even seen it.

Peeking from the water

Set against the backdrop of 1960s Cold War America, The Shape of Water is essentially a love story about a lonely, isolated cleaner who forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held captive in the top-secret government research facility where she works. If you’re already shaking your head, going “this shit is too weird for me” please don’t, Elisa (that’s the cleaner’s name) and Amphibian Man (very aptly named) deserve a chance. You see Elisa is an orphan. Also, she’s mute. So, if you walk out now, that’s just discrimination.

Elisa lives a very quaint life above a cinema, according to a very strict routine that somehow has her always arriving late for work. But fortunately for her, she has Zelda, the co-worker from heaven who always squeezes her into the punch-in line. And on shift it doesn’t really matter that Elisa is mute because Zelda does enough talking for the both of them. At home, Zelda’s neighbour Giles is an advertising artist of a bygone era, having been replaced by photography. He enjoys visiting the diner across the street to be served pie, more so to attempt to flirt with the male server than to eat the pie. He is a man caught between two eras – too late for one and too early for the next. But he has a TV and cats and can communicate with Elisa through sign language and the two of them share a special bond that will come in handy when she needs his help to transport an Amphibian Man from a top-secret research facility to her bath tub.

Amphibian Man was brought to the lab from the Amazon, where he was worshipped as a God, by Richard Strickland, a brute of a man, who sees him as nothing more than a monster. After a fair amount of gruesome torture, it is quickly determined he is of no value, beyond what an autopsy might uncover, and his death is scheduled. Elisa, who in a short time has developed a strong bond with him over a mutual appreciation for boiled eggs and an uncanny ability to communicate with each other, knows she must do everything she can to save him. After all, as she explains to Giles, when he looks at her he really sees her, he sees all of her, she feels whole. You can’t argue with that. And so, with the help of her friends and an undercover Russian agent who is defecting (but only sort of) Amphibian Man makes it to her bathtub. But what now?

Richard Strickland, a man whose life is his career has lost major face and will leave no stone unturned to find the creature, or at the very least find those responsible for “the incident”. But who would suspect the lowly cleaners? This is a man so determined to succeed, he won’t even give up on the reattachment of two of his fingers that Amphibian Man previously bit off, even when the reattachment has clearly failed. The flesh is blackened, his family and colleagues are complaining of the smell and still the fingers are there. This is one determined man. And creepy, did I mention creepy? Will he crack the case before the rains fill the canal deep enough for Elisa to release her Amphibian soul mate? Will she have the strength to let him go? Will he have the strength to leave her? The suspense is killing me, and I know what happens…

I cannot heap enough praise on this movie. A single phrase comes to mind: “They don’t make them like this anymore”. When I look at the list of other movies nominated for Best Picture, The Shape of Water is so out of place. It’s a fairytale. It’s visually beautiful to look at. It packs emotional punches but they’re not brutal, they’re precious. Unless you choose to look really hard and be over-sensitive, it has no political agenda and it’s not offensive. It’s extremely weird. Gloriously, stunningly weird. It’s what the world needs right now. A movie you can just watch and enjoy. And for representation sake, there’s a disabled person, a black female and a gay guy. Tick, tick, tick. #justsaying.

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I’m really glad it leads the race with the most nominations, but I am under no illusions that it will come away with the most wins. For an actress with no lines, Sally Hawkins sure managed to communicate a lot. But she won’t win best actress. Richard Jenkins was just wonderful as Giles, but I think everyone knows Sam Rockwell has best supporting actor in the bag. I love Octavia Spencer and I think she’s brilliant in everything she’s in, but I did find her nomination puzzling. She seems to be the Academy’s new go-to nominee – look out Meryl! I don’t think it matters though. The moms of I, Tonya and Ladybird will be fighting over that one. The sound mixing and editing awards usually go to action movies these days, so Dunkirk and Blade Runner pose strong competition. Although Amphibian Man’s costume is astoundingly realistic, there is a movie about a fashion designer in Phantom Thread and two other period pieces, as well as Beauty and the Beast to contend with for best costume design. I’d love to say they’re a shoo-in for production design, but one never knows. The music was… I’m running out of adjectives… I’ll have to use beautiful again… and really added to the magical wondrousness of del Toro’s world so I think they have a shot at best original music score. I won’t pretend to know enough about cinematography or film editing to say whether or not they outdid the competition here.

When it really comes down to it, all I really want is for Guillermo del Toro to feel some love. He’s nominated for best picture, best director and best original screenplay, all hotly contested categories. As special as this movie is, it might still be just a little too weird for the Oscar voters when it comes to best picture, and Three Billboards has been sweeping this category at all the other awards ceremonies. Fortunately for Guillermo, Three Billboards director Martin McDonagh is not nominated for best director. However, Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson are, for Dunkirk and Phantom Thread respectively. Both have multiple nominations but no wins in their history. Could one of them swipe it simply because it’s their “turn”? Best original screenplay is too close to call. Three Billboards seems to be the bookies favourite, but Greta Gerwig is Hollywood’s darling right now. And don’t forget Jordan Peele’s boundary breaking debut masterpiece Get Out. This might be another category where The Shape of Water is just a little bit too weird.

Guillermo del Toro

I would love him to sweep all three, but if he can only have one, let it be best director. Because that’s what he was this year. The best director. In a cruel and cynical world, he had a whacky and wonderful idea and with passion and otherworldly creativity he made, not just a movie, but a world, that we could escape to for two hours and three minutes. A world where you don’t need a voice to be heard; a world where the sea monster is a creature of illustrious beauty; and a world where the bad guy doesn’t win. Three Billboards is being sold as a story of a woman who took matters into her own hands; but isn’t that exactly what Elisa did? Instead of needing rescuing from a monster she rescued her own monster and saved herself in the process. Tell me she’s not the real heroine of this Oscar season? And tell me her creator doesn’t deserve an Oscar for his mantelpiece?

Elisa Expressing Herself

Rating: 4.75 / 5 (Nothing’s perfect, right?!)

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Film Review: I, Tonya

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In a year of #MeToo and #TimesUp we have strong female characters and a very hotly contested best actress category (that I still think Frances McDormand will walk away with hands down) but it also seems to be a year of very vicious mother-daughter relationships. Three Billboards told the tale of a mother fighting to give her daughter a voice from beyond the grave but also showed that their relationship was far from perfect while she was still alive. Lady Bird tells a beautiful story about a teenage girl suffering from growing pains as she struggles to find acceptance from a mother who truly loves her but struggles to understand her. We watch as they stumble awkwardly around each other trying desperately to communicate and find some kind of middle ground. And then we have I, Tonya. A mother that can be described as nothing short of vicious and volatile, who uses her daughter for her own gain and shows her not a shred of affection. Worse than that, she is physically, mentally and emotionally abusive throughout and it’s a wonder Tonya Harding come out alive.

I think this review can contain very few spoilers as it seems everyone and their mother knows the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan story. Although I didn’t know anything about it until I heard about this movie. I don’t know if that’s because of my age or because of the great American bubble – where they assume that because it was a big deal in America it must have been a big deal everywhere. To be fair, here in South Africa we were quite consumed with preparations for our first ever free and fair democratic elections to be too bothered with the upcoming Winter Olympics. Basically, the gist of it is, there is an unspoken law that figure skating is for your hoity toity types. The girls who went to charm school and learnt to sip tea with their pinkie fingers stinking out, who have naturally straight pearly whites and know all about the airs and graces. Either no one told Tonya Harding this, or they did, repeatedly, and she just didn’t care. She is the exact opposite of what a figure skater is meant to be, but she still kicks freaking ass at it. But as we all know, this tends to displease the hoity toity powers that be.

Margot and Tonya

She is one of only eight women in the history of the sport to land a triple axel jump in competition. In 1991 she became the first ever woman to land it in the short program. She was the first woman to successfully land two triple axels in one competition, and she was the first woman ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop. However, despite these record-breaking performances, which all occurred in 1991, she was unable to replicate them, and her competitive results began to decline. She placed fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics and sixth in the World Championships, failing to qualify for the 1993 World Championship team. In preparation for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer it seemed she was back on her game, but her qualification would still come down to her performance at the US Figure Skating Championships in January.

Then the unthinkable happened, Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s long-time competitor and arch rival was attacked with a baton to the knee after a practice session and was unable to compete. Prime suspects: Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her self-appointed bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt. A media frenzy ensued. Jeff was found to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the plan, while Shawn hired two men to carry out the attack itself. They all served time in jail for their roles in the crime. Harding’s only crime was not coming forward and turning her ex-husband over to the authorities once she found out they were responsible for the attack. She denied any prior knowledge of the attack and still denies her involvement to this day, but many find it all just a little too convenient. With Nancy out of the way, Tonya won the US Championships, securing her place on the Olympic team. Fortunately for Kerrigan, the injury to her leg was only a bone bruise and she recovered in time to compete and win silver at the Olympics.

Harding and Kerrigan

Harding finished eighth, returning home to plead guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of the attackers. She received three years’ probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $100,000 fine. After conducting its own investigation of the attack, the United States Figure Staking Association stripped her of her 1994 US Championship title and banned her for life from participating in USFSA-run events as either a skater or a coach.  They concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened and displayed “a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship, and ethical behavior”. It was as good as a life sentence in prison. She didn’t even have a high school education. She was twenty-four years old and all she knew how to do was skate and she was bloody good at it. To ban her from doing it was one thing. But to stop her from coaching, or from being involved at any level? At the age of twenty-four? To me, that’s cruel.

So that’s the story. The film itself is shot documentary style, or ‘mockumentary’ style at times, it gets so outrageous. Screenwriter Steven Rogers based his script on actual interviews with Harding and her ex-husband Gillooly (held separately of course), whose stories he said were so contradictory they didn’t even agree on what they did on their first date. The film lobs around from one person’s perspective to the next, with ridiculous and ludicrous plot points, it’s hilarious to see actual interview footage in the end credits and discover that those things actually happened. The film deals with some harsh issues around alcoholism, child abuse, and domestic violence and treads a very fine line between taking them seriously and turning them into a farce. Margot Robbie plays the part of Tonya with such ferocity that she paints a clear picture of a woman who gave as good as she got. She was born into a harsh world where she only encountered harsh characters and never, ever caught a break.

Olympics Outfit

It’s hard to do a History vs Hollywood on this one because the movie isn’t specifically based on an historical account, but rather on multiple viewpoints and recollections of the past. I must say, I felt quite manipulated after having watched the movie, as it is very obviously told with a sympathetic nudge towards Tonya. I cried when they banned her from all skating activities, but then, when I reflected afterwards I thought “But if she did arrange to have that chick hit, then she should be banned”. It was sheer fluke that baton only resulted in a bone bruise, I have no doubt the intention was to completely shatter her knee cap. A lot of sympathy is garnered through the abusive relationship she has with her mother, but we only have one half of the story here. The screenwriter and Oscar-nominated Allison Janney who plays the part of LaVona, Tonya’s mom, admit that a significant portion of the character is fictional, largely because they couldn’t track down LaVona to speak to her. It seems most likely they couldn’t track her down because they didn’t look, because Inside Edition had no trouble finding her for an interview in November 2017.

Parrot on the Shoulder

I think we just have to accept that there are some parts of this story that we may never know, that will forever remain a mystery – one of those questions I would love to ask the powers that be if I ever got the opportunity: Like who killed JFK? Did OJ do it? Whatever happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Was Tonya Harding in on the plan to kneecap Nancy Kerrigan? Whether or not she was, no one take away the triple axel from her. She was a tremendous athlete, excelling in a world that didn’t want her. They can take away her right to compete, but they can’t erase those jumps from history. In fact, they had to use computer graphics to recreate them for film, because only two women are capable of doing them today and they wouldn’t risk it for a movie that close to the Olympics. So, say what you want about her, but the girl sure could skate.

Rating: 3/5

Film Review: Logan

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I gave up on the Marvel franchise in 2014. It was a Thursday evening. I had been binge watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It had been a particularly rough day at the office and I couldn’t wait to get home and collapse on the coach and watch a few episodes with Hubby (then Husby, maybe then BF – that’s how long ago we’re talking!). My friend and colleague Chris told me not to watch past a certain episode until I had seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or the story line wouldn’t make any sense. But it’s ok, I was pretty sure I was still a few episodes away from that. He said I would know when I had hit that point because the episode would start with Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. So, I arrived home, there was a mutual collapsing on the couch, I pressed play on episode 16 and sure enough the first twangs of “Don’t Fear the Freaking Reaper” started playing. My heart sank. We probably had close to seventy other shows on our hard drive that I could have watched. We even had Captain America: Winter Soldier. But I didn’t care. I wanted to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

My whole life has been dictated by Man United’s schedule. More recently by the Seahawks’. I literally diarise what show I watch on each day of the week and which show will replace it when it finishes. I have a list of at least 60 shows that I want to watch – any less and I start to get anxious. Yet when my husband gave me the Marvel list of what we had to watch and what order we had to watch it in, I felt like we were in Nazi German; residents of Kim Jong-un’s North Korea. I would not be held prisoner like that. And so, I gave up on Marvel.

Then came X-Men, and boy does it make Marvel’s timeline look like a walk in the park… You can watch them in the order in which the movies were made. You can watch them in chronological order. However, Days of Future Past is set in 2023 and 1973 and the future is dramatically affected by the outcome of the plot of the 1973 bit, so it’s hard to know where to put it chronologically. You could create two timelines and watch it twice. However, two timelines puts Wolverine in two places at once – see why I hate time travel. You can watch them from the perspective of Wolverine. You can watch them from the perspective of Professor X. You’re still gonna have the Days of Future Past dilemma though. But whatever way you look at it, there have been ten movies over seventeen years with many different people involved. Inconsistencies are inevitable. You have to enjoy them for what they are. Which is generally AWESOME!!

I never thought anything could turn me against X-Men. I still remember going to see the first ever movie, simply titled X-Men with my best friends Michael and Chad in our last year of primary school in 2000. I remember dragging my mom to watch X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006 because I was in first year varsity and I didn’t really have any friends yet to go with me. I remember dragging her with me twice and going a third time by myself. I cried all three times. X-Men Origins: Wolverine I could get behind. After all, they cast Liev Schreiber and who doesn’t love a little bit of Liev?

By 2011, I had worn out the DVDs (yes DVDs) of the first three X-Men movies. I had all the special features memorised. I was ready for an origins story that extended beyond Wolverine, that included the background stories of the truly iconic characters of Professor X and Magneto – back when they were just Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, back when they were (almost) friends and not enemies, before the awesome wheelchair was necessary. But then the unthinkable happened… They cast James McAvoy to play the young Charles Xavier. James fucking McAvoy. The most unnecessary actor in the world of acting, with a face you just want to smack. I know I am very alone in this opinion, but I believe I am perfectly justified. He is not good looking enough to be a romantic lead. He is too scrawny to be a believable action star. And when he talks, or breathes or moves, I want to slap him. It’s probably not his fault. I think it’s The Last King of Scotland’s fault. And it’s not even his performance in it that’s to blame. It’s the fact that Forest Whitaker won the best actor Oscar that year instead of Leonardo Di Caprio for Blood Diamond. Forest Whitaker was very good, but THAT was Leo’s year. Instead he had to wait another NINE years and two more nominations to win. So, I guess it’s an association thing.

The Real Charles

* PLEASE don’t tell me to watch Split. It WILL NOT change my mind about James McAvoy. I don’t care how good he is in it. That movie is 1hour and 57minutes long and he plays 24 different characters, which means he will annoy me 24 times as much.

Anyway, suffice to say, the James McAvoy casting somewhat ruined my enjoyment of the subsequent X-Men Origins films. I vaguely remember Days of Future Past. I generally hate time travel so that part was bothersome, but at least the Sirs were back. I didn’t bother with Apocalypse. Hubby watched it on the plane coming back from my brother’s wedding. He can’t remember if it was any good or not, which means it probably wasn’t. Anyway, this was supposed to be a review of a Logan and not a critique of Marvel and the entire X-Men franchise, let’s get back on track…

I didn’t see Logan when it first came out, but I was pleasantly surprised when it came up on my “must watch for the Oscars” list, nominated for best adapted screenplay. Usually if a superhero movie get a nod at all it is limited to the visual effects or sound editing categories. The first thing in Logan’s favour is its rating. MPAA ratings for the X-Men ­movies were always Wolverine’s worst enemy. A character with razor-sharp indestructible claws, oozing untamed brutal rage, often jumping in at the last minute to save the day, was forced to do so in a PG-13 manor. Finally, Logan’s R-rating allows Wolverine to unleash his real ruthlessness, we feel the full force of his wrath, and he even gets to say “fuck” a few times along the way. Even though the violence was sheer bloody mayhem at times, it never felt gratuitous. In truth, this was an honest story. It was grim, and it was gritty. The hardest punches packed were the emotional ones.

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Set in 2029, we are met with a very different Wolverine to the one we have become accustomed to. He is old, and he is ailing; being poisoned from the inside by his adamantium skeleton. His mutant abilities seem to be failing him – his body is scarred, he isn’t healing, and seems to be treating chronic pain with alcohol and more anger than usual. He’s working as a limo driver, using whatever money he can scrape together to care for his old teacher Charles, Professor X, Xavier, who is now a frail old man, reliant on medication to control his out of whack powers. There is vague mention that all the other X-Men are gone and that it is Charles’ fault somehow and that no new mutants have been born for twenty-five years, but this is never explained further. Also living with them in their abandoned, refinery hideout is Caliban, a pale, sun-sensitive mutant with the ability to track other mutants. His background is also left unspecified but it’s clear it’s filled with trauma and their current living situation is doing little to put his mind at ease. Logan’s plan to buy a boat and take them completely off the grid is abruptly cut short with the arrival of a young girl named Laura, wielding some strikingly familiar looking adamantium claws.

Laura Close-Up

It seems that a reprehensible research company called Transigen has been creating mutants to be child soldiers. A bunch of them have escaped and are fleeing to Canada to seek refuge – Laura has become separated from the group and requires their assistance as she is being hunted down by her creators. As usual, Logan has absolutely no interest in getting involved and feels zero moral obligation to help Laura, until he sees her file, which has his original name “James Howlett” all over it. Thus, begins the “grandfather, father, daughter” road trip of the century (after Caliban is unfortunately captured). Charles’ enthusiasm at having found a young mutant is not matched by a crabby Logan who just wants to get the job done. They are perfectly balanced by a wordless, feral-like Laura who seems to seethe and smoulder just like a young Wolverine once did. Her ferocious energy and her unwavering belief that a brighter future lies ahead of her, despite the odds stacking up against her, are what we need, because at times there is a tremendous amount of pain and suffering on screen.

The Three of Them

Wolverine has always been a reluctant hero but in Logan he is a reluctant caregiver. There is more power in the tenderness with which he cares for Charles than in any bloodied fight scene. Their relationship is tortured as they both need and resent each other in equal measure. They have a complicated history and now a complicated present; their relationship marred by profanity and insults, as they hate how much they have come to rely on one another. The feebleness of the once indestructible Professor X is a true tale in how the mighty have fallen and may have felt a little pathetic were it not played with such grace by the truly superb Sir Patrick Stewart. Not only does he get Logan to play hero one last time, he gets him to play family man, and it is cinema genius.

She won't let him die

This movie could have been nominated for a lot more awards. I may have given Hugh Jackman the nod. He says it’s the last time he’ll don the claws and I hope he means it because this was the perfect send off. Same goes for Sir Patrick Stewart. This was the movie that Logan deserved. This was the movie that they deserved. This was the movie that we deserved.

Ratings: 3.5/5

Wolverine over the years

Film Review: Get Out

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I was originally supposed to watch Get Out months and months ago on a girls’ weekend away. We had planned a movie night for the Friday evening and my friend who was doing most of the organising wanted something scary and something funny to watch. There were six of us going in total. Five black ladies and me. The lone whitey. I got sick at the last minute and had to cancel. Thank God. They have since confirmed they would have made me sleep in the bathtub with the door locked. From the outside. Fair dues.

If you don’t already know, Get Out tells the tale of Chris, an African-American photographer and his very white, very middle-class girlfriend Rose, who have reached the “meet the parents” relationship milestone. She invites him to her parents’ house for a weekend getaway in what turns out to be a very secluded estate in the woods. They are extremely welcoming and accommodating, but what might at first seem like anxious and over-polite ways to deal with an interracial relationship they might still not be entirely comfortable with, soon turn creepy and unnerving as the weekend progresses. Plus, there’s all the other African-American people who are just behaving strangely like the maid and the gardener and the guest who is the same age as Chris but married to someone twice his age and doesn’t seem to know what a fist bump is. What exactly is going on?!

Chris and Rose

That really is all I want to say on the plot because to risk spoilers is to risk spoiling the movie. The storytelling is genius. I unfortunately knew one of the major plot twists in advance and although it ruined some of the tension, it didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the film. As much as it’s a horror movie, it’s a psychological thriller. It’s also a social commentary on racism, white privilege and liberal hypocrisy. The best part is, it’s done so subtly, the cultural critiques and observations are woven so cleverly into the fabric of the narrative, you find yourself horrified by something or laughing at something that you yourself are probably guilty of. I think that’s actually why you leave feeling a little shaken up, rather than because of the horror and the violence.

Writer and director Jordan Peele has made history by becoming the third person to earn best picture, best director, and best screenplay Oscar nominations for a directorial debut. Yes, I thought I would mention his accomplishments before mentioning his skin colour – we can move on to that next. He has the opportunity to be the first African-American to win best director, the fifth to be nominated. Last year he also became the first black writer-director with a $100 million debut when Get Out passed the box office mark in a mere 16 days. Daniel Kaluuya is also nominated for best actor – a most worthy nomination. I think the picture of him in the grey hoodie, strapped to the chair with humungous eyes and tears rolling down his cheeks is going to be an iconic picture for years to come. As far as performances go, I think a special mention should go to LilRel Howery for his role as Rod. Everyone needs a friend like Rod in their life!

Much is being said about Get Out breaking down Oscar barriers by becoming one of only a handful of horror movies to be nominated for best picture. However, I would argue that it’s more of a thriller than a horror. Same goes for Silence of the Lambs. I have literally never heard of it being classified as a horror movie before, except for now, when they want to compare the two. In 1992 Silence of the Lambs swept the top five categories (one of only three films to do so) and as horrifying as some of its scenes might be, it is first and foremost a psychological thriller. Some articles are even including The Sixth Sense and Black Swan in their definition of horror. I think The Exorcist (1973) could legitimately be classified as a horror film. It was nominated but lost out to The Sting, arguably one of the greatest films of all time. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, straddling the fence between horror and thriller was nominated in 1975 but lost out to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – one of the other three films to win all top five categories.

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I think in general I associate horror movies with gore and the macabre, cheap scares with things jumping out at you and unbelievable, often cringeworthy story lines. That’s why they don’t get nominated for Oscars. When the writing crosses over into the level of prestige and the story becomes thought-provoking, they become thrillers and the Oscar crowd takes notice. Perhaps the comedic value offered by Get Out and the shear farce of the last ten minutes has everyone a bit confused as to how to label it, but at the end of the day, who cares. Jordan Peele made a damn good movie and he’s probably going to make loads more. Woo freaking hoo!

Rating: 3.5/5

 

 

Film Review Lady Bird

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Lady Bird was a cool movie. A fun movie. A nice way to pass an evening. Decent performances, some witty dialogue. Essentially the obligatory “coming of age” movie of the year. What Lady Bird is not, is “Big-Screen Perfection” – New York Times, “Remarkable” – IGN, or “Nothing short of tremendous” – Paste Magazine. It was more special than some coming of age films, and not as special as others. It was unique in some ways and cliched in others. Saoirse Ronan puts in a fine performance – she did just enough to be quirky and endearing, while still reminding you that she was an annoying teenager still trying to feel out her place in the world. Is it worthy of an Oscar nomination? Refer to my review of Molly’s Game and Jessica Chastain’s performance which went unrecognised. Laurie Metcalf on the other hand, who plays her mother Marion McPherson, is more than deserving of her nomination. She has fantastic lines, which she delivers with whip and wit. The two of them play off each other fantastically and all credit must go to writer Greta Gerwig for giving them some superb material to work with.

The originality of this piece as a coming of age tale lies in the mother-daughter relationship between Ronan and Metcalf. As much as they love each other, they struggle to understand one another and to effectively communicate. As Lady Bird’s dad says they “both have such strong personalities”. Lady Bird, whose real name is Christine, gave herself this name as an act of rebellion at having to go along with whatever name your parents give you. They are constantly at odds, disagreeing over almost everything. Marion is hypercritical of her daughter, often putting her down rather than encouraging her, and for all her defiance, all Lady Bird really wants is acceptance, which she equates with love.

My favourite scene is undoubtedly when Lady Bird is trying on prom dresses and of course nothing her mom says is right and Lady Bird asks, “Do you like me?”. Her mom responds, “Of course I love you.” To which Lady Bird replies, “I know you love me, but do like me?” This really resonated with me. The idea of obligatory love, and how it doesn’t necessitate like, is very hurtful and something that has always been close to the surface with me personally. Her mom follows this up with “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be”. To which Lady Bird replies sadly, “What if this is the best version?” I can really relate to this, not just as a teenager, but even now, and so I found this scene very poignant and relevant.

The rest of the movie was very run of the mill teenage stuff. An unwavering dedication to get into college on the other side of the country (against her mother’s wishes), a strong determination to lose her virginity, a fallout with her best friend, feeling out of place (in this case due to class and being a bit weird), finding out the things you think are life’s biggest problems aren’t all that big in the greater scheme of things, finding out you aren’t the centre of the universe, having your heart broken (twice), getting back together with your best friend, and finally going away to college. You know, your typical high school senior’s experience. Just with better dialogue and superior acting performances.

Now for the knit picking. Because when the cinematic world has declared something to be earth shattering and ground-breaking when it was merely excellent and highly enjoyable, you open yourself up to scrutiny that I would otherwise have let slide. I’m going to start with a comparison and the grand hypocrite that is Hollywood and the world in general: When a movie as flawlessly put together as Three Billboards is being lambasted for not handling race issues appropriately, why are we heaping praise on a film that is essentially about “white girl problems” and very little else and not mentioning the fact that there are absolutely NO black characters? This is something critics jumped down Martin McDonagh’s throat for – yet I have seen nothing ciritcising the lack of representation in Greta Gerwig’s supposed “masterpiece”.

Yes, we have Miguel, who seems to be of Hispanic descent, and his girlfriend Shelly, who seems to be mixed-race. But note the use of “seems to be”, because their characters aren’t even explored enough for us to find out their racial background. We don’t even know why Shelly is living with the McPherson’s and not with her own family and we don’t really know why they are struggling to find jobs despite their college educations. Now I’m not saying that this aspect of the movie particularly bothered me – if you’ve read any of my other posts or reviews you’ll know where I stand on representation – I’m just saying that if critics are going to be loudmouthed on an issue (particularly during awards season) they need to be consistent about it. We had our token gay character in her first boyfriend Danny, which provided us with another beautiful scene when he comes to visit Lady Bird post-break at the coffee shop where she works and emotionally begs her not to reveal his sexuality to anyone as he’s still not sure how to deal with it. But that’s pretty much the last we hear of him. Again, I don’t personally have a problem with this, but I feel like the typically over-sensitive Hollywood critics usually preaching representation are showering Gerwig in glittery praise when usually they would be burning directors at the stake for this. Where is the consistency?

The token coloured characters

Blame it on my OCD (the genuine mental health condition, not the kind they use for comedic effect in TV pop culture – I’m looking at you Big Bang Theory) but I have an overwhelming need for closure, and Lady Bird just seemed to leave so many things open-ended; questions that were so obviously left deliberately unanswered in an attempt to be mysterious and avant-garde. Suspect number one: Adoption. Miguel is obviously adopted. Or is he? Is he from a previous marriage? Lady Bird makes it very explicit he is a different race to her when she suggests he only got into Berkley because of affirmative action. Is Lady Bird adopted? This would explain her need to give herself a new name and the extreme difficulty she has connecting with her mother. The fact that the word “adoption” is never used, never mind explored, is downright weird.

Lady Bird and Miguel have a strange relationship. Is this because of the adoption? It is common for brothers and sisters to not get along, however there are moments in the movie when Miguel shows that he does in fact care for her – when Kyle comes to fetch her for prom and merely honks instead of coming to the door he remarks “Even you deserve better than this”. He also goes to the trouble of securing his old job at the grocery store for her. Yet, we never really see any sign of reciprocation of this type of affection coming from Lady Bird towards him. Is this because he’s adopted, and she isn’t? Is it because they’re both adopted? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we even had a clue?

Suspect number two: The film finished with me screaming at the TV: “WHICH COLLEGE DID SHE GET INTO?!” We were treated to a scene of her furiously ripping open envelopes of colleges that had rejected her. We know one of them was Columbia. And finally, one of them had placed her on the waiting list, and eventually accepted her. But which college was it? We will never know. And that infuriates me. I usually don’t mind a mysterious ending but this one just felt commercial, manipulative and like it was trying too hard. I wanted closure. I wanted to know if Lady Bird had truly achieved success. Yes, I know the goal was to go to the East Coast and she was in New York City, but if she was in some dead-end college no one has ever heard of and would probably wind up back home by the end of the second semester, then that wasn’t a success and it changes the movie. So, tell me which college she got into dammit!

Epic Covers

I am fully aware that I am being unnecessarily harsh on this movie. It is a very good movie. The acting is exceptional (Jessica Chastain was still better though). The writing is superb. As coming of age movies go, it’s up there. It’s not the movie I’m mad at, it’s the hypocrisy. If the Academy is changing the types of movies and performances it gives awards to, then it needs to consistently do so. Juno was released in 2007. A glorious coming of age tale, with an almost identical list of nominations. In the ten years since there have been several similar movies just as worthy of comparable praise but they were snubbed and did not receive the rave reviews and sparkling attention that is showering upon Lady Bird. Why? And why is Lady Bird immune to the criticism of representation, white-bias and one-dimensional storytelling that is raining down upon its competition?

Politics and awards season aside, it is a very enjoyable movie.

Rating: 3.5/5

Oscar Worthy Coming of Age Movies Between Juno and Ladybird

2007 Charlie Bartlett

2009 Whip It

2012 The Perks of Being a Wallflower

2012 The Way Way Back

2013 The Spectacular Now

2014 Wish I Was Here

2015 Ashby

2015 Paper Towns

2015 Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

2016 Carrie Pilby

Any others you’d like to add?

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

The Oscars

When I was younger I used to absolutely live for the Oscars. I would make sure to watch absolutely every nominated movie in every category (and even a few that weren’t nominated) so that I could pass judgement on whether or not the winners were truly deserving of their awards. I woke up at 1:30am to watch the ceremony live. I was dedicated. But the obsession fell away. Whether it was due to other commitments or other interests being pushed on me by negative influences in my life, who’s to say; but 2018 is the year of getting back to me, and so I am determined to watch all of the nominated movies (and a few that fell short) by the 4th of March, so that I can again pass judgement.

I decided to start with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, an intriguing title to say the least. It took me two attempts to get the review going. On my first attempt I got stuck somewhere between major spoiler alerts, trying to be politically correct, and being true to myself. The thing is, with all the Oscar buzz surrounding it, I had no idea how much hate there was out there for this movie until I started doing a little bit of research into it for my review. And now I’m all riled up, because personally I really enjoyed it. In the only way you can enjoy a really depressing, dark comedy with some extremely distressing scenes and themes. Because yes folks, that’s what it is and was always intended to be: a dark comedy. You only have to look at writer and director Martin McDonagh’s other screen credits, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, to know that this is his forte. But sadly, it seems Three Billboards has become its own worst enemy and fallen victim to the fierce criticism and backlash of becoming an accidental awards season front runner, when it was only ever intended to be an underdog.

threebillboards movie poster

The title speaks for itself really. Grieving mother Mildred Hayes (played superbly and flawlessly by Frances McDormand) has been worn down by the local police department’s inability to find the culprit behind her daughter’s rape and murder. Torn up with bitterness, rage, and a fair amount of guilt she pays to hire three dilapidated billboards on the outskirts of town which soon bear the message: “Raped While Dying” / “And Still No Arrests” / “How Come Chief Willoughby?”. Black lettering on a crimson background, they cause quite a stir in the small town of Ebbing, where Chief Willoughby (played with tremendous poise by Woody Harrelson) is a beloved member of the community. Willoughby sympathises with Mildred and her frustration, but he explains that his department has done everything within their power to solve the case. Mildred cares nought. Her grief has hardened her to the world and she will do anything imaginable to keep the case in the public eye, including (but not limited to): drilling a hole through the local dentist’s thumb nail, setting fire to the police station with Molotov cocktails and the accuracy of an NFL quarterback and kicking teenagers in their nether regions.

The Three Billboards

Also central to the film’s action (and its controversy) is volatile Officer Jason Dixon (a tour-de-force performance from Sam Rockwell). He is a violent bully who already confesses to having beaten up a black suspect in custody at the story’s outset, arrogantly correcting Mildred’s casual dropping of the n-bomb with “It’s called persons of colour torturing these days”. Although Chief Willoughby believes that Dixon can be redeemed if he chooses love over hate, his immaturity and unchecked aggression lead to further acts of unforgivable brutality.

In a year marred by unspeakable revelations of sexual assault and horrendous cases of harassment and exploitation both recent and historical, this story of a young victim of rape and murder who has yet to receive any measure of justice really strikes a chord. And more than that, the character of Mildred is the very embodiment of feminine rage. She has had enough; she will take no more; she will fight back any way she can. She is #MeToo, #TimesUp personified. So why all the hate?

While met with critical acclaim on the festival circuit, once it entered the mainstream market and a more diverse audience, that bubble quickly burst. While the movie undoubtedly had a lot of poignant things to say about abuse against women and the treatment of victims, many felt it’s handling of racial issues was clumsy at best. Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore pointed out that it was as though Three Billboards believed the audience was only capable of focusing on one movement at a time. As she reminds us, although Ebbing may be a fictional town, Missouri is a very real state, a state where just three years ago protestors against police brutality clashed with police after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Dixon’s history of racist police brutality is rubbed in our faces and then swept under the rug.

I agree it’s a sensitive issue, and I know I will draw my fair share of critics here, but so what? What’s wrong? Were you offended that it wasn’t addressed? Did you stop to think that maybe it was addressed in the way it wasn’t addressed? I mean how exactly did you want McDonagh to approach it? Did you want Dixon to stand trial for an assault that wasn’t even shown in the movie? Did you want him to have a moment of clarity where he somehow realised he was wrong and that all races are equal? Did you want him to be held accountable somehow? That’s about as realistic as Angela’s real murderer being found. Police brutality in Missouri is a reality, I think McDonagh is aware of that (as much as some critics want to point to his Britishness as evidence that he is ignorant to American racial tensions as though America has exclusive rights to those in their entirety).

I found the movie to be a realistic representation of the genuine situation in the US as it has been exposed in the media. Dixon was a racist, ignorant bully and no one stood up to him. He was never held accountable for his crimes. This seems pretty historically accurate. This wasn’t a movie about #BlackLivesMatter. That doesn’t mean that black lives don’t matter. Notice the difference.

There was further criticism that there wasn’t enough diversity in the cast. We never got to meet the black man that Dixon assaulted so we weren’t able to humanise him. In my mind, Dixon was already a thug, the monster of the story. I didn’t need to see him wail on an innocent black man to be convinced. I think this is irrelevant. Mildred’s close friend and colleague is black, although she doesn’t have much screen time. She fulfils an offscreen purpose more than anything when she is arrested by Dixon for possession in retaliation for the billboards, mostly just to annoy Mildred. I would have liked to have seen some character development from her, perhaps more of a friendship between her and Mildred, but at the end of the day the movie is long enough and when you’re adding black actors just to keep people happy it negates their true value to the industry.

By and large we are living in a world of oversensitive people. To me this was a beautiful movie about the cruel grieving process and what it makes us do just to get by. Mildred was a victim, a devastated and heartbroken mother who had lost her daughter in the most brutal of ways and just needed to feel like she hadn’t been forgotten about. Somehow, she became the bad guy because she chose to make her voice heard when people didn’t want to listen. She went after the guy who had let her down and she was victimised for it, kicking up a whole shit storm in the process. This was Mildred’s story and Frances McDormand told it flawlessly. Sam Rockwell also gave an equally as flawless performance as a cowardly, ignorant, brute of a racist ass cop who, although he may do a few good deeds in the second half of the movie, never, and I mean NEVER redeems himself. His tale is not a redemptive one, he is too far gone for that; and any of his good deeds will always have selfish motives. This was not his story.

Tweet

There are three billboards outside Ebbing Missouri. You now know what they say. There is an extremely angry, grieving mom who wears a blue jumpsuit all the time for no apparent reason. There is a racist cop who likes to beat people up. No one does anything about it. There are only three black people with limited speaking roles. If any of this offends you, don’t go and see it.

If you can get past this, it’s fricken amazing!

Rating: 4/5

Three-Billboards-Outside-Ebbing-Missouri-1 Before

A Valentine’s Day Post for the Ages

I’ve never been one for Valentine’s Day. Regardless of whether or not I was in a relationship. My feelings on the day are basically summed up in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in 1998, where a fringe character asks Buffy what her plans for the day are and she responds with “Valentine’s Day is just a cheap gimmick to sell cards and chocolate”. I even stole this line once to win a greetings card competition in my eighth grade English class. On the front of the card I wrote “Valentine’s Day is just a commercial gimmick used to sell cards and roses…” and on the inside I wrote, “…but for you I’ll make an exception”. Genius, right? Well it won me a mug and a box of chocolates.

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I honestly don’t understand the appeal of the day. Can anyone explain it to me? Because everyone I know has very similar complaints, yet restaurants are booked out and the shops are stocked with their commercial crap, so evidently the masses are still buying into it. It was my birthday last week and my flawless Hubby bought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers that the florist told him outright would be going for two and a half times the price today. Apart from my argument above, there are also the arguments about why you would only spend one day a year celebrating your love for someone, when you should be showing them all year round. And what about the single people? This must really feel like a day deliberately set aside to make them feel like shit. Especially in high school, an extremely sensitive time in a young person’s development, when it is widely used as a fund-raising initiative but more so as a popularity contest to see who can collect the most roses. And to point out, most cruelly, who received nothing at all.

SAD single awareness day

And so, it is on this idea of singleness that I have decided to focus my Valentine’s Day post. (Because let’s face it, they’re probably the only ones who will have time to read it tonight (*first punch to the gut!). Although I might be married now, I have been single before. I have been single for long periods of time and I have been single for short periods of time. I have been the “wallowing in self-pity, I’m going to be alone forever, no one will ever love me, I’ll just have to be every kid’s favourite aunt” kind of single. I have been the “I am a strong and independent woman, I don’t need a man by my side” kind of single. I have been the “No one will love me until I love myself, I need to get my shit together” kind of single. I guess being single is like grief – there are many different stages and we float through them, often bouncing back and forth depending on circumstances.

First of all, I would like to tackle this myth that no one will love you until you love yourself. It is a lie and it is damaging and hurtful. And I secretly believe the only people who perpetuate it are people in unhappy relationships who are trying to convince themselves that they are happy with who they are. The fact of life is that we are a constant work in progress. There are days you are going to be your own hero and days you are going to want to crawl under your duvet and die. This does not make you unworthy of love. So, stop believing that you need to achieve some unattainable degree of happiness and self-acceptance before you are deemed fit to join your life with another’s. In fact, often you will find the best partnership is with someone who teaches you how to better love yourself. How to be kinder to yourself, how to see the best in yourself and points out that all those “flaws” you knit pick at are actually quite endearing.

Secondly, I would like to make the point that you don’t need a Valentine. I’m pretty sure most single people are totally sick of hearing this, but just in case you’ve recently been cornered by an aunt or your mom had an extra glass of wine at lunch on Sunday and let slip that she’s worried she might never have grandchildren… I want to make sure you know you are already complete. You are not a fraction of a whole, you are not a freaking puzzle piece waiting to see where you fit, you are an absolute work of art as you are, and you don’t need someone else to come along to validate your existence (regardless of what auntie Mildred says). If you had a timeline worked out in high school that requires you to have been engaged six months ago to someone you haven’t met yet, please rip it up and move on immediately. Life doesn’t work according to timelines. Some people meet, get married and have kids within months. And some people have cats and are every kids’ favourite aunt or uncle. The point is, you determine your worth, and you have full permission to be happy all by yourself.

As you might expect, Hubby and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. But it has always had special significance for me. If you had asked me last year what the 14th of February meant to me I would have said the same thing I had been saying since the year 2000: “It is my best friend’s birthday”. But this year if you asked me what the 14th of February means to me I would have to say “It was my best friend’s birthday”. I’m still getting used to that. The transition from is to was. He would have been 31 today. Traditionally I used to send him a soppy Valentine’s Day message and finish it with a “Oh yeah, and happy birthday”. And I would always send him a sound clip of Puddle of Mudd’s “She Hates Me” in honour of the time he dumped me on Valentine’s Day in 2002. Yup, our friendship survived a lot.

Heart Jar

Michael consumed a lot of my thoughts today, as well as our shared love of music. But I also thought about other relationships and what brought me to where I am now. I made some shocking choices regarding my love life in the past. So many sad songs have been written about “the one that got away”. Adele’s “Someone Like You” immediately comes to mind, a song I absolutely adore. But when I think back on my own life, as much as I love that song, I would rather sum up my own love life as “Never mind, I’ll find someone ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE YOU!!!!!!!” Which is exactly what I did. And so maybe on Valentine’s Day we should celebrate the ones we are so relieved got away! And what better way to do it than through music. And if Adele can’t help, I suggest we turn to Beyonce and the break up anthem “Best Thing I Never Had”… “THANK GOD YOU BLEW IT, THANK GOD I DODGED A BULLET… CAUSE HONESTLY YOU TURNED OUT TO BE THE BEST THING I NEVER HAD”.

If you’re looking for a little more angry chick music this Valentine’s Day, look no further than Kelly Clarkson’s “Never Again”, “NEVER AGAIN WILL I KISS YOU, NEVER AGAIN WILL I WANT TO, NEVER AGAIN WILL I LOVE YOU, NEVER!”. And although they’re happily back together now (good for them, right?! Bleh!) I will always love the image of P!nk riding a lawn mower down a main road singing “SO, SO WHAT I’M STILL A ROCK STAR, I GOT MY ROCK MOVES, AND I DON’T NEED YOU, AND GUESS WHAT, I’M HAVING MORE FUN, AND NOW THAT WE’RE DONE, I’M GONNA SHOW YOU TONIGHT!” It’s a cliché in itself, but clichés are clichés because they’re true: It’s better to be alone than with the wrong person. So, if you find yourself alone this Valentine’s Day or even if you’re not alone but the idea of celebrating seems lame, why not celebrate by rejoicing in the bad decisions you DIDN’T get stuck with. As Beyonce says: “THANK GOD I FOUND THE GOOD IN GOODYBYE! I WILL ALWAYS BE THE BEST THING YOU NEVER HAD!”

Meh

 

Book Review: Into the Water – by Paula Hawkins

Book Two Into the Water

Pages: 356

Box Ticked: A book that scares you

Paula Hawkin’s debut novel “The Girl on the Train” divided my book club. They either loved it or hated it. Always wanting to be my own person, I had a love-hate relationship with it. I loved the premise (I am definitely one for people-watching and making up

Paula Hawkins Authorimaginary lives for them in my head – although definitely not to a stalker degree), I loved the style (fast-paced and gritty), I loved the setting (having lived in London for a short period I always love a bit of nostalgia); but I loathed the main character, Rachel. I think maybe it’s because I don’t drink, and Rachel drank A LOT! She was also annoyingly pathetic. There’s only so much wallowing in self-pity I can take and I myself am a real wallower. But anyway, the big takeaway from “The Girl on the Train” is that in a Paula Hawkin’s novel, everyone is going to have secrets!

Although also a suspenseful, psychological thriller, “Into the Water” has a very different feel to “The Girl on the Train”. Although I probably could have read it in one sitting – it does grip you and pull you in – like the slow winding river at the story’s core, the narrative unveils itself at a much slower pace and you find yourself wanting to turn the pages slowly and unravel the mystery gradually. It’s hard to know where the story begins but we’ll start with Julia (or Jules). She grew up spending summers in the Old Mill House in the small northern village of Beckford. Beckford doesn’t have much, except for a river, and a disturbing history of women who have lost their lives to it. Julia’s older sister Nel, with whom she had a torrid relationship, was obsessed with the river and its secrets; and has now become part of its mystery herself – she has fallen victim to the river.

Beckford

They say she jumped, but Jules knows that Nel would never have jumped – even though she left her a panicked and distressing voicemail just days before her death, a plea that Jules ignored. Dragged back to Beckford and memories that Jules has spent years trying to forget, she must try push all of that aside They don't all jumpto look after Lena, the teenage daughter that Nel has left behind, who seems convinced that her mom did jump, and is struggling to come to terms with feelings of abandonment. Nel was far from popular in the small town, where she was working on a book detailing its history, specifically that of the river and the mystery surrounding why it attracted such hopelessness and despair. She was not short of enemies, is it possible there is something more sinister to her death?

The story is told from the perspective of each of the characters, whose lives become more and more enmeshed as the story progresses. It is told with such grace and dexterity that Hawkin’s really does have you guessing from page to page who is embroiled with who; who knows what; who jumped and who was pushed? Once again, the characters are flawed, but not beyond hope. Jules suffered intense trauma as a child, while staying in the old Mill House, that is so inter-woven into her relationship with her sister Nel, she has somehow never been able to overcome it, and now she must face the reality that she will never have the opportunity to. We only know Nel through her description from others and the picture painted is a complex one. It is up to the reader to draw their own conclusions, and I love this. In fact, there are so many moral grey areas in this novel, your heart could grow weary if you let it.

The River

I categorised this as “a book that scares you” because I tried to read it last year, but I had to stop. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the book itself, but as you may know if you have read some of my other blog posts, I lost my best friend to suicide last year and the subject matter was hitting a little too close to home. When I couldn’t decide whether or not I was ready to giveThey aren't all pushed it another go, a lady in my book club took my hand and said something that she said my mom had told her about the book when she was struggling with it herself: “Not everyone jumped, and not everyone was pushed.” I was scared going in, but that gave me hope. Right down to the last page, I wanted to know everyone’s story.

Ultimately, I felt that this was a book about love; about who we love and why; and about what love makes us capable of doing. There was one particular passage that stood out for me that I wanted to share:

p.210 “Lena sat motionless, staring at the river outside the window, not crying and not speaking. I had nothing to say to her, no way of reaching her. I recognised in her something I used to have too, something maybe everyone has at that age, some essential unknowability. I thought how odd it was that parents believe they know their children, understand their children. Do they not remember what it was like to be eighteen, or fifteen, or twelve? Perhaps having children makes you forget being one.” Jules

Although Jules is speaking specifically about the unknowability of teenagers, I don’t think it’s something we ever grow out of. I think that, no matter how much you love a person, you can never truly know them, and so when something as awful as a suicide happens, you can never blame yourself, no matter how close you were to the person. They had that unknowability about them. Something that you couldn’t touch; that you couldn’t reach; that you couldn’t fix. No matter how much you loved them.

The Drowning Pool Hand

It’s a little bit of a scary read, but it’s a rewarding read. They didn’t all jump and they weren’t all pushed.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

Film Review – Molly’s Game

Movie Poster

My second movie review of the year, and it’s another biopic – the life story of Molly Bloom, or as she’s known in most circles – the “Poker Princess”. Before we delve into an analysis of history vs. Hollywood, let’s take a look at the story as the movie tells it. Molly Bloom, daughter of an ambitious and very pushy father Larry, is an accomplished skier. During the final stages of qualifying for the Salt Lake City Olympics, a cruel act of fate causes Molly to have a terrible accident after she collides with a twig in the snow. Abandoning her skiing career, she moves to L.A. to stay on a friend’s couch for a year, before going to law school. That’s the plan anyway. She takes up a waitressing job, which eventually leads to a personal assistant job for a really vile real estate entrepreneur. As with most PA jobs, she is often tasked with very random assignments and one day he tells her he needs her to organise what will become his weekly poker game at the Cobra Lounge. He gives her a list of numbers to text and the rest is up to Molly and Google.

Although no names are mentioned, we are told that the poker games attracted Hollywood A-listers, professional athletes, politicians, and Wall Street billionaires. Players were encouraged to tip Molly generously if they wanted to be invited back, and that’s how she made $3000 on her first night. This certainly motivated her to learn as much as she possibly could about poker and to run a tight ship. With Molly doing practically all the work, and an increasingly abusive boss who eventually fired her because “she was making too much money”, it didn’t take long before Molly made the poker games her own. With the help of a character denoted “Player X”, Molly essentially “steals” her former boss’s weekly poker game and moves it to an upmarket hotel. She is very careful to make sure she isn’t breaking any laws. The laws are clear. As long as she isn’t taking anything from the pot, she’s fine. Everything is going well until she discovers that Player X is lending money to other players in the game. That means he has a vested interest in the outcome of hands he’s involved in. This will ruin Molly’s credibility. She needs to get rid of Player X. But when she does, he takes everyone with him and Molly’s Game in L.A. is essentially over.

Molly During Game

I know what you’re thinking – this would be the perfect time to go to Law School, right? Probably. But instead, Molly decides to move to New York and start a game there, and this is where the lines begin to blur. She’s still running a tight ship, she always has, doing thorough back-checks on her players to make sure they can cover the bets they place. But she is also taking a lot of drugs so that she can survive on very little sleep to keep a lot of games running at once. People are screwing her over and Molly, refusing to resort to violence, is writing the cheques to cover their debt. She is haemorrhaging money and has to cover it somehow. So, she started taking a percentage of the pot, and that is when Molly Bloom broke a federal law. After a raid in 2011, all of her assets were seized by the FBI.

Breaking the law

Finally, Molly stopped running games. She wrote a book, “Molly’s Game”, but she refused to name the names of any of her high-flying players and as a result there wasn’t much interest from publishers. The book was published, but she received a miniscule advance. Then two years later, the FBI came knocking again. This time she was being charged with profiting from hosting illegal games. It was part of a larger scale investigation into the Russian mob and money laundering operations. Unbeknownst to her, high profile members of the Russian mob had been some of her most loyal customers and the FBI were convinced she had intel on them. It was time for Molly to lawyer up. Enter Idris Elba. *sigh* Oh how I love a bit of Idris. With his $250 000 retainer, Charlie Jaffey’s treatment of his young daughter who spends her after-school hours in his office is oddly reminiscent of Molly’s relationship with her own dad. Jaffey, who has already read part of Molly’s book, is reluctant to take her on as a client, least of all because he knows she has no money. He can’t understand her unwavering determination to protect the names of her former clients who are absolutely nowhere in sight now, even though she is in desperate need of their help, even if only through an anonymous donation. Molly is offered various deals for her cooperation but her unwavering determination to protect her name means that she faces real jail time.

Molly's-Game-LB-1

It might sound like I should have lead with *spoiler alert* but in truth, knowing most of the story doesn’t ruin the film. In fact, the trailer itself tells you as much. The story is told magnificently, jumping between past and present, it has you on the edge of your seat. Molly is an incredible character, with such complexity and so many dimensions to her, you really are in awe of her and what she managed to achieve with nothing more than her wits and a great deal of determination. There are a great deal of other interesting characters thrown into the mix too and it can be fun to speculate who they might have been in real life.

When it comes down to history vs Hollywood, this one stuck pretty close to the truth. Unlike the opening sequence however, it wasn’t a skiing accident that lead to Molly hanging up her skis for good, rather just a desire for change. The “Cobra Lounge” where the poker games first began was really the “Viper Room”, the infamous club owned by Johnny Depp, where actor River Phoenix famously died from a drug overdose in 1993. The characters’ names in the movie are changed but for the most part, everything else is 100% true. She did make $3000 in tips her first night. Her boss was a dick. She did steal the game from him. The game did get stolen back from her. She did move the game to New York. She unknowingly let members of the Russian mob join her game. She became addicted to drugs. She got beaten up for refusing to pay protection money. She started taking a cut from the pot and she got bust by the FBI. She wrote a book to try and make some money. She got bust by the FBI again.

Reel vs Real

The biggest difference: Charlie Jaffey is entirely fictional. Molly Bloom’s real-life lawyer was named Jim Walden. No disrespect to Walden, but Jaffey’s character allowed the filmmakers to add an extra dimension to the film that allowed us to compare Molly’s relationship with her dad to Jaffey’s relationship with his daughter. It also gave them the freedom to make Jaffey judgmental of Molly in ways that didn’t need to be historically accurate to Walden. Plus, we got a bit of Idris, and who doesn’t want a bit of Idris? The one similarity is that they both took her on despite the fact that they knew she didn’t have their $250 000 retainer.

Idris is Charlie Jaffey

In my research I have watched a few interviews with the real Molly Bloom, and I can’t help but admire her. At no point does she try to excuse her actions. She 100% accepts responsibility for the fact that she broke the law and that she knowingly did so. And even more than that, she admits that she did it out of greed – because she got addicted to the money. The plan had always been to get enough and then get out; but somehow enough was never enough. To add to that, when faced with federal charges, she was offered deals that would give her her $4 million back that the government had seized, and spare her a five-year jail term, in exchange for information and client names. But she refused. Not to protect her clients, but to protect their families and the lives of other, innocent people whose lives would be destroyed, even though they had nothing to do with her games. If that’s not honourable, I don’t know what is.

Jessica Chastain was robbed of an Oscar nomination, absolutely robbed – now I just have to find out by whom. Fortunately, this year I am returning to an old tradition of watching all of the nominated movies, so I should get to the bottom of this travesty of justice soon. I suspect Meryl, with her 21st nomination. It seems to have just become an Oscar tradition that she be nominated. Now I will be the first to admit that she is a genius of her craft and I am sure she was excellent in “The Post”, but she has been nominated for some shockers in the past that have even made her cringe, by her own admission. I really hope Jessica Chastain hasn’t lost out to a token Meryl nomination!

*UPDATE: Last night I watched “Lady Bird” (Review to follow soon-ish) and if not by Meryl, she was definitely robbed by Saoirse Ronan. First of all, a 23-year-old playing a 17-year-old. Um, are there no talented 17-year-old actresses in Hollywood? It was a nice movie. A sweet movie. An enjoyable movie. And she was very good in it. But it was not a challenging part to play. Anyway, that’s enough on that. For now.

Best Actress Oscars 2018

In my most level-headed and unbiased opinion, Kevin Costner stole the show. I know I just said Jessica Chastain’s performance is Oscar-worthy and the real Molly Bloom said her depiction of the character was so accurate it creeped her out a little, but Kevin Costner’s performance was so unlike anything I’ve ever seen from him, it really blew me away. My first introduction to the “big screen” was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, at the tender age of four (yes, I know, my parents should probably be reported to child protection services for taking me to see such a violent movie so young) and Kevin and I have shared a special bond ever since. Thus, for him to invoke feelings in me of any level of abhorrence towards him would take a special level of acting (and he made me sit through Mr Brooks and Dances with Wolves). His portrayal of Larry Bloom, Molly’s authoritative, overbearing father who demanded more from her than any parent should ever ask of their child had me wanting to hit him over the head with a frying pan. Yes, Kevin. My beloved Kevin Costner. And then as if that wasn’t enough, he had to do a complete 180 and give her ten years’ worth of therapy on a bench in Central Park (you know how I love the Park) and shower her with emotional truth bombs that had me wanting to call my own dad for a real heart to heart. Anyway, suffice to say, I think he is the unsung hero of this piece.

Park Bench Kevin Costner

So really what more to do you need? Riveting storytelling at its best, Oscar-worthy performances (even if no one on the Oscar committee thought so) and a little bit of Idris.

Rating: 4/5