Film Review: The Post

Movie Poster Long

The lack of discussion around The Post winning best picture is a real sign of how much The Academy has changed over recent years. On paper (no pun intended) The Post is an Oscars dream, a shoo-in. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in one movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, centred around the journalistic uncovering of a governmental scandal spanning four US presidents. And even though it’s set in the 1970s, it still covers issues that are extremely relevant today – freedom of the press and women in the work place. So why is it only nominated for two awards? (Best picture and best actress for Streep). Movie critic Dave Schilling believes that last year’s ceremony which saw Moonlight take home the best picture statuette marked a departure from the traditional “Oscar bait” of the past, opening the way for new, previously marginalised genres. You don’t need the big names anymore, the big budgets and the big, provocative storylines to get the nod anymore. Noted.

The Big Three

Of the nine nominated films that I’ve watched over this two-week condensed period, The Post was comparatively enjoyable to watch. No arty farty melodrama, no overblown action sequences, no cryptic undertones – just wonderful actors playing out a simple story. My tired brain welcomed it blissfully! The story begins with Daniel Ellsberg, a disgruntled American military analyst who has become jaded with the depths of his government’s efforts to cover up the truth about the futility of the war efforts in Vietnam. He takes action by copying top-secret documents that would become known as the Pentagon Papers. At first the New York Times publishes explosive expose stories based on the leaked documents but are then hit with a court injunction. Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee is eager to take up the cause, but it isn’t as simple as all that.

NYT Story

The Washington Post is owned by Katherine Graham, left to her by her late husband, and owned by her father before that. In a state of financial difficulty, she has taken the company public and cannot risk any “catastrophic incidents”, say, like being held in contempt of court. Determined to remain competitive, Bradlee has managed to track down Ellsberg and get a copy of the Pentagon Papers but the decision of whether or not to publish, and whether or not to risk the entire future of the paper rests with Graham alone. She wants to protect her family’s legacy and fight for her own place in the paper’s future, but she also wants to fight for the freedom of the press and the belief that America’s democratic ideals are being held upright.

Face to Face

As one might expect, there are a few history vs Hollywood inaccuracies in this one. The main one being that once the New York Times broke the story and were punished, The Post were well aware of the legal repercussions they were facing should they continue to publish. Thus, it was the Times and not the Post that took the risk. Current journalists at The New York Times feel Spielberg gives the Washington Post too much credit for breaking the story. Lastly, and you don’t get to type this often, Nixon is unfairly cast as the villain of this piece. His administration was not even mentioned in the Pentagon Papers and so anything he did was to protect previous presidents’ reputations and to set a precedence for protecting future state secrets. All this aside, the public still had a right to know what was in those papers though. He never banned Washington Post reporters from the White House as the movie depicts. However, adding the completely unrelated Watergate event to the end of the movie really consolidates that Nixon was a bad, bad man anyway!

Meryl vs Katherine

The Post is very watchable and ten years ago may have been an Oscar contender. But the bar has just risen since then, as evident by how few categories it is nominated in. Even Meryl Streep’s nomination seems a token gesture. With this being her 21st nomination and only three wins, I’m actually starting to get embarrassed for her. She is a phenomenal actress, but they really don’t have to nominate her just for appearing in a film. This year we rather could have had Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game. It’s not like she’s going to win. Frances McDormand has had her name etched on that baby since festival season opened. But anyway, it gave me a nice way to wind down this evening and it will provide something to vote for, for those in the Academy with more traditional taste.

Rating: 2.5/5

Nominations

Advertisements

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Untitled-design-57

Call Me By Your Name is another film on the Oscar watch list that I was not keen to watch. In fact, in this case, I would go so far as to say I was morally opposed to watching it. After all, the premise of the film; a seventeen-year-old boy has a summer-time love affair with a twenty-four-year old man in 1980s Northern Italy; seems a little at odds with all of the activist movements going on in Hollywood at the moment, and indeed around the world. Now, passionate fans of the film, of which there are many, will immediately shout me down with: “It is a consensual relationship!”, “Elio is very mature for a seventeen-year-old!”, “His parents are supportive of the relationship!”, “But the film is so transcendent and sensual, it is a coming of age tale, it is not perverse or predatory at all”. Yet these same fans who proclaim Elio is mature beyond his years, intelligent and sophisticated, gush over his adorable innocence when it comes to matters of the heart. Aren’t we now entering dangerous territory when an older man enters the fray?

Elio

But all that aside, I promised myself I would give it a chance. After all, I was perfectly capable of enjoying Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for its literary merits even if its controversial subject matter didn’t sit well with me. And for heaven’s sake, my all-time favourite female protagonist Buffy the Vampire Slayer is dating a 242-year-old vampire at the age of sixteen. That opens all sorts of doors that I have never cared to explore, but they’re there. I gave Daniel Day Lewis a fair shot, I can give this movie a fair shot.

First of all, it’s beautiful. “Somewhere in Northern Italy” as the opening credits set the scene, should get an acting credit because it’s probably the most enchanting part of the movie. Our young protagonist Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet) lives here in his family’s 17th century villa with his mom and dad, who is an eminent professor specialising in Greco-Roman culture. (I got this from IMDB. I’m assuming the person who wrote it got it from the book upon which the movie is based, authored by Andre Aciman, as this is all a bit vague in the movie, he just seems to look at statues a lot). Elio passes his time reading, translating music, playing various instruments, riding his bicycle, swimming in rivers, and generally moseying around without a shirt on. Then Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) arrives on the scene. Apparently, he is a 24-year-old American college graduate student working on his doctorate and is the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Again, I’m assuming you get this from the novel or are left to guess who he is because his appearance is never really explained in such explicit terms. I only really knew who he was because of the reviews I had read, otherwise I would probably still be confused. As an aside, I hope it was an unpaid internship as he spends most of his time playing volleyball, riding his bicycle, wooing the local women and swimming, and very little time helping the professor.

At first Elio is unphased by his arrival, but soon becomes hyper aware of his presence. At first, he tries to channel all of his sexual energy into his relationship with a local girl, Marzia, but he can only deny his connection with Oliver for so long. Now credit to the defenders of the moral fibre of the film, Oliver does not pray on Elio and does in fact do all he can to hold him off and even during their relationship he is very careful to protect him and his feelings. They do share an undeniable, special connection – although the chemistry between the two actors doesn’t exactly sizzle onscreen – but I wasn’t really wooed by the whole “call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” bit. Which I guess is maybe the whole point of the movie?

Almost Kiss

To be honest, I wasn’t really wooed by any of it. Except Italy. Italy was very, very pretty. And Chalamet shows definite potential as a big-time actor of the future, but I need to see him play something other than a pouty teenager before I commit fully. Other than that, I was bored senseless from beginning to end. It was like watching the travel channel, focused on one peach farm in Northern Italy for two hours. As petulant teenagers go, Elio made Lady Bird look like the dream child. Your parents give you unlimited freedom, they own a mansion in Italy that you holiday in every summer, winter and Easter; cheer up kid! Speaking of which, his relationship with his parents was beyond unrealistic; No teenager is that close to their parents, regardless of circumstances, it’s ridiculous to expect us to buy that.

Lamest Movie Parents Ever

The only shining moment for me is when his dad has “the talk” with him after Oliver leaves and has these words of wisdom to share: “To make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything, what a waste. Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once, and before you know it, your heart’s worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point when nobody looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain; don’t kill it. Keep it with the joy you felt.” Two minutes and fifty-two seconds of joy in two hours and twelve minutes of pain.

I tried, I honestly did. I guess this is just a perfect example of different strokes for different folks. I honestly don’t see how anyone garnered any kind of enjoyment from watching this film. And if it wins best picture tonight I might just break my TV.

Rating: 1/5

Film Review: Darkest Hour

Movie Poster Long

If you don’t already know about my love for history and all things World War II please refer to my review of Dunkirk and my ode to Mrs Gold, my gem of a high school history teacher. Everyone deserved a Mrs Gold. Darkest Hour is a wonderful companion to Dunkirk. Although it is not about the evacuation of the troops stranded on the beaches in France, it does cover what was happening politically in London while the battle was being fought in Christopher Nolan’s land, sea and air visual masterpiece (even if it was somewhat lacking in storyline). Darkest Hour kicks-off straight into action with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain and the appointment of Winston Churchill as the new Prime Minister. He was no one’s first choice. Both Chamberlain and King George VI wanted Lord Halifax, but he turned down the position, feeling Churchill would be a more suitable war leader, and likely feeling as though he could take over if Churchill failed. There is no doubt they were handing over a country in a complete shambles.


Addressing Parliament Large

Almost immediately Churchill is under pressure with almost the entire British Expeditionary Force in danger of being wiped out or taken prisoner in Dunkirk. Furthermore, the British forces will suffer major material losses on the ground even if they can evacuate, having to leave behind tanks, huge supplies of ammunition, guns, motorcycles and cars. They have a small force of 4000 men stationed at Calais, that Churchill immediately decides to put into action to try and buy the men in Dunkirk more time. While he desperately tries to come up with a miracle to rescue the 300 000 men stranded on the beaches in France, even calling in a favour to American President FDR whose hands are tied by peace treaties, pressure mounts on him to engage in peace negotiations with Hitler, using Italian president Mussolini as a mediator.

Dunkirk

The film is wonderfully orchestrated, largely filmed in the War Room, you almost feel the claustrophobia. Although we the audience have the value of hindsight I found myself yelling at Lord Halifax, who was really pushing the issue of peace talks. How naïve can a person be? Had they learned nothing from Czechoslovakia, and then Poland, followed by Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, and now France. Did he honestly believe that Hitler, in a position of such strategic strength would give them terms that left them with any amount of sovereignty? He would have had the Swastika flying over Buckingham Palace before the sun rose. And as usual, Churchill seemed to be the only one to realise this. As he yells as them: “When will the lesson be learnt? When will the lesson be learnt? How many more dictators must be wooed, appeased, given privileges; before we learn? You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

With no support in the War Room, Churchill turns to the people. Ditching his usual taxi ride, he decides to take the London Underground for the first time in his life and he engages with his constituents. He gauges their opinions on how they would feel about surrendering to the Germans. The decision is unanimous. They would rather fight in the streets, to the death, with broomsticks if they had to, than surrender. Next, he goes to the Outer Cabinet and other members of Parliament. They also fully support him, should the worst come to the worst and the Germans invade, they will defend their small island rather than surrender. Later, when Churchill addresses the whole of Parliament with his infamous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, he even gets Chamberlain’s support and all thoughts of peace negotiations are forgotten. With the help of civilian vessels, such as fishermen’s boats, yachts and pleasure cruisers, 338,226 men escaped Dunkirk, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops. Churchill gets his Dunkirk miracle.

Ending

When it comes to History vs Hollywood, the embellishments are pretty easy to spot. Although I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he did have a very close relationship with his wife Clementine, especially as Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance was excellent. The majority of Lily James’s character Elizabeth Layton’s storyline was fictional as she only became Churchill’s secretary in May 1941. She also did not have a brother who died in France. Churchill was however well-known for being hard on his staff, so that part is accurate. The late-night phone call to President Roosevelt is also fictional as that phone line did not exist until 1943. However, Churchill did write a letter to FDR on the 15th of May asking for help. Churchill had been corresponding with Roosevelt since he had become First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939. The late-night visit from King George VI is also pure Hollywood; while Churchill and the King did grow to become close friends, it took a lot longer than a few short weeks. Similarly, Churchill’s ride on the London Underground is pure fiction. While Churchill did often disappear, and it is believed he went to mingle with the people of London, it is beyond extremely unlikely he would have ventured on such a journey at such a perilous time.

Clementine

As Gary Oldman said in an interview with Film 4, Winston Churchill knew all about branding before anyone even knew what the word meant. The distinctive Victorian era suits, the bow ties, the top hats, the cane, the cigar. Even the gait of his walk and the distinctive way he had of speaking. Televisions were not widely available in homes yet and photographs in newspapers only provided minimal insight. He needed to create an image, and that he did. He made sure that even if he arrived in the remotest village in the outskirts of his little island, the people would be in no doubt that they were in the presence of Winston Churchill. Even to this day, people the world over can coax up an image of Winston Churchill, probably somewhat resembling a bulldog, in a tuxedo of sorts, wearing a top hat, smoking a cigar. They probably have no idea what Teresa May looks like.

V for Victory

When I saw the trailer for Darkest Hour I was blown away. I was like, “Holy crap, they’ve risen him from the dead!” The make-up and prosthetics seemed unimaginable. It was like looking at Winston Churchill. It was like listening to Winston Churchill. I have loved Gary Oldman for a good many years. I praised jeepers when he was cast as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. I was livid when he lost out on the Oscar for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to an actor no one had ever heard of and has never heard of since – as so often happens. I was excited. This was his year. Everyone was saying it. The bookies will give you virtually nothing. He has the Oscar in the bag. They might as well give it to him now. But the trailer is only two minutes and twenty-one seconds long. The movie is two hours and five minutes long.

It absolutely breaks my heart to type this but… I have seen Helen Mirren be the Queen. I have seen Daniel Day Lewis be Abraham Lincoln. I have seen Joaquin Phoenix be Johnny Cash. It wasn’t long before the magic wore off and I was very aware that I was watching a man in a fat suit and prosthetics pretend to be Winston Churchill. And I was hearing Gary Oldman’s voice, not Winston Churchill’s. And it was very distracting. He was brilliant, don’t get me wrong. But he wasn’t Winston Churchill. Too many great actors have won Oscars because they are great actors and they deserve to have that golden statue on their mantelpiece and I fear Gary Oldman is about to become one of them. I watched Phantom Thread and Darkest Hour on the same day. You only have to read my review of Phantom Thread to know I am not Daniel Day Lewis’s biggest fan, but if I am honest, he put in the better performance this year. He already has three Oscars, he doesn’t need another one. Like I said, it breaks my heart. I want Gary Oldman to be an Oscar Winner. Just not like this.

I don’t really know what else to say. It was a good movie. A good telling of a pivotal moment in history that ultimately shaped our world. If Halifax had taken over goodness only knows what we would be looking at today. It was a little bit too Hollywood here and there. The costumes were amazing. The make-up broke new ground. Gary Oldman was superb. If he hadn’t been playing such an iconic man… But he was.

Rating: 3/5

themanyfacesofgary-oldman

 

Film Reviews: Phantom Thread

When I began my quest to watch and review all of the Oscar nominated movies before the awards ceremony back on the 17th of February I honestly did not anticipate sitting at my laptop the night before the ceremony typing furiously, with four reviews still unwritten and two movies yet to even be watched. What can I say; I got cocky. I didn’t factor in my immensely hectic TV series watching schedule. I didn’t anticipate getting addicted to The Handmaid’s Tale (A late bloomer, I know). And I forgot that the Six Nations was starting. (Go Ireland!) I reviewed a movie that was nominated for best adapted screenplay and nothing else and doesn’t even stand a chance to win that, (no regrets, Logan was a well spent 2hours and 17minutes). I would probably feel better if I, Tonya was nominated for more than three awards, not necessarily because it deserves it, but just because of the amount of time I put into the review. I probably should have used that time to watch another movie.

Phantom-thread-poster

When I started this process, I had already decided I would NOT be watching Phantom Thread. They had me at Daniel Day Lewis. I have never been a fan of “method acting” even if that’s what it took for my beloved Leonardo Di Caprio to FINALLY win his Oscar in The Revenant, but Daniel Day Lewis takes it to a whole other level of creepy! When playing Christy Brown who suffered from cerebral palsy in 1989’s My Left Foot, he refused to leave his wheelchair for the duration of filming, had to be carried around set and insisted that his meals be spoon-fed to him. Three years later for The Last of the Mohicans he learnt how to track, hunt, and skin animals and would only eat food he had killed. When filming Gangs of New York he caught pneumonia because he refused to wear a warm coat because it wasn’t in keeping with the times. The only movie I enjoyed him in was The Boxer, which, being about Northern Ireland, I feel more obligated to love than anything. And for that role his obsession was to spend eighteen months learning to box, which as the movie is about boxing, seems reasonable. Obviously his technique works. He’s got the little gold statues to prove it. Although he seems to be losing his hair.

Daniel Day Lewis

In Phantom Thread he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London, who designs exquisite, once-off gowns for royalty, movie stars, socialites, and heiresses. He works closely with his sister Cyril, who runs a tight ship at The House of Woodcock, handling the business side of things and even managing his personal life for him. Women come and go through his life, providing inspiration and companionship, but when their time is up, Cyril must do the dirty work. His life is his work, often all-consuming and overwhelming and so he often retreats to their country home to recuperate. It is on one of these trips that he encounters Alma, a waitress at a local café, who immediately captivates him. He is attracted to her physicality – she is the perfect canvass for him, and her initial doe-eyed infatuation creates a false perception of submissiveness. She seems perfect.

Meet Cute

Reynolds has spent time and effort constructing his life just the way he wants it. After all, when someone is a genius and has been told as much their whole life they have grown accustomed to getting their own way. When Alma doesn’t slide as smoothly into the role he has written for her as he had hoped an interesting battle unfolds. For a while we almost fall into a romantic comedy of sorts, with the darkness of knowing that sometimes someone will just never love you the way you want them to.

And then comes the kicker that will ultimately determine whether you love or hate this film (or possibly get up and walk out). I have always said that you can never judge anyone else’s relationship because you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. What works for two people might not work for anyone else, but as long as it works for them, that’s all that matters. This film really puts that theory to the test. Because what if what works is a little bit twisted? What if the only way to make your relationship work is to be vulnerable, or to force your partner to be vulnerable? To put them completely at your mercy and then bring them back from the brink. It’s odd. Some might say psychotic. But if it works, then who are we to judge?

Creating the Dress

This movie surprised me in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, Daniel Day Lewis was annoying and creepy, but he also made me laugh out loud a few times. He was superb, I won’t attempt to take that away from him. Reynolds Woodcock was not a real person, so he drew on many famous characters from the world of fashion for inspiration. And in preparation for the role the most bizarre thing he did was re-create a Cristóbal Balenciaga sheath dress inspired by a school uniform. I can cope with that. Co-star Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, admitted that she found it difficult on set because he always remains in character, but eventually she dealt with it by remaining in character herself and socialising with him between takes like that.

Reynolds and Alma

In a year of strong female performances, Vicky Krieps was another real treat. Alma was flippin kickass (Perhaps the psychotic streak aside, as a disclaimer). There are times when Reynolds acts as nothing short of an ungrateful, petulant toddler, trying to justify himself with his ‘brilliance’, but she’s having none of it. Reynold’s sister Cyril, played by the nominated Lesley Manville, also puts in an immaculate performance of a woman of steel. At one point it’s almost as if the two of them team up trying to stage-manage this drama queen that they both love but at the same time want to strangle.

Three of Them

The only thing this movie needs is a new trailer. The trailer makes it looks seem really dark and intense and melodramatic, which is what put me off. In reality, it’s nothing like that. It’s actually quite airy and there are some moments of perfect humour. And of all the movies I’ve seen in as long as I can remember, it’s the most honest depiction of a real relationship that I’ve seen onscreen. (Once again, perhaps psychotic streak aside, but each to their own). It’s about what happens after the butterflies calm down and you have to begin to navigate that territory of joining two lives into one. It’s about the compromise that goes into that. And what works for some, is psychotic to others.

Rating: 4/5

Never Cursed

Film Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk-1-800x532

It’s a difficult thing to communicate that you find World War II extremely interesting without coming across as massively offensive. After all, what are the phrases that you usually use, “Oh my god, I love World War II!”. “World War II was the best!” “Wasn’t World War II just completely fascinating?” Probably not to all the millions of people who died during it – no! You have to choose your words carefully. I blame my high school history teacher. She was phenomenal. Her name was Mrs Gold and without again meaning to sound incredibly offensive, she was like a piece of history herself. I don’t ever remember taking notes in her class. I just remember listening. She spoke about Napoleon as though she were Josephine herself. When I visited Paris a few years ago, I knew I had to go to Versailles, and I swear I could hear her voice in my head giving me a personal tour of the Hall of Mirrors.

She told us extraordinary tales of Grigori Rasputin – a family friend of Tsar Nicholas II – who simply refused to die. But then she also told us the tragic story of the execution of the Russian Imperial Romanov family, including the Tsar’s five children, during the Russian Revolution. It was almost as though we were in the room with them. We experienced the highs of the roaring 20s and the lows of the Great Depression in that classroom and learnt all about how Roosevelt’s New Deal was going to fix it all. We learnt about how Stalin’s failed revolution was killing his own people and we learnt that no one really won the Vietnam War. We learned about Hitler’s rise to power and we grew to hate Neville Chamberlain as we watched his policy of appeasement unravel (oh the value of hindsight and all that). Credit to Mrs Gold, she was able to show us, through her vivid storytelling, that an ordinary person, just like you and me, very well might have supported Hitler in the early 1930s. He sure did give a rousing speech, and in that moment, there was very little sign of what was to come.

With a teacher like that, how can you not be passionate about the past? The good, the bad, the tragic and the truly gruesome and grisly? Because Mrs Gold didn’t just give us facts, she told us stories. She didn’t just tell us about the Battle of Dunkirk, she made us feel as though we had been there. By May 1940, Germany had successfully invaded The Netherlands and Belgium. By the 26th of May, German advances into France had pinned the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) – some 400 000 men – and the French First Army in a corridor to the sea. They were flanked by two massive German armies and had no way out except across the sea. In a matter still debated to this day, on the 24th of May, Hitler gave a Halt Order, ordering his troops to halt their advances on the Allied troops in Dunkirk. Some believe this is because the terrain around Dunkirk was thought unsuitable for tanks and his advisors believed his land forces could be put to better use elsewhere. There is also the argument that the commander of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goring, wanted the glory of destroying the forces at Dunkirk from the air. Whatever Hitler’s reasons, he was clearly confident the Allies were already doomed either way, but nonetheless, rescinded the Halt Order on the evening of the 26th of May. However, he had already given the Royal Navy enough time to co-ordinate an evacuation plan of British and Allied troops.

400 000 Men on the Beach

From the 26th of May – 4th of June 1940, 338,226 men escaped, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch soldiers, aboard 861 vessels (of which 243 were sunk during the operation). The docks at Dunkirk were too badly damaged to be used, but the East and West Moles (sea walls protecting the harbour entrance) were intact. The last of the British Army left on the 3rd of June, and at 10:50, Captain William Tennant – in charge of the operation – signalled home to say “Operation completed. Returning to Dover”. Churchill insisted on coming back for the French and the Royal Navy returned on the 4th of June, to rescue as many as possible of the French rear-guard. Over 26,000 French soldiers were evacuated on that last day, but between 30,000 and 40,000 more were left behind and forced to surrender to the Germans.

Boats used in the evacuation

I am somewhat saddened that this was not reflected at all in the movie. In reality, the entire evacuation at Dunkirk was only made possible by the fact that the French army held the perimeter around Dunkirk for long enough, buying time for the ships to evacuate. This 12th Infantry Division literally fought to the last minute on the 4th of June, protecting the evacuation, but unable to embark themselves. They were taken prisoner on the beach. Not one of them made the movie. There is only one French soldier in the entire movie. He pretends to be a British soldier so he can try and escape on one of the incoming boats. He even saves all the soldiers from drowning below deck when it is hit by a torpedo by opening the hatch from the outside. Yet when they find out he is French, they want to kill him. This seems a little fickle as Operation Dynamo – as the evacuation came to be known – rescued thousands of French soldiers. So, what’s one more? I felt this part of the storyline gave a really false impression of what the operation was all about. Yes, the young British soldiers were scared and wanted to save themselves first. But at the end of the day, Dunkirk was about saving all the Allies, not just the Brits. We didn’t need to see battle scenes on the perimeter but a one line mention of them would have been nice. I felt the movie massively undermined the role of the French to a disgraceful degree!

The men left behind

My love of history has always been about the stories, the people. That is what makes you connect with that moment in time. You don’t “love” World War II because of the horror and the brutality and “man’s inhumanity to man”. You “love” it because it showed what the human spirit can overcome under the most devastating of circumstances. You “love” it because it showed the unselfishness of people to come together and make immense sacrifices for the greater good at huge personal cost to themselves. And you “love” it because it showed that ultimately, good will triumph over evil. And sadly, for me, this is everything that Dunkirk lacked.

Apart from Mr Dawson and his two sons who make the journey on their pleasure boat to do their part and suffer a personal tragedy along the way, I made no personal connection with any other character. No one else has a story, hell most of them don’t even have names. If you scroll down the list of character names on IMDB it is littered with “French Soldier 1”, “Petty Officer 3”, “Stretcher Bearer”, “Lieutenant”, “Able Seaman”. Even characters with fairly significant speaking roles, played by well-known actors like those of Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, I couldn’t have told you their names after a one hour and forty-six-minute movie. No one spoke about their family. No one had a wife or a child to get home to. There wasn’t even a hint of a spirit of comradery between the soldiers – except maybe between the two RAF pilots (apparently called Farrier and Collins). When I compare this to every other war movie I have ever seen, I am just left hollow in this respect.

Mr Dawson 2

I know I was spoilt by Mrs Gold, I know this. When she told us about Dunkirk we were on a ferry belonging to a young man from Glasgow. It had been passed down from his great-grandfather. He left a young wife at home with a baby on the way to sale to Dunkirk to bring those men home. She told us about Al Deere, a Spitfire pilot who shot down a German Dornier before being hit in his cooling system and having to crash land on the beach. A woman in a nearby café tended to a wound above his eye before he made his way to the moles to be boarded onto a ship. Soldiers hurled abuse at him, asking where the hell he’d been, feeling completely abandoned by the Airforce as most of the action had taken place out of sight of the beach. And she definitely would have told us about the French 150th Infantry Regiment who held off the encroaching German forces, making the whole thing possible.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is very pretty to watch. It is well edited. The sound mixing and editing are excellent. Visually it is clean. It must have been a bitch to direct. There are a lot of people in it and a lot going on, so kudos there. But as a story it is cold. A very heavily edited history lesson. There is very little to connect to. I “love” World War II but I didn’t love this very detached retelling of a pivotal part of it.

Rating: 2/5

churchill quote

Film Review: The Shape of Water

Movie Poster Long

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.

05shapewater2-facebookjumbo_ubst

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?!)

The-Shape-of-Water-Ending-Pic

Film Review: I, Tonya

Movie Poster

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

Logan - Movie Post Long

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.

Logan Epic

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

Movie Poster

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.

GetOutGallery

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

Cool Poster Lady Bird.jpg

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?