HIGH LIFE – What Happens After the White Light?

The vertical line is blinking and the only thought running around the room, exterior from any kind of mind space is that the black hole created by god is a sex joke.  Or instead a point of insertion into the discovery of planetary desire or the foundation of human drive, rather than an example of any kind of creation humour.  Perhaps even assigning this idea shows the sickness of the society that physics, chemistry, and biology created, and not the divine one himself.  He only dreams of being that funny.  Science is the canvas and art is the paintbrush, someone must have said – what if the English language was the canvas and Robert Pattinson was the paintbrush, a tool held onto softly by the warm hands of Claire Denis.  That is a simple imagination hovering above a tangible and ultimately pointless object and still, we are dying to know what happened beyond the white light.  Prose guessing your way through digital celluloid has about as much meaning as peeling an orange and eating it, only to digest the fruit and then defecate its remains.  Actually, it’s closer to peeling an orange, throwing it at someone who does not acknowledge its existence then eating it, before vomiting it all back up over the same person who will continue to ignore your cries for attention.  The conclusion to HIGH LIFE has inspired something however, and now staring at the orange, you can only wonder its sugar content and what pesticides cover its skin.

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There is a sweetness to the red-carpet photos of Robert Pattinson holding the baby that played his daughter in the film, a sweetness that is doubled when you discover the child belongs to one of his close friends.  That sweetness is present in the film but seldom in that imagination hanging over it.  It’s not a radical take to note the danger of R Pats in HIGH LIFE, his character Monte is a celibate and a part-time pacifist, which is a much scarier version than the killer he may have once been.  The later scenes with his grown-up daughter are like one setting plays where there is a gun in the top drawer, except the upper-class characters haven’t been adulterous, they’ve been floating through space alone for more than a decade.  And they’ve been off-camera too, away from prying eyes and a judgemental western audience whose only experience of incestuous stories have been on fantasy television shows and porn websites.  It is certainly a twisted thought, and an animalistic brazen view of Monte, who is our unfortunate hero.  Denis’ intentions may have been accidentally cruel on this new platform for her output, and yet they are honest and true in Pattinson.  She cast him based on his intelligence, the kind of intelligence where Pattinson can deliver with clarity whatever is thrust upon him.  This is a total contradiction of course, it is not about clarity, because Denis does not show us the future once they have passed the white light.  Under final assessment, the predicted denouement would not indicate an evil, lustful Monte due to the brightness of Denis’ final shot.  It is far too heavenly.

Death for Monte would be a release, whilst death for his daughter would be a strange beginning.  With this explanation her journey into the world would be a short one, shorter than those flies that are born, mate and perish in a single day.  The drifting space shuttle is hardly anything more than a womb, a holding cell before heading into general population.  Take solace in the peace and dread the incoming small talk.  Monte can keep his daughter’s innocence by guiding her into the sub-molecular hole he’s been avoiding, and it seems she wants it as much as he does.  The step of the pier is a peculiar notion and they must know something we do not, Denis pressing down on the naivety of consciousness.  Our ego and our need for our feet to touch the ground is questioned when all you can hear is the running of a depleting water supply.  This is when the sick jokes and the sick epiphanies about ejaculation and restraint are thrown out of the window.  The chances of there being a fuck room in the next level of reality are slim, and it won’t really matter when sexual organs disintegrate as you do.  Pessimism, with the white light turning into an infinite black one, is an easy road to go down here.  It’s a clear answer and a dull one which is not Denis’ style.

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Optimism is misjudged, the poetic potential of a happy ending is rarely visited.  Denis’ masterpiece BEAU TRAVAIL enjoys a credits scene that rides the line, bobbing up and down in the middle.  Here, she slaps R Pats on the back and tells him to start walking.  It is all sensory and emotional.  Writing like this only occurs because of the success of the film, and the proverbial pasta is being thrown incredibly hard at the wall here.  The orange has become dilute, drowning in a tap water of paradoxical inferences that have a longer reach than what the text is potentially offering.  And this is an offer from Denis, and Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, edging her blouse further down one failed attempt at an American accent at a time, trying to collect sperm cells as the writer, director throws them all onto the table, not carelessly but with an accuracy that could cut through an eight inch wall with a side of A4.  Plotting is a nuisance and cinema is a distraction, the white light theories shattered when the income peaks at one point two mil, leaving the discourse in disarray, colliding against familiar enclosed walls.  Would it be cliché to say that none of it matters when the maker cuts to credits?

 

‘I think you’re foxy and you know it.’

‘I think the painful doom that is meandering towards Earth is really killing my hard-on.’

Mid90s – Film Review

There are many reasons why smaller, independent movies are not marketed well, the two main ones being budget, and the obscurity of the film. This has not been a problem for Mid90s, all thanks to its writer and director Jonah Hill. The stardom of Hill has meant that he has been able to chat to the likes of Jimmy Fallon on late night American TV (and subsequent widespread YouTube audience) about his directorial debut, to really push the narrative of an actor learning from the masterful directors he has worked with. However this does not mean that his film isn’t a weird indie, it is, and it is actually quite mental.

The film stars Sunny Suljic as Stevie, a young teenager struggling to find his image under constant physical abuse from his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). He starts to hang out with a group of skaters, who are a small group of friends all with their own individual personalities, and issues. With these guys, Stevie gets a fast track through puberty, and he learns some truths about life.

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Jonah Hill is throwing everything in here, every kind of shot, cut, character motivation and music choice.  There is no single road that the film goes down, and it makes the film quite messy rather than artistic. For a majority of the runtime, it feels like a music video, and the soundtrack for the film must have forty tracks on it because the tune changes every scene.  It’s not a good music video either, I was expecting a rhythm between the action and the song choice, more connectivity with the beats and the skateboarding. After watching Minding the Gap a couple of weeks ago, where the skateboarding moments are stunning, Mid90s doesn’t come close to the melody that documentary has. It’s not all bad, some of the frantic cutting with the cycle of mixed songs works, particularly in a party scene where the edit is synchronised with the music. Most of it is jarring, and the biggest surprise of Mid90s is that it’s a scratchy independent movie, with rough edges and obvious signs that it is a first time director.  This is in complete contrast with Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut A Star is Born, which is a polished affair from a popular actor turned director, and honestly it’s difficult to decide which is the least obnoxious.  And that’s the thing, Mid90s is an unpleasant movie, without real drama or ideas to warrant its unpleasantness.

There are a few problematic moments in the film. We discover very early on that Stevie self-harms, in any way that he can, and this is where the film falls down.  There is no problem in having this is in cinema, but Hill is resting on it to guide the film and Stevie’s character, and it was too much after he had already established the abuse he receives from his brother.  A lot of the film is too much, where Hill is almost writing to one-up himself with each scene, putting his characters through pointless recurring pain. Another problematic moment is during an intimate scene between an older girl and Stevie, and it’s not because of the content but because of the choices Hill made.  He chose to cast a child who looks young for his age, and he chose to cast an attractive actress, and he chose to shoot a close-up of them kissing.  The ‘what if the roles were reversed’ argument is stupid, and there is a defence for Hill on that, because of the obvious sexual maturity differences in an older guy grooming a younger girl compared to an older girl grooming a younger guy.  It’s the idea of this stereotypically beautiful woman wanting to have sexual contact with a younger boy because he’s innocent that makes it uncomfortable, and it would have been acceptable if Hill hadn’t moulded the scene to be so overtly sexual.  The scene comes across as sleazy, and perverse, instead of the intended intention of showing a natural part of growing up.

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There is an interesting film in there somewhere – one of the skater’s Ray (Na-kel Smith) is a lovely character with something to say, but as soon as he says something Hill seems to forget about it and go back to his child getting drunk or being abused.  Much of the promotion in this film has included the bond between Hill and Suljic, but Hill sure does put him through some trauma.  Katherine Waterson as Stevie and Ian’s mother is the best part of the movie, and she is an extraordinary actor when used correctly.  Her character’s mystery of whether her kids’ problems are her fault is actually presented in a nuanced fashion, dissimilar to everything else in the film.  My instant reaction Mid90s was probably harsh because I’d much rather be in a world where filmmakers are making trickier things like this over safer efforts, there is just a lack of execution.  Hill has taken on the teachings of the great directors he’s worked for (Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Bennett Miller, etc), but perhaps he could have left out a few lessons.  The film is not funny, exciting, emotional or profound like it thinks it is, and although some of the coming of age stuff is fine, it’s not good enough to carry the other themes.  Mid90s is irritating, brash and unpoetic, which earns Hill respect for trying, but leads to a movie that is hard to enjoy.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?
No.  It’s rubbish.  I’m not even sure you can sell this to the skateboarder either, Hill sort of loses it as a motif about half-way through. Watch Minding the Gap instead, which is a far greater investigation into masculinity, race, abuse, and friendship with skateboarding at the centre.

Us – Is Being Less Scary, and More Funny, a Bad Thing?

The short answer is no, of course not, and the short take on Us is that it is great – an accomplished piece of work and a crowd pleaser. Jordan Peele has proven himself to be a skilled director, but the man just can’t help but be funny. He’s got joke blood running through his veins, that is transforming into his screenplays, except that Us is certainly funnier than Get Out, so it must be a conscious decision on some level. The real question is how detrimental is this to the drama, or the emotional engagement of the film.

Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson, a member of constantly bickering but functional family, and someone burdened with childhood drama. She’s married to Gabe, the walking talking version of a dad joke, and is the mother of two idiosyncratic children. Whilst returning to the location where her trauma took place, she begins to relive her troubles, until her worst nightmare comes true when a doppelganger family appears to torment them.

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The film on a base level is terrific. It is a well-made, well-performed addition to the horror cannon and thoroughly entertaining. From the outset Peele replicates the energy from Get Out with fluid and rhythmic filmmaking, there is even a moment where Adelaide shows her son how to get in beat with a song, and as an audience you match that too. The film takes its time to get to the crux of the story, but it is not a slow build, thanks to some clever writing and interesting shot choices – Peele is putting things into place for later, such as Adelaide switching on the lights to cut to the room being flipped around. And when the plot gets going, we have spent enough time with the main family to care when their lives are in danger. The relationship dynamic between Adelaide and Gabe is a strange one, however possibly explainable. Gabe is wonderfully played by Winston Duke, and making his third only big-screen appearance he is the perfect nerdy dad. He’s cringe-worthy to his children, annoying to his wife, but likeable and endearing. His character as a whole though is basically a joke and around for much of the humour, even poking fun at Adelaide when she explains her trauma to him. They seem like a mismatched couple, because Adelaide is cool and reserved, while Gabe is a massive dork, and I know – opposite’s attract right? I was just thinking why on earth she would go for this guy. An answer could be that her lack of social skills goes well with is outgoing, loser attitude, but I think it’s valid to wonder if the intensity of the film is blunter because of their lack of a connection.
What the film manages to do is dodge the Gabe character being pointless, by making him genuinely hilarious. I’ve tried to tackle comedy before, and it’s tough, because how do you describe funny? Duke’s timing works, Peele’s a comic genius, and above all else people that are likeable and silly are funny. There you go. He’s not the only source of humour though, there are plenty of physical and musical gags as well, and these moments got the whole cinema laughing, so much so that there was an overlap to where they were still giggling when something more horror-fuelled was going on. Is that a bad thing? If you would have asked me that question after I saw Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, I would have said yes, totally the jokes take away from the emotion of that film. However with Us I didn’t feel that way at all, and I know why, it’s because of how funny the comedy is, and the competence of the directing. I don’t want to dog on Three Billboards too much, I’ve done that several times before, but the directing in that film is dull, and Peele’s directing in Us is precise and interesting. Even something as simple as the family walking to the beach was shot with style, choosing to take the camera in a god’s eye view position. The film is lit superbly, with the night time horror scenes not being so dark that we couldn’t get a good look at the action, and the editing really astounded me – the climactic fight was remarkable in the way that it was cut together. So my take is that when you have such expert film-making on the go, you can blend humour, and horror, and drama altogether, you’ve earned the right to do so. And when you have an actor at the top of the game like Elizabeth Moss in there as well, you’re really onto a winner.

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I think that overall the film is an entertaining thriller that has contradicted some of my criticism that you can’t put comedy and character drama together. The film doesn’t have any real scares, and it’s exciting rather than spooky, also Peele was skimping a bit on the gore. It’s gruesome enough but a couple of times he shied away from the violence, and it didn’t add anything, which made my sick side wish that I got to see the throat being cut open. I don’t come from a position where I can accurately pick apart the films underlying race themes, or its attempt to present the United States as a whole. What I can say is that the way it presented trauma through the Adelaide character worked for me, thanks to a pretty amazing performance from Lupita Nyong’o. She is a screen grabbing actor, almost ethereal and mystifying, in both of the roles she is playing in this film. Peele hasn’t created a ground-breaking movie that perhaps he did with Get Out, because everything is a little vague and the plot runs away with itself at the end. Get Out was more purposeful and despite my enjoyment of Us, some of the horrors were lost at the expense of humour, but the impression I got is that Peele was going for that. Instead of something profound he’s gone for something more genre specific, and punched himself into horror history.

Under The Silver Lake – Film Review

If there was a single, simple question that has been asked on this blog, it would probably be: how do people differently read movies? I have written several times before about how an individual’s enjoyment of a film is dictated by their own experiences, or what they had to eat on the morning they went to the cinema.  Mark Kermode is a legend of film criticism, and even though his views are becoming old, he is still of significant importance in the movie discourse in Britain.  I am writing this review as almost a reaction to his BBC Radio 5 Live one, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pcl3GAOyJSk

Under The Silver Lake is the third feature from American director David Robert Mitchell, his previous being It Follows (2014), a highly acclaimed pseudo-horror movie that earned him a bigger budget this time, and the ability to attract big star Andrew Garfield.  He stars as layabout Sam, who is first introduced as a peeping tom, spying on his attractive new neighbour (Riley Keough).  Inexplicably (though a key thing to remember is how good looking Garfield is), they quickly start a relationship, but she disappears the day after, which causes Sam to search for her, almost in sexual frustration at first.  The more he looks around, the more he gets lost in a strange series of events in the underbelly of Los Angeles.  And if you haven’t seen the film, trust me, you don’t want to know any more than that.

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To put it crudely, much as the film does, there are two lanes that you can go down with this one.  One takes the Mark Kermode road where the film is utter sexist nonsense, and the other takes you on a road of weird sub-reality paranoia.  I took the second road, and with trepidation, as the film takes a little while to settle you in because some of it is properly bonkers.  In an early scene Sam is confronted by a dead rodent that seems to be trying to communicate with him, and from there I was asking myself, how much of this is actually grounded in reality?  There are definite dream sequences, where Mitchell flexes his horror muscles, and it’s unclear when these sequences end.  It would be wrong to say that the entirety of the film is fantasy, because it’s more dreamlike filmmaking, in the same vein of a David Lynch production, and the Lynchian references are frequent.  Often the film has call-backs to Lynch’s style, and themes, in a kind of a mix between Blue Velvet (1986) (Sam’s wandering suburban investigating) and Mulholland Drive (2001) (the false hopes of an eerie Hollywood setting).  Patrick Fischler even makes an appearance as a complete crackpot, his eyes the same wideness they are in the diner scene from Mulholland Drive.  Lynch is not the only reference Mitchell uses, the film is cluttered with pop culture, and technically the film resembles a Hitchcock piece, we’re talking Vertigo car follows and Rear Window long shots, and the female characters have the overtly sexual, mostly blonde look from Hitchcock movies as well.

The women in the film have been a talking point because they are solely presented as objects of desire, ignorant and all willing to have sex with Sam.  However the world is viewed through the eyes of Sam, who is a leering, undesirable pervert, and Garfield plays that well – his dorky run in particular is hilarious.  The only issue that comes with this, is that Garfield is a handsome chap, and has a good physique that can’t be hidden, despite their attempts to give him a bit of beer belly.  For the most part, this doesn’t deter from the female characters being projections by Sam, we see the film through his eyes, not the directors and it’s clear from the outset that he’s not a good guy.  An unsympathetic protagonist is totally captivating to me, and I think it would be easy to dismiss the film because it is not straight down the line with its political standpoint.  A lot of the film is played for laughs, and though the screen I saw it in stayed pretty quiet, there are plenty of moments when I was thinking, should I be laughing at this?  Mitchell is unapologetic and self-referential, with the autobiographic nature of the film painted right there for you to see, so the increasing ridiculousness of the story turns somewhat endearing.  Sam’s postmodern poking at the culture beast, finding meaning in randomness, going on a never-ending adventure into the Illuminati void is both sickening, and understandable, Mitchell mocking this pursuit whilst creating an absurd romanticism around it.

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Subtleness is tossed out of the window here, and the film is obvious and open in its message, or the distraction of the message.  Much of the plot is delivered aggressively through Sam talking to himself, or news programmes on the TV in the background, and this can be off-putting.  You just have to go with it, and take the road that Mark Kermode avoided, understand that the film is about Sam’s inadequacies and the fallacies of conspiracy hunting, mainstream media shunning and boredom of the modern white man.  Is it toxic masculinity, white privilege or the capabilities of an intelligent loser with a lot of time on his hands?  Or all three?  What it certainly isn’t, is boring.  David Jenkins, the editor of Little White Lies, wrote in his review that as much as you might be outraged by the film, you can’t help but admire Mitchell’s ability to get this story funded, and have the bravery to go through with complete conviction in his vision, and I agree with that.  As a film lover, you must be happy for this film’s existence, where we live in a cycle of dull Hollywood biopics, endless superhero movies, and remakes, Mitchell has created something that is reflective of RIGHT NOW, as putrid as that is.  And whilst I’m trying not to spoil anything, my instant take away is that for the majority of the 139 minute runtime, Sam might just be masturbating, deluded in his quest to save womankind from the patriarchal movie industry, worried about being forgotten in a new ambivalent, melancholic and distant society that is STILL obsessed with pop music and being the brightest star in the room.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes, but go in as blind as you can, and enjoy the ride without other thinking it too much.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @insiderobbie

If Beale Street Could Talk – Methodical and Melancholic

In an interview for Little White Lies, film-maker Barry Jenkins said that in his early 20’s an ex-girlfriend gave him Giovanni’s Room (1956) to read after they broke up, as she hoped it would help him to mature as a person. I saw this, and ordered the acclaimed novel of Amazon straight away, not really in an attempt to grow up (though perhaps I need it), but more as an attempt to match my intake of art with one of the great working artists. For those that don’t know, Giovanni’s Room is a novel written by James Baldwin about a man living in Paris, who has an incredibly sensual affair with a barman called Giovanni whilst he is waiting for his girlfriend to return from Spain. The book covers the burning passion of the encounters, and the subsequent guilt afterwards, along with the trials of the heart the characters put upon each-other. It is a remarkable experience to read Giovanni’s Room, and at 150 pages long, it only takes a few sittings to get through it, however the journey is so exquisite that you wish that it was longer. Like any piece of fiction that touches on love, I was entranced by it, holding onto every word, every sentence and every segment of dialogue. It is beautiful literature, that works as a narrator recollecting memories, reaching for emotions over specific events, and Barry Jenkins reproduces this style in If Beale Street Could Talk. The film is an adaptation of one of Baldwin’s later works, that I haven’t read yet (it’s in the post), however you can see Baldwin’s prose breathing through Jenkins’ directing.

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Barry Jenkins’ previous film Moonlight (2016) won ‘best picture’ at the Oscars, so you could say there was a fair deal of pressure on him for his next attempt, especially since many critics have cited that film as a masterpiece. Moonlight is an art-house film, that I enjoyed but didn’t love, because I think that it has more flaws than people care to point out, however I appreciate its importance and its technical mastery. Beale Street is a triumph, and a true adaptation of the feelings that Baldwin evokes in his writing, with my main point being that Jenkins has transformed a novel to a film, and not simply wrote a movie script from a book that he’s a fan of. It’s essentially a love story, about two young people who have grown up in the same neighbourhood together – Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). They are torn apart when Fonny is falsely accused of rape, and sent to jail, only learning that Tish is pregnant with his child once he is inside. Jenkins weaves the plot around this event, by showing the relationship beforehand and the attempts after by Tish’s family to free Fonny by clearing his name. The film has a rhythmic and lyrical sensibility to it, where scenes flow together smoothly, with the camera moving like a floating poltergeist watching down on their surviving family. It is soft and florid at times, creating a weightless and dreamy look to the flashback scenes of Tish and Fonny, but that doesn’t mean it is not vibrant, or lifeless. The colours are warm and hue-y, with Jenkins pushing in and out from the characters as though we are focusing in on their thoughts. A stunning score by Nicholas Britell is placed over the top of all this, and the music is where the film begins to strangle you, leading you to be lost in the world of the film. The track titled ‘Agape’ is the one that will break you. This melancholia is constantly present in Baldwin’s writing, as is an honest respect for romance, and lust, which Jenkins threads throughout the runtime.

Jenkins has made few films, and people have only been properly aware of him since Moonlight, but he already has his own style and signature moves. The most obvious example of this would be the way that he makes his actors stare directly at the camera, but much has been wrote about that, by far more qualified people than me. What I enjoy about his film-making, is his compassion and his lack of cynicism when it comes to romantic and poetic moments. He treats these moments with a tactile advance, and in Beale Street, you can’t help feel full of love and joy during these scenes. Whether its Tish’s sister telling her to un-bow her head, or a wonderful scene between Fonny and his old friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry), where Daniel tells him of the trouble he faced in prison. It’s a great scene not only because of the content of the discussion, but Jenkins positions it perfectly, where the camera slowly drifts from Fonny to Daniel as they speak and the performances the two actors give are completely captivating. The sex scene is endearing, where Jenkins elongates the build up in silence, until Fonny reminds her that she is safe, and that he would never hurt her. Jenkins fills the screen with their bodies, and we can see the sweat pouring off them, as they tentatively come closer together, framing them with no perversion, relying on their acute chemistry. Baldwin’s sex in Giovanni’s Room is much of the same, where it is formulaic to a point of mechanical physical contact, and people are attracted to one another so they do something about it, in an essence of sweetness and raw human nature.

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Another aspect of Baldwin’s writing that Jenkins manages to capture is the story playing out like the narrator is recollecting memories. Tish is guiding us through the events with her voice, remembering details of how she feels physically, staying distant from what is actually happening. This makes the experience emotionally investing, because you are keying in and out of moments as Tish remembers them. Jenkins structures the film very precisely, where the time frame is very loose, cutting back and forth between before Fonny was imprisoned, to after, whilst making it unclear and unimportant how much time has passed. The film has an easy pace at the beginning, then suddenly we are introduced to the crux of the story (Fonny being falsely accused of rape), where the pace becomes quicker and sharper, and then Jenkins mixes the plot engrossment with more abstract notes of cinematography. It is less kinetic and more large brush strokes crossing across several canvases. The end painting is a lush one where the melancholia is obvious, yet it is the methodical way in which Jenkins situates the scenes of the film that make it powerful. It’s an editing feat by Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, where they allow Jenkins to pragmatically flick back and forth through the story, to envision a climatic message that you’ve been lost in for two hours. More directly, the film is that gorgeous balance between wandering artistry and scientific story-telling, similar to how Fonny feels about his own work – he is an artisan, not an artist.

This isn’t a review of the film, but I haven’t even mentioned how alive the performances are, from all the cast. Many have pointed out Regina King’s matriarchal force, but I would look to the two leads, and Kiki Layne as Tish in particular because she is the real soul of the movie. Basically I was in love with this film as soon as it begun, and in awe, but also sadness by the end. It is ultimately a heartbreaking tale of systematic and societal racism crushing down on an innocent and affectionate relationship, and by staying close to a love story, Jenkins is uncovering more wider issues, something that James Baldwin did all the way through his career. He was a key cultural civil rights activist, something that Jenkins claims not to be, but of course he is inadvertently achieving that anyway through mirroring Baldwin’s behaviour. I don’t know why love and romance affects me so much, but Giovanni’s Room got me, as did If Beale Street Could Talk, and as have countless other tales of amorous sentiment.

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People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” – James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room.

 

GO AND WATCH THIS FILM. IT IS BETTER THAN ANYTHING YOU WOULD OTHERWISE SEE.

The Favourite – Film Review

Yorgos Lanthimos is a unique film-maker, with a unique style that is sometimes tricky to get on with. His characters usually have a strange, disconnected dialogue, and they are alienated from any kind of real world, which means that they all seem like the same person. The experience is one of mild amusement, that is boosted by Yorgos’ fantastic eye for detail, and composition, however his films always feel as though they are missing something. I think he has discovered that something with The Favourite.

Set in early 18th century England, a weak Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) lays in bed, whilst members of parliament come and go to advise her on the war against France. Sometimes when they visit, she is too frail to see them, so her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs in her place. Sarah has to deal with the bickering between the Prime Minister Godolphin (James Smith) and leader of the opposition Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Quickly we see Sarah’s resilience and strength against them, with Weisz fierce biting tone. During these discussions on which tax to raise so that they can afford to keep fighting against the French, a new servant arrives – a young woman who has ‘fallen from grace’ after her father went mad, and burnt down their manor with his family still in it. Abigail (Emma Stone) rises through the ranks, and soon is promoted form servant to Sarah’s maid, where she can begin to closely interact with the Queen. They build a relationship that is different to the one Anne has with Sarah, and so jealously, and scheming starts to strife between the three of them.

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The triangle is where the film is, and where Yorgos’ comes alive as a film-maker. He has loosened his grip on his style to allow the characters and actors to breathe. Each of them feels alive with their own strengths, weakness, desires and needs. Lady Sarah is controlling, and sharp – she understands the needs of the country, whilst worrying about her own husband (Mark Gatiss) going to war. Her relationship with Anne is loving, and their history is clear, but Sarah is often cruel to the Queen, being the only one not scared to put her down. Anne doesn’t need putting down any further, as she has an eating disorder, stuffing her face when she’s sad, and she’s in constant pain thanks to a serious gout infection. She relies on Sarah, but gets upset when Sarah is mean to her, consequently Abigail is a breath of fresh air for the Queen, and tells her exactly what she wants to hear, that she is still beautiful and respected. Stone’s character is someone who has had to learn how to survive, and there is an unmatched tenacious, persistent attitude to her. The way the three actors play them is superb, and their chemistries are strong but different. Colman and Stone coming together is about excitement, and fun, where Weisz coming together with Anne is about affection, and honesty. Yorgos frames them without showing off, and allows them to move, and act. He lets them act! Colman’s performance at first is almost a Sophie from Peep Show level of absolute disgust, then we learn that there is a deep sadness to her, and a particular scene with her and Stone in the middle of the film is totally heartbreaking. Weisz is tougher, and scarier, especially late on where her physical appearance changes, and her aggressiveness is personified. The standout is Stone, because she goes through so many different levels of emotion, and it’s not fully transparent how much of her is simple manipulation to get what she wants. She is transfixing when she is on the screen.

All of that lovely character stuff aside, the film is of course very funny. Yorgos has never had any trouble with humour, his 2015 film The Lobster wins you over because of the strange laughs. In this film, the script has more heart to it, and thus the humour is more joyous, and quotable. There is a scene where young suitor Masham (Joe Alwyn) is chasing Abigail around a woods, that is genuinely hilarious, but there are little lines throughout that will get you. A lot of this comes from the male characters in the film, because they are quite farcical. Nicholas Hoult is terrific as a golden scumbag, James Smith as the Prime Minister who is obsessed with his racing duck is amazing, if you are a fan of his portrayal of Glenn Cullen in the BBC comedy The Thick of It (his character in the film is great any way), and any Joe Alwyn – Emma Stone interaction was loads of fun.

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The film in the end becomes less of a silly period comedy, and more compelling as view of where the characters are situated, sort of in the air of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) . There is a certain change in the scenery, and set up of power around the Queen by the final scene, and the gear down to this in the penultimate moments is completely engrossing. Even in the very last shot, where Yorgos is suddenly portraying a different message to the one pushed during the majority of the film, it is still very moving. The balance of comedy and drama is the line to sell when describing the success of the film, and you can’t argue with that. This is an accomplished piece of work, that will reap the rewards of time and repeat viewings.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes! The film is split into sections, or chapters and it is worth going to see just for the one titled ‘What an outfit!’

My Top Ten Films of 2018

Here we go again.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading other peoples (real actual critics) top tens of the year, and I finally feel ready to do mine.  It’s depressing to think that I’ve seen 70 films that have come out this year (in the UK), and I paid to see every single one of them (cinema or streaming).  Personally, I think it’s been a great year for film, especially for UK releases, because there’s films like The Shape of Water and Coco that haven’t even made the top 20.  Now, like with all these lists, you have to take them with a pinch of salt.  It is not a definite top ten best films of 2018 list, not at all, and is simply my favourite ten as of right now.  The chances of it changing, as I watch things for a second time, is very high, but the list is still fun to do anyway.  And it’s a chance for you to get some recommendations…

 

10.  Avengers: Infinity War

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I’m not a huge fan of superhero movies, and I’m really passive on the whole Marvel story.  Going into the cinema, I hadn’t seen the trailer, and I was expecting to not enjoy it.  Then it blew me away, because it’s a phenomenal movie.  The action is ingeniously put together, the plot is exciting and daring, and it has a good bad guy.  All of this is executed well, and it hits the perfect superhero formula.  Okay, on second viewings, some of it is contrived and Mark Ruffalo looks like he doesn’t want to be there, but it is still a thoroughly exciting film, and one that will be remembered as a blockbuster classic in the future.

 

9.  Shoplifters

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Hirokazu Kore-eda is a Japanese director who I need to catch up on, because this film is superb.   The connection with the characters is strong throughout the film, and there is a beautiful sentiment in their relationships with each other.  This endearing movie about a disjointed family, will totally reel you in, then break you heart.

 

8.  Isle of Dogs

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This film is stunning, and I’m worried it’s going to get forgotten because of the plethora of great films this year, and due to the silly cultural appropriation/racism claims.  It’s a love letter to Japanese culture, and a truly joyous experience.  Wes Anderson is a master of animation directing, and the artistry of this film is remarkable.  Full review here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/02/23/isle-of-dogs-film-review/

 

7.  First Man

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I’m a Damien Chazelle fanboy, so I definitely enjoyed this film more than the majority of critics.  The premise that the only way an emotionally isolated man can get over a trauma is by literally leaving the planet is expertly presented, being both hopeful and melancholic.  The music is astounding, and Gosling’s performance worked with the character.  His distance and shallowness is the point! Claire Foy is also terrific.

 

6.  Cold War

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I only saw this film recently, and its beauty crept up on me. I would describe the film as totally European, in its form and its content.  The love story is incredibly passionate, volatile and believable.  At first I thought it was just going to be another romance between an old guy and a young girl, then the story develops and takes unexpected turns.  The cinematography is measured and gorgeous as well.

 

5.  Phantom Thread

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What more can I say about this?  It is a perfect movie, from Paul Thomas Anderson, who is the greatest director working.  It features a triumphant final performance from legendary Daniel Day Lewis, who is fiercely matched with newcomer Vicky Krieps in a romantic and sadistic tale.  I wrote about the film’s themes of health and eating here:  https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/02/13/phantom-thread-health-and-eating/

 

4.  First Reformed

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This is an emotionally complex, and theologically deep film.  Ethan Hawke give his best performance (and the best performance of the year) to convey such astounding drama.  Its message is poignant and for me this is a must watch for EVERYONE.  I wrote about faith and silliness in the film here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/07/24/first-reformed-religion-faith-and-silliness/

 

3.  The Old Man & The Gun

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Most of this list is intense dramas, and masterclasses in thematic story telling.  This is different, this is a delightful film about touching characters, and subtle moments of human happiness.  Robert Redford and Casey Affleck are splendid in a simple film, without pointless conflict, and I adored it as soon as it begun.  I wrote about how much it affected me here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/12/15/the-old-man-and-the-gun-roma-smiling-through-tears/

 

2.  Roma

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Alfonso Cuaron is another master, and this could be a masterpiece.  His use of the frame is mesmerising, where there is a never-ending depth of field.  It’s so rich with life, and has moments of actual amazement.  I wrote about how much it affected me here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/12/15/the-old-man-and-the-gun-roma-smiling-through-tears/

 

1.  McQueen

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I have never had a cinematic experience like this.  I was wrecked by this unbelievable documentary.  Being ignorant to the work of Alexander McQueen, seeing his brilliance inspired me.  The filmmakers choices of how to present his life were impact full, and it’s the most exciting film of the year, with it’s unmatched energy from scene to scene.  It’s a travesty that this hasn’t even been shortlisted for best documentary at the Oscars.

 

… here are 11-20:

11.  Wildlife

12.  You Were Never Really Here

13.  The Wife

14.  Ghost Stories

15.  I, Tonya

16.  A Star is Born

17.  A Quiet Place

18.  Hostiles

19.  Annihilation

20.  Lady Bird

 

… and here’s 66 -70 (the bottom five):

 

66.  Mary Magdalene

67.  All the Money in the World

68.  The Commuter

69.  The Cloverfield Paradox

70.  The Predator

 

🙂  my twitter: @insiderobbie