Sunday, June 10, 2018

MCQUEEN



Lee Alexander McQueen was a chubby working class boy from Stanford, East London, who left school at 16, and became an apprentice on Saville Row.  A master cutter, he rebelled against its tradition and flew to Milan and somehow got a job working for Romeo Gigli. Immersed in high fashion he then came back to London, went on the dole, and got into the iconic Central St Martins school of design - all before most people have left university. His genius tailoring, and subversive designs led to a graduate collection that was bought in its entirety by Isabella Blow - herself a troubled women, but able to patronise Lee, rename him Alexander, and bring him to the attention of fashion editors and houses.  It was a love affair without sex, but when he was appointed head of Givenchy, he left for Paris surrounded by pretty young hipsters and left Isabella behind, perhaps jealous of how people gave her credit for his rise? It was an emotional betrayal she didn't recover from, contributing in part to her later suicide.  In Paris, chubby Lee reinvented himself physically with fixed teeth and liposuction.  But he never shed the feeling that he didn't fit in, the loneliness, and the sheer exhaustion at creating collections for both Givenchy in Paris and his own line in London.  Superficially he was rich, successful and feted - his collections were controversial - accused of misogyny - but he was clearly operating on a different level from mere couture - doing something more akin to sculpture or performance art - saying something meaningful about the reality of womanhood that prefigured the #metoo movement and our CCTV culture.  He was both acknowledging sexual violence against women, and recreating them as survivors - powerful, strong, warriors.  The success was hollow.  Haunted by memories of childhood sexual abuse, entering more dark and dangerous sexual practises, increasingly a drug addict, Lee was then bludgeoned by the death of his mother, Isabella and diagnosis with HIV.  In 2010, just 13 years after becoming head of a Paris fashion house, he took his own life. 

This new documentary is a beautifully edited entry point for viewers wanting to know more about McQueen's life and work. It benefits from previously unseen home videos and audio, and extensive interviews with McQueen's sister and nephew.  It also has a marvellous score, with Michael Nyman reinterpreting previous work used by McQueen in his shows.  Director Ian Bonhote methodically takes us through McQueen's life and work, splitting the film into five parts, named after five of his iconic shows.  But I felt that there were omissions and elisions that wouldn't trouble a casual viewer but WOULD trouble a McQueen fan.  Why, for instance, isn't more context given to the impact of the clothing - I would've loved more talking heads from the fashion press discussing its merits and controversies.  Why is Annabelle Nielsen, his close friend, entirely absent except for a photograph?  Did she refuse to contribute?  And why the coyness about his sex life? Accordingly, this feels like a doc for the casual viewer - with little really profoundly new for the McQueen fan. 

MCQUEEN has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated R.  The film played Hotdocs and Tribeca 2018 and was released in the UK, Ireland and Spain this weekend.  It opens in the USA on July 20th and in the Netherlands on September 27th. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

DEADPOOL 2



I loved DEADPOOL - the dark humour, the self-awareness, the bloody violence, and the surprisingly mushy love story at its heart.  And I can happily say that DEADPOOL 2 lives up to the promise of the first film, while giving the protagonist a motley crew of superhero buddies and poking even more fun at superhero films, its own actors, and everything else.

The movie opens with our cynical wise-cracking mutant hero murdering bad guys for pay before going home to his beloved wife who is murdered in turn.  Being worthy of meeting her in heaven motivates the otherwise self-interested Deadpool to try to save an angry young mutant called Firefist (Julian Dennison who could easily be Rebel Wilson's kid brother such are his looks and facility for comedy).  Deadpool has to do this in opposition to time-travelling tough guy Cable (a ridiculously ripped Josh Brolin), who just wants to kill Firefist to prevent  him wreaking havoc in future.  Along the way, Deadpool picks up a new super-lucky mutant friend called Domino - a charismatic scene stealing performance from ATLANTA's Zazie Beetz - while hooking up with Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead from the first film, as well as her girlfriend Yukio.

What I love about this film is that while it has a filthy sense of humour it really does have a heart. It really is about family and reaching out to people. And it's values are rock solid. Not just in the classic mutant universe as a metaphor for civil rights way. But in making a point about having a protagonist who is plus sized, a teenage lesbian relationship, and a strong black female lead.  The film is also clever. The way in which it uses time travel is neat, and all of its jokes hit their mark, getting particularly meta in the credits sequence, and with a fantastic use of music. 

Having tired of the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, I can honestly say I'm genuinely looking forward to DEADPOOL 3!

DEADPOOL has a running time of 119 minutes and is rated R. It is global release.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Spoilers)


SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY averages the same rating as I gave THE LAST JEDI - 2.5/5. The difference is that what I really loved about TLJ I REALLY loved - some of the production design and visual styling was superb. And what I hated about TLJ I really hated - the clunky humour. By contrast, SOLO was a solidly okay film, unvaryingly ok throughout, with nothing I absolutely loved, nothing I hated, just a failure to ignite my excitement or imagination, but with some nice nuanced plotting.

First things first, Alden Ehrenreich is not bad as Han Solo, despite rumours of having an acting coach on set. He doesn't do a Harrison Ford impression in the way that Donald Glover tries to with Landon. He's charming and cheerful and was just fine. I thought he worked well with Chewie, and we get a lovely reverse meet-cute as Han is thrown to "the beast" and helps him escape. Is this really the blood debt we've heard so much about? Or will something happen in the contracted next two Solo movies that has more heft? Chewie remains a badass. Moreso in the modern movies. We actually do see him rip someone's arms off. But he's also lovable. Like when he goofily makes the same dumb move on the Falcon's chess set, or politely lets a girl co-pilot the Falcon until it's clear she has no clue. More meaningfully, we get a great thematic storyline here about slavery and freedom played out through Chewie freeing slaves in a mining colony that echoes what we know about his own people enslaved on Kashyyk. I hope we get to see more of that in later films.  This story is also echoed in L3's storyline about freeing enslaved droids.

This brings us to the next pairing - Lando and L3.  This is truly Donald Glover's moment and it's true that he brings the swagger to Lando with his awesome collection of capes. It made me truly sad that we didn't get Billy Dee Williams in the new films.  Many people said we should've had a Lando prequel and I guess that hyped up my expectations for this character. To be sure Glover is good, but I felt that his relationship with feminist cranky droid L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) just didn't jive for me. I wasn't upset when she died. And I felt her witty one-liners weren't landing for me. I didn't laugh once at her. I didn't care when she died. And then lessened Lando's storyline. She also has a weird design - what's with those hips? Overall, a fail - and epically so compared to the awesome droid in ROGUE ONE.

The funny thing is that when it comes to swagger, Paul Bettany's ganster baddie, Drydon Vos, arguably has more swagger and cape-game than Lando. And Woody Harrelson's gang leader Tobias Beckett brings more of the casual comedy and roguishness than Alden Ehrenreich ever could. These are the characters that actually brought some fun and panache to the film! Poor Thandie Newton as Beckett's wife Val is fine but gets little screen time. (Did filming WESTWORLD get in the way?)  In fact, I cared more about the CGI creation Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau). 

So the plot basically sees Han meet cute with Chewie - join Beckett, Val and Rio on a heist - fail to get the goods - promise Drydon Vos to try again - only to be last minute jacked by a bunch of Marauders - and betrayed by both Beckett and Han's love interest Qi'ra (a feisty and fun Emilia Clarke who apparently knows kung fu).   The Marauders have some of the coolest designed costumes and their leader, Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) is actually a proton-rebel and does all the scene stealing I'd expected Lando to do! In fact, I want a film about her!  One also wonders if she's a candidate for Rey's mum.

As for Qi'ra her eventual betrayal is really just an avenue to reveal the existence of Darth Maul as a criminal mastermind. I know this confused some of my friends, and you'd have had to be watching The Clone Wars and Rebels to be up to speed with how Maul survived apparent death at the hands of Kenobi though sheer force of evil will, fashioned new legs from trash, and rose to lead a criminal alliance against Darth Sidious. At any rate, from being basically a fun costume in the prequels, he's become one of the more interesting characters in the EU, and if there are more SOLO movies, then this will be super-interesting to explore. 

This sums up how I feel about SOLO:  It's visually well-designed and the story is neat.  Not just in a macro sense - bringing back Maul is awesome - but in how it ties down little things like why Han hugs Lando that way in EMPIRE - checking for cards. I also loved the themes of freedom vs slavery. I think Ron Howard failed to make the action scenes sufficiently exciting, and that cinematographer Bradford Young didn't light the entire movie bright enough to see all the detail in the sets and costumes.  And I feel that for me some of the humour - especially around L3 fell flat.  I could've watched this at home rather than in the cinema - it isn't urgent or visually grand enough. But it's a story I will follow through with. And it's far less divisive and frustrating than TLJ.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 135 minutes. It is on global release. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

FAHRENHEIT 451 (2018)



HBO's new adaptation of Ray Bradbury's iconic sci-fi dystopian novel is a strange and bloodless beast, differing wildly from the source material, handsomely designed, yet lacking in real punch. The film stars the wildly talented Michael B Jordan (BLACK PANTHER's antagonist) as Montag, a Fireman whose job is to burn books. Not just seditious books. All books. Because in this dystopian future books are scene as sowing chaos and frustration - giving people too many ideas - ideas that confuse or offend.  As the film progresses two important character developments occur that felt unearned and unexplored to me.  The first is that Montag steals a book - in shock that a woman would love them so much she would commit suicide rather than survive them.  This leads him to speak to Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), an "eel" who subversively reads books, leading him to a spiritual awakening.  Boutella is wasted here in a thin role that's basically a plot advancer.  The second thing is that we learn that Montag's supposedly dogmatically rigid boss Beatty is actually a secret reader too. And yet Montag never looks intellectually enquiring and Michael Shannon gives his standard 2-D performance as snarling baddie.

The plot motors on and we get to a finale that is meant to be profoundly moving but left me unaffected, as did the entirety of this film. I am deeply disappointed by Ramin Bahrani (MAN PUSH CART)'s direction and actually his failure to get better performances out of Jordan and Shannon - two actors I love. I suspect that this has something to do with a rather thin screenplay by Amir Nedari, that strips Montag of his wife, his home life, and makes Clarisse a much thinner character.  The only thing that I found really interesting was the production design and the way in which book burning is now a kind of reality TV show. But how much more powerful it could've been to show flashbacks to the world that slipped into illiteracy - to show our world - in which long form reading has given way to headlines and click bait - and fake news.....

FAHRENHEIT 451 has a running time of 100 minutes, premiered at Cannes 2018, and was released on HBO this week.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

THE HAPPY PRINCE


Oscar Wilde is one of our great playwrights, poets and wits, but his work has rightly been overshadowed by the significance of his life.  He has become a symbol of the hypocrisy of Victorian England - apparently happily married and a father, Wilde embarked on a series of homosexual affairs that were tolerated by polite society while they were with people lower down the social ladder and discreet.  But when Wilde dared to have a highly publicised affair with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, son of a boorish, violent, aristocrat, he ended up in prison.  This tragic fall, from feted and celebrated writer to spat upon criminal was harsh - from luxury to hard labour - from beloved father to exile.  When Wilde was released from prison he gave us two great works - The Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis - but nothing of substance thereafter. He lived a rakish life on the Continent, cut off from his family, alienated his remaining friends with a temporary reconciliation with Bosie, and descended into poverty, ill health and death. 

Understandably the many film adaptations of Wilde's life have refrained from putting this often sordid tale on screen. They conveniently end when he enters or leaves prison, or reconciles with Bosie. We therefore remember Wilde as young, in love, and hopeful.  THE HAPPY PRINCE refuses to let us off the hook that easily.  The handsome Rupert Everett allows himself to transformed with a fat-suit, false teeth and make-up into an old, weathered, ashamed, drunk and hopeless man.  There are occasional flashes of Wildean wit, but really this is the story of a man broken by love, hypocrisy and simple lack of funds. He cannot write - whether because of the trauma he has experienced, or the stress he still endures, or because of the distraction of Bosie.  He knows his life is ending but cannot stop hurtling himself toward self-destruction, spending freely, loving freely, until the end.  Even a romantic death bed is interrupted by violent vomit. We cannot escape all the contradictions - seemly and unseemly - of Wilde.

Everett's performance is magnificent and unflinching in a way that feels eons beyond the more manicured performances of previous films. And he is ably supported by a cast including Emily Watson and Colin Firth as Wilde's wife and good friend Reggie.  We are also fortunate in the casting of Wilde's warring lovers - Edwin Thomas as his devoted and loyal literary executor Robbie Ross, and TV's Merlin, Colin Morgan, as the beautiful but selfish and fickle Bosie. The performances demand to be seen.

My regret is that Everett did not succeed in finding a more seasoned director to helm this wonderfully acted, daringly non-linear script.  He makes another daring choice to have an almost verite style to his filming, with a handheld camera and lots of POV shots. It's effective in some places - and many costume dramas can feel stuffy and old-fashioned when they match a static camera with restrictive costumes. But I found the camera too distracting, drawing my attention away from the superb performances. There are also certain cuts and juxtapositions that felt too on the nose, or too forced which I felt a more seasoned director might have avoided.  So this is a flawed film, but a deeply earnest, compassionate and well-acted one nonetheless.

THE HAPPY PRINCE has a running time of 105 minutes.  The film played Sundance, Berlin and BFI Flare 2018.  It opens in Germany on May 24th and in the UK on 15th.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

WONDER WHEEL


WONDER WHEEL is no BLUE JASMINE, but it's still far better than the mediocre rote films that we've come to expect from late era Woody Allen, elevated by a superb performance by Kate Winslet, in one of her now trademark performances as a disappointed weary middle-aged woman. She plays Ginny, wife of the man (Jim Belushi) who runs the Coney Island ferris or wonder wheel.  She has a mid-life crisis affair with a younger aspiring playwright and lifeguard called Mickey played by Justin Timberlake. This allows her to indulge her nostalgia for her aspirations to being an actress in her youth - but also self-consciously to act.  She rehearses telling him that she's older and married.  She claims that her real life as a waitress is performative. The meta-layers of performance - of being alienated from reality - are heart-breaking.  

The heart-break is compounded because we know that the affair means far less to Mickey than to Ginny, as is evident when he starts seeing Ginny's stepdaughter Carolina - a fragile and vulnerable girl played by a superb and much under-rated Juno Temple. Its here that the movie suffers - with the Pygmalion attempt at education of Carolina by the pretentious Mickey and the usual Allen moral lassitude for men who go with their dicks lead them.  But the film recovers remarkably in its final act - reminiscent of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS - featuring a tour de force scene from a drunk and delusional Ginny as she is confronted by Mickey and then her husband. 

This film is worth watching for Vittorio Storaro's candy coloured, sunlit orange photography and the period costumes alone. Woody Allen's crowded claustrophobic Coney Island and the wonder wheel become oppressive despite their beauty.  Altogether there's something almost Sirkian and expressionist about the way this film is shot that matches Ginny's conception of herself as being in a melodrama. 

WONDER WHEEL is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 101 minutes. The film is on global release.