Sunday, April 09, 2017

SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY


One of the most wonderful experiences of attending the San Francisco film festival was watching this fascinating film about film music in one of the theatres at the Dolby Laboratories - experiencing a visual and audio quality rarely seen in a commercial cinema. To be sure, this documentary didn't really warrant a screen that would've done a big budget action movie justice, but the sound quality was much desired.  Over 90 minutes, the film-makers give us an amazing insight into the history and current state of composing for film, including a quite dazzling access to composers including the pre-eminent Hans Zimmer.

The impression one gets is that movie composition has changed from writing and conducting a traditional orchestral score to something more akin to a polymath enterprise - creative originality; running a vast team of people; and enough IT knowledge to produce the music.  It's the middle part of that that really surprised me - these composers are essentially front-men for a team that includes people who will supplement their creative work, produce scores, and sometimes conduct so that they can be in the mixing booth ensuring the overall mix of the work produced.  And now they are supplemented by a new breed of conventional rock star turned composer bringing a new feel to the scores they create.

THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES


THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES is a wonderfully funny, socially aware comedy starring The Daily Show's Jessica Williams as a smart, funny playwright struggling to find professional success and love in contemporary New York. Written and directed by Jim Strouse (GRACE IS GONE), the movie has wit, courage and infectious optimism.  

Williams plays Jones as a confident, opinionated but never obnoxious young woman of talent and flair.  As the movie opens she's teaching kids theatre and helping them work out the issues in their lives while papering her wall with rejection letters for a play that she's writing.  She's also trying to get over her ex boyfriend (LaKeith Stanfield) while starting to date Chris O'Dowd's loveable but slightly banal app developer.  By the end of the film she's found fulfilment on both fronts, even though the ending places female friendship ahead of relationship success.

The bare bones of the plot sound quite simplistic - and indeed the stuff of many romantic comedies. And poor Chris Dowd effectively plays the loveable schlub that he always plays. But as with LANDLINE, the focus here is on the female friendships and in exploring familiar movie plotlines with greater authenticity, audacity and sexual honesty.  In all that, it's Jessica Williams who carries the day.  The result is a film that is hugely funny and heart-warming but that isn't a memorable classic. 

THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES has a running time of 85 minutes and is not yet rated.  It played Sundance and the San Francisco film festivals and does not yet have a release date. 

CASTING JONBENET


Christmas 1996 - A young beautiful girl called JonBenet Ramsay is found strangled and beaten in the basement of her parents home in Boulder, Colorado. The murder captivated the public imagination thanks to its salacious elements - a fabulously rich father; an ex-pageant queen younger mother who had pushed her daughter into that world that so puzzles outside viewers with its questionable practice of sexualising little girls;  tales of a kidnapping gone wrong or a sexual predator breaking in; and then the attention focusing on the family themselves. Twenty years on, the murder remains unsolved although a slew of anniversary TV specials have thrown up a number of theories.  The reality is that the scene of the crime was so massively compromised by incompetent policing that we'll never know. However, the consensus of opinion seems to be that the kidnapping note was implausible, as was the likelihood of an outside intruder. One particular TV special suggests that the son may have accidentally hit the daughter, and the parents were more or less involved in a cover up. 

CASTING JONBENET comes at the case from a strange angle, and one that may not satisfy true crime fans who are fascinated by the case.  Australian director Kitty Green goes back to Boulder and sets up a casting process to recreate scenes from the murder and investigation. In doing so, she interviews people from the local area and has them do line readings of the same scene.  She also captures their own relationships to the case - whether knowing individuals related to it, or experiencing some of the same facets of the case in their own lives. The result is a compelling film that tells us something about how people remember a major public event and insinuate themselves into it.  And in its final scene that has the actors simultaneously act out various interpretations of the night's events, the film powerfully conveys the impossibility of knowing.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

THE CAGE FIGHTER


THE CAGE FIGHTER is a deeply engaging but frustratingly problematic film from director Jeff Unay. As I watched it I thought it was a compelling lo-fi drama along the lines of THE WRESTLER. Joe Carman is a charismatic gentle giant with a loving family who want him to give up fighting Mixed Martial Arts because of its clear toll on his health and the fact that it takes him away from his sick wife.  But he seems to be motivated by the need to prove himself against a younger upcoming fighter, up until the point that he meets him in real life and realises that he's just mortal.  As I was watching it I admired the depiction of a good but conflicted family man, and the movie's willingness to subvert the classic underdog sports story ending.

But when the lights came up and the director came on stage it became clear that he viewed this film as a documentary and that the film we had seen on screen was an actual family. This was something of a shock because to my eye, it felt like a lot of the scenes had been staged. For interest, one in which the director follows the fighter's daughters to a car lot and they express their concern about their father's fighting. So in retrospect, what seems to be happening here is that we're watching some kind of documentary where key scenes have been re-staged. The Q&A also raised questions about objectivity. It was clear that the director and star are close friends and that their families have spent a lot of time with each other.

I guess my concerns don't invalidate the good time I had watching the film - they just left a bad taste in my mouth. They raised provocative questions about how we classify a documentary and what burdens are or should be placed on the film-maker to speak to just where the reality/fiction line has been drawn.  From my perspective, as good as this film is, I would hate to see it enveloped in the kind of controversy that affected CATFISH and I would hope that the marketing campaign addresses these concerns directly to avoid that. 

THE CAGE FIGHTER has a running time of 83 minutes and is not yet rated and does not yet have a commercial released date. 

MARJORIE PRIME


I liked the ideas in MARJORIE PRIME far more than the film itself.  The ideas surround the nature of memory and AI.  In a near future, AI has developed to the point that grieving people can buy a "prime" - a lifelike robot who can learn to remember your family memories. As the film opens, we have an old lady called Marjorie (Lois Smith) who interacts with a younger avatar of her dead husband (Jon Hamm).  What's fascinating is that she is teaching him their shared memories but chooses to alter some of them - making his proposal more romantic so that that becomes his version of events. And then, as her memory fades and he becomes her factual record, it's the fake memory that becomes the shared history.  Marjorie's daughter (Geena Davis) is initially horrified by the concept of her mother having a relationship with a Prime, while her husband (Tim Robbins) sees it as a boon.  But as the film develops, we see the two of them have their own relationships with Primes and the position shifts as they too start to re-interpret history through shared but altered memories.  Most impressively, in the final scene of the film, we see the Primes themselves interact and share those memories, moving further away from the truth.  The film, then, raises important and nuanced questions about the nature of shared memory and the ethics of altering it. Should the truth be privileged or is it better to tell white lies that comfort people?

The problem with the film is that it reads like a didactic treatise rather than a living and breathing drama. Matters aren't helped by the fact that director Michael Almereyda largely keeps the action in the closed confines of the family home, paces the film slowly, and does little with his camera. To that end, the movie feels like a filmed stage play, and it is indeed based on a play by Jordan Harrison. I found myself admiring its ideas and some of its performances but deeply deeply bored.  

MARJORIE PRIME has a running time of 98 minutes and is not yet rated and does not yet have a commercial release date.  It played Berlin, Sundance and San Francisco. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

THE STUDENT


THE STUDENT is a tough, challenging, brilliant and depressing film about the battle between scientific knowledge and rising religious extremism that is colouring debate around the world.  Set in contemporary Russia it focuses on a teenage boy who suddenly adopts extreme religious views that manifest as homophobia, misogyny and creationism. This puts him in opposition with his high school science teachers and fellow students who wear revealing clothes and have sexual relations with each other. It also earns him a disciple in the form of teenage boy who is in love with him, provoking a strange and ambiguous response in the protagonist.  What's fascinating is seeing the response of those around him. His mother is exasperated but powerless. The high school kids take compromising videos of him but it doesn't seem to come to much. The science teacher is driven to near madness. But the liberal consensus is depicted as powerless to resist. The authority in the movie is the headmistress, often shown in an office beneath a picture of Vladimir Putin.  She sides with the pupil, noting that even in America, the government allows the teaching of creationism.

The resulting film is a damning indictment of religious extremism and the lack of backbone in liberal society to resist it. It's also a fascinating depiction of an aspect of contemporary Russian society, but poses difficult questions to western viewers about how far such currents are gaining ground in our own countries. I found it to be fascinating, disturbing, compelling, strange and yet too familiar by turns.  Not to be missed. I would also give special praise for the director who manages to take a stage play out of the theatre where so many of them stay and give it a real visual flair and dynamism. 

THE STUDENT has a running time of 118 minutes and is not yet rated.   The movie played Cannes and London 2016 and opened last year in Estonia, Belarus, Russia, Italy, France and Greece. It opened earlier this year in Hungary, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. It opens in the USA on April 21st and in Poland on May 19th.

LANDLINE


LANDLINE is a laugh out loud relationship comedy set in the mid-90s from direct Gillian Robespierre starring stand-up comedian Jenny Slate (THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE).  It shows us a close knit family dealing with the fall out from two affairs, and focuses heavily on the female relationships and reactions with that.  

The parents are played by Edie Falco (THE SOPRANOS) and John Turturro (THE NIGHT OF).  He's a failed novelist having an affair with a woman who provides the praise his wife fails to.  And while the movie gives his crisis some time, the main focus is on the complicated and moving reaction of his wife.  Of the children, the eldest is Dana (Slate) - a quirky and bubbly girl who has just become engaged to her long-time boyfriend Ben (Jay Duplass) but has an affair with her old flame Nate (Finn Wittrock).  I love that the writers of the film dare to give us in Dana what could be, and for some will be, a fairly dislikable character.  Dana can come across as spoiled and unthinking in her actions.  The writers are trying to make the point that women who have affairs are typically portrayed less sympathetically than men who do - and I get that - but it felt to me as thought the pendulum may have swung too far the other way. After all, if the mother gets a psychologically complex and fully explored reaction to her husband's affair, why can't Ben get more than a montage?  The family is rounded out by simultaneously the wisest and dumbest member of the family - little sister Ali (newcomer Abby Quinn).  She's a bright high school student who often seems the most emotionally mature of all concerned, but she's also making dumb choices in the name of rebellion. I found this section of the film the most fascinating and authentic, and Quinn to be the true star of the film.

LANDLINE is beautifully observed and has a light touch in recreating the 1990s.  It's constantly laugh-out loud funny and has some fantastic sight gags. I had a fantastic time watching despite my reservations of its treatment of the male characters. As I said, I get the need for balance in portrayal of female and male characters, but it just felt as though it had moved too far in the other direction for my liking.

LANDLINE has a running time of 93 minutes and is not yet rated. The movie played Sundance and San Francisco 2017 and opens in the USA on July 21st.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

GET OUT


GET OUT is a confident, subversive and visually assured horror movie from debut feature director (and longtime stand-up comedian) Jordan Peele.  It tells the story of a young African American man called Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) whose girlfriend (Allison Williams - GIRLS) takes him home to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) for the first time.  As with all the best horror, there's a deep and subversive commentary on social conditions here.  And in the case of GET OUT, Jordan Peele is trying to tell us that the most insidious form of racism is that is secretly practiced by liberal educated rich white people - the people who vote for Obama and donate to the ACLU but don't actually want their daughters to date black men.  The director also seems to be sending a message to his fellow African Americans - a message warning against complacency about race relations. And this message is embodied in Chris' hilarious best friend Rod, who warns him against going to his girlfriend's parents house in the woods early on, and is instrumental in helping Chris as her parents turn out to be quite literally using the silver spoon of privilege to subjugate him.

This tale of modern day racial slavery is, then, deeply profound and provocative, but this film is also hilarious and frightening by turns.  It's quite astounding to see a debut director handle the tonal shifts with such aplomb, not to mention the impressive production design of the oppressive house and his eye for framing a visually iconic shot. The cast all deserve praise, although it was particularly interesting to see Allison Williams subvert her GIRLS character's preppy self-absorption in this film. But the subversive nature of this film is many faceted. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the most hated of bureaucrats and petty power brokers - the TSA - turn out to be good guys here. 

Ultimately, GET OUT feels like exactly the right movie for our times - in which the happy surprise of Obama's election is over-turned by the surprise victory of Trump - and in the wake of the #blacklivesmatter movement.  It entertains us but also reflects the deep fractures in American society.  And this may well be why the film continues to do so well at the box office.  

GET OUT has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated R.  The movie played Sundance 2017 and opened earlier this year in the USA, Canada, Philippines, Greece, Singapore, Estonia, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Kuwait and France. It opens on April 7th in Indonesia, Lithuania and Norway; on April 20th in Sweden, Hungary, Malaysia and Turkey; on April 28th in Poland; on May 4th in France, Australia, Switzerland, Chile, Germany, Portugal and Finland; on May 11th in Russia; on May 18th in Hong Kong, Italy and Spain; and on June 15th in Brazil.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A partial review of LIFE


I walked into LIFE thinking it would be a GRAVITY like intelligent sci-film with an A-list cast and great visuals.  Actually what I got was a movie far closer to ALIEN - sleek, well-acted, but basically a derivative horror film. And as I don't do well with horror films, I left after the first hour.

Still for what it's worth, the movie rolls like this:  we're in the International Space Station and the action starts in media res.  Ryan Reynolds plays the character he always plays - a wise-ass cocky man who is highly skilled at something and ultimately has a heart of gold. In this case, Ryan/Rory is rescuing a set of soil samples from Mars that a previous astronaut suspected might contains microscopic living cells.  Back on board, Rory hands the soil over to scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare - JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL) who is delighted to discover a micro-organism that he lovingly tends until it grows to the size of a playful little starfish like creature that could sit in the palm of your hand.  Naturally, LIFE is not going to be about how this new alien species and humanity learn to love each other. Very quickly the alien beastie, nicknamed Calvin, goes into hostile survival mode, and all the carefully set-up CDC security measures designed by Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson - THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN).  It escapes out of the lab and into the ship, and the rest is an ALIEN style hunter-prey thriller.  

Of the cast, the Russian and Japanese crewmembers (Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada) are actually among the most compelling - with a deeply ethical arc to play out and the emotional resonance of a family back home respectively.  Bakare is also impressive as the biologist who has the most sympathy for Calvin's survival instinct. But Reynolds barely moves beyond self-parody, Ferguson is under-used and Jake Gyllenhaal is under-drawn as the kind of nice, banal, everyman figure.  Nonetheless, this film has the makings of something great given its superb cinematography from DP Seamus McGarvey (NOCTURNAL ANIMALS) and elegantly choreographed space sequences from Director Daniel Espinosa (CHILD 44).  It's just a shame that the basic story is such a predictably derivative version of a justifiably classic space-horror.  For that, we have DEADPOOL writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese to blame. 

LIFE has a running time of 103 minutes and is rated R. The movie is on global release everywhere but South Korea, where it opens on April 6th; France, Brazil and Greece where it opens on April 20th and Japan where it opens on July 8th. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

CHiPs


I have a strangely warm-hearted nostalgic recollection of the cheesy 80s motorcycle cop show CHiPs - enough that I ventured into the cinema to watch the ill-reviewed big screen remake starring writer-director Dax Shepard as rookie cop John Baker and Michael Pena as his partner Ponch.  I was expecting a knowing but essentially light-hearted and funny post-modern take on the TV show, in the same vein as the recent 21 JUMP STREET film. But by contrast, CHiPs felt underwritten, crude, and just not as clever.  Worse still, Shepard and Pena are fine on screen together, but they certainly don't have the natural chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. 

So in this version Ponch is the cover name for an FBI agent from Florida who is sent to investigate corruption in the California Highway Patrol that gives the movie its acronym-title.  He's meant to be a sex addict (how funny!) and not that good on a motorbike and is grieving his dead partner.  Ponch is teamed up with middle-aged ex pro biker Baker (Shepard) whose body is so messed up from biker accidents he can barely walk, and who's becoming a cop to win back his bitchy ex-wife (played by Shepard's real wife Kristen Bell). 

The humour is broad and crude and often misses the mark but on the handful of occasions it works this really is a laugh out loud funny movie.  It's also surprisingly violent, in a kind of weirdly arbitrary way - and ventures into social commentary territory that it should probably leave well alone. Still, there are worse films out there.

CHIPS has a running time of 100 minutes and is rated R.  The movie is on global release everywhere except Australia, where it opens on April 6th; Germany where it opens on April 20th; Brazil where it opens on May 4th; and Cambodia, where it opens on August 11th. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MOONLIGHT


In over a decade of watching over 200 movies a year, and trying to seek out independent movies, I've never seen a film about gay black men.  That's really quite something when you think about it.  And so it's deeply refreshing and heartening to see MOONLIGHT capture critical praise.  That said, while I found much to admire in its intent and some of its performances, it was a less moving and impressive watch than I had anticipated.  

The film is written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney and is based on their childhood experience of growing up gay in a deeply dysfunctional black community in Florida.  What's impressive is that they manage to subvert the stereotypes of the black drug dealer and the crack whore, and the entire concept of masculinity by showing us what they know. The result is a film that feels claustrophobic and melancholy - of a community that is fundamentally dysfunctional, in which its members feel trapped, but where there is some slight hope of escape. It's also a community that feels odd to English eyes insofar as it's so un-diverse - the only white face we see is a cop.

The formal structure of the play carries over to the film: we meet our protagonist at three ages, in three thirty-five minute segments.  In the first part he's a skinny schoolkid called Chiron (Alex R Hibbert), bullied for being camp, who finds solace from his crack addict single mother with a drug dealer called Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Jangle Monae).  Against all expectations, it's the drug dealer who proves caring, understanding and comforting - even going so far as to tell young Chiron that he doesn't need to figure out of he's gay yet, and even if he is, he shouldn't feel ashamed of it.  Moreover, Juan is morally complex, at once judgmental of Chiron's mother's drug addiction, but also conscious that he's the man selling to her.  The power of Ali's performance in this segment is quite dazzling, and I'm not sure the film ever really recovers from his absence.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN


BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN  is an exceptionally well made documentary about two schoolgirls in Wisconsin who tried to stab a school-friend to death in 2014 because they thought this would please a mythic internet creation called The Slender Man.  The documentary has amazing access to the girls' parents, their friends, and uses footage of the girls being interviewed by the police and calling home from prison, resulting in an intense and provocative viewing experience.

As one would expect, Irene Taylor Brodsky's documentary spends a lot of time exploring how lonely children with access to the internet can find themselves sucked into online communities where fictional worlds become alarmingly real.  But she goes far beyond a simplistic media panic over unsupervised surfing time.  Because just as Slender Man - a modern bogeyman - did have a profound hold on the girls, we need to ask why they resorted to violence when thousands of other teens merely liked the youtube videos or read or created fanfic.  

The documentary gives us two potential answers. The first, is that the girls are mentally unwell. Morgan's father is dealing with schizophrenia and her parents and lawyers posit that she two suffers from hallucinations. It would be easy to understand how, for such a girl, the boundary between a fictive and real person instructing to prove herself and so become his proxy might be powerfully evocative.  And then there's Anissa's mother who suggests that she exhibited a psychopathic lack of empathy as a child, reacting in an abnormal way to watching the death of Bambi's mother.  The second answer is that these two girls were unusually isolated - picked on at school - playing almost exclusively with each other - so that there was no-one to counter their obsession with Slender Man or point out that he wasn't real. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE


THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a consistently hilarious, smart and actually rather moving animated comedy from the team that brought us THE LEGO MOVIE. It's easily the best DC movie in the current reboot, and that includes the gloomily nihilistic Nolan films that it spoofs. To be sure, to get the most out of the film if you're familiar with many many iterations of Batman on screen - from the early Adam West TV show, through Michael Keaton to Nolan and the Battfleck.  But you don't need to be a fanboy - just someone who's lived through the last decades of pop culture enough to understand the tropes that this film is ribbing - the idea of Batman as a hugely egotistical psychologically damaged billionaire whose very existence requires the very supervillains he wants to protect his city from.  

In this film, Will Arnett plays Lego Batman as a lonely douchebag obsessed with his own abs, reluctant to let anyone into his life for fear of losing them as he lost his parents years ago. His deliberate isolation is broken when adopts a son (Robin - played by Michael Cera) while distracted by the pretty new Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) forces their intimacy by revealing to Robin that one of his two dads is Batman.  The emotional arc of the story is thus whether Batman can admit that he likes having a family of sorts - Albert, Robin and Barbara.  And that he even likes having the Joker around. Meanwhile, the plot sees the Joker abandon his usual band of Batman villains to recruit an even scarier evil army of assorted fictional villains (everyone from King Kong to Sauron) to force Batman to acknowledge that he's his arch-enemy.

Monday, February 06, 2017

LADY MACBETH


Nikolai Leskov's nineteenth century Russian novel about a bored housewife driven to an affair is given the big screen treatment in debut-feature director William Oldroyd's handsome and beautifully acted new film.  The story is transposed to northern England but kept in period and stars the charismatic and intense Florence Pugh (THE FALLING) as the titular wife, Katherine, married off to the son of a local landowner and expected to provide an heir despite his evident distaste for her.  Bored literally to sleep and sexually frustrated, she begins an affair with the groomsman, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), with a recklessness that draws the attention of the household staff and eventually her father in law and husband who return home in succession to restore discipline. So far so predictable - this is the stuff of Bovary and Chatterley. What's different here is that Katherine is an incredibly strong - perhaps controversially strong - character, who will not allow herself to be betrayed and tossed aside as Emma Bovary was.  And for those familiar with the Leskov text, or indeed the Shostakovich opera, screenwriter Alice Birch makes narrative choices that further emphasise the control and power that Katherine exerts.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

HACKSAW RIDGE


HACKSAW RIDGE is Mel Gibson's re-telling of the true story of Desmond Doss, a deeply religious US soldier who fought in the Pacific against the Japanese and won his country's highest military honour despite being a conscientious objector.  Doss refused to hold or fire a weapon but went into battle as a combat medic. And when his company was forced to retreat in ignominious circumstances, he stayed on top of Hacksaw Ridge and single-handedly rescued over seventy men.  He attributed his success and his survival to his faith, and overturned the prejudices of the men who thought him a coward.

It's easy to see why such material would appeal to Mel Gibson, a man whose faith is a quite extreme version of Catholicism, and whose films are obsessed with a close-up and cloying depiction of violence.   What Gibson isn't interested in are female characters or emotional nuance.  The result is a film, with a script by Robert Schenkkan (THE PACIFIC) and Andrew Knight (THE WATER DIVINER) that is heavy-handed, emotionally manipulative, and full of cliches and cheesy dialogue, and yet despite all this contains moments of great power and tragedy.

The first half of the film is a kind of PRIVATE BENJAMIN slash FORREST GUMP remake but with Andrew Garfield (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) cast as a kind of goofy simpleton.  He just wants to marry his gorgeous nurse sweetheart and protect his fellow soldiers in war despite his objections to holding a gun. We learn in flashback that this stems partly from a backyard scrap with his brother that nearly killed him, but also the example of seeing his father, traumatised by his experience of World War One, turn into a violent alcoholic.  In this section, Vince Vaughn gets to do his usual comedy schtick as the fast-talking mean Sergeant who wants to bully Doss out of the army.  Poor Teresa Palmer gets nothing to do as Doss' girlfriend except to look pretty and angelic and to be utterly supportive.  Indeed the only moment of real cinematic value is Hugo Weaving, who with his portrayal of the tortured ex soldier Papa Doss seems to be acting in another film entirely.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

LOVING


Richard and Mildred Loving were a mixed race couple from rural Virginia who fell in love and wanted to make a life for themselves surrounded by family, on an acre of land on which Richard intended to build Mildred a house.  But in 1958, inter-racial marriage was illegal in Virginia, so they had to get married in DC, and even then, were victims of local police who imprisoned them and ran them out of the state.  And there they could've stayed were it not for this quiet and unassuming couple's deep desire to raise their children in their home town - their quiet stubborn refusal to be denied their dream.  So they returned, in subterfuge, and Mildred, the more vocal and gregarious of the two, wrote a letter to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.  This was then passed to the ACLU, who took up the case as a way of getting the Supreme Court to over-turn anti-miscegenation laws more generally.

The genius of writer-director Jeff Nichols' approach is to make a film that is an intimate portrait of a loving couple, and to follow their approach in being resolutely uninterested in the big courtroom drama that their marriage provoked.  There's a moment about half way through this film when the two young eager ACLU lawyers show up, full of glee and awe at being able to try what could become such a landmark case. But the Lovings themselves are uninterested even in attending the Supreme Court hearing.  They continue to do what they always wanted to do - just live a quiet married life in a quiet rural town.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

JACKIE


JACKIE is a mesmerising portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband, President John F Kennedy.  It attempts to give us an intimate portrait of one of the most recognisable and yet most enigmatic women in history at both her most vulnerable and strong moments - when she's both dealing with her personal shock and grief, but also struggling to protect the legacy of her husband and to shape his place in history. We are left with a picture of a woman who is intelligent, fierce in her protective instincts, but not above sly manipulation - Jackie as a political player then, equal in her influence to Bobby Kennedy, and a match for LBJ and even General de Gaulle.  We get Jackie famously refusing to change out of her blood-stained clothes for the cameras as well as the less well known fight to have an Abraham Lincoln style full state funeral. But at the same time, we are given a tragic portrayal of just how quickly the machinery of power, rightly but savagely, moves to protect the new President, and just how quickly the old President's wife and children are cast aside.  

Screen-writer Noah Oppenheim's choice to focus on Jackie and to make JFK, who killed him, his actual politics, almost incidental is novel.  But so too is Chilean director Pablo Larrain's decision to tell the story using a complex non-linear structure.  We move back and forth from the assassination to the autopsy to the swearing in to the funeral arrangements to the interview Jackie gives to a journalist where she creates the myth of Camelot.  But even this dizzying back and forth is intercut with flashbacks to Jackie guiding TV viewers through the White House in meticulously re-created awkwardly staged black and white footage, not to mention White House recitals and balls. The vivid primary colours of the times of Camelot - Jackie in stunning ballgowns dancing with her prince, make a stark contrast with the dun-coloured scenes of Jackie alone in the White House after his assassination, and sitting in the dreary rain-soaked country house to give her interview.  Kudos to Larrain and editor Sebastian Sepulveda for managing to pull off this complex construction while but not losing the viewer.