Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Monday, December 28, 2020
Sunday, December 27, 2020
SOUL is rated PG and has a running time of 100 minutes. It is streaming on Disney+.
Saturday, December 26, 2020
The resulting film is good if you take it as it is - a filmed play. As such the language (Ruben Santiago-Hudson adapting August Wilson) is stylised and the action largely confined to either the rehearsal room or the recording room. We have moments of high drama in the form of powerful monologues by Ma Rainey and Levee, and a final act release of tension. If you take it as it is, this really is a powerful and moving drama. Viola Davis' Ma Rainey is an instant icon of queer and black cinema - a powerful and uncompromising figure who speaks honestly to the racism of her time. Kudos to the costume and make-up designers that gave her heft and sweat and revolting make-up - underlining the fact that she was not going to survive a more superficial mass marketing age. But it's Chadwick Boseman in his final role that steals the show, with his two powerful monologues. The latter is a violent indictment of an absent God, and given what we now know about Boseman's fatal illness, and can see in his thinner frame, it has an extra pathos. I suspect that he will be posthumously nominated for Awards and deservedly so.
MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM is rated R and has a running time of 94 minutes. It is streaming on Netflix.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
THE PROM is a ridiculous frothy neon-lit confection that perfectly fills our need for joy in this winter Covid lockdown. I know it's taken heat for a) not casting its original Broadway cast but upping the ante with big Hollywood stars and b) not casting an actual gay man but James Corden playing a very cliched camp gay man but I honestly do not care because the result is just wonderful! Meryl Streep and Corden are superb as an old down-on-their-luck, woefully un-self-aware couple of Broadway stars! Corden is just very good in this role! Despite their narcissism and delusion we root for them and their two friends - a similarly hapless chorus girl played by Nicole Kidman and a barman played by Andrew Rannells.
This wonderfully kooky foursome cynically jump on a social media story about a teenage lesbian who isn't allowed to go to her homophobic small-town high school prom. They swoop into town and lobby in her favour, but when the rest of the town cold shoulders her by not turning up, they throw her an inclusive prom of her very own. The dramatic tension comes from whether her girlfriend will come out, despite the fact that her mum (Kerry Washington) is homophobic; and whether James Corden's characters mum (Tracey Ullman) will finally accept him. But suffice to say that this all ends in a wonderful show-stopping tune with enough glitter and neon-light to banish the Covid blues.
This film is cheesy, predictable, progressive wishful thinking but damned if I didn't shed a happy tear by the end. Like SCHITT'S CREEK, this film shows us the world as it could be, and how joyous a thing it is to behold.
THE PROM is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 130 minutes. It was released on Netflix on December 11th.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
THE DIG is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 112 minutes. It will be released on January 29th 2021.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
J.D.Vance's Hillbilly Elegy was something of a publishing sensation and I very much enjoyed reading his biography. It appealed to me as a tale of a young kid born into the opioid crisis that bred Trump's base, complete with a drug-addict mum, rescued by a a battle-axe of a grandma, who somehow gets himself into an Ivy League law school and the Marines. Along the way, Vance speaks sympathetically about the social circumstances he grew up in while also criticising some of the more feckless behaviour it breeds. This willingness to not simply to blame structural issues but also personal choices made the book controversial.
I was surprised that the book was inspiring a narrative fiction movie rather than a documentary. Things that might pass as credible in real life seem broad and crass and worst of all patronising when fictionalised. And there's not a little poverty porn about Ron Howard's new film. Glenn Close stars as "mamaw" complete with frizzy afro, drooping latex boobs and stomach and hideous glasses and teeth. It's all so patronising and broad as to be offensive. And then we have Amy Adams as the addict mum Bev - another broad performance in a thankless one-dimensional role. Speaking of which, I give you poor Freida Pinto as the protagonist's supportive college girlfriend who seems to exist merely to further his career. As for the hero? He just comes across as banal and forgettable. I didn't want him to succeed - I wanted the movie to be over.
HILLBILLY ELEGY is rated R and has a running time of 113 minutes. It was released on Netflix on November 2th.
Sunday, November 01, 2020
In this new adaptation by a director I very much admire, Ben Wheatley, the tone is altogether different. The south of France is lush and sunlit and Mr De Winter and his second wife (Armie Hammer and Lily James) seem young, healthy, vibrant and jarringly contemporary despite the period setting. He takes her home to a lavish mansion but instead of the gothic gloom of the original we have Kristen Scott Thomas chomping through the scenery in a high camp version of Mrs Danvers that made me laugh at it rather than shudder from it. I had to question whether I was watching a Ryan Murphy film. And so it goes on, bad casting and bad direction. Sam Riley is utterly toothless as Rebecca's nasty cousin. The thriller/drama utterly uninteresting. It winds on to its ending which is about as cynical and Hollywood happy as anything I've ever seen. All is happy and sexy and fruitful. Rebecca has truly been vanquished. Along with any credibility Ben Wheatley ever had.
REBECCA has a running time of 123 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film was released on Netflix on October 21st.
Monday, October 26, 2020
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Saturday, October 17, 2020
LOVERS ROCK is another of the five-part series of films that Steve McQueen (TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE) has made to be shown on the BBC as part of its Small Axe series of films exploring British Black history. It couldn't be more different from the courtroom drama, MANGROVE, that opened the festival. Rather, this is a celebration of a certain time and a certain style of home-made West Indian entertainment - the house party! As the movie opens in early 80s Notting Hill, some young boys are clearing out the furniture from a house, and some women are cooking up a storm while singing together. Hours later young West Indian men and women don their finery and pay their fifty pence to come into an absolutely banging house party, with the most amazing music. The atmosphere is hot and sultry with dancing in the queue for the loo and people eating home-made food and making out in the back garden. As with all parties, there are unwelcome attentions from men, but also more happy couplings, and evidently a copious amount of weed being smoked. The best way to approach this film - with little plot or dialogue - is just to be carried along on the positive vibe. To become so absorbed, as the revellers do, that when the song Silly Games stops, you feel the music continue, with perhaps the most tuneful dancers of all time singing a cappella. The sun comes up and so does reality. This safe and warm private space that celebrates West Indian culture is exposed for what it is. An attempted sexual assault is thwarted. And as a new couple leaves to make out in the workplace of the boy, his boss finds them and scolds them. The black man puts on his cockney geezer accent that makes him less Other and threatening to the White man. The compromises of living as an ethnic minority begin again.
FRIENDSHIP'S DEATH was originally released in 1987 but has since been lovingly restored by the BFI and is playing in this year's London Film Festival.
Friday, October 16, 2020
NEW ORDER is a nasty brutal short film about social inequality, envy and corruption. As the film opens, patients are being kicked off hospital beds to accommodate the victims of a brutal social uprising. We cut to naked cadavers splattered with green paint. We then cut as brutally again to a wedding in a spectacular mansion where guests hand envelopes bulging with cash to the bride and her mother locks them in a safe. Their old gardener interrupts the celebrations. His wife is desperately ill but was kicked out of the hospital and now he needs money for a private operation. Mother, father, brother all reject charity but the bride wants to help, and when the social justice rioters reach the wedding house and start shooting and looting, she flees with the gardener. A day later, the house is a scene of carnage and murder. The bride, who had taken shelter with the gardener, is seized by armed militia. She's rounded up with other rich people, brutalised, raped and then offered up for ransom. As the movie ends, whatever this New Order is that has staged the coup has become as bad as the old regime - and may indeed be in cahoots with parts of it. We end the film with extrajudicial killings.
Aaron Sorkin follows up his directorial debut MOLLY'S GAME with a movie whose subject is far more in his wheelhouse, and what an energetic, pointed, anger-making film he has created in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7. Its concerns are those that Sorkin has explored throughout his career: the liberal fight against injustice, corruption and political repression. He cast these ideas in a warm-fuzzy light where optimism won in his hit TV show The West Wing. He was angrier and more cynical in The Newsroom. And in the Trump era, the anger is rightly turned up, and the absurdity of a system wherein the rule of law has been bent out of all recognition fully explored.
The film opens with a montage that takes us back to the 1960s and the potent combination of the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam protests. We see RFK beg for calm after the assassination of MLK before himself being assassinated. We then zoom in to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Protestors flooded into the City hoping to protest Vietnam in front of the media outside the convention hotel soon clashed with the police brutally trying to keep them away. Once Nixon is elected his regime decides to prosecute the so-called ringleaders of the riots for Conspiracy to Incite Riots and other charges, even throwing in iconic Black Panther Bobby Seale, who had no part of it, for good measure. The charges were clearly trumped up, the judge (Frank Langella) was clearly biased and bogus, the jury was tampered with to ensure a friendly verdict, and the defendants were clearly there just to be made an example of.
Sacha Baron Cohen is absolutely note perfect as Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman. He gets all the funniest lines because he is most comfortable with showing the absurdity of proceedings. But it's Eddie Redmayne that has the more interesting role as Tom Hayden - the apparently more sensible, less showy leader of a student protest movement who hates Hoffman's grandstanding. Much of the intellectual back and forth of the movie comes between them as they throw barbs about how best to serve the movement. And they are joined in a kind of Sorkin Triumvirate of Repartee by Mark Rylance as progressive attorney William Kunstler. It's so clear that the prosecution is bent (despite an ill-conceived attempt to soften Joseph Gordon-Levitt's prosecution attorney) that all the real intellectual fun is to be had in the arguments WITHIN the defense.
The result is a courtroom drama that is thrilling and rightly anger-making, and a movie where Sorkin's trademark razor-sharp combative dialogue is absolutely right for the job. But he has also come on leaps and bounds as a director of action. The way in which he reconstructs the riot as he interrogates the version of events that Tom Hayden is telling himself is a visual and editorial tour-de-force.
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 has been released on Netflix due to Covid. It has a running time of 127 minutes and is rated R.
David Byrne's American Utopia is the concert film we need right now. It's hard to believe this guy is 68 years old. His voice is still so strong and his creative instincts still so full of energy and innovation. A year ago he took his new album American Utopia to Broadway, mixing it up with classing songs from the Talking Heads canon. But rather than have a flashy stage set-up or costume changes or a conventional band playing static on stage, he decided to strip everything back to 11 people, wirelessly hooked into a sound system, with the same grey suits. The joy and excitement of the stage performance comes - then - simply from their movement, their music and a kick-ass lighting design. I've never seen something so kinetic and organic and authentically brilliant. The music and message speak to a kinder, more inclusive America. And it's sheer joy just to see so much talent on stage. Praise should also go to Spike Lee for knowing just when to show the choreography in full, or when to focus in on the artists, and for matching the energy of the show with his kinetic, flowing camera work.
Four middle-class, middle-aged Danish men are living in the Talking Heads nightmare - is this my beautiful wife? is this my beautiful car? how did I get here?! So on a night out they decide to follow some cockamamie theory that if they just keep their blood alcohol level every so slightly raised at all times, they'll be looser, happier, more confident and more engaged with their lives. And indeed it seems to work! Mads Mikkelsen's high school teacher - previously so disengaged he got hauled up his students - is suddenly like something out DEAD POET'S SOCIETY! But the boys don't stop there, do they. They decide to keep on up'ing the alcohol levels - for science! And naturally, as they start showing up drunk to work and getting bladdered on a Saturday night they might look like they're having the time of their lives, but their families notice and it wreaks havoc on their personal lives. And - of course - alcohol might take the edge off anxiety or boredom and help a transformation, but it can't solve deep underlying pain. And the beauty of this film is that as much as it is a wonderful celebration of male friendship and the joys of getting slightly drunk, it's also not blind to the way in which some people cannot stick to a moderate high and for whom alcoholism will exacerbate their depression The result is a film that is beautifully balanced - showing the negative and the positive. And when it ends with a moment of true physical and emotional catharsis that exploits Mads Mikkelsen's dance training (who knew?!) it doesn't feel cheap or twee but earned and glorious and liberating.
Aleem Khan's AFTER LOVE, is a deeply moving drama that is told with a controlled, spare austerity and visual style that is truly impressive in a debut feature. The film stars the superb Joanna Scanlan as Fahima - a white English woman who converted to Islam when she married her husband many decades ago. As the film opens we see a scene of normal and apparently happy domesticity before the husband quickly dies. Fahima discovers an ID card and mobile phone among her late husband's effects with messages from a woman - Genevieve - in Calais. It soon becomes clear that her husband had another family a mere 20 miles away across The Channel. Fahima takes the decision to go and confront this woman, but in a very telling moment, she is mistaken for a cleaner, and in a state of shock, assumes that role and discovers more about the Calais family.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
The entirety of his film takes place is a small village which is perhaps Austrian, German or Czech depending on which country is invading the other. As a result, its inhabitants are a rich cultural mix of ethnic Germans, ethnic Czechs and Jews. In such a place, the language one chooses to speak in becomes a political act and an ethnic or nationalist declaration. And with Nazis, Czech patriots and Soviets in power at various times from the 1930s to 1950s, allegiances shift under the exigencies of survival.
Yemi Bamiro's documentary is a kinetic, well-constructed and insightful look at the marketing genius of Nike to find a young Michael Jordan and turn him into a global brand. Rather than marketing an entire basketball team with a sneaker aimed at active athletes, Nike marketed an individual and aimed at the wider urban i.e. black youth market. They were targeting kids with little money and no real stake in the American Dream with a brand that personified achievement and excellence and, indeed, rebellion. For sure, it was useful that the NBA banned its first shoe. But Nike marketing execs had the balls to lean into that and get Spike Lee to direct some cutting edge black and white ads that leant into the Air Jordan's coolness. Is it the shoe? Or is it Mike? And thanks to Spike Lee, being a sneakerhead became a thing.
Monday, October 12, 2020
Sunday, October 11, 2020
INDUSTRY is a new HBO/BBC TV series that has been written by two people who apparently interned in the City in this millennium and no doubt did some research beyond watching WALL STREET and reading Liar's Poker. They seem to ignore the fact that most jobs in the City are just rather banal, mundane, desk jobs in an environment of heavy regulation of relationships, drug use and harassment. Rather, they create a show that depicts a contemporary trading floor that feels circa 1987 rather than in a world shaped by the fallout from 2008. So our brave interns are all sex obsessed, take copious quantities of prescription and illegal drugs, and have a tenuous grasp of ethics. I suppose it is at least refreshing that they aren't babes in the wood to be corrupted by their evil bosses. In fact our lead protagonist, Harper (Myha’la Herrold) is as dodgy as they come, faking her college credentials and trying desperately to cover up a fat finger error. It's as though the interns themselves are living in some post WALL STREET era where they assume this is how interns behave and ethics work in investment banking.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
SHIRLEY is rated R and has a running time of 107 minutes. It played Sundance, Berlin and London 2020. It opened in the US this summer, and will open in the UK on October 30th.