SHARPER is rated R and has a running time of 116 minutes. It is available to stream on Apple TV.
Monday, February 20, 2023
This is the decision portrayed in this film. The men have gone to bail the attackers leaving the women home with the schoolteacher (Ben Whishaw). They convene a secret vote, and when that is tied, nominate a handful of women to debate the issue and make a decision for them all, with the schoolteacher taking minutes. The stakes could not be higher - earthly safety from attack versus expulsion from the community and therefore from the kingdom of heaven.
The range of female experience and reaction is circumscribed by the womens' subjugation. They tell us that they barely have the language to articulate what has been done to their bodies. They cannot read or write and do not possess a map with which to leave. Their religious belief and in-grained misogyny complicates their decision. But even within the limited scope of their intellectual freedom there is disagreement. Jessie Buckley's character is married to an abusive husband but sees no possibility of escape, having been told explicitly and implicitly to forgive and endure all her life. On the other end of the spectrum, Claire Foy's character wants to fight and kill and be avenged. When we learn why she is so particularly angry it is a blow upon a bruise.
I suspect that how far viewers respond to this film will depend on how far they are willing to accept that it is a "wild act of female imagination". An opening title card tells us that it is, of necessity, incredible and an on-the-nose allegory of the Me Too movement. The women are therefore incredibly articulate, despite their lack of formal education, and the dialogue and blocking can come across like a university debate on a theatre stage.
I was willing to grant the film my suspension of disbelief, and indeed was given no choice in the matter because the power of the subject matter and performances carried me forward into this strange, anachronistic, hermetically-sealed world. It seems wrong to single out a particular player in a very strong ensemble cast, but Sheila McCarthy as Greta had a devastatingly quiet power that cut me off at the knees.
But the visionary mind here is that of Sarah Polley, which is why it feels so bizarre that this film should be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, but Polley should be overlooked for Best Director.
It is her vision that centres the film on the female experience, and never shows us one of the attackers, and barely lets Ben Whishaw speak except in response to what the women need. It is Polley who decides to show the attacks in flashback and from above, making us feel the horror without ever being exploitative or pandering to the male gaze. It is Polley who has the confidence to sentence us to "merely" watch women talking - women who have hitherto been forbidden from having a voice, or thoughts, or liberty. It is Polley who creates a vision of a dark, claustrophobic, colour-drained world that feels so anachronistic that even a pop song by The Monkees seems shockingly new.
The result is a film that feels urgent, and relevant, and shocking but also sadly not so. A film that shows female anger and resignation, and challenges us to ask what kind of world we have created that these women might escape to, and what consequence their male ally will face.
WOMEN TALKING does what all great films do - it makes us ask questions of ourselves and our society while at the same time impacting us emotionally. I felt deeply invested in the fate of these women, and heartbroken at the choice presented to them.
WOMEN TALKING is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 104 minutes. It played Telluride, Toronto and London 2022. It was released in the USA on December 23rd and in the UK last week.
Thursday, February 16, 2023
Aline Brosh McKenna, the screenwriter of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and 27 DRESSES, returns to our screens with her debut directorial rom-com, YOUR PLACE OR MINE. I say rom-com, but this parlous excuse for a film is neither romantic nor comedic. There is no chemistry between the leads, Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher, and no laugh out loud moments. Even Tig Notaro can't save it. What's worse, the way in which this film deals with the real problems of school bullying and recovery from addiction, are borderline insulting. No-one actually does any work on themselves in this film. All of life's problems can be fixed by throwing money at mean kids, and having good connections to influential businesspeople. Maybe this is indeed Aline Brosh McKenna's experience of life. It doesn't fly with normal people.
Witherspoon plays a single mum in Los Angeles who complains about her kid's' medical costs but can apparently afford a beautiful quirky pretty house unlike anything I've ever seen in LA. She works as an accountant but is a book lover. Her best friend is Ashton Kutcher's recovering addict who lives a sleek, rich batchelor life in New York. They house swap for a week when she needs to take some accountancy exams in New York and her babysitter bails. He tries to fix her life by making her kid popular at school by pandering to the superficial demands of the bullies. She tries to fix his life by handing in a manuscript to a cute influential publisher she just happens to meet in a bar. It all ends happily ever after.
The whole thing just hangs on the screen like a damp squib. One cannot imagine Kutcher and Witherspoon actually having a relationship. They don't seem to be enjoying their time together at all. It's utterly predictable throughout. The only reason to watch this is to hate watch it, and that's no good for anyone.
YOUR PLACE OR MINE is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 109 minutes. It's streaming on Netflix.
Georgia Oakley's assured debut feature, BLUE JEAN, is an attempt to dramatise the moral quandary Section 28 put teachers in, as 'don't ask don't tell' forced them back into the closet. It centres on a dedicated and charismatic sports teacher called Jean, played by Rosy McEwan. She is out to her family but not to her school, and in a relationship with the more comfortably out Viv (Kerrie Hayes). The fact that Jean is more guarded is already a source of tension in their relationship, even before Section 28 announces its presence on news reports. When it comes, it's a heavy bludgeon of prejudice on top of a deep layer of heteronormative pop culture, as symbolised here by the iconic 80s dating show, Blind Date. Matters are brought to a head when new girl Lois (Lucy Halliday) sees Jean in a gay social club and clearly looks to her for support as she's bullied at school. The question is whether Jean will compromise her secrecy to stand up for Lois and what is right.
What I like about this film is that it's willing to show its lead character as morally compromised but not judge her harshly for that. At the end of the film there's a wonderfully joyous gay social and one of the activist members of the group explains to Lois that the people in the closet who are in professional jobs help in their own way, by donating money to the cause. The viewer may or may not find peace with that, but given the clearly depicted nastiness of the environment I have a lot of sympathy with it.
I also love that this is one of the few films that I can remember that centres the lesbian experience, and Northern lesbians at that! Moreover, it depicts a vibrant, supportive, wonderfully vital lesbian culture through the social club and squat. Even more rare, the film shows a lesbian couple enjoying sex and intimacy in a way that feels authentic and does not pander to the male or straight gaze. In so many ways, this film is unique and wonderfully unapologetic.
Finally, I really love writer-director Georgie Oakley's colour palette and framing, and the lead performances. I defy anyone not to cheer with joy when Jean finally tells a misogynistic suburban divorcee that she's gay. But for the most part her character is more slippery, subtle and nuanced and all the better for that.
BLUE JEAN has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated 15. It played Venice and London 2022 and is currently on release in the UK.
Tuesday, February 07, 2023
I think anyone embarking on a project like this - or any artist interpreting a subject that has already been treated many times - should ask themselves what they can bring to the table. What is their particular take - their particular insight? Or failing that, what is it that the medium of fiction film can bring that documentary can't? Well, clearly if we're just imitating Whitney's videos and concert performances that's low value add, if not value negative to watching the real footage. What a dramatic treatment COULD have brought is real insight into her state of mind, and the emotional toll of being closeted, hated by her own black peers, and exploited by her own family. I wanted less music and more drama. Still, you shouldn't review the film that wasn't made, just the one in front of you. And it's fine. Really fine. But the docs are better.
WHITNEY HOUSTON: I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY has a running time of 144 minutes and is rated PG-13. It was released last December.
THE QUIET GIRL is based upon a short story by Claire Keegan, whose Small Things Like These was my pick of the Booker Prize longlist last year. That title would as well fit this story. As it opens, we see a young, sensitive, quiet girl called Cait stuck in a noisy, violent, dark, chaotic, cramped house full of unwanted children, a pregnant mother and an alcoholic father. Seemingly arbitrarily, Cait is chosen to go and live with the mother's childless and older relatives who live in a modest but well-ordered working farm. The contrast is stark. Eibhlín and Sean are emotionally worn but kind and caring, even if it takes Sean a while to learn how to warm up. They are nurturing and proud and appreciate her quiet self-restraint. Over the course of the film we come to find out the reason for their melancholy and see the sparks of hope and love that this relationship gives them and Cait. By the end of the film I felt utterly invested in their future and profoundly moved.
All this is testament to the restrained and nuanced performances from the three leads - newcomer Catherine Clinch as Cait and Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett as her foster parents. It's also testament to the way in which Bairead and DP Kate McCullough choose to frame action within early 80s Ireland's cramped rooms that seem to contain a thousand emotions. The choice of Academy ratio really works here.
THE QUIET GIRL is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 94 minutes. It played Berlin 2022 and was released last year in the USA and UK. It is nominated for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar.
Sunday, February 05, 2023
YOU PEOPLE has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated R. It is streaming on Netflix.
The action set pieces are great fun as is Butler's brand of low-key smarmy humour. I like that they acknowledge he's human. He gets puffed out after fighting off a rebel in a telephone exchange. When he's succeeded in landing the plane at the end he takes a moment just to let the adrenaline run down and to have a bit of a manly cry. I also love how they film the plane. There's a really great shot at the end where they frame it from the perspective of the top of the fin, perfectly symmetrical. And I'm not going to lie. Under direction from Jean Froicois Richet (MESRINE), I was seriously stressed out in the final set-piece, totally involved in whether the plane would make it. So mock it all you like, this film may be hokey, but it works!
PLANE has a running time of 107 minutes and is rated R. It is on global release.
Friday, February 03, 2023
PAMELA: A LOVE STORY has a running time of 112 minutes.
BANK OF DAVE is a harmless and likeable bit of rom-com slash socialist agitation. Naturally, its ham-fisted politics aren't entirely sympathetic to those of us at the Blog formerly known as Movie Reviews for Greedy Capitalist Bastards. But the film managed to tap into my nostalgia for Def Leppard so it's all good. The two stars here are for each of the hit songs I found myself joyously singing along to at the end of the film.
Roy Kinnear plays Dave - a real-life successful Northern businessman who decides to step in and make small loans to his local community with the Global Financial Crisis sees credit tighten up. He's such a good egg that he donates all the profits to charity. The endeavour is so successful at boosting his local community that he decides to become a proper bank - the Bank of Dave - and hires a young lawyer (Joel Fry) to help him make the application. But here's where it gets pantomime-y - because every folk hero needs a big bad nasty evil overlord. Think Robin of Sherwood and King John.
So we have Hugh Bonneville and various others play heartless profit-hungry oligarchs trying to keep humble Dave out of the banking industry by trumping up charges of loan sharking against him and then demanding an outsized cash deposit before he can go into business. Which is where the inevitable BLUES BROTHERS- style final concert comes in featuring our favourite Northern metal band. There's also an entirely tacked on and inevitable romance between the lawyer and Bridgerton's Phoebe Dynever.
The dialogue is painful, the characters drawn with a blunt pencil, the story is hokey and this is really just pisspoor except for the fact that I did rather enjoy the courtroom scene and of course, the aforementioned Leppard reunion. So fair play.
BANK OF DAVE is streaming on Netflix and has a running time of 107 minutes.
ALICE DARLING is rated R and has a running time of 89 minutes. It played Toronto 2022 and is currently on release in cinemas and on the internet.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE has a running time of 139 minutes and is rated R. It played SXSW 2022 and is on release globally.
The main narrative is concerned with a package holiday that father and daughter Callum and Sophie take to Turkey in the early 1990s. Callum is a young father, evidently broken up from Sophie's mum. They have a warm and open relationship, speaking about her first kiss and gentle discovery of adolescence. They clearly love each other deeply. But Sophie cannot know what we see - that Callum is struggling with depression and taking risky decisions. The framing device of the film sees an adult Sophie in her flat watching old camcorder footage of the holiday. We don't know what happened to the father between the holiday and now, but there's a melancholy nostalgic feeling, and an implication that he is no longer in her life.
What I love about this film is Wells' resistance to cheap plot or big set pieces. We just get an accumulation of detail and feeling until the sense of love and loss is overwhelming. I also love the way the film is shot and styled: the way so much of it is mediated though screens - camcorders, TVs, karaoke machines - placing a distorting lens between reality and memory. Wells is a writer-director who reminds me of Joanna Hogg in these respects. Paul Mescal gives his best performance to date and Frankie Corio is incredibly impressive as the daughter.
Overall, this has to be one of the most deeply affecting and profound films I have seen in a while. I am so delighted that it has received an Oscar nomination. It deserves all the recognition it is getting.
AFTERSUN is rated R and has a running time of 102 minutes. It played Cannes and London 2022 and was released in the UK and USA last year.
TO LESLIE is an underwritten hokey film about addiction and redemption that is almost insultingly simplistic about how easy it is to quit years of heavy drinking. One can forgive its broad strokes as it's the debut feature of director Michael Morris and writer Ryan Binaco. It has come to fame for the social media campaign run by feted actors to get its star, Andrea Riseborough, an Oscar nomination. Her performance is committed and big - very big - in the films early scenes. Indeed it veers into that well-known Oscar-bait trope of getting fucked up and ugly for a nomination. But Riseborough is a good actor, and while this isn't her best performance, I'm happy she's getting some overdue notice. But let's not get carried away about the merits of this film.
Riseborough stars in the titular role as a working class single mother who wins the lottery, blows the money, and ends up drunk and homeless. In the film's opening scenes she reconnects with her now grown son (Owen Teague) and immediately betrays his trust by stealing money and getting high. He kicks her out and she heads back to a home town full of people who either mock or detest her. But she's held out a lifeline by Marc Maron and Andre Royo's motel bosses who give her a job as a maid. She cleans up and finds acceptance. The end.
There are better, more heartbreaking, and more complex depictions of addiction on screen, most notably by Andre Royo as Bubbles in TV's The Wire. Riseborough and Maron do the best they can with the script they're given. Janney is too good for the kind of schmaltz we get in the final scene. This is not a film of note. But it's great Riseborough is getting recognised.
TO LESLIE is rated R and has a running time of 119 minutes. It played by SXSW 2022 and was released last year in the USA.