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


Daphne Du Maurier's nasty little thriller, Rebecca, is both iconic as a short story and as its film adaptation by Hitchcock. It's a grim tale about a banal simpering middle class spinster who falls for an unattainable rich aristocratic widower.  Which is not to say she doesn't attain him. For reasons that are still murky to me, he marries her, maybe to protect himself from the ghosts of his first and titular wife.  But the new, unnamed wife will never really possess her husband because he remains obsessed by the cynical and manipulative Rebecca - a woman beloved by all including her obsessive and diabolical housekeeper Mrs Danvers.  At the end of the novel, there is no happy ending. The couple are trapped overseas in a loveless and frigid marriage. The only triumph is that the second Mrs De Winter realises her husband never loved his first wife. At the end of the Hitchcock version we get a slightly soupier Hollywood ending. Joan Fontaine's second wife has gathered some courage and supported Laurence Olivier through his trial. He clings to her like a parasite. But it's no marriage of equals. Nonetheless, both original novel and film are of a tone - sinister, nasty, dark, cynical, blighted, thwarted and corrupt. It is Rebecca who sets the tone.

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.