Fortnightly Film Fest #3

If one could live at Cineworld, one probably would.


So now that January is behind us and we are ever so slightly into February, it is time again for a review of the films I have seen in the past two weeks – including, and not limited to, the first film of 2019 to earn itself a C star!

I feel that writing these review posts is something akin to homework – a task that adds some merit to my going to the cinema so often.
It at least makes it seem somewhat more productive, and less like two or so vacuous hours spent in front of a giant screen.
I mean – I can pass this off as me being critically engaged in the cinematic material I am consuming, rather than just being entertained like a groundling in the pit of an Elizabethan era theatre.

That was something of a niche reference but I hope you get my point; by writing this I am giving a bit of ‘useful’ meaning to my hobby.

These reviews will feature the occasional spoiler so please read with caution.


Beautiful Boy

2019:
Starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet – Directed by Felix van Groeningen

Rotten Tomatoes:
Critics 69% vs Audience 74%
Beautiful Boy sees Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell delivering showcase work that’s often powerful enough to make up for the story’s muted emotional impact.

Well I will lay my feelings out pretty plainly when I inform you that Beautiful Boy received the first star of 2019.

Carell as David Sheff – writer, divorcee, father – and Chalamet as Nic Sheff – son, lost soul, drug addict – was powerful in the way only ‘quiet’ films can be.

And I personally would disagree with Rotten Tomatoes’ general consensus, as I don’t feel the emotional impact of the film was muted at all.

In the words of M, it was a roller coaster; painful and exceptionally harrowing.
Not in the least because you could see Nic’s wasted potential and the pain he and his family were in. I found myself actually having to hold my hands over my mouth to stop from groaning aloud when Nic relapses after a long and hard won period of sobriety.

So I wouldn’t call it emotionally muted.

My reaction to this film can also be owed to just how relatable it was to me personally.

Now my not-so-little, nearly twenty year-old, baby brother is not a drug addict, but for reasons that I am going to delve into in a bit more detail in Sunday’s upcoming post, Nic Sheff reminded me of J in so many ways.

A boy who is more than a little bit damaged, and more than a little bit prone to self-destructive behaviour.

Equally, whilst there are factors in Nic’s life that aren’t brilliant – such as his divorced parents living a flight apart – he’s got it pretty good compared to others.

His parents may not be together but he has a cool dad who writes for Rolling Stone and a nice, Bohemian, Californian family with half-siblings who think he hangs the moon.

Nic has it good and he has potential, and so Beautiful Boy forces it’s viewers to ask how it went so wrong for him

We are also forced to realise that it is not just low income or poorly educated families who live somewhere on the periphery of society, who are at risk.

And so here is the answer to the ‘Why this story? And why is it being told in this moment?’ question I always ask myself when I go to the cinema.

Film makers are attempting to force white America to come to terms with the realities of the opioid crisis, by framing it within an upper middle class, educated, white family.

Whilst the War on Drugs has historically and purposefully been framed as a black issue, van Groeningen is telling viewers that drugs are the biggest killer of people under 50 in the USA.

During 2017, there were more than 72,000 overdose deaths in the United States. 
More than 130 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016 and 2017.

This is not race dependent.

In fact, in 2017 white people accounted for 78% of opioid overdose deaths, with only 12% of the total 47,600 being amongst the black community.

The fact that Big Pharma advertising in the States encourages individuals to ask their Doctors for certain brands of medication during breaks in TV shows is an indicator of the money making motives everyone knows underlies the American health care system.

But back to the film itself.

We see truly stellar performances from Carell and Chalamet, and Carell’s outstanding portrayal as a dad desperately trying to save his son from himself had me wondering why Welcome To Marwen was so terrible in comparison.
I’m going to blame the not so-impactful script and story line of WTM.

The most powerful scene by far was for me a moment in which Nic calls his father for help, and David refuses.
This comes after we witness Nic’s sobriety roller coaster – we think he has finally got it together and turned his life around, but then he loses nearly two years clean, breaks into his family home, steals anything he can for drug money and then his ‘girlfriend’ nearly dies of an overdose, which prompts his call to his father.

What we therefore see is David Sheff finally realising that he cannot save his son, and saying enough is enough.
I really don’t know what could have been more painfully heartbreaking for a parent.

The narrative style was non-linear, interjecting snippets of Nic growing up – the good and the bad times – throughout the story.

I liked this. I felt that as a deliberate devise, this plays around with your notion of who Nic was; showing him around, behind, and in-between the drugs, so that you get more of a sense of him as a real person, and not just as a typified drug addict.

T did not like this. He got confused, and couldn’t always work out where we were meant to be physically and chronologically within the story.

What I especially liked was that whilst the film ends with a type-face note informing the viewer that Nic Sheff is alive and well with eight years drug free, the film itself does not end with a happy image of Nic sober.

What we are shown is Nic in rehab, having very nearly died, weak and unable to walk unassisted, reuniting with his somewhat distant father.

Beautiful Boy very deliberately chooses not to give an image of resolution, or one singular happy ending for one singular white American family.

What I feel the film wants to assert with its particular ending, is that addiction is a lifelong struggle, and as has been shown, Nic could return to drugs at any time.

The message then stands that prevention of initial drug misuse – either prescription or illegal – must be the priority in America’s fight against the drug crisis it finds itself embattled in.


Vice

2019:
Starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams – Directed by Adam McKay

Rotten Tomatoes:
Critics 66% vs Audience 56%
Vice takes scattershot aim at its targets, but writer-director Adam McKay hits some satisfying bullseyes — and Christian Bale’s transformation is a sight to behold.

What a film.

Vice very nearly earned itself a C-Star, but in order to prevent a dilution of the C-Star’s value I have to be discerning.

Having previously starred in director Adam McKay’s The Big Short, Bale does what Bale does best and undergoes a drastic physical transformation to play the part of chubby bureaucrat Dick Cheney.

With Amy Adams co-starring as his Lady Macbeth-esque wife, Lynne; Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as the pliable George W. Bush, Bale takes the helm in a black-humoured story of behind the scenes power and influence.

I have to say that Vice gave me strong Scandal vibes, playing on the idea that it is not the person in the spotlight who you should be worried about…

Structurally, I really enjoyed the nouveau style – playing as it did with traditional story telling and what it is that actually makes a film.
It didn’t even feel overlong, despite having a total run time of 135 mins.

The stylistic pastiche and collage used in Vice heightened its comedically dark tone; working on the premise that if the audience is not laughing at the authoritarian power Cheney managed to amass, then they will be crying on the floor.

Humour was therefore the only way to tell this story without it being depressing, boring or disabling.
If the audience was too steamrolled by the magnitude of the misuse of power conducted in D.C., then fatalistic acceptance would have been a more likely response than energised action.

Vice ultimately ties everything back to Cheney.

MAGA, climate change, global terrorism, school shootings, the Mediterranean migrant crisis, the Arab spring, ISIS, ISIL, the war in the Middle East, the War on Terror, the 7/11 bombings in London, the removal of a 1940’s act that required balanced news reporting and thus the creation of Fox News and Fake News, etc. etc.

The film brings it all back to Washington D.C. and the quiet, fat, heart disease ridden man in the back ground.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that.

Part of me did question whether this framing was a little bit of American arrogance; claiming to be the power responsible for everything – even the bad shit.
However I chalked this up to its being a product of Hollywood, and as such it has American arrogance written into its very DNA.

What I did particularly enjoy about Vice was Amy Adams.
Her Lynne Cheney was no quiet little wife character, and even though Mrs. Cheney’s politics were personally abhorrent, she comes across as a bit of a badass.
Lynne Cheney was an unapologetic conservative with right-wing views who wanted to climb as far up the greasy political pole as she could.
And so she did.

When Dick’s heart gives out on the campaign trail, it is Lynne who takes up his Republican standard and rouses the white working class Mid-westerners who would later become the stalwart supporters on Trump in the run up to the 2016 Presidential election.

Her rhetoric is of course repulsively right wing; sexist, regressive, anti-immigrant, you get the gist.
But she takes to the Lady Macbeth trope famously.

It is perhaps the fact that Dick and Lynne Cheney make such good modern Macbeth’s that a somewhat unusual scene actually ends up fitting rather well.

{Side Note: Christian Bale’s Cheney is arguably less of a wet lettuce than old Macbeth; at least this guy commits to his corruption without quibbling about it}

Without Lynne, according to Vice, Dick would have been a nobody drunk.
So to reinforce the ‘Behind Every Powerful Man…‘ idiom, the film makers really take the Macbeth allusion and run with it by having Dick and Lynne discuss his return to politics in the form of a Shakespearean dialogue.

I mean the narrator literally prefaces the tableau with the sentence;
“We can’t just snap into a Shakespearean Soliloquy that dramatises every feeling and emotion. That’s just not the way the world works.”

In the scene the couple discuss the usual machinations for world domination and may as well have finished off with a round of evil genius laughter.
Such a scene could easily have been highly contrived, but it actually fit really well with the films general predisposition for doing things differently.

M posed a very astute question upon leaving the cinema: What was the films agenda?

It was definitely liberal leaning in its mission to shock the audience with a visual chronicle of the extent to which democracy, society, and the planet in general had been violated as a result of Cheney’s influence.

However it also made Dick and Lynne into oddly charismatic MAGA/Alt Right anti-heroes – nefarious and darkly appealing, sucking the audience in to the point where you almost ‘like’ them.


Second Act

2019:
Starring Jennifer Lopez and Vanessa Hudgens – Directed by Peter Segal

Rotten Tomatoes:
Critics 45% vs Audience 50%
Second Act proves Jennifer Lopez remains as magnetic as ever on the big screen; unfortunately, the movie’s muddled story isn’t always worthy of her gifts.

So I need to first tell you that T has a weird obsession with JLo.
OK maybe ‘obsession’ is a bit strong, but lets say that his appreciation for JLo goes beyond the norm for a nearly twenty-two year old man who is still resolutely assuring me that he is straight.

{Side note: Of course sexuality is not predicated by music preference and you can like whatever you want to like, but T’s love of JLo is matched only by his love of Kylie Minogue and so come on – you get what I mean right?}

T’s love for JLo is so strong that we had to drive to a whole different Cineworld to see Second Act, because our regular Cineworld wasn’t screening it and there was no way in hell T was missing it.

Starring the indomitable Jennifer Lopez as Maya, a long term employee of a super-store à la B&M, and Vanessa Hudgens – who I have literally not seen in a film since my baby sister made me watch High School Musical 2 on a rainy holiday in Cornwall – as Zoe, who just so happens to be JLo’s long-lost daughter whom she had to give up for adoption as a teenager.

The plot is thickened by the fact that Zoe was adopted by the head of F&C Corporation, the consumer goods giant to whom Maya’s computer-genius godson sends a hacked version of her résumé and to whom she is employed as a consultant.

The Rotten Tomatoes assessment that this is a muddled story is pretty accurate; with a convoluted combination of the break up/make up, mother/daughter, working girl/big city slicker narratives all thrown together in a oner.

All in all I’d say that it was kind of like a kids school play – a bit rubbish but still rather sweet.
I had no expectations that it was going to be an awards ceremony contender and it didn’t disappoint in its mission to mildly entertain.

It did however help reassure me in my decision to leave my miserable job.

Unlike Maya who is undervalued by her employer, I am treated very well and work with a whole host of lovely people. However for those of you who read last week’s Sunday Post, you will know that I have spent the last seven months learning that recruitment is decidedly not what I wish to be doing with my life.

So seeing Second Act after a massive, self-doubt driven sobbing session in T’s Vauxhall Corsa (called Harold) was actually a helpful confidence booster.

My mood went up and so did my self-belief that I was right in the decision to leave this job; one that has me wanting to slam my head against my desk in boredom every thirty seconds and which is keeping me from realising my true career aspirations.

Well done JLo.


The Green Book

2019:
Starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson – Directed by Peter Farrelly

Rotten Tomatoes:
Critics 80% vs Audience 95%
Green Book takes audiences on a surprisingly smooth ride through potentially bumpy subject matter, fuelled by Peter Farrelly’s deft touch and a pair of well-matched leads.

I read another review after watching the film that articulated the reactions I had to The Green Book as if the writer of that particular analysis had been inside my own head.

With Viggo Mortenson as Tony ‘Lip‘ Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, the film skates all together too tidily through the racial quagmire that was the American South in the mid-20th Century.

{Side Note: This reviewer will not be touching upon the the socio-political-racial quagmire that is America today, lest she end up exploding with indignant rage and writing a book rather than a blog}

The aforementioned other review suggested that this was a film that could have very well been released a quarter century ago, lacking as it was the intricacies and critical analysis available to a supposedly ‘woke’ age, one enlightened by such movements as Black Lives Matter, Say Her Name and #MeToo.

I felt it was particularly heavy handed in its endeavour to show a ‘balanced’ view of race and morality; a ‘not every white guy is a bad guy and not every black guy is a good guy’ message that seeks to maintain an even keel with audiences.

Take for instance the junior police officer in Alabama.

Although he showed limited conviction, this white individual attempted to remind his more prejudiced colleagues that Dr. Shirley did indeed have rights, and that it contravened the law to imprison him without cause.

Dr. Shirley having been arrested alongside Tony, who had struck a police officer for equating his Italian-American status to blackness.

Whilst this scene did work to equate Dr. Shirley’s situation in the 1960’s to the unfortunately timeless principle of ‘Travelling While Black”, and to illicit MLK Jr. associations (Letter From Birmingham Jail anyone?), it also seemed to shoehorn in the ‘There Were Some Good White Folks’ idea.

And I am sure there were some good white folks who opposed the racist outlook of their peers, I am not disputing this fact.

However it felt somewhat contrived in this context, like a forced signalling to prevent certain members of a white audience for dismissing the film as *sigh* anti-white.

This was even more apparent during a later scene in which Tony and Dr. Shirley are once again pulled over by a police officer; this time on their journey back to New York, racing through a snow storm in their attempt to make it home in time for Christmas.

A shared glance between the duo informs the audience that they are expecting another aggressive stop-and-frisk situation.

What in fact transpires is a complete reversal of these expectations, with the officer altruistically stopping the pair to inform them that a tyre is dangerously flat and remaining to direct oncoming traffic around the foundered vehicle as Tony changes it.

I did find myself involuntarily rolling my eyes at this point.

This eye roll was equally exacerbated by the preceding scene, in which Tony fires warning shots from a previously concealed weapon in order to scare off the two young black men hiding behind the car.
These men having intended to mug Dr. Shirley after seeing him flash a wad of cash openly in a bar.

See, neither black nor white are wholly good or bad, the film tries to say.

The conversion of Tony from a (‘borderline‘) racist is also played out obviously, leading the film almost to a point where the plot becomes overly simplistic.

I mean, Tony begins the film by throwing out the water glasses which two black handymen have drunk from in his apartment, and ends by openly embracing Dr. Shirley and inviting him to spend Christmas with his family.

The Christmas spirit of ‘Good Will To All Men’ seemed to run rampant in The Green Book, as the extended Vallelonga clan also welcomed Dr. Shirley to the table as an honoured guest, even though a contingent of the men had earlier taken it upon themselves to ‘monitor’ the black workmen in Tony’s apartment, berating him for leaving his wife unaccompanied with them.

So all in all this racial balancing act makes the film a bit cute; full of Hollywood stylisations of inter-racial friendships and generally enjoyable before you think too hard about the dream it is trying to sell you.

Favourite Quotes:
“They didn’t have a choice whether to be inside or out, you did.”

“The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.”


Can You Ever Forgive Me?

2019:
Starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant – Directed by Marielle Helle
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Rotten Tomatoes:
Critics 98% vs Audience 83%
Deftly directed and laced with dark wit, Can You Ever Forgive Me? proves a compelling showcase for deeply affecting work from Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy.

Now there was something about this film that made me feel highly uncomfortable; a response of almost physically manifested revulsion.

There were points where I hid my face in my coat because Melissa McCarthy’s Lee Israel was such a beige, and generally unlikable character.

And I guess that’s where the skill came in because McCarthy honestly made me detest her slovenly, unclean and morose character.

There was a truly gag-inducing scene where Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) helps clean her rancid apartment, only to discover the wretched smell is coming from a vast collection of cat poo under her bed.

This film had me thinking that whilst I may want to be a writer, thank God I don’t like cats.

My sense of grizzly aversion towards Lee Israel persisted throughout the entire film, alleviating somewhat in the redemption stage at the narratives end but leaving me unsure whether I did enjoy the film at all.

It’s hard to say, to be honest I don’t think you were meant to enjoy it in the usual sense of cinema watching.

It was all too gross, in the sense that this was alluding to real events and real people. This meant that there was no distance, created by fiction, between the viewer and the realisation that this skin-crawling reaction was towards a real person.

There were a couple of redeeming factors; Israel’s famously aggressive quips being a particular highlight and the fact that Melissa McCarthy’s actual, real-life husband features as a shady book seller who tries to extort her being another.

The lines –
“Who did you want to be, I mean what was the plan?”
and
“I was supposed to be more than this, wasn’t I?”
resonated particularly strongly with the theme of this blog and with my current job-situation.

Israel is, after all, looking for fulfilment and a way to pay her bills rather than acclaim or recognition.

So maybe that’s why I detested her character; because she reminded me of a particularly extreme version of myself.

I will therefore remember Can You Ever Forgive Me? as a cautionary tale for this would-be writer.


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