I was very interested to see this movie given all the praise and awards it has won. In addition it has managed ten Oscar nominations including all the big ones. So I settled in to be entertained by what was a rare comedy nominated for Best Picture. Disappointed. This is a terrible movie and I had to fast forward through the final interminable last half hour. Promoted as a comedy, the film is a tedious two hour trip as two women compete for the attention and control of Queen Anne who is a troubled and unwell monarch not really qualified for her role in life. In the end…. Well there really isn’t an end just the sense that what you have been through for two hours will just continue. A comedy it is not. It is a cruel, pointless take on the British monarchy and is boring to boot. The performances of the three leads are good but not great and do not merit nominations or awards. The script is wordy and desperately needed editing. I found I cared nothing for the characters who were immensely unlikeable. This is the second film by Lanthimos I have seen, the first being Lobster. I hated that one and should have been forewarned before paying money to see this film. I truly hope it wins nothing but might garner Best Costumes which I would crudgingly give it. A sad waste of talent. Avoid it at all cost.
This is the third remake of the original 1937 A Star is Born and like the others really didn’t need to be made. The original and two of the three remakes including this one are highly rated but I am not sure why. I should confess that I really don’t like movies about romances between successful musicians or the troubles they have. In this case Bradley Cooper a burned out rock musician wanders randomly into a gay nightclub/bar and hears the only female performer sing and “instantly” sees her as a major talent and falls deeply in love with her right away. She has given up on her career (stop me if you heard this plot before) but he encourages her to persist and of course she becomes hugely successful while he crashes and burns. Yawn. I really like Lady Gaga but as a singer not an actor and Cooper, who has been nominated for Oscars in the past, really does nothing for me in this film. Still somehow A Star is Born has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director etc not only by the Academy but also by the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s. So far it has only won for Best Song and Best Music which may be justified. After all I like Lady Gaga and if her song wins I will not complain but I will beg Hollywood to stop making and remaking this stupid movie.
As the title makes clear this is a tribute film to Queen and its leader and lead singer, Freddy Mercury. Rami Malek plays Mercury and is without a doubt the star of this movie and I think deserving of his Oscar nomination for Best Actor although not deserving of winning it. The movie itself also managed to get nominated for Best Picture and in my opinion it is not deserving. In addition to the two big nominations, the movie also has some technical nominations for editing, sound editing and sound mixing and of all the nominations may only deserve sound mixing. Malik puts in a dominant performance outshining the other characters and this may explain why he won nomination for Best Actor. I do not mean to take from his performance which is very strong however, the script is very weak. It makes out that Freddy Mercury was a complicated person professionally and personally but what motivated him or drove him to reach for stardom is never clear and this weakens the film considerably. If you are a Queen fan, however, you are going to like the tribute to the music and to Mercury’s performance style. Also the conclusion of the film is Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid Concert and the recreation of Queen’s contribution is stunning. So in conclusion, if you are a fan of Queen this movie is likely a must see but if you are not a big fan don’t bother.
Netflix is becoming one of the better producers of film and television and have worked with the Coen brothers to produce a fascinating film that is really a tribute to the American tradition of Westerns. In a series of short films it looks at the Western with humour and respect. Whether or not you are a fan of Westerns you will be hooked by the first episode in the film called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It is a brilliant take off of the singing cowboy. It hooked me and while the following episodes are up and down in quality and are all very different from one another and I have already re-watched it a few times. The other good thing about the film is that it can be watched in doses since each episode stands on its own. The film is also all about the script which is excellent and the acting is good but not the reason to see this movie. So the final word from me is that this movie is a refreshing distraction and worth seeing – especially part one. It has received critical praise (8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) but because of its format I think many were not sure about how to rank it. Its too bad some of the segments could not be nominated in the category of Live Action Shorts. However, it has received a nomination for Best Song, Screenplay and Costumes. You can find “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K91etXNIkaY
Have a listen but remember that this song is the conclusion of the first episode and needs context so take the time to watch Part 1: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
I was intrigued by this film from the day it was released. The Bush/Cheney rule in the US rivals that of Donald Trump for its outrageous power grabs and one-man rule. Unfortunately, that one-man rule was not the president but the vice-president operating in the background. Cheney built a cabinet of warmongers and ultra right-wing economists. That government built the ground on which Trump was elected and a host of right-wing senators and congress persons. Even the Democrats lean right, and Obama was constrained and influenced by the right. That rant out of the way I turn now to the film itself. Right at the start the film offers a proviso. The filmmakers point out in text that for anyone to know everything that really happened in the years leading up to Cheney’s rule is impossible, but nonetheless they “tried their fucking best”. The film is interesting particularly for politics junkies. We see connections to Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Scalia and others that might not be immediately obvious to everyone. It also shows how more moderate people like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell were manipulated. The problem with the film is that the director and writers seem not to be sure if they were making a dramatic film or a documentary and it is at least 40 minutes longer than it needs to be as dramatic elements of no real relevance are inserted including a bizarre scene of fake Shakespearean dialogue between Cheney and his wife. All that aside the movie is interesting and involving and offers insight into those years.
Of course, in the current tradition of political correctness the film, like Green Book and others has come under criticism for not being an accurate historical portrait. I hate using the “political correctness” thing because I support being politically correct in many circumstances but I am not sure I am okay with it being used in these cases. The unfortunate personal actions of people like Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, and the political antics of Clint Eastwood, Jon Voight, and Dennis Hopper doesn’t mean I will stop watching Mission Impossible, The Usual Suspects, Dirty Harry, Midnight Cowboy, or Easy Rider. Likewise Vice and Green Book may not accurately reflect the real events they portray but the films themselves are good and should be judged on their merits as works of art. Many will disagree but I needed to get that off my chest. Meanwhile if you are a political junkie you will definitely like this movie and there is no question that the performances of the ensemble cast of Cristian Bale, Sam Rockwell, Amy Adams and Steve Carrell are superb and worthy of the nominations they have received. If you aren’t as intrigued with politics as many others you will find it too long and somewhat boring. I stand on the border – I was interested but wanted to fast forward through some of the film. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 6.7/10 for critical response and a 3.1/5 audience rating. Hmmm… an excellent mediocre film?
I am a big Spike Lee fan and BlacKkKlansman did not disappoint. This film joins several other movies from 2018 and 2017 that look at being black in America. Set in different eras and touching genres like horror and sci-fi, this film, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother You and Get Out are all worth seeing and all deserve awards although Sorry To Bother You has yet to get the recognition it deserved. BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of the first black detective to join a Colorado police department. Coinciding with his appointment, the Ku Klux Klan attempts to open a chapter in the town and sanitize its profile. Our hero played by John David Washington (son of Denzel), decides to take them down and using the phone (and his white voice) convinces the Klan to invite him as a member. That done he needs to find someone white to sit in for him. Enter Adam Driver a fellow detective who takes on the role. One twist is that Driver’s character is Jewish and no more welcome than Washington would be if exposed. The story combines comedy and thriller to tell a very entertaining story that at the same time does not shirk from the racism in the Klan but also in the police department. Driver and Washington are excellent although Washington failed to get an acting nomination from the Academy. He did get one from the Golden Globes however. Also six Academy Award nominations for 2018 and well deserved. An entertaining and eye-opening film.
Cuarón’s career to date would not have led me to predict a film like Roma. He is known for directing Gravity, a sci-fi space drama, Children of Men, a sci-fi story of a dystopic future and one of the Harry Potter films. This autobiographical story of growing up in Mexico City is definitely a step in a new direction for him, simple, straightforward, and no special effects. Like much of his work in the past this film has won critical praise and now 10 Academy Award nominations including best foreign language film and best picture. While I liked the movie, I confess I fail to see the enthusiasm. We are taken into the day to day life of a family in transition and have insight into the relationship between the kids, mother, and the servants who are part of the family in important ways. The film is a tribute to the women who raised him and a beautiful portrait of a family’s life in the 1970’s. The cinematography is very good, and I confess I enjoyed it being in black and white, but ten nominations is, I think, over the top. While I am sceptical of all the nominations I do think this is a film worth seeing and to be fair I have liked many of his earlier but very different films. Cuarón is a talented director with a varied and top flight works so have a look but despite all the nominations I suspect it will not clean up.
It’s a unique thing that James Baldwin was able to do and that Barry Jenkins was able to pull off in terms of having you feel broken yet so full at the same time by the end of the film. — Stephan James.
This quote from the male lead of If Beale Street Could Talk helped me understand my own feelings after leaving this film. Beale Street is based on a novel by James Baldwin and is a love story that happens in the context of racism in New York City. The protagonists are a young couple who grow up together, fall in love and have a child together. The pregnancy occurs while the young man is falsely accused of rape and awaits trial in prison. During the film we see flashbacks to their childhood, their growing relationship, the struggles within their families, and their own struggles to find work and a place to live while planning a life together. The man’s arrest and imprisonment and the efforts to free him are, however, the major narrative. As I watched I wondered how it would all end. Would there be a Hollywood ending with him being freed and justice achieved? Would he die in prison from suicide or murder? Would he become hardened by his experience and become something his lover could no longer love? In the end none of these happen but somehow I did not leave the film depressed but certainly angry at what happened to them and at the same time hopeful and relieved at the ability of some people at least to overcome or rather, live with injustice because of what they share with one another. Not sure if that will explain the film or not but James’ quote was very helpful to me in resolving how I felt.
The film is worthy of the praise it has received. The acting is OSCAR worthy and the cinematography and writing of equal quality. I read some of James Baldwin in university but was, I think, too young to appreciate its importance. My first recent re-introduction was to Baldwin was the excellent documentary about his life and contributions – I Am Not Your Negro, which I will re-watch soon and I encourage everyone to see. If you go to see this film, and I recommend you do, it will help you come to understand how victims of racism survive the context within which they are living. The experience of living within a racist society is something that can be hard to understand particularly for those of us who have grown up as part of the white middle class. Baldwin and Jenkins have told a story that reaches across that divide and educates without pulling punches but also without anger or hate and with great power. An excellent film.
First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, has been touted as one of the best films at the festival this year and worthy of the People’s Choice Award. It was the last film of the week for me and to be honest one of the most disappointing. In what could have been a celebration of one of the great engineering and scientific achievements of the 20th Century was instead one of the most pedantic overly long tedious films of the year. Ryan Gosling was the draw having been a big star of Chazelle’s big hit La La Land. (another film I thought was overrated). The film is two and half hours long and I would guess that at least 30 minutes of the film was spent with a closeup of Gosling’s face in a helmet shaking as he entered or left the atmosphere in a high-altitude jet, Gemini flight, training flight or ultimately the Apollo mission. Boring and not necessary. The film attempts to help us understand not only the challenges of the Apollo mission but also the human side of Armstrong and his family as he applies for the astronaut program, through the Gemini series of flights, to his ultimate recruitment to captain Apollo 11. Gosling is wooden in the role. Although this may be true of Armstrong himself, it does not make for drama or tension. I did not find the family tension real, or the relationship among the astronauts themselves which is another focus. My guess is that Chazelle just tried to do too much and should have been more focussed. I was bored throughout and was greatly relieved when the moon landing proved to be the end of the film. I feared we would be submitted to several more scenes of Gosling’s shaking face as the lander took off from the moon, docked with the Apollo capsule, re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and landed in the ocean. Thank God we were spared all that.
I will confess that my reaction may be due in part to the fact that I watched these events happen in real time in the 60’s and many in the audience were too young or not born when all this happened. The other aspect of the film is that it is supposedly about a great event in human history. While I must agree that it was a major scientific achievement it was really all about politics. The US was humiliated that the USSR was way ahead in the space race and so they decided to fund the effort. I would remind everyone that since the moon landings 50 years ago there has been no further human outreach into space except for the international space station. Going to Mars is still decades off. So much for the human desire for exploration. If you want to watch films about the US Space program that have something more to offer I would suggest you avoid First Man and instead watch Hidden Figures or Apollo 13 both of which are far far superior to this one.
Mike Leigh’s last film – Mr. Turner – about English landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, played by Timothy Spall was a spectacular visual experience without the use of animation or CGI and Peterloo continues and I think goes one better than Mr. Turner. Peterloo is a dramatic look at one of the most important events in the establishment of labour rights, women’s suffrage and democratic reform in English history. In 1819 a gathering of workers, women and commoners met in Manchester at St. Peter’s Field. Nearly 100,000 people came to hear a speech from a parliamentary reformer and start a movement to address the repression of the time. The landowners and factory owners were terrified and called in the army. The result was a horrendous massacre. The press of the time named the event Peterloo after the recent battle of Waterloo. Although the immediate outcome was greater repression, ultimately major reforms came forward to address the demands of the people. Apparently, the Manchester Guardian, still a left-wing newspaper was founded as a result of the massacre.
The movie is a stunning portrayal of the repression of the time and the attitudes of those who were the oppressors. The tension of the film evolves slowly as we await the inevitable outcome. Some of the scenes reminded me of Dutch Master paintings with exquisite lighting and staging. Throughout the film Leigh’s brilliant visual sense is exhibited. The script and acting is also excellent. If I had a complaint it was length at 2.5 hours but to determine which scenes might be cut would be hard to be honest. While watching the film I felt that this was not just an historical record but a statement about today. One of the most disturbing scenes in the film is a textile factory where workers attend to automated weaving machines. As we learn more about how Amazon warehouse workers are treated or how underpaid Walmart workers are, or how Uber drivers are treated as contract workers to save having to provide health benefits or job security it was hard not see the similarities. The violent repression is not so far away should these workers decide to revolt. Definitely one of the best films of my week with a message for our modern times.