The Young Pope and The New Pope

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Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder, but there would be a case to be made that The Young Pope is the most beautiful season of television ever made. It was created – and, vitally, every one of its ten episodes was directed – by Paolo Sorrentino, who is recognised worldwide as one of the great visual stylists, whose trademark style is beauty, and whose breakthrough, Oscar-winning film is called The Great Beauty. That film takes place in Rome, widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful cities in the world; The Young Pope is set in the Vatican, which is in Rome, and shot in Venice, which, need I say, is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Take all this and add an HBO budget – you know, Game of Thrones / Succession level budget – and there’s your case: The Young Pope is possibly the most beautiful season of television ever made.

That’s important, because its beauty helps keep you going when the plot gets you down. It’s not that Paolo can’t tell a linear story efficiently, it’s that he doesn’t care to: if you’ve seen any of his movies you’ll know what I mean, and he brought the same disregard for traditional plotting, and the same emphases instead on visual style, intense wit, multitudinous references, and deep character examination, to The Young Pope.

That was 2016 / 2017. Now, rather than a second season of The Young Pope, he gives us The New Pope, which will make sense once you watch Season One. Should you? Unabashedly yes, if you’re down for what I’ve already put forward and more: astonishing, ravishing beauty (including that of Jude Law, who plays The Young Pope), wit, deep intellectual curiosity, uncanny political relevance (much of The Young Pope predicts Trump’s chaotic reign and the intense turmoil it causes) and extremely deep levels of conflicted, confusing, contradictory characterisation. Just don’t come expecting a simple story cleanly told. That’s not Paolo’s style, nor his Young Pope’s.

The New Pope has been fast-tracked and is now screening on SBS On Demand in tandem with its episode-by-episode release on HBO. All episode of The Young Pope are available.

Bombshell Review

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* * * *

Jay Roach’s portrait of the year Fox News’ Roger Ailes’ history of sexual harassment came back to bite him on his fat ass is exhilarating, furious, compelling and thoroughly entertaining. It is also essentially and thrillingly visceral: I spent the second half of the movie having to stop myself from standing up in the crowded cinema and screaming “Take that you evil fuck!” at John Lithgow’s portrayal of this awful, awful, awful human being.

Ailes and Fox News (the movie almost entirely takes place within its network of offices, elevators, hallways and cubicles) were / are so inherently toxic, so blatantly disgusting, that it could be argued that merely to present them onscreen is to guarantee a cracker show: with villains this villainous, it’s easy to rile your audience against them and cheer at their fall. But Roach and Lithgow don’t allow Ailes to be a total grotesque; the movie, as flashy as it is, is subtler than that. And it’s not Ailes’ movie, anyway.

Weirdly, but successfully, it’s Megyn Kelly’s movie. If you’re not from the US and haven’t been obsessively reading US news since Trump, you may not have heard of her; the film sketches in the version of her required to tell this story (if not her whole story, which is very complicated) and she is brilliantly played by Charlize Theron. I’m told the simulacrum of Kelly is astonishing; I’ve never seen Kelly on air, or if I have, so little that I can’t vouch for the impersonation side of the portrayal, but it’s an honest and sincere and intelligent performance. And Margot Robbie, as a young employee at Fox News who becomes a fish in Ailes’ barrel, is, as usual, astonishing. Both women are nominated for Oscars.

The only reason not to see Bombshell – and it’s a fair one – is to avoid swimming in these disgusting, rank, poisonous, filthy waters. This is not only Fox, it’s the US under Trump, and it’s grim. But as a film, this is energising, invigorating and rather essential.

PS Special points must be awarded for the ingenious casting of the Lawson brothers as the Murdoch brothers.

True History of the Kelly Gang Review

* * * *

I don’t think I finished reading Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, and remember feeling a little ashamed about it: I may have found it too cerebral, post-modern, and reliant on previous histories of Australia’s most (in)famous outlaw. But in cinema, post-modern deconstructionist expressionistic anachronistic elliptical storytelling is my jam, and Justin Kurzel’s fourth feature is full of it. This is a feast for the senses, a gloriously indulgent examination of myth-making, storytelling and the essence of Kelly’s Australia, which was a battleground between civilisation and savagery.

George MacKay (again George MacKay! He’s having a week) plays Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly, and man he is good. Donning a very acceptable Australian accent, his Kelly is forged in the bosom of his mother (Essie Davis), and it is for her he fights and dies. He pitches Ned’s intelligence, and particularly emotional intelligence (would that be wisdom?) at a very specific level; although he gets to punkishly howl at the moon and rev up his gang like a football hooligan, it’s actually a very deliberate and well-thought-through performance. Davis is superb, as is Nicholas Hoult as the creepy Constable Fitzpatrick. But this is a director’s film, an auteur’s film, and Kurzel, along with Jennifer Kent, is one of Australia’s great young auteurs. They are both fearless.

Oscar Nominations 2019 / 2020 Immediate Thoughts

Here are the Oscar nominations with some of my immediate thoughts below each nomination. Overall, this could tilt a lot Quentin’s way (which I’d be very happy with), a lot Bong’s way (which would be deserved, and a win for World Cinema) or 1917 could come along and hijack things like GREEN BOOK did…

Performance by an actor in a leading role nominees:

Antonio Banderas in PAIN AND GLORY

Leonardo DiCaprio in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Adam Driver in MARRIAGE STORY

Joaquin Phoenix in JOKER

Jonathan Pryce in THE TWO POPES

Nice to see Antonio in there; total bummer Adam Sandler isn’t in there for UNCUT GEMS; race is between Joaquin and Adam Driver.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role nominees:

Tom Hanks in A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Anthony Hopkins in THE TWO POPES

Al Pacino in THE IRISHMAN

Joe Pesci in THE IRISHMAN

Brad Pitt in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

This is Brad’s all the way.

Performance by an actress in a leading role nominees:

Cynthia Erivo in HARRIET

Scarlett Johansson in MARRIAGE STORY

Saoirse Ronan in LITTLE WOMEN

Charlize Theron in BOMBSHELL

Renée Zellweger in JUDY

I’m still assuming Renée takes it.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role nominees:

Kathy Bates in RICHARD JEWELL

Laura Dern in MARRIAGE STORY

Scarlett Johansson in JOJO RABBIT

Florence Pugh in LITTLE WOMEN

Margot Robbie in BOMBSHELL

This is definitely going to Laura Dern.

Best animated feature film of the year nominees:

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

Dean DeBlois, Bradford Lewis and Bonnie Arnold

I LOST MY BODY

Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice

KLAUS

Sergio Pablos, Jinko Gotoh and Marisa Román

MISSING LINK

Chris Butler, Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight

TOY STORY 4

Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen and Jonas Rivera

Let’s take a swing and say it’s going to I LOST MY BODY, since FROZEN 2 isn’t even nominated. Of course, MISSING LINK won the Globe (weirdly).

Achievement in cinematography nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER

Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Jarin Blaschke

1917

Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Robert Richardson

This is going to Roger Deakins. The best thing about 1917 – the only thing, really – is the cinematography.

Achievement in costume design nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT

Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER

Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN

Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Arianne Phillips

Wide open. Could be a sneaky win for JOJO?

Achievement in directing nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese

JOKER

Todd Phillips

1917

Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE

Bong Joon Ho

Quentin or Bong.

Best documentary feature nominees:

AMERICAN FACTORY

Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert

THE CAVE

Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY

Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan

FOR SAMA

Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts

HONEYLAND

Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska and Atanas Georgiev

It should go to FOR SAMA or THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY but could go to AMERICAN FACTORY.

Best documentary short subject nominees:

IN THE ABSENCE

Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL)

Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

WALK RUN CHA-CHA

Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Achievement in film editing nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN

Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT

Tom Eagles

JOKER

Jeff Groth

PARASITE

Yang Jinmo

PARASITE? JOKER? Hard to say. THE IRISHMAN? Can a three and a half hour picture win Best Editing? It’s nuts and sad that ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t in here. They’ll probably give it to the cars (FORD V FERRARI).

Best international feature film of the year nominees:

CORPUS CHRISTI

Poland

Directed by Jan Komasa

HONEYLAND

North Macedonia

Directed by Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevksa

LES MISÉRABLES

France

Directed by Ladj Ly

PAIN AND GLORY

Spain

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

PARASITE

South Korea

Directed by Bong Joon Ho

PARASITE, obviously. This is ROMA all over again, except maybe, just maybe, this year PARASITE also takes Best Picture…

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling nominees:

BOMBSHELL

Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker

JOKER

Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou

JUDY

Jeremy Woodhead

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White

1917

Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

What is 1917 doing in there? Anyway, it has to be BOMBSHELL, right? But maybe JOKER.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score) nominees:

JOKER

Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN

Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY

Randy Newman

1917

Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

John Williams

This is going to the world’s coolest Icelander, Hildur Guðnadóttir, for JOKER.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song) nominees:

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from TOY STORY 4

Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from ROCKETMAN

Music by Elton John

Lyric by Bernie Taupin

“I’m Standing With You” from BREAKTHROUGH

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“Into The Unknown” from FROZEN II

Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“Stand Up” from HARRIET

Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

They’re gonna give it to Elton and Bernie because they’re ELTON AND BERNIE.

Best motion picture of the year nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT

Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER

Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN

Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY

Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917

Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE

Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME or PARASITE. I’m happy with either but as a lifelong Quentin devotee I would love him to win this. It’s his ‘personal’ film, it’s the one that everyone can enjoy, I’ve come to understand why the violence at the end is as it is… this film is brilliant and worthy and I’d love it to win.

I do believe PARASITE has a shot because of the preferential ballot. I suspect PARASITE will be up there among the 1s and 2s on a lot of voting forms while Quentin, who does have some detractors, may be down the list on some, and the preferential ballot favours generally loved films over polarising ones.

UNCUT GEMS should have been here, certainly instead of FORD V FERRARI and JOJO RABBIT and 1917 (but the latter could have a weird sweep, which would be a crying shame, because it’s empty spectacle).

If 1917 takes it, that’s “a GREEN BOOK” as far as I’m concerned.

Achievement in production design nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Production Design: Bob Shaw

Set Decoration: Regina Graves

JOJO RABBIT

Production Design: Ra Vincent

Set Decoration: Nora Sopková

1917

Production Design: Dennis Gassner

Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Production Design: Barbara Ling

Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

PARASITE

Production Design: Lee Ha Jun

Set Decoration: Cho Won Woo

Wow. Great category. 1917, ONCE UPON A TIME, PARASITE, THE IRISHMAN… all contenders.

Best animated short film nominees:

DCERA (DAUGHTER)

Daria Kashcheeva

HAIR LOVE

Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver

KITBULL

Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson

MEMORABLE

Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre

SISTER

Siqi Song

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Best live action short film nominees:

BROTHERHOOD

Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB

Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW

Marshall Curry

SARIA

Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre

A SISTER

Delphine Girard

Haven’t seen ‘em.

Achievement in sound editing nominees:

FORD V FERRARI

Donald Sylvester

JOKER

Alan Robert Murray

1917

Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Wylie Stateman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Matthew Wood and David Acord

FORD V FERRARI, right? The cars, right?

Achievement in sound mixing nominees:

AD ASTRA

Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano

FORD V FERRARI

Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow

JOKER

Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland

1917

Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

1917, right? Because it’s “immersive”?

Achievement in visual effects nominees:

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick

THE IRISHMAN

Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli

THE LION KING

Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman

1917

Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy

If they give this to THE IRISHMAN – for the “de-aging” – that’ll be a laugh. It kind of has to go to THE LION KING, right? But maybe they give it to Marvel (AVENGERS: ENDGAME).

Adapted screenplay nominees:

THE IRISHMAN

Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT

Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER

Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN

Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES

Written by Anthony McCarten

If they give this to JOJO it’ll be a shame, but they might, because it’s got a lot of nominations. It really should go to Steven Zaillian (IRISHMAN) or Greta Gerwig (LITTLE WOMEN).

Original screenplay nominees:

KNIVES OUT

Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY

Written by Noah Baumbach

1917

Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE

Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won

Story by Bong Joon Ho

This is Quentin’s.

Feel free to comment.

CJ

Dracula (Netflix) review

In my early 2018 review of The Square, I wrote “Danish Theatre actor Claes Bang makes a gigantic impression in the lead role of the curator of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm who may not be as cool as he looks; watch as Bang becomes a massive worldwide star (his spoken English, accented towards British, is perfect).” I avoided suggesting he should be the next Bond, despite the fact that he very, very much looks like a Bond; indeed, he resembles a mash-up of 40something Pierce Brosnan and 40something George Lazenby.

Instead, he’s the new Dracula (Netflix), and he’s wonderful and perfectly cast: even the fact that “British” English is a learned language and accent for him is playfully utilised, as, of course, Count Dracula is Transylvanian. It’s the kind of comic detail that rules this enormously entertaining new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel from Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who also updated Sherlock in bits and bursts, mostly very well, from 2010 – 2017.

As with that adaptation, Gatiss and Moffat honour the spirit of the original profoundly; they have fun with it but never at the expense of it. They set a perfect tone then get everyone on the same page; here, that tone is wit, camp and playful gore; references to the Hammer films abound, including many shots where Bang is framed to deliberately mimic famous shots from that film series. (Incidentally, in those shots, he looks remarkably like Christopher Lee as well; is there any dark-haired handsome Commonwealth thesp this Dane can’t resemble?)

Special mention must go to Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha. She’s hilarious. “Hilarious?”, you say? Oh yes. Just watch.

Top 15 TV Series of The Decade!

Finally, a list of my favourite TV shows of the decade. These are all TV series in the old-fashioned sense: no mini-series or limited series. I’ve reserved the top two spots – one comedy and one drama – for shows that are complete, so you know they’re good all the way. After that, a show may be ongoing but have had at least two seasons. Enjoy! Listen to me discuss the list on ABC RADIO.

1

VEEP

(US) 2012-2019

2

THE LEFTOVERS

(US) 2014-2017

3

SUCCESSION

(US) 2018-ongoing

4

BLACK MIRROR

(UK) 2011-ongoing

5

THE BUREAU

(France) 2015-ongoing

6

BORGEN

(Denmark) 2010-2013

7

BOJACK HORSEMAN

(US) 2014-ongoing

8

JUSTIFIED

(US) 2010-2015

9

ATLANTA

(US) 2016-ongoing

10

HIGH MAINTENANCE

(US) 2012-ongoing

11

AMERICAN VANDAL

(US) 2017-2018

12

GOMORRAH

(Italy) 2014-ongoing

13

GAME OF THRONES

(US) 2011-2019

14

NORSEMEN

(Norway) 2016-ongoing

15

BROAD CITY

(US) 2014-2019

The Two Popes Review

* * * *

I’ve never enjoyed Jonathan Pryce more than in The Two Popes; his powerfully warm charisma, coupled with a rosy-to-glowing depiction of Pope Francis, is the strongest reason to see this intriguing piece of speculative history. It seems that when Pope Benedict was privately considering renouncing his papacy, he sought out (and called in from Argentina) Francis to discuss the idea; the film – written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) and directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, Blindness) imagines four lengthy conversations between the two.

Lest that sound boring to you, it should be noted that Benedict is played by Anthony Hopkins; the four conversations, which collectively probably make up about 70 percent of the film, are exquisite acting set-pieces of the absolute highest order: two of the world’s greatest actors with intelligent, thoughtful and often very funny words to say. The film also is much larger than two old men chatting about religion; flashbacks fill in the early life and (deeply problematic) career of Francis (not Benedict; it’s not that film), while the contemporary story includes fascinating, detailed depictions of the Vatican’s functionality, including a terrific sequence showing the papal elections from the inside.

My only interest in religion of any stripe is intellectual; The Two Popes, which is unashamedly pro-Francis and quite clearly pro-Pope, fascinated and delighted me, and Pryce is simply captivating.

Mandalorian, Queens of Mystery, The Good Liar

Two new streaming shows offer genre fans massive levels of fan service; each may seem to their respective prospective audiences like manna from heaven.

Acorn TV streams exclusively British content of the mostly cosy variety; it’s the kind of stuff you’ve traditionally found on ABC Australia, with a heavy emphasis on mystery and period drama. The new Acorn TV exclusive Queens of Mystery aims to be the mother of all cosy mysteries; it is so engineered to deliver what fans of the genre want that it’s easy to be cynical about it, but I suspect there will be plenty of eager fans ready to lap up every ripe moment.

A young female cop is transferred to her gorgeous (cosy) hometown, where pretty much immediately a murder is committed, not only to a writer of mystery novels, but at a mystery novel festival. But that’s not even the big hook; the cop’s three aunts all live in the town, are all mystery writers themselves, and all want to help solve the mystery. One of them is even a suspect!

This extreme high concept will either leave you dry or make you so excited you’ve already ordered Acorn in HD. It’s hard for me to judge, not really being a fan of the genre (sadly; I used to be); it’s ludicrously over-acted and over-stuffed, but also smells like fun.

Fun is the mega-operative word for The Mandalorian on Disney Plus; this Star Wars TV series is nothing but. Eschewing the deep family-drama ‘force’ mythology of the soon-to-be-completed nine-film franchise but embracing every stylistic element you love from episodes 4-8 (ie the ‘George Lucas 1977 A New Hope’ style), this action-packed and very funny bounty-hunter epic, grounded in the conventions of the classic Hollywood Western, is one hundred percent convinced of its own tone. It knows exactly what it wants to be, and with every bug-eyed monster, laser shoot-out and Mos Eisley Cantina-like cantina, it achieves it. I thought I was done with everything Star Wars, but The Mandalorian’s joyous charms are impossible to resist. For its every brief episode (they’re about 38 minutes apiece) I’m a kid again, grinning from ear to ear.

Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren are two great movie stars, and they account for the * * I can give The Good Liar, a ludicrous con-man thriller perfunctorily directed by Bill Condon, now in cinemas. Based on a novel by Nicholas Searle which I will never read, the film sells itself first on McKellen and Mirren and then on its “twisty” plot. The actors are great; the plot, not.