The Favourite

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* * * *

Here’s what The Favourite is not: it is not two hours of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz burping, spewing, pissing and farting while covered in sores, leeches, scabs and lesions. It isn’t ribald, outrageous or scatalogical. And it isn’t riddled with deliberate anachronisms; comparisons to Marie Antoinette are misguided.

Rather, let’s pitch it thus: Barry Lyndon meets All About Eve. Yorgos Lanthimos has absolutely and deliberately based his aesthetic for this compelling, intriguing and extremely funny film upon the former (just as he absolutely channelled The Shining for his last film The Killing of a Sacred Deer) while the latter, at least to my mind, informs the plot.

Emma Stone plays a young fallen woman, Abigail, who arrives, by luck of a minor family relationship, at the Court of Queen Anne. Given a job in the kitchen, she quickly figures out that the path to power (the Queen, played by Colman) requires the displacement of her best friend, Lady Sarah (Weisz). While the Court is involved with war with France, Abigail and Sarah wage war with each other for the Queen’s affection.

The dialogue is supremely witty, the design glorious, and the acting sublime. Colman, despite having such a distinctive look and vocal quality, is utterly convincing as every character she plays, and her Anne is one of her finest creations. This Queen is complicated, contradictory, confounding: childish at times, wracked with gout and sadness, she seems utterly malleable, yet the question of just how much she is aware of the intrigue around her is one of the film’s most compelling tensions. Colman owns the role; it’s a triumph for her.

Weisz and Stone play off each other (and Colman) beautifully; they are so dissimilar in every way – Weisz mature, court-savvy, restrained yet savage when necessary, Stone young, naïve (initially), and possessed of nothing but guile – but always on the same artistic page. Both Sarah and Abigail are fascinating, multi-faceted women; there is much more to both of them than might initially seem, and their actions, and our sympathies, move in surprising and disconcerting directions.

Lanthimos stages all this with a complex palette of tone and style; while the film is undeniably funny, he imbues it with levels of sadness, tragedy and horror. In particular, his use of an astonishingly wide lens, big fluid camera movement and multiple whip-pans complements his use of a musical palette steeped both in classicism and the kind of monotonous plunking that made Killing of a Sacred Deer so unnerving. These courtiers may all be playing a game, but the consequences are bloody serious.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

* * *

Melancholic, indeed dour, with a colour palette of (too much) brown and grey, Marielle Heller’s real-life tale of small(ish) time literary fraud is resolutely one-note, as is Melissa McCarthy’s central performance as Lee Israel, a biographical author who, jobless and desperate in early-90s Manhattan, began a small(ish) life of literary crime. Luckily, the film has a few joltingly interesting twists and turns, and Richard E. Grant, who is, has been and always will be joltingly interesting.

Heller’s direction is uninspired. She uses four montage sequences, each of which could have been replaced with a single, inventive scene. Voice-over narration has often been given a critical cold shoulder, but surely montage sequences are cinema’s ultimate lazy storytelling device. Here, they may as well signify potential toilet breaks.

But the story, small as it is, is intriguing, and Grant, big as he is, is super watchable. He’s playing a very to-type role – sad and flamboyant – but that’s his stock in trade and he owns it. Also, the period set design – Manhattan in winter – is superb; the story evolves mostly in pubs, bookstores, libraries and antique shops, and all ring both true and poetically evocative. I lived in Manhattan then, and I’ve been in those places, with their cramped, wooden, dusty romance. That spirit is present, and helps the film stay alive amidst its strident sadness.

In The Fade

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* * * 1/2

Like last year’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Germany’s Foreign Language Film Oscars entry – and winner of that category at the Golden Globes – is about a woman seeking justice for a devastating crime against her family. It differs substantially in tone; Three Billboards is, essentially, a black comedy, while In The Fade has not a single deliberate (nor unintended) moment of humour. It also differs in impact: Three Billboards left me unmoved, but In The Fade, by focusing intensely on the protagonist’s grief before moving on to her anger and ultimately her quest, deals in honest emotion.

It is divided neatly in three acts, given chapters: The Family, Justice, and The Sea. The first act is a drama of grief, the second a drama of the courtroom, the third a thriller. This rigid construction is deeply apparent throughout the film; it is rigorous, taut and, despite its intense subject matter, restrained.

Diane Kruger rules the film, appearing not just in every scene but almost every shot. She won the Best Actress prize at Cannes and she should have won the Oscar rather than Frances McDormand for the equivalent, but vastly lesser, role in Three Billboards. Kruger’s journey includes the immediate aftermath of the crime, and the first third of the film is a portrait of a woman drowning in grief. It is impeccably acted, and the whole film honours Kruger’s deep commitment. Rather incredibly, this is her first film in her native German, despite 48 acting credits – most in English, many in French – and 15 international awards. She’s superb, and reason enough to see the film.

Oscars 2018 Preview and Predictions!

CJ and Jim go through most of the categories. We have ideas, opinions and predictions. We make a financial bet over Best Original Screenplay. And at the end, we apply the Preferential Ballot System of voting to our own ballots and come up with a BOLD PREDICTION FOR BEST PICTURE! Your comments welcome and appreciated. Happy Oscars 2018!

Movie Chat!

Movie Chat!

Don’t feel like reading reviews? Have a listen to CJ chat about a bunch of awards contenders, taken from The Nightlife on ABC (Australia).

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD and THE POST

COCO and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

THE FLORIDA PROJECT and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

As always, your comments welcome. And please share Film Mafia with your friends who like movies.

My Bodyguard

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*** (out of five)

On paper, it’s hard to tell if teaming Dwayne Johnson, the artist formally known as The Rock, now officially the highest-earning movie star in the world – in salary and box office – and Meryl Streep, the most awarded and respected (except by the President of the United States) movie actor in history, was a good one. In practice, it’s turned out surprisingly well. In My Bodyguard, which is a very tenuous, practically “in name only” remake of the 1980 drama, Johnson plays Sanchez, the well-meaning, dyslexic janitor at an isolated, elite private high school hired by the school’s principal (Streep) to be her bodyguard against the increasingly – and bizarrely – dangerous student population. It’s a strange hybrid of gritty (and surprisingly violent) action and sentimental May/December romance, and, somehow, it works, despite a few preposterous moments.

Happily, those moments are also some of the film’s (deeply) guilty pleasures. As with seeing Helen Mirren blow things and beat people up in Red (2010), it’s highly entertaining to watch Streep lay into one of her particularly odious charges while Sanchez sits calmly in a dark corner of the room, his presence all that is needed to keep the student from fighting back. Likewise, it is a rare joy to see Johnson go into emotional territory he simply hasn’t explored before; – spolier – yes, we see the big fella cry.

By setting the scene in an expensive private school, the film deftly – or, blatantly – avoids racial politics. All of the students turned violent are white; the few minority students, all on scholarships, are also the good ones, who pay Sanchez respect even before he puts down his broom and picks up his bat. Like The River Wild (1994) and The Giver (2014), this is Streep taking a swim in genre cinema seemingly to just give it a go, but – of course! – she also deeply commits. Watch, they’ll give her another Oscar nomination; wouldn’t it be fun if Johnson got one too?

Film Title: It's Complicated

Loving

loving-1024.jpg**1/2 (out of five)

Unfortunately writer / director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) seems so determined to avoid over-dramatising his wonderful source material – the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, whose inter-racial relationship had a profound effect on the United States legal system – that he under-dramatises it to the point of dilution, and, unfortunately, exasperation. His telling is slow and laboured, and, at some points, seemingly deliberately, provocatively obtuse; at one key moment, not only does he not point his camera at the action, he puts it in another State.

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are fine in the roles (Negga was nominated for the Oscar) but the camera dwells on their quiet moments excessively, especially on Edgerton, who sullenly occupies an enormous amount of inactive screen time. There’s only so much one can take staring at a man smoking and staring.

Nick Kroll (in a really surprising dramatic role) and John Bass do their best to liven things up as the two young lawyers taking the Lovings’ case all the way, but, once again, Nichols is miserly with their screentime. Perhaps he was afraid of portraying them in any way as “great white hopes” to the Lovings’ cause, but when their big moments are shown fleetingly and from behind, it all becomes too much. This dramatic true story could have used more than a little more drama.hero_loving_01.jpg

Our Oscar Reviews on Skipi.tv

With hours before the Oscars, here are some of our skipi.tv reviews and/or discussions of nominated films:

TONI ERDMANN:

CJ Reviews ‘Toni Erdmann’

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:

CJ Reviews ‘Manchester By The Sea’

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC:

CJ Reviews ‘Captain Fantastic’

JACKIE with Paul Byrnes:

‘Jackie’ Review

HELL OR HIGH WATER with Paul Byrnes:

‘Hell Or High Water’ Review

LA LA LAND with Paul Byrnes:

‘La La Land’ Review

HIDDEN FIGURES with Miriam Capper:

‘Hidden Figures’ Review