The Favourite (2019)

Written for RAF News Jan 2019

From absurdist Yorgos Lanthimos comes another blackly comic farce but this time in the shape of a period drama. Following a grieving and gout-ridden Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) and the two women vying for her attention, this story is sort of based on actual relationships, but it is certainly not to be mistaken for a biopic.

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Known to fabricate a wonky realism within his films filled with strange rules and stilted dialogue, this period set film could be seen to provide both and perhaps this is why Lanthimos’ stylings come out in different ways. There is in fact a more contemporary physicality and language, though it is the brazenly graphic nature that is likely to cause a stir among unsuspecting audiences. This is the first of Lanthimos’ films that he did not write himself, but what it retains is his dark absurdist slant and sly humour.

The comedy is bigger and more obvious, tilting into farcical but shaded with tragedy. The customs and practices of the period become a playground in which Lanthimos is able to poke fun: a formal dance embellished with nonsense or aristocrats jeering violently over a duck race.

The film sees Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrive at the palace a servant, apparently having fallen far since she was a lady. Sharp tongued and quick witted she is cunning, with an understanding of politics and favouritism that could mean the difference. Abigail is our very own Barry Lyndon, intent on climbing the ranks into the Queens favour and perhaps even to chambers, much to the dismay of Lady Sarah Churchill the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), confidant and secret lover of the Queen.

A battle of wits commences between these women, manipulating the childishly capricious Queen to benefit themselves, and perhaps even to the detriment of the country which is fighting a war in France and running low on funds.

Marlborough has a history with the Queen, which allows her brutal honesty and befits her hardened demeanour. But Coleman and Stone, both with their big glassy eyes, are masters of reaction, a close-up of either is able to change the mood of a scene, to show a level of deception or reveal cause for empathy.

With politics reduced to squabbling, and with sharply written swearing it feels more like the recent The Death of Stalin than anything from the genre. This is by far Lanthimos’ most accessible film and bound to invite a larger audience, for some to be won over and for others to be offended. Undeniable though, are the powerful and hilarious central performances of these three women.

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neighbourly

Having recently moved into the leafy suburbs with a couple of young lads, and hearing that the previous tenants were a bit of a nuisance, I was conscious of making a good impression on the neighbours.

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This was dashed somewhat when on a couple of occasions we had left our bins out at the end of the drive after the bin men had been and gone – and on one occasion they were left out for so long that someone returned them. A massive faux pas that makes us seem like teenagers left in a house while the parents are away. It could have been a gesture of good will, but I took it to be a passive aggressive move, a way of saying get your shit together without actually interfacing.

I’ve had bad experiences in the past. When I was 9 years old, my mother and I moved from East London to Surrey. Posh-seeming on the outside but just as subjected to Brazilification as anywhere else, as we landed on the edge of a rough council estate. To celebrate the move, and perhaps distract me from the anxiety of changing schools and friends and having only each other, my mum bought a couple of little fireworks: 10cm rockets on 30cm sticks. As it got dark, we went into our humble garden and set them off – but this was called off when our neighbours protested by throwing rocks over the fence. A charming induction, indicative of the drama that would follow.

I grew up in this house, a semi- detached terrace adjoined to speed freaks who would lift weights until the early hours of the morning. The sinewy witch who was the head of the household would be at the forefront of every confrontation if not pushing her henpecked husband to fight on her behalf. It only came to blows once, consisting of him holding my mothers shoulders, and her slapping my mother in the face. Evidently my council estate lacked the communal spirit that I seem so desperate to find.

Now I’m making every effort to be neighbourly. This morning, despite the miserable weather, I set out on my walk to work and seeing one of my neighbours pull out of her drive, I smiled and waved. I was down the road when she pulled over and asked if I would like a lift into town. This is it! This is what I have been craving. I politely decline, but continue on in the rain reassured by her kindness.

Just now I returned from work walking the same route home. Pitch black now, I see my housemate in his car outside the house – a Mini with a dinner-plate sized speedometer in the centre of the dashboard. Unmistakable. I bend at the waist and look in through the passenger window at the driver, I can barely see him in the darkness, in fact he looks uncannily like an elderly woman. Then the realisation sets in. I don’t quite know what to do and so try this morning’s trick – I smile and wave and keep on walking, past my front door because I’m embarrassed and don’t know what to do, which probably made me seem a lot creepier. I met two neighbours today, kind of, and made one good impression at least.

The Old Man and the Gun (2018)

Written for RAF News November 2018

Robert Redford is back to his outlaw ways in this romanticised true story of a 70 year old bank robber. Forrest Tucker robs banks and has a style, this is what he tells Jewel (Cissy Spacek) when they meet over coffee, behind a wry smile that shines with playfulness. She doesn’t believe him, or maybe doesn’t want to, but like us she can’t help but be drawn in.

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The Old Man and the Gun follows Tucker in the later stages of his life, having been incarcerated 18 times but still not learning his lesson. In fact he escaped from most of these prisons, shown in a comedic montage that breaks from the slower, swooning pace of the film. Set in 1981 but with the look, feel and soundtrack that seems cut from the 70s, this film is soaked in nostalgia for a different time.

Tucker bands together with two others (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) as they hit a string of small banks in different states. It is unfulfilled cop John Hunt (Casey Affleck) who catches onto the ‘Over the Hill Gang’ and makes himself chief investigator, trying to track down the smiling gentleman described by witnesses.

With a few releases in recent years showing heists conducted by an older generation, such as Going in Style and King of Thieves, they all seem to have a sense of humour about them. But where the others appear brash, Old Man has the same debonair charm as it’s lead.

Hinting that this film would be his last, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking of Redford’s back catalogue, in fact an effort is made to remind you: the font of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid being used for the title, and even using a clip from The Chase. This nostalgia-filled love letter seems to be a send off for Redford, delightfully packaged and delivered with a smile.

Assassination Nation (2018)

Written for RAF News November 2018

When an anonymous hacker starts leaking information about the people of Salem, a clash between the corrupt elite and sensitive youth quickly escalates into a violent witch hunt.

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What begins as a highly stylised teen movie about boy troubles descends into something a lot darker and more surreal. Character assassinations turn into lynchings and soon the town are wearing masks to protect themselves from mobs in search of social justice – afraid of what people might find out about them.

This doesn’t happen for some time though as first we meet 18 year old Lilly (Odessa Young) and her cohorts, learn about her recent ex-boyfriend and the new sexting affair that she is having with a mysterious older man known as ‘Daddy’. Told from the point-of-view of a group of high-school girls, teenage dramas are elevated to scandals and political misconduct is reduced to a Twitterstorm.

Self-assured with a dose of arrogance, we are aligned with the Mean Girls of the film purely because there are meaner people out there: slimy peadophiles, homophobic jocks and riot-inciting police.

Although there is some political commentary among the silliness, Assassination Nation is a tonal mess and suitably ridiculous. There is a prologue that lists hash-tagged trigger warnings to set the perspective of young impudent progressives, smart and self-aware but naive and narcissistic. Ultimately, this becomes hard to distinguish this from the film itself.

Pink light chases the girls through scenes, while the soundtrack changes and drops constantly as if controlled by an impatient DJ with a short attention span. The film definitely thinks it’s cool but it has the sensibility of a music video and the personality of a precocious teenager. It is funniest when it makes fun out of itself but this happens so scarcely that it lost to self-importance.

When AN finally decides to pick a lane it becomes a Purge-style horror but by this point you’re quietly hoping that everyone dies.

 

Ryuk

It was the little ones birthday pretty recently. My housemate Patryk, having spent much time with him and developed some affinity, wanted to get him something he would like and so opted for something a bit dark. A little cartoonish vinyl of a character from the show Deathnote. The character being a demonic God of Death who oversees the killing of a bunch of kids for his own amusement.

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Just in from work, whilst I was giving the boy his nightly dose of Dahl, Patryk knocked on his door and explained how, as a fan of anime and manga himself, he wanted to give him a gift that would combine their interests. To introduce him to something new, but keep it a bit freakish and weird.

Seeing the black lipped wide smile and the deranged look on it’s face he pulled it close and sat it on his lap whilst I finished our chapter. And as I was turning off the light to wish him goodnight, he stopped me so that he could carefully lay Ryuk under the bed to sleep.

Not checking to make sure there are no monsters, putting one there so that he could be certain.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

Written for RAF News November 2018

Asked to produce some content for the centennial of the end of the First World War, Peter Jackson has focussed the world building wizardry of Lord of the Rings on something much closer to home: a documentary about British soldiers on the Western Front. Granted, the way in which he does this is grand cinematic spectacle but it is truly breathtaking to behold.

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Jackson’s grandfather fought in the Great War and so in his memory, Jackson and his team have tried to position the viewer with the soldiers and bring their experience to life. They do this by using audio of interviews with veterans played over archive footage, which might sound like regular fare, but the difference here is that the video has been speed adjusted, blown up, colorised and, depending on where you see the film, even put into three dimensions.

The opening of the film begins with a familiar small square box in the middle of the screen playing jittery, black and white footage of soldiers marching, whilst all you hear is the clatter and whir of a projector. Gradually though, this little window grows and pushes out to the edges of the screen until it envelopes you. The images are sharper now, more defined, and like some great illusion you begin to hear what the soldiers are saying.

Working with forensic lip-readers, audio has been recorded and matched to the images so that you can listen to them banter, with such painstaking precision that even the dialects are accurate.

Working with BBC and Imperial War Museum, this is an ambitious project that could only be written off as a gimmick by those who have yet to see it. As one soldier recounts of his experience on the frontline, “It was a world of noise” and this is certainly what is captured by underlaying sounds of mortar fire and mine explosions, to the smaller more intimate noises of say a tiny fire in the trenches for brewing a desperate cuppa.

The veterans speak with a warm pride of their experience, of course this turns to tragedy when faced with the horrors of war, but for the most part they show no despair and no regret. They talk of the camaraderie and euphoria, the excitement of battle that lead many underage to sneak in and sign up – if you were 16, it was suggested that you pop outside and have yourself a few birthdays. There is a great humour that runs through their commentary, calling on casual and humorous euphemisms. Their jovial tone is somewhat romantic, and the film seems to share in this.

Returning from war, each interviewee remarks how no-one at home would talk about it, they didn’t know how, nor could they comprehend what was actually happening. Now, thanks to this documentary, the gap is closed a little more and we can glimpse what it was like for these men.

homelessness

Our tenancy was almost up and so my housemate and I began to look for new accommodation to include another person. We had a good thing going but we could make it better, maybe. My requirements would be a big enough space to stow a child a couple times of week, but other than that – loosey goosey baby, loosey goosey.

That said, as the time pressed closer and we still hadn’t found anything, I start to panic. Usually quite a happy-go-lucky optimist, I became emotionally wobbly at one point, which made me realise that I was afraid of something.

Begin a one week countdown until I’m homeless. I need something, a plan at least. I reach out to people for advice and temporary solutions. My new potential housemate says that he could put me up for as long as needed, and could even take on the boy. A beautifully kind gesture, but I still felt uneasy and anxious.

An unusually robotic personality, driven by logic in the same ways as Dr. Spock and Data, he asks why I am so stressed, what is it specifically that is bothering me so much, considering there is now a fix.

I pause for a moment and then begin to verbalise feelings and thoughts that I didn’t know I had, straight from my subconscious: that if I were to be staying at someones house, with all my belongings in tow or in storage, and I didn’t have a date for when I’d have my shit together, I would feel embarrassed. And then to have to bring a child to this home of someone else, I’d be mortified. I would feel like a failure to those around me, but more importantly, a failure to my son.

He looks at me, nods his head and says ‘Yeah, fair enough’ and walks off.

I know he doesn’t mean anything by this – his aim wasn’t to console me, merely to understand, and now he does, leaving me to sit and stew with this confession. Now I am able to acknowledge and better deal with the problems ahead, realising where my anxieties lie, all thanks to my autistic guru and new housemate.