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Green Book

Green Book

Green Book Green Book with two Stars. Twinkly Racist Driving Cars.

dir: Peter Farrelly

2018

Yes the fact that this got nominated for things at the thingie ceremony in late Feb / early March is the only reason I saw this. Otherwise I probably would have skipped it, not that I’m against touching stories where a low-rent mob palooka and a prissy African-American pianist reach across the racial divide and make America a better place by doing so.

I would have skipped it because on paper, in ads, conceptually and aesthetically, it did not appeal to me on any level, despite starring two actors that I adore. Viggo Mortensen is a tremendous man and a wonderful actor, and I’ve loved him in almost everything I’ve ever seen him in. And Mahershala Ali has been magnificent on tv, in movies and, like, probably even when he walks down the street or just out the front door to get his newspaper, very convincing, totally believable. Mahershala has charisma and presence to burn 99% of the time, so the stage is set for a feel-good movie you could take your grandmother too, that could just as easily have had Ebony & Ivory playing in it, that would also win heaps of awards from the less than discerning voters of the Academy, thank you, thank you, this is such an honour, I’d like to thank the Academy, and my agent etc etc…

That this is based on a couple of people who existed in human history does not make it a documentary, and a lot of critics point to discrepancies between what Doc Shirley’s surviving family say about their time together, and what Tony Vallelonga’s family say happened, as if either of the two sets of gold-diggers / reality deniers would really know. Even better, several times in the film Tony takes pride in announcing to the world that he’s famous for his well-earned nickname ‘Lip’ because of his propensity and alacrity with bullshitting people at any and all times.

Plus, not to be too rude, but who the fuck is Don Shirley anyway, and why should we care? I mean, he’s no Freddie Mercury / Jackson Maine / Lady Gaga, is he.

So perhaps the most accurate rendering of what this film is about, is that this movie is based on a story Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga told anyone who would listen about the time he drove a famous pianist around. Is that so complicated?

Well, it’s complicated by the time in which this happened, and the myriad of levels that people feel the need to argue and discount people’s stories these days (I guess it was always thus and always thus shall be). Some critics have dismissed the film saying a) it’s all bullshit, b), it’s a white saviour narrative, c) the road trip did happen, but not like this, d) bloody Hollywood pushing its agendas on us.

Rating:

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

That's such...an accurate interpretation of how trapped the female
protagonists are. My compliments to the poster designer. Very creepy

(아가씨 Ah-ga-ssi)

dir: Park Chan-wook

2017

Goodness gracious me what nasty heroic stuff is delivered to my disbelieving eyeballs by this amazing film.

I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I? This South Korean director has been making stunning, lurid, incredibly violent films for decades, all of which I think I’ve seen, from Joint Security Area to the Vengeance trilogy to his American forays into creepy family dynamics (the little seen Stoker) and end of the world – late stage capitalism allegories (Snowpiercer).

The Handmaiden is no less perplexing / shocking / surprising, even if it technically qualifies as a period piece, and a very weird period piece at that. Lifted from the pages of a novel set in Victorian times (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters), the plot is very similar, but the outcome is vastly different. The setting in this flick is probably a bit hard to wrap one’s head around if you’re not Korean or don’t know much about World War II, but it’s not like it matters that much. It’s set during the occupation of Korea by the Japanese, which means these Korean characters are acting awfully Japanese a lot of the time.

It being a time of war, naturally the people that get by the ‘best’ are the grifters, the con artists, the black marketeers, thieves and forgers. Among them rises a jerk who styles himself a Count no less (Ha Jung-woo), with plans to make off with a rich Japanese woman’s fortune. To help him out he convinces another con artist, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), to pretend to be a maid, and to wheedle her way into the heiress’s house and heart. Then, once the jerk marries Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), it’s off to the insane asylum with her, while he absconds with all the money.

The icy Lady Hideko lives with her uncle, who, this might come as something of a complete shock, is a terrible, terrible person. Just how terrible a person he is unfolds over the course of the movie, but at the very least we get the clear impression that he has creepy designs on his niece, not the least of which is the threat that he intends to marry her at some point.

Sook-hee, despite being a player herself, whose plan it is to get a percentage of that inheritance money, plays the naif fairly well in the domain of her aristocratic betters. She’s all wide-eyed and perplexed by all the mysteries of the stately manor and the enigmatically cool Hideko, but we’re not meant to forget that she’s planning a fate worse than death for the lady.

Rating:

Paterson

Paterson

No, this is nothing like any season of Girls, don't be too disappointed

dir: Jim Jarmusch

2016

A movie from one of my favourite directors. Being a godless heathen, my Christmas happens every time a film from one of my favourite directors comes out. This is the reason; their films are gifts to the world, maybe, but mostly to me. Sometimes, I know how weird this sounds, they even seem specifically made for me.

Of course, sometimes, for Christmas, or Hanukah, or for your birthday, sometimes you get socks, a voucher to a naturopath clinic or a punch in the goolies (depends on the family, naturally).

Paterson is like almost every other Jarmusch film, with his own sense of time, with all his obsessions / interests up on the screen, and yet it also takes the time to (perhaps) advocate for the idea that anyone, including the viewer, can find an outlet for their own creativity, and that regardless of what they do for their daily bread, their efforts are just as worthy as those of any of the artists they might idolise.

Rating:

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Maybe they'll hook up, get married, have a baby, call him Nate, if he's a boy

dir: Kenneth Lonergan

2016

Well, that was exhausting. Manchester by the Sea is a long arse movie, but even its length doesn’t matter as much as its content. And what miserable content it is.

Casey Affleck, the shorter Affleck, the younger Affleck, won an Academy Award for this role. I’m not going to argue that it is ill-deserved, or should have gone to anyone else, because that’s pointless. It doesn’t matter anyway. But to get this most “highest” of honours for this role seems…surprising.

I think it’s surprising because the character is so much like the walking dead from that show whose title escapes me at the moment, except he doesn’t want fresh brains or anything else to eat. He, being Lee, is dead inside. He goes through the motions of his work, which requires talking to people, but he hates talking to people. It seems to cause him physical discomfort.

This isn’t the latest in a long line of autism-spectrum dramas trying to illuminate aspects of the human experience through portraying the way some people are completely anti-social but good at math or shooting people or something like that. Lee’s not on the spectrum, he’s just dead inside from grief.

It takes a while to find out what happened, but the more pressing factor, at least from Lee’s perspective, is that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has just died, which forces Lee to drive to a place, the place of the title, that he can’t stand to be in.

Rating:

Moonlight

Moonlight

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale... good gods what is that?

dir: Barry Jenkins

2016

What a way to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Long after people have forgotten what the flick was about they’ll remember, just like those jokes about Marisa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny way back in the day, people will be joking about how it was announced by Bonnie and Clyde, in their final act of defiance, that La La Land had won, when in fact Moonlight was the actual winner.

And it made for quite an awkward speech to cap the night off, from both the people who thought they’d won, and the ones who actually won.

Who cares anyway – the Oscars are meaningless, really, the actual awards don’t mean anything other than marketing.

And yet, it is fucking bizarre that this flick won Best Picture. I have to believe that however the votes from the Academy members were tabulated, I can’t believe that thousands of old white people watched this and thought it was the best flick of the year.

I say this as someone who watched it and liked it, and who thinks it’s absurd that a flick like this can even be compared with something like La La Land. It’s like comparing lasagne to clouds, or frogs to espadrilles.

Rating:

Lion

Lion

You could almost think this was a love story from the poster

dir: Garth Davis

2016

This is perhaps not a wonderful film. The fact that it is based on a true story perhaps means it deserves slack being cut its way. That being said, it is a very emotional flick to watch. What matters is whether it earns the emotions it insists, almost at gunpoint, that the audience feel.

And I felt them, oh gods in heaven did I feel them. Parts of this flick are deeply disturbing, and parts are wrenching. But what does it add up to?

It is such a compelling story, at least some aspects of it. The first section of the film, and the section that I daresay most people will think draws you in the most, shows two boys, at some time in the 80s trying to steal coal from a moving train. Now, I don’t support this kind of criminal behaviour, mostly because brown coal is, like, the total worst for the environment, but when we see why they steal the goddamn coal (to exchange it for two small bags of milk), you realise that these kids aren’t exactly criminal masterminds.

No, they ain’t slinging crack or shooting byatches upside their dome pieces for mad money – they’re two poor kids who lament how hard their labourer mother (Priyanka Bose) works, and they try to ease her burdens. For a bit of milk.

Rating:

High-Rise

High-Rise

I get it, you're trying to remind people of A Clockwork Orange.
No-one cares, poster design nerds.

dir: Ben Wheatley

2016

Hmmm.

I don’t know about this flick. I’m not sure I got it, really. I'm not sure there's enough of anything to get.

I mean, I watched it. I saw lots of images, and heard lots of dialogue, and most of that went through my eyes and ears into my brain, and I’m recalling many of those moments and images and ideas right now, but I’m not sure what they add up to.

Ben Wheatley is a beast of a Brit director, who’s made a swag of vicious flicks, and this is no less vicious, though it seems like a bigger budget / bigger deal than what he’s handled previously. I mean, after all, this has Tom Hiddleston in it, in a lead role.

You know, Loki? The (possible) next James Bond? Taylor Swift’s current boyfriend?

Even more (slightly less) impressive than that, this has Jeremy Irons in a key role.

Jeremy. Irons.

Sorry, old Simpsons reference, couldn’t resist.

High-Rise is based on a book by JG Ballard, which is a name that doesn’t resonate with most people, but it does with me, because I went through that stage that many aging literature nerds of my generation went through when you read many of the books of particular writers all in a row: like you go through your Bukowski stage, your Henry Miller stage, your Vonnegut stage, and then, during your science fiction phase, your Philip K. Dick stage and your Ballard stage. And I read a bunch of them, including this.

Rating:

The Lobster

The Lobster

Consider The Lobster. Now maybe consider something else.

dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

2016

These movies from this Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, like Dogtooth, Alps and now The Lobster – I question whether they are movies to be enjoyed, or movies to be endured / survived.

They’re definitely strange, that’s for sure. Being able to say “there’s nothing else out there quite like it” can be used as much as a compliment as it can as a complaint.

I have watched too many movies in my life, and too much television, and what that means is that, just like everyone else, I can sometimes be energised by watching something completely out of left field, but I can just as equally be left confused and bemused by something so fundamentally odd that my mind can’t quite latch on to it.

I like to think that I kinda ‘got’ what was going on with Dogtooth – a strange flick where a very strange set of Greek parents bring up their kids in absolute isolation, warping their sense of language, sex, the world, everything – but having watched The Lobster, it’s more than likely that I was completely wrong about that flick. As for this flick, well, I have no idea.

Rating:

Spotlight

Spotlight

People. Doing people-type things. Trying to destroy the Catholic Church for
being the foul Human Centipede of religions that it is

dir: Tom McCarthy

2015

It might seem a bit unnecessary to review Spotlight at this late stage because, surely, this far into 2016, what does it really matter anyway?

Oh. Wait. Yeah, now I remember. This flick, which was probably only watched by members of the Academy and every journalist that still carries a torch for the nobility and doggedness of their profession (in other words, all of them) somehow managed to somehow win Best Picture.

Surely that counts for something, right?

I find it incredibly hard to believe that enough members of the Academy saw this in order to vote in numbers for it to achieve a plurality of votes over the other contenders. If anything the flick tries so hard to be downbeat that it’s almost an anti-movie. Sure, the actors wear makeup and act all over the place, but it’s really trying to show just how unglamorous the profession was way back in the dim, distant days of the year 2000.

It’s funny that this is essentially a period piece. What is less funny is that this film set at the beginning of the new millennium is about the systematic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests with the Catholic Church’s knowledge stretching back through the decades. And, let’s face it, probably centuries.

Rating:

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the part of the caption where I say something
pithy that mocks the poster or the actors on the poster

dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

2015

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

If this never got the attention it required, if not that many people saw it who otherwise would have been the prime audience for it, then it’s a shame, but it all comes down to timing.

If the flick had been released before Fault in Our Stars, not a soul would have thought it was trying to cash in on some perceived teens-dying-of-cancer upsurge in audience interest. Released this year? Then it just looks like it’s jumping on a sickly bandwagon and riding some dubious coattails.

It’s a real shame, because the movies are nothing alike, and are both based on completely different books, and were being developed completely independently of each other.

I enjoyed Fault in Our Stars well enough, despite seeing how mawkishly sentimental it was, and how godawfully manipulative. It had good core performances (by Shaleen Woodley and the actors playing her parents at least), and a decent script especially as it related to the arsehole author Hazel worshipped and then loathed (played by Willem Dafoe). Nice soundtrack, too. It was always aimed at and intended for a non-discriminating mass audience, which it got in spades.

Although maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe putting “Dying Girl” in your film’s title isn’t going to have patrons kicking down the theatre’s doors to get in and see it

Rating:

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