Wonder Woman (2017) dir. Patty Jenkins

 

Two years ago, the Wonder Woman film had been announced, a leading lady cast, and I wrote one of those self-important, attention-seeking open letter to DC. I implored them not to use the New 52 storyline (turns out I’m still not a fan), to consider the character, and make a film worthy of the woman…

Fast forward to 2017.
Present day bookends the main flashback narrative as Diana Price, currently residing in Paris, receives *that* photo from Bruce Wayne. We are then introduced to a very determined eight-year-old Diana (the captivating Lilly Aspell) who is desperate to train with her fellow Amazons, including Artemis (Ann Wolfe), Menalippe (Lisa Love Kongsli), Epione (Eleanor Matsuura), Philippus (Ann Ogbomo) et al under the watchful eye of her aunt, General Antiope (a tremendous Robin Wright) and the revered leadership of Queen Hippolyta. In an attempt to quell her daughter’s thirst for combat training, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) recounts the story of their people accompanied by some rather impressive baroque visuals all within the premise of a bedtime tale, and then forbids her curious child from learning to defend herself. This only instigates the girl’s secret training but through Antiope’s teaching, Princess Diana’s potential is revealed.

Predictably, the Amazons exposure to the outside world arrives in the form of one Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who crash lands his plane into Themysciran waters, hotly pursued by German soldiers. Diana, of course, saves his life, intrigued at the sight of a man. One thing leads to another and soon she is grabbing the Golden Lasso of Hestia (one-time the Lasso of Truth of Aphrodite forged from the golden girdle of Gaea), a pretty impressive shield, and the “God-killer”, a bronze-gilded sword before setting sail to “The War” with Trevor. Not before a pretty impressive showdown between the Amazons and the gun-wielding soldiers. Surely, as per Hippolya’s history lesson, these men are controlled by Ares, the God of War who was sent packing long ago by his father Zeus.

Ah, Zeus… that’s my biggest gripe. The New 52 began circulation in 2011, during the DC relaunch and offered a version of Wonder Woman that claimed to be close to the character’s classical roots and told a story of Gods, Goddesses, heroes and prophecy. Ancient myths provide archetypes that can be appropriated and a mythology which can be repurposed, sure okay, but gone is the fatherless child moulded from clay and given life by Aphrodite, and in her place, a daughter of Zeus. This iteration challenges the definition of family, and not least William Moulton Marston’s original idealised matriarchy. Just how many angry siblings will turn up in the future and reign havoc? There are also some dubious gender politics which are often at odds with the beloved 76-year-old character.

Did it need challenging? Not remotely, but DC films since Nolan (and the relaunch) have proven, it’s all about the dark, oppressive, depressing, grounding-in-reality adaptations. This feels so new in comparison to all those other heroes who have seen several versions come to fruition, despite only having one or two years on WW. They have been afforded some screen evolution and a film history where she has not. Even the war depicted was changed in this cinematic outing. Wonder Woman was always the symbol of women’s contribution to the WWII resistance and the women’s movement. Now, she is placed within the confines of the First World War, and lovely visuals aside, a nice nod to Superman (1978) and one mention of suffrage, makes little difference to the overall plot, other than to contain the thematic critique of war and patriarchy. Something that still would have worked if set during the forties. Now, we have to believe that our compassionate and caring Diana turned her back on humanity during WWII…

Origin niggles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Patty Jenkins’ film, more so with each viewing. There is action, levity, and warmth, Diana even gets to try her first ice-cream, which is wonderful. Gadot exceeds expectations as the Warrior Princess. Her Diana Prince is driven, yet her naiveté is so well measured; for all her innocence and misunderstanding of how man’s world works, she is no passive wallflower. She has agency and a voice and is unafraid to use it. She doesn’t require rescuing but is only too happy to rescue anybody who needs her. She is intelligent, brave, resourceful, humble, and kind. Love is the impetus and becomes integral to her strength.
When she leaves Themyscira and ventures out into the destructive world of men, Diana believes that she is seeking Ares; who may now be in the guise of General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston). He, with his masked partner-in-crime Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) at his side – dubbed Dr. Poison for her penchant for making toxic concoctions – intend to prevent armistice and cause as much death, destruction and suffering along the way. Only by destroying Ares will peace be restored, Diana states earnestly, Steve nods along, wishing he could believe in her myth.

While the villains (at least one in particular) are somewhat underdeveloped, the ‘good guys’ fare a little better. Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) and Charlie (Ewen Bremner) are all deeply flawed men and products of their environments but their loyalty is commendable. They make an unlikely band of brothers, led by an affable Pine, who are more than content to fight alongside a woman. In yet another change, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) is no longer the brash American we know and love, but British and despite their close friendship in print, she and Diana are not afforded enough screen-time together. I would have loved more Etta, Lucy Davis is utterly charming in the role. 

Wonder Woman is not perfect, there are a few filmic flaws, however, there is more than enough magic within a handful of scenes to make it memorable, captivating and awe-inspiring. While it would have been nice to have stayed on Themyscira a little longer, the fight sequences are a sight to behold. Women: gracefully fearless, bold and brave, handing male derrières back to their owners certainly has a desired effect. The colour palette is, at times, stunning and makes the most of Paradise Island and the blue-grey landscapes of London only serve to make Lindy Hemmings’ work on the iconic red, gold and blue costume and armour pop. Diana had already declared “I am the man for the job” and an hour or so further in, she proves it physically with the crossing of No Man’s Land. This is where Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score reaches its epic aural beauty, moving from that piece of music to Wonder Woman’s Wrath, which incorporates Zimmer’s theme, is perfectly executed and a real highlight. The crossing of No Man’s Land and the subsequent scenes in Veld make the film; throat lumps were swallowed and tears leaked. This is the character I have loved and adored since I was a child: selfless, strong and fearless.

Yes, there is emphasis on the female form but it is a source of power and not necessarily pleasure. On Themyscira, these are women of differing ages, sizes and of colour. These are active bodies and not merely for titillation, Jenkins really steers the camera away from what could have been deemed salacious shots in another pair of hands. Diana represents a vision of warrior qualities that are equal to or greater than men’s and exemplifies a mix of gender qualities that adult men and women recognise as necessary, and yet never loses her femininity. Wonder Woman is powerful, not in spite of her femininity but because of it. Marston believed that young women (children and men too tbf) needed to see a heroic image of themselves, and it has been a long time coming but she’s here, at last, off the page and in the flesh; for us all to see, believe in, and realise our own capabilities via her.

This first attempt may lack polished visual effects, suffer occasionally from pacing issues, the odd bit of dubious dialogue and the final third, specifically the end fight, does feels like a misstep. However, Wonder Woman proves that a big budget can rest upon the shoulders of a woman director – not a “politically correct token” or a “gamble” – and that a female superhero and feminist icon can front a film and be a box office draw whilst being caring and altruistic. Her strength lies not only in her indestructibility but her heart and capacity to love, and to me that is far more important than the overuse of slow-motion. It may not be the film deserved but it’s one you can believe in.

So, when’s the sequel?

Lady Macbeth (2016) dir. William Oldroyd

Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk has not only been staged as an opera, a ballet, and adapted as a 1962 Andrzej Wajda film but now acclaimed one-time Young Vic director in residence, William Oldroyd, brings Alice Birch’s screenplay debut to contemporary cinema audiences. Transposing the Russian set story to the 19th century, specifically the rural North-East of England.

This Lady Macbeth tells the story of Katherine (Florence Pugh), sold into marriage to Alexander (Paul Hilton) and forced to live with the older man and his father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank). Her new husband doesn’t touch her, barely speaks to her and expects “his property” to remain indoors at all times. Katherine’s only physical contact is with her near-mute maid Anna (Naomi Ackie).

Gender hierarchy in 19th Century Britain meant that women were deemed second class citizens and treated as commodities and here, Katherine is no different; sold into a loveless marriage alongside a patch of land, initially unable to exercise much control over her body, her voice, even her sleep patterns, in a house that is determined to silence her and keep her quelled. Katherine is easy to empathise with as we see her sitting alone, day after day, fighting to keep her eyes open. She craves the outdoors, the right to breathe and the freedom to do as she pleases. Cinematographer Ari Wegner’s tight framing is oppressive, the tension palpable, as we are invited to witness the daily rituals of a woman; silence broken only by the vicious raking of a hairbrush dragging out knots and tangles of hair or the violent pulls of the restrictive corset cutting off the air supply, crushing lungs with each tug. 

When her husband and father-in-law go away on business, her wish for air is granted, however, on one of her strolls, she gets inappropriately handled by farmhand Sebastien (played beautifully by Cosmo Jarvis). When he visits her that night and attempts to force his way into her marital bed there is a struggle before she drags him in. With Sebastian, she can exert control, exude sexuality, seduce and subjugate. While Shakespearean Lady Macbeth was punished for her explicit threat to the patriarchy, Katherine subverts all expectation, and at one point literally laughs in the face of it. She is the epitome of looking like the innocent flower but being the serpent underneath.

Florence Pugh is astonishing in this unsettling tale. Her character’s adultery, defiance and contempt glorious in its transgression. Pugh made a terrific impression in Carol Morley’s The Falling (2015) but this incredible performance is the one which will make her a star. She is ably and brilliantly backed by co-stars Cosmo Jarvis and Naomi Ackie as, pawns to be manipulated, Sebastian and Anna. Their ethnicity is never overtly commented upon, but reflects the detailed, historically accurate, research the filmmakers carried out of the period. Despite their class difference, Anna and Katherine are the same, products of the society they inhabit; subservient and imprisoned.

Oldroyd’s production is without complexity, there’s the voyeuristic static camera, long takes, lingering periods of silence which only add to the suffocating drama and tension and serves this type of simple, albeit subversive, narrative perfectly. The beauty lies in the performances, not one can be faulted, and the stark cinematography and lack of musical cues packs a stifling punch. Its austere and almost severe lack of colour (save for a beautiful peacock blue dress designed by Holly Waddington) indoors is juxtaposed quite beautifully with the warming tones of the exterior shots which are reminiscent of Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011) and Campion’s Bright Star (2009).

Tense, beguiling, and suffocating, Lady Macbeth is a compelling adaptation of a Russian novella via Shakespearean literature and depicts a microcosm of a British society of the past. Pugh delivers an outstanding performance – in a superb drama – as a powerful, defiant, adulterous and ambitious woman who owns her autonomy in a time when she was afforded none.

On Girls…

“If it hurts, you’ll always remember…”

After six seasons, sixty-two episodes, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty minutes (give or take), it’s over. Girls is no more. Hannah et al have moved on, to pastures new, not necessarily together but what joy, cynicism and dark, comedic delights they left behind. Also, it’s probably still in Sky box sets too if you just can’t say goodbye yet.

Following on from her success with semi-autobiographical Tiny Furniture (2010), Lena Dunham turned to television and created Girls. It never sat comfortably within a specific genre, part drama, part sitcom, like an anti-Sex and the City despite covering some occasional, similar ground. Realism wasn’t always its strongest suit but the writing always felt authentic even when certain situations seemed implausible. It dealt with the complications of women (those four with the alliterative names mostly) between the ages of 24-27 – that weird age where you never feel fully adult, have left girlhood behind but still need to navigate the choppy waters of self-discovery and finding your place in the world. These were young women who had all the self-confidence but little to no self-worth, they made each other’s problems about themselves and allowed their selfish anxiety to dictate their emotions. They attempted to be independent yet were reluctant to cut the apron strings entirely.

The series covered many topics including drug addiction, STIs, unwanted pregnancy, alcoholism, abortion, motherhood, infidelity, loneliness, death, and mental health. Whilst attempting to combat or even approach some of these issues, they all – Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams), Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) – made mistakes. Sometimes horribly, a lot of the time irreparably but that just made us root for them all all the more. Or many of you bailed on them around season 2/3 and have yet to go back…

Much criticism stemmed from the characters’ likability. That’s women for you. We’re not all sunshine and light, not all of the time, there are multiple facets, complexities that not many shows manage to depict quite so vividly. The girls’ fallibility and often cringeworthy behaviour (sometimes age appropriate, mostly grossly immature) is what made me latch on. Men have been getting away with being unapologetically “men” onscreen since the dawn of time, apparently women pose a greater problem.

Let’s not pull punches; Hannah Horvath was an annoying character, the one based on Dunham, she who often spoke before thinking, she who, nine times out of ten needed that extra bit of attention. We’ve all had at least one friend like her, probably, we’re not even friends anymore. It happens. The others weren’t perfect, not by a long shot, hello Marnie?  but Hannah, for all her flaws and foibles was the heart of the show. She and her friends became a talking point between you and yours – the question of their friendship and why they were friends was never far from our minds, they never did seem completely compatible but something worked. Until they didn’t. Hey ho, that’s life.

Hannah lived outside of her sexual experiences, she saw her ‘job’ to fulfil certain things so she had something to write about; situations with which to glean as much experience from. Her sex scenes were nothing if not honest, hilarious and convincing. She was weird, surrounded by a cast of weirdos; characters we all empathised with time and again. All they ever wanted was to be happy; being loved was a bonus.

For its duration Girls never seemed far from censure – too privileged, too white, too much nudity (specifically Dunham). Most moans seemed to spend a little too much time on Hannah/Lena’s body. Unapologetic in her own skin, and why not, she doesn’t look like your typical TV star, certainly not the kind of woman to shed clothes so regularly and unabashedly. It was refreshing. Finally somebody onscreen who wobbled a bit having a convincing sex life. It made little difference that she was the creator, writer, producer, director and lead actress, she was there to be body-shamed by… well, it was scary how many. Somebody like Patrick Wilson (see, One Man’s Trash S2 E05) wouldn’t f*ck any woman who looked like that, yada yada yada.

It’s a white show. Written by a white woman about four (white) friends; its creator, co-producer, Jenni Konner and executive producer, Judd Apatow are Jewish too if this is something of interest (side note: must research criticism levelled at Knocked Up or latest show LOVE). One of the first things Dunham did, following comments about the lack of diversity on the show, was cast Donald Glover as Sandy in two episodes (It’s About Time S2 E01 and I Get Ideas S2 E02) which depicted Hannah’s ignorance surrounding the issue of race – they also made him a Republican too. While there have been numerous characters of colour albeit, one could argue, clumsily added, and mostly in supporting, non-recurring roles; still, attempts have been made to address the imbalance. Those same critics who describe the show as whitewashing would probably now accuse of tokenism or misrepresentation. The scrutiny with which Girls was subjected to over the last six years, one could surmise, is down to the gender of its creator. I’m sure there are some male-led shows that are held to account, just not quite in the same way as those by/for/with women.

If you’ve never bothered with it, fair enough, I would implore you to check out the bottle-neck episodes for a riveting taste of just how good the show can be, One Man’s Trash, Flo (S3 E09), The Panic in Central Park (S5 E06), American Bitch (S6 E03). Girls showed women in all their complexities, fallibility, humiliations and vulnerabilities. It was dark, cynical and sometimes depressing; not always a comforting watch but funny – I don’t think it’s given enough credit for its humour. Or for its ability to write men. Specifically Adam Sackler. To listen to Dunham, their show was a collaborative effort, replete with improvising so who knows the *true* author of Adam, regardless he remains amazingly written; the epitome of the sensitive, complicated, masculine male. A man in AA; his sobriety sometimes a battle. His dark, sexual, almost deviant behaviour and the temper… oh the temper. That which exploded usually to save him exposing his vulnerability. He was deep, complex and – just like the rest of the show’s characters – grew, evolved, shifted. It was a joy to watch, Adam Driver is a joy to watch. He (Sackler) was, is, for all intents and purposes, Dunham’s finest creation.

So, how to end it all? (Finale review over at TDF: Latching) 

I will miss Hannah and the gang immensely (even Marnie). The girls may have been maddening and mortifying but we loved them; through their imperfections it allowed us to disengage from reality for a bit and embrace our own flaws.

Adulting can be hard. Womaning is harder.

Carmen Jones (1954) dir. Otto Preminger

CarmenShot in glorious technicolor and Cinemascope, Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones is a treat for the senses. From the opening credits and the strains of Bizet’s opera, vivid colour floods the screen in this lovely restoration from the BFI.

Using Bizet’s 19th century-set opera is transposed to a Southern military base at the end of the second world war, starring an all-black cast performing an Oscar Hammerstein book and lyrics. In terms of musicality it never quite works, I mean, who dubs Harry Belafonte? However, Carmen Jones is an incredibly important film, and one that should be heralded as monumental.images-3

Carmen (played beautifully by Dorothy Dandridge) is a troublemaker. She exudes a tomboyish quality; a playful femininity which sees her climbing, running in heels, happy for rough and tumble, and an inner strength which belies her slight frame. Her arrest places her in a car with strait-laced G.I. Joe (Belafonte). He is charged with driving her to jail. Needless to say, Carmen tried to escape and after wrestling Joe to the ground, he finds himself in her childhood home, being cooked for, seduced away form his girl Cindy Lou (Olga James), and then imprisoned himself for allowing the duplicitous Ms. Jones to flee. images-4

Sultry Carmen is hedonistic, carnal and revels in her freedom whether sexual or geographical – she makes it abundantly clear – she will never relinquish it. She is the epitome of the transgressive woman, and just like those women of cinema (and in keeping with the opera’s tragic heroine), she is irrevocably punished for her transgressions. Interestingly, examining the notion of freedom, conformity, acceptability and erotic desire of Carmen is worth questioning; is she is defeated or merely defiant? Her active sexuality does not appear over-sexualised but feels liberated and yet it is the scenes in which Belafonte is shirtless that feel fetishised. As Carmen’s freedom is threatened, her frequent calling of Joe “boy” loses its affection and becomes derisive.

imgres-1Love, jealousy and tragedy are abound in this opulent and liberal affair, people of colour fill every frame, Dandridge and Belafonte are supported by Pearl Bailey, Joe Adams, Diahann Carroll and Brock Peters to name but a few.  They have agency, and are (mostly) free from stereotype. With songs entitled “Dat’s Love”, “Dis Flower” and “He’s Got His Self Another Woman”, written to Bizet’s musical score, and every effort to present a black community (albeit thought through the lens of an émigré man), it seems incredibly odd to disjoint the narrative and risk alienating the viewer by having these songs dubbed with the operatic vocal talents of Marilyn Horne and LeVern Hutcherson. I can’t help but feel these songs would be more memorable, more gut-punchingly real if sung by the souls that play each character; the opera dub upsets the rhythm of the film.

Carmen Jones is wonderful but deserves to be seen on a huge screen, it loses a sense of this grandeur as a home release yet, regardless, is a gift; even an imperfect one. Its complexities certainly make for an interesting watch and one to unpick. Preminger’s use of space and incisive camerawork means there is a lot of visual charm but it feels muddled, a historical achievement for 1954, absolutely but missing something musically. The imposition of Horne’s vocals disjoints and the differences in pitch, tone and timbre seem, at times, farcical. It did, however, make an icon and Oscar-winner of Dandridge and rightly so, she is incredible in the role, and why CJ should always be hailed as “culturally, historically [and] aesthetically significant.”[1] imgres-2

Carmen Jones is available now on Blu-ray and screened as a part of the BFI’s Black Star season which ran from 17 October – 31 December 2016.

[1] In 1992, Carmen Jones was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress who described it as above.

Ghostbusters (2016) dir. Paul Feig

*minor spoilersFile_005

For my 4th birthday, I received – amongst many gifts – a beautiful Ghostbusterscake. It was huge, had red-frosting and the logo emblazoned across the front. My cousin, born six years before and ten days later got the same cake (only his icing was blue). Lol [his name not laughter] was responsible for my introduction to Ghostbusters and Star Wars, actually, if truth be told. At no point did he exclude me because I was younger or because I was a girl, and let’s face it, a four-year-old will test any ten-year-old’s patience regardless of gender.

I remember having the crap scared out of me watching the film on TV then suffering sleepless nights, that bloody ghost in the library. Six years later I had a David [brother] to pass the love of ghosts and busting onto; films  cartoons, and toys, oh-so-many-toys. Spengler (Harold Ramis), Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson)  and smart-ass Venkman (Bill Murray) held a special place in my (and his) childish heart. Now, Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and Tolan (Leslie Jones) will provide joy for a whole new generation. Seriously, why is that so terrible?

File_001The expected happened. I grew up, the little girl repressed somewhat but still knocking around, and rewatching Ghostbusters (1984) as an adult is a whole different experience. Now you can laugh at the adult humour that sailed over your cherubic head, cringe at the effects which at times are pretty awful and the best part? Crawl under a duvet, hungover, and passively let each scene douse you in nostalgia like an ectoplasmic gloop. A sequel arrived in 1989 – largely disliked now – who knew? It was fine. I regularly rewatch.

The reboot was announced. Urgh! Originality is a concept lost on most Hollywood studios. This one was to be directed by Paul Feig. For the record, he seems like a very nice man, always impeccably dressed, and there’s no denying how he has boosted women-led films, but he directed Bridesmaids (deplore), The Heat (lukewarm) and Spy (I adored that one). Was it really a surprise that this Ghostbusters, his vision, would be all-woman? I was intrigued sure, can’t say I was overly fussed either way. The casting of Hemsworth piqued my interest, not least because he would be the male Janine (Annie Potts) – bravo!File_002

Time passed as the darker pockets of the internet cried, screamed and generally threw a strop. Misogyny is never pretty and even that four-year-old girl (now a 35-year-old woman) was verbally abused for daring to say she liked the trailer. These men seemed to have forgotten their own mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts as they rendered women ill-equipped to play *fictional* paranormal scientists; their childhoods (long gone) destroyed forever. *Pause for dramatic effect*

File_004The world lost a vital 1/4 of the original line-up in 2014, with the sudden passing of Harold Ramis. A Ghostbusters III without him would have been senseless. While unable to cameo in the new film, one of his sons makes an appearance and that gorgeous gold bust seen from Gilbert’s desk is a beautiful touch and definitely brought a lump to my throat. Okay, progression. Four more humans don the overalls, get slimed and save New York from paranormal activity, not such a far-fetched notion. Oh, and they have lady-parts…So, what’s it all about?File_003

Following a very effective opening whereby Gertrude Aldridge’s ghost (Bess Rous) is terrorising her childhood home, physicist Erin Gilbert (Wiig) – up for tenure at the prestigious Columbia University – is approached by Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley Jr). Clutching Gilbert’s co-authored book, a hardbacked thesis written by Dr. Gilbert and her ex-colleague/ estranged friend Abby Yates (McCarthy), he begs for her help. Unaware of the book’s existence, Erin visits Abby and her new colleague, engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) in a lab strewn with gadgets – think Egon’s place, only messier.With the help of human A-Z and New York history buff, Patty Tolan (Jones) and inept-but-we-gave-him-the-job-because-he-was-the-only-applicant receptionist, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the Ghostbusters (it’s easier for Kev to pronounce than the actual name, you see) are born; to capture paranormal entities and prove their existence to the world while a city of naysayers including the Mayor (Andy Garcia) attempt to discredit them.

New-Ghostbusters-Movie-2016-International-Trailer-Released

Doesn’t sound so drastically different from the previous incarnation and you would be right in thinking the original has served as a blueprint much like The Force Awakens‘ (2015) similarities to A New Hope (1977). Each acknowledges what has gone before but stands alone in its own, inclusive, right. There are enough nods to the past for the girl with the cake to recollect fondly and yet enough meta commentary and gags for the adult to snigger at and mentally high-five all involved.

ghostbusters-2016-movie-trailer-750x400

Girls 2016

It’s not “man-hating” which is how I saw it described this morning. The antagonist, Rowan North (played another SNL alum Neil Casey) is white, male, and a little fragile but so are most Bond villains, and after the scourge of hate heaped upon this film, why wouldn’t the filmmakers and writers respond not least in an entertaining way? And it is, you know, extremely so, and I’m sorry but a blast from a ray gun aimed at a marshmallowy nutsack is amusing. It has been a long time since a big studio offered a blockbuster that is as enjoyable and, more importantly, FUN as this one.

ghostbusters-gozer-roof

Boys 1984

The cameos (there are a fair few and perhaps one or two could have been saved for the inevitable sequel) but they would not have worked so well had those actors been playing the characters they made famous yonks ago. Thankfully, they’re a breath of fresh air and each one more joyful than the last. Hemsworth is perfect as pretty but dumb Kevin, his Norse God alter-ego is a saviour, however, it’s refreshing that four ladies get to rescue him, and I don’t necessarily mean just from peril – they become a family. The women themselves are hilarious, smart, loud, brash, uptight, and gloriously realistic albeit plonked in a disbelief suspended setting.  Abby and Erin are the heart of the narrative, it’s their friendship which drives the plot while Jillian and Patty are the funny. I’m unfamiliar with their Saturday Night Live work but Jones is hysterical and McKinnon, a revelation. It’s not perfect, nor was I expecting to be, it’s a Ghostbusters film and I don’t mean that in a derisive way – as long as there are creepy ghosts, gloop, busting of said see-through creeps and humour, I’m easily pleased.

It does exactly what it set out to do, which is bring the Ghostbusters into the 21st century, passing the proton pack to a whole new generation. That’s the beauty of it, there is no either/or, everyone will have a preference, sure but neither undermines the other – there are now eight Ghostbusters to identify with and choose as your favourite – I just had faceache and a warm, fuzzy feeling throughout watching this one. I’m still chuckling days later. If only that four year old girl could have seen it…

 

Tale of Tales (2015) dir. Matteo Garrone

T0T1

Long, long ago there lived a Queen (Salma Hayek); a desperate, seemingly infertile Queen who wished for a child more than anything. Her husband, the King (John C. Reilly) would (and does) do anything to make his love happy and provide her with the child she so yearns, and so begins Matteo Garrone’s (Reality, Gomorrah) first English language feature Tale of Tales. The tone of which is set from the very beginning as the King of Longtrellis wades into water to slay the sea monster and pluck out its heart thus providing his beloved with the bloody, and delicious, means to conception and the shortest gestation period ever. His untimely demise brings the neighbouring Kings; sex-crazed libertine Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) and sweet melancholic Highhills (Toby Jones) to the funeral procession, and all three kingdoms merge, intersect and ultimately influence the other as the triptych of tales unfurl, some sixteen years later.

Queenie is now mother to a teenage albino Elias (Christian Lees) – taking on the colouring of the sea beast – and who is spending a lot more time with his identical twin brother from another mother, Jonah (Jonah Lees). The Royal mother is overcome with envy as the two boys; one princely, one a pauper make adventures of their own.

Strongcliff is a skin-crawling, somewhat beastly Don Juan-type whom women seem to grow tired of very quickly. Looking for another distraction, he hears a beautiful ToT7singing voice and follows it, mistaking an old crone (played respectively by Hayley Carmichael and Stacy Martin) for a beautiful Princess and so begins an obsessive courtship, of sorts, (through a door) chaperoned by her equally wrinkled sister Imma (Shirley Henderson).

ToT4Highhills is a widower who as his only daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) matures becomes more attached to a flea than the fruit of his loins, and when said pet passes on (respiratory issues) provides a fun guessing game, the prize of which is the hand of Violet. Step forward the Ogre (Guillaume Delaunay) and the poor Princess is whisked away, under duress, to what essentially is a hole in a mountain.

While the majority of audiences – whether filmic and/or literary – will recognise the conventions, motifs, metaphors, plots and characters of the traditional fairy tale, they may even attribute to the Brothers Grimm. However, without putting too finer point on it; the Italians came first. Straparola inspired Giambattista Basile, upon whose tales –The Enchanted Doe, The Flea, and The Old Woman Who Was Skinned– this film is loosely based. In his work, Basile, deployed the loquacious gifts of female storytellers while Garrone adapts to forefront the role of women in his carnivalesque cinematic tale for they all can be read as rebellious females manipulating their surroundings and fashioning their own fates.

ToT3

The film is a real feast for the eyes combining the Italian setting with baroque beauty, brimming with flamboyant metaphors which render Tale of Tales as sitting somewhere between repulsive and hilarious. Garrone clearly appreciates the richness, diversity and complexity of the fairy tale, especially those from his motherland. It intrigues, has much to say on the power of civility and transformation and is completely wicked and highly pleasurable. Not least due to its direction but the special visual effects (practical, digital art, props) and ageing prosthetics, provided by mAKINARIUm are outstanding, as is Massimo Cantini Parrini’s gorgeous and sumptuous costuming; fit for any Royal. Alexandre Desplat delivers a dreamy score, expressive in tone and timbre which really lifts and enhances those darker moments.

ToT5Tale of Tales is a charming curio – dark, gruesome and mirthful; a transgressive grotesquery, thematically rich, irreverent and unctuous. Those fiabe that we hold dear as children are just as important to us as adults, and when they are as wonderfully made as this, even better.

And they all lived happily ever after…yeah right.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) dir. Zack Snyder

BVSI was always going to see it (twice, in fact) and while I wasn’t a fan of Man of Steel, I enjoyed Batman v Superman; I know, such a contrary Mary! Chin Dimple needed a little more to do, Batfleck was pretty good, and Wonder Woman didn’t disappoint. Don’t get me wrong, it was ludicrous in parts but…oh it’s probably best you just have a read: Batman v Superman

Frankenstein (2015) dir. Bernard Rose

image

Another version of Frankenstein was released on Blu-Ray and DVD last month. Yes, another one! Although this beautiful adaptation is free from electrodes, corpse reanimation, and two grown men writhing about in viscous lubricant. This one is quite stunning. Read here: Frankenstein

Spotlight (2015) dir. Tom McCarthy

 

spotlight

There have been a number of films which have dealt with the subject of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. Most memorable is Alex Gibney’s damning documentary Mea Maxima Culpa (2012) and Pablo Larrain’s The Club (2015). While the latter is a dark work of fiction based upon an overwhelming truth, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer chose the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by The Boston Globe as the basis for their screenplay, Spotlight.

In 2001, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) took over as Editor of the Globe and immediately suggested that a group of journalists: Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian D’arcy James), led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) look into the case of Father John Geoghan and the accusations of child abuse that were levelled at him. Although the events of 9/11 delayed their investigation until 2002, the Spotlight journalists joined forces with lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) to expose the lengthy cover-up by the Church and how this Priest and the 86 others, within the State of Boston, were deemed above the law.

globe staff

Hollywood has a way of sanitising; it is why, I would argue, European cinema hits harder. Spotlight is the exception to the rule. It recounts those tireless, investigative months with dignity, anger and drama and only for the intertitles and events detailing 9/11, it is timeless, and reminiscent of that last great newsroom -based drama, All the President’s Men (1976) by way of something as emotionally-charged as Philomena (2013).

We know the characters names and there are obvious hints to their marital statuses and even the faith within which they were raised but no unnecessary character development deviates from the point of this low-key yet impacting film. The Globe’s involvement is two-fold; selling newspapers but also making amends by detailing a story they had access to five years previously. This is about facts and exposing the truth, while making an audience engage with what they are seeing.

spotlightroomIt also throws up some infuriating questions – for the audience, and the characters onscreen – does the ‘good’ work of the Catholic Church cancel out the heinous and systematic abuse? (This is rhetorical.) Upsetting the cart for a few bad apples is an analogy best suited for this horror. When all is said and done, it wasn’t/isn’t all Priests but some 6% of any one discretion, according to former-Father and psychiatrist Robert Sipe. The incredulity of the reporters, when they think they are dealing with only one Priest, triples as realisation hits (remember what that felt like); just how many “fool around” with children? These predators targeted a specific type of child – poor, working class; those who would take whatever pay-off they were offered and keep their “shame” to themselves. The Church has money and they turned child abuse into a cottage industry while putting more children in danger by not dealing with the problem but merely reassigning Priests to other parishes for the cycle to begin all over again.

Oh, and I’m not just “another lapsed Catholic pissed off at the Church”, as John Slattery in his guise as Ben Bradlee Jr flippantly states. I’m a furious, lapsed Roman Catholic who cannot comprehend the immoral and criminal way in which men (and women) of my faith behave(d). Anybody, regardless of creed, who harms a child is evil and the rationalisations which, seemingly, members of the Church place upon that level of abuse are horrifying. Apparently, there is a distinction between abuse, rape and sexual gratification and a pederast can walk out of a police station without charge as long as he is wearing clerical dress. Guilt, according to Spotlight, also lies outside of the abuser. How many people, including men of power, knew and did nothing? Mitch Garabedian/Stanley Tucci says it best, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

wordsSpotlight is a tremendous piece of work. It makes for a riveting watch and is incredibly moving and thrilling. Everything within the mise-en-scène is very subtle, even downplayed including McCarthy’s direction; Howard Shore’s score is sombre, restrained and emotive without ever feeling manipulative, and the cast? Every single one of them is outstanding and it is the best ensemble piece seen in a long while; from a very passionate Rezendes/Ruffalo to the staid and calming force of Baron/Schreiber. This is one of those flawless films you don’t want to miss and more importantly, shouldn’t.