Films I watched on the plane

As some of my Twitter followers may know, I recently went on holiday to Southeast Asia, which involved a horribly long flight.

I decided to make the most of this time by watching all the films I have avoided for the past two years.

Generally I avoid films that people tell me are good. I don’t trust other people’s opinions, ever since they told me Star Wars was sound.

But faced with nothing to do other than worry about the circulation in my left bum cheek, I had to take my mind elsewhere – to Hollywood.

I had to try all these films that the media dahlings, and Joe Bloggs, said were so excellent.

Without further ado, here are some (rather breezy) film reviews.

Darkest Hour
I rather liked this one, even though I don’t generally enjoy biopics. I always find myself wondering about how realistic everything is; did Churchill really sneeze like that? Did he eat broccoli? The sort of questions that can be better answered in the blessed art form: the documentary.

Thankfully, Darkest Hour has a real sense of authenticity and avoids any sort of revisionism to please Guardian reader audiences (maybe they can have their own GR rating one day. Then we’ll know what films to avoid). Gary Oldman gives a fantastic portrayal, and it is a film that honours the leader and his achievements.

On a side note, I thought there were modern day parallels with Halifax in the movie, as he comes across as a bit of a pain, repeatedly telling Churchill to talk it out with Hitler. Sort of like the way Jeremy is telling us to chat with Russia…

As the film reminds us: “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”.

I, Tonya
Sorry to upset the myriad, but this film is absolutely dreadful, in SO many ways.

It is far too sympathetic with Tonya Harding, for starters, instead of the true victim of the story – Nancy Kerrigan, whose knee was bludgeoned in order to promote Harding’s competitive chances. Imagine being Kerrigan now; having to watch the woman implicated in this crime get her own Hollywood biopic. How does that work?

The trouble is that people – producers, the public, writers – have a very difficult time accepting that women can be bad people, so much they try to explain it through art. This comes across greatly in this film, which tries to justify Harding’s behaviour through the prism of her misfortunate upbringing.

Yes, Harding had a hard life, but directors should still not portray women as devoid of agency in their choices. Nor intellectualise people being bad or stupid.

Moreover, I, Tonya projects modern day sensibilities onto Harding’s life, as part of its apologist narrative. We are made to believe, for instance, that Harding was awarded low scores as an ice-skater because she was working class and couldn’t buy a nice outfit. Having Googled photographs of Kerrigan and Harding, I can confirm that they both looked equally terrible, as it was the 80s. And frankly, no one cares about class in sports. Medals, though…

On the same spectrum of ‘apology films’ is Molly’s Game.

I did like Molly’s Game, not least because it’s written (and directed) by Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin’s films are always a fantastic mental workout, full of twists and turns, and multi-dimensional characters.

Molly’s Game is no different. It tells the (real life) story of Molly Bloom, a fiercely intelligent high-stakes poker entrepreneur. I would try to explain the plot in detail, but I don’t even know how to play poker, let alone fraudulent poker, and I’m pretty sure I went cross-eyed trying to understand everything. All I do know is that Molly was a bit naughty.

Sorkin’s screenplay has strange parallels with I, Tonya as it tries to provide explanations for Bloom’s behaviour that remove her agency, and render her sympathetic.

I wouldn’t be amazed if Bloom is on the psychopathic scale in real life. Psychopaths aren’t so much fearless, but aroused by fear, which is why they might like get a buzz out of extremely risky poker games.

This is why it is so strange that we are led to believe that Molly was, in some way, a victim of “the system”, and a lovely person.

Frankly, I think Harding and Bloom are both pretty cunning – in different ways – and a more interesting film might have made that statement.

Three Billboards
I have to confess, ever since I watched Frances McDormand do that laugh at the Oscars I have been a bit wary. She seems like the sort of person you might move a few rows away from on the bus.

In Three Billboards, I’m pretty sure Frances McDormand is playing Frances McDormand. This is a weird movie that I’m seems to be sending some sort of message about Trump supporters, which the baddies all seem to be based on.

McDormand’s character is Mildred Hayes, whose daughter has been raped and murdered in Missouri. Mildred sets up Three Billboards to draw attention to the crime, attracting controversy that leads to numerous run-ins with the police.

This is a film about willpower, empathy and vigilantism. I confess I most enjoyed the violent bits, though I found the ending slightly disappointing; it was a bit meandering, and some of the characters seemed to change personality too much. Even still, I definitely cannot accuse the director of denying McDormand any feminist agency. There is no other Frances McDormand.

Room
I honestly knew this film would be boring because it’s about two people stuck in a room for 7 years. It’s actually intended as a hard hitting drama about a woman called Joy (Brie Larson) who gets kidnapped, then pregnant, before living with her son, in the room, for the next five years. Room is so boring that none of these bits made me sad. I spent the whole movie wanting the son to get a haircut.

The film is just too obvious. There’s a room, and they want to get out of the room, and everyone’s a bit upset along the way. The media dahlings said this was a brilliant movie, but I think maybe there were no other brilliant movies that year, because it isn’t. Also, I can’t help feeling Larson’s acting style is ‘the girl who got your order wrong in McDonald’s’. Not sure what the fuss is. My brother thinks she’s gorgeous, though.

Finally, I get onto Kingsman 1 and 2. Much to my surprise I actually ADORED these films, which made me laugh a lot. They had all my favourite things – cute dogs, camp humour, political incorrectness and Alfie Allen thrown into a mincer.

Kingsman 2 is written by Jane Goldman. I swear she does not get enough credit. She is brilliant and I can only hope I can write like her one day.

When I got home I forced my dad to watch Kingsmen 2, who told me I was deluded and it was rubbish. But sometimes things don’t have to be perfect to make you smile.

So yes, those are my plane reviews. I thought I’d end on a high note, so you won’t go away thinking I’m overly fussy about films. Which I don’t think I actually am. It’s just Star Wars is really, really crap.

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Stranger Things 2: It was good, but I preferred Series 1

SPOILER ALERT

This weekend, I finished Stranger Things 2 – which was a huge achievement for me.

I’m a big commitment phobe – when it comes to watching television series, of course – and find it hard to stick with anything because of my busy and fabulous life.

I began watching Season 2 on Halloween because I thought it would scare me.

But by episode 4, the only thing I was feeling was a bit snoozalicious.

The next day, I told my friends how bored I was with Stranger Things 2.

“You’ve got to give it time!” They said.

(Incidentally, isn’t this always the way? Almost every TV series needs ‘time’…)

But to be fair to these friends, they were right.

After episode 4, Stranger Things 2 did grow on me, so much so that I became addicted – and had to watch about seven episodes in one sitting.

So well done to the Duffer brothers; they are very clever, and have great facial hair.

Series 2 is similar to Series 1 in many ways – namely because the characters fall victim to a parallel universe with monsters and mysterious forces that they must defeat.

There are new characters involved along the way.

My favourite was Bob, who’s Joyce’s boyfriend in the series (Joyce being the character played by Winona Ryder).

He’s introduced as a simple, kind sort – whom you have a feeling Joyce could do better than.

But then he turns out to be intelligent and extremely brave – and you realise you got him all wrong!

Oh life’s ironies; how I enjoy them.

I shed at least four tears when Bob was killed off.

EVEN SO. Even in spite of all this, I did not think Series 2 was as good as Series 1.

Although saying that, Series 1 is very, very good, so Series 2 is simply very good by comparison.

One big reason I didn’t like Series 2 as much is because I hate sequels generally – aside from Addams Family Values.

They’re often rubbish – and motivated purely by monetary needs, never artistic integrity.

So Stranger Things 2 was always onto an uphill struggle at winning over yours truly.

But it was the trivial elements that got me pulling my ‘hmm’ face.

For one, I was confused about why Nancy dumps Steve for Jonathan.

Steve is gorgeous and nice.

Jonathan looks anaemic and has no personality.

Why, Nancy, why?

Maybe the Duffer brothers need to hire me as their Consultant Casting Director for Babelicious Men – so I can set them on the right path.

I’m also not keen on the character Eleven any more. She becomes really snotty in Series 2, and that’s not just her nose – which I wish would stop bleeding. It’s her attitude too.

Oh, and I’m tired of her being the only one to save the world.

Give someone else a go, lav!

Like I said, I did still enjoy Series 2 – so none of this is to say it wasn’t jolly good entertainment.

It’s wacky and the characters are – on the whole – loveable and easy to get attached to.

And, like Season 1 it is able to captivate huge audiences. I don’t even like sci-fi but I’m glued to this.

But I feel that some of the more mundane things – rather than the stranger things –  of the plot need developing for Series 3.

 

 

Denial review

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In an era of fake news and “alternative facts”, Denial couldn’t have come at a better time. The film elucidates on the notorious 2000 libel case of Irving vs Penguin Books Ltd, which made huge headlines, and had huge implications for the way in which history – and reality – would furthermore be dealt with.

In 1996, the – now disgraced – historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) had been spinning a perverse and twisted version of the Holocaust for some time, denying its most significant facts. None of his musings had gone unnoticed by Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an American professor of Holocaust studies – who criticised Irving in her book Denying the Holocaust.

The film begins at a promising pace, throwing the audience into the sharp set of events that followed Lipstadt’s book being published: Irving’s ambush at one of her lectures, and subsequent intentions to sue her in the UK, where burden of proof rests upon the accused. Lipstadt’s friends counsel that she should drop the case, but she recognises that she must fight instead. Something greater than her name is on trial; the facts of the Holocaust.

Denial is based around a very interesting case, and yet is not a very interesting film. It is such a sensitive and complicated subject matter that directors were perhaps too polite in their interpretation, and too committed to preserving – ironically – the truth, albeit around the trial.

The events of 2000 would have been much better explained in documentary form, not least because Lipstadt is far more engaging as herself, though Weisz’s performance is good indeed. I’m just not sure Lipstadt works as a film character. Her qualities of earnestness and intelligence do not make for gripping viewing, and Denial could have done with more emotional drama at its centre.

All of the acting in the film is united by its accuracy, from Spall’s ability to capture the arrogance of Irving, to Andrew Scott’s interpretation of Anthony Julius, the legal heavyweight. Central to the piece is Tom Wilkinson, who plays barrister Richard Rampton, with ease. In one scene he and Lipstadt travel to Auschwitz death camp to hunt for trial evidence. Lipstadt finds him insensitive in his pursuit of scientific material, though later understands its weight in the courtroom. Ultimately he serves to highlight the difficulties between staying objective, even on the worst cases.

In general, Denial offers a great insight into trial complexities – and how much of a fine art being a lawyer really is. It also demonstrates the importance of text and linguistic ability; which helped Irving become a revered historian, though ultimately destroyed him.

Denial has absolutely come at the right time – in an era where fake news has clouded our ability to find the truth. Had the film been developed in the last few months, it might have have expanded thematically – as a reiteration of the importance of fact over fiction. For now, it provides an essential impetus for the conversations we must have this year.

Stranger Things: Reviewed

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Last night I spent a sickening amount of time in bed watching Netflix. I would be ashamed, but instead I feel enlightened – for I have finished Stranger Things.

It’s a new science fiction horror series by the Duffer Brothers – two genius twins – set in 1980s Indiana. The story goes that a local boy has gone missing, having been captured by a mysterious creature. And so his pals set out to find him on an adventure more fantastical than their boardgames.

The strange thing is that I deplore sci-fi, and so my relationship with this series has come as something of a surprise. Anything with aliens, science banter and whatever else might be termed ‘Brian Cox porn’ leaves me cold. But then I saw that Winona Ryder was in Stranger Things, and being a big fan of hers, I thought I’d give it a try.

She stars as the mother of the kidnapped child, weeping and screaming as she hunts for news of her baby. It is a rotten part to get, and yet Ryder may be the only woman in the world who can dazzle in such a role.

You have to give Stranger Things time. The beginning of the series left me confused to say the least, and I did begin to wonder if its scriptwriters had done a ‘Lost’ – and were making the story up as they went along. Eventually things fell into place, and it evolved into one of the most gripping, fulfilling dramas I’ve seen in ages. Even the scientific parts had me glued to my seat – /bed.

The Duffer Brothers are masters of style, and Stranger Things features some highly imaginative sets that somehow complement an eerie minimalist soundtrack. The music provides the whole backbone to the piece, and definitely deserves an award or five. There are many cultural homages along the way – to 80s films, and even the more recent Donnie Darko and Drive – but Stranger Things is still its own beast.

What really sold the whole thing to me was that I liked the characters – a lot! There are so many of them; they talk like real people, and they’re complex. Dotted along the way are plenty of satisfying ironies and nuances – and romance – to keep even the most reluctant of sci-fi watchers enraptured. This is where Stranger Things trumps other films in this genre, which are often weak on characterisation in lieu of flashy technology.

This Netflix series made me laugh, cry and envy the Duffer brothers – for they have created something as special as it is supernatural. Stranger Things really is strange – for it has united audiences that are galaxies apart.

Please don’t make Tom Hiddleston Bond. I don’t fancy him at all

Everyone’s bothered about Bond recently, and although I’m not bothered about Bond, I am bothered about this: Tom Hiddleston looks increasingly likely to get the part.

I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke – and, yes, an impressive actor. But if there’s one thing that he can’t do for me, it’s get my heart racing. Not in the way that more conventional lookers might do, like George Clooney or Josh Harnett. Who cares about nationality, they’re 00 heaven.

Hiddleston joins a new wave of actors who Hollywood producers have decided women should fancy, such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Buscemi and Simon Pegg. They’re all what I’d call ‘growers’; wild cards that aren’t traditionally handsome, but have a certain je ne sais quoi that some find irresistible.

Not this cat, anyway. And I think many women might agree with me that we are having some strange choices inflicted on us. Instead of symmetry, hot muscles and great facial hair, it’s all about quirky looks and personality these days.

But I’ve had enough. Ever since one film suggested to me that Simon Pegg could seduce Kirsten Dunst. And don’t even get me started on that 2013 Rom Com About Time, where gorgeous Rachel McAdams was forced to cuddle up to Domhnall Gleeson. About Time she got a decent man to snog, I thought to myself!

As if that isn’t bad enough, there’s the wrinkly contingent, starring Tom Cruise, Gary Oldman and Johnny Depp. Everything’s falling apart besides their acting careers. And we’re still meant to believe some of the best-looking women on the planet want to ‘Netflix and chill’ with them.

No one wants us when we’re wrinkly. Last year Maggie Gyllenhaal told how she was deemed, at thirty-seven years old, to play the love interest of a fifty-five-year-old. And I feel for her, truly.

But also I feel for me and my eyes and my stomach when this picture comes out. I don’t want to watch a film about the underpant activity of a middle-aged man.

Just like I don’t want to watch any more films about smoochy Martin Freeman or anyone else trying to pretend they’re incredible looking. They might give some sort of hope that the ‘ordinary man’ can pull stunning women. But, it’s not true and – like I say – films should be about the extraordinary (aesthetics, included).

Either way, I’d like a really sexy Bond. Not quirky, or interesting-looking, but as gorgeous as a man can get. And throw in some abs for good measure – none of that Dad Bod nonsense. Not Tom Hiddleston.

It seems harsh, but the fact is that Hollywood is neglecting women’s needs. Goodness knows, we’ve earned the right to be critical of the calibre of men that grace our screens. The film industry is extremely tough on our sex, and shows no signs of changing. But perhaps we should embrace this. Art should be about the beautiful, and we should demand more from our male subjects.

As women we are always demanding equal pay across the film industry. Perhaps it’s time we demanded equal aesthetics too. We’ve got a pulse – please get it racing, Hollywood.

Yes, Catholic priests were bad. But Spotlight is bad too

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SPOILER ALERT

Here’s the deal, right.

There are bad things in the world. But not every bad thing needs a film about it.

Otherwise it’s possible to produce something like Spotlight. The latest piece of Oscar bait, that’s dull and uninspiring – all because it does little more than to tell you that something bad happened.

It depicts the true story of a group of journalists working for The Boston Globe newspaper. In 2001, they began a campaign to expose Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area, who – for years – sexually abused tens of children, without anyone noticing.

The plot is as follows: the journalists expose the paedophiles. Everyone is horrified. The end.

I say that’s the end, as – to my disappointment – that is the end of Spotlight. In fact, nothing much happens in it at all, other than the journalist team tracking down the Catholic priests, interviewing them and documenting their crimes.

Look, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make films about bad things. I’m just saying that there has to be something else to it – intellectual analysis, parallels in the plot and nuanced editing. It is not enough simply to record, like a documentary, a series of events; the writing and direction must add something to the material. Otherwise it doesn’t do justice to true events.

I’m sad not to like Spotlight, because it has a stellar cast – with Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffallo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams as reporters. I have never seen such a waste of talent. None of these characters has any personality. Ruffallo is the only one who puts any energy into the role, but comes across as brash and sanctimonious – pouting away with every fresh priest allegation. There is no interplay between the team – no romance, tension, nada. In fact, the script is in desperate need of Aaron Sorkin.

Not least because he could make it more balanced. Spotlight only focuses on its journalist team, and rarely do you come face to face with the enemy (Roman Catholic priests). Yes, they were evil – but that does warrant their omission as characters in the story. In Spotlight, the protagonists largely react to letters, victim testimonies and two-minute interviews with elderly priests. It never feels like enough to hit home how horrifically they behaved.

Because this film is about paedophiles, it’s tricky to criticise it – lest you be accused of trivialising the subject matter. There is a part of me that hates the ‘moralist movie’ – whose theme will make it exempt from harsh judgement, and whose protagonists always seem to be without fault.

But I can’t support something that’s relentlessly miserable for the sake of it. And a piece that, throughout, forgets its function as drama.

Star Wars Review: The Force Snoozes

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(Mega Spoilz)

Ok, before I start slating Star Wars, let me say that I TRIED!

I’ve never been a fan. When Abrams et al announced they were making a new version of the film, I wasn’t excited. At all.

The sort of excitement I felt was comparable with the excitement you might feel for:

  • Stacey Solomon’s new Christmas single
  • Prince George’s first tooth coming out

I was also worried. Because it’s hard in this life when you don’t like things like Star Wars, Stephen Fry and football. Conversation becomes impossible.

But then…

There was a glimmer of hope for me. Everyone was saying The Force Awakens was well good. Even Mark Kermode! And I don’t like his hair, but I respect his opinions on film. So I thought maybe I could be in the cool club too, and that my Force would awaken.

Unfortunately, my Force is DEAD. It was never alive, but now it’s gone forever.

I mean, guys, let’s be honest here. The Force Awakens is a bit rubbish.

And I don’t want people to wave their lightsabers at me, so I’ll confess I liked one part of the film. That was, the first twenty minutes, in which Oscar Isacc – a nice pilot in The Resistance – gets chased by mardy members of The First Order.

In this scene you also meet the new ‘evil guy’, aka Adam Driver. He plays Kylo Ren, whom I kept accidentally calling Darth Vader to my brothers (who looked seriously disgusted). But he is ‘the new Darth Vader’, tbh.

He has a complicated backstory. According to his mum, Princess Leia, Ren went away to what I can only describe as Jedi summer camp – where Luke Skywalker tried to teach him the ways of The Light Side. Only, he didn’t really enjoy it and ran away to The Dark Side (who can blame him: dark clothes look so much better on brunettes).

There are loads of other things that happen in the film. I won’t go into too much detail because we’ve all seen it and I’ve already given Wikipedia about 100 new hits doing incredible research for this article. Let’s just say there’s a new posh bird in it called Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. She’s ok. Half the time I expect her to pull out a lacrosse stick and start hitting Stormtroopers, but she’s actually got capital technique with a lightsaber. And there’s her friend Finn, who’s also ok. I’d go for tea with them both, but then I’d meet Ren for a few tequilas later.

Character analysis aside, the real reason why The Force is snoozing within me is because I wanted more complexity to the plot of The Force Awakens. I’ve finished Season 3 of The Bridge recently, so I’ve got used to people doing fucking weird stuff. And I wanted something wacky to happen here – whether it was a character becoming corrupted, a cheeky snog, or a flashback to Ren’s traumatic time at summer camp. There’s too much black and white, and not enough grey.

Not to get too deep, but we live in a world where there is lightness and darkness all the time. But people aren’t simply ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ – it’s a lot more complicated than that. So a franchise where nice people run around in beige cloaks and bad people run around in scary helmets doesn’t quite cut it for me. (Not least because the Stormtroopers must be sick of wearing those outfits. In fact, Star Wars is in desperate need of Gok Wan).

If there was anything I enjoyed about Star Wars it was Harrison Ford and Chewbacca. I was less impressed with Carrie Fisher. When Princess Leia is told of Hans Solo’s death, she may as well be hearing that the Resistance’s toilet roll has run out.

I digress. But the main problem with me is the plot’s simplicity – which paves the way for a film of two-dimensional characters, and not enough emotional substance. The special effects are amazing, but it’s small ingredients that pull in the Star Wars reluctants like me – those who are a bit turned off by explosions, aviation and other stuff that mask flimsy storylines.

I’m surprised that there haven’t been more people who share my view about Star Wars. It seems that if you don’t like it you’re either trying to be controversial, you ‘don’t understand’ it or are some sort of killjoy. I actually find the marketing around it slightly oppressive, as it seems this ‘fun’ film is immune to criticism.

To be honest, I think it’s like The Dark and Light Side: there’s good taste, and there’s bad taste, with nothing in between. And I’m afraid to say that in this case, The Star Wars rejectors – thought numbered we may be – might be the ones to have seen the light.