Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017)

I actually went to see Lady Bird because the trailer was so good. Any film that uses ‘Days of Steam’ by John Cale instantly grabs my attention.

Lady Bird is a quirky film that makes me want to punch the air with delight. Thank Christ for all of the filmmakers who see things from a different perspective and dare to portray events by thinking outside of the box rather than just following the herd.

The lead character of Lady Bird is finishing up at school and waiting to go to college. The netherworld period of transition just before the bird leaves the comfort of the family nest is poignant, restless and full of conflicting emotions- a fact which doesn’t escape the filmmakers.

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There are gorgeous observations concerning family relationships and dynamics. One scene involves Lady Bird and her mother having a very serious and embittered argument in a thrift store. But this all ends abruptly on the discovery of a beautiful dress. Suddenly all resentments and grievances evaporate as mother and daughter bask in the glory of this maroon lace concoction.

Another thing about the film that I loved was the Catholic setting. It was refreshing that we have such a setting in a film and it isn’t full of cruelty and abuse (OK- maybe thats me as I’ve watched both Spotlight and Silent Night, Deadly Night recently). Watch out for the inspirational Mother Superior, the all too enthusiastic play director/wannabe football coach and the drama teacher. All great characters which compliment this unique film.

The entire cast are awe-inspiring. Saoirse Ronan owns the role of Lady Bird and is perfect. And its great to see Laurie Metcalfe on our screens again after years of watching Roseanne.

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Offbeat, innovative and original. Lady Bird deserves all of the praise its receiving at the moment.

4 out of 5

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Review: ‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Review: ‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Like many people the only thing I knew about ice skater Tonya Harding before this film was the incident of violence that she inflicted upon Nancy Kerrigan. This film deals with Tonya’s upbringing and her life in general leading up to this point.

One striking feature of the film is that it well and truly breaks down the fourth wall with characters speaking to the audience and even disputing their version of events as the alleged events are being played out. Theres even one sequence in which Tonya’s mother admonishes the film’s screenwriters as she seems to have dried up in the film’s narrative.

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‘This didn’t happen!’- differing versions of events are played out and refuted directly to the audience

The film depicts the sheer insanity of the events that led up to the fateful encounter with Kerrigan but it never feels like this has been exaggerated or that it descends into farce. Theres an air of authenticity as we see the craziness and dysfunction unfurl before our bewildered eyes.

The setting of working class America also feels real, warts and all. The film depicts the obstacles to true success and the snobbery that Tonya has to endure and overcome. Theres an irony to the nouveau riche mothers, skaters and judges of ice skating looking down on Tonya for being cheap and trashy when all of the contestants are encouraged to look that way but without the actual poverty. The mainstream world of the sport doesn’t like the real thing but rather a contrived and affluent ‘faux’ version of it. It reminds me of a Dolly Parton quote- ‘It takes a lot of money to look this trashy’.

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The right kind of furs, the right kind of sequins- the trash aesthetic of the world of ice skating

But whilst many events in the film are hilarious and surreal, the incidents of domestic violence depicted are as harrowing and serious as they deserve to be. These sequences still disturb, as well they should.

There are amazing performances from the central three actors of Stan, Robbie and Jenney as Tonya’s mother- a force of nature who is great entertainment on the screen but would be a nightmare in real life.

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Mommie Dearest- Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother

A special mention is needed for the soundtrack- any film that features both Siouxsie and the Banshees and Fleetwood Mac is something very special indeed.

4 1/2 out of 5

Review- Hush (2016)

Review- Hush (2016)

I love it when I know nothing about a film but then discover it on Netflix.

Thats what happened here and I wasn’t disappointed. A deaf mute writer lives in her isolated home on the edge of a forest. And then a psycho nutjob comes her way.

Its suddenly a case of do or die with the writer fighting for her life whilst trying to outwit her tormentor and somehow survive.

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This film is ingenious with a truckload of twists and turns to keep you hooked. Add amazing acting, direction and gorgeous cinematography and you have a gem of a horror movie.

It also has the best use of a corkscrew since Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter and a reference to Extremities.

Watch it and renew your relationship with the edge of your seat. Stunning.

4 out of 5

Review- Danny Says (2015)

Review- Danny Says (2015)

A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.

This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.

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As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.

I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.

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4 out of 5

Review- Spotlight (2015)

Review- Spotlight (2015)

A film that was on my ‘Haven’t got round to seeing it yet’ list. Until now.

Journalists at the Boston Globe investigate sexual abuse of children by local Roman Catholic priests- and uncover much more.

This is based on a true story and feels authentic and not over-dramaticised for the big screen.

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The locales are pinpoint perfect too. Note the cramped offices of The Globe compared to the splendid locations frequented by the higher echelons of the church and those paid to defend them. Corruption pays well- but only if you have no soul.

Notice also the Boston street scenes- this is a film that loves the city.

The performances are also amazing. Mark Ruffalo deserves special praise here- the best performance I’ve seen in a film in a long, long time. Batman was pretty damn great too 🙂

A brilliant film that indeed casts the spotlight onto the darkest of places. This deserves all of the many accolades it received and continues to receive.

4 1/2 out of 5

Review- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

Review- The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

From the director of the quite extraordinarily brilliant How To Survive A Plague comes this film.

Marsha P Johnson was a black transvestite/drag queen (there was no ‘transgender’ then) who hung around Christopher Street in the 60s until her mysterious death when she was pulled out of the Hudson River in the early 90s. As we hear from one person captured on video back then who witnessed her body being recovered there appears to have been some kind of wound on her head. Could there be more to Marsha’s death than just the officially held cause being accidental? Was it suicide or homicide?

David France expertly tracks the work of Victoria Cruz in unearthing and unravelling what happened to Marsha whilst celebrating this revolutionaries life. Moments of this documentary are sometimes very shocking. One such is when Ms Cruz telephones a retired member of the NYPD who she asks to meet to discuss the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death. ‘Definitely not’ he responds to her meeting request. He then warns her ‘Don’t go playing detective’. Sinister.

This film feels like new unexplored relics and answers from LGBT history being unveiled right before your eyes.

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However, there are politics at play regarding the film. Some members of the non-white trans movement are slamming France’s work as hes a white cisgender (non-trans) man who is making this film rather than a trans person of colour. There have been accusations of theft of material from another project that was being made by the trans community regarding Johnson. There are also accusations that David France could get funding and distribution because hes white and cisgender. I think these accusations are just a case of sour grapes. If you are a filmmaker who has made films before, have a proven track record and can actually accomplish these projects through to fruition then you will get funding and distribution. How long have we been waiting for the fictionalised short film Happy Birthday, Marsha? I’m amused that its fictionalised- so was Stonewall in 2015. Lets see if there are protests regarding this new film if events are seen to be historically accurate.

Also, does it matter whether the person making the film is trans or cisgender or what their ethnicity is when the film they make is as great as this?

There seems to be a huge emphasis on Marsha and Sylvia Rivera when it comes to LGBT history and the Stonewall Riots. But when anyone else is represented they are lumped together and not given the same kind of detailed analysis or be the centre of attention. I’d love a similar documentary on Danny Garvin, Martin Boyce or the person widely believed to have started the riots- Jackie Hormona (Marsha P Johnson admitted in an interview that when she arrived at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night in 1969 that the rioting had already started. The interview is here- makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-11-johnson-wicker/ She dashed off to Bryant Park to tell Sylvia Rivera who had taken heroin). You don’t know who Garvin, Boyce or Garvin are? Thats very telling.

A great documentary. Now lets hear about other Stonewall voices.

4 out of 5

Review- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Review- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Why is it that when I see that Film 4 funded a film that its going to look like its been made for TV and lacking in scope or depth?

This film could have been a massive example of social justice warrior filmmaking (damn those white men in power!) But instead there are so many twists and turns that characters who were earlier stereotyped as either ‘goodies’ (the strong woman, anyone of colour, the white man labelled a ‘faggot’, the midget…) or baddies (white men with power to abuse, of course) are in fact shown to be three dimensional and fully nuanced. Everyone is capable of good and evil. Yes, even white men can be good! Its a miracle. I hope Oprah has seen this movie.

Sometimes the film’s comedical stance works wonders, sometimes it feels awkward seeing as the film is about makes the rape and murder of a young woman.

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The lead character of Mildred is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in a long time and is played to perfection. In fact there are great performances all round. Woody Harrelson is fast building a filmography that would be the envy of any actor.

But the film doesn’t knit together quite right. And sometimes its ‘politiks’ feel so holier than thou that I wanted to vomit. Mildred only looks happy when embracing her black co-worker. Virtue, anyone?

On the plus side, its photographed beautifully with Ebbing looking absolutely gorgeous.

So, not a masterpiece. But with enough redeeming qualities to ensure you’re not looking at your watch.

3 out of 5