Juliet, Naked

Our so-called fuck up this week is incredibly easy to relate to so I probably like this film more than I would normally because of that. Also, Rose Byrne is such a gifted comic actor, I want to be her.

Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie (the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan) and her unlikely transatlantic romance with once revered, now faded, singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who also happens to be the subject of Duncan’s musical obsession.

Chris O’DowdRose ByrneEthan Hawke

What if you met the man of your man’s dreams?

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*Minor spoilers*

Annie (Byrne) still lives in her hometown and is the curator at the local museum. She lives with her long-term boyfriend Duncan (O’Dowd), even though the relationship is pretty threadbare. It isn’t helped by Duncan’s all-consuming obsession with the music of singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Hawke). Crowe’s last work was released 25 years ago but this doesn’t stop him running a dedicated fan site.

When a surprise package arrives at the couple’s home, Annie opens it first and discovers a collection of acoustic covers of Crowe’s seminal masterpiece, “Juliet”. The new work is called “Juliet, Naked”. Duncan is none-to-pleased to arrive home and find his girlfriend has already listened to it. He’s even less thrilled when she tears it apart. This leads to a huge argument and Annie leaves a negative review of the demo on his website.

When Annie later receives a response to her critique from someone purporting to be Tucker Crowe, things start to get interesting. He thanks her for her honesty and it soon becomes clear that it really is the man himself. The pair quickly begin a regular correspondence, updating each other on the intimate details of their lives. Annie ends up being very candid about her sadness at not being a mother, while Crowe shares his regrets about being a bad father to five kids, by four different mothers.

Meanwhile, Duncan bangs a teacher at his school and his relationship with Annie conveniently comes to an end. Round about the same time, Crowe – who lives in America to be near his youngest son, Jackson – has to travel to London for his daughter Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) who’s about to give birth to her first child. Of course he arranges to meet Annie in London but stands her up.

She forgives him when she learns he’s had a heart attack and the pair finally manage to meet, though the small hospital room in which she finds him is soon full of ex-wives and children. She stays for a beat then excuses herself, never to be seen again. Kidding. Crowe invites himself and Jackson to Annie’s to recuperate and get to know her better.

Which is lovely and all but how will she explain the shrine to Tucker Crowe that still lives in the house? Indeed, how will Duncan take his first – and subsequent – meetings with his idol?

It’s all very idyllic but what will become of the new couple when reality comes a-knocking and Crowe has to return to the US?

Well, this is a slow burning quite lovely little lament on regret and new beginnings. It may please you to note that Annie does what she wants to do finally – and follows her own dreams, regardless of other people’s demands on her. I think in the hands of someone else I would have been bored but the small-town seaside setting feels authentic and both Byrne and Hawke put in good, low-key performances. I cannot abide Chris O’Dowd if we’re being honest but he brings the infuriating character if Duncan to life by default.

While I enjoyed this, I don’t have that much to say about it. Not that much happens. I do however understand the pressure of waking up in your forties and being nowhere near the person you thought you would be. There’s a sadness and some hope in there somewhere, depending on how you look at it.

Film details:

Juliet, Naked
Year: 2018
Director: Jesse Peretz
IMDB Rating: 6.6/10
My Rating: 4/5

What does my girl think of Juliet, Naked? Would she set up a very niche fan site for it or send it back to obscurity forever? Find out here.

Solo

One of the most important things in this life, as far as I’m concerned, is me time. It sounds cliché, especially when you frame it in that popular self-care meme kind of way but boy, is it true.

I get incredibly angsty if I don’t have at least an evening or weekend day a week to myself, doing whatever the fuck I fancy. I also strongly advocate solo dates because honestly, nobody gives good date like I do. My main jam is the cinema date for one.

You get to see what you want, sit where you want and eat what you want. You can do more than one movie and nobody moans about it. Sometimes, on very special days you can do a hat trick. I just love to spread myself out and lose myself in whatever is unfolding on screen.

That’s not to say I don’t bloody love going with my film buds, which I do all the time but the lone wolf viewing is something I do at least once a week if I can.

I struggle a lot being around too many people – and around people too much of the time – so I often have to excuse myself for a breather. Even if it’s just 30 minutes with my book or a long old soak in the tub. It wasn’t always this way, a lot of the time I was alone growing up, even when I first moved to Brighton wasn’t by choice. I had friends but I was in no way as outgoing as I am now. I was scared to go out a lot of the time – my social anxiety crippled me to the point I’d make myself ill. As a result I was a lonely person, alone a lot and not enjoying it the way I do now.

Thankfully a few things have changed in that department and I’m not sure how, I guess I stopped giving such a shit about socialising. I don’t worry as much about every little thing and I’m sure that’s a comfort that comes with age. Plus, I surround myself with people who understand me – if I’d done and my social battery is running low, they just accept it.

I think I’ve found the balance. Now I thrive on the peace and quiet of my own company but I also enjoy being out and about. Finding the right balance is the key to my optimum mental health – and I always feel it when I’ve been overdoing it. The quickest and easiest solution to that is to take myself to the movies. On Monday, I’ll be spending a few hours with Bruce. The shark from Jaws, that is.

What are your thoughts on going solo?

Midsommar

A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.

Florence PughJack ReynorWilliam Jackson Harper

I find it quite hard to define Ari Aster‘s films. Last year’s feature debut Hereditary was hands down one of my favourite films of 2018 and gave me nightmares for a solid week. It was horror from a completely unique angle, so when the first trailer for this movie dropped, my heart rate rose in anticipation of the trauma to come.

I’m on the other side of it now, having actually seen it and I have two immediate thoughts: 1) FUCK and 2) When can I see it again? It’s incredible, really and for many reasons. First up, it looks magnificent. All the terror happens in broad daylight – which makes it all the more unsettling. I mean, day time is supposed to be when we can take a breather from whatever horror is in store for us. Bad things only happen when the sun sets, right?

The Swedish countryside is breathtaking (though actually it was filmed on location in Hungary) and the colour pops like no other. At just shy of two and a half hours run time, it’s no joke but the pacing works perfectly. I didn’t want it to end as it built up to its odd and frankly eerie crescendo. Honestly, it isn’t a film that will make you jump out of your skin at every turn but it will haunt you.

Dani (Pugh) and her boyfriend Christian (Reynor) are a couple just going through the motions. Dani seems to have a drama queen reputation, which is exacerbated ten fold when she receives a distressing message from her sister Teri, who lives with bipolar disorder. Christian, encouraged wholeheartedly by his buddies, Josh (Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Swedish Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), is on the verge of breaking up with her when a life-changing event occurs.

The couple stay together and when Dani finds out her boyfriend and pals are planning a trip to Pelle’s homeland to attend a once-in-90-years Midsommar festival, she’s invited. Reluctantly. Off the friends go to Sweden to join in the festivities, guests of Pelle’s ancestral commune, the Hårga. Will the vulnerable Dani find peace here? That is the question.

If you’ve read anything about Midsommar or seen the trailer then you can probably surmise that it’s not all flower crowns and sun-basking, although those things do feature prominently. I won’t say anymore because going in with as little information as possible is going to be for the better.

Florence Pugh is wonderful, an incredible talent I just want to watch forever. Dani is a complex character in an uncomfortable position, fully-aware something has changed within her relationship. She’s haunted by recent events and curious/repelled by the rituals unfolding before her.

The constant feeling of dread throughout is stoked by all the mysterious potions being passed around and there are some incredibly beautiful and trippy scenes of hallucinogenic drug taking that take me back to my own experiences. I think Aster captures them perfectly. He also injects darkly comic moments into the most absurd scenarios and it’s much needed.

It’s all just a very creepy fever dream and I love it. The rest is up to you.

Film details:

Midsommar
Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
IMDB Rating: 8/10
My Rating: 5/5

What are you watching?

Peelers

I sort of panic chose this movie because I’m disgustingly disorganised and I thought: strippers fighting tooth and nail against the infected? What’s not to love? Well…

I should also DISCLAIMER this and say I got distracted a couple of times so this review might not be fully accurate.

A small town strip club owner must defend her bar, her strippers and her life when violent infected patrons show up on the final closing night and all hell breaks loose.

Wren WalkerCaz Odin DarkoMadison J. Loos

We open with an attack on a lone nurse in a small-town hospital as she does her nightly rounds. It’s not clear what’s wrong with her patient but he’s clearly not doing amazing sweetie, as he’s oozing an oily black substance from every orifice and throwing up literal tar. The poor nurse doesn’t last long and neither do her colleagues – and we’re left in no doubt that something here is rotten in Denmark.

Meanwhile, biker babe (and former baseball player) Blue Jean (Walker) is about to sell her road-side strip club to a horrible property developer who has designs on the land for some reason. It doesn’t matter too much to her though given that she’s about to skip town but she does hope for a successful last night. Strippers Frankie, Licorice and Baby – and new girl Tina – are on hand to flash the flesh to ensure this happens.

Barkeep Tony and hired muscle Remy (Odin Darko) keep the riff raff in check, though the latter is more inclined to be mooning after his boss and sending her anonymous bouquets of flowers. Closing night heats up considerably when a group of Mexican mine workers arrive to celebrate. But, as the tequila flows so does the gross black vomit.

Unfortunately, the hot and compact club isn’t the ideal place for an infected patron and the sickness quickly spreads. The mine workers are first – and we find out soon enough that the reason for their festivities isn’t a birthday as they claim, but a celebration because they’ve struck oil. Not normal oil though, oh no, evil oil that turns humans into zombies.

What follows is absolute carnage and I’m not talking about Baby’s water show on the main stage…

There’s not all that much to say really. Blue Jean’s part-time criminal son Logan (Loos) turns up and together they’re forced to get the staff and fight zombies to the death. Which is easier said than done really.

This film isn’t amazing but it’s also not terrible and I think they’ve made an effort to build up some of the characters, which helps. Blue Jean rides a police issue motorcycle and pines for her troubled son and a dead husband (?). She doesn’t suffer fools and has an astute arse-hat radar which is handy in this line of work. The fact she used to be a ball-player certainly sets her up for survival – and with the help of her lucky bat ‘Junior’, how can she lose?

The other girls don’t do so well but they aren’t just tits with no personalities and that’s cool. In fact, correct me if I’m wrong but I think the only real negative assessment of the womens’ career choices comes from the nefarious developer, who calls Blue a “small-town stripper” more than once and mocks her intellect.

The gore factor is high with this one – and it’s a no-go area if you’re not keen on puke and/or internal organs flying across the screen. There are a couple of noteworthy scenes and one of them – involving one of the dancers’ who has literally just given birth – is not for the faint-hearted.

Not much is explained which is fine, some things just are what they are – but it seems the secret oil well isn’t so secret and some people have a vested interested in its deep, ominous pool. Will they get their way?

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly feminist movie (it very much has the male gaze in mind) but Blue holds her own. She’s also very talented with a baseball and not in the traditional sense either – I’m almost jealous.

Film details:

Peelers
Year: 2016
Director: Sevé Schelenz
IMDB Rating: 4.1/10
My Rating: 2.5/5

What does my love think of Peelers? Would she get it a sweater or dirty dance with it to a filthy beat? Find out here.

Ma

A lonely woman befriends a group of teenagers and decides to let them party at her house. Just when the kids think their luck couldn’t get any better, things start happening that make them question the intention of their host.

Octavia SpencerDiana SilversJuliette Lewis

Jesus. I think the main thing I took away from this film is that Ma and I ain’t that different. Watching her hang out with actual teenagers in her basement is an accurate depiction of my social life. LOL.

Sure, I’m joshing but I do feel for our protagonist/antagonist as we slowly learn more about the humiliation that leads her to being this… unconventional. School age kids are the cruellest, man and I wouldn’t go back for all the money (and tea) in China.

Before we get to Ma, let’s start at the beginning. Maggie Thompson (Silvers) and her mother Erica (the legend Juliette Lewis) move back to Erica’s small hometown in Ohio. Erica has a job at the local casino while Maggie attends the very same high school her mother did.

On her first day, Maggie befriends a group; Andy, Haley, Chaz and Darrell, who invite her to a party. On their first outing together, the gang meet veterinary technician Sue Ann (Spencer) outside the liquor store and persuade her to pick them up some booze. All is fine for the kids until the po po turns up to where they’re hanging out.

It seems Andy’s dad Ben has found out about the drinking and sends an officer to arrest his son. Ben runs a successful security business in town but due to the officer’s relationship to Andy’s Dad (he thinks he’s a dick), he lets the kids off. All this is convenient for Sue Ann though as now the kids don’t have a drinking spot and when they approach her for more supplies a few days later, she leads them to her place.

Here she tells the kids they can more or less do what they want in her basement as long as they a) don’t take the Lord’s name in vain and b) NEVER go upstairs. Ooooooh!

When Sue Ann, now known as ‘Ma’, gets a little too into her new friends and their lives, they start to back off. What’s her agenda? And what’s on her mind when she drifts off every now and again into a deep reverie?

Well! There’s a lot going on beneath the surface and behind closed doors. Spencer’s performance is suitably unhinged and I loved every moment she was on the screen. She has the range to flip flop from lovely (and relatively in control) to maniacal in a heartbeat. It’s also so fricking refreshing to have a plus-size lead and a WOC at that. The role of Ma is delicious and it suits Spencer so well.

Booksmart’s Diana Silvers is good as Maggie and of course it’s always amazing to see Juliette Lewis on screen.

While Ma’s behaviour grows increasingly erratic and bizarre, we learn more about what has brought us here and needless to say, things are about to get real for a couple of the characters. Whether or not the punishments fit the crime is up to you to decide but I think I’m with Ma.

I have one question though – and *Spoiler* – Ma dispatches with someone at one point – and nobody ever refers to it again. Even though it’s done in broad daylight and no effort is made to cover it up. Eh?

I enjoyed myself, and laughed and cringed a lot but the truth is, the script is horrible and the film isn’t as good as it could have been, especially given its Oscar-winning lead. And I guessed most of the story a third of the way through.

Film details:

Ma
Year: 2019
Director: Tate Taylor
IMDB Rating: 6.1/10
My Rating: 3/5

What are you watching?

Rocketman

A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John‘s breakthrough years.

Taron EgertonJamie BellRichard Madden

I would happily of swerved this biopic had my friend Helen not been so excited about it. Her anticipation rubbed off on me, what can I say? I’m delighted that she changed my mind.

Kingsman hottie Egerton plays Elton in this tribute to one of our greatest treasures, king of the banger, Mr John. Which is no mean feat when your subject matter is still alive and will be watching your portrayal for themselves. Luckily, his performance is spot on (but more on that in a bit) – and his voice, well it’s really something. Who knew?

We begin where most good stories do, at the start. Elton, born Reginald ‘Reggie’ Dwight to a cold mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) and disengaged father (Steven Mackintosh), is an ordinary boy. Until he sits down one day at the family piano and duplicates a piece of music note for note. Grandma Ivy (Gemma Jones) encourages his parents to get him piano lessons and the rest is history. Except of course there’s way more to it than that.

Our boy attends the Royal Academy of music and discovers Elvis, which whets his appetites for all things rock n’s roll. Worst Dad of all time Stanley meanwhile finally leaves Reg and his mum – and starts a new more palatable family.

Reggie’s life changes forever when he supports a band on tour and gets the inspiration he needs to pursue a solo career. He approaches Dick James (Stephen Graham) and gains representation with James’ assistant, Ray (Charlie Rowe). Despite James’ initial negativity towards Reggie (now Elton John), Ray takes a chance on the young upstart and inadvertently sets him on the path towards his greatest ally, amateur songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell).

When Bernie and Elton meet magic happens – and they’re soon on their way to superstardom. Bernie supports Elton in every aspect of his life – and Elton boasts that they have never had a cross word.

Elton eventually meets and falls in love with music producer John Reid (Madden), who makes an even bigger star of him and encourages him to live a little larger. Which he does very well indeed, leading him to massive issues with drug, booze and shopping addiction.

Throw into the mix a crumbling personal life – John turns out to be a total scumbag – a still disinterested father (despite all the success) – and cruel words from his mother when he finally comes out to her – and Elton is on the road to self-destruction.

Will he ever be loved properly? Will he forgive the emotional crimes of his parents and save himself before its too late?

Rocketman is stunning with top notch costuming, as you’d expect. Every aspect of the movie looks good and I loved the performances. I cried a lot – particularly when Egerton sang Your Song and Tiny Dancer – his voice is powerful as hell.

While I loved his performance I have to be honest and say, I never once saw him as Elton. He’s just too damn attractive. That’s not to say I wasn’t engaged – I really enjoyed it. It just feels like a tribute performance to the man himself, rather than an uncanny reimagining (as with Rami Malek and Bohemian Rhapsody).

As for the surreal elements of the storytelling, I don’t think it could suit the main character more. It’s magical. And no, I haven’t been able to stop humming Rocketman since I left the theater last week.

Film details:

Rocketman
Year: 2019
Director: Dexter Fletcher
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
My Rating: 4/5

What are you watching?

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.

Keanu ReevesHalle BerryIan McShane

Johnny is back and he’s on a strict deadline, to get underground before he’s officially considered ‘excommunicado’ and therefore fair game to any assassin lucky enough to get to him first. With a $14 mill bounty on his pretty head, he’s a hot commodity – with one catch – he’s motherfucking John Wick. You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

Set less than 30 minutes after the end of John Wick 2, our hero needs to get to The Director in order to secure safe passage out of NYC, to Casablanca, Morocco. The Director (Anjelica Huston) is a mysterious woman from John’s past who really shouldn’t be helping him according to the High Table but whatcha gonna do? She allows him to cash in one last favour and it’s the one he wanted.

Meanwhile, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) – a High Table employee – is kicking arse and taking names around the Big Apple, admonishing those who have helped JW.

Both Winston (McShane) and Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) are in the dog house for (respectively) giving John a head start to escape and helping him kill Santino D’Antonio (the crime lord he murdered on Continental ground, against strict High Table rule). They’re given seven days to give up their positions or face serious consequences.

John finds his way to Morocco and calls in on old friend Sofia (Berry), who reluctantly helps him get to The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) for help. When The Elder makes it clear the price JW will have to pay for forgiveness it’s almost too much – isn’t it?

What will our boy do?

Ung. This film is pant-wettingly exciting and closes off the first trilogy beautifully, while leaving it wide open for the next instalment. I couldn’t be more chuffed with the stunningly choreographed action sequences and the exploration of JW’s mythology. And despite the intricate world-building, there’s still so much we don’t know – like who doesn’t need way more from The Director and her tattooed ballerinas? Etc.?

There’s double-crossing and new allegiances, uber-violence and dogs. So many wonderful dogs. Not only Good Boy Dog but also Sofia’s incredible fighting dogs, who Halle Berry trained herself in addition to being a butt-kicking queen.

My only criticism, and it’s tiny, is that some of the fights going on just a fraction too long. But the set pieces, the performances and Keanu Reeves make up for everything. I think this might be my favourite in the series to date.

Bring on part 4.

Film details:

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Year: 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
My Rating: 4.5/5

What are you watching?

Daughters of the Dust

Costume Drama Month is going okay, if a little dull last week. This week’s pick however feels like a dream. It’s more of a poem than a movie – and it’s deeply beautiful. It also inspired some of the imagery in Beyoncé‘s Lemonade so make of that what you will.

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where African folk-ways were maintained well into the 20th Century and was one of the last bastions of these mores in America. Set in 1902.

Director: Julie Dash

Starring: Cora Lee Day • Alva Rogers • Barbarao

Who run the world? NANA

*Minor spoilers*

“I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the barren one and many are my daughters. I am the silence that you can not understand. I am the utterance of my name.” ~ Nana Peazant

1902, St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast. Here we meet the Peazant family, whose ancestors were enslaved on the island centuries ago. The small community of islanders who still live there have developed their own language and culture – and the head of the family, Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day) practices African and Caribbean spiritual rituals like a boss. Their dialogue is in Gullah creole.

The island stories are for the most part narrated by the Unborn Child, the future spawn of Eli and Eula (Adisa Anderson and Alva Rogers), who Nana swears down is part of her too:

“We are two people in one body. The last of the old and the first of the new.”

Eula is about to give birth after being raped by a white man during a visit to the mainland, so relations between the couple are strained to the max. Eli laments to Nana that he no longer feels as though his wife belongs to him, while Nana reminds him that Eula is his wife and not something he can own. (Nana talks all the sense).

Both fear that the child about to come is not Eli’s – and Eula refuses to tell her husband who attacked her for fear of endangering his life. It’s desperately sad and later there’s a line uttered by the Unborn Child that reinforces this. Something like “I spent the rest of my life convincing my father that I was his”.

Don’t go chasing sandcastles

On this day however, there are other matters afoot. Some of the cousins have returned to the island from the mainland – to usher a number of the remaining family into their own travels North, where they will start their new lives.

Cousins Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) and Yellow Mary (Barbarao) are polar opposites – V is a devout Christian (and don’t we flipping know it) – while Yellow Mary rocks up with her lover Trula (Trula Hoosier) and is cut from a more bohemian cloth. Mr Snead (Tommy Redmond Hicks), a mainland photographer accompanies Viola on the trip to document the family’s travels.

There are many stories told during this time together, as the family catch up and gather around Nana, who will be staying behind. They are differing views and tales of woe – stories of triumph and success from the mainland. Eula gains strength from Yellow Mary, who reinforces her decision not to reveal the identity of her rapist.

“I see you!”

This beautiful poem culminates in the preparation of one final meal on the beach. Eula and Eli wax lyrical on the history and folklore of the slave uprising and those about to leave must make their final decisions – is it the right thing to leave now, or should they stay and maintain their traditional values and beliefs?

Daughters is breathtaking in the way it looks – the cinematography and costuming is pure perfection – and is rich with history. It examines truly brutal subject matter – from slavery to sexual assault – and has taught me something about a culture I did not know about and had never considered.

The Gullah are fascinating and fierce – and the lessons Nana teaches her daughters are mostly common sense. Her desperate insistence that they stay connected to their unbelievable history is so important and it wrangles at the heartstrings to imagine her left behind.

All performances are lovely but there’s a certain stiffness to some of the characters, though I’ll admit it actually suits them (for example, Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s bible-bashing Viola). Cora Lee Day is the stand-out as matriach Nana, while the wide-eyed beauty of Alva Rogers’ Eula works wonderfully. You want to rage against anyone who would ever hurt her, just like Eli does.

Although I’ve seen this pop up a few times on Netflix, I never would have watched it of my own volition so thank you Jill for the suggestion. I feel enriched just by listening to Nana’s lessons, even though they’re not meant for me.

“Eli, I’m trying to teach you how to touch your own spirit. I’m fighting for my life, Eli, and I’m fighting for yours. Look in my face! I’m trying to give you something to take north with you, along with all your great big dreams.” ~ Nana Peazant

Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What does Jill think of Daughters of the Dust? Would she leave the old ways behind in a heartbeat or stay on the island forever? Find out here.

Lady J

Yes or No_-5

This May we’re going to do costume dramas because we fucking want to. No other reason.

I do love a good costume piece, I won’t lie. All those heaving breasts and swishing bustles – delicious. This week’s pick is no exception and looks at broken hearts, vengeance and pure desperation.

Lady J (2018) or Mademoiselle de Joncquières (original title)

Fooled by a notorious libertine, a widow plans her revenge.

Director: Emmanuel Mouret

Starring: Cécile de France • Edouard Baer • Alice Isaaz • Natalia Dontcheva

*Minor spoilers*

Same, TBH

Madame de La Pommeraye (Cécile de France) is being courted by notorious pussyhound and libertine Le marquis des Arcis (Edouard Baer). She’s having none of it though, preferring to stay friends with the boundless cad instead. After all, she lives in impressive grounds alone since her last husband and wants for nothing. She doesn’t need a man and anyway, claims not to be fussed about the whole love and romance thing.

Unfortunately, the marquis soon batters down her defenses and manages to convince Madame DLP that he’s a changed man, done with society, preferring to stay with her quietly in the countryside. Despite doubts expressed by her BFF Lucienne (Laure Calamy), DLP (as I’ll refer to her from now on) falls in love with the marquis and they embark on their new life together.

For a time.

A while passes and although outwardly our girl swears they’re living the dream, she is forced to admit to Lucienne that the marquis is leaving her to travel for work more and more – and she’s not feeling the love as much. Encouraged to confront him and put her paranoia to bed, she calls his bluff and claims to be questioning her own feelings. He is relieved and, believing she’s on exactly the same page as him, admits he’s not been into the relationship for a while and just didn’t know how to break it to her. But they can still be best friends though, non?

Nights in white cotton

DLP lets him go and the marquis does what all good man-sluts do – he goes back to slagging it up and being commended for it. They do remain friends but DLP has a revenge plan in mind – and she’ll go to extreme lengths to teach him a lesson. But first she needs to assemble a team…

Remembering a story Lucienne has told her about the illegitimate daughter of a couple of star-crossed noble people, DLP cooks up the perfect plan. She calls on Madame de Joncquières (Natalia Dontcheva), who has also been fucked over by a genteel man – and left with precisely nothing. Along with her lovely daughter Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz), she has been forced to live in a brothel and service anyone who comes along with cold hard cash.

Beauty is pain

Trusting that the marquis will fall heavily for the Mademoiselle’s epic beauty, DLP figures she’ll trick him into marrying her – thinking she’s pure as driven snow and deeply pious – then reveal that he’s married a sex worker, thus becoming the laughing-stock of Paris.

A simple enough premise, right? Well, I’ll leave it to the viewer to work out whether the plan works. I have a lot of thoughts about it. For a start, DLP is an absolute arse who has every right to be heartbroken and devastated by the marquis’ behaviour – but has no right to play with these women’s lives, even if they do agree for the money.

Mademoiselle remains almost mute throughout the execution of the plan, however is ignored and emotionally blackmailed when she admits to her mother that she hates DLP and does not wish to start a marriage based on such deceit. Both Mademoiselle and mother are treated like garbage, taken from the brothel to relative comfort, promised a healthy income in exchange for their acting skills. DLP pretends to care about them, to be sympathetic to their cause – but all she cares about is revenge.

Team Mademoiselle all the way

There’s also a double standard at play here (obvs). *Spoiler* – when the marquis finds out the truth about his beautiful and innocent new wife, he has a lot to say about it – abandoning her in the dirt and threatening to hurt her badly. The irony regarding his sexual history is not lost.

I hate that these women are considered less than just because of their professions. A profession as old as time* but in this scenario, by no means chosen. So the fact that the newly wed couple work it out and the marquis falls in love with his wife is the greatest revenge. Fuck everyone.

While I don’t like the marquis either, I like to believe that he learns to love and become a decent human being because of his sincere and honest new wife, an allegedly ‘lowly’ woman with the strongest moral compass of anyone in the story. GO FUCK YOURSELF, MADAME DE LA POMMERAYE!

The performances are wonderful throughout, as is the period setting and the costuming. I really enjoyed myself and was rooting for Mademoiselle the whole way.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What does my love think of Lady J? Would she banish it to the streets or love it forever? Find out here.

*Respect sex workers.

I Don’t Think You’re Ready For This Giallo

Last Thurday my fellow horror fiend Matt hosted Dario Night at his place. This consisted of a lot of snack food and a double bill of Dario Argento movies. Now this was an educational date, as my experience of the godfather of Italian Horror is shaky at best and consists of just three of his films – Phenomena, Two Evil Eyes (segment “The Black Cat”) and perhaps his best known work, Suspiria.

Now my opinion on 1977’s Suspiria is very mixed. On one hand I completely respect his/its vision, the premise and the aesthetic – on the other, I found it repellent, jarring and quite unpleasant. Though now I think this might have been exactly how I was supposed to feel. So to say I am an Argento fan is only partly true – but I knew I wanted to explore more and who better to show me than my horror partner-in-crime?

We watched two of Argento’s best known movies which I’ll go into below. But we began with an intro into Giallo and what that actually means. Again, I only had a vague idea of what it was and only from watching Berberian Sound Studio in which Toby Jones plays a sound engineer in an Italian film studio that produces Giallo movies.

Suspiria (1977)

I know, right? For a horror fan I have a lot to learn and you know what? I love that. I love and enjoy this genre – and yet can still learn so much from other horror lovers. There is still masses to explore, so many sub-genres, so many previously overlooked (by me) horror auteurs – I’ll never be done. Thank god!

For the uninitiated, Wiki says this about Giallo:

Giallo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒallo]; plural gialli) is a 20th-century Italian genre of literature and film. Especially outside Italy, giallo refers specifically to a particular Italian thriller-horror genre that has mystery or detective elements and often contains slasher, crime fiction, psychological thriller, psychological horror, exploitation, sexploitation, and, less frequently, supernatural horror elements. In Italy, the term generally denotes thrillers, typically of the crime fiction, mystery, and horror subgenres, regardless of the country of origin.

Also, interesting:

The term giallo (“yellow”) derives from a series of crime-mystery pulp novels entitled Il Giallo Mondadori (Mondadori Yellow), published by Mondadori from 1929 and taking its name from the trademark yellow cover background. The series consisted almost exclusively of Italian translations of mystery novels by British and American writers. These included Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Edgar Wallace, Ed McBain, Rex Stout and Raymond Chandler.

More here.

Sorry not to put the above in my own words but I think Wiki’s got this. So there you have it, a sub-genre of horror with very defined characteristics. Gialli are noted for their exploration of psychological themes such as madness, alienation, sexuality and paranoia. As the page says:

The protagonist is usually a witness to a gruesome crime but frequently finds their testimony subject to skepticism from authority figures, leading to a questioning of their own perception and authority.

And I think the above it one of the reasons I love Giallo so much. One of the most frustrating but also satisfying elements of horror is when the little woman is convinced of something, be it supernatural or whatever – and she’s not believed. Until she’s proven right! This isn’t exclusive to female characters as Argento proves but it’s often brushed off as hysteria, a stereotypical female trait.

You know what else I love? Amateur sleuthing – and I got it x 2 last night – and it was perfect. To the movies!

Deep Red (1975) or Profondo rosso (original title)

A jazz pianist and a wisecracking journalist are pulled into a complex web of mystery after the former witnesses the brutal murder of a psychic.

We begin with the hint of a brutal murder, the camera focused on the legs of a child standing next to a bloody murder weapon on Christmas Day. What’s that all about? In present day, we meet Englishman-in-Italy, Marc Daly (David Hemmings ). Marc is a jazz pianist by night and a would-be detective by day – ever since he witnesses a horrific murder and doesn’t get much sense or assistance from the cops.

Convinced something is not right about the crime scene (a missing painting that he swears down was there when he got there, gone when he left), Marc sets off on a mission of his own – to find out whodunit? Along for the ride is journalist Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), a sassy broad with a tongue to match.

Battle of the Sasses

While Marc seems mostly impervious to Gianna’s charms, there is an undeniable chemistry between the odd couple – and I’m gutted there was never a spin-off detective show starring only them. However, during a battle of wits, Marc states that women are weaker gentler than men and Gianna beats him at arm wrestling – so he vows to go off and solve everything alone, while she can do the same. Which means we’re cheated of a true partnership and that’s my only criticism of this movie honestly.

There are murders aplenty, each one a feat of true imagination and seriously, although we get the Argento signature head through a window death – it’s the slaughter of one of the male characters halfway through the movie that will haunt my dreams for the rest of eternity. And when Marc explores an abandoned (and allegedly) haunted mansion – things get really good.

Will he find out who and why? I will say I spend an awful lot of time falling for every red herring put in my way and was convinced of who the killer was pretty early on – and was completely wrong. This experience was so much fun, I found it genuinely tense and stressful trying to work it all out – and I loved the way it looked. The framing of certain shots is flawless – and there’s a lot of claret flowing (blood) and copious POV shots, which I enjoy immensely.

Nope

I definitely recommend this and as an intro to Argento, if like me you’re no pro, I think you can do worse. Maybe don’t start with Suspiria.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


Tenebrae (1982) or Tenebre (original title)

An American writer in Rome is stalked by a serial killer bent on harassing him while killing all people associated with his work on his latest book.

Something interesting about Tenebrae: it was on the infamous video nasties list and banned from sale in the UK until 1999. Which is fair play when you consider how gory it is.

It’s also quite unsettling in terms of the male gaze but I understand from my teacher for the evening that this was a conscious clapback by Argento to his haters who accused him of the over-sexualisation of his female characters. Which he is so totally guilty of which is problematic for me. Maybe I’ll save that for another post.

Young and gorgeous ingenue type for Spring? Groundbreaking.

Anyway. Skeezy author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) visits Rome after the publication of his latest bestseller and finds himself being stalked by a killer. The killer is bumping off vicitims associated to the book and to Peter himself in wild and wonderful ways – and mostly beautiful (and near identical) women with questionable moral priorities (lesbians, adulterers, sex workers – you know the drill).

There’s an incredible scene with a dog that really stood out and had me screaming from my seat so I wanted to give snaps for that. Argento can build tension like a pro, there’s no denying it and I really do feel that his movies stand up in that respect. What dates them is the blatant sexism, in both movies each of the male leads have an awful lot to say about traditional gender roles – and that just wouldn’t wash today. You’d hope.

What I liked about Tenebrae was the super-sleuthing, as Neal and his apprentice/assistant Gianni piece together an image of what’s going on. As Neal’s own life is threatened in letters from ‘the killer’, his involvement ramps up – but nothing is as it seems. We also meet lovely Daria Nicolodi again, who plays Anne, Peter Neal’s lover and PA (?). She doesn’t get quite as juicy a part here as in Deep Red but she’s still a joy to behold.

Rzaor sharp wit

Throughout the movie we’re treated to abstract flashbacks/fantasy segments of a beautiful woman in red stilettos who may or may not be key to the whole plot. Plus there’s a side story involving Neal’s ex-fiance sexy Jane (Veronica Lario) and his agent Bullmer (Nancy’s dad in Nightmare on Elm Street John Saxon). Could this too have more to do with things than we think?

Well, there’s only one way to find out! Just be prepared to enjoy your movie with lashings of blood, boobs and big beautiful eyes.

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


I had a lot of fun with these movies and still have a considerable Argento catalog to work my way through. Perhaps I’ll share my journey with the group.

Have you seen any of these movies? What are your thoughts?