I’m quite sure the world is waiting with baited breath to hear what I have to say about this year’s Oscars and who I think should win. So as is traditional, here are my hopes vs. what will probably happen. Continue reading
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.
Starring: KiKi Layne • Stephan James • Regina King • Brian Tyree Henry • Dave Franco
TW: Sexual Assault
Honestly, if Beale Street could talk I don’t think it would because it would be too busy snoozing in the middle row of the theater, next to a teenage boy cracking his knuckles.
This movie is sooooooo boring. Aggressively boring in fact and I couldn’t wait for it to end. With a run time of almost 2 hours, I felt every single minute. Luckily my viewing partner was on the same page so I didn’t feel quite so bad when I didn’t like it at all (not that that normally matters).
Are the critics and people who loved this so much talking about the same film? I am so disappointed. Barry Jenkins is, of course, the director behind 2016’s masterpiece Moonlight so to say I went it with high hopes is an understatement. I even packed a wad of tissues expecting to sniffle my way through.
Well, I didn’t tear up once and that, my friends, is a bad sign. I can’t sit through an episode of Hollyoaks without bawling but as the end credits played, I was dry eyed with my heart of stone firmly intact.
I suppose I should go into the things I did like, which will be easy because it’s a short list featuring just two words: Regina King. Thank God for her because without I probably would have walked out. If I’m being extra generous, the story-line – of a black man falsely accused of sexual assault – is also interesting in its own right. Had this focused more on the crime element of the story, I think I would have been way more engaged. There’s a segment in which Sharon Rivers (Tish’s mum) travels to South America to speak to the victim which is very good.
I can’t say this isn’t an important movie, it’s the kind of movie I want to see and it has a lot to say about society – and similar neighbourhoods and black communities across the US. It makes you think about all the innocent men who go to their death just because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time – and only because of the colour of their skin. It’s sickening and this is just one story in a pool of thousands.
I just wish it was better. Based on the James Baldwin novel of the same name, it focuses on the love between Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), childhood sweethearts with their whole lives ahead of them. When Fonny is wrongly accused of a brutal sexual assault, Tish and their families are forced to do everything they can to prove his innocence. Which is made all the more vital when Tish discovers she’s pregnant with Fonny’s baby.
The film takes us back and forth on the timeline of their relationship, giving us a glimpse of two kids at play in the tub together – to the conception of their adult relationship (then their baby) – to present day – and right back again. That’s not hard to follow and I like how the film looks, I suppose. Some of the lighting is gorgeous and the soundtrack is nice too.
No shade to any of the performances either. In addition to the skill of Ms King, newcomer Layne does okay. Tish just isn’t that exciting and there are times she irritates me with her doe-eyed innocence. Tish’s fiery sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) is great too.
Stephan James’ Fonny isn’t a character I particularly care for. There are times he takes his frustrations out on Tish and although I get what they represent, I didn’t like it. And there’s a lot of meaningful eye contact which I could do without. Talking of which – the extended ‘cherry popping’ scene was unnecessary and a little awkward.
So you could say this was not a hit with me at all. I don’t regret seeing it but I have no emotional attachment to the central characters at all. I’m not surprised it didn’t appear as a Best Picture nominee this year, although Regina King has been rightly recognised for Supporting Actress.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What are you watching?
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Things aren’t going great for Lee Israel. Once a lauded writer, her last book – a biography of Estée Lauder – has been a commercial and critical flop. Her agent is avoiding her calls, she’s behind on her rent and she’s just been let go from her job.
Struggling to stay afloat and keep her sick cat from death’s door, Lee sells a personal letter she received from Katharine Hepburn to a local bookseller. Coincidentally, while researching her pet project, another biography this time on Fanny Brice, she finds a letter from Brice to an unknown recipient. Lee sells this to the same bookseller, a lovely woman called Anna (Dolly Wells).
Something Anna says gets Lee to thinking, if the letter contained better content it would no doubt be worth more. An idea is born and Lee begins to forge letters from some of the most prolific deceased writers of all time – Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker – embellishing little details to make them seem more realistic and interesting.
This soon becomes quite the booming business and Lee’s damn good at it. Unfortunately, after one of her Noël Coward letters is sent to a collector who once knew him, it draws suspicion for its openness about his sexuality. Coward was not one to talk so freely about his gayness. In an attempt to keep a low profile and still bring in the coin, Lee calls in a favour from her new friend, drug dealer Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) who agrees to sell the letters for her.
But how long can the pair keep it up when the world of literary collectibles (and the FBI) are on high alert?
I adored this. McCarthy is wonderful as Lee, a woman with immense talent and a drink problem. I find her situation unbearably sad and as things unravel – and she revisits old wounds AND turns away from new opportunities, it hurts to watch. One particular scene made me cry like a baby and it wasn’t dramatic at all, just supremely relatable.
The friendship between Jack and Lee is also lovely if incredibly tempestuous. Jack’s flamboyance contrasts well with Lee’s reluctance to add any sort of colour or frippery to her life. She’s a no-nonsense broad with a mission and has little time for other people, while he’s determined to rinse every ounce of joy out of life before it’s too late – and damn the consequences.
But there are always consequences, aren’t there? – and our pair are about to learn them. I can’t imagine anyone not having a good time with Jack and Lee but it’s a must for any fan of literature and masses of gumption. Loved it.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What are you watching?
Green Book (2018)
While there aren’t really many surprises here, certainly in terms of structure (we’ve all seen this narrative before: two very different people are thrown together and gradually, against all odds, become firm friends). I don’t care about that if it’s done well and boy is this done well.
You get the impression, and I’ve read a few things to this effect, that some of the elements are embellished for creative license but that’s to be expected. In the film adaptation of my life you can be confident I’ll be exaggerating the fudge out of most of my experiences.
I found this a really pleasant and lovely viewing experience. I’m fact, another solo cinema-goer, who just happened to sit himself in front of me, guffawed all the way through the film and it made me smile a lot. That kind of cinematic joy is infectious and one of the things I enjoy the most about the movies.
Green Book is very funny in the broadest sense and the central performances are truly magical. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali bounce off each other delightfully and their chemistry is palpable. MA is one of my favourite working actors today with an energy that commands the screen, even in lesser works like Alita: Battle Angel (review coming soon) and I’ll drink up anything he appears in. As classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley he treads the line perfectly between sad and haughty, a refined and cultured gentleman with a profound loneliness to him.
Tony Lip (Mortensen) in contrast is a brash Italian-American with a potty mouth and dubious views – but maybe also a heart of gold. His ignorance is not acceptable but he’s open to personal growth even if he wouldn’t admit it. When he finds himself temporarily out of work, he has little choice but to take Dr. Shirley’s job offer – to drive him around the deep South as he embarks on his piano tour. With the permission of his lovely wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini), Tony hits the road with his new associate – with mixed results.
The title comes from the green book thrust into Tony’s hands by Dr Shirley’s record company – a black traveller’s resource outlining all the motels and hotels that accept black guests. It’s bleak af and not something I knew existed (in my own white ignorance).
Of course the pair start off rocky (with vastly different views and opinions) but as the tagline confirms, from this trip a true friendship is born and I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved every single minute of it.
It’s classic Oscar bait (and obviously a strong contender for this year’s Best Picture) and although I’d love Black Panther to win out of principle (it won’t) and The Favourite (just because it is the best film in this category that I’ve seen) – it’s definitely up there.
⭐⭐⭐⭐½ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What are you watching?
The Happy Prince (2018)
The untold story of the last days in the tragic times of Oscar Wilde, a person who observes his own failure with ironic distance and regards the difficulties that beset his life with detachment and humor.
This is clearly a passion project and it is good but there’s something about it that didn’t stick as much as I’d expected it to. I’m not sure that this is the failure of the piece or my own but there it is. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for such a depressing end to Oscar’s life – perhaps I wanted to remember him as the quick witted poet of my dreams instead.
That said it is refreshing to witness his story from a less glamorous standpoint. Rupert Everett plays Wilde very well and I was interested in the way he played him as washed up and sad. The dandy part of Mr Wilde is long gone, he is bloated and coughing up blood, dealing with the PTSD of jail life, of how quickly his celebrity has been turned against him for his so-called crimes.
He has a handful of faithful friends and a new book in the pipeline but he is penniless and broken. When his beloved Constance (Emily Watson) passes on all hope of a reconciliation is lost and he fails to reconnect with his children. Though he’d wished for this, would it really have be an option when he’s still in love with Bosie (Colin Morgan)?
Via flashback we explore this relationship and the hurt left behind by his spell in the big house following his indiscretions. It’s not cheerful viewing but if you like period drama with dedicated performances then there will be something here for you.