Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

Joker

jokerdancing

A dark tale for our times

Dir: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Marc Maron
15 cert
122 mins

Joker is a film that depicts a damaged man in a broken society. It is an origin story that answers the question: “How did Arthur Fleck (played powerfully and convincingly by Joaquin Phoenix) become the Joker?”.

As you might expect the explanation follows a dark trajectory. The story is told entirely from the perspective of Fleck. He is tormented by mental illness in a harsh society that doesn’t care about him. He is exploited and abused. It’s a harrowing portrayal of a man about to go over the edge. You are never quite sure what is real and what is delusional as we are taken into his mind.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Fleck and question the way society treats him. As Fleck becomes Joker it seems all too plausible. Is this transformation a further fall into madness or self-actualization? Joker leaves that question open but the scene where Fleck becomes Joker and triumphally dances down steps to the tune of convicted child sex offender Gary Glitter – “Rock and Roll Part 2” – is haunting.

One of the themes of the film is “you get what you deserve”. As Joker strikes back at the people who run the twisted, amoral society that has abandoned and rejected him he becomes “an icon of resistance to a mob of masked troublemakers” (as the Telegraph put it). Joker resonates with rioters who put on clown-faced masks. The violence is unrelenting and often difficult to watch. Our own society uses violence as entertainment routinely – the Director of Joker pointed to John Wick 3 when criticized in the media. Perhaps these films are our version of the Roman arena?

Will we see Joker and clown masks at real-world demonstrations/riots? It’s not impossible. The Guy Fawkes visage from V For Vendetta has been adopted by Anonymous, the Occupy movement, and most recently the Hong Kong marchers. Will we see the theme “You get what you deserve” adopted as a slogan? As our world gets madder it could happen.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Hustlers

hustlersfilmposterStarring: Big Jay, Big Jay Oakerson, Cardi B, Constance Wu, Emma Batiz, Frank Whaley, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Madeline Brewer, Marcy Richardson, Mette Towley, Stormi Maya, Trace Lysette, Vanessa Aspillaga, Wai Ching Ho
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Rating: 15
Runtime: 110 min

Hustlers tells the story of a crew of strippers in New York City who begin to steal money by drugging stock traders and CEOs who visit their club, then running up their credit cards.

On some levels, Hustlers is an enjoyable movie. The relationship between Dorothy, a.k.a. Destiny (Constance Wu) the new girl at the Manhattan gentlemen’s club and the established Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) is intriguing throughout. Jennifer Lopez steals the show and looks stunning (at 50 years of age). She trained intensively for her dance routines and it shows.

I liked the way in which the stripping was handled as Simran Hans wrote in the Guardian: “Brilliantly, though, the editing is teasing rather than explicit; Scafaria offers just enough of the girls and their bodies to get pulses racing without exploiting them or their story.” The exploitation of the girls by the club and the hierarchy of power within them was clearly presented – treating the club as a workplace as well as a place of entertainment.

Where I have a problem with Hustlers is the portrayal of the crimes in a way that seems to condone them and present them as “Robin Hood-esque”. These events had consequences in real life (it’s based on a true story). Yes, I can understand that the 2008 financial crash would affect the income of strippers near Wall Street. Yes, I can see that many of those frequenting the club wouldn’t elicit any great sympathy from me or anyone else. Drugging them with MDMA to make them happy and ketamine to distort their memories and then maxing their credit cards is just plain wrong, however. The lack of any focus on the male victims in this film and the story being told from only one perspective might make you forget that.

The film is not short on justification for the crimes the strippers committed and back in real life neither are some of those convicted. One of them (Roselyn Keo) said:

“It sounds so bad to say that we were, like, drugging people,” she said. “But it was, like, normal.”

“What’s an extra $20,000 to them? It wasn’t like we pulled them off the street. “They had history. They’d been to Hustler, they’d been to Rick’s, they’d been to Scores. They all walked in ready to party. And yeah, we slipped an extra one that they didn’t know about. But all of it goes hand in hand — sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You know?”

There is a bit of hand-wringing in the film about one guy who had an autistic son. In real life his name was Fred. The strippers ripped-off a company card and he got fired. Later, after starting a new job, he was informed his name had been reported to an agency that tracks white-collar crime, and he was fired again. Since then, he’s found a new job but lives in fear of being found out by his current employer. “I wake up in the morning thinking about it. “Every day, once or twice a day, I feel the barrel of the gun against my head.”

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the audience breakdown of the opening weekend was 67% female, including 69% being over the age of 25. When I saw it the audience was overwhelmingly female. Given the way, male characters are treated (not one is developed as a sympathetic character and only one is given any redeeming qualities) it was likely that men would simply not want to watch it. They’ve voted with their feet (or at least their money).

The gushing praise lavished on Hustlers by critics is noteworthy. Isn’t it odd that confused ‘Feminists’ who understand why informed consent is so important can accept a film like this without a murmur or, indeed, present it as a socially worthy work? It shows just how far the moral values which should underpin our society have disintegrated. It’s OK to drug and rob someone if they are an unsympathetic character. Or so the people behind the slick and watchable Hustlers would seem to have you believe.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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The Aeronauts

TheAeronautsPosterDirector: Tom Harper
Writers: Tom Harper, Jack Thorne
Stars: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel
Release Date: 4 November 2019 (UK)
Runtime: 100 min
Rated PG-13

I went to see this at a special screening not knowing quite what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The film is set in 1862 and tells the story of two, very different, people: the theatrical balloon pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and the serious minded meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne). The relationship between the two is at the heart of the film.

One of the refreshing things about the film is that it doesn’t develop the relationship along romantic lines (although there is chemistry between the two). Both characters reveal a mix of strength and vulnerability to each other as they face challenges and dangers. Both come to rely on and appreciate each other. All this while the puzzle of Amelia’s past and motivation is revealed as she begins to trust James more.

There is real suspense too as the two push existing boundaries into the danger zone to advance scientific discovery. Parts of the film had me on the edge of my seat. At other calmer moments, the views from the balloon are truly beautiful. The Aeronauts could work as a play (because of the storyline and emphasis on just two people in a confined environment) but the views and sense of space mean that film is the ideal medium.

Some have criticised the film for replacing Henry Tracey Coxwell with the fictional Amelia Wren. It was James Glaisher and him who broke the world record for altitude on September 5, 1862. I think it is important to note the contribution of Coxwell and give him his place in history. This though is a story and doesn’t have to follow the historical facts in all respects. There were notable female balloonists at the time such as Sophie Blanchard and Margaret Graham who have been drawn on in the creation of Amelia Wren. The relationship between the male and female leads is charming and a testament to what real partnership between individuals across gender can achieve. The film would have lost this element with two males.

The positive message of the film that scientific progress is worth risk and will benefit the whole of humanity is something our consumerist society has become distracted from. By depicting a man and a woman who were prepared to die, if need be, for that is inspiring. I hope that both young men and women will appreciate that as well as enjoy a thrilling, beautiful film.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday_(2019_poster)

A feel-good movie 

PG-13 | 1h 56min
Dir: Danny Boyle. Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran (as himself), Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal.

The basic plot is preposterous – a down-at-heel musician (Jack Malik) wakes up in an alternate reality where no one has heard of the Beatles. He sets about releasing their songs as his own to great acclaim.

Of course, the music is great (and reminds you just how versatile the Beatles were). There is a bit of a side-swipe at Oasis who don’t exist without The Beatles but other music exists unchanged. That’s a bit unfair on Oasis and also doesn’t give a true indication of how much of our modern music is Beatles influenced. The hole in our culture left by taking the Beatles out could have been explored more in the film and that’s really my only criticism.

At heart, though this is a RomCom about the relationship between Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and Ellie Appleton (Lily James). Yesterday delivers a simple, upbeat message that love is all you need (where did they get that idea from?!). It does this in a very funny way. I loved Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and the hard-nosed Kate McKinnon as Jack’s manager. I found Kate (played by Kathryn McKinnon Berthold) very funny with her hard-nosed, unsentimental business viewpoint playing well off the increasingly doubting Jack. Her role hasn’t been mentioned much in reviews but, for me, it was one of the comedy highlights.

I couldn’t help but leave this film humming ‘Hey Jude’ and feeling a little more positive about the world. “Feel-good movie” is a cliche but also a very accurate description of Yesterday.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Stars4

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Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

Director: Nick Broomfield

Runtime: 1hr 42mins

marianne and leonardNick Broomfield’s documentary opens with a BBC television news report from 2016 of Marianne Ihlen’s death and reports of a last email sent to her by her one-time lover, the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen; who was himself to die some three months later. These are the ‘words of love’ from the film’s title.

Nick Broomfield then tells the story of how Marianne and Leonard met on the paradise Greek island of Hydra when he was a struggling young Canadian poet and she was emerging from an abusive marriage.

Broomfield has crafted this compelling documentary from a lot of archive footage – including some of his own – and he’s made good use of interviews with friends and recorded recollections of Marianne and Leonard themselves.

Both Marianne and Leonard had a whole lot of love to give – in that brief period in the Sixties which was the era of hedonistic ‘free love’ and ‘open marriage’. The effects on the younger generation only emerged later. The Johnston family – who mentored Leonard when he arrived on Hydra – lost their mother and all but one of the children to mental illness and suicide when they left the island and tried to resume normal life back home in Australia.  Marianne’s son – ‘little Axel’ also developed a number of mental issues and had to be admitted into a mental institution in later life.

Both Marianne and Leonard also had to deal with depression. Both sought comfort in the arms of others: Leonard with Janis Joplin, his other muse Suzanne Elrod and others; and Marianne who had brief relationships with Nick Broomfield before remarrying and returning to Norway. It was her encouragement that persuaded Broomfield to make the first of many successful documentaries.

This is a revealing and passionate film. I reckon that two-thirds to three-quarters of the audience in my local cinema were women of a certain age; probably in their mid teens to early twenties around the time of the 1970 Isle of White festival when Cohen first came to prominence in Britain. He never lost that magnetic appeal to many women.

The ‘words of love’ in the title came from the email Leonard sent to Marianne in 2016 after hearing from their mutual friend, Jan Christian Mollestad that she was dying from cancer;

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey.

“Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

This story became public shortly after Marianne’s death. Leonard died some three months later. What we didn’t know then was that she was filmed on her deathbed by Mollestad as he read Leonard’s final letter to her. I have never seen anything more moving in my life; what an emotional punch this film packs. The old cliché, ‘not a dry eye in the house’ was no exaggeration this time.

Circumstances and events drew Marianne and Leonard apart and into the arms of others for a while; but despite this, they had a deep bond that never entirely faded away. From her earlier recollections to footage of Marianne singing away to herself the familiar words of ‘her’ song, So Long, Marianne in her front row seat at his Olso concert in 2008, Broomfield faithfully documents their intertwined stories and their complicated lives. It’s powerful stuff.

David Kerr

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The Upside (2019)

theupsidePG-13 | 2h 5min | Comedy, Drama | 11 January 2019 (USA and UK)
Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables”)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Golshifteh Farahani

I enjoyed this remake of the French film The Intouchables (2011). Both films are very good and The Upside follows the original pretty closely (with some notable exceptions). It’s good that the story will reach a wider audience as it is a very positive one. I know that many are put off foreign language films with subtitles and this story is certainly worth re-telling. It concerns the relationship between a wealthy man, Phillip (played by Bryan Cranston), with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record, Dell (played by Kevin Hart), who’s fighting battles of his own. It’s based on a true story. If I had to choose I’d go with the original but both films are well worth watching. The story is full of humour and has some important messages about how people should respect and treat each other. At heart this film is about how people can help others see life differently and redeem themselves. The art in both films is that the story shows this without being preachy!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt1EEV-Szu4

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 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Freddie_Mercury_performing_in_New_Haven,_CT,_November_1977

Freddie Mercury:  a skilled performer with flair

PG-13 | 2h 14min | 2 November 2018 (USA)
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

Wow! I loved this film. It transported me back to the 80s and reminded me what a great group Queen were and of the power of Rock music. 

The film tells us the story of Farrokh Bulsara (played superbly by Rami Malek) as he becomes Freddie Mercury. Bulsara is the son of immigrants from Zanzibar (now in Tanzania) who were Parsees, Zoroastrians who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries. His family had moved to Zanzibar so that his father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar because of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed. To the credit of the film this is made clear (though not explained or emphasised).

I was intrigued by his family relationships. His father Bomi Bulsara (Ace Bhatti) was a conservative figure who had a portrait of our Queen on his wall and emphasised the three commandments preached by Zoroaster: good thoughts, good words and good actions repeatedly and sometimes critically to Freddie! His relationship with his Father, thankfully, improved over time. It can’t have been easy for either of them given their different natures. Brian May noted in 2016, “It’s probably true to say that Freddie’s father, strongly committed to the Parsee faith, didn’t find it easy that Freddie took the path he did, as a rock musician, and a fairly irreverent one, at that. Nevertheless the support was always there.”It’s one of the joys of this film that we see their understanding and acceptance of each other develop. His mother Jer Bulsara (Meneka Das) was more directly supportive.

We also see a young Freddie working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and experiencing the casual racism that was sadly the norm for many back then, there and on the street. Music was another side to his life. He was writing songs and watching local bands at small clubs. We see how Freddie first meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Bohemian Rhapsody leads us through the history from the origins of Queen right up to Freddie’s tragic death (he died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991).

There is so much of interest in Bohemian Rhapsody that it is only possible to mention some of it in any review. I loved to see Freddie’s relationship with his cats, his love of opera and his interest in fashion. His personal relationships with Kenny Everett and his manager (a devil figure in the film) and record companies are worthy of separate consideration. The effects of addiction to alcohol and drugs on his health and music and personal relationships are a darker theme.

The film doesn’t shy away from looking at Freddie’s sexuality. Freddie married Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). In one scene Freddie tells Mary “I think I’m bisexual.” She says: “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

Some have called the film out on this. Billboard said: “For many out there, this particular moment almost rang too true to real life. Bisexual people face the reality of bi-erasure on a near-daily basis, being told that they’re either “too gay” or “not gay enough,” with little to no attention paid to their actual sexual identity. So it’s natural that many critics and Twitter users would call Bohemian Rhapsody out for attempting to erase Mercury’s bisexuality in this scene, especially in a film meant to celebrate him.”

I’m not sure about that. Freddie wanted his private life to be private. He wanted his fans and the press to focus on his music. He never publicly identified his sexuality. Should he have had to? Should anyone have to define their sexuality publicly? At the time Freddie was pressured by the media to do so, now some LGBT people take the view that he somehow let the side down. Freddie saw himself first and foremost as a performer who was there to entertain the public with great shows and music. That was his choice.

There is a harrowing press conference in the film where we see the gutter press try to pressure him to answer questions on his sexuality in the style of a baying mob.

This wasn’t a case of exaggeration the press had no shame. In December 1974, the New Musical Express asked him, “So how about being bent?”. Even his illness was seen as ‘fair play’ by the irresponsible media. In October 1986, the British press reported that Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned him intrusively about this. Anyone whoever read the late and unlamented News of the World will know full well how the gutter press hypocrites tried to trash people. Yet who now remembers the low-lives of the British gutter press? Yet Freddie Mercury left a legacy of great shows and music behind him. His music continues to uplift people.

Bohemian Rhapsody ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. I remember watching this at the time. To be frank to that point Live Aid wasn’t matching the hype. The performance from Queen changed that. It was electric. It’s given an incredible poignancy in the film by the knowledge that Freddie is doomed. Bittersweet and emotionally moving. Freddie knew how to deliver to his audience. He went out on a high note with a strutting, high energy and also nuanced performance as he was determined to do. True to his art and his fans to the very end.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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