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The Espire Strikes Back!

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Dear readers, it’s that time of year when I return to contemplate the cinematic cream of the crop, but alas I found myself disillusioned, disappointed and disenfranchised.

But before I, as a black British woman, weigh in on why oh why Spike Lee is boycotting the Oscars when he just got one (creating less diversity at the Oscars as a reaction to less diversity within the Oscars seems odd to me)…

A moment of celebration

If, as is likely, Iñárittu takes home the Best Director Oscar it will be the 3rd consecutive win by a Mexican Director. That’s pretty cool.

Brie Larson is an excellent actress and I was super pleased that she may well take home the gold.

Roger Deakins – he ain’t gonna win (that’s 13 nominations without a win – take that Leo), but damn it I love it every single time he’s nominated. And I’m not the only one.

Continue reading

Boy vs Bird who will win?

I’ve been a bad film fan this year.  I haven’t made it to all the Best Picture nominees, which is the very least I could do in the name of objectivity, but I still want to see if that changes how I think the whole shebang will turn out.

On #Oscarssowhite, Ava DuVernay was a not surprising (given the make up of the Oscars voters) but a disappointing omission. As Selma points out, if you aren’t able to have a voice to vote, how will that voice be heard?  That said I don’t think she was the Best Director so I hope she keeps making films the academy can’t ignore and gets the recognition she deserves.  I am equally annoyed that Mike Leigh, Damien Chazelle and Amma Asante weren’t nominated, but hey I love Iñárritu & Linklater.  The weakest director in this category is The Imintation Game’s Morten Tyldum (although I loved the film- he’d make my top 10) but didn’t effect me nearly as much as Belle, Whiplash, Selma or Mike Leigh every time he makes a film.

This is less informed than I’d like, however my final predictions are: Continue reading

Quick Fire Review : Selma

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

David “what do you mean there are no decent British roles for coloured actors” Oyelowo, Carmen “I’m not Tessa Thompson” Ejogo, Oprah “even I can’t get Ava DuVernay an Oscar Nomination” Winfrey, Tom & Tim “no Americans were harmed in the making of this film” Wilkinson & Roth, Lorraine “My glasses need their own Oscar” Toussaint, Dylan “always the creepiest dude in the room” Baker.

What is it about?

In the fight for Civil Rights, Martin Luther King takes the cause of the people of Selma to the US President. He highlights how Selma’s black citizens face enormous trials in registering for their legal right to vote and brutality at the hands of the authorities in the town.

Why did I want to watch it?

Black Woman director, check, Oscar baity biopic of an important political figure, check, Costume porn…

Did I like it?

The performances are majestic, the script is fabulous, it’s wonderfully paced and the scenery is beautifully shot. The dramatic tension is maintained throughout, whether the political standoffs or personal ones, and even though some serious injustices are given an airing, I didn’t feel bludgeoned by it (unlike Oprah).  The drama is excellently played and it felt like natural storytelling rather than historical lecturing.

I have always voted and this film reminded me why, even in the face of limited ideological differences between political parties, it is still important to try and have my say on things I care about, because people fought hard with their lives for that basic right.

It also reflects really well  how the Oscars voting system works, if you aren’t there to have a voice then you won’t be represented.

Should you watch it?

Absolutely. It has hit my top 3 of the Best Picture nominees – Birdman & Whiplash are the 2 others.

I also think it should be a stalwart of schools History lessons.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

It does, I only caught one scene, but it’s a great one with Coretta King discussing her role and struggles as Martin Luther King’s wife.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Spike Lee’s, Malcolm X, for another side of the story, Talk To Me for a more light hearted biopic directed by an overlooked woman director – it also touches on the death of Dr King.

ELC

Quick Fire Review: The Theory of Everything

Who is in it?

Eddie “can you hear the people sing?” Redmayne, Felicity Jones and David “will always be Lupin in my eyes” Thewlis

What is it about?

The story of the genius physicist Stephen Hawking, his diagnosis of motor neurone disease and his relationship with his ex-wife, Jane. The film is an adaptation of her memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.

Why did I want to watch it?

I am always drawn to biopics and having recently seen and loved The Imitation Game, I wanted to once again, hear a relatively unknown  story of  someone extraordinary.

Did I like it?

I thought it was excellent! I had expected to cry and the film delivered on that level. Am I the only person who goes to the cinema wanting to cry? I heard that Stephen Hawking had an almost unrivalled sense of humour, but I hadn’t expected to laugh so much either! A very uplifting film which was very welcome in the post-Christmas gloom.

Should you watch it?

Yes, if you enjoy hearing remarkable stories. Don’t be put off though, by the “science bit” – certainly too much for an ex-Arts student like me! The period parts set at Cambridge are lovely and good viewing for anyone who wishes they could keep on learning and revisit campus days!

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Once again, no. Although, I forgive Jane, she is after all,  remaining strong against remarkable odds.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Eddie Redmayne has thus far gone under my radar – he was ok in Les Mis, but his performance as Hawking was moving. Felicity Jones was divine! I shall now be looking at her filmography and maybe looking up The Invisible Woman from 2013 for which she was nominated for a BIFA Best Actress award and from 2011, Like Crazy.

Having said that, this is surely her best performance to date and I await a “Big O” nomination on January 15.

LB

Quick Fire Review: BiRDMAN

Birdman poster

Birdman poster

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Micheal “BatBirdman” Keaton, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Lindsay Duncan

What is it about?

An actor, known primarily for his role as a vigilante comic book film franchise tries to relaunch his career by directing and starring in a Broadway production, he encounters various demons along the way in his struggle to redefine his career.

Why did I want to watch it?

I actually didn’t know much about it except that the trailer is intriguing and Micheal Keaton as Beetlejuice is one of my favourite film characters so I reckoned it would be worth a punt.  I really loved Amores Perros, but found 21 Grams a bit hard going at the time, but knew that everything Alejandro González Iñárritu does is dramatic and interesting so thought it would be worth a look.

Did I like it?

I really did, it kept me intrigued with some pretty fabulous acting and unpredictable flights of fancy mixed with a very solid script which explored the nature of celebrity and acting, as well as the complicated relationships with families – real and constructed.  The entire cast was great,Michael Keaton was thoroughly dynamic  and Edward Norton brought something I’d never seen in him before and showed immense versatility veering between happy go lucky and morose, Naomi Watts was in equal turns sweet, vulnerable and alluring, Emma Stone personified angst, disdain and insecurity (also do any references to Spiderman in a film she’s in count as an ironic shoutout?)

Should you watch it?

As much as I enjoyed it, it isn’t for everyone.  It’s topics include substance abuse & depression, the narcissistic values of the acting profession and has a pretty abhorrent scene at one point, that might leave a bitter taste in your mouth. That said it’s very interesting and pretty unpredictable and in a sea of movies that don’t make you think, this one does.

If you want a more in depth opinion (it’s quite spoilery), this is an alternative review which presents a different take (referenced through the Bechdel test entry). http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2014/10/24/review-birdman-tries-too-hard-to-say-too-little/

Does it pass the Bechdel Test? http://bechdeltest.com/

This is an interesting debate.  There is a major conversation between 2 actresses borne out of the frustration with their respective partners, which contains a discussion of their careers and ambitions. I would say on balance no in the defense of it’s treatment of women, but there is a pleasing number and age range of actresses, of varying temepraments.

Other films it reminds me of:

Bullets Over Broadway.  Admittedly I rewatched it recently so it’s in my head, but the themes of a troubled theatrical production, the struggles and anxiety of reception and what it is to be “an artist”and what to do when you miscast someone, recur here.

Watch this before/as well/after:

I you’ve never seen Andrea Riseborough in The Devil’s Whore, you should and then you will ask the inevitable question, why isn’t Andrea Riseborough more famous.

Edward Norton as Mike in Birdman (I paraphrase): “Writing, directing and starring in your own play, that’s a bold move” Folks I present you with – Keeping The Faith, a comedy directed by and starring Edward Norton.  Talk about playing against type.

Do you really need me to tell you to rewatch Beetlejuice?

Amores Perros – Love is a bitch don’t you know!

ELC

Quick Fire Review: The Imitation Game

The Imitation GameHere’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Benedict “socially awkward otter” Cumberbatch, Keira “posh lady required”Knightley, Mathew “distractingly pretty” Goode, Mark “your wig guy needs their own special Oscar” Strong, Charles “so you think you can” Dance, Tuppence “not a main character but love the name” Middleton, Rory “Classy northerner” Kinnear

What is it about?

How Alan Turing the father of the modern computer helped break an unbreakable code and the society which vilifies and degrades outsiders and the sexually different, irrespective of their immense talent.

Why did I want to watch it?

Alan Turing’s tale is a poignant one, which needs to be told.

Did I like it?

I thought it was magnificent.  The script was equally funny and touching, and the tale was told in an unpretentious enjoyable way.

Should you watch it?

Yes.  It is one of the best films I have seen in recent months.  If nothing else, if you like crosswords you will feel like you have the makings of a genius and capable of defeating despots the world over.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Nope.  There aren’t that many women in the film and there are discussions about how hard a time an intelligent woman has to be taken seriously.  When Joan turns up to be assessed for the Programme the patronising way she is treated says it all.

Other films it doesn’t remind me of:

The Social Network.  Whilst both about social outcast computer geniuses who have difficulty making friends,  Turinf comes across as an affable recluse, Zuckerberg is portrayed as an obnoxious child.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

I’ve still not seen it but Benedict Cumberbatch plays another real life figure, Julian Assange, in The Fifth Estate. Daniel Bruhl is in it so it could be watchable (feel free to let me know what you think in the comments)

The Kings Speech is the forties, once again scored by Alexandre Desplat (guess who I think will get an Oscar nomination?).

ELC

Quick Fire Review: Magic In The Moonlight

magic_a

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Colin “I really am rather posh” Firth, Emma “I really am rather quirky” Stone, Dame Eileen “Can anyone look at her without remembering that she turned down Colin Farrell for a jump” Atkins, Simon “Hey it’s That Guy” McBurney  and a highly competent supporting cast including Oscar nominees Marcia Gay Harden and Jackie Weaver as a stunning, blonde widow.

What is it about?

A reknowned magician and debunker of fraudulent mediums struggles to unmask a charming mystic in the South of France

Why did I want to watch it?

The inevitable Oscar nomination (screenwriting) and my friend is a huge fan of Woody Allen.  Otherwise I might have been happy to wait for the dvd.

Did I like it?

It was whimsically charming, and a very nice way to spend a Sunday.

Should you watch it?

This lifted my spirits in a way I hadn’t expected. I giggled a lot during the film and after Blue Jasmine this was a welcome relief.  The comedy is in the deft performance by Colin Firth’s austere and arrogant Stanley and his interplay with Emma Stone’s engaging Sophie.  Also some truly terrible ukulele playing is played for laughs in the most delightful way.  It won’t go down as anything extraordinary but it’s certainly not terrible.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

It does, several times, my favourite probably being all the exchanges between Sophie’s highly calculating mother and the contrastingly trusting  Mrs Cattlidge.

Other films it reminds me of:

Easy Virtue & The Importance of Being Earnest. Well they both star Colin Firth and are set in the 20s.  Woody Allen is clearly trying to evoke Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward and is quite successful to a degree.  I thought it would remind me of Midnight in Paris but that was a more raucous affair, this was very restrained.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

An Ideal Husband.  By far and away my favourite 20’s set farce has to be the 1999 film led by an inimitable Rupert Everett.

ELC

Quick Fire Review: The Fault In Our Stars

TFIOS

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort , Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe

What is it about?

2 teenagers meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. Hilarity ensues. Well more hilarity ensues than you would expect.

Why did I want to watch it?

John Green is an incredibly interesting person who vlogs to his brother once a week, does fabulous work for charity including projectforawesome , has a fan community called Nerdfighters (of which I am a part) and is also a very good, Forbes honoured, writer of fiction.  He wrote the book for the film I am reviewing here today. If he hadn’t done all the things I mentioned, I would never have been introduced to his writing, and subsequently this film.  The Green brothers’ motto is Don’t Forget To Be Awesome (DFTBA). He is frequently awesome and so since I enjoyed the book and knew of his involvement with the film, I had high expectations.

Did I like it?

The film plays around with the clichés around cancer stories and whilst not entirely schmaltz free, certainly has a discernible edge. This is not a predictable story. You may think you will be able to guess the ending but you won’t and hopefully, like me, you will be charmed by it, irrespective of if you are familiar with the book.

I found it refreshing and sweet and the casting choices are exceptional.  I am pretty sure there is no one else who could play Willem Defoe’s character and the other choices fit seamlessly into my head when reading the book (which I did the minute I finished the film).

It was one of the most interesting book adaptations I have encountered. I expected things to be cut out for the compressed timeframe of the film, however they have played fast and loose with the book’s timeline without losing the core integrity of the book or significantly changing the message…enjoy what life you have.

NB: This is a criticism of the film which is a comparison with the book which in no way detracts from the quality of the film.

The film loses almost all of the beautiful literary passages from the book, which I understand, but I missed them – not least the Shakespearian quote of the title – and am hoping for some on the dvd extras.

Should you watch it?

What is your tolerance for tearjerkers?  Anywhere form moderate to high – this is a must see.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Yep, plenty of lovely mother and daughter chats. The named female characters barely talk about men at all (they are preoccupied with higher concerns). On a side note – the father-daughter chats are also lovely.

Other films it DOSEN’T remind me of:

Sweet November, 50/50, Steel Magnolias, Love and Other Drugs.  They all have a place in my heart (well not 50/50) but this film carves its own bittersweet tale.

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

Read the book.  It is worth your time.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, another interesting book adaptation featuring young people dealing with life and the myriad challenges it presents.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries webseries created by John Green’s brother, Hank. Pride & Prejudice as a youtube blog.  It really works.

The  Vlogbrothers videos – example https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers?hl=en-GB&gl=GB

ELC

Quick Fire Review: Belle

Belle

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Wilton.

What is it about?

One those “we’ll flesh out the life of a real person” period dramas.

Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay was the daughter of a naval officer and a slave, making her upbringing amongst the aristocracy somewhat complicated.  Wealthy but  illegitimate she needs to navigate a society not wholly comfortable with her race.

Why did I want to watch it?

I really really like the fact that someone made a period drama about a feisty young black woman.  This ticks my romcom, period drama and representation boxes.  Also I saw a film by Amma Asante  called “A Way Of Life” a few years back and it allowed me to answer the question “so how many black, british, female directors can you name?” with “2” (thank you too Gurinder Chanda)

Did I like it?

It was stylishly shot and the performances are first rate across the board, which is only to be expected from such a classy cast.  Its themes are straight out of Austen – Love vs Money, can a woman choose who she marries,  as you grow how do you learn to define and identify yourself in spite of how others define you.  It also tackles Britain’s tricky relationship with slavery.

There is a slight imbalance in that all the characters who are outright horrible to Dido are screamingly racist, whereas their views would have been pretty popular in that society, but Emily Watson’s character straddles the line of discussing how far society is willing to tolerate Dido, as opposed to accept her.

Should you watch it?

I can’t recommend it enough, although, obviously if you hate period dramas then this won’t be your thing and the legal bits are a tad on the dry side.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

It passes both the Bechdel and Racial Bechdel tests. In one scene it passes them both at the same time, which is pretty sweet.  This is balanced of course by the fact that after race, the key theme is the fact that women are given a value based both on wealth and status in regards to family or any taints that might be associated with their birth.

Other films it reminds me of:

The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Sense and Sensibility, Amistad

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:   

Lost In Austen, another period drama featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (although not in period garb), The Good Wife, because really you need to see a bit more of Mathew Goode, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, because Tom Wilkinson is always delightful and Blackadder to ask why Miranda Richardson isn’t working more.

Also A Way of Life to see Amma Asante’s earlier film, although definitely have a Disney film cued up to follow it.

 

ELC

Quick Fire Review: X-Men Days Of Future Past

X Men days of Future Past Poster

X Men Days of Future Past

Here’s The Trailer

Who is in it?

The gang’s all here and then some – James McStewart, Ian McFassbender, HughMcJackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter (wasn’t he Black before?) Dinklage, Nicholas McFrasier and starring Anna Paquin in billing displacement.

What is it about?

Call that a last stand – this is a last stand!  In the future the world has destroyed and enslaved its citizens using super machines – born of an idea spawned in the 70s.  Can the X-Men change the past and avoid the extinsticon of both mutants and humans…?

Why did I want to watch it?

At this point if you aren’t expecting me to review this, you don’t know me very well Internet.

Did I like it?

I preferred X Men First Class, but this is an enjoyable addition to an, at times very rocky, franchise.  It unites some fabulous actors but also sacrifices screen time for some of my favourites.  Overall though it has some excellent moments and does something wonderful for thefuture of the film series which I won’t spoiler.  

Should you watch it?

Yes. it is good fun, and could stand with First Class without needed to see other films in the Xmen canon if you chose not to.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  http://bechdeltest.com/

Nope, given that actually there are several named female characters  (Storm, Blink, Kitty Pryde, Jean Grey, Rogue, Raven/Mystique) you’d think they’d talk to each other.  In the absence of a pass – Raven/Mystique is wonderfully realised and kicks more ass than any of the other characters combined.

Other films it reminds me of:

Bryan Singer has a distinctive style and it harks back to the best of the first 2 X Men films

Watch this instead/as well/before/after:

I would definitely watch First Class. As a series I would watch : XMen 1, Xmen 2, 1st class and this and skip XMen 3 and the Wolverine films.

ELC