Archive for January, 2019

The Favourite

Posted: January 16, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult.

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Not bad for someone who used to be a contestant on Numberwang!

It’s 1708 and Queen Anne (Colman) sits on the British throne. Britain is at war with France but Anne, crippled by gout and despair over multiple miscarriages and the deaths of every child she’s managed to bring to term, has no interest in ruling, so this is left to her friend and adviser, Sarah Churchill (Weisz) the wife of the Duke of Marlborough (an underused Mark Gatiss)  whose husband is leading the battle in France. Sarah is more than a friend to Anne, because secretly she’s also her lover, however she treats her poorly. Sarah spars constantly with the Tory leader of the opposition, Robert Harley (Hoult) who objects to the punitive taxes levied to pay for the war.

Into the household comes Abigail Hill (Stone) Sarah’s cousin who’s in disgrace after her father lost the family fortune. Sarah gets Abigail a menial job as a scullery maid, but when she manages to soothe Anne’s gout she is elevated to become one of the Queen’s servants. All too soon Abigail is using her proximity to the Queen to try and supplant Sarah as Anne’s favourite, and the stage is set for a tussle for the Queen’s affections that could have far reaching ramifications for the future of Britain.

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“You’re my favourite.” “No, you’re my favourite!”

A Britain riven with political turmoil, divided over how to deal with Europe…but enough about Brexit, I really want to talk about the Favourite.

There was a time when period dramas were stuffy affairs, there’s nothing stuffy about Lanthimos’ saucy tale of 18th Century oneupwomanship, a snarky, bawdy, hilarious, heart-breaking and lavish feast that revolves around three fantastic performances. You’ll hear a lot of hype about how good Colman, Weisz and Stone are, and let me just clarify that every single superlative is justified, and if at least one of them doesn’t run away with an Oscar there’s no justice.

I think like most Brits, Queen Anne isn’t a monarch I was taught a lot about at school, in fact the first thing that the name conjures up for me is furniture (Queen Anne table etc) yet in Colman’s hands she proves a fascinating character to base a film around. Liberties may have taken with history (there’s no evidence she kept 17 rabbits, and not much to suggest she had same sex relationships) but the pain at the heart of Colman’s performance is all too genuine, given Anne really did lose 17 children to miscarriage, still birth and, perhaps most tragically, a son when he was just 11, and as a visual metaphor for that loss the rabbits  work perfectly, and in fact sum up the film which balances the surreal with the all too real.

There’s a preposterousness to the film that’s intoxicating, with bewigged gentleman indulging in duck racing or pomegranate chucking whilst the women behind the scenes pull the levers of power.

Colman is excellent as the queen, befuddled and almost childlike one moment, capricious and jealous the next, easily led yet capable, on occasion, of sharp intellect. In more than one scene she goes from joy to rage in the space of a few moments whilst the camera lingers on Colman’s nuanced expression.

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“Stand and deliver! I’ll take that Oscar please!”

As Sarah, Weisz is wonderfully cold and snide, sniping at Anne at every opportunity, albeit in a curiously loving way, and it’s testament to her portrayal that a character we initially find ourselves disliking, will eventually come to appear more sympathetic, and the change is completely earned. It’s also completely clear that Anne and Sarah are in love, even if that love manifests in some decidedly unloving behaviour on occasion.

This leaves Stone as the ingenue Abigail, the final corner of this painful triangle, and whose performance shouldn’t be underestimated because she’s every bit as powerful as her co-stars, and much like Weisz she engenders one feeling from the audience upon meeting her, yet slowly changes as the film progresses.

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“When they said lady in waiting they weren’t kidding were they?”

All three are roundedcharacters; flawed, manipulative, downright nasty on occasion, yet feel completely real, with a reason behind each aspect of their personality, even if on occasion it’s simply the fact of being women in a man’s world. In many ways none of them are nice, and that’s so bloody refreshing.

As the male of note Hoult gives as good as he gets, giving a wonderfully spikey performance that bounces well, especially off Stone and Weisz, and his comic timing is spot on.

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“Okay I may have overdone things a little.”

Lanthimos’ direction paints the royal court as a curiously surreal bubble, yet his camera trickery never distracts from the characters at the heart of the story and he makes great use of long shots down corridors, even corridors whose walls are composed of flaming torches, and cavernous rooms, suggesting that, even when they’re with other people, each of these women is alone, cut off by their own pain or lust for power. The script is wonderfully acerbic, providing a whole heap of wince inducing laughs, because this is a very funny film, even in its more tender moments.

The costumes and cinematography are wonderful, in particular you have to love Weisz’s highwayman’eque shooting outfit, and it’s nice to see such a rich use of darkness, because at that time the world likely would have been a dark place much of the time, plenty of shadows to hide a multitude of sins within.

It’s a tad too long, and the music is somewhat intrusive at times, but any flaws are miniscule compared to the film’s strengths. Admittedly I’ve only seen two films so far in 2019, but for the moment this one is definitely my favourite!

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“Drop that Oscar, Rachel!”

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Mary Poppins Returns

Posted: January 6, 2019 in Film reviews
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Mary Poppins Returns

Directed by: Rob Marshall. Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep.

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On reflection I really loved this film.

It’s the 1930s and the Banks children are grown up. Michael (Whishaw) lives in the family home on Cherry Tree lane with his children: Annabel, John and Georgie. His wife passed away a year ago and he’s assisted by his sister Jane (Mortimer) and housekeeper Ellen (Walters). He’s struggling financially though, and this leaves the family home in danger of repossession. Michael believes his father was given shares in Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, but unless he can find them the bank, managed now by William Wilkins (Firth), will turf the family out onto the street.

When Georgie flies the kite Michael and Jane had when they were children he’s almost dragged into the air, but is saved by Jack (Miranda) a lamplighter, the apprentice of Bert from the first film. The kite does seem to have snagged something in the clouds however, and soon enough a familiar silhouette comes gliding down. Mary Poppins (Blunt) is back and is soon ensconced in the Banks’ family home. Michael and Jane remember her but don’t recall any of the fantastical adventures they had, but all too soon Annabel John and Georgie find themselves transported to a world of magic, courtesy of Poppins and Jack, but can the family home be saved?

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“I’m sorry madame, I have no idea who this Q fellow is but I can assure you it isn’t me.”

I have a confession to make, up until a few weeks ago I’d never seen Mary Poppins, but in anticipation of this sequel I finally watched it. Sadly I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s not watching it with the innocence of a child but with the cynicism of an adult, but I found it very flawed. Which didn’t seem to bode well for Mary Poppins Returns.

Except, try as I might I can’t be remotely cynical about Poppins Returns, because I loved every second of it.

Much like The Force Awakens this is ostensibly a sequel, albeit one that hits a multitude of marks from the beloved predecessor. So again we have a father distanced from his children, whose sister, rather than wife, is a social activist. We have a salt of the earth working class bloke who’s fully aware of Mary Poppins and magic, and we have some children in need of a stern, or maybe not so stern, nanny. Oh, and then we have Poppins herself, an authoritative figure who never seems overbearing, a proponent of fun and frolics who carries just a hint of darkness within her (as a side note Emily Blunt might be one of the best Doctor Whos we’ll never have) and we have songs, lots of songs.

Even though I might not have felt like it, millions of people were incredibly trepidations when the sequel was announced. The casting of Blunt suggested Disney knew what they were doing, but still, a lot of people held their breath…but if it can have such an impact on me I can only hope the majority of fans love it.

The film looks gorgeous, and despite homaging the original, none of those homages feel unearned, or like a cheap rip off. It’s an odd thing to say, given how light and fancy free the film feels, but it’s clear that care has been taken over every creative choice, from the script to the casting to the effects and the music. This is a swiss watch of a film, and there’s nary a misstep in any area.

What could have been a leaden, by the numbers, sequel is instead a sumptuously, energic tour de force that doesn’t remotely feel 130 minutes long.

The cast are great, especially the kids. Whishaw and Mortimer are solid, and Firth is moustache twirlingly enjoyable as Wilkins, and there are lovely cameos by Van Dyke, Lansbury and Streep (clearly having a ball) but the beating hearts of this film are Blunt and Miranda.

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“Cor blimey, ave a banana!”

Miranda’s theatrical background is put to great use here, and he plays the loveable man of the people to a tee. One thing that surprised me about the original is how often Poppins takes a back seat to Bert, and it’s the same here. I had no real knowledge of Miranda before this, but he makes one hell of an impression.

However good he is, the reason this films works is down to the best casting of all. I won’t lie, I’ve adored Blunt for ages, going back to Young Victoria. I’ve yet to see her flounder; A Quiet Place, The Girl on the Train, Scicario, Edge of Tomorrow…she’s amazing in all of them, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she scores again. From her clipped accent to the twinkle in her eye that tells us she knows far more than she’s letting on, she’s excellent, what most surprised me was her singing voice, and her energy, especially in the almost vaudevillian ‘A Cover is not the Book’. She sings, she dances, and her comic timing’s second to none.screen-shot-2018-10-23-at-16.42.53

The decision to ape the old school animation of the original, rather than go for something more modern, is a good one. Only time will tell if the songs prove as catchy as those from the original, I suspect not but nobody’s 100% perfect, not even Poppins, and there are a few (very minor) gripes; As with the original there’s sense of the film being a series of set pieces that don’t really advance the plot (though I think it worked better here) and again, despite spending all her time with the children it’s actually a man named Banks she’s really there to help. Walters is good, but she’s essentially just doing Mrs Bird from the Paddington films again, and there’s a clear feeling of similarity with everyone’s favourite Peruvian immigrant, not least because he’s in it. Mortimer feels a little wasted, and hints of a romance don’t go anywhere, and you can’t really feel too sorry for the Banks’ given there’s likely millions far more destitute at the time (but the film’s hardly alone in portraying a rose-tinted vision of the past.)

On the whole though, I loved it. Well directed, scored, written and cast, with cinematography to die for, it might be emotionally manipulative but frankly I was quite happy to have it twist my emotions around its little finger!

Almost practically perfect in every way.

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