Film Review: The Post

Standard

There was quite a bit of hype surrounding this film; the times we live in and the need we have for making our governments accountable; the times we live in when women have stopped tolerating being seen as unequal; the performances by the actors, especially Meryl Streep, are being nominated for awards. The hype of it being a Steven Spielberg film with a John Williams soundtrack. There is nothing small about the expectations people have of this film.

And it delivers.

The other film which has a lot of hype at the moment is ‘Darkest Hour‘. I heavily criticised it for being a film depicting historical events and not having any tension, which just made it boring to watch. ‘The Post’ is a similar premise; it is a film that depicts historical events, except what Spielberg did was make an entertaining film, as well as a film about real-life people and the remarkable things they did.

I have no idea how historically accurate ‘The Post’ is, as while I am familiar with the events in the film, I’ve never studied post-WW2 American History in any sort of depth. However, like I said in my review of ‘Darkest Hour’, some creative license does need to be wielded when making historical films. If if isn’t accurate, and that annoys you, then please remember that the events in the film are just as relevant today and because it is an entertaining film, making people aware of it and be inspired by it is just as important as accuracy.

And it is vastly better than ‘Darkest Hour’. The plot moved forward, and each scene made you want to see the next one until you reached the conclusion. The main characters were fleshed out enough to suit the purpose of the film, and not a single speaking role was superfluous. The cinematography was understated but it suited the film, and personally I loved seeing how pages of a newspaper were constructed using moveable type. It showed just how laborious putting a newspaper together really was before digital technology made it easier.

The thing I loved the most about the film though is when Sarah Paulson’s character, Tony Bradlee, is talking about Katherine Graham making the decision to publish. I can’t find the exact quote, but it is something along the lines of ‘if people keep telling you that you have no value, then you do eventually start to believe them.’ It was one woman defending another woman at a time when women were deemed unsuitable to have and wield power. Hopefully it will surface on the internet in full at some point, but it was by far my favourite scene.

I highly recommend this film. You don’t need to know anything about the history of the events to understand the importance of the messages within it; governments need to be accountable and women have the right to be equal.

Advertisements

Film Review: Darkest Hour

Standard

Spoilers

There were a few reasons I wanted to see this film. The Crown has made me more interested in this period of history and how it is portrayed on screen. And on that account I did enjoy the film; my review from here though doesn’t get much more positive. Which is a shame because based on the trailer it seemed like it was going to be a good film.

There was another reason I wanted to see it though; I’d heard good things about Gary Oldman’s performance and given I want Timothée Chalamet to win awards, I wanted to make a comparison. I don’t normally go and see a film purely because it is awards season, but I have invested a lot emotionally in Call me by your Name. I wanted to prepare myself properly for why he isn’t winning, because for a better performance I will accept him losing.

And apparently Gary Oldman is winning all these awards for mimicking someone who was real in a lacklustre film, while Chalamet did something a great deal more difficult. He brought to life a character that had only existed before in Aciman’s book, and did so in a film that matched his brilliance overall. There is no denying Oldman’s performance is very good, but the rest of the film is lacking the same sort of excellency. Of recent portrayals of Winston Churchill I’m going to say that I preferred John Lithgow’s performance in The Crown because of the simple truth; I wasn’t bored watching him.

Churchill came to power the first time during one of the most interesting times in British history, when we were facing the odds and potentially facing annihilation, and the film they decided to make about it contained absolutely no tension what so ever. It is a film about political manoeuvring and it doesn’t work. I’m reminded of what many people say about Titanic; well you know it’s going to sink at the end so what’s the point in seeing the film. Cameron though made it about the characters and with ‘will they won’t they’ tension. Darkest Hour though just felt like a waste of my time because I knew how it was going to end.

There are certainly some very good scenes; the one near the end of the film when Churchill is conversing with some people on the Underground is by far the very best in the entire film, but there were moments when my mind was wandering because I just wasn’t gripped enough to pay attention. Kristen Scott Thomas is certainly to be commended for putting up with portraying a character that brought nothing to the plot, and existed only because Clementine Spencer-Churchill did exist in real life, but she was completely unnecessary for the film.

I always try and give constructive criticism; I always try and say how I think it could have been done better, but in this case the problem is entirely to do with the fact they decided to tell the wrong story. I am very much with Viscount Halifax by the end; Churchill mobilised the English Language, without having yet achieved anything to justify the support he is demanding. There were no stakes, because Dunkirk was a success and I knew it was going to be, and annoyingly the film ended before it succeeded, meaning all the praise Churchill is getting at the end is purely based on his ability as an orator.

Even more annoyingly several prominent characters in the film just suddenly decide to support him without any development as to why they change their minds, when they had been pretty vocal beforehand as to why they were so against him. Chamberlain to an extend was there for the ‘We will fight on the beaches’ speech in parliament, but why did King George suddenly change his mind?

All I can suggest is that they needed more tension, and they needed better character development then it might have worked better. I know that it is based on real life events, but some creative license would have made it a better film. And it is the historian within me saying that, not the writer, because as a historian I have to defend myself against the ‘history is boring’ argument a lot, and boring historical films don’t help.

And this is all disappointing really, because I had been looking forward to seeing this film and unless I’ve missed something, I just don’t understand the hype. All I can hope is that Chalamet gets the chance in the future to win awards, because in my opinion he deserves one this year, but I’m thinking it is less and less likely he’s going to get one for portraying Elio. *sighs*

Film Review- Molly’s Game

Standard

molly's game

I am a massive fan of Aaron Sorkin, at least as the creator of West Wing and Newsroom. I’m not a big fan of The Social Network, even though it is technically a great film with a wonderful script.

I wanted to see Molly’s Game though not just because Sorkin penned it, but because the protagonist was a strong female who navigated in very powerful male circles. She also fought to keep her integrity intact, even though she was the first to admit she was not squeaky clean.

Jessica Chastain is just brilliant as Molly Bloom, and did real justice in portraying the real Molly. And Idris Elba, as always, was wonderful as her lawyer, giving a very impassioned speech near the end in her defense.

I absolutely loved the film. Admittedly at first I wasn’t all that keen on the heavy use of voiceover, but Sorkin always has a lot of story to tell. While at times I struggled to see the relevance of what was being said, it does all become relevant in the end.

You have to concentrate to keep up though as the speech is fast paced, and very typical of Sorkin. However thankfully but you don’t need to understand poker to enjoy it and all the characters have a satisfying resolution at the end, so even though you have to absorb a lot of information it is worth it as there are no loose ends.

Highly recommended if you are a Sorkin fan, or just looking for a smart film to watch.

Film Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Standard

I will admit I am really not sure what made me want to see this film so badly, but I have been looking forward to seeing it ever since I first heard about it, and even more so when I saw a trailer.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

The idea is pretty simple; a mother whose daughter was murdered uses billboards at the side of the road to ask the police why they haven’t solved her daughter’s case yet. Simple yet brilliant.

This is a film about what anger does to people. It is raw and unrestrained, and touching because it is real. It is about a film where extraordinary circumstances either bring out the best or the worse in people.

The majority of the characters show their best side, and over the course of the film they help the protagonist Mildred, and the antagonist Dixon reach a point where they are able to accept their feelings. You can sympathise with all the characters; I don’t even like Mildred all that much, but I do understand her, and that level of realism in her character and all the others makes this film stand out.

This isn’t the sort of film I normally go to see, but I’m really glad I did because it highlights just how awful life is for those left behind after crimes go unsolved. Martin McDonagh’s script is brilliant; there are twists you don’t see coming and resolution even if it isn’t the resolution you might want.

Everyone does a great turn but Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are especially brilliant. It has already won awards as it came out in the US a lot earlier than here in the UK, and they are totally deserved.

I don’t remember stopping…

Standard

Life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately; a festive holiday of writing my novel, seeing family and friends, before returning to work and just barely having time to stop and ponder for even a second on what to blog about because of the post holiday rush (and panic).

I don’t remember stopping…except I do remember whenever I have sort of stopped I’ve been knitting or crocheting, not blogging. And this has been going on for a while now. Many of my recent posts, except Star Wars, I wrote at the beginning of December and scheduled. Blogging has fallen to the wayside.

However, I’m not worried too much about it, even though I’ve felt the desire tonight to blog about the fact I’ve not been blogging. I have had this urge before; to seemingly try and justify something I know I don’t need to explain.

For once I really want to, because for the first time I’ve not been blogging for a positive reason rather than a negative one. I have bounced back from being ill last year, and at the moment feeling normal is driving me to achieve in many areas of my life. And I love it.

I’ve got home from seeing a great film (Molly’s Game), and I have another to look forward to on Saturday (Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri). I have a pile of books I can’t wait to read (I haven’t got time to list them!). My writing is going better than ever, and I even have some plans to add to my writing blogs again this year rather than just doing reviews.

Normal blogging service will resume shortly and I will try not to revel too much when it does that the hardest decision I have to make at the moment is which great book to choose next (but only from the pile I already have – in theory).

New Year’s Resolutions – Book Tag 2018

Standard

It wouldn’t be the New Year if I didn’t do the New Year’s Resolutions Book Tag. I adore preparing this tag, and reflecting on what I have read and what I want to read. Here’s what I loved in 2018

Get in shape – name a book that doesn’t quite fit on your shelf correctly

The White Book by Han Kang – I just don’t know where to put it. It isn’t that the shape is awkward, I just don’t know how to categorize it.

Eat healthy – name a book you feel was good for you to read

Cheer-Up Love by Susan Calman, because it reminded me that I am not alone in having depression and somehow she made talking about the topic funny.

Forces of Nature by Prof Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen as it reminded me that despite the impression I was left with at school, I can and do understand science.

Read more – name a book you keep telling yourself to read but haven’t yet

So in 2016 and 2017 I have said 1984 by George Orwell. I still haven’t read it; however I have bought a new copy as my husband’s copy is delicate and wouldn’t survive my handbag, so this year might be the year. Maybe.

Quit smoking – name a book you kept going back to even though you had finished it

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I finally found poetry that makes me cry and I adore it. The Sun and her Flowers, her second collection, is also amazing.

Save more money – name a book you got for a really good price

Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type – I was going to wait for it to come out in paperback, but I managed to get the hardback at a reasonable price from a supermarket.

Be more organized – how do you organize your bookshelf?

Not very well; it’s something I need to work on.

Be punctual – shortest time and longest time it took you to read a book

Call me by your name by Andre Aciman lasted about four hours. They were exquisite hours.

I’ve been dipping in and out of  The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany-Watt Smith for a few months now, and I’m only half-way through the alphabet.

Also I’m still reading Vermeer’s Hat in sporadic intervals. That’s a one that has been on the go for over a year now.

Go out more – what book isolated you from reality?

I have a couple of contenders for this one. Call me by your name, in conjunction with the film and soundtrack has devoured me.

However, I think the winner might be Love from Boy – I remember reading this outside in the hot spring sun, and it was as if I was in Dar es Salaam.

Be unique – what was your favourite book of 2017?

I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a rough year, and one of many low points for me was the backlash fans had against the new series of Sherlock. I wrote about this in ‘My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan.’

Therefore I think that discovering Mark Gatiss as a novelist has been a highlight and something positive for me to reflect upon in relation to one of my favourite writers and actors. I adored Lucifer Box; so this year it isn’t a single book, but three: The Vesuvius Club, The Devil in Amber and Black Butterfly.

Be more personal – what book are you most looking forward to this year?

The novelisation of the new Star Wars film, and once it gets released in paperback, Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. I have Norwegian Wood waiting in the wings to keep me going in the meanwhile.

Really, resolutions – which book do you promise to read during the year?

Less a specific book, and more I have a lot of non-fiction books that I’ve acquired over the year and need to read.

I also really need to read some more Kazuo Ishiguro, and I have to go back to Benedict Jacka at some point.

Film Review- Star Wars: Episode 8 – The Last Jedi

Standard

Spoilers

‘Hope is like the sun.  If you only believe in it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.’

General Organa, quoted by Vice Admiral Holdo and Poe Dameron.

‘The greatest teacher failure is.’

Master Yoda.

The first quote is utterly beautiful, and I will refer back to it for years. The second is a philosophy I have always tried to live by; if I do something wrong, I have learnt a way that doesn’t work.

The theme of this film is failure, which is exactly what the filmmakers did as well. They failed, because I can see their puppet strings. I can see their influence over the characters in order to make the plot they wanted work.

Let’s go back to that first quote; Vice Admiral Holdo is not a stupid woman, yet for some reason she doesn’t tell anyone on board the plan. She doesn’t tell them there is a base nearby, which they can all escape to in order to survive. Instead this woman who demands that Poe Dameron should trust her, gives him absolutely no reason to do so, because she clearly doesn’t trust any of them. Except, you wouldn’t become a Vice Admiral under General Organa by displaying any of these tendencies. You most certainly wouldn’t be her friend.

The puppet strings keep Holdo quiet, because for some reason that is how the filmmakers wanted Finn and Rose’s plot to be able to happen. And it was a great disservice to Holdo, Poe, Finn, Rose and even to Leia.

I normally delay my posts about new Star Wars films in order to give people the chance to see it and not have it spoiled. Unfortunately, in the case of ‘The Last Jedi’ I have delayed it for a different reason. The first time I saw it I absolutely hated the film, and it is solely because of the above plot point. I needed to think about it, and see it again so I could discuss it properly.

Fine, Holdo might not have trusted Poe because he disobeyed orders and destroyed the Dreadnaught. Equally though destroying the Dreadnaught extended the life span of the Resistance, because if they hadn’t the Dreadnaught would have followed with the First Order’s new tracking technology, and with it’s big guns could have destroyed the rest of the fleet. Poe was proved right pretty quickly that they needed to take that opportunity to destroy the ‘fleet-killer’, even though the cost was high.

When a leader like Holdo can no longer see the hope in the faces of those around her and there is a brig full of people being charged with attempted desertion, and the man everyone rallies around is asking to know what they are going to do, someone like Vice Admiral Holdo would tell them. Hope is not something physical you can always see, but the point of great leaders is to inspire hope when hope is needed, which is why people were easily swayed into committing mutiny by Poe. Leia and Holdo have strong faith, but the very fact Leia wanted Luke back as a spark of hope for those who have weaker faith is very telling of just how much hope they all needed.

But the filmmaker’s puppet strings were used to stop Admiral Holdo from telling Poe Dameron the plan, because had she told him the plan, half of the film then wouldn’t have happened, or at least it wouldn’t have happened how it did.

Had Holdo told Poe the plan was to aim for an old rebel hideout, when Finn and Rose went to him with their knowledge, then he would have taken them to Holdo and a better plan of action could have been put in place as a back-up plan in order to save the one ship they had left that had shields and weapons. The entire sub-plot involving Finn and Rose could have been better; the former storm trooper and the girl who works behind pipes all day could have a proper plot, not what felt like a slapdash afterthought.

Had Finn and Rose gone on an authorized mission, they could have taken an experienced member of the Resistance with them to advice that parking on the beach is a crap idea; that running around a high stakes casino and blatantly looking like you don’t fit in is a bad idea; and that you need to retrieve the person you have been sent to retrieve because a friend you trust, trusts them. Just retrieving someone else you don’t know who you met in a prison cell (I repeat in a prison cell) is a bad idea!

The theme of failure needed to be explored, because failure is a great teacher like Master Yoda says, and it is also a very good way for writers to develop character arcs, but it was forced. And the only reason I can think they wanted to do it the way they did was so Benicio del Toro could play a complex, double crossing, slightly mysterious code breaker. Apparently that was more important, so they had to make Finn and Rose incompetent, shallow characters, which they aren’t, in order for the meet-cute with DJ to happen, and to override their common sense by playing up their desperation.

Personally I don’t know why DJ couldn’t be the one Maz Kanata trusted in the first place? True, she has a lot of experience and wouldn’t be easily fooled, but other aspects of this film talked about how people are not perfect, they are not legends. So why couldn’t there be a character in the Star Wars universe that proves even Maz isn’t right all the time? I mean Kylo Ren manages to fool Supreme Leader Snoke in a spectacular twist, so why couldn’t DJ be someone who would betray Maz’s faith in him?

Tip for filmmakers: it is fine for your darlings to fail, however if you set them up to fail through incompetent writing they don’t fall as far. If you set them up doing everything right, with everything going their way and then pull the rug out from under them, not only are you more respectful of your characters’ competence and determination, the impact of failure has more resonnace with the characters and the audience. If you set it all up to make the ending you want work and do so by making characters act out of character, what actually happens is you end up with a character like DJ, whose lack of loyalty is so predictable you wouldn’t have been able to lay a bet on whether he’d sell the Resistance out to save his own skin because it was a dead cert.

I’ll stop now, because just thinking about how badly executed the plots surrounding the Resistance were executed riles me up (I can’t even bring myself to mention Captain Plasma because I might wear out my caps lock function discussing her abysmal cameo), which is a massive shame, because otherwise the film is utterly brilliant, with some spectacular cinematography and as always a soundtrack by John Williams, which proves why he is the best at what he does.

Chewbacca falls to the wayside a bit with the Porgs (who only exist because puffins are real and if you film at one of their nesting grounds, they turn out to be hard to CGI out; good excuse for something cute in my mind), but Chewie’s there when he needs to be, and gets to hug Leia this time so it’s not all bad.

The storyline between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren is brilliant. The filmmakers nailed it. There are still a few unanswered questions, and a few questions that got answers which may not necessarily be true, but it worked. I feel as if Rey may have forgiven Kylo Ren just a little bit too quickly for killing Han, but the time scale of the film meant she had to turn to Kylo Ren as quickly as she did because Luke was slow on the uptake and too haunted by the past to want to help her find what she is looking for: someone to show her what her place in all this is meant to be.

And in the Red Room she finds her place; she may have let her naivety lead her to that room, and her certainty about being able to save Ben Solo might be misplaced, but she doesn’t let her failure deter her or blind her to what’s needs to be done next if she can’t rely on Ben Solo to help her save the Resistance. Unlike Kylo Ren who looses focus because of his anger and hatred, in moments of clarity she finds her practical instincts kicking in. Jakku might have been no-where, but it was a good training ground for teaching someone how to survive on nothing, which is what the Resistance needs.

The resolution of Rey and Kylo’s storyline will make the next film very interesting indeed, hopefully sans puppet strings, and lots more sly looks from General Hux in Kylo’s direction that clearly say ‘Really, you want to do it that way? Okay, it’s not a good idea but I don’t want to be force-choked.’