Isle of Dogs

Following on from 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel; arguably Wes Anderson’s best and most empathetic film to date with its delightful mix of pathos, humour and likeable characters, his latest project feels dissapointingly flat and somewhat lifeless.

Set in a fictional version of  Japan, where all dogs have been exiled to Trash Island, this is the story of young boy Atari and the quest to find his dog, Spots. Despite the undeniable intricacy and beauty in the detail of the sets and puppets (this is Anderson’s first stop frame animation since 2009s Fantastic Mr Fox) there is a sad lack of care taken in the screenplay, with lazy characterisation and an entirely unengaging, uninspiring plot. Over the years we have come to expect visual perfection from Anderson but it is simply not enough to make for an enjoyable viewing experience; for however meticulous the design or stunning the sets, these will rarely compensate for lack of character or plot, especially when we have seen that when he’s at his best, Wes can give us both.

This is all in addition to the glaring issues around Japanese cultural appropriation which other writers have already discussed at length and which I happen to agree with. For me the most grating example of this is Greta Gerwig’s character, Tracy, an American exchange student who loudly leads the rebellion against the politicians as the Japanese characters are silenced (no subtitles are provided for the Japenese language sections),  a clear and extremely uncomfortable portrayal of the ‘White Saviour’.

Ultimately, without a story and characters you can root for, this is merely a very pretty yet ultimately empty work.

Jack Lemmon

The great comedic actor Jack Lemmon has always meant a lot to me; Some Like It Hot was the first film I truly fell in love with which made me seek out more Billy Wilder and discover a world of Hollywood masterpieces. Since my early teens, Jack Lemmon was my guy, not an obsessive crush (see Ewan McGregor and Matthew Perry) but a genuine bringer of joy and cinematic warmth, so it meant a lot to write about him for the bfi.org.uk on what would have been his 93rd Birthday.

 

Top Eleven Films of 2017

Paddington 2

Unbelievably, this turned out to be even better than 2014’s first instalment. Warmth and comforting charm drips like hot marmalade from every lovingly crafted detail. Hugh Grant gives an hilariously self deprecating performance and Brendan puts the “Glee” into Gleeson. A touching, but not twee, and very much needed tale of kindness, compassion and sandwiches.

Moonlight

Almost one year on from its release and subsequent Academy Award best picture win, Barry Jenkins’ outstanding masterpiece still shines brightly on a cinematic year that was significant for LGBT and racial politics. An unforgettably touching gem.

La La Land

Damn the haters, the hole-pickers and the back-lashers. This is a perfect musical that both pays homage to and puts new energy into one of my favourite film genres. Here’s to The Fools Who Dream.

Get Out

This extremely funny satirical horror from director Jordan Peele is a cutting take down of the hypocrisy of the white liberal middle-classes. With an intelligent, riveting screenplay and an excellent lead in Daniel Kaluuya, this serves to be a heart-stoppingly entertaining yet sharply political commentary on the underlying racism of modern America.

God’s Own Country

A deeply affecting love story by first time director Frances Lee, set on the windy landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales. Silent, emotionally repressed young farmer, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and newcomer, Romanian helper Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) fall in love as they work together during the lambing season. The cinematography captures the beauty of the country and uses documentary style realism to convey the quiet yet visceral nature of pastoral life. With two brilliantly honest performances from the leads, this is an ode to the wild beauty of Yorkshire and a tender, uplifting romance.

A Ghost Story

One of the most uniquely inventive films of the year. Daringly, sometimes uncomfortably, intimate in its cinematography and with an unexpected narrative shift halfway through, this is a profoundly thought provoking and haunting piece of film making.

Call Me By Your Name

A sumptuous, sensual, coming of age romance set in the glorious Italian countryside of Lombardi. The film tells the story of teenage Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his love affair with his father’s archeology research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer), staying with them for the summer. With their bourgeois family life, summering in their enormous house and enjoying enticing al fresco dinners and delightful breakfasts, lounging by pools and cycling around the sleepy town, it’s all extremely enticing, not to mention spectacularly shot, but what could be seen as tiresome or annoying characters are actually wonderfully well rounded and believable; with the two leads giving subtle melancholy to their character’s passion and the always brilliant Michael Stulbarg as Elio’s father, brings superb honesty to the films quiet climax. A sublime, cinematic wonder.

Death of Stalin

The actual King of Comedy, Armando Iannucci, brings the darkest of satires, the finest of casts and a shit load of swearing, to the best comedy of the year and the greatest show from Jason Isaacs since Skeletons.

I Am Not Your Negro

An extremley impressive documentary directed by Raoul Peck based on an unfinished manuscript from novelist James Baldwin as he reflects on the black civil rights movement, his friends Malcom X and Martin Luther King and the appalling history of racism in the United States. Baldwin’s expressive language and dynamic intellectualism bring a great literary power to the sometimes familiar but always horrifying stories of the violence and injustice that still disgustingly exists in modern America. (A great film to double-bill with Ava DuVernay’s remarkable 13th.)

The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s fantastic follow up to 2015’s Tangerine, is a sweet, funny and sincere drama set in the motels on the margins of the Disney World theme park in Florida. Highlighting the human issues of the marginalised communities surviving from week to week, yet avoiding schmaltz or pontification as it explores this world through the eyes of cheeky six year old Moonee and her friends. They spend their long hot summer days running around causing mischief and licking off the drips from their sticky melting ice creams. A bright, bold, often joyful and sometimes heartbreaking watch with great support from Willem Dafoe.

Toni Erdman

At times unbearable, persistently excruciating and extremely funny, the three hour running time whips by in a flurry of laughter, nudity and family pain. With absolutely note perfect performances from Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek and a climax that is both expertly orchestrated farce and powerful emotional drama, it’s easy (but a shame) to see why it’s already being remade in the English language.

Honourable mentions…

Manchester By The Sea

The Big Sick

Goodbye Christopher Robin

The Disaster Artist

Hidden Figures

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Still to see…

In Between

Wonder Woman

The Handmaiden

Mother!

An Angry Blog, and where’s the line with Woody?

Today I am angry.

Today I heard some things that made me shiver.

I had been away from work for a few days where I had caught up on some great new releases, enjoyed a couple of London Film Festival screenings and was fully immersed in the unfolding horror story of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Stories of strong women speaking out and weak white men making at best, feeble platitudes and at worst inexcusable excuses.

When the New York Times story first surfaced I wasn’t surprised, anyone interested in cinema has always known HW to be a horrendous bullying creep. And anyone who knows anything about sexual politics, knows that women have for what seems like an eternity, been treated like shit, by big men, in big jobs. Power. Sex. Scandal. It was disgusting, upsetting and vile but not particularly shocking.

But then Donna Karen made her frankly, appalling comments.

Oliver Stone, was Oliver Stone. i.e An Arsehole.

Ben Affleck, got swept up in his own embaressing scandal(s).

And Matt bloody Damon said:

“As the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.”

I am sick and tired of the father/daughter tripe.

Things I always cringe at when I hear them (Thankfully NEVER from my own father):

“I worry about my little girls growing up too fast, I know what I was like when I was that age”

“No daughter of mine can go out dressed like that”

“It’s easier having sons, you don’t need to worry about what they might get up to”

The “As a father” line is pretty much code for “As a Father, I have changed the way I see women, so instead of them being sexual objects in my eyes, they are now creatures to be protected from the rapey kind of lad that I once was.”

And then, and then… there’s Mr Woody Allen. Making it worse for himself.

What to do about Woody?

I have shamefully, guiltily defended Allen for years. YEARS. “He wasn’t convicted”, “It was HER adopted daughter, not his” “It’s not illegal, it’s just a bit creepy” – The blurry lines surrounding Allen’s scandals are messy and well known, so I won’t go into them again but I have, despite knowing that he’s probably, almost definitely done something wrong along the way, defended him, because I just didn’t want one of my favourite directors to be on the bad side. His films were too important to me.

It’s easy to hate Trump and Weinstein, they’re famous bullies. But Woody, his neurotic, intelligent, jazzy, New Yorky, hilarious, sharpness was something I fell in love with a very long time ago. Not to mention the fact that he directed AT LEAST ONE of the greatest, most beautiful films of all time. Which happens to also be one of his most awkwardly uncomfortable ones, in context.

So where is the line? I have seen more of Woody Allen’s output than any other director. Will Manhattan, Annie Hall, Sleeper, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Love and Death etc have to be sent to the charity shop? Must I stop quoting him? Is it easier because he’s not really done anything great for ages?

Recently I have laughed, cried and applauded Argo, The Martian and Manchester By The Sea. JFK is one of my favourite films. And what about Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown? There’s absolutely no defending Polanski, but what about the films? This is an old question, but I still don’t know the answer, when do we boycott? When do we say no to the FILMS? How long can you separate the art from the artist?

I’m a proud feminist and a lifelong cineaste so what do we do?

Back to today…

This morning, I overheard a woman, a white privileged, educated women say a number of outrageous things, including, but not limited to the following:

“If he’d looked like Paul Newman, would they have minded?”

“Feminism has gone too far.”

“If they go into his bedroom, it can’t be called rape.”

“Women have always slept their way to the top. Now they call it sexual harassment.”

I argued. But not enough. It’s never enough.

The women on my timeline are bravely sharing their own stories of sexual abuse and harassment. I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to write it all down. My stories probably aren’t as significant, and it’s embarrassing anyway… and my Dad is on Facebook. But it’s powerful and disturbing to see it all there in one place. So many stories. Women I have known for years, women I have known for weeks, women I have never met, strangers and friends.

Of course we keep talking, and fighting and arguing and laughing and joking and hugging. The talking is important though. If we can. It does feel like something could change this time. Harvey Weinstein has been booted off the Academy Awards board. Next up, Polanski and Gibson perchance?

We’ll see.

Maybe, what we’ve finally got on our hands here, is a dead shark…