The Favourite (2019)

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One year after his magnificently disturbing ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’, Yorgos Lanthimos returns with this historical comedy/drama based on Queen Anne’s life. It’s the first ever film not to be penned by Lanthimos and it faintly shows but the context, acting and absurd re-telling of history are worthy of fanfare.

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is suffering with poor health and cannot even seem to sustain interest in politics for her country. The majority of her time and interest is spent on her relationship with Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). However, when Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives and Sarah gives her a position it isn’t long until the Queen takes a liking to the new girl and thus a rivalry to be Anne’s favourite begins.

Scripted by Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, what really solidifies the engagement with this film is the sheer absurdity of it all. The fact that it is all based on real people and true actions of the time only go and make this a more interesting story to behold. If you didn’t know about the triangle of female figures between Anne, Sarah and Abigail you’d be let off for thinking this was a bonkers yet brilliant made up farce.

The Lanthimos trademark of entrancing camera work and aptitudes to building kooky and precise landscapes are utilised to great effect in this film. Robbie Ryan’s stunning English set cinematography and movements of panning cameras coupled with uses of the fisheye lens make ‘The Favourite’ a bold looking film finely textured with regal style.

It can be said that, from a Yorgos feature, this doesn’t go as dark and twisted as you’d imagine but it is instead lit up like a grand palace by touches of theatrical humour and spite. The wiles of women and their strength become a fascinating game to watch. Special mention must also go toward the costuming; the baroque draping of dresses, corsets, ruffles and wigs are positively dripping in luxurious splendour and go a long way to making this tale more pristine and attention-grabbing.

Colman takes the throne and wheelchair as a perfect choice for Queen Anne. She hilariously and alarmingly spits out when prone to raging, alongside these bursts of anger are fantastic moments where Colman shows her knack for emotion and comedic timing. Stone develops the strongest in terms of character, she showcases the most effective change from mud covered servant to lady. Weisz is a formidable performer, the icy bluntness of Sarah reigns supreme and together Stone and she light up the screen with their scheming as they vie for the attentions and affections of a scene-stealing Colman. Nicholas Hoult is note-perfect in this also, he plays an Earl named Robert with exquisite definition of the C-word and further insults.

‘The Favourite’ is an absurd delight; what with it’s incredible trio of leading ladies and the sending up of royal and political establishments, this is a film rich with smart asides. It also boasts a dance scene to perhaps rival the memorable moves from Isaac & Mizuno in ‘Ex Machina’ and the dual jiving of Thurman & John in ‘Pulp Fiction’.

7.5/10

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Disobedience (2018)

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Love is an all consuming thing and this film goes some way in demonstrating the strength of that powerful four letter word. Anchored by two astonishing female leads, ‘Disobedience’ isn’t as resolute in the pursuit of its story and feels slightly lacking of consequence.

After a family tragedy, photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) flies from New York to London to pay her respects. The world she returns to is of the strict Orthodox Jewish community of which she’d left behind. As she stays longer, her past is unbottled and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) is a reason for why she was estranged and distanced from her father and his religion.

What this film has going for it, is a good sense of tenderness. Sebastian Lelio ensures that the central pairing of his stars are the focus, their developing connection one that feels soft and lovely around the edges. There are some great moments in the opening scenes of the film with the setting up of characters and Ronit’s arrival back in London comes with traces of strained family humour and a tickling sense of intrigue to these furtive looks that occur between Ronit and Esti.

On the other hand, it is this tender quality that can make the film feel somewhat wishy-washy. The burning nature of love and passion should be unmistakable and though you can tell the two ladies want each other, it’s the aftermath of their connection that never really hits like you’d expect or want. Perhaps the setting of it within the Jewish faith is why the glances and silence are all you get but a darker kick-back to what they do and what happened in the past would make this film more engrossing to watch.

In fact, the film doesn’t totally sell us on the build up to their elicit rendezvous, there’s just a smidge enough to know there’s something going on but it doesn’t feel like the movie has enough gusto to sell us on the fact and suddenly what happens, happens. It’s the softly softly approach which makes for good detailed performances but doesn’t help the screenplay feel sparkling, in fact the film quickly loses dynamics and come the end, it feels vaguely like a quiet soap opera.

Weisz is superb and you can see it in her face and the way she fiddles with her hair or scarf that she’s juggling feelings of grief, annoyance and love. McAdams is just as sensational as her counterpart, if not more so. The complicated state of her marriage, the possible lack of love in her life and the reappearance of Ronit are all carefully balanced by the American actor, she is captivating to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her up for an Oscar in 2019.

‘Disobedience’ has some nice qualities and the background of the Jewish community feels well handled, Weisz and McAdams are the perfect lovers. If only the film didn’t disobey it’s own powerful rules on love, when it should have instead, committed to a more vivid and less unsatisfying flow of tension in the relationship.

6/10

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

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There’s no denying that this romantically toned period drama looks effortlessly beautiful. The location greatly encapsulates both the sheer wonder of an island but the brute reality it provides also. Aside from the look and performances in this film, I found portions of the story wavering and slow.

WW1 soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) gets himself a temporary position as a lighthouse keeper and soon gets the permanent role. Away from Janus island he falls for Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who shares this feeling of affection and togetherness. Staying together on Janus as husband and wife they think life is bliss but soon it fractures and a boat washes up offering them a risky opportunity at happiness.

Now knowing that this movie was directed by Derek Cianfrance, who was at the wheel of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, it’s clear to see the parallels in style. Both films look and flow very well but seem to lose interest by the last third, this 2016 release may not lose interest as possibilities of crime heat up but the way it’s directed doesn’t build up any gripping connection which is a shame, because the way we fall into the romance of Tom and Isabel before this is done so well.

Cianfrance also wrote the screenplay and again, it’s the last third where everything becomes so tinged with niceties that it almost threatens to bore you. More often than not, this film goes along trying to make you cry or at least engage in a sad manner to what we’re seeing, sometimes it works thanks to the performances but the majority of it starts souring because it feels like it’s shooting for the Academy’s attention.

Michael Fassbender delicately places the almost silent and war-torn Tom, clearly racked with past sins and now performing nicely, this new guilt and sense of right and wrong. Alicia Vikander powers through with gusto and raw emotion when it’s called for but has a chance for a softer smiley side near the beginning. The two of them together and enthralling and their real life connection obviously shines through. Rachel Weisz is great in this too, arriving late but making her mark as Hannah, a woman ridden with grief and loss.

The emotion it strives for isn’t as wrenching as it should be and it all feels like a tame melodrama by the end but a trio of fantastic acting, Desplat’s score and the cinematography help retain it’s cinematic romance.

6/10

The Lobster (2015)

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Oh yes! Finally I’ve seen this film and it is just as weird yet beautifully affecting as I expected it might have been. It may not be to everyone’s taste but the premise is unique, the execution is special and different, altogether leaving a product not like most others which is rare and welcome thing.

David (Colin Farrell) is taken to a hotel for singletons. Here he and others have 45 days to find love or be turned into an animal of their choosing. If they find someone they’re moved into double suites and yachts if not there is the chance of gaining more time by hunting Loners in the woods. David struggles but finds himself with a leader (Lea Seydoux) and tries forming a relationship with a fellow short sighted person (Rachel Weisz).

I love the idea for starters, it instantly helps make this film stand apart. Just the blase way that the matter is talked about from the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) delivers the notion of what can happen and sets up the absurd nature of the world we’re stepping into. The characters are very one-note in the way they speak yet never dull or paper thin, they have characteristics and backgrounds which are just manifested through awkward conversations. This is one example of the strange humour that runs through the film.

Yorgos Lanthimos co-writes and directs this and like the similarly strange ‘Dogtooth’ there’s a haunting wonder to be seen but an unshakeable threat presented. This one isn’t as severe of course but it’s still got the same social commentary involved, this time around the nature of being alone or not. That pressure of connection is even felt during a trip to a shopping centre where people are questioned for being by themselves. Lanthimos ensures there’s a great originality to his work and you cannot help but get hooked.

There’s darkness in places involving the fate of a dog, a biscuit woman and the very ending itself is squeamish for me at least…it’s also well placed and leaves us on a sombre yet necessary point. Visual splendour can be found in the shots of the outside world, the plot of becoming animals is seen numerous times as we see either flamingos or a camel wandering in the forest.

This movie does have a bleakness to it but it works, you somehow stay on side with the incredibly worrying David, perhaps being the only one given a name helps that connectivity somewhat. The entire product is set up well, the hotel first act, the foresty second and the less agreeable third act still works in the overall arc of David’s quest for love. The only reason I mention the last act in that way is because it begins slightly losing sharpness and lulls a little too.

Farrell is great as David, the way he seems forever shifting and unsure of what’s going on, he says the dialogue really well helping present his character as the awkward man he is, an example is as he tries cleverly exchanging pleasantries with John C. Reilly’s Lisping Man. Rachel Weisz gives an interesting and comedic narration until we finally meet her and I love the weird unspoken communication she and Farrell create together. Lea Seydoux gets an authoritative role yet doesn’t heighten her power, still feeling as reservedly odd like the others. Ben Whishaw provides a solid limp and shows a good amount of humour in his awkward speeches, similarly felt with Jessica Barden who efficiently talks about washing out blood in a hurried yet knowledgeably funny way.

The whole movie has a dead-pan quality and backed by a fantastic willing cast, the writing of Lanthimos lands with an effectively bizarre, beautiful and interesting smack.

7.5/10

Youth (2016)

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With great beauty comes this comedy/drama about life and most deep aspects surrounding that topic. It’s a very gentle affair with a sort of wavy slow amble at a story but how it looks and how it’s acted does make this Italian English language film a worthwhile and stylish study on the issue of age.

Retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is staying at a spa/clinic/hotel resort in the Swiss Alps, it also happens that one of his close friends is too. Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is an ageing writer and director. The pair of them discuss their past, their future and what they’re known for.

Paolo Sorrentino directs this promenade of cinema with such precision like he himself is a maestro to rival Ballinger. The scenes move with a flighty fluidity and practically every moment is full of class detail, be it with the location or the character which means every shot is something special. After his astounding and Oscar winning 2013 movie ‘The Great Beauty’ it’s clear this man is someone to watch as he knows how to make a film look stunning.

It’s like this feature is a lullaby of film-making, the soft touches to each moment being dealt with effortlessly which does help us linger and mull over the thematic questions possibly being raised at those times. The story may not be big or constantly felt but there is a larger presence of life that lingers with true grace and bitter emotion. As one of the youngest audience members of the screening I can still say I enjoyed and grasped the poignancy of the narrative, it’s a touching and affirming plot even if it does meander from time to time.

Sorrentino also writes for the movie, providing undeniable looks at love and loss, life and death and these themes made me feel like I was experiencing something, perhaps not profound as he desired but at the very least it’s entrancing. There’s a neat absurdity to the writing which is seen amongst the ritualistic movings of the Switzerland patients or in the comic dialogue spoken, the discussion about a dining couple stands out as one of these quirkier points.

I can’t complete this review without including my favourite moment, the scene leapt out to me with such sublime spine-tingling creativity and it’s when Keitel’s character looks back at his career and movies with a crowd of female stars presented in the sunshine on a Swiss hill. It looked amazing and provoked a true sense of wonder and regret at this section in his life. The Paloma Faith cameo and monstrous imagined music video is another note to the absurdest quality and how oddly fun this film is.

David Lang rightfully gets a nod for the upcoming Oscars with Simple Song #3, which is amusing considering how Ballinger wishes to be known for something else. Though it’s a moving and beautiful piece of music so it deserves the recognition and it fits in the crescendo of the movie rather well. The music is one of the strongest elements which grows in volume and enhances the scenes with extra grandeur. Sound is also important here, it’s very interesting as we hear cowbells or wrappers become tools for character behaviour and development.

Michael Caine is hypnotic and showcases one of his better dramatic roles. He plays the reserved patient composer at times but bounces against that when necessary with engaging comedic timing. Harvey Keitel is also funny and counters the comedy pairing moments with the growing concern he has about the directions of his films but also his own life. Jane Fonda is wickedly talented as the dolled up ageing screen gem, her strength is when opposite Keitel and knowing what she wants and getting it. Paul Dano is stellar and always impresses me, here is no different as he mostly watches on as studying/preparing screen actor, yet he’s watchable even when silent. Wait for it though as he’s utterly transformative when he inhabits one of the most recognisable looks in the world for his latest role. Rachel Weisz is strong as Caine’s daughter and gives the most physical emotion to the film with her relationship drama.

‘Youth’ may hover wearily on the verges of brilliance but it’s still a heartfelt operatic piece of cinema with spirited performances and thoughtful beauty.

7.5/10