J.D. Vance has a story to tell – his own. Many would call it a rags to riches story, or perhaps a successful escape from an impoverished childhood; director Ron Howard and the movie studio went with “inspiring true story” but all of these seem slightly condescending. Vance himself went with “elegy,” a tribute to the place he came from and perhaps a lament to its end.
Older J.D. (Gabriel Basso) has overcome some rather humble beginnings to attend law school at Yale. It’s interview week, especially crucial to him because even with financial aid and 3 jobs he can’t afford next semester’s tuition without a summer internship. Meeting prospective employers over dinner, he’s overwhelmed by the trappings of etiquette and fine dining that seem to come so easily to others. It’s clear he doesn’t feel he belongs, and a phone call from back home only cements it. It’s his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), calling to say that mom Bev (Amy Adams) is in the hospital. Again. A heroin overdose. His help is needed, urgently.
Over the next 24 hours of trying to install Bev in yet another rehab manage a facility despite Bev having let her insurance lapse, J.D. is flooded with difficult memories from his challenging childhood.
Critics have been plenty harsh about Hillbilly Elegy, and I can appreciate their concerns. It delivers heavily on the Oscar bait melodrama, and instead of inspiring important conversations about cultural and economic gaps, it’s got some pretty soft platitudes instead of real insight. Not that a Netflix movie was going to solve the wage gap or cure the generational impacts of trauma.
No one can deny that Glenn Close and Amy Adams give everything to their roles. Close manages a bark that bites, with just a nibble of vulnerability, a terrific performance that just doesn’t have anywhere to go, there’s no arc, it’s mostly just an act of observation. Amy Adams’ character, on the other hand, is more like a series of attacks. She gnarls and gnashes her teeth and we get small glimpses or what triggers her explosions, but it’s not enough to piece together something truly satisfying. The characters lack insight and we can only guess that this cycle will be very hard to break.
I think this list will vary wildly depending on when you were born and what Disney movies were most precious to you as a kid – the ones that get you in childhood are destined to hold the greatest impact. Also, though Disney now owns both Marvel and Star Wars, both of which are of course replete with the baddest of the baddies, I’m sticking to Disney-Pixar here for simplicity’s sake.
10. Man/The Hunter, Bambi. I still remember being flooded with shame when we find out that our friend’s greatest enemy is humans. Humans! I myself was a tiny human, quaking with guilt by association. He is faceless, unnamed, unknown, and yet his presence is vile and antagonistic, instilling liquid fear into all the beating hearts in the forest. Their panic was contagious and though we see only his shadow, the score identifies him quite clearly as predator. And as if killing Bambi’s mother wasn’t enough, he also sets fire to their home, forcing all the animals to flee. It’s an awful legacy to inherit as a child and clearly I’m still not over it.
9. Lady Tremaine, Cinderella. I think the scariest thing as a kid is learning that your parents could die, and Disney liked to press the orphan button more than most. With her mother already dead, Cinderella’s kind but useless father remarries a bitter woman rather than take on being a single dad. Lady Tremaine, the archetype for wicked stepmothers, is the worst kind of villain: the kind who lives right in your house! When Cinderella’s father also dies, there’s nothing left to stop her from treating Cinderella like the help. Worse than the help, really, because she isn’t even paid. She’s abused and neglected in her own home, threatened continuously with homelessness. Lady Tremaine goes out of her way to make sure Cinderella knows she isn’t loved or cared for, and her stepsisters only reinforce these points, both by comparison, and by their own poor behaviour. As children we have very acute sense of justice, particularly when it comes to siblings, and to see Cinderella treated like a second class citizen is unnerving. But to understand that your mom and your dad could die, leaving you with a hateful old woman? That doesn’t bear contemplation.
8. Governor Ratcliffe, Pocahontas. Ratcliffe is based on a real historical figure, but he’s also just colonialism personified. He’s greedy, manipulative, and power-hungry, but worst of all, he’s crippled by xenophobia. He’s not going to just take the Indians’ gold, he’s going to take their land and their lives as well. And he feels entitled! They’re not even people to him, they’re just obstacles to his success and he has no moral qualms whatsoever about mowing them down to get what he wants. Like Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, what makes these men truly fightening is how much they believe themselves to be in the right. Their moral authority and superiority make them impossible to argue with, and their outlook allows them to reclassify people as sub-human when convenient, a truly terrifying concept, and not just for children.
7. Lotso, Toy Story 3. A big, pink, strawberry-scented teddy bear, Lots-o’-Huggin Bear is the surprising villain of Toy Story 3, running the Sunnyside Daycare like a prison – as one toy describes him to our pal Woody, “The guy may seem plush and huggable on the outside. But inside, he’s a monster.” There are two things that make Lotso a truly memorable villain as far as I’m concerned. First, that he starts off friendly and welcoming. A devil in disguise, he’s the most horrifying kind of bad guy, the kind on the news, the kind your mother warns you about, the ones you can’t spot with the naked eye. Most other Disney villains wear black and dark purple and blood red. They have sharp features and mean eyes and you know what’s what. So when his true self is revealed – a sadistic dictator fueled by rage – it’s a truly terrifying transformation. But what really sets him apart in my opinion is his back story. We know very little about the previous villains on this list – the dark spots in their hearts, their motivations, the root of their malevolence. But with Lotso, we know. We know he was once the beloved toy of a little girl named Daisy. And one day he was lost – through no fault or lack of affection on Daisy’s part, but Lotso took it hard. Still, devoted to his kid he somehow makes it back to her home where he finds that he’s been replaced by a brand new Lotso. Something inside of Lotso is broken in that moment, and his anger and bitterness breed evil. It’s brilliant story-telling, and you might even draw parallels with the new Joker movie, but at the end of the day, Lotso is a complex villain stuffed with nihilism.
6. Jafar, Aladdin. Jafar looks like a proper villain. He has a proper villain sidekick and proper villain goals and a delicious theatricality. He wants money and power. He’s willing to sacrifice a street urchin to get them. As the sultan’s “most loyal and trusted” vizier, his deviousness and duplicity are legendary. He too presents one face to the royal court while another is revealed in his underground lair. He’s manipulative, employing hypnotic powers to keep the sultan under his control. And while murder and greedily wanting world domination are of course very bad in and of themselves, I didn’t fully appreciate Jafar’s nefarious depths until I watched Aladdin as an adult and noticed the particularly troubling relationship with Jasmine. Who, let’s remember is a 15 year old girl. And whom he schemes to marry to gain status, and when that fails him, he literally has her in manacles, and treats her like a sex slave. It’s disturbing.
5. Captain Hook, Peter Pan. This is one case where the villain may outshine the hero in his own movie. Though a bloodthirsty pirate, Hook has abandoned the high seas to devote himself (and his ship) to being the scourge of Neverland and exacting revenge on Peter Pan. Peter may just be a boy, but he once cut off Hook’s hand and fed it to a crocodile. Fantastically, that crocodile haunts Hook, following him around with the awful threat of his tick-tock-tick-tock. I like to believe that the croc has simply got a taste for human flesh and wants more of where the hand came from. Sure he’s up for slaughtering children; he’ll even murder members of his own crew. But his temper leaves him vulnerable and his single-minded revenge is often his undoing. Plus that damn crocodile – that strange reptilian relationship alone is the source of almost comedic relief, a rarity for Disney’s villains. Thus, Hook is nearly a sympathetic figure, destined to be forever thwarted, forever chased by his own hand, haunted by the memory of his own amputation.
4. Cruella De Vil, 101 Dalmatians. Cruella is an interesting villain because she doesn’t have any powers or magic lofty ambitions. She’s a spoiled heiress who simply insists on having everything she wants, even if it means stealing the last 15 puppies for a dalmatian coat she’s been dying to add to her already stuffed fur closet. She is reckless and impetuous and eventually driven into a mad, frothing fury due to her own relentless pursuit of said dogs. She’s an attention whore, rude to others, thoughtless when it comes to anyone else. She’s among the more stylish of the Disney villains, and considering we’ve got be-feathered Hook and heavily-accessorized Jafar on this list already, that’s saying something. She’s got signature half-black, half-white hair, green-coated eyelids, and red opera-length gloves. She’s almost always got a cigarette holder in one hand, leaving behind a trail of vile smoke. Her current coat (mink, I believe) is larger than life while her own frame is skeletal. She’s a lot of fun and became even more dynamic when played by Glenn Close in a live-action remake (and she will be again when Emma Stone reprises the role in a movie devoted to the villainess).
3. Gaston, Beauty and The Beast. Frankly, I’m surprised he’s not my #1. He’s boastful and vain – he’s the Kanye West of Disney villains. I admit this: I am a little bit (lotta bit) attracted to arrogance. The incel vibes are a total turn off though, and Gaston has that in spades. He’s an excellent gambler, an excellent shot, and roughly the size of a barge. So he’s baffled to be rejected for the first time in his life, by the town’s beauty, Belle. And once he’s set his sights on her, he can’t possibly settle for anyone whose affections are reciprocal. Now, when Gaston, who is already a huge jerk, finds out that the woman who spurned him is falling for a beast, that just blows his gasket and he is filled with a murderous rage, a rage so visceral he immediately forms a mob with actual pitchforks and storms a goddamned castle.
2. Scar, The Lion King. I’m not sure that Scar is my #2, but in a recent Twitter poll, he was almost universally voted #1. Markus volunteered “Scar is smart, conniving, and has an amazing voice. Gaston is just a douchey beefcake.” Wait – douchey beefcake – is THAT my type? Anyway, if you like Jafar’s penchant for theatrics, you’re gonna love Scar. Had he studied theatre and moved to NYC, his destiny would have been much different. But alas, he languished in the jungle with only hyenas for an audience, and they don’t applaud well on account of their paws. Scar is the Claudius to Mufasa’s King Hamlet, and if fratricide isn’t terrible enough for you, he pins it on an innocent little cub and then orders his murder too. And it’s not even like Scar was suffering – he had a cushy royal life. He could have been living it up like Prince Harry with all the perks and none of the responsibility. But no. Murder. BUT he does have a truly excellent musical number.
1. Ursula, The Little Mermaid. I have serious #UrsulaGoals. I want to be her when I grow up: commanding, stylish, large and in charge. Perhaps just a tad less soul-sucky. Ursula is actually based on a drag queen named Devine. Her shock of white hair, blood red lips, even a bold blue eye – this witch has been to Sephora and you know she’d kill it on Instagram if she could access it underwater. She’s conniving and manipulative, with a sadistic streak as thick as her lipgloss. Disney may not be ready to give us a thicc princess, but Ursula is unapologetically curvy, rocking a body-conscious, cleavage-baring, backless dress and vamping at every opportunity. I’m not an opportunistic cannibal (at least not yet), but otherwise, Ursula is pure inspiration from Disney’s dark side.
Although the Oscars did see a modest bump in audience this year, it is not likely to have converted any of the first-time watchers as the show felt listless and low energy without a host or opening number. Many of the presenters were good – I like the John Mulaney-Awkwafina pairing, and of course Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey, though I think the win goes to Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry who really went balls-out in paying tribute to costumers (and kudos to the costume designer in charge of her cape who actually got every single one of those bunnies to stand up).
It was a great night for women, and for women of colour in particular. Rachel Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first ever African American women to win in their categories – costume design for Carter and production design for Beachler. They’re the first African American women to win in a non-acting category since 1984, when Irene Cara won for cowriting Flashdance. Both wins come courtesy of juggernaut Black Panther, which may be the actual best picture of 2018, trophy or not. “Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king,” Carter said in her speech. “It’s been my life’s honor to create costumes. Thank you to the academy. Thank you for honoring African royalty and the empowered way women can look and lead onscreen.” Beachler, meanwhile, paid it forward “I give the strength to all of those who come next, to keep going, to never give up. And when you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough.”
Regina King, Mahershala Ali, and Rami Malek all earned the Oscars they were expected to in the top acting categories. I have trouble calling Ali’s performance a supporting one since he has pretty equal screen time to Viggo, but his award is deserved – not only was it the best and only good thing in an otherwise shitty movie, he ran a very gracious and thoughtful campaign. So did Malek, which is probably what pulled him out ahead of Christian Bale, who probably turned in the more effortful performance as Dick Cheney in Vice but didn’t campaign at all. Olivia Colman pulled out the night’s biggest upset (well, one of them) with her best actress win over the favoured Glenn Close (clearly not The Favourite though, haha, movie puns). Close is great in The Wife, which is not a good movie. Colman is great in The Favourite, which is an exceptional movie. Again, you can’t and shouldn’t really call hers the leading performance above Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz when all 3 ladies get equal screen time, but thanks to wonderful editing, her story line acts as the emotional anchor. And oh boy is she emotional! It’s such a forceful, impassioned performance. Truly deserving, even if poor Close has now lost 7 times and won 0 – a dismal track record, and she’s the got the dubious title of most nominated but never winning actor – male or female.
Spike Lee finally won his Oscar, for BlackKklansman‘s best adapted screenplay. A tough category, which makes it exciting. You could have had heaps more in there for sure. I think If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were just as good (and so different!) but I’m glad Lee won, and super glad that pal Sam Jackson was there to tell him the good news. Their on-stage celebration was one of the highlights of the night. So, by the way, was Barbra Streisand telling the audience the many things she and Spike have in common – including (but not limited to) their love of hats. God bless her!
Alfonso Cuaron won best director, as he should, from great friend and last year’s winner, Guillermo del Toro, who got out of his sick bed to do so. And Cuaron accepted Roma‘s award for best foreign language film on behalf of Mexico. And he won best cinematography, the first DP to win who also directed the movie. Interestingly, the American Society of Cinematography gave its highest award to Cold War’s Łukasz Żal, but that’s because Cuaron, a director, is not a part of this guild. Cuaron is the first person to be personally nominated for 4 Oscars for a single film (best foreign language is not personal, but awarded to a country), the fourth being for his original screenplay, which he lost in a tragic incident I don’t even want to get into. Anyhow, in presenting the award for cinematography, Tyler Perry noted it was a pleasure to do so “live on camera, not during the commercial break. Thank you, Academy.” You may recall that just a few weeks ago, the Academy said it would hand out several awards, including this one, during commercial breaks, but had to rescind its decision due to the wrath of nearly everyone.
It used to be that best director and best picture often went hand in hand, which makes sense. But in the past 10 years, since the Oscars opened up the best picture category to a potential 10 nominees, things changed. Now it uses a “preferential ballot” system, which means the most liked movie wins – but not necessary the most popular, which could explain the now 50% discrepancy between best picture and best director wins. Members are asked to rank the best picture nominees from best to worst. This year there were 8 nominees, so the accountants made 8 piles and sorted all the ballots according to their #1 choices. If no movie has more than 50% of the votes, and with more than 5 nominees that’s practically impossible, then the smallest pile is removed. Let’s assume that Vice had the smallest pile. Now all the ballots that listed Vice #1 are re-sorted into piles according to who their #2 pick was. You can see why canny members are now voting strategically, and how the movie with the most #1 picks won’t necessarily be the winner. The win could easily go to the movie with the most #2 picks, which is weird, but that’s also how Americans pick their presidents, and we all know how well that turns out. So Green Book is the Donald Trump of best pictures.
Green Book shouldn’t have been nominated. At best, it’s a pretty pedestrian movie. At best. But it’s also a movie about race relations that’s written and directed by white men. Solely by white men. Which is why so many of the Academy’s old white men felt comfortable voting for it. They could pat themselves on the back for being ‘diverse’ while still rewarding the status quo – for reframing the story of a black man’s experience into the perspective of his white driver. Never mind that director Peter Farrelly has a history of consulting his penis during meetings. And that writer Nick Vallelonga has said some weird Islamophobic shit, agreeing with Trump of all people, tweeting “100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down” – and that was still on his time line when he won the Golden Globe this year. Gross.
Meanwhile, Roma is a work of art from start to finish. I’m so proud that a black and white movie, with subtitles, with no stars or recognizable names, about society’s less visible women, is such a huge deal, so gorgeous and relatable. What a win for Netflix, and for taking chances. And If Beale Street Could Talk is also completely worthy. It’s visual poetry. I was electrified, from the colours to the dialogue’s flow, and the story’s timeliness and timelessness. Perfection. And there are many other terrific movies besides: The Favourite is funny and incisive and beautifully acted; BlackKlansman is galvanizing wizardry; Sorry To Bother You is risky and bold; Blindspotting is culturally significant; Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse is ground breaking; Eighth Grade distills a moment in time, taking us back while pinning us in place with its precise observation; Black Panther elevates the super hero game and asks more of us as an audience and a culture; Can You Ever Forgive Me? is funnier than almost any comedy released this year but the humour comes from a dark and interesting place, a true voice for society’s losers; Leave No Trace is heart breaking in its truth and simplicity; First Man is cold and wonderful and ambitious and intimate; Crazy Rich Asians is visually stunning and a cultural milestone. I’m going to stop there, but you get my point. 2018 was a great year for movies. I was moved, I cried in utter delight, I was horrified and invigorated. I think Green Book is a step back. I wish it didn’t win. But instead of complaining about Green Book, I’m going to keep pushing forward the movies I love, because that’s what’s so great about cinema. You don’t have to like them all, but if you keep watching, you will find something to love.
The world is overpopulated and we are consuming resources at an untenable rate – these are facts, not fiction. It’s kind of depressing that in a dystopian, sci-fi future, the architect of our demise is real, but our willingness to do something about it is the fiction.
In this particular 2078, a strict one-child policy has been made law and is brutally enforced. The GMOs in our food has led to unfathomable rates of multiple-births, so every human is braceleted and check-points are set up to monitor for siblings, who are then removed from the population in order to be cryogenically frozen for a time when the earth may sustain them. But as Willem Dafoe watches his beautiful and beloved daughter die while giving birth to septuplets, he vows to keep the seven sisters secret. Named for each day of the week, they are raised behind closed doors to be smart and self-sufficient. Each one may only venture outside on the day of the week for which they are named – outside their home, they live as “Karen Settman”, a character that all 7 must be equally devoted to keeping sacred.
Of course, when Monday goes missing, the remaining 6 are going to have a heck of a time tracking her down since between them they only have the one avatar allowed to exist in the world. So the script basically forces itself into an anything-goes amalgam where we’re never sure if we’re watching a gritty crime thriller, or a family drama, or a murder mystery, or jagged social commentary. There are a couple of really great set pieces that may get your heart pumping quickly enough to sustain you during the more aimless scenes in between. It’s an uneven movie, overstuffed for sure, but an interesting premise even if its denouement is somewhat predictable.
Noomi Rapace gets to play all seven juicy roles, and she gives each Settman sister a twist of her own. It’s fun to watch her interact with herself, and it’s a trick pulled off rather deftly. But for me, personally, the most interesting part of this movie is imaging myself and my sisters (there are “only” 4 of us, luckily – the world could not take a single one more) co-existing even nominally peacefully in an apartment for years, sharing one single identity. The four of us are nothing alike and I can’t even imagine what a compromise would begin to look like. One of us lives and breathes hockey, and one of us cannot physically stand upright on skates. How do you even do that halfway? One of us is covered in tattoos and one of us refers to them as “prison ink” with a judgmental eye roll. Growing up, we couldn’t agree on a single television show to watch. How would we agree on a single hairstyle, job, boyfriend, drink preference? And let’s face it: whoever pulls the Saturday shift will never have to go to work or school, while poor Monday will forever be stuck without a single drop of fun.
Sean watched this movie and had a very different takeaway. He saw only potential: since we are childfree by choice, he thought our right to a child could be sold to the highest bidder, and he envisioned us living comfortably off the proceeds. So in summation: Jay can’t even imagine a fictional world in which she is capable of compromise, Sean is mercenary, and What Happened to Monday is an entertaining but not quite brilliant addition to Netflix’s sci-fi catalogue.
Eve Wilde (Glenn Close), famous actress, is getting married. She should be good at it by now: it’s her 5th attempt. She has inspired a whole family’s worth of broken marriages, which is common enough I suppose, but I’m not sure why so many exes were invited to the wedding.
Eve’s first love, Laurence (John Malkovich), not a movie star but a very serious actor, is included. Eve’s current love, Harold (Patrick Stewart), a writer with terrible hair, is a bit intimidated. Is this civilized, or insanity? Eve’s granddaughter Mackenzie is making a documentary, “what does love mean to you?,” and the lineup of family members covered is immediately confusing. With so many spouses, are any of these people related?
The Minnie Driver and Peter Facinelli introduce lots of drugs to the mix, and what better on the eve of a family wedding where the first cousins are already kissing?
We tend to use ‘corny’ and ‘cheesy’ interchangeably, but they’re two different sentiments, and this movie highlights that fact perfectly: one will make you roll your eyes, the other will make you cover them. Both are incredibly uncomfortable. This is one of those movies where everything goes wrong, and wronger, in the most charmless way possible. The person who wrote this script clearly believes that bad behaviour at weddings is de facto, and that wild behaviour is entertaining. In fact, it makes me quite sad for the very venerable cast, brought so low by the material on display here. And just when you think they’ve hit every wrong note in the book, it gets worse. Predictably but not forgivably worse. To the point where even my dogs were barking at the screen, though that may have been in response to my increasingly high-pitched and indignant “REALLY?s”. Do not watch. The end.
On her wedding day, Helen (Glenn Close) lets loose a secret bombshell to her grown, fraternal twin sons, Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Pete (Ed Helms): their deceased father is not in fact deceased, or in fact their father. Their actual father, she confesses, is hard to pin down, since she was a bit of a slut. So they do the only thing a couple of twins who can scarcely stand each other can: they embark on a quest to find out their true parentage.
First stop: Terry Bradshaw. First, but not last stop on a long tour of hearing about how much of a cum dumpster their mother was. The movie suffers an identity crisis very early on: is this a raunchy comedy? A movie full of surprise twists? Sentimental slop? Buddy stuff? A road trip movie? Or just an excuse to slut-shame sex-positive Glenn Close?
It wasn’t awful, let’s start there. I laughed, probably more than I laughed at almost any other comedy this year, with the notable exception of The Big Sick. But a loose collection of vacuous laughs don’t really amount to much. Father Figures can’t even replicate the success of The Hangover, or Wedding Crashers. It’s just an intermittently funny movie that you’ll forget, possibly even while you’re watching it – the movie goes off on enough side tangents that it’s hard to keep track.
Owen Wilson and Ed Helms are good, but they’re acting against such an inconsistent backdrop it’s hard to really gain any traction. There’s no urgency to seeing this movie and certainly no reason to see it in theatres – at this time of year there are much better options. Pick any.
I chose this movie because it’s based on a novel of the same name by a fantastic writer, Meg Wolitzer. I read it several years ago but I can confidently tell you it was an interesting and provocative read. Why then, did I feel the movie was kind of a bore?
It’s about a woman, Joan (Glenn Close), who is thinking maybe she’s had enough of her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) just as he’s about to win a Nobel prize for literature. She’s supported him and his career for years but being the supportive wife is just not a role she’s comfortable with anymore. It’s kind of bad timing, especially since they’re being trailed by a hungry writer (Christian Slater) gunning for juicy details for his unauthorized biography.
They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Being a woman, I absolutely loathe that sick expression, but you know who hates it even more? Joan. And you’re about to find out why. I won’t give anything away, but I think the “reveal’ (which is a bad word for what it actually is, but let’s just say there’s information being withheld) comes too late – it would be a way more interesting story if this little tidbit was part of the journey. What we do know is that she literally runs his life: she checks his beard for crumbs and sets his watch for pill time and does nose hair checks because she’s a goddamn boss and he doesn’t deserve her.
The truth is, this whole thing is a very weak. The story is so diluted that it lost all interest to me. Sean felt a smidge more positively about it, perhaps because he wasn’t comparing it to the book. The acting is good, very good actually, Glenn Close is a queen, which really just made me all the sorrier that this film couldn’t step up and be the thing she deserves.
I imagined that The Wife is perhaps a bit of a TIFF bookend, with Battle of Sexes being the other end. Bille Jean King is reminding people just how different it was for women when she was playing tennis. At the time (1973ish), women still couldn’t have their own credit cards – the applications needed a male signatory. In The Wife, too, women are being held back. Joan should have had her own career as a writer, if only editors, publishers, and critics weren’t all male. She was stifled, and that’s how she became merely The Wife.
I was really worried that this movie would be too scary for me, but its immediate familiarity reminded me that I’d read the book upon which it is based (by M.R. Carey), and knowing I’d survived the book meant I could surely handle the film as well.
Not for nothing: it’s about a “fungus” that’s extremely zombie-like in its presentation. Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is a teacher at a military-run school at Hotel Echo. Her “hungry students” are all infected with the fungus. Under heavy restraints, they aren’t just taught, but tested. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is test subject #1. She’s a very sweet young girl until flesh is nearby, and then her jaws start chomping involuntarily.
When the base is suddenly overrun by hungries, Melanie escapes with the compassionate teacher as well as Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), the woman doing all the experiments, and just a few remaining soldiers. Because they’re low on blocker gel (the lotion that makes them less appetizing to hungries), they’re loathe to keep her so close by, but Dr. Caldwell is unwilling to let her best subject go. Melanie might be the key to an antidote.
Their small party need to make their way to the next safe spot, called Beacon, but getting there isn’t going to be easy. There’s some typical zombie movie gore, but this movie manages to be more by focusing on the relationship between student and teacher. And Melanie manages to be more than just a zombie, with her constant yearning to be fully human. Newcomer Sennia Nanua is very compelling in her role; Melanie is a monster, but Nanua gives her a sense of humanity that transforms this horror film into something more urgent, more terrifyingly relatable.
Director Colm McCarthy gives us some memorably startling images, even going so far as to shoot aerial footage over Chernobyl for an apocalyptic feel. The Girl With All The Gifts is not a traditional zombie movie, nor horror. It has a social conscience and some sound science, refreshing the genre with intelligence and dark humour. It’s not a perfect movie, it’s a little muddled, a little indefinite, but it’s a thought-provoking hybrid much like Melanie herself.
Pongo the highly intelligent dalmatian is not just Roger’s best friend, he’s his alarm clock, personal assistant, and milkman. Roger is a video game developer but no one’s interested in his dalmatian game because it lacks a proper villain, a desire to annihilate.
Meanwhile, at the House of DeVil, Cruella (Glenn Close) runs a fashion empire and her look would makes Miranda Priestley look like a schlub; indeed, the devil wears DeVil. Anita (Joely Richardson), owner of Perdita, and one of Cruella’s top designers, attracts Cruella’s attention and inspires a spotted fur coat that has her boss salivating for the soft fur coats of dalmatian puppies. Unbeknownst to Anita, Cruella will stop at nothing to get her hands on the real thing. And thanks to a mutual swim in a park pond, Anita and Roger meet, and their dogs fall in love. So do they of course, and after a double wedding comes a double pregnancy (perhaps it’s lucky that Cruella only covets the skins of puppies and not babies).
Fifteen puppies come, and Cruella shows up with a cheque and a sac before Perdita’s even licked them clean. Not liking the wild glint in her eye, Anita and Roger refuse to sell them to her in a true moment of no fucking kidding.
Cruella kidnaps them anyway of course and only a strange network of animals can get them back.
Over 200 dalmatian puppies were trained for this film, and 20 adult dogs as well, some of them truly frightened of Glenn Close in full costume, hair, and makeup. I don’t know how costume designers Rosemary Burrows and Anthony Powell failed to score an Oscar nomination for their wondrous, over the top looks.
John Hughes, who wrote and produced, got the biggest paycheque for this film than for any other in his career because he snagged a piece of the merchandising and a staggering 17 000 different items were pumped out for the film’s release. There’s definitely a Hughes flavour to the film, particularly in the second half when the movie starts to feel like a doggie version of Home Alone.
This is perhaps the first of Disney’s live action remakes, and another, a prequel starring Emma Stone as Cruella, will hit theatres this spring.
Downton Abbey ain’t got nothin on Mr. Nobbs. He’s a servant extraordinaire – no one’s better at anticipating his customer’s needs and the restaurant hums because of his competence. Every night he goes back to his little room, counts his tips fastidiously, and hides them under the floorboards after totting them up in his ledger. So when he’s assigned a new roommate, he’s paranoid his secret will be revealed. No, not the cash. His boobs. Albert Nobbs is not a mister after all.
Albert (Glenn Close) started passing as a man after a traumatic incident at the age of 14. Realistically, it was a way to live safely and an opportunity to earn more money. But he has lived in isolation and constant fear of discovery ever since. Now all he wants is those few extra bucks so he can buy a little shop and live independently. The only thing stopping him is the lack of a wife – which, as you can imagine, is a bit of a roadbump. Luckily he meets someone to inspire him (Janet McTeer), and he soon turns his eye upon a lovely young kitchen staffer (Mia Wasikowska) who hardly knows what to do with the attention of a creepy little old man. Plus her lust bucket is filled with thoughts of the new mechanic (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who is handsome and manly and also, it turns out, a drunken bully.
Both Glenn Close and Janet McTeer received Oscar nominations for their respective roles in the film, pretty much a given considering the depth of their perfomances. There’s an ache to watching them – to Close in particular because we are so aware of Albert’s constant pain and discomfort. She never makes a single misstep. And to its credit, the film resists moralizing, or false contextualizing to make it more relevant to today’s social and political climate. It just is. Which is fine, indeed excellent, when it comes to watching stunning performances but the film itself does suffer from being a little too close, a little too one-note.