Tag Archives: Guy Pearce

Mary Queen of Scots

This is the story about the crazy relationship between two cousins, both queens. And the jealousy and the machinations between the two – one, the Queen of Scotland, who perhaps believed she should also be the Queen of England and everything else as well. But while this movie is obviously about politics, it’s more importantly a movie about gender politics.

Short history lesson:

Queen Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII (the guy who liked to behead all his wives) and Anne Boleyn, who suffered her execution just two and a half years after her daughter’s birth. Their marriage thus conveniently annulled, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, and when her father died, it was a half-brother, Edward IV, who claimed the throne. Not for long, though, and somewhere down the line, the crown did land on 25 year old Elizabeth’s head. Sometimes called the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I was probably not a virgin, but she never married, and she never bore a child.

Her cousin, Mary I, became Queen of Scotland when her father King James V died when she was just 6 days old. 6 days old! Regents, including her half-brother, ruled in her stead. When she was 6 months old, King Henry VIII proposed (eventual) marriage between her and his son and heir, Edward, thus uniting Scotland and England under one crown, but when Scotland protested, a war dubbed the “rough wooing” ensued. To protect their young Queen, 5 year old Mary was sent to live in France, where that King also decided to unite France and Scotland under one crown by betrothing his 3 year old heir to Mary. They married when she was 15; he became King of France and royal consort of Scotland, but he died shortly after and she went home to Scotland to finally, officially, sit on its throne (and marry twice more). By this time her cousin Elizabeth I was also on her throne over in England, but there were some sticky points in the wills and order of succession, and it was always a thorn in their relationship that perhaps Mary had a claim to that crown as well.

Back to the movie.

MV5BN2FjNmUxNDUtZWIxMy00MmI1LWJkMDMtOWQ5NzgwOWI3NDVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) and Mary (Saoirse Ronan) are not that different. Elizabeth is said to have ruled by “good counsel,” relying on trusted advisors. History depicts her as moderate, cautious, and perhaps indecisive. Mary, on the other hand, was more forward, and clever, not that that stopped her own regents of plotting against her. She pushed Elizabeth to name her England’s heir presumptive. Elizabeth retaliated by proposing her trusted childhood friend as Mary’s next husband; Elizabeth felt she would be able to control him. Mary was too savvy to refuse outright but the relationship came to nothing.

Mary sought to strengthen her crown my marrying smart and creating alliances. And yet she understood that any man who married her would eventually try to steal her crown for himself. Still, producing a (male) heir would also strengthen her position, so marriage must be tolerated. Elizabeth, meanwhile, felt that marriage was too great a risk to her crown – that would only encourage plots against her. Of course she was expected to marry and produce an heir, but she refused.

The movie reminds us that in the 1500s, it sucked to be woman so much that even being the queen was not enough. Still the men would plot against you – your own sons, husbands, and brothers. Mary’s husband(s) and brother(s) both plotted against her. Her third husband was her second husband’s murderer, and her rapist. She was forced to abdicate in favour of her one year old son, James. Elizabeth, by contrast, ruled for 44 years, until her death. At which point the crown went to – yes, that’s right, it went to Mary’s son James. So this weird relationship exists between the two – they are sisters and rivals. No one else can understand this unique pressure to rule a kingdom as a woman with all the vulnerabilities that that entails.

While the movie may have benefited from a more focused approach to narrative, I found this endlessly fascinating and frustrating. I very much enjoyed the performances from both Robbie and Ronan, and I very much approved the race-blind casting. There are people of colour in the English and Scottish courts; this is a rather novel idea for a period film, but director Josie Rourke has a lot of experience in the theatre where this type of colour-blind casting is much more popular. As well it should be. We’re telling old stories, but those stories should be told by people representative of today.

I had not heard great things about this movie but I think people have just been watching it wrong. In 2019, women are still wondering if they can “have it all”: work, family, mental health, balance. In 1568, Mary and Elizabeth wondered if they could have it all: respect, religion, the freedom to marry whom they chose, agency over their own lives, and the ability to cut off each other’s heads if it came to it (and it always did).

 

TIFF: Brimstone

Something has to bear the banner of “bloodiest thing I saw at TIFF” and I’d wager that Brimstone bears it proudly, has indeed gone to great lengths to earn it.

mv5bndqzm2zhnzctztexns00mdk0ltgwodatzmi3zdbjmme4yzczxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymju2otaymzq__v1_uy1200_cr8506301200_al_Dakota Fanning plays a mute woman newly married, raising a dead woman’s son and  a daughter of her own. She is unable to speak but the look of dread on her face when she hears the new preacher’s voice tells us all we need to know. That preacher (Guy Pearce) has been stalking her for years, and bathing villages in blood as he attempts to make her his.

Their story unravels backwards – chapter one sets the above scene; chapter two rewinds to her childhood in a religious-pioneer settlement when her mother was the object of his cruel “affections”; chapter three follows her to a saloon where she does what she must in order to escape; chapter four has him caught up to her, and to her kids, as she flees through snowy, barren land.

Guy Pearce is diabolical – the extent of his character’s actual super-naturalness is unclear, or up for debate, but he’s a twisted zealot AT BEST and I’ll let you decide if there’s more to it. Dakota Fanning as Liz is necessarily quiet but full of strength and grit. He comes at her hard with vengeance but she’s a surprisingly formidable opponent.

This is Martin Koolhoven’s first English-language movie and he’s determined to show us what he’s made of. And for the record: blood and guts. He’s made of blood and guts. So am I, I brimstonepearce2suppose, but I’ve never worn my intestines as a scarf. Have you?

The images are powerful, and will burrow under your skin. And there are 148 bloody minutes of them. It’s not all gore though, there’s plenty of foreboding, plenty of tension. The setting does a lot to add to it: isolation is nobody’s friend. The land is unforgiving.

The MPAA warns of brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language. That doesn’t really tell a story though, does it? And it certainly doesn’t account for how thoroughly you’ll scour yourself in the shower after watching it. There’s no label for that. Except maybe “A film by Martin Koolhoven.”

 

 

The Hurt Locker

Like everyone else, I watched The Hurt Locker the year it came out. It was dutiful, really. The subject matter didn’t interest me but its female direction was like a monkey with a typewriter. That sounds awful, I know, but honestly, it was a bit of a sideshow. Just 10 years ago, you rarely if ever heard about a female director, period, let alone one who was taking on a project so classically masculine. A war movie, for christsakes. But Kathryn Bigelow didn’t just ‘take it on’, she was so fucking good at it, even boys had to admit it was great. “A near perfect movie,” one had to admit. “A full tilt action picture” said another. Gosh. It was so undeniably good that the biggest consortium of white men ever, the Acamedy, could do nothing but award in 6 Oscars (of 9 nominations), including Best Picture AND Best Director for Ms. Bigelow. Fuck yeah!

But I didn’t like it.

MV5BNzkzZDFhZTUtMWQwYi00MzNhLThiODItNmRlMDhlODZjZDMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTIzOTk5ODM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Rewatching it, I get why. Jeremy Renner plays hot shit Staff Sergeant William James, a…bomb guy. Pretty sure that’s the technical term. He gets all dressed up in a quasi-astronaut outfit and defuses bombs (ideally). His unit has only about 30 days left in their Iraq rotation when he’s assigned to them (their last guy got blown up) and they immediately want to throw him right back. He rushes into combat like he’s got a death wish, and worse, he puts his fellow soldiers at risk too. Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), his subordinate, is particularly disturbed to be working so closely with what appears to be a straight-up crazy, reckless person.

This movie is rife with unapologetic toxic masculinity, and it was fucking hard as hell for me to make it through. In the army you don’t get to choose not to follow a whackerdoodledoo into combat, but from the comfort of my bed (it’s on Netflix atm), you betcha I was yelling obscenities at my TV.

Grudgingly, I can appreciate some of the craft in this movie that I was probably willfully blind to a decade ago. Bigelow uses hand-held cameras and an incredible 100:1 shooting ratio to make this film feel real – almost like a documentary. It’s also relentless. One scene barely ends before the next bout of trouble is upon us, usually already in motion.

I like the ending, what it reveals of James’ character – namely, that he’s happiest when he’s staring a ticking bomb in the face. But that’s essentially also my problem with the film. That his disregard for his own life is going to get everyone else in his company killed along with him. That their only move toward self-preservation is to kill him. Imagine being in Baghdad and contemplating that. That his risk taking and complete indifference to the rules somehow make him this bomb cowboy action hero when in fact, in real life, it makes him a moron and a liability. Personally I rooted against this guy, this “hero” because as much as I don’t really love watching people get turned into jam, at least it would give the rest of this unit a fighting chance. War is tough enough as it is. We don’t need to “up the ante” on a bomb squad in an active war zone. That should have been enough. Crazed war junkies intent on obliterating themselves likely would have been weeded out back in basic. The Hurt Locker is just punishing, and I get that the Academy didn’t want to give Best Picture to Avatar (I haven’t seen that one at all), but, ahem, I do believe Up was also in the running that year.