Tag Archives: period

TIFF18: Peterloo

2018 doesn’t need this movie. Arguably, the whole world at large doesn’t need another movie about angry white men emancipating themselves from tyranny while – without a trace of irony – refusing to bring anyone else along with them.

Director Mike Leigh, himself an old white man, clearly believes every florid word uttered by his forefathers is precious. Why else allow for so many agonizing extended speeches, spit-shoutingly reproduced at full length? Peterloo feels less like a movie and more like a scrap book that speechifying white men made as an ode to themselves. Not that there aren’t any women at all – someone needs to pour the water when all that edifying leaves the men cotton-mouthed.peterloo_0HERO

Peterloo is about that time in England’s history, after Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, when nothing seems to have improved for its people. In fact, the poor are getting poorer, thanks to bread taxes, crop shortages, and insufficient wages. And not content to merely get richer, the rich oppress their countrymen, sentencing an old woman to whipping for being “loose and idle”, a man exiled to Australia for being too good at gambling, and another to the gallows for stealing a coat when he had none.

Though the people are starving and can hardly stand upright after a day’s back-breaking labour, the Reformers organize their best orators to rally the people toward rights and representation. Parliament is not only afraid to lose even an iota of power, they’re downright enraged that anyone should feel so entitled. So they make lengthy, impassioned speeches too. Mike Leigh throws in a scene of the women getting in on the action too, clearly meant to reassure us that the egregious sexism isn’t nearly so bad as we’re thinking, but in fact accomplishes just the opposite. The women’s meeting is full of illiterates and in-fighting. That can’t have been an exclusively female problem but that’s the way Mike remembers it.

I suppose Peterloo is technically well-made (though the opening Waterloo battle scene looks especially unconvincing – old wagon wheels and bugles just weren’t meant to be captured in such crisp detail). I have to believe this is why TIFF has invited so many more female and minority critics this year: so we can call crap when we see it. Of course, I’m going to keep it classy, unlike a male critic in Venice this year who called the festival’s only female director a whore when he didn’t like her movie.

Standing in line to pick up my press credentials, the guy in front of me told the guy behind me (both were bearded middle-aged white men, it probably goes without saying) that last year’s must-see film for him was the Louis C.K. one, with no embarrassment or chagrin. This is why diversity in criticism is important. While plenty of white male critics also manage to be human beings, many do not. And the obsolescent opinions are always the loudest, as this movie admirably (and unintentionally) proves. Loud and wrong, on the shitty side of history.

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The Shape of Water

What did we ever do to deserve Guillermo Del Toro? The man is willing to crack his head open and allow his most beautiful dreams to spill out, onto the big screen, for our viewing pleasure. The Shape of Water, a delicious period piece with fantasy elements, is just about as sumptuous and satisfying as it gets at the movies.

Sally Hawkins, an inspiring casting choice, plays Eliza, a mute woman working as a cleaner at a top secret government facility. She and her cleaning partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer in a role she was born to play, because between Hidden Figures and The Help, MV5BZDU0NmU1NDUtNjMyNi00YTMyLTgwNWUtNTVmMzQ3NzJjNTJmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk1MzcwNTI@._V1_she already has) stumble upon agent Strickland’s (Michael Shannon) latest capture, a humanoid sea creature reportedly worshiped as a god by the Amazonians. Set against the Cold War era, the Americans hope this scaly curiosity will give them a leg up against the Ruskies are and prepared to torture the secrets out of their prisoner – and worse. But sweet Eliza spots the creature’s humanity and her kind heart urges her to save him. She enlists a scientist at the facility (Michael Stuhlbarg) and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) in her daring escape plan, but Strickland isn’t going to let this career-defining prize slip through his rotting fingers.

The Shape of Water is poetic and beautifully stylized. I fell in love during the opening shot, an ethereal scene that establishes the fairy-tale quality of the story. The whole film is richly textured; it feels like a story book you’ll want to step inside. Full credit to production design and art direction for creating a living, breathing piece of art that feels grounded in reality but often has this other-wordly, heightened reality feel to it that you just don’t find in your average film. The script, a Guillermo-Vanessa Taylor hybrid, is a phenom. It so smartly sets up all that is to come with careful, quiet nods. This is a movie with many small pleasures, many delights to savour. Because our heroine is non-speaking, the score plays a major role, and composer Alexandre Desplat is more than equal to the task. Del Toro weaves magic into threads of monster movie – love story – musical – spy thriller – comedy. I’m not sure which of these is more surprising, but all are very welcome. You may hear from others that this is Del Toro’s best since Pan’s Labyrinth, but they’re lying. I believe this is his best, full stop.

The Shape of Water wouldn’t be nearly so special without Sally Hawkins’ grace and measured precision. She’s wonderful, full of light, communicating much with little. Eliza is a woman of small parameters. Her life is ordered and banal. She’s suffering in her loneliness when she meets her merman, and her outsider status allows her to view him not as a monster but as a kindred spirit. Richard Jenkins meanwhile is restrained as the starving artist next door. Michael Shannon is anything but as the man who gets the job done at any cost – unless his vanity gets in the way. He’s awfully fond of the trappings of success. You might be starting to get an idea of what makes this script so lush: all the characters are brought fully to life. This is the clown car of movies, a film filled to the gills with interesting ideas and perfect little moments and scene-stealing details.

You don’t just watch a movie like The Shape of Water, you feel it, you experience it. We saw its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week but it’s coming to a cinema near you this December, and you won’t want to miss it. Hawkins’s name will be on the Oscar ballot and I’m guessing Del Toro’s will be too – maybe even twice.

Cafe Society

I wanted to crawl right into the very first frame, so luscious and drenched with colour it was. If I had turned it off right then and there, I may have dreamed in technicolour and sung the film’s praises. I didn’t.

Cafe Society is a beacon of hope to all the men who have been friend-zoned. Stick around for long enough to provide the shoulder to cry on when she eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, who is cooler, more interesting, and more wasp2015_day_21-0031.CR2successful than you, and you might actually find her vulnerable enough to prey on her heartbreak and win. For a while. But since you’re still nerdy old you she’ll eventually wise up and leave your ass, potentially even for the ex who doesn’t deserve her, and you’ll have to content yourself with second place. If second place always looked like Blake Lively you might thank your lucky stars, but Woody Allen is an idiot, so here we are.

Bobby is the Woody-Allen-stand-in in this case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an inspired choice because he’s already got the annoying neuroticism and concave chest. He’s not content with the similarity though, he goes full-on chanelwa15_d21_00172-h_2016_0impression, right down to the self-conscious body language and flighty hand gestures. Bobby moves to Hollywood, trying to escape the family business. He goes to his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), an important guy at a big movie studio, who barely makes time for him, and pawns him off on his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Eisenberg and Stewart have a twitchy chemistry that works well, but it does mean you’ll have to watch the two most high-strung performances in Hollywood today. Simultaneously. In a Woody Allen movie.

Steve Carrell is the best thing about this movie, and he wasn’t supposed to be in it. He replaced Bruce Willis well into filming after Brucie was fired for being a diva and not learning his lines. The costumes are also divine. ‘Cafe society’ was coined to describe the beautiful people hanging out in night clubs, and all those beautiful people are prettily dressed and on sumptuous display. This is Woody Allen’s first digitally captured movie, and his first collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro – if he’s smart, it’ll be the first of many, because this film is gorgeous if nothing else. And yeah – nothing else. It feels like two different stories stitched inexpertly together (Allen provides the stitching – he narrates the thing, cause he just can’t keep his wrinkly hands OFF). Despite the window dressing, Cafe Society is a love story at its core, but a love story between two people you don’t really care about, and you don’t even like. The end.

A Little Chaos

Paris, 1682: King Louis XIV wants the gardens of Versailles to equal the beauty and grandeur of his 700-room, 2000-window, 1250-fireplace, 67-staircases palace.

0626littlechaos1-master1050In the film, his master gardener Andre feels the task is too immense (and the King’s ambition too grand, too exact) and he hires help to get it all done. His choice for the architect of an elegant outdoor ballroom stuns all the applicants: it’s a woman, not very well known, not a member of court, Sabine.

Now, if you know me at all, you know all you had to say was Versailles. I would probably get all beheady if my hard-earned tax dollars funded the place, but it’s obscenely, richly, decadently wondrous to look at. But here’s the thing: this is a movie that just keeps on giving. If you aren’t immediately convinced by the setting, here are three names to make you fall down in a faint: Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman, who also directs, gets to wear the crown as King Louis. Tucci gets to play a mere 624duke, but poor Winslet is the one wrecking her nails playing in the dirt. Kate Winslet, as you well know, is born to play such a role. She’s a period piece angel, a garden fairy, her creamy skin made for corsets, her wavy hair’s blonde highlights catching the sun’s warm rays, making her glow, making her attract the attention of the handsome and ill-married master gardener (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Sabine’s character is of course fictitious; women wouldn’t have been allowed to hold “jobs” at that time, even if they were widowed and otherwise poor, as Sabine. But Rickman’s insertion of her into a known piece of history really mixes things up and brings a level of enchantment to the a-little-chaos-film-201-009piece. The gardens are beautiful, but they’re just the setting for a lot of familiar human emotion: love, betrayal, grief, triumph.

A Little Chaos is held up by fabulous performances by a very talented cast. It’s not quite passionate enough as a romance and is completely anachronistic as a historical drama. Nary a poor french peasant is glimpsed. But if you’re willing to let that go, I bet you’re going pulled into this fantasy as I was.