Films – Hail Caesar!

Last night I persuaded my reluctant husband to see Hail Caesar! on it’s all but last showing.  We had to go three towns over to catch a viewing. He dragged his heels, brandishing his phone and reporting that it had been seen by less that 24,000 people in Korea as evidence of it’s faults.

Hail Caesar! is a very silly film. In some respects it is the silly American cousin of Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian – there’s a board-meeting of spiritual leaders squabbling over how to appropriately depict the son of God on film, if indeed that’s what he is, and if you’re asking the Rabbi, then he’s not. There are many brassy winks to the beard-and-hairography of Hollywood Biblical epics, there’s even a Roman with a speech impediment.

It’s also the Cohen Brother’s affectionate tribute to the glory days of MGM, populated by a cast who are all enjoying themselves enormously, looking exactly as if they had wandered off a 1950s Hollywood set, not least CHANNING TATUM, who – to much delight – reveals himself as a proper triple threat. His singin’ dancin’ sailor routine is not only packed with gags but is genuinely awe-inspiring to watch, I could have happily rewound it and played the whole thing again, so too Scarlett Johansson’s brittle-grinning water ballet.

Meanwhile Alden Ehrenreich is loveable and authentic as hokey cowboy stunt actor, Hobey Doyle. Shot all squint and pout like James Dean, He gave the slightly bemused and very small Korean audience the biggest laughs of the film.

If you have a fondness for the golden age of cinema and don’t cringe at the idea of madcap, (firmly, this is a caper of the purest form), no doubt Hail Caesar! will bring you joy.

 

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Films – Room

I read Emma Donahue’s Room when I flew to Korea for the first time. It was pre-kindle days, I was nervous and looking for something to take my mind off my impending journey into the unknown, so I bought the paperback at the airport and read almost all of it on the 12 hour journey.

I hated it. I found the voice of the young boy Jack inauthentic and cloying, and there was a sense of claustrophobia that may certainly have been intentioned, and yet was not what I wanted to feel on my first major flight, having left my friends and family behind me.

That was over five years ago, and so when I heard a film of the novel was being made, I was interested, partly because I knew Lenny Abrahamson was involved – I had seen his film Frank, and loved it – and partly because I was curious as to how they would manage to pull it off. For one thing, the whole story comes from the viewpoint of Jack who is a five-year-old boy. Now, I don’t wish to be unkind. I think it’s probably a good thing when child-actors are wooden as hell, it likely means they are ordinary, well-adjusted and completely, obliviously unselfconscious which is how children should be, for as long as they can.

But when you’re making a film which so relies upon the performance of a child, that seems incredibly risky, especially when there is such a fine line between naturalness and precociousness.

The film handles this delicate balance in several ways. While we do hear only Jack’s thoughts, the camera lingers long and often on the face of Brie Larson who plays Ma, Jack’s mother and the victim of a kidnap seven years prior. And Ma looks like someone who has been kept in a garage for seven years. Her face is ashy, she has a cluster of spots on her temple, her lank hair hangs, not quite as long as Jack’s, her shoulders hunch like a tired school-kid. I wouldn’t expect any less authenticity from Abrahamson, but it’s the unshowiness of how run-down Ma looks that is impressive. It’s not the Oscars-courting facial prosthetics of Charlize Theron or Nicole Kidman. It’s just pure, inside-out, quiet depression and it seeps out of her. We can feel Ma’s heaviness, her loneliness, her boredom. Brie Larson is mutedly, brilliantly effective.

I needn’t have worried about Jack either. Jacob Tremblay is a raw talent with a beautifully articulate face and Abrahamson coaxes a fine performance out of him, often filming Jack’s face in profile, so that we are left looking at him, looking at things beyond the frame, his expression conveyed only by the slow movement of his long eyelashes.

The film also handles with the lightest of touches everything that such a dreadful situation implies; rape, loved ones’ inability to cope, family estrangement. Key events never feel like set-pieces and never turn soapy, even when there is high potential for it to all go a bit Eastenders. William H Macy’s brief scenes were amongst my most personally heart-wrenching, another example of a fine actor who has a face capable of demonstrating chasms of emotion.

My husband was so unusually affected by the film that he was left badly injured when he tried to give our house-bound cat a taste of the world beyond our front door, and the horrified cat panicked and scratched the bejasus out of him.

I’ve since seen all the Oscars furore, and I know that Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress. I don’t follow the Oscars, they always seem to give awards to the films that haven’t even been released yet in Korea so I usually haven’t seen them, and the pool they fish in is so narrow to begin with. It all seems a bit naff these days, I know that there was no one ‘Best Picture’ of last year but several; same as I can’t tie myself down to one actor giving the definitive best performance. However, Brie Larson deserved recognition for her work in Room, there can be no question of that. And it’s confirmed for me that Lenny Abrahamson is one of the very best directors working today and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.

 

 

Films – Deadpool

I am not a fan of superhero movies. The best superhero film in my opinion is a tiny-budget little thing called Chronicle which stars Dane DeHaan in a found-footage format (I know, I know) and attempts to show what it would really be like if the anxious, loner kid with the alcoholic father at school really did suddenly obtain super powers. (Interestingly perhaps, Dane DeHaan would go on to star as Andrew Garfield’s nemesis Green Goblin in the last Spiderman reboot.)

While the camera operator in Chronicle appears to be channelling a shake-weight commercial, the film cuts to the heart of the isolation, recklessness and pure horror of being suddenly so gifted, in a way that is just absent in most typical films of the genre. Superheroes like Spiderman or worse, Superman, are so lacking in genuine peril (Superman is literally the strongest thing on earth) that the onus is always on some sappy girlfriend, to inject a human sense of danger. If you haven’t seen Chronicle I advise you to watch it because it’s a great example of why disgustingly high budget superhero action flicks are all mouth and no trousers.

(I give Batman a free pass because he doesn’t have any silly powers, he’s just an extremely wealthy lunatic and let’s be honest it’s all about the brilliant villains anyway. )

SO, when we got tickets to see Deadpool, yet another spin-off  from the Marvel universe, I was not especially looking forward to it. Sneery Marvel-lovers might just dismiss me as a non-fan who can’t hope to pierce the bubble of the world they love so deeply, but it’s not strictly true. As a child I was very into X-Men,  the animated series of which I would watch every Saturday morning with my brothers, secretly wanting to be Rogue with her Southern Belle accent and kiss of death. But I’d been burned by the live-action films, not least by the portrayal of Rogue, and many, many, many Marvel films later I was jaded.

Deadpool starts off shakily in my opinion. The opening credits sequence replacing actors and producers names with snarky one liners such as ‘Some douchebag’ ‘a hot girl’ and ‘British villain’ starts out only mildly amusing at best and goes on far too-long. Put that alongside lots of breaking the fourth wall moments and meta-jokes about fondling Hugh Jackman’s balls and even this most cynical of cynics was bored. ‘LOOK HOW SELF AWARE WE ARE’ the first twenty minutes scream, while repeatedly flipping you the bird and showing it’s arse.

The film comes into it’s own when it starts telling you the actual story, which is by turn surprisingly touching and dirtily funny. The love story between quick-lipped Wade Wilson and his girlfriend is authentically charming. When Wade runs away because he thinks his girlfriend can’t deal with his mutation, it does seem a somewhat dumb thing to do, yet with cancer playing an early part in the story we can read his fear as a very real concern that occurs in the real world – that cancer desexes us, that we cannot bear for our loved ones to see us so diminished.

If that makes it sound like it’s trying too hard again, it’s not. The jokes fly in fusillades, sometimes with grating frequency, but more often than not they hit their mark. Ryan Reynolds should be given credit for executing so many Ryan Reynolds jokes with such bonhomie.

The weakest factor is the entirely unconvincing ‘British Villian’ foretold in the opening credits; no, I don’t believe he is a scientist, nor perhaps even British, so wooden is he. But I liked his burly lady-sidekick Angel with her buxom forearms and mullet hairdo well enough to overlook the matter.

The totally Korean audience laughed heartily throughout, although most of the in-jokes seemed to go over their heads. I had to explain to my husband, for example, that Ryan Reynolds was the actor playing Deadpool and that he had also once played The Green Lantern. But when the lights went up people were smiling and looking generally as if they’d had a good time, which I think sums the film up nicely. It doesn’t really matter, but it’s fun while it lasts.