Misbehaviour (2020)

misbehaviour poster

Looks like I managed one last cinema trip before the COVID-19 lock down o.O Oh well. Here’s my review, in case you want to watch out for the movie on streaming…!

The 1970 Miss World Competition, held in London, was controversial for several reasons. The main one examined in the movie is how the parade of young women being judged ‘like cattle at market’ sat so poorly with the rising Women’s Liberation movement. Sally (Keira Knightly) doesn’t really want to join the politics of it, but every turn of her life shows her how much she needs what is being fought for. It’s hugely frustrating watching this intelligent woman being talked over by men, dismissed as lesser, and even having her own mother judge her harshly for living what we today would see as a fairly normal life: divorced, living with a partner who does the cooking while she studies. How radical!!

When she falls in with Jo’s (Jessie Buckley) group, the plan is hatched to protest at the symbol that is Miss World 1970. Interwoven with this plot is an inside look at the contest. Some contestants aren’t too happy with the media frenzy. Others see it as a way out of a harsh life. And for a few, they are making history: the first black South African to take part, in this time of Apartheid, for example.

The contrast of the two stories is perhaps what makes this so interesting: the clash between wanting to make a statement about women’s rights, and the ‘lucky’ few who needed the hope that winning the contest would bring them. The question is raised: should you fight so hard for women’s rights, when minority rights are still so far behind? There’s a hugely poignant moment when Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is told “you don’t think people like us can win, do you?” – ouch, but rings so true.

Still, something didn’t entirely click for me. It’s a nice movie, and I’m not sure that was the right tone – too much is left hinted at, or stated and not really examined. Which doesn’t make it a bad movie by any stretch, and indeed it was enjoyable and watchable, but given the anger I felt at how women were treated not that long before I was born and hell that some of it hasn’t changed now (I get spoken over *so* much, still; one of my colleagues has noted that if I answer a tech Q I get challenged far more often than one of the more junior boys), it just felt a little ‘lite’.

The subplot with Bob Hope (a great impression by Greg Kinnear) felt a bit flip on top of everything, but in hindsight it fits the themes perfectly. The relationship between Miss World organiser Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and his wife, Julia (Keeley Hawes), could have done with more development to make a similar message stick, but maybe that’s the problem: too many issues, too many viewpoints, nothing that hammers home.

Still. If it went too far into ‘radical feminist’ territory, it would probably be less watchable. Like over half the human race, we just can’t win 😉

Recommended, although didn’t require the big screen per se (probably a good thing in this testing time!). The performances are great, the music and fashion is wonderful, and there are threads of several very decent stories going on. And the ending, with some of the real people involved and updates on their lives – well, that was the uplifting message that we needed!

Released: 13th March 2020
Viewed: 13th March 2020
Running time: 106 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Birds of Prey (2020)

birds of prey poster

Being the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn 🙂

Following the events of Suicide Squad (2016), ‘Mr J’ (Joker, but not the Joaquin Phoenix one!) and Harley Quinn have split up. She’s taking it well (!): time to adopt a new pet (hyena) and blow some stuff up. But, her party days of doing whatever she wants to whomever she wants are over – without the Joker’s protection, she’s fair game to everyone with a grudge. And there are more than a few of those…

I swithered so hard on this: DC haven’t captured my heart with their movies, and the reviews were mixed. It seems to me that audiences are split on this one more or less down gender lines. Every review I’ve seen that says, “meh, it’s not great” was written by a bloke. And every one that goes “wheee that was fun!” was by a woman. Oversimplification, perhaps, but it kind of makes sense. The women in the movie are having fun; the men are cannon fodder, idiots, or just deranged. Are male audiences just failing to find anything to identify with here? Possibly. Probably, even. Well, welcome to the flip side of the coin!

I’ve described this to a friend as a sort of all-girl version of some daft action movie, like The Expendables or Hobbs and Shaw it’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, it’s just a glorious riot of kicking ass. And there is nothing wrong with that. I say, if there’s room for a dozen mindless action movies for/with the boys in any given year, there is more than enough room for this!

That said, it’s maybe a little mean calling on such daft comparisons. Because while it is largely loud and colourful daft fun, it’s well made, decently acted, and there are a few clever little bits. For instance (tiny, non-important) spoiler: someone pointed out that the ‘fridging’ of the egg sandwich Harley is making goo-goo eyes over is exactly the kind of inciting incident the random female love interest is so often used for in these kinds of movies. Hah!!

The storytelling is also done quite cleverly, dashing back and forward on the narrative as we get the plot through Harley’s not entirely sane mind. She’s ditsy, but not dumb: the odd moment of her using her psychology degree are a nice reminder that she’s damaged, not stupid.

There are going to be those who say that if a case can’t really be made for men enjoying this more, then it’s not a great movie. Well, no it’s not ‘great’. It is a LOT of fun, though, and for once it’s more relatable to a different audience. Getting dumped and getting revenge, hitting back – literally – at catcallers and the like. Being a girl and doing whatever the F you feel like – hells, yeah!!

So. Not a masterpiece, but for the female audience, at least, a huge dollop of fun and exactly the kind of OTT wish fulfilment that the boys have had for more than long enough!

Released: 7th February 2020
Viewed: 4th March 2020
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Onward (2020)

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Once upon a time, there was magic in the world, a world populated by elves and pixies, mantacores and unicorns. But magic was hard, and folk found a way to make things easier – things like electricity, and the combustion engine.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday, his mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives him and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), a gift from their late father: a genuine magic staff. Knowing he was ill and dying, he wrote a spell that would allow him one last day with his sons, to see what kind of young men they’d grow into. When the spell goes a little awry, Ian and Barley set out on a quest that will test them both…

A Pixar movie is still an event worth seeing, and the added world building here really appealed to me – feral unicorns! Angry sprites! The whole fantasy-meets-reality element worked really well for me throughout, and allows for a gorgeous colour palette and plenty of whimsy.

The main strength, however, is the brotherly relationship between Ian and Barley (or, Spider-Man and Starlord…!). As the pair race to complete the spell in time to talk to their father, the emotion that both bring to the bond is hugely touching.

It’s a bit less ‘ta da!’ than say, Toy Story or Wall-e, all in all a rather more gentle kind of tale. But it has a great deal of heart, looks just lovely, and I’d say is well worth a look for children and grown ups alike.

Released: 6th March 2020
Viewed: 29th February 2020 (special previews)
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

The Call of the Wild (2020)

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Based on the classic novel (which I’ve not read – yet!) by Jack London, The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck, a pampered pooch who is kidnapped and sold into a sled team in the frozen wilds of the Yukon in the late 1800s. The book gives us Buck’s voice and viewpoint, but the film merely follows this intrepid pup through several adventures, instead giving us a voiceover from human co-star, Harrison Ford.

This is another movie that wasn’t really on my radar to go and see, but this time I ended up pleasantly surprised. I was quite worried about the CGI dog – how was that going to not be awful?! But animating the dogs allows for a great deal more facial expression, as well as danger and nuance. Yes, the former is ever so slightly cartoonish, but kudos to the animators, it never strays into the ‘uncanny valley’. Buck is never ‘humanised’, he remains very dog-like, and thus it all seems to work.

I wasn’t familiar with the story, but I can see why it’s a classic boys-own kind of adventure. The wilderness of gold rush Canada is exquisite, wild and empty and free, and the perfect setting for the twin stories of Buck and John, the human he forms a bond with, seeking his own very different kind of freedom.

I was impressed with the human cast, acting against presumably nothing or at least nothing completely dog-like. Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford, but I might be alone in quite enjoying Dan Stevens’ pantomime baddy, and got a bit of an ‘oh’ when I finally recognised Karen Gillan (she was neither blue nor Scottish, so I think I can be forgiven ;)). Omar Sy’s character was a nice ray of positivity in Buck’s otherwise tough life.

Overall, it’s an adventure tale that has stood the test of time, and made for a lovely evening’s viewing.

Released: 19th February 2020
Viewed: 21st February 2020
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7.5/10

Dolittle (2020)

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Following the death of his beloved wife, Dr John Dolittle has no heart left in him to continue treating the animals to which he can speak. Locked away in his home-come-nature reserve, surrounded by animal friends, what will it take to bring Dolittle back into the world?

I had very little interest in seeing this movie, to be honest, but it was a bit of a group compromise. And hey, Robert Downey Jr. And some excellent special effects with talking animals, all voiced very well by a starry cast that includes Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, and Tom Holland. And, urm… yeah, no, it did nothing for me.

Where to begin? Most of all, I just didn’t really care – not for the lead, nor the youthful hangers on, or even much for the animals (!) somehow (the squirrel lost me as soon as it opened its mouth). I most identified with the ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), stroppy and not wanting to be part of things.

Visually it all looks pretty great, sure. And yet I never had a real ‘wow’ moment. Tonally, throwing in something utterly fantastical kind of felt for the sake of it, than part of the plot. And don’t get me started on the ‘exotic’ island ruled by pirates.

The voice actors and RDJ – although not his ‘hmm’ Welsh accent, that to my ears wasn’t just off (and frequently slipping) but sapped a lot of performance oomph – can probably walk away okay, but I’d suggest the rest of the human cast, including Jessie Buckley, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Sheen hamming it up to heaven, possibly just omit this one from their CVs.

I dunno. Maybe the kids will love it. Personally, while it wasn’t (as half-expected, utterly) awful – in fact, after a tough day, I did sort of appreciate the sweetness and a few of the attempts at humour – I can only suggest that you don’t bother. Overall: meh.

Released: 7th February 2020
Viewed: 14th February 2020
Running time: 101 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 5/10

Bombshell (2019)

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Based on real events, Bombshell is the story of the women who brought down the powerful head of Fox News, exposing the toxic culture of sexual harassment and coercion behind the headlines.

I was on the fence about seeing this one, mainly as I have very little knowledge of the events portrayed. I read that the real people are captured perfectly by the actors, but I couldn’t have told you who Megyn Kelly was – although googling for pictures, I am impressed at Charlize Theron’s subtle yet spot-on transformation. I’m even more awed by her performance, which is fantastic, as are those of Margot Robbie as the new, wide-eyed ingenue, and Nicole Kidman as the first woman to risk everything by going public and trying to bring down the all-powerful Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, fantastically slimy).

I think the real ‘shock’ is how recent the events portrayed are. This is set in 2016, not the 60s or 70s, not a point where we can nod sagely and say ‘how times have changed’. This is three frickin’ years ago, that people thought they could get away with such behaviour. That’s… chilling.

Still, I thought I lost a little of the impact by being so unfamiliar with the players and events. For me, the ‘setting’ detail that really shone out was a lot of stuff about Donald Trump. They’ve used archive footage, and wow is it damning – and almost unthinkable that they could make a movie with this kind of thing about the *current* president.

I could hope it all might serve as a cautionary tale for some, too, but… hmm!

I also enjoyed the last act catalog of cameos – so many great actresses given 2 or 3 lines but still taking part. The stylistic choices fit perfectly, with frequent to-camera statements that bring the audience in seeming very natural given the newsroom setting.

Powerful and eye-opening, Bombshell is worth the watch for the outstanding performances and a story well-told

Released: 17th January 2020 (UK)
Viewed: 17th January 2020
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

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Ten year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an ardent member of the Hitler Youth, discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in the attic. There are so many ways this scenario could have played out. But instead of a dark and gloomy slice of ‘reality’, screenwriter and director Taika Waititi has taken the opportunity to give history’s darkest moment a great big ‘F-you’. Casting himself as Jojo’s imaginary friend, Adolf (!), is genius, and watching the idiotic Fuhrer bumbling around the boy’s imagination is the perfect satire.

The movie’s irreverent tone could have taken a huge misstep with this and at other points, but instead it walks the line perfectly balanced between heart wrenching and completely hilarious.

The opening scene is just perfect. It starts with the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which they also recorded in German (seeing as they started out in Hamburg, makes sense). I was so busy squee’ing over recognising the song that it took my brain a moment to realise I wasn’t watching 1960s footage of Beatlemania. That comparison, that realisation that the same fanaticism was in play in 1940s Germany – kick to the gut, and first of many.

The juxtaposition of the humour and the dark plays throughout. For instance, Stephen Merchant (brilliantly cast as the Gestapo agent, looming over everyone) is ridiculous but at the same time, the character has so much power to destroy lives that it’s terrifying. On the other hand, the growing disillusionment portrayed by Sam Rockwell’s ‘Colonel K’ challenges the pantomime baddy portrayal of Nazi officers. Even as atrocities were being carried out, real people were trying to live real lives, as best as they could manage.

There’s so much to dissect about this movie. What is says about human beings, how ‘movements’ can sweep people up, willing or otherwise. But the real genius is that you don’t have to spend 2 hours in heavy thought – you get a funny, moving, surprising movie experience, and it’s perhaps only afterwards you realise just how much it had to teach.

Absolutely recommended.

Released: 1st January 2020
Viewed: 10th January 2020
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10