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 ūüėČ

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

Bombshell (2019)

bombshell poster

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

American Made (2017)

American Made poster

In the late 1970s, pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is approached by the CIA to take aerial reconnaissance photos over South America’s less-than-stable regimes. Picked up by a drug cartel after stopping to refuel, Barry might be forgiven for thinking he’s in hot water – but instead, the cartel offers him a ton of cash to use his CIA status to help smuggle their drugs back into the USA.

Playing both sides keeps Barry a wealthy man, and indeed, the most fun moments come as the character struggles to find places to stash his cash. However, while his life is on the up, you can’t help but know there’s likely to be a cliff-drop at some point – and possibly no plane to keep Barry aloft.

This is a fun movie, no doubt, but I have to admit to being a little bored during the opening half hour or so. I can only suggest that perhaps the film makers left in a few too many of the “based on a true story” details at the expense of pace. Still, things do get more exciting as the film progresses, although¬†there was just a sense of predictability for me.

It’s an odd time for cinema, methinks: I seem to spend my time rating movies as slightly-better-than-average, but either talking up ones that have been otherwise slated (Dark Tower, Valerian, Hitman’s Bodyguard) or finding myself disappointed with things that sounded like they were doing better (Atomic Blonde). This, sadly, falls into the latter category: high hopes of fun, turned out just a little ‘meh’.

That said, it is very well made, and the actors all seem to be having fun. There are a few stylistic additions, from the 70s-esque opening credits to a few fun maps animations, which I thought added something positive in small doses. Oh, and try to count future presidents ūüėČ

Overall, a decent enough, fun flick, but I personally thought it took a while to get the wing flaps up and get going.

Released: 25th August 2017
Viewed: 26th August 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Hidden Figures (2016)

Once upon a time, the word ‘computer’ actually meant a person –¬†someone who does computations. Before we had the electronic versions, even the ones that took up vast rooms of space never mind the power in your phone, calculations all had to be done by hand. And that includes the complex mathematics required to put a man in space – equations for speed and orbit and so many other life-threatening details, all requiring a human brain, pencil and paper.

In the early 1960s, a battle was going on between the USA and Russia to win the ‘space race’: being first was everything in launching satellites, putting a man into space, orbiting the Earth, reaching the moon. And while NASA struggled with such lofty goals, the people working for them were often facing much more fundamental struggles: to be fairly treated if they weren’t white men.

Hidden Figures is based on the true stories of three black women who not only worked for NASA, but were¬†fundamental in the successes that included the famous¬†“One small step” for Neil Armstrong in 1969. History tells of rooms of white males,¬†and finally this movie is trying – albeit imperfectly at times – to point out that that is far from the whole story.

I absolutely *loved* this movie. It was heart-wrenching watching the snubs and struggles, and I felt so pleased to live in a world where my reality is to see that with a large dollop of ‘WTF?’ – shame we’ve still got a ways to go! The film has you rooting 100% for the three female leads¬†– and quite frankly I’m shocked that there were no Oscars taken home – while keeping the story focused on the space race. Such is the power of the story-telling that, even more than half a century on and knowing how things turned out, I was still on the edge of my seat as the flimsiest of tech¬†hurtled brave souls¬†into space.

If I have any complaints about the film, it’s only that I think it still sugar-coated some of the struggles. I have read that the whole removing of bathroom signs was quite wrongly handed to a white character, for instance. It was fascinating – and a bit sickening – to see what life was like under segregation and when women were so openly second class citizens – but for every gain seen, I did find myself wondering if, for instance, the husbands were really so supportive of their ‘little women’, or if that had been brushed over for the sake of¬†keeping the movie up-tempo and uplifting.

Still, absolutely recommended – best film I’ve seen in a¬†long time!

Released: 17th February 2017
Viewed: 28th March 2017
Running time: 127 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10

War Dogs (2016)

Every once in a while I go see a movie I know very little about, and probably wouldn’t have bothered with if not for (a) someone else making the choice, and (b) a cinema pass (i.e. ‘free’ movies!). So it was with¬†War Dogs – sure, I’d seen the trailer, and actually, I’d thought “hell no”. But pickings were slim, and so it was.

Following a scandal¬†around defence contracts being awarded (ahem) less than fairly, a public procurement scheme is set up by the American government. Thus, 20-somethings like Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) can bid for the ‘crumbs’¬†– and these crumbs can be worth millions.

The plot picks up with Efraim recruiting old school friend David (Miles Teller), a laid back stoner and war protester who manages to eschew morals for cold hard cash when life suddenly gets complicated. As the business gains momentum, the pair go from searching the internet list and making phone calls to finding themselves far deeper into danger. Is it that taste of adrenaline that sends them making riskier and riskier decisions?

Having known very little about this moving going in, it came as a surprise to me to read afterwards that it was at least partly billed as a comedy – from the director of¬†The Hangover no less (which explains the Bradley Cooper ‘cameo’ role). Well, just no: this is a drama with a vein of blackest humour, but it is not a comedy in any respects. Perhaps that explains why the tone felt a little weird at times, though.

The emphasis is far more on David and his family life as¬†he gets sucked deeper into everything, plus the relationship between the two leads. The moments of¬†high action – like the trip through the Iraqi ‘triangle of death’ – are odd islands in a movie otherwise far more domestic, but then I guess that was the point: war happens elsewhere, it’s slightly unreal while you’re sitting behind a computer.

Overall I’d describe¬†War Dogs as an entertaining, solid enough look at the Iraq/Afghan wars from a slightly different angle than most movies. There’s no glorification here¬†– from the opening we are told that this is war as business and financial profiteering.¬†The “I didn’t mean to be an immoral arms dealer” angle is a little trite, perhaps,¬†and the story more than a little one sided, but at the same time scarily plausible for this ‘based on a true story’ tale.

Released: 26th August 2016
Viewed: 26th August 2016
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6/10