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

The Call of the Wild (2020)

call of the wild poster

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

The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

mercies cover

“Last night Maren dreamt a whale beached itself on the rocks outside her house.”

On Christmas Eve in 1617, almost the entire male population of the tiny fishing village of Vardo, Norway, is lost in a terrible storm. Left behind in grief, the women of the village have to find a new way to survive.

Eighteen months later, their fragile new order faces a terrible threat in the form of Absalom Cornet, a Scottish witchfinder. His religious fervour has no place for independent women, and the horrors of the storm will seem like a mercy compared to what’s ahead…

This is a beautifully written, wonderfully evocative piece of writing. The author captures so much of the lives and hardships, the fear and jealousy, and unexpected passions. However, even though I was engrossed, this is far from an easy read. It is deeply unsettling – as it should be, given that it’s based on real events. History was rarely kind, and this is some of the worst: women deemed ‘unnatural’ for stepping into so-called men’s roles, forced to for survival and damned for it anyway. The horror of the ‘righteous’ and their wielding of power.

And so, while I praise the writing, I can’t wholly recommend the read: it’s dark, it’s terrifying. Hopefully not too much of a spoiler, but I’d hoped for more of a sense of redemption, somehow. Overall: powerful, but not a little upsetting.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 40 chapters
First published: February 2020
Series: none
Read from 26th January – 3rd February 2020

My rating: 8/10

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

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

jojo rabbit poster

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

21 Bridges (2019)

21 bridges poster

When a robbery goes wrong and several cops are left dead, who else would be called in but the cop that kills cop killers? Fresh from an Internal Affairs review board, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is left in no doubt what is expected of him in this case. Given just a matter of hours to catch the killers, before those ’21 Bridges’ in and out of the island of Manhattan must be reopened, the race is on and tension levels are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the robbers are doubting the job they’ve just pulled, or the stumbling blocks to their escape. Davis, too, is questioning if things are quite what they seem.

Mark Kermode described this as a “B-movie with an A-list cast”, and quite frankly I can’t top that. 21 Bridges is a pretty straightforward crime thriller, with even the ‘twist’ signposted practically from the beginning. And yet, it’s well made with an excellent cast, and manages to be perfectly watchable and indeed, quite enjoyable.

Still, there’s nothing too novel here. Production values aside, this could have been made at pretty much any point from the 1970s onward. Grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the action – brain not particularly required.

Released: 22nd November 2019
Viewed: 22nd November 2019
Running time: 99 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Legion (season 1)

We meet David Haller as a patient in Clockworks mental institution, where he’s been for the past several years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. But what if the voices he hears aren’t mental illness at all – what if he’s actually one of the most powerful mutants on the planet?

Legion is part of the X-Men universe (and similar but not quite to Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, at least in theme), based on the Marvel Comics (which I’ve never read, so no views on the adaptation). However, this bears little resemblance to the movies, and is all the better for it, in my opinion. The look is oddly old-fashioned – fashion, old-school tech – maybe 60s or 70s, but it’s not a period piece. It’s not about saving the world, or acting like superheros, but the far more personal story of one man fighting for a life worth living.

Story-wise, this needs a little attentioned paid. David’s life goes from boring routine to terrifying flight; the amazement of learning about his new abilities and the horror of his past. Things jump back and forth between the different times and memories, really brilliantly mirroring some of the confusion of David’s illness.

As things progress, everything gets that bit weirder. There are other mutants, and a shadowy quasi-government department. There is a lot of mystery around David’s abilities and ‘illness’ – who or what is the yellow-eyed demon, for instance?

I absolutely loved this first series. It makes so much sense that mutant abilities could be mistaken for mental illness, and being told it’s actually super-power is still greeted with so much doubt. But then – oh! Yeah, no spoilers 😉 I particularly liked the performances of Dan Stevens as David, on his journey from meek to figuring himself out, and Aubrey Plaza as Lenny who gets to run the gamut of unhinged, sexy, predatory and just out there.

If you can, it really works as a binge-watch, one episode flowing into the next, helping you as best as you can to keep hold of the twisty thread of things. Everything is very weird, from the deep sea diver in an ice cube to the various powers, and the style is very reflective of this: tilt-shift camera shots, a bollywood number, odd mental tricks and traps. But if you’re willing to go for the ride, I absolutely think it’s worth it!

First broadcast: 2017 – rewatched ahead of final season
Series: 1 of 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 9/10