Whatever you think of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films, they certainly are very interesting and they make you pay attention. His latest film, ‘The Favourite’ is certainly both. There is a dangerously deranged quality to the film that is hilarious and makes the actors rise to levels you didn’t think they were capable of. There is some great acting here, starting with Olivilia Coleman who plays a frail queen who mostly leaves her decision making to her trusted Sarah (Rachel Weisz) In comes Abigail (Emma Stone) and we see a lose of a balance in the power structure. And then some. And then mayhem ensues. At first, I thought it was kind of bad that there is no one to root for, until you realize that these people exist in a Lanthimos world that they are all crazed evil – you just go along for the ride and check morality at the door. There is delicious fun when Sarah spars with Robert Harley, played by Nicholas Hoult (he has never been better here) and there is delicious fun when Abigail tries to weasle her way in the Queen’s circle. There’s a lot going on but it it never feels crowded, and when you get to he cynical finale, you even root for everyone as you root for no one. The title is prophetic – ‘The Favourite’ will end up as one of my favorite films of the year.
I was six years old when the real ‘Battle of The Sexes’ tennis match happened so I do not have much recollection of it. So I went into this movie not really knowing a lot of the ‘back story’ behind the historic tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ is pretty much a straightforward retelling of what happened before the match, with a lot of rom-com thrown in, on Billie’s side anyway.
I did not mind the movie, and have to admit that I was taken along its sweeping journey (I truly did not know who won) and I look at this film kind of like a snapshot of a time. It’s 1973, and women’s rights are just starting to be bandied about, and of course, gay rights are still a lifetime away. I looked at it as an interesting story commenting of how things were back then, more than three decades ago. This has great performances from both Emma Stone and Steve Carrell (playing Billie and Bobby) and you can marvel at both.
I wish it stayed with me, though. I saw it, and I kind of forgot about it right away. While essential, it did seem that the story seem dated, and a lot of what they were fighting for before is no more. But am I just being complacent? Now more than ever, these rights are slowly being taken away by the Trump administration. I just wish the movie inspired me more, it just all seemed so bland and vanilla.
If you asked me to name one movie I was looking forward to seeing this Holiday season, my answer would be “La La Land.” So when I got an invitation to an advanced screening, I grabbed the opportunity right away. When I got there, there was a very weird vibe at the theater. We had to go through two security checks – worse than TSA – and then they had to confiscate our phones during the movie. It threw me off – I told my seat mate that I can’t remember the last time I have been away from my phone for that long a time. But I do get why they did it.
So maybe that was the reason why it took me a little bit to get into it, when this movie should really be a case of love at first sight. The opening number is big and bombastic, and I bet it catches everyone’s attentions right away. This is a big musical movie, a throweback to the big MGM ones, though of course it feels modern and contemporary. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this film is unabashedly romantic, as a matter of fact, I cannot remember a recent movie that is as focused a love story as this one. And it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as lovers, and they are both love personified. Stone’s doe eyes and Gosling’s boyish charms make them the perfect couple, and they sing and dance flawlessly that it seems that this is as close to perfect a movie for my taste.
So why then did I, initially, feel lukewarm about it ? Don’t get me wrong, I ended up really loving it towards the end but it took me a little bit to get there. The pacing in the beginning was a tad slow, the music was more Jason Robert Brown than Gershwin (and I like Brown but of course love Gershwin) I think maybe the sound at the theater wasn’t as commanding as I thought it could be, and that hurt of course. or maybe me being away from my phone took a little getting used to.
Still, I list the things I loved: the jazz in here is stellar, the acting touched me, and the last ten minutes of the movie is both jubilant and heartbreaking. I know I loved this movie, but right now I am conflicted by how much. I think this is the kind of movie that would grown with repeated viewings, and since the film is a valentine to the city of Los Angeles, it would be pretty great to see it in Los Angeles, a city I frequent.
So, you have not heard the last from me about La La Land. The rest is still unwritten.
Ten seconds into ‘Irrational Man,’ I realized I was about to watch a Woody Allen film when I saw the familiar background, that signature font, and the jazz instrumentals background. Then my heart skipped a bit. For whatever I feel for him as a person, I have always been a fan of Allen’s work. I remember being a young man in Manhattan in the mid 80s binge-watching his earlier movies because I thought it would give me a sense of the true spirit of being in New York City (It did.) Over the years, I won’t dispute the fact that the quality of his movies have ebbed and flowed, but I always say that it is like pizza – even bad ones satisfy. I know a lot of people think ‘Irrational Man’ fall under the bottom Allens, and I kind of disagree it is on the lower end. But I still found a lot to like about it. I liked Joaquin Phoenix’s everyday man performance – he was perfectly cast as the attractive/nebby college Philosophy professor, and I could easily imagine someone like Emma Srone’s Jill get infatuated with him. But Still gives an unbelievably busy performance. Perhaps sensing how good Phoenix is, she becomes a little too earnest, and delivers a little too much. For a film about a perfect murder, Allen’s screenplay is on the lazy side. But somehow I never expected this film to solely focus on that. I think the film is more about the characters and their eccentricities. I don’t consider this one of Allen’s best, but I was never bored by it.