Netflix kept on recommending ‘The Duchess’ to me – via email, via the home screen when I log on – that it tired me out and I just pressed play without knowing ANYTHING from it. Well, to my surprise, it is (kinda) British so I fell in love with right away.
It’s about a mom (played by Katherine Ryan) who is raising her school-age child, and she is saucy. She curses, she fights with other moms in her school, but she does it all in shiny sequiny designer clothes. So what’s not to love?
And in the first episode, she gets the realization that she wants another child, because her first one turns out so well. She tries the local sperm bank, but is disillusioned by the teenage boys depositing sperm. So could it be her kinda boyfriend Evan? Nah, she doesn’t want to mess up what they have by adding fatherhood to its plate, so she speaks to her daughter’s father, a lapsed boy band member, because he did such a good job with their first child. This is a fun and witty show – sometimes crass but they say it with a British accent so its classier! I can feel the six episodes fly already.
Again we have two films here that are very similar in theme – one celebrates fashion, and one celebrates beauty pageantry. Plus, both are set more turmoiled times – ‘Papicha’ during the mid 90s when the country had civil unrest, and ‘Misbehaviour’ is set amidst the Women’s Liberation rallies of London in 1970. Both are directed by females and I very much liked both movies.
Mounia’s Meddour’s ‘Papicha’ is the more unnerving movie of the lot, and from what I read is fairly autobiographical. The film is about Nedjima (played by Lyna Khoudri) who get caught in the crossfires of the civil wars via her passion for designing clothes. As Muslim insurgents come in her neighborhood, she sees an abundance of posters saying women should be wearing abayas and hijabs. As a counter to that, she has an idea to create clothes using the haik, the traditional garment worn by Algerians. This is her big act of defiance, and one that has catastrophic results for everyone. The visuals here are very powerful, and I have to admit that I was not well versed in this part of history before watching the film. There were some parts that were definitely difficult to watch, but all in all, a very worthwhile film. This was screened at Cannes last year, and I am just catching up to it now.
‘Misbehaviour’ is about a different kind of rebellion – women’s liberation – and the film is set during a more specific event, the 1970 Miss World Pageant in London. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, the film is about the five women who was arrested for disrupting the pageant, viewing the proceeding as a ‘cattle ca”. This stars a bunch of good actresses, like Kiera Knightley and Jessie Buckley playing the feminist activist. But half the film is about the inner workings of the pageant, and I thought that was the more interesting part – the activists are written like cardboard characters. 1970 was also the year that the Miss World Organization crowned its first black recipient, and it was curiously also the year that South Africa had two delegates – one black and one white. The pageant was taking more progressive steps (whether intentionally or not) and that was sidetracked by all the protests. I found the film fairly engaging as well, and I was especially taken by Greg Kinnear’s performance playing Bob Hope. Put this one under your to-watch pile!
‘The Windermere Children’ is a fascinating story, and one I did not know about. Directed by Michael Samuels for the BBC, it is a film about Holocaust children who got transported to England after the war. They are sent to the Windermere Estates to be ‘revitalized’ before they head back to society. It is an interesting story about their process of re acclimation and how the teachers and adults made clumsy efforts in dealing with the children. As you can imagine, these children have gone through a lot, and the film dealt with the different way each child dealt with their situations. There are some great performances here, especially with the children, and it was touching to see at the end what became of them as they tried to escape the trauma they went through. At times the feel did not go deep enough with some of these stories, but all in all a great effort in presenting a narrative that may not be known to many. I recommend!
What is it about falling for the unattainable? It’e the theme as old as time that keeps on taunting us, and I have to admit there is a certain romanticism to it that I clung to when I was younger. But now that I feel that time is so precious, unrequited love just seems a waste of my time. I recently saw two movies with this theme and found myself still getting into the idea, but feel I am a lot more grounded now about reality.
In Andrew Steggal’s ‘Departure,’ that theme is a lot more forgivable, given that the story centers around fifteen year old Elliot (Alex Lawther) who goes home with this mother to their vacation house in France to pack it up as they are in the process of selling it. he meets a young boy Clement, who fascinates him, and this gives himself a clue to their sexual orientation. This languid-paced film is slow, even for me, and Juliet Stevenson who plays his mother is fantastic. All of that still cannot overcome the laziness in storytelling. This held such promise that did not deliver.
Speaking of slow, Marco Berger’s ‘The Blond One’ is glacial in pace. There is a lot of subtlety int he story that every minute, every silence, every ‘insignificant’ scene all constitute great narrative. And again, with the unattainable. This Argentine drama centers on two men who have recently become roommates. Even though Gabriel (Gaston Re) is seemingly ‘straight’ (he brings home women) he carries on a relationship with Juan (Alfonson Baron) and it becomes a no-strings-attached relationship, until it becomes not. I had a little bit of a problem with the dynamics of the relationship, but then I thought why should I when they don’t. It shows more about societal limitations in Argentina about homosexuality (or bisexuality) that men are not comfortable expressing their orientation. This is one of those movies that quietly gets you. You watch and you realize you are suddenly so affected by it.
I know the teacher-student love affair is sort of a thing, a fetish ff some sort for some people, but in Barnaby Southcombe’s ‘Scarborough,’ it’s the subject of parallel stories between two sets of lovers, and yes, they are of the teacher-student kind. The material is derived from a play by Fiona Evans, and I bet it played better on stage. The framing of the film is a little awkward, and the story opened up just highlighted its pretenses. At times, to me, it even felt icky, especially the Lolita-esque set up between Aiden (Edward Hogg) and Beth (jessica Arden) These situations should be a lot more nuanced than presented here, but we don’t get a sense of that. I did appreciate the location, which is a North Yorkshire resort town, that seems appealing, though I read that the place has seen better times. Maybe this film will give it more attention.
For me, it is interesting that after all these years, there are still very interesting stories being told about the second world war. And I myself am more into them like before – perhaps old age has done this to me. I recently saw a film from last year, ‘The Keeper,’ which is an Anglo/German co production. It tells the true story of Bert Trautmann, a British POW who became a football hero for Manchester. It is a great story, and the film, co-written and directed by Marcus H Rosenmuller, is a great watch. It shows how Trautmann overcame being a Nazi sympathizer to become a football hero. There are great performances here, anchored by David Kross’s charming portrayal of Traumtann (In some markets, that is the title of the film) I think I gravitated towards it because of the great love story between him and Margaret, the British woman he married (played by Freya Mavor) I got caught in the story instantly, and I this in the end feels a little more than just a football romance, it gives us a lesson on humanity and love. Much recommended.
There was certainly a lot of thought in Avi Nesher’s ‘Past Life.’ It’s a story of a young woman who finds out secrets from her family history. For me, this is a more interesting picture than an enjoyable one – there is too much exposition and the payoff was a little limp. Still, this has some vivid characters that you will want to know, and some good performances, especially from Joy Rieger as Sophi. I also thought the production values were well done, as this is a period piece set in 1977. It felt like so.
I was lucky to be in Los Angeles, because ‘God’s Own Country’ had a very limited release schedule and I was even able to use my Movie Pass to watch it. Directed by Francis Lee, this movie is set in Pennine Mountains, in England, which is a farming town. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) takes care of the herd, and he is somewhat of a lost soul, as well: he goes drinking every night at the local bar, probably to forget the fact that he is hiding his homosexuality from his parents. When Romanian Gheorghe arrives to help out (a handsome Alex Secareanu) he is met with hostility by Johnny, who is wary of him.
And they they fall in love. And what happens next is kind of sweet. Some have compared this movie to ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ but the scope of this film is smaller, and the love story is more pointed, and sweeter. One can’t help but get involved in their love, amidst the picturesque landscape. The latter part of the film is on the predictable side, but the pay off ending doesn’t feel tacked on, thanks to sensitive acting by the leads. The languid pacing can be argued, but I just take it as indicative of how slow the pace of life in those parts. But the real get here is the sense of genuine affection the two characters have for each other that was essayed by the movie. This a small film with a big heart.
Just like every other self-respecting gay boy of the 80s, I was a ‘Dynasty’ watcher. And of course, by transitivity, a Joan Collins fan – I, like everythng else, was awed and fascinated by Alexis Carrington Colby – her fabulousness, her glamour, her everything. My friends and I would reenact all of alexis and Krystle’s fight scenes from the show, adding even more dramatic effect. But was there ever a follow up project for her that matched Alexis? Maybe I wasn’t paying attention if there was.
Cue: ‘The Time Of Their Lives,’ where Collins plays Helen, a washed up actress from the 60s in a senior home. She finds out that the director of her biggest hit (we find out later he was her lover as well) has died and she wants to go to the funeral in Il de Re, France. However could she go from England to there, without having any money?
Well, there’s Priscilla (Pauline Collins) who accidentally gets trapped on her bus, and they go on a road trip together, getting into bumps along the way, of course, just like every other movie road trip out there. You can see the bumps a mile away, but you know what, both Collins have great rapport that you go along with it, even enjoy it.
Ultimately, this is all about Joan: there she is, larger than life, with her updo coif and Chanel jacket. There she is – self-deprecating, and down to earth. (The scene where she takes off her wig will break your heart) She is aspirational and relatable at the same time, and she is delicious every time she is on screen, with that boundless charisma. I lover her here, and I love this movie for existing.
Although ‘Love Of My Life’ is set in Toronto, I thought I would love it because it stars and is about British people, Anglophile that I am. Directed by Joan Carr-Wiggins, it stars Anna Chancellor as Grace, a woman who potentially could only have five days left to live – she has a brain tumor. her husband is crying as the film opens, and then we met a motley crew – her ex-husband and his current girlfriend, among other people. But these people are so unlikable that if I were Grace, I would think it may not be too bad for me to go right away. The movie didn’t engage me at all, as I thought it would, and it’s attempt at humor there a major fail. The film suffers from being too bland, in my opinion – it’s not necessarily a bad film, just nothing for anyone to be excited about – even the cast seems bored.
I just saw two films in a couple of days with similar themes – taking care of elderly people. This topic is very close to me because I went through it, and in some ways I am kind of glad that I have ‘graduated’ from it, but it certainly is a story that can be told in very different ways.
Amanda Sharpe’s ‘Sticky Notes’ stars Rose Leslie as a struggling dancer in Los Angeles who gets ‘summoned’ by her father in Florida after he reveals to her that he has been diagnosed with cancer. So she sets out to visit at first, and goes through the process of giving care to his father as he starts chemotherapy. Ray Liotta plays his father – rough, gruff, difficult. (I was racking my brain the whole first part of the film to see where I knew Rose Leslie from, for she seemed ver familiar, until I realized she is in that spinoff of The Good Wife on CBS.) Their strained father-daughter relationship gets a boost here, and things get fairly predictable after. There is a little bit of unnecessary epilogue here but all in all this is a pleasant if perfunctory film about loss, love, and all its accessories.
I liked the ‘The Carer,’ much better. This is a British-Hungarian production that more or less treads the same formula. An elderly Shakespearean actor, played by Brian Cox gets taken cared of by a young Hungarian actress, and yadda yadda yadda they learn more from each other. I mean, I can just give you the synopsis and you can more or less tell what the film would be like. But the script here has a lot of nice touches, and Coco Konig makes a fine debut as the caregiver. Or perhaps I am just an Anglophile – the sights and sounds of London and British countryside was very much appealing to me from start to finish, and of course, Brian Cox holds the screen effortlessly. The feel of this film is more TV movie, but i’s quite rewarding nonetheless.