Down in the Delta

This week’s film is directed by the legend that is one Dr. Maya Angelou. I’m not going to speak about her in the past tense because she lives on always and has been one of the biggest constants of my life. My mother recently gave me Letter to my Daughter and it’s just perfect.

While I know her life experiences could not be more different to mine, her words still speak to all women and I can’t think of a more powerful, beautiful voice. How is she as a movie director though? Let’s see, shall we?

Down in the Delta (1998)

Rosa Lynn sends her druggie daughter Loretta and her children Thomas and Tracy away from the big city to live with their uncle Earl in the ancestral home in rural Mississippi.

Directed by: Maya Angelou
Starring: Alfre WoodardMary AliceWesley Snipes

*Spoilers*

Sometimes, the last place you expected to be is the one place you’ve always belonged…

Rosa Lynn Sinclair (Mary Alice) lives in a Chicago housing project with her troubled daughter Loretta (Woodard), and Loretta’s two children: two-year-old Tracy and 13-year-old Thomas (Kulani Hassen and Mpho Koaho). The poor woman is trying desperately to keep her family together but unfortunately, unemployment is rife, gang violence is a very real concern – and Loretta is very much off the wagon.

Thomas helps care for Autistic Tracy but it’s not very fair on either of them, or on Rosa – especially when Loretta is out living it up until the early hours. Everything looks bleak but for a moment there, Loretta is hopeful when she spots a Help Wanted sign at the local grocery store. The family pin all their hopes on the new job which will keep her out of trouble but also give them a much needed second income, maybe even get Loretta out of her mother’s tiny apartment and into a home of their own.

Alas, it’s not meant to be and a crushed Loretta falls back into old habits. When Rose goes to retrieve her from the local crack house, it’s the final straw. She decides it’s high time her grouchy brother-in-law Earl (Al Freeman Jr.) takes them on for the Summer. Earl lives in Mississippi in the family home and he reluctantly agrees to take his niece and her children for a while but only because Rosa blackmails him. More on that later.

One long Greyhound bus ride later and the family arrive at their destination. Thomas has been promised interesting wildlife and fields in which to run free – and as a budding photographer, he’s not against this change of scenery.

Meanwhile, Earl is civil enough but the poor man has his own heartache to contend with: his lovely wife Annie (Esther Rolle) has late stage dementia and needs round the clock care.

Well, the pace of life is infinitely different in Mississippi, and Earl will suffer no fools. Loretta is expected to get up early and help him at his chicken-only restaurant, first making sausages in the kitchen, then moving up to working the till and waitressing. And what do you know? She’s a bloody natural.

Without the demon drink and drugs, Loretta is free to thrive – and when she reconnects with Earl’s son Will (Wesley Snipes), she starts to dream bigger, learning the definition of entrepreneur. When the local chicken factory – and the biggest employer in town – announces its closure, it’s Loretta who gees everyone up to fight back, much to Earl’s delight.

Thomas and Tracy too settle into rural life, and Loretta questions whether or not she can go back to Chicago now, despite her mama being settled there. Will there be good enough reason to stay?

There’s a lot of focus throughout this story on a silver candelabra named ‘Nathan’ which is a bone of contention between Earl and his sister-in-law Rosa. The roots of this thread and what this talisman represents is incredibly moving – and once understood, roots Loretta back into her rich family history.

Thoughts

Oh God. I am a great believer in a good cry and this got me good several times. It’s just lovely and although there are no surprises, it moves at a pleasing pace and knocks out some brilliant performances. Alfre Woodard in particular brings nuance to the character of Loretta and even though she makes questionable life choices, my sympathies are always with her.

I would have liked more one on one time with her and her daughter though. Part of Loretta’s deal is the constant guilt she lives with, blaming herself for Tracy’s condition – and although things get better, I want to see more of it. It’s so touching when Tracy says her first words: “Bye bye”.

My stand out might be Thomas though, that kid seems to have the patience of a saint and treats everybody around him with a kindness I’d struggle to muster in the same circumstances. He has his own entrepreneurial streak, earning money taking pictures of tourists when he should be in school. It’s devastating to think kids like him IRL don’t have many opportunities and have to fight extra hard to change their circumstances.

At one point Thomas speaks very candidly about his plan to get a gun to protect himself in the projects, much to Earl’s shock and dismay. What different worlds the two of them live in.

Down in the Delta actually left me feeling a little sad personally. Loretta, as she bonds with Earl and unravels her family’s personal history, learns to appreciate where she came from and where it could take her.

Roots are so important and while my family history is by no means comparable, it reminded me of all the stories our elders take with them when they go. My grandparents never shared much of their stories with us growing up and I never knew my grandparents on my father’s side at all – now all their stories are gone forever.

I guess that’s another lesson: cherish what you have and build your foundations around it.

Unsurprisingly then the answer to the above question – how is Maya Angelou as a film director? Bloody brilliant, that’s how.

4.5/5

What does my wife think of this one? Would she put it up for the Summer – or put it up for the Summer AND MOAN ABOUT IT THE ENTIRE TIME? Find out here.

Fruitvale Station

I’m running a little low on intros for the films we’re watching lately. It just seems so empty to be continually expressing how inhumane it is the way minority groups are treated by the police – and of course, racists and society as we know it. Even now in 2020, when you’d think the world would be just a little more enlightened.

This week we learn more about the life of Oscar Grant III, who was shot and killed at the age of 22 by a police officer at Fruitvale Station, Oakland, California. A difficult, emotional story to watch but a hell of a lot harder to live/survive through, I would imagine.

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Da 5 Bloods

Welcome back to the Blog Collab. Thanks for bearing with us while I moved house and got to grips with adulthood. I did a little update here if you’re interested in hearing how that’s going.

This week we continue the theme of movies by black filmmakers with Spike Lee’s latest offering – currently streaming for free on Netflix.

I feel Mr Lee needs little introduction but I will say I was excited for this one after seeing the trailer recently – and off the back of BlacKkKlansman, which I really enjoyed. Anyway, without further ado…
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The Art of Self-Defense

I can no longer pretend we’re on track with this month’s theme. We’ve gone way off and I’m not even mad – we’ve been having a pretty good time of it too, even if our protagonists haven’t always.

This week’s pick is no different as it sees our timid central character enter the world of karate in order to arm himself against a cruel and toxic world.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

After being attacked on the street, a young man enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself from future threats.

Directed by: Riley Stearns
Starring: Jesse EisenbergImogen Poots

*Spoilers*

Casey: That’s right. I found out your real name is Leslie. I called you that to make you angry. When you think about it, Leslie is a lot more feminine sounding than Casey.

TW: Violence and violence against animals

Casey is a nervy accountant who doesn’t appear to play well with others. To be fair, his colleagues are the worst and since he doesn’t go around talking about burning down their boss’ house or take magazines full of boobs into the workplace, he’s never going to be one of them. One evening on the way home from the store, he’s brutally attacked by a gang on motorcycles. They leave him severely beaten and more frightened of the world than ever.

He considers buying a hand-gun but puts this off when he discovers the local dojo, where he meets Sensei (Alessandro Nivola). Also present at the school is Anna (Poots), a brown belt who has no time for pleasantries, though it is about to become very clear why. Also, why should she? Following his first try out session, Casey is sold on signing up for classes and finally facing his fears.

It’s not long before he earns this yellow belt though this puts more pressure on him. When he fails to break a wooden board during class, he tries to give the belt back to Sensei, who is forced to give him a stern talking to. When asked what his deal is, Casey admits to the mugging and makes it clear he is scared of the world and more specifically, other men. He states that he wishes to become the very thing that terrifies him.

Careful what you wish for, yo.

Sensei, I should have said before, is a strict man with very firm views on what constitutes ‘masculine’. When he first learns Casey’s name he comments on how ‘feminine’ it sounds. He asks him what music he likes, and when Casey replies, tells him he is wrong and that he should only like metal. Warm and fluffy he is not – and he lives by a very specific set of rules – which includes; no shoes on the mat, no food and drink, and guns are for pussies. He also lives in awe of the late great Grand Master, whose framed photo he bends the knee to.

Casey is invited to the much-coveted night class by Sensei who also tells him to stop being so scared – like it’s all just a choice. At work, when he finally returns after two months off, Casey assaults his boss (and friend) Grant by punching him in the throat – finally gaining the approval of his alpha male workmates. At home, he starts learning German (as opposed to the ‘weaker’ language of French) and tells his dog (the most adorable Dachshund) that he will no longer be coddling him. He secretly laments the fact that he isn’t a wolf: a real man’s pet.

At night class – essentially Fight Club – Casey realises that the stakes are much higher when a new pal has his arm broken for defying Sensei. That night he also witnesses Anna – the only female student – beat the living shit out of classmate Thomas (Steve Terada). He assumes this is because she has been overlooked for a black belt over Thomas but she later explains it’s much more than that. Casey meanwhile, is starting to wonder if he’s bitten off more than he can chew. (Yes dear, you definitely have).

When Sensei offers him an accounting role at the club, following his recent unemployment, Casey becomes even more embroiled in his new lifestyle. Sensei calls him one night to tell him he’s found one of the guys who attacked him – and he’s encouraged to exact his revenge. He’s not at all sure they have the right guy but he attacks him anyway, leaving him for dead. Sensei videotapes him during the act, apparently to document his growth.

Casey’s misgivings grow stronger when he returns home to find his dog badly injured (I HATE THIS)*. The emergency vet tells him the little guy fought to the end but was eventually killed by a foot punch to the ribs. Casey confronts Sensei, who denies he had anything to do with it, especially since they were together when it happened.

Well, from here it all goes batshit as Casey is recruited to join the rest of the dojo on a mission to target people walking alone at night. On motorcycles… Hmmm.

How will Casey respond to this twist of fate?

Thoughts

This was a good movie but it was way darker than I expected. Which made it better honestly. It’s a study of the damage the patriarchy does, not only to women but to men too – and I appreciate it.

All the performances were great but particularly from Eisenberg, who I almost always enjoy but don’t really like. I warmed way more to this character than most maybe because I felt his pain. Men scare me too and it’s refreshing to ponder this view from a male perspective.

While this is a very male movie it also examines Anna’s position in such a toxic environment. As the only woman she has been permitted to teach the little kids because all women have maternal instincts, but she will never make black belt. She is better than every one of the class and yet is forced to hold back for fear of emasculating them. At one point, Sensei has her massage Casey and apologises for her having ‘weaker hands’ than a man.

When she explains how she earnt her red stripe to Casey – for taking a life – she tells a horrific story about sexual assault and victim blaming, which will surprise precisely nobody. I must admit I’m also relived that, although the pair form a friendship of sorts, there isn’t a sniff of romance.

This movie is very good at observation. It starts well with a little vignette into Casey’s personality: he’s sitting alone in a diner when two tourists enter and – conversing entirely in French – proceed to slag off their surroundings, the coffee and then Casey. Little do they realise: our protagonist is fluent in the language himself.

It is peppered with small comedic moments that made me smile and at times, feel sad and incredibly mad. Casey is a heartbreaking character who embarks on an intriguing arc that ultimately teaches him that becoming the thing he fears is not really what he wants after all.

Can he assert himself without becoming like Sensei?

Alternative film poster by The Commas

My Rating

4/5

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

It’s not on the ‘list’ but it doesn’t pass. This is a very male/masculinity driven flick with only one female character with no other women to talk to.

What does Wifey think of TAOSD? Would she award it a coloured belt or punch it with her foot? Find out here.

*I found this awesome site while writing this review: very useful to have if you’re a horror/thriller/action fan.

Diabolique

Last week’s film was so stunning – I’ve hardly stopped thinking about it. It’s a tough act to follow so I had little choice but to pull out the big guns with an absolute classic – one I’ve never seen but have always intended to.

Mental May seems to have evolved before our very eyes – starting with a real is-she/isn’t-she psychological thriller to women living unconventionally (for the period) on a remote island in Brittany. This week is about murderous French dames finally taking destiny into their own hands – while looking good smoking and being impossibly photogenic. No mean feat.

Diabolique (1955)

The wife and mistress of a loathed school principal murder him with the perfect alibi, but then his body disappears.

Directed by: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring: Simone SignoretVéra ClouzotPaul Meurisse

*Spoilers*

Christina Delassalle: There is only one possible end. We are monsters. I don’t like monsters.

Michel Delassalle (Meurisse) is a dreadful bastard. He’s also the tyrannical headmaster of a slightly rundown Parisian boarding school, which is actually owned by his wife, the sickly Christina (Véra Clouzot). Christina – or Cri-Cri as her husband likes to call her – has a heart defect and is very frail. Also at the school is teacher, Nicole Horner (Signoret) – who is also in a relationship with Michel.

Surprisingly, rather than being sworn enemies, the women seem to have a pretty solid relationship which sees them supporting one another through the hell of having to put up with Michel. Nicole gets knocked about on the regs, while Christina is verbally torn apart by her husband’s caustic words. At one point he refers to her as a ‘ruin’ yet she is reluctant to ask for a divorce because of her strong religious leanings.

As the school breaks up for the holidays (more of a long weekend), the women are cooking something up which could prove rather fun. They conspire in corners talking about poison, leading one of the students to speculate about a drinking problem. It soon becomes clear that Nicole wants to do away with mean-spirited Michel and Christina has reluctantly agreed to help her.

Christina manages to lure Michel to Nicole’s apartment outside Paris by finally threatening divorce, which he is very against. When he arrives he tells her to get her bags and promises her that the scandal of a divorce will poison her reputation at the school. Unlike her brute of a spouse, Christina actually cares about her all-boy students and wants what’s best for them.

While posing the topic of divorce, she pours him a drink laced with poison. Christina up until this point has been flipping back and forth on the whole murder thing. Just as she’s about to call it all off, Michel slaps her face and it’s chink-chink motherfucker. He necks three large glasses and falls unconscious on the bed. Nicole then arrives to finish off the job, which is to say she’s been upstairs all this time making herself a nuisance to her tenants, thus building a convincing alibi, should they need one.

She drowns Michel in the tub – much to the consternation of the couple she’s renting to – who can’t believe she’d dare run a bath so late in the evening…

The women have it all figured out and return to the school the next day with Michel’s corpse in a wicker hamper. They throw it in the pool under cover of night, figuring everyone will think it’s an accident when his body floats to the surface.

Returning to relative normality while they wait for the body to be discovered, Christina struggles with her nerves. Every time someone walks near the pool, she almost has a heart attack which isn’t that farfetched given her health concerns. When she can take no more, she begs Nicole to get the pool drained, under the guise of them having lost their keys in the water. In a particularly icky scene, one of the boys dives into the corpse-flavoured soup to retrieve them but only turns up Michel’s lighter.

The rest of the teachers, staff and students are speculating about where their headmaster could be but as a dirty dog with a filthy reputation, it’s assumed he’s just popped off to chase broads. Plus, life is far nicer without him. As time ticks on, the body fails to materialise and the caretaker empties the pool to reveal… nada. Diddly squat. Absolutely fuck all.

Where’s the damn body, yo?

Well, both women understandably start to freak out about the missing body and their friendship starts to bow under the pressure. When a body rocks up in the Seine, Christina is convinced it’s Michel and goes to the morgue to identify it. Here she bumps into De Niro-esque detective Alfred Fichet (Charles Vanel) who’s curious and vows to help her find hubs. Which makes things even more stressful.

In the meantime, bizarre things are happening around the school – yes, even weirder than a missing cadaver. One of the boys claims to be carrying out a punishment served by the headmaster himself for breaking a window, even though nobody’s seen him for days. And the suit he was wearing when he died also shows up from the dry cleaners. None of this mystery is doing our guilty babes much good, least of all the delicate flower Christina.

When Michel’s disembodied head appears in the background of a school photo, it’s the final straw for Nicole who decides to flee. Christina, now confined to her bed by the doctor, refuses to go with her and tells her she never wants to see her again. She then admits everything to Fichet in the middle of the night. Rather than arrest her, he tells her to get some rest, assuring her she’ll feel better in the morning. Will she?

Thoughts

Man this is a loooong arse review. It’s a great movie though and the ending is wicked, though disappointing for obvious reasons. I’m not going to give it away though don’t worry. I will say that I found the last ten minutes incredibly tense and atmospheric – and I loved the overall concept of the guilty party being gas-lit by a potential ghost.

Both central performances are tight AF. The two women are very different, light and dark if you will but it’s refreshing to have them on the same side. It’s progressive I would think for the time.

Apparently this was the movie that inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho which is an accolade to be proud of – and as far as I’m concerned it delivers the tension just as well. Honestly, the last line is haunting and personally, I’d like to see that sequel.

My Rating

4/5

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

Yeah it does.

What does Wifey think of this one? Would she murder its ungrateful spouse for it or leave it to fend for itself? Find out here.

The Land of Steady Habits

This week’s pick proves you can be angsty and uncertain at any age. And, despite it’s rockin’ cast, that’s about all it brings to the table for my taste. Still, Edie Falco is life.

The Land of Steady Habits (2018)

After leaving his wife and his job to find happiness, Anders befriends a drug-addicted teen, sending him down a path of reckless and shameful behaviour.

*Spoilers*

Anders (Ben Mendelsohn) has left his wife Helene (Edie Falco) and their son Preston (Thomas Mann) in favour of something better. What that something better is is anybody’s guess as it seems the happiness Anders was missing out on is nowhere to be found, even without his family standing in the way.

One night he appears at his wife’s annual Christmas party, which Helene co-hosts with her friend and neighbour Sophie (Elizabeth Marvel). Unimpressed by the company and still hung up on his wife, who is now happy with a new boyfriend, he stumbles across Sophie’s son Charlie and his buddies in the garden. Here he smokes a little weed with them and then he goes on his merry way. Later, he discovers Charlie has overdosed on PCP at the party and is now in hospital, stable but still under observation.

Drugs are a bit of a theme here as Anders’ son Preston has had his own experiences of rehab. Which might explain why he finds it hard to hold down a job and is somewhat irresponsible, despite all the effort his mother has put in to get him a good role at her firm. Meanwhile, Anders bonds with Charlie when he visits him in hospital and Charlie makes it clear that he looks up to him because he’s so unlike his own parents – and essentially acts like he doesn’t give a fuck.

Anders does give a fuck but is pretty aimless, especially now he’s retired, wandering between unsuccessful one night stands, falling behind on the mortgage payments on his wife’s house and keeping it secret from his family. When he meets Barbara (Connie Britton) in a strip club things start looking up, until he slags off her preferred reading material.

Preston fucks up at work and is booted out of the family home by his mother – while Charlie’s family get ready to send him to rehab following his overdose. On the night before he’s due to leave, he runs away with his pet turtle in tow and turns to his new hero Anders. Whether Anders is the right person to persuade him to do what’s right is left to be seen – particularly when they do more drugs together – but this isn’t the happiest tale, and both Preston and his father are about to learn one of life’s most brutal lessons.

Can Anders find the elusive happiness he’s been searching for? Will Preston sort it out before it’s too late?

Thoughts

Ugh. I mean this is technically a good looking, thought-provoking rumination on ageing – a coming-of-age tale for middle-age and I respect it for that but I just found it too ambling.

I really don’t think the women of the piece were given enough to do and maybe I think that because I was distracted. I wanted more for Edie and Connive, both magnificent actors who should have held my attention. I guess I don’t care or can’t relate to a middle-aged white man’s struggle to live his best life?

I really don’t have very much else to add. It means well, it’s not badly made or acted, it just didn’t raise any kind of feeling in me and it’s a shame.

What does my Queen think of this one? Would she do PCP with it in the garden or leave it to live alone in it’s car? Find out here.

Horse Girl

This week we examine serious mental illness with Alison Brie… or is it something even more complex than that – like aliens or time-travel?

One thing’s for sure, you’ll likely leave this without answers and that’s okay. I say just enter this one with an open mind and ride it to your own conclusions.

Horse Girl (2020)

A socially awkward woman with a fondness for arts and crafts, horses, and supernatural crime shows finds her increasingly lucid dreams trickling into her waking life.

Sarah (Brie) is shy and awkward AF, therefore supremely relatable. She works in a craft store by day and loiters around the sofa by evening, soaking up episodes of her favourite supernatural show.

So far so ordinary, except Sarah isn’t really ordinary. She has very lucid dreams at night, that are bit by bit leaking into her everyday and it’s not long before she’s convinced herself that something is definitely up with that.

Mostly alone or hanging around her old horse, who now belongs to someone else, things look up a little when Sarah’s roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan) – tired of her being around the flat all the time – fixes her up with her boyfriend’s mate Darren (John Reynolds). The pair hit it off in their mutual oddness.

Meanwhile, Sarah dreams about people she’s never met but then sees in real life and wakes up in odd places, losing chunks of time she can’t account for. She becomes convinced she’s being visited by aliens which eventually jeopardises her fledging romance, and alienates her from Nikki and her work colleagues.

All this is extra worrying given the history of both her mother and grandmother, who both lived with severe mental health issues, with her mother dying by suicide. But is Sarah breaking down in the same way or is there truth to her theories? Also – could she really be her grandmother transported through time into this reality (since they look identical)? Hmmm.

When Sarah ends up seeking help in a medical capacity, she meets another girl who speaks of the same experiences. Is this validation?

Thoughts

I’m finding it quite hard to encapsulate this interesting indie flick. Which is kind of the point. Mental illness, loneliness, depression – none of these are exactly linear or easy to define.

Who knows what’s real and what isn’t? All I know is that the concept of going through all this as a person with mental health challenges is fascinating. What if it’s real but you’re someone who isn’t always trusted by others, and who doesn’t particularly trust yourself either? It’s a terrifying thought.

In the end it doesn’t really matter and the ambiguous ending won’t tie it all up for you. There’s lots of debate on the internet about it though which is worth a read.

Alison Brie wrote the screenplay following her own experiences and she’s bloody great as Sarah. I really just wanted to her be okay and respected by those around her and there are times I really felt for her, particularly when she’s scared and naked in her workplace.

I’d say it’s definitely worth a go and is quite a realistic look at living with these issues, though obviously I have little experience of schizophrenia, or alien abduction for that matter. It’s funny at times, respectfully handled and sweet – and I liked it.

4/5

What does Wifey think of this one? Well, there only one way to find out as she gives her views, much more succinctly, here.

Four more films

A few words on what I’ve been watching at the local multiplex.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel.

I loved this and I don’t mind admitting I was caught off guard by how much. As a UK dweller, there’s not much I know about Mr Rogers but Tom Hanks brought him to life up there on the big screen, and with an edge too.

But this tale is more about Vogel, and his inner rage and deep sorrow. A feud with his absent father has him emotionally damaged and unable to move on, which is kind of a problem now he’s a brand new dad himself.

When he’s sent to interview Mr Rogers for a fluff piece, things escalate and the big man’s infinite kindest and patience (or so it seems) bring out the truth. Can Vogel move on? And is Mr Rogers for real?

Well, I cried like a baby for most of this – it’s deeply beautiful and although Rogers isn’t the central focus, Hanks nails his scenes. Matthew Rhys is wonderful too with excellent support from Chris Cooper. My favourite film so far this year and in a season full of bangers, that’s no mean feat.

4/5

Queen & Slim

A couple’s first date takes an unexpected turn when a police officer pulls them over.

Wow. What a ride! Absolute babe Daniel Kaluuya teams up with Jodie Turner-Smith in this modern day Bonnie and Clyde story – and I was in 100%.

That makes it sound much lighter than it actually is though – and light on subject matter this is not. We’re dealing with deep-seated racism, police brutality, revolution – and it’s beautiful. Shocking still, unsurprising, brutal – there’s a lot to unpack.

Queen (Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya) enjoy a slightly awkward date that probably isn’t destined to lead anywhere. Except, on the drive home, the pair are pulled over by a prejudiced (white) cop. You can see where this going.

When the situation escalates, with Queen injured and the pig dead, accidentally, at Slim’s hand – we’ve got ourselves a couple on the run. And so begins a dramatic road trip as Queen & Slim find themselves the unintentional poster children for black power. Will they make it to safety and crucially, is this even love between them?

This is a sexy film, with dynamite leads to root for. It’s heartbreaking, angry, simple, stunning and everything about it slaps hard. I really enjoyed the caustic Queen and everything about the dialogue between them. There’s a line Slim utters when Queen asks him what ‘Ride or die’ even means:

‘I just want someone that’s always going to love me. No matter what. Someone that’s going to hold my hand and never let it go.’ ~ Slim

It’s perfect.

4/5

Parasite

A poor family, the Kims, con their way into becoming the servants of a rich family, the Parks. But their easy life gets complicated when their deception is threatened with exposure.

This is the film I was most looking forward to during awards season. Bong Joon Ho already won me over years ago – uh, hello Memories of Murder – so I knew I’d be in for a treat. Not to mention the fact it’s a rarity for non-white, non-american movies to get a look in on most awards lists and I was excited to see how it would be received.

Parasite is spot on. Dark and twisted, sure but funny too. The plot just keeps giving, rendering you speechless at points, devastated at others and hoping against hope for a happy ending. Mostly it examines the South Korean class system and compares the life of two very different families: the haves and the have-nots.

In a nutshell, the Kims are barely getting by. Living dejectedly in a poor neighbourhood, doing what they can to feed and clothes themselves, fortune changes when son Ki-woo scores a tutoring gig for a wealthy family: the Parks.

It’s not long before the rest of the Kims – sister Ki-jong, and mum and dad Ki-taek and Chung-sook – have secured well-paid positions within the family too. But things take a batshit turn when a usurped former member of staff shows up one rainy night… and that’s all you get from me. 

I loved this so much – it’s the director’s second best film – and I am beyond stoked it swept the board at the Oscars. It’s just a shame none of the incredible actors were even nominated.

Stand-outs for me are, of course Joon Ho regular Kang-ho Song, the flawless Yeo-jeong Jo who plays the Park’s gullible but lovely matriach – and So-dam Park who plays the Kim’s daughter Ki-jong. Housekeeper Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee) pretty much steals the show though.

Wonderful.

5/5

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.

Last but by no means least, it’s fun times with Miss Harley Quinzel. Honestly this was a total trip from start to finish. I laughed a lot, absolutely relished the aesthetic and loved the soundtrack. This is everything Suicide Squad should have been but could never.

Sure, there’s not that much to it. Harley (Margot Robbie) has broken up with the Joker (good riddance), and she’s letting go and moving on. Except being the Joker’s girl affords a certain immunity, a safety from the consequences of her erratic actions and without that, Harley finds all her nemeses crawling out of the woodwork, ready for payback. Including would-be king pin Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).

But Harley’s nothing if not resourceful and she cuts a deal with Roman to find a very valuable diamond that’s been nicked by a young pickpocket. Along the way she also meets the mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), nightclub songstress and badass Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) – and criminally underappreciated cop Renee Montoya (the legend Rosie Perez). 

Will girl power out when Roman turns on them all? Well what the fuck do you think?

I want to watch this all over again because it’s actually good, which is credit to its female director (Cathy Yan) and female writer (Christina Hodson) – AND producer Robbie. It’s so refreshing to see strong, sexy women on the big screen who aren’t being solely sexualised. It’s the difference between Zack Snyder directed Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman. Anyway, I want more please.

5/5 for fun alone

What are you watching?

Bitch

An ambitious – if nothing else – tale this week from triple threat Marianna Palka.

Bitch (2017)

A woman snaps and assumes the psyche of a vicious dog as her checked-out, philandering husband attempts to keep the family together.

*Spoilers*

TW: Suicide attempt

Jill (Palka) is having a time of it. Stay at home mum to a handful of kids and the wife of a philandering bastard – she’s HAD ENOUGH – and we open the movie with her attempted suicide. Honestly, this scene doesn’t hold back and as Jill momentarily dangles from a light fixture, attached to her husband’s leather belt, it’s hard to continue watching.

It’s an unsuccessful attempt of course which leads Jill in a different direction altogether, the unique premise of this movie – but it’s desperately sad. Here is a woman on the edge and nobody’s helping, least of all husband Bill (Jason Ritter), who’s more concerned with going down on his lover in his office and being mostly checked out of family life. Jill begs her husband to let her go on an art retreat – something he poo poos as it will take her away from the kids for too long – to which she admits she’s scared of what she’ll do if she doesn’t get help soon.

Needless to say this plea falls on deaf ears. It’s only when she finally snaps and seemingly disappears, that the family start to take note. Although in fairness, eldest daughter Tiffany (the excellently named Brighton Sharbino) has tuned in, albeit a little late.

Bill is forced – finally – to confront his domestic responsibilities, which are a disaster obviously, as he realises he knows little about his children, their schools and ultimately any of their basic needs. When Jill is finally located it’s by the kids who at first find amusement in the fact that she’s acting like a dog. They return to find her clothing shed in the kitchen, piss and shit all over the tiles. This bitch ain’t house-trained.

Jill has retired to the basement and, newly canine, isn’t to be approached. Bill is enraged and personally affronted by the audacity of his selfish wife. He calls on the support of her sister Beth (Jaime King) who sweeps in to survey the damage. It soon becomes clear this is the result of a total mental breakdown and to begin it seems like Beth is the only one willing to seek help for her sister.

Bit by bit however, Bill has no choice but to get it together. The children need more from their largely absent father and he obliges, eventually accommodating Jill’s new status – and picking out suitable toys for her at the pet store.

Can he ever make up for his indiscretions and worse, his total lack of care for his long-suffering wife?

Thoughts

This is a funny one because the tone is all over the place. It starts very sombrely indeed and goes for a slight comedy vibe afterwards but it never quite gets there. While the kids are bemused by the canine activity, which makes sense in their confusion, the seriousness of a mental breakdown is hard to make light of. I think we’re supposed to be amused by Bill’s initial fuck ups but even that’s just sad, if you ask me.

I didn’t hate this, in fact from the moment her husband bites down on a dog chew in the pet store to make sure it’s suitable for his wife’s needs, I started to come around. I just wanted it to have more of a bite.

My other criticism is that this ultimately ends up being more about Bill’s redemption, than Jill. We don’t see or interact with her nearly enough. I wanted this to be all about her and it wasn’t.

The custody battle between Bill and Jill’s family is heartbreaking, particularly as he admits to some of his worst failings but again, his arc should have been secondary to Jill’s journey.

The ending is sweet but a little wet. I get it’s about acceptance but boy, did I want more for our doggy heroine.

2.5/5

What does my lady Jill think of Bitch? Would she boast about it’s pedigree or send it to the dog house? Find out here.

Wild Rose

February generally means one thing round these parts: feminist films. I guess by now it doesn’t really need all that much of an introduction so I’ll keep it simple. This month is Feminist Film Month – and uh, it’s all about women.

Wild Rose (2018)

A troubled young Glaswegian woman dreams of becoming a Nashville country star.

*Spoilers*

Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) has just been released from clink for doing something dubious with a bag of heroin. She’s a live-wire alright, as evidenced by some vigorous shagging in the park as soon as she’s freed. Second stop is her mum Marion’s (Julie Walters) house where her two children have lived every since she was incarcerated.

The children, understandably, are wary around their mother and Marion is a little chilly herself, again with good reason. Rose it seems has only one thing on her mind – Nashville. She’s a talented country singer see, something nobody can dispute – not her fellow inmates, her on/off lover nor her mother – and all she wants is to make it big in country music’s capital.

But responsibility is waiting in the wings and she has little choice but to knuckle down for the time being – not least because of the 7am-7pm ankle bracelet curfew. Rose reluctantly takes a cleaning job for a successful family and forms a friendship with mother Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), who instantly falls in love with what she’s selling, which is raw talent and humour. Needless to say, Rose has been economic with the truth and fails to mention prison or even that she has children. Uh oh.

Meanwhile, our girl’s messing up left and right with her kids, failing to keep important promises. Marion gives her short thrift but Rose seems destined to make the wrong choices and further alienates her family when Susannah comes up with an ingenious crowdfunding idea to finally get her to Nashville. A project that corresponds with half term holiday plans.

When things don’t quite work out – Susannah’s husband uncovers the truth about Rose and tells her he doesn’t want her around his wife or children anymore – Rose panics and vows to rein in her dreams for good.

But what is life without a dream? Dull as dishwater obviously and Marion misses the fire in her daughter. When Rose finally gets the chance to visit Nashville to walk where her heroes have walked before – what’s a girl to do?

Thoughts

This was very lovely but a hard watch in some places. Rose does not settle into her groove easily and it’s very frustrating. She’s not always likeable – there’s an entitled air to her that really grates and sometimes you just want to scream at her to stop being so fucking selfish, to hug those fucking kids every once in a while – and appreciate her mother more.

But life is ugly and hard – dreams are all well and good – but what if you’ve been dealt a different set of cards? Sometimes you’ve gotta face up to reality. The question is: is Rose up to it?

I really like the message of this, that there’s room for both reality and dreaming, and also that dreams don’t come for free. Sometimes they look different to how you’d expect which doesn’t necessarily make them worth any less.

I loved the friendship between Susannah and Rose – and you bet your arse I cried when she showed up at the end. While Susannah is obviously better off materially than Rose, she manages not to be patronising when she offers her help and thankfully, remains non-judgemental where it really counts. Sophie Okonedo is so fucking dreamy too.

Marion is also a steely, gorgeous woman – someone I would never wish to disappoint if she was in my life. In fact, when isn’t Julie Walters the Queen of everything?

I don’t know that much about Jessie Buckley but I do know she’s popping up all over right now and I’m quite pleased about it. She won my heart eventually as messed up Rose and I’m into her voice. That final song filled up this sentimental old fool’s heart to bursting point.

4/5

What does my wild rose think of this one? Would she push it toward its dream no questions or stifle it forever? Find out here.