6 February 2019

Green Book review


With just a few minor tweaks, it's entirely conceivable to me that Green Book could've played as a near pitch perfect satire of your average piece of prestige picture Oscar bait. I mean, look at the damn thing - it's not just a period piece, but an allegedly true story period piece that "tackles" (and I use that word in the lightest way possible) historical prejudices, while always managing to adhere to a tone that subtly and not so subtly insists those days are long behind us, that the societal problems on display in the film aren't something to be worried about now. Add to that an incredibly grounded, down to earth, emotionally driven performance from Mahershala Ali and one hilariously over-the-top, larger than life, hugely stereotypical performance from Viggo Mortensen, and it's easy to see a world in which Green Book could've been to Oscar bait what Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was to the musical biopic.

Sadly, that's not the case. Green Book may contain moments of comedy (both on purpose and entirely by accident), but as far as intent goes we're a long way away from anything that could be considered even slightly subversive. Instead, it's the kind of film your elderly grandparents would love, showing how easily racism can be fixed when "one of the good blacks" is willing to give the white man a chance, a white man who despite being shown early on to be overtly racist is a nice enough, open-minded guy deep down. Sure, some cops back then were racist, but hey, #NotAllCops, and the good ones will help you get your car out of the snow with a smile on their faces. Sure, some might've been corrupt too - but hey, Green Book makes sure to point out that some of those cops are black. At almost every turn, Green Book tries to find a way to make the injustices featured throughout seem all that more palatable, and the result is a film that really had nothing interesting or original to say on the topics that it's supposedly - but isn't actually - about.

15 January 2019

The Favourite review


"Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power". It's a quote often misattributed to Oscar Wilde (as far as I'm aware, no one actually knows where it came from), but more importantly, it's a quote that couldn't help but come to mind when thinking about The Favourite, the latest film from The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer director Yorgos Lanthimos. In The Favourite, sex is seemingly only ever a means of establishing power, whether that be through attempting to create an heir, marrying for a title, paying a debt or even simply gaining someone's favour. It is the latter of these that The Favourite naturally spends most of its time on, but make no mistake - sex and power are intrinsically linked throughout, whether it be staring you in the face or hiding just out of view, obscured somewhat by the norms and systems of society but still very much ever present.

It's a thematic core that in the wrong hands could've easily come across as misogynistic, playing into tired femme fatale tropes without a shred of irony or self-awareness, but thankfully Lanthimos (and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) are smarter than that, able to ensure that we understand this to be a societal phenomena rather than a gendered one thanks to just how much of The Favourite ultimately circles back and highlights this link. Take, for example, a scene in which a naked guy who looks so much like James Corden that you'll do a double take gets pelted with rotten fruit for the entertainment of a group of bawdy male politicians, or one in which another politician sits there "stroking his goose" (not an innuendo within the context of this review but very much a visual innuendo within the film itself) as he and an opponent speak with the Queen - I wasn't over-exaggerating earlier when I called this link "ever present", and the result is a film just as focused and thematically interesting as The Lobster, and equally fascinating to think about after the fact.