Month: June, 2017

Chocolat

choccy“Your success is an insult to white people. Negroes must know their place.” — It’s a blunt statement from the film Chocolat, but a brutally honest account of the entrenched racism of nineteenth century France which acts as a warning to the viewer that Chocolat isn’t just about the whimsically joyful world of clowns from yesteryear.

Chocolat tells the true story of Rafael Padilla (played by Omar Sy from The Intouchables), a former slave who is employed by a small-time circus in provincial France.  The year is 1897 and his role as the wild eyed “cannibal” baring his teeth scares, delights, and indulges the audience’s prejudices of the time. But when he is discovered by George Footit (actor James Thierrée – grandson of Charlie Chaplin), a struggling clown in desperate need of upping his game, the comedy duo Chocolat and Footit is born. Soon after, the prestigious Parisian Nouveau Cirque gets wind of their act and sends them slap-sticking their way to fame and fortune.

As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss and Rafael appears unconcerned about the broader racial implications of a black man being physically abused for laughs.  The crowd is adoring and he is paid handsomely, even if his white partner, Footit, is paid more. However, during a short stint in jail he meets Victor, a black activist, who enlightens Rafael to the fact that he is only playing someone else’s whipping boy, rather than the artist he sees himself to be.

Meanwhile, the consummate professional, Footit appears to be more colour-blind than those around him, perhaps due to recognising similar struggles of bigotry. The film alludes to his homosexuality but is never explicit about it, suggesting that this film is as much about sexual identity as it is about race.

Nonetheless, the film wears its racial concerns boldly on its sleeve and forces us, the movie going audience, to observe another audience laugh and holler at the racist antics within the circus ring. However, it’s not long before you realise that you’re stifling a few laughs of your own at Chocolat and Footit’s down-right hilarious hijinks. The irony is palpable and you start to question whether you are complicit in your laughter, or whether it is testament to two very funny men whose performance transcends racial boundaries.

Roschdy Zem does an adequate job at directing this solid biopic, but its lavish production values just can’t match the two wonderfully charismatic and convincing performances of Sy and Thierrée. A film worth seeing for their performances alone.

You can see my published reviews here.

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This Beautiful Fantastic

 

tbfWith the darkness of winter imminent and New Zealand gardens well into lock-down, it seems an odd time to release an optimistically colourful film about an English garden.  Perhaps it was a scheduling decision by the studio to make Lions supporters feel more at home.  However, all is not well in an English garden.

Written and directed by Simon Aboud, This Beautiful Fantastic is a light-hearted fable about two warring neighbours: Alfie, an obstinate old-man played by the wonderfully earthy Tom Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and the other an obsessive-compulsive young woman named Bella played by Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey). Bella’s “criminal neglect” of her back garden is met with Alfie’s ire when he snitches on her landlord. With a month to tidy up her garden, Bella must find some way of growing green fingers. Predictably, walls (both  metaphorical and literal) are broken down as the two learn to gain more understanding of each other.  Alfie’s cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott), acts as the conduit between the two to smooth over their relationship.  Meanwhile, the painfully adorable Billy (Jeremy Irvine) frequents the library where Bella works and waits in the wings to sweep her off her feet.

The film’s whimsically twee style is possibly something of an acquired taste that might be irksome to some but inspiring to others. Its form is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie and offers a similar palette that is pleasing on the eyes. Cinematographer Mike Eley (who also shot My Cousin Rachel which is in current release) is given plenty of scope to play with colour and focus. Eley’s camera does a wonderful job of eliciting the film’s modus operandi as a modern day fairytale, and as the film’s title suggests, occasionally ventures into magical realism.

However, like most fairytales the damsel in distress remains a tad too passive and reactive and This Beautiful Fantastic does little to break out of this mould. Here, Bella seems a lost cause without the help of the men around her, and life lessons learnt through the use of garden metaphors seem at times a laboured attempt to disguise her lack of agency.  Nonetheless, This Beautiful Fantastic is an enjoyable, if predictable film of familiar faces, tropes, and environs. Its gentle and warm comedy will go some way to break down the cynics in the audience.

 

You can see the published review here.

The Mummy

tmmyIt looks like Universal Pictures want some of that lucrative franchise action. In the opening credits to The Mummy we are introduced to the “Dark Universe” logo — a series that is being spearheaded by The Mummy in what appears to be a new world of characters born out of classic horror; The Hunchback, Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein, and Dracula, to name a few.  Although, if The Mummy is any indication, they’re going to make a monstrous mess of the whole lot.

In The Mummy we get Tom Cruise in all his blockbuster glory. From his quizzical expressions to his dramatic running style, everything here is so familiar, even down to the cookie-cutter template that this action blockbuster has been styled on. Cruise plays Nick Morton, a military recognisance scallywag who likes to steal antiquities and sell them on the black market.  One amorous night he steals a map from Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) which leads him (and her eventually) to the resting place of a 5000-year-old mummified Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Ahmanet was fairly miffed over a family spat back in the day … but I wont bore you with the details. Suffice to say that she comes back to life to set things straight and wreaks havoc over old Blighty.

Where do I start with what is wrong with The Mummy? Well, if you are sensitive to gender representation then you will most likely realise it contains a bunch of a negative stereotypes.  Ahmanet being the monstrous feminine seductress that toys with the male mind might’ve been an interesting angle to explore further, but instead we are dialled back to the old-fashioned conventions of a self-centred hero with his abject love interest in tow. And don’t get me started on the age gap between Cruise and Wallis.

But, at the end of the day the film is meant to be taken as a light hearted romp, so I’ll dispense with further heavy-handed complaints.  Even as a light hearted romp though, it’s still a disjointed mishmash. There are some nice set pieces but none of these coalesce into a coherent film. Character development is poor, leaving any vested interest in their cause waning.  Perhaps the most intriguing character is Dr. Henry Jekyll played by Russell Crowe.  The small glimpse of his struggle to contain the monstrous Mr. Hyde looked like a movie I’d want to see.  Or, if we’re lucky we might see Mr. Hyde run on for Crowe’s beloved South Sydney NRL side — certainly would be a more fun than The Mummy.  In the meantime, buckle your seat-belts, because this looks like only the first of many more monstrous turds flung our way.

You can see the published review here.

Adult Life Skills

“Am I still a twin if my twin is dead?” — a question posed by the protagonist of Rachel Tunnard’s debut feature, Adult Life Skills.  The question succinctly sums up the film’s central thesis into what makes us whole; specifically when someone we love so dearly feels like they are a part of our being.  Thankfully, such heavy questions are complimented with large dollops of humour, thanks to Tunnard’s witty script which is infused with as much playfulness as it is with existential insight.

Anna, played by Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch), is struggling to come to terms with the death of her twin brother. Nearing thirty and withdrawing into her shell, Anna lives in her mum’s garden shed and contents herself with making humorous adventure videos using her thumbs as central characters. Her insular life is at odds with most people around her; her mother is constantly trying to push her out of the nest, and her best friend has a vivacious personality that bubbles and froths against the grain. The exception is Clint (Ozzy Myers), an eight-year-old whose mum is terminally ill. His character provides the metaphorical mirror in which Anna sees herself.

Tunnard’s screenplay manages the difficult task of balancing humour with domestic anguish and provides Jodie Whittaker with ample opportunity to show her acting chops … of which she has plenty. Cinematographer Bet Rourich has done a commendable job of visually contrasting a rich array of personalities against the wonderfully earthy and damp backdrop of northern England. It’s a contrast that provides the perfect visual companion to its sometimes touching and sometimes hilarious moments.

Adult Life Skills maintains its independent flavour but rescues itself from becoming excessively twee by drawing on allegories and metaphors that stop short of unnecessarily explaining themselves. Clint presents Anna with a conundrum, unaware that it perfectly illustrates her own life. Anna asks “So what’s the answer?” to which Clint responds “There isn’t one. It’s one of them questions, but you have to think about [it]”. The film leaves you with Clint’s vague response and moves on. As such, Adult Life Skills is a surprisingly deep film that endorses journeys and processes rather than destinations and answers.


You can see the published review here.