A Week of Films

This week has been a good week. I managed to watch three films and (uncharacteristically) I'd recommend them all. Here's a sparing review of each: 

Spoilers included!

1/ 'Boy' by Taika Waititi (2010) | Film 4

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I had seen Boy before but I rated it so highly I made sure to record its UK premiere last weekend. You could say it's a silly film about serious issues, but that would be doing it a disservice. So try this instead: It's a film about boys and their fathers; the way young boys need a hero, and the role a father, in presence and in absence, has in shaping that mould. 

'Boy' (James Rolleston) as everybody calls him hasn't seen his father 'Alamein' (Taika Waititi) in years. In his absence he's painted a picture of his Dad: he dances like Michael Jackson, captains the rugby team and fights overseas in the army. We realise this might not be completely accurate when a classmate tells Boy 'You're a liar, your Dad's not overseas, he's in jail for robbery [...] he's in the same cell block as my Dad'. That I think encapsulates what I mean by silly and serious; a funny line underlined with a humourless truth. The film is full of funny lines and its strength is that none of them takeaway from the stories poignant truths. 

At one point Alamein asks Boy not to call him 'Dad'. It's moving, and it's smart writing. Really it's Boy who should be asking people to call him by a different name - the way he cares for his younger brother and cousins is beyond his years - but of course he never would, because every boy is somebody's boy, in a father's presence and in a father's absence. 

 'I wish he was my Dad' another lad enviously says to Boy about Alamein. That might be the most important line of the film.

2/ 'Terri' (2011) by Azazel Jacobs | MUBI.com

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Terri (Jacob Wysocki) wears his pyjamas to school, not because he's weird but because they're comfortable. Of course everybody else thinks he's weird, including the Vice Principal 'Mr. Fitzgerald' (John C. Reilly) who meets weekly with Terri to 'shoot the breeze'. Terri lives with his ill Uncle who requires daily medication. His Uncle has brief moments of clarity and during one of these he's disgusted with Terri for laying mouse traps outside for no apparent reason. Why does Terri do that, does he enjoy death? Or killing? Maybe he is weird. 

'Terri' is a funny film. Of course it is, John C. Reilly's in it. Can anybody make you laugh easier than him? He had me laughing at first sight in 'Terri'. The way he moves his head, his eyes, the emphasis he puts on certain sounds, it's all second nature. Or at least he makes it look that way. When Mr. Fitzgerald tells Terri 'I knew this kid growing up who tied flaming tennis balls to cats tails and loved every minute of it, I think he's a cop now' we get at the essence of what Jacobs is trying to say in this film: we're all weird, especially when we're young. 

When Terri meets with Mr. Fitzgerald a new friendship is born. I'm not sure who needs the friend more, Terri or Mr Fitzgerald, it's probably a tie. But they help each other. Terri makes other friends as well, a younger boy called Chad and a girl 'Heather' that Terri thinks he has a crush on. They get up to some pretty weird shit, but here's the thing, don't we all at some point? The director Jacobs drops in and out of Terri's life, most of the time it's when shit gets weird, but what Jacobs doesn't show us is just as important. Take the ending, there's no 'resolution', no nice tying up of everything. But maybe there doesn't need to be, because we realise Terri has been a good kid all along, life just gets weird sometimes.  

3/ 'No' (2012) by Pablo Larrain | MUBI.com

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Chile had a very important referendum in 1988, and advertising, love it or (more likely) hate it, played a large part in deciding the outcome. The people would vote either Yes or No. Yes to another 8 years of rule under General Pinochet or No to dictatorship and instead democratic elections are to be enforced. The film follows advertisement creative René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) as he is recruited by the 'No' side. His boss is later recruited by the 'Yes' side and thus creating an internal conflict symbolic of the conflict that would divide the country over the next month. 

Each side would have 15 minutes worth of advertising every night for 27 days. 15 minutes to persuade, influence and ultimately win the electorate. That seems pretty scarce, 15 minutes, and part of me thinks the film itself might be too scarce. But then another part of me thinks it might be a masterpiece; I've got my own internal conflict. 

Saavedra remains pragmatic and strangely nonpartisan in his work for the No campaign. For him it's about the work. He realises that the advertisements so far 'don't sell' and that his task is plain (yet hugely complex): 'How do you get people to vote, both young and old'. He decides the answer is with 'happiness', that will transcend the ages. The No side decide to run with it and the rest is history. The most important decision in Chile's history is sold to the people like a bottle of Pepsi. 

The cinematography in 'No' is beautifully unique and it feels like a very real documentation of the events. I accuse of it being too scarce in that a film shy of 2 hours can't do justice to an event as important and interesting as this. 'No' poses important questions about politics, advertising and democracy; and at the beginning our protagonist Saavedra tells us that 'if you're brave, you're free', I think that's an invitation, an invitation to use that sentiment in attempting to answer the films biggest questions. 

Book Review | Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

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A good satire must do two things: expose an criticise. A tertiary, but somewhat inessential quality, is that it makes us laugh. We often laugh because they ridicule the ridiculousness of things that we’ve previously let slip, and it’s only when we evaluate them through art that we find the humour in their, and our own, absurdity. Granted, it’s difficult to call Evelyn Waugh’s first novel Decline and Fall a truly great satirical novel as its most memorable aspects are accordingly supplementary: its comedic swathes. Any judgement passed then should be on its value as a comedic novel. 

Paul Pennyfeather is quite harmless, you could say he's the nice guy but of course the worst things happen to the nicest guys. Decline and Fall points its critical finger at various aspects of the English social system and it’s PauI who acts as the barometer against which the pomposity of this societies character’s will be measured in class-bound Britain. At every turn Paul finds himself in a setting as contemptible as the people who fill it, and with every twist we’re exposed to another house of cards. The biggest failing of the story and perhaps its biggest disappointment is that the house never falls; in fact it's hard to workout what does fall. 

As the story moves so does Paul and his setting: Oxford University; Llanabba Castle; King’s Thursday; Prison; Oxford University. It ends where it begins, at Waugh’s own Alma Mater, and there’s little development in Paul’s character during that time. At the end we feel as though we know Paul but don't really know him. This isn’t a fault of Waugh’s, it’s more Paul’s. He’s a good listener, as lots of his peers comment, he doesn't talk all that much and he doesn't have many interests or ambitions, you could easily accuse him of being boring. The real characters are the people he meets and it should be said that most of them are neither admirable nor honourable. That’s probably why we like Paul more than his character (or lack of) merits. 

Some of the novel's best comedy happens at Oxford and Llanbba Castle. The laughs are easy but well refined by the way Waugh delivers them; succinctly. When Paul is inadvertently stripped of his clothes by drunk alumni, two onlooking university Dons temporarily fear for the fate of this young student before realising that it’s merely Pennyfeather, who, to quote, is ‘someone of no importance’. The next day, despite his innocence, Paul is sent down for ‘indecent behaviour’. As he’s leaving Oxford he mutters to himself ‘God damn and blast them all to hell’ but quickly ‘he felt rather ashamed, because he rarely swore’. Herein lies Decline and Fall’s favourite comic device: 

One of my favourite moments is Paul acquiring the help of scholastic agents ‘Church and Gargoyle’ in his search for a teaching job. They find an opening but Paul fears he is not qualified for the post; it requires he speak German (of which he doesn't speak a word) amongst other things, but the scholastic agent quickly calms his fears: 

 “Why, only last terms we sent a man who had never been in a laboratory in his life as senior Science Master to one of our leading public schools. He came wanting to do private coaching in music. He's doing very well, I believe”

I love the ‘I believe’ tagged on the end here; clearly he's no idea or is just outright lying. We then cut to an anxious Paul at his interview, worried his incompatibility to the post will be exposed. Being the nice guy he is, he comes clean and declares his lack of experience, to which the headmaster replies: ‘well, of course, that is in many ways an advantage’. And so off the cliff Paul goes, headfirst, into the deep-end of a North Wales school. 

The people Paul meets at Llannaba castle recur throughout the story, appearing sporadically and quite comically. The most memorable, and certainly the most likeable is Captain Grimes. Grimes epitomises everything wrong with society as Waugh sees it. He's a man who has rested on laurels and a favourable social position his entire life. And by laurels we mean a flattering letter of reference an old schoolmaster once wrote him. Grimes describes his position as so:

“You see, I’m a public school man. That means everything. There’s a blessed equity in the English social system […] That’s the public school system all over. They may kick you out, but they never let you down”

In most satires there’s usually some moment of comeuppance for the very thing being satirised. We get brief moments of that in Decline and Fall but as the story goes on the characters who toil the most are those we most sympathise with- the death of Prendergast feels particularly dark and strangely misplaced. Paul’s love Margot Beste-Chetwynde is forced to withdraw from the public spotlight somewhat, but excluding that there’s little retribution for most of the books contemptible’s. 

This begs the question, what is it that Declines and Falls? The obvious answer would be Paul, he is the one who takes the fall for Margot and serves a prison sentence. But, as earlier alluded to, his story ends where it began; there’s no net loss there. He temporarily ‘peaks’ whilst he's engaged to the affluent Margot, but when he later winds up in jail he realises this is where he’s most content. Earlier in the story Sir Humphrey Maltravers, the Minister of Transport, tells him:

‘Aim high has been my motto […] all through my life. You probably won’t get what you want, but you may get something; aim low and you get nothing at all’

Paul doesn’t aim for anything and he certainly doesn't aim high. One benefit of that is that you can't fall. My guess is that it is his opinion which declines. His opinion of the upper-class falls once he's been exposed to it. Surely. He’s studied at the best university in the country; been engaged to a lady of sublime beauty and wealth; lived in one of the countries finest residences; and yet he's happiest behind bars, locked away from it all, that twisted society. 

Cancun 2017 | By The Numbers

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We just got back from holiday in Cancun. Here's a summary by the numbers.

  • Days gone: 11
  • Minutes stuck in M25 traffic: 50
  • Minutes spent thinking we would miss the flight: 50
  • Minutes to down drinks at airport: 1
  • Upgrades on the flight: 2
  • Hours slept on flight: 4
  • Days the forecast predicted bad weather: 8
  • Days of actual bad weather: 1
  • Minutes spent on my phone’s internet before realising Mexico wasn't in the data package: 0.02
  • Happiness levels when I saw Johnnie Walker Black on the drinks list: 100%
  • Average age of American kids at our hotel getting drunk for the first time: 15
  • No. of times Aimee ordered Orange Juice: 12
  • No. of times Aimee actually got Orange Juice: 4 
  • No. of times American kids ordered Orange Juice instead of alcohol: 0
  • Farthest distance walked along beach: 10KM
  • Iguanas seen: 1 
  • Pelicans seen: 1,000,000
  • Sea Turtles seen laying eggs on the beach: 6
  • Times we wondered if you tip at all inclusive hotels or not: 10
  • Times we left a tip: 1
  • Times we felt bad for not leaving a tip: 9
  • Times we ran back downstairs to leave a tip: 0
  • Bus journeys: 5
  • Safety rating out of 5 for buses: 1
  • Amount of fucks bus drivers give: Zero
  • Near-death bus related incidents: 2
  • Cost of bus: 1 dollar
  • Cost of life: priceless 
  • Tacos eaten: 75+
  • Tacos eaten for breakfast: 35+
  • Tequilas drank: 4
  • Times we said ‘Fuck Tequila’: 400
  • Islands visited: 1
  • Bikini thongs spotted: Infinity 
  • Infinity pools spotted: 3
  • Bikini thongs spotted in infinity pools: 0
  • Most Spanish words Aimee put together in a (semi) coherent sentence: 5
  • Most Spanish words I put together in a (semi) coherent sentence: 2
  • No. of times I said “s’il vous plait” instead of “por favor”: 6
  • Temperature of the Caribbean: 28˚C
  • Times I said "Corr the Caribbean's warm, isn't it": 50+
  • Times Aimee got dunked in Caribbean: 50+
  • Times Aimee got annoyed: 50+
  • Times lifeguard got annoyed: 50+
  • Times I saw somebody reading The Times: 0
  • Days spent googling “Arsenal transfers”: 11
  • Average height of Mexican male: 4’8
  • No. of times we heard ‘Despacito' played: 10000000000000000
  • Mariachi bands watched: 1
  • Mariachi band costume ratings : 10/10
  • No. of times Mariachi band played 'Despacito': 0
  • No. of Mexican people pleased to find out we were English & not American: All of them
  • Upgrades on return flight: 0
  • Hours slept on return flight: 0
  • Films watched on return flight: 3
  • Estimation of days we’ll have holiday blues: 5-10
  • Days before we book another holiday: 5-10

Drones | From The Super Bowl to Syria

I don’t much like American Football. Or Lady Gaga. I’m not sure why I was watching the rerun of Super Bowl 51 this morning then, but one thing did catch my attention: the 300 synchronised robots flying overhead as Gaga sang ‘God Bless America’ during the half time show.  

Those robots were drones. Because that’s essentially what a drone is, a robot that can fly. And who flies them? Machines. Strangely then, my biggest take from Super Bowl 51 was that Artificial Intelligence is really real and it’s both incredibly impressive and incredibly intimidating. 

The drones we saw are called the ‘Shooting Stars’ and were created and programmed by Intel. They have onboard LED’s which, in unison, can create 4 BILLION different colour combinations. If one falls out of place, it’s programmed to quickly send another up to take its place. There’s a good piece on ‘TechCrunch’ about their design and specs. In short though, Intel reckon the 300 on show at the Super Bowl is nothing, they say more than 10,000 drones can be used in sync with one another. That's incredibly impressive. 

 Intel's 'Shooting Star's' at Disney World.

Intel's 'Shooting Star's' at Disney World.

The American flag stunt was Intel using drones for show. But when they’re not delivering more patriotism to what's apparently the most patriotic country in the world, drones are also being used to change and improve our lives in various ways. Drones are being sent into the atmosphere to collect data for Climate Scientists, helping in the fight against climate change. They are monitoring wildlife numbers of potentially endangered species as well as providing surveillance to help prevent poaching. Agricultural drones are transforming farming, allowing farmers to survey their crop in a cheaper, more time effective way. They’re even being used to deliver supplies on Search and Rescue missions. These flying robots are actually saving lives. 

What's intimidating about them then? 

Their ability to take lives. 

Military Drones

U.S forces and their allies (inc. GB and France) have been using drones in Syria for the past few years. The benefits are obvious: increased surveillance, no risk of human life, affordability. But this of course works two ways. 

I recently read an article from the ‘IBTimes’ which detailed how Iraqi forces are spotting increasing amounts of IS (Islamic State) operated drones. The most advanced of which are fitted with cameras and explosive devices. They are being wired to function as unmanned suicide bombers. The drones in the hands of these terrorist groups may not yet be self-automated, but they are already highly dangerous and they will only develop in functionality. 

Military drones are the beginning of remote controlled warfare and the ethics surrounding it are shady to say the least. 

In his book ‘The Master Algorithm’, Pedro Domingos briefly touches on robot warfare. He mentions how self-driving trucks are already providing supplies to troops and that robots are defusing bombs. Most interestingly though Domingos describes how soon enough it could be the robots themselves with their finger on the trigger. In the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) robots learn ethics by observing human behaviour. Relate this to military AI and the way they might learn. When military drones observe the behaviour of troops it's easy to envisage their wires becoming crossed somewhat, just think of the various occasions that our military actions have violated our very own ethical principles. What chance does a robot have in making the ‘right’ decision in life-or-death situations when we are still learning ourselves? The stakes are much higher when peoples lives are on the line. 

The ‘Shooting Star’ drones Intel showcased at Super Bowl 51 were some of the most highly advanced in the business. That short display was the result of months of planning and software design. But it’s a sign of things to come; technology advances quickly remember. The synchronisation of 300 military drones is a thought equally as intimidating as it is impressive.  

I'll leave you with a line from Domingos' fascinating book on AI:

“If in future wars millions of kamikaze drones will destroy conventional armies in minutes, they’d better be our drones”

There’s a new man in control of ‘our drones’ now and we have to ask ourselves how much we trust his ethical judgement. That's what I was thinking about when I watched Lady Gaga sing 'God Bless America' under a sky full of drones at this year's Super Bowl. 

Hotel Essex | One Night in San Francisco

First impressions can count for a lot. Smithy and I arrived in San Francisco late in the evening, it had been a two day drive down from Portland. Our hostel was in San Fran's notoriously 'gritty' Tenderloin. A kid working at a gas station told us how this area of downtown SF is an open drug market. Homeless people line the streets, selling crack cocaine as flagrantly as they smoke it. Crime rates are high here. We joked it should be renamed the Tendergroin. 

Our friends Dave and James were joining the trip in San Francisco and would land soon after we arrived. It was a twelve hour flight from London and the lads said they were tired but this was offset by their excitement about being on the West coast for the first time. They were eager for their first taste of the American Dream, fuelled by songs about Californian girls on the flight. We would hit the town.

It was a Tuesday and the Tenderloin was quiet. We walked about five minutes - there was a comforting safety in numbers - until coming across a bar with any sign of life. It looked small from the outside but we could hear music playing and punters talking, we quickly headed in. Inside it was dark and there weren’t as many people drinking as we thought. But it got us off the streets and a drink in our hands. 

We told the boys about our trip so far; about New York's galleries and museums, the comparative serenity and natural beauty of Seattle and about the hipsters and raunchy strip joints of Portland. We were indulging all their fantasies of the rest of the trip and we quickly became lost in conversation. There was in fact only one other group in the place and it wasn't long before one of them approached us, "do you want to join us" a pretty girl dressed in dungarees asked in a cheery California accent, "we're doing a bar crawl and could do with some big drinkers". The boys eyes lit up, we had no other plan laid out for the night. James smiled, ‘we’d love to join you’ he said. Come to think of it, this was our plan. 

As this girl led us to her friends you could literally see any signs of jet lag actively wearing away from Dave's  face, it was like an incredible natural remedy. James had a slight hop in his step as Ben and I both wore smug looks that said 'I told you so'.

We would be completely blindsided by what greeted us the other side of the bar. It turned out this sweet Californian girl was a tour guide for one of those group travel excursions, and as quickly as she introduced us to her group she disappeared off behind the bar. The group consisted of six: two guys and four girls. The guys were German and spoke little English. The girls were from Essex, they also spoke little English. Quite remarkably, you could see the bags reforming under Dave's eyes. 

Their trip was the reverse of ours, starting South in San Diego and finishing North in Seattle. They had arrived in San Francisco a couple days before us and seemingly found this bar a few hours earlier as well. 

You hear few English accents in Seattle and Portland so it was strange to hear one of the girls ask the barman ‘alma chizzit’ (how much is it) when enquiring about drinks. When you travel half way round the world there are certain things you don't miss/actively want to avoid in your pursuit of a 'genuine' experience. But we were committed now and thought it could be good to get somewhat of an inside track for the rest of our trip.  

They had just been to Yosemite National Park, which happened to be our next stop, and proceeded to tell us about it. The girl I was speaking to said it was a let down, ’the walk was well long and it was too hot’. So instead she had decided to sit on the tour bus for six hours whilst the others hiked. She said it was good though because the bus had wifi. 

I turned to Smithy and tried to get his attention. Another girl was telling him ‘it’s well scary when you look down from the top of the hike, it’s well high’. I’d overheard her say that once already. In fairness he did look pretty scared as he downed the rest of his drink. I looked at James who was remaining well composed under serious interrogation from one of the girls. Dave was perhaps in the most trouble though. I looked to see another girl showing him all her photos of their trip so far- a slideshow of cliches and selfies. His faint hint of a smile was about as genuine as her eyelashes. 

'The best thing about Yosemite is that it's cheap' I was told. 'Apart from that I wouldn't bother'.

It was apparent we needed to get out of here, fast. I turned my attention back to Smithy to initiate some kind of escape.

But he was gone. 

He was one step ahead of me and must have made up some excuse; a cigarette, the toilet, the bar, who knows. Regardless, one thing was certain: he wasn't coming back. He would be alone, lost on the dark streets of Tenderloin by now. But he was safer out there than we were in here. 

The girl who was talking to him now also turned her attention to me. ‘Are you scared of heights?’ she asked. I was beginning to sweat and feel slightly nauseas, but no, I wasn't scared of heights. 

My excitement for Yosemite was beginning to wain. Dave wasn't even half way through the holiday album yet but the pictures would already blur his vision for the rest of the trip already.

My phone buzzed with a message from Smithy. He was heading back home to get a drink from the hostel bar. The girls didn't even notice he was gone, they’d moved on to San Diego now and were too busy telling James and myself how they didn't swim in the sea because they saw a jellyfish washed up on the shore. This night was beginning to feel like the sting of a particularly angry jelly, one that had followed us across the Atlantic, hell bent on ruining the lad’s first night in the States. 

The girls went to get another drink and so James turned to me in discussion. ‘How are we getting out of here?’ he said. We had already told their group leader we would join them on their crawl. What could have possibly changed in this short period of time? Would we look rude for leaving now? Our only option was to lie. The boys would have to say that the jet lag had suddenly caught up with them and that they were too tired for the crawl. The fact that they now both looked completely drained would lend some authenticity to this story. 

When they returned James dropped in a timely yawn and told them the ‘bad’ news. To avoid appearing completely rude he did give them his number and floated the idea of potentially catching up with them later on in the week- we thought it unlikely they would remember much of our conversation the morning after anyway. And with that we fled. Free at last. 

We didn't want to run the risk of our lie being exposed and so skipped going somewhere else in case we bumped into them again. And with that we decided to join Smithy for a drink back at our place. The American Dream would be on hold until tomorrow. 

Back at the hostel we sat in the bar, a little taken back by our first impressions of San Francisco. In contemplation I gazed out the window at the hotel across the street, only then noticing for the first time the bold lettering on its exterior: ‘HOTEL ESSEX’.

We all laughed at the irony. 'At least it would be a story to tell’, we joked.

But our laughter was cut short. 

Our newest friends walked in, back home to their hostel in the Tenderloin. They must have also been feeling ‘too tired’ for the rest of the crawl. 

Oscars 2017 | "La La" Lands 14 Nominations

The nominees were announced for the 89th Academy Awards this week. "La La Land" grabbed the headlines as it equalled the record of 14 nominations. Impressive. Especially considering it's a pretty average film.   

Earlier the BBC ran a story which said 'La La Land is one of the best three films in history'. They stuck a clause on the end of this: 'That's if you use the Oscar nominations as a guide'. We don't use the Oscar nominations as a guide, neither do we use the eventual winners. "La La Land" will win a bag load and it isn't even one of the best three films of the year. Most people can remember the moment they started to take the Academy with a pinch of salt . My raison d'etre came in 2013 when Christopher Waltz won Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Django Unchained". Nothing wrong with his performance but it happened that Philip Seymour Hoffman was also nominated for "The Master". 

The Academy Awards got a fair bit of stick last year, remember the whole #OscarsSoWhite trend?  It was because there were no black nominees in the  main actor/actress categories. In fairness I don't know how much of that was the fault of the Academy but instead down to the lack of diversity in the film industry as a whole. I remember particular outrage about Will Smith not getting nominated for that film which made you feel like you had concussion after watching it. That didn't help the #OscarsSoWhite cause. 

A difference a year makes though, not so white anymore, a healthy mix of all all ethnic backgrounds: both white and black nominees this time round. So what OR who does the guy that didn't much rate "La La Land" actually rate ahead of this year's room full of stars.

Here are a few thoughts. 

 

Best Picture

"Moonlight" was easily my film of the year. The official UK release isn't until February 17th but this incredible film by Barry Jenkins did the festival circuit last year. An episodic journey into the life of 'Chiron', a boy growing up in 80's Miami who is struggling to deal with his sexuality and a drug-addict mother, Moonlight is a film that had me helplessly involved in a world completely remote and unknown from my own. Because ultimately, that's why cinema is so powerful right, its power to transport us. This was down to a great script (adapted from the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue), great direction and an outstanding cast. Each of the three actors playing Chiron at the various stages of his life were equally impressive, while Mahershala Ali & Naomi Harris provided great support. 

Should it win Best Picture it would be a big middle finger up to the whole #OscarsSoWhite brigade of last year. As A.O Scott mentioned in his review, there's not one white actor in the cast, #MoonlightSoBlack. It's visceral on a level superior to "Manchester by the Sea" and "La La Land" and I hope the academy doesn't go with the style of "LaLa" over the substance of "Moonlight".

I'll be seeing it again when it officially releases in the UK next month, so should you. 

 Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in "Moonlight"

Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in "Moonlight"

Leading Actor

I'm still not completely decided on the film (Manchester by the Sea) but Affleck's performance I'm pretty sure about. In "Manchester" he plays 'Lee Chandler', an awkward, socially disconnected handyman from Boston. It's only as the film unravels (perhaps a bit too slowly for my liking) that we discover why he's this way. "Manchester" deprives of us much emotion in its first half and we feel a stranger to Chandler's true self. But as his backstory is later developed, Affleck completes the character with a subtlety thats rare to find. 

The best scenes in the film came when Chandler was made to confront the emotions that had been laying dormant inside, hiding from his past. Affleck didn't reveal all of his cards, we were made to wait. I especially liked the scene that he bumps into ex-partner (Michelle Williams) whilst she's walking her newest baby and the meeting upon which he discovers his deceased brother has made him guardian of his son.

*OBLIGATORY OSCARS CONTROVERSY BIT*

The actress Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) tweeted in outrage at Affleck's nomination. It was a throwback to his past allegations of sexual harassment. This then lead people to draw a parallel between Nate Turner who was overlooked for the Best Actor category this year. An old rape case involving Turner was heavily publicised after "The Birth Of A Nation" was released. Why then, was Turner *cough, he's black, cough* overlooked while Affleck leads the race, they ask. #OscarsSoWhite? 

Well, you could start by pointing out the gaping hole left by the gap in quality between both the films and their respective performances. But I doubt that will satisfy, and it shouldn't, because as mentioned above, the Academy doesn't necessarily always pick the best performances. So maybe Constance Wu does have a point. Regardless, it's an awards ceremony, it's not like they're running for President or something really important like that. Awards are great, because from our perspective they're really important- as Jim Carrey put it at the Globes. I would distance the actor from the act. If you're rewarding the piece of art itself, then that should be your only consideration. You don't have this problem if award ceremonies like the Oscars and the Globes are made to be such a big deal in the first place though. Just saying.  

It wouldn't be overly surprising, especially given last year's bad press, if the Academy went for a safer option in Ryan Gosling (La La Land) or Denzel Washington (Fences). That probably depends on how much the press run the whole Turner/Affleck debate from now until then.

 Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in "Manchester by the Sea"

Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in "Manchester by the Sea"

Also a quick shoutout to Joel Edgerton who wasn't nominated for his performance in "Loving". His might have been my favourite from 2016 and was a clear nominee/contender in my mind. Can't win 'em all though Warrior. 

 

Best Supporting Actress

The "Best Supporting" categories always slightly confuse me. What differentiates a "lead" and a "supporting" role? Apparently not a lot. The Academy will nominate an actor for the category they think they have the best shot at winning. It's pretty ambiguous. Remember when Hopkins won the lead acting award for his fifteen minutes in "Silence of the Lambs". Two performances I enjoyed this year came from Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) and Naomi Harris (Moonlight). 

Both had pretty limited screen time but we've established there's no requisite in that respect. I always forget Naomi Harris is English, she plays so diverse. But she's one of the better English actresses in the industry IMO and hopefully she does more films like "Moonlight". Was it enough to win the Oscar though? Hard to tell. 

Then again, were Michelle William's brief interludes enough either? Her scene with Affleck was powerful and key to the films emotional arc. Can you win an Oscar on the basis of one scene though? I guess she did have to work alongside, as Contance Wu put it, a man who "sexually harasses women". People should put that spin on it, she might win then.     

Ultimately neither will win and it will go to Viola Davis for "Fences", who played a far more substantial part in her respective movie. This is where it gets a bit confused. The film (Fences) was weaker than the others, but her role meatier. You can debate the relative merits of both for ages here. If in doubt then just give it to Seymour Hoffman I guess. 

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Can't pick a favourite here as I haven't seen all the nominees but from those I have seen, "Toni Erdmann" (review to follow) stands out. 

Some of my favourite films of recent time have won this category: "Biutiful" (Alejandro Inarritu) and "The Great Beauty" (Paolo Sorrentino) especially. I recently read an interview with Barry Jenkins in which he talked about the influence that foreign language films have had on his creative process: 

'I thought, I'm gonna watch the shit that nobody else is watching, and that was foreign cinema [...] Cinema is a global economy, a global art form. But the things that have the marketing money to really push above the noise are these huge Hollywood studio productions, some of which are good but most of which are not'

Finding the shit that nobody else is watching obviously paid off for Jenkins. Films like "Toni Erdmann" will struggle to push above the noise but Odeon have been promoting it on the back pages of their site, so watch it if you can. Remember, noise gets louder when people talk.

The Oscars seem to reward a certain amount of innovation in the Foreign Language category that perhaps gets overlooked elsewhere. Would "Toni Erdmann" have been nominated if it was an American picture. "Swiss Army Man" by 'The Daniels' was certainly as unconventional and impressive and that missed out this year. It had Paul Dano in it as well, that should be enough. 

 Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischeck in "Toni Erdmann

Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischeck in "Toni Erdmann

General thoughts on La La Land

It's hard to talk about most of the other categories without mentioning "LaLa Land". It could quite feasibly pick up at least six statues at this years awards. Best Score and Best Song would be a pretty safe bet, whereas Damien Chazelle for Best Director and Best Actress to Emma Stone would also be tempting.

 Poster for "La La Land"

Poster for "La La Land"

Briefly (review to follow), I'd say I was disappointed with the film given the extensive hype. Similarly to Chazelle's first feature "Whiplash", it's well made and it looked great but it felt like it was missing some key ingredient. I always judge a film on the way that it makes me feel. The emotions that it stirred inside, and the extent to which it did so. "La La Land" failed to resonate with me, ultimately it's meant to be a fun film, but did I have that much fun watching it? Not really. The poster above probably isn't too far off; there was romance, there was magic and it looked magnificent. It just doesn't say that "Moonlight" was a lot better. 

How important are the Oscars, really? Wouldn't it be nice, for once, to see the best films and the best performers rewarded, irrespective of prejudice and their off screen antics. Maybe that's too idealistic, because show business has always been full of characters equally as extravagant and flawed as those they portray on the screens. That's probably part of what makes them so good at their craft. Sometimes award ceremonies feel as intent on punishing as they are rewarding. That should change.   

Still, I'll be watching, hoping "Moonlight" does well.

If not, then at least credit Philip Seymour Hoffman for "The Master" damn it.