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Posts Tagged ‘Florence Pugh’

There is always a film that everyone is talking about, earlier this year it was Top Gun: Maverick, a few years ago it was Cats.  Maverick, because it was so good, surprisingly good,  Cats on the other hand was for the wrong reason, it was a car crash (so I’m told, I chose not to see it).  But now we have another film that everyone is talking about for the wrong reasons, Don’t Worry Darling, not because it it’s a poor movie, this started way before release.  It is all because of things that may or may not have been going on behind the scenes.  This is a great shame because the film is actually really good!  I’m not going to go into what has gone on, that’s all pretty well publicized, but I will just dip into the effect before getting back to the film.  The film is currently sitting on an IMDB rating of 6.2 but when you dig a little deeper and look at the spread of voting it looks like there is more going on.  Nearly half the voters gave it seven or more out of ten, so you would expect an average in the mid sevens.  However, a whopping 23.3% of voter gave it one out of ten.  Even movies that average around five out of then only get 10-15% one out of ten votes.  In the interest of balance 13.6% gave it ten out of ten, this is also artificially high.  Possibly the Harry Styles effect?  Whatever the reason, I suspect the ratings are even less reflective of the movie than usual.  But so many people choose to watch a movie based on ratings and reviews.

Back in 2009 I predicted Olivia Wilde to be the next breakout movie star.  She was coming off the back of a show stealing performance in The OC and was also outstanding in House, and starting to get film roles.  Although she has had a good career, she hasn’t been the star I predicted.  Little did I know that was a good thing, as it gave her the time to pursue her real interest, directing.  Her first feature Booksmart (2019) was fantastic, and she has a couple of future projects rumoured to be in pre-production including the obligatory comic book movie.  Don’t Worry Darling is a far mor ambitious project in scope, style and production.  Set in an idyllic late 50’s company town that is drenched in pastel colours as much as it is in sunlight.  The production design is nothing short of perfect combined with the cinematography the film has a real visual style and language.  This doesn’t happen by accident; this is clearly a director taking charge of every detail.

It is difficult to give a synopsis beyond the setup, most of which is in the trailer:  Every morning the men, many of whom are somewhat insecure and dweeby, leave their beautiful homes and even more beautiful wives, dressed in perfect suits, and get in their stylish 50’s cars and drive out of town and race across the desert to work at the “Victory Project”, a mysterious endeavour they are not allowed to talk about.  The wives stay at home cooking and cleaning or go shopping and to dance classes.  They know nothing of their husbands work beyond it involves “progressive materials”.  Our focus is on the youngest and most beautiful of the couples, Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh).  Making the most of their perfect lifestyle we are introduced to them at a party with their friends and neighbours.  Everyone in the movie, including a pregnant woman seems to have an alcohol intake that James Bond or Don Draper would struggle to keep up with.  The hedonistic lifestyle is personified by Bunny (director Olivia Wilde), she seemingly spends most of the film with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other.  Wilde is fantastic and would steal the show if Pugh weren’t so mesmerising.  The Line “work hard, play hard” is even spoken at one point.  The guru at the centre of the Victory Project is Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelly Gemma Chan, both on top for with a strange creepy charisma of a cult leader, or serial killer.

There is clearly more going on than what we can see on the surface, as the movie unfolds and reveals itself it manages to hold the viewers’ attention and interest, but it never totally lives up to the early promise.  The ending and payoff is good but not spectacular.  If there is a crissum, it is with the script.  The story is a little thin for the visual treat and propulsive direction.  There must come a point when the movie reveals itself, and while the reveal is handled well, it is no great surprise.  This prevents it from ever reaching the greatness of a few movies I was going to mention but won’t for fear of spoilers.  But this doesn’t make it a bad film.  It is dripping with style, and the performances, particularly Pugh and Wilde. Harry Styles isn’t bad, he isn’t the best actor in the world, but he clearly has a lot of charisma.  He spends most of his time alongside Florence Pugh who has repeatedly proven to be one of the best young actors around since her debut less than a decade ago in The Falling (2014), and her breakout role in Lady Macbeth (2016), this sometimes helps him, but at others shows him up. 

While it has its visual style firmly in the 50’s melodrama this isn’t a piece of fluff, but then most 50’s melodramas weren’t either!  There is a lot going on thematically, and its deeper than the trailer would have you believe.  These themes and the subtext are never far from the surface.  Rather than try to put them into words, I am going to borrow the words of Terri White: There are a handful of brilliantly compelling ideas at the heart of Don’t Worry Darling. Bodily autonomy, female desire, misogyny, radicalisation, coercive control, female complicity, late-stage capitalism, the dysfunction of the nuclear family. There is a certain section of society (I would include the 45th US President in that list) who will hate this movie, because its about them.  They will not knowingly go to watch a movie like this, I just hope a few of them stumble into see it by mistake.  Having said that they probably wouldn’t recognise themselves on screen anyway! 

A potentially exciting note to end on, I don’t think this is Olivia Wilde’s masterpiece, I believe she has a lot more to say.  To temper that optimism, if she were a man there would be no question she would get the chance, its never as certain for a female filmmaker.  But don’t worry, I somehow don’t think she is going to let anything stop her. 

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Black Widow has a problem, a big problem, timing! The issue is twofold, firstly it has been hugely delayed due cinemas being largely closed throughout last year and the start of this year.  The second more serious problem is that it is set before the previous two movies removing any real jeopardy for the main character.  Whether it can overcome these hurdles depends on different factors, on a critical level, the film is good; financially, we may never know!  It has received the strongest opening numbers since the start of the pandemic, but this is still way down on other movies in the franchise.  It is also available as a premium offering on Disney+ that may help with the ultimate bottom line but not the published box-office.  I would normally advocate watching movies in the order they were made.  However, in this case, I would suggest if you are new to the MCU that you slot this one on in somewhere between Captain America: Civil War from and Avengers: Infinity War. 

Following a prologue set in 1995 the movie kicks off with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) on the run from the authorities aka Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for breaching The Sokovia Accords (see Captain America: Civil War).  A MacGuffin and an attempt on her life later she finds her way to the often mentioned Budapest and on the hunt for a ghost from her past in the shape of General Dreykov (Ray Winstone).

Before I star anything that resembles a review, I have to admit I was predisposed to like this movie.  I have always felt that Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow and Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are the heart of the MCU, the franchises most interesting character, but they have never been given the screen time they deserve.  I am also a huge fan of a couple of Cate Shortland’s earlier movies. To add to this, the film most resembles, even echoes a lot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that is both one of my favourites in the franchise and also the film that prior to getting her own film gave Scarlett Johansson the most screen time in the MCU.  Interestingly the final act (the MCU’s Achilles heel) is similar to, and has the same issues as the winter soldier. 

There are three big and several small action set pieces. As you would expect for a Marvel movie the action is well shot, and well choreographed, but this isn’t the films greatest strength.  The titular Black Widow is surrounded by great characters in the shape of her “family”  Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh),  Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian (David Harbour), and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).  Both the performances and the dialogue are excellent.  The bickering and piss-taking all feels very real and natural as you only see with family or close friends.  Weisz has a level of calm and superiority that perfectly bounces off Harbour’s comic relief, but Pugh is comfortably the MVP.  She plays the part with a perfect combination of childlike sincerity and amazement with a certain grit and cynicism.  There have been suggestions that if this truly is Johansson’s Marvel swansong that Pugh will take on the mantle of Black Window within the Avengers.  While it would be a shame to lose Johansson, Pugh would make an excellent addition, it appears she has already been confirmed to reprise her role in the Hawkeye TV series due to hit Disney+ later this year. 

Like the aforementioned Winter Solider the villains are more grounded than many in other MCU movies, this isn’t a bad thing.  When a story is well told, personal tragedy and  grounded adversaries are just as significant as those that threaten worlds or universes! The plot is slim taking a central idea from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (although a different Bond movie is reverenced and another invoked!).  The accents drift in and out of Russian, often for no real reason.  But these and any other issues spring to mind after the film has finished, because while you watch it, you just go with it! This is testament to the taught direction and  great performances.  What could have been a paper thin narrative used to string together the action set pieces actually comes across as a fun hang-out movie.  The characters are so strong that you may want the action to stop so they could spend more time hanging out and arguing with each other, fortunately this never happens, because the bickering continues  during the big action scenes. 

Marvel have made 24 movies in a decade and half, a similar number to what James Bond Managed in nearly fifty years and around double the Star Wars output in around forty-five years. when you get to this point, you cannot just judge an MCU movie on how good it is, you have to look at in relation to the rest of the franchise, the greater world of comic book movies, and its competitors from the DCEU.  It’s far from the best MCU movie as it doesn’t move the narrative forward, it actually has little to no impact on the franchise as a whole, and you would not miss anything by skipping it, but that would be a shame, and a mistake.  It does something that a lot of the other movies in it stable cannot, it stands on its own.  You could watch and enjoy the movie without having seen any other MCU movie.  And for the record, it’s better than most of the output of the DCEU. Go see it support your local cinema and have some fun!

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bafta rising star

BAFTA will be handing out its annual film awards on Sunday 18th of February.  This year’s best film nominations consist of: Dunkirk, three films that were not released in the UK until after they were nominated (Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), and a film that I hear is very good, but most mainstream cinema chains neglected to show (Call Me By your Name).  There is nothing you or I can do about the peculiarities of BAFTA nominations, or UK cinema scheduling, but there is one award we can impact upon:  The Rising Star Award.

As always, it is a strong list, each of the nominees would make a worthy winner, here are a list of the nominees along with their most significant recent movie:

DANIEL KALUUYA – Get OutGet Out

FLORENCE PUGH  Lady MacbethLady MacBeth

JOSH O’CONNOR – God’s Own CountryJOSH O_CONNOR

TESSA THOMPSON – Thor: Ragnarok TESSA THOMPSON

TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET – Call Me By Your NameTIMOTHÉE CHALAMET

My vote went to Florence Pugh but I could easily have gone for one of the other three that I have seen (Call Me By Your Name).  Florence Pugh has already won the Fandango Award (shared with the writer and director of Lady Macbeth), the rising star category of my awards.  Lady Macbeth was also my movie of the month back in May last year.

You can vote HERE

bafta rising star 2018

 

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Dom 5There is a little academy you may have heard of who plan to announce the nominees for their film awards this week, I think they call them the Oscars.  Before that we have the Seventh Annual Groovers Movie Awards.  As ever all categories, eligibility and winners are decided by me:

Best Movie: Blade Runner 2049: Blade Runner (1982) didn’t need a sequel,  not only is this movie a worthy sequel, but it continues the story that enhances rather than diminishes the original, continuing, even expanding on the themes.  As you would expect from director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, it looks amazing.  A love it or hate it type film; like the original, it may have underperformed at the box-office, it will find its audience in time. Blade+Runner+2049-1

Best Director: Chan-wook Park for The Handmaiden.  A labyrinthine tale that never loses its focus and always holds the audience’s attention.  Based on Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith, this adaptation sees the setting change from Victorian England to Japanese occupied Korea, making the most of the setting, the film looks amazing.  Possibly Park’s best movie since Oldboy. Chan-wook Park for The Handmaiden

Best Actor/Actress: Casey Affleck won the academy award for Manchester by the Sea, a result I certainly wouldn’t argue with.  Jessica Chastain gave to fantastic performances in Miss Sloane and Molly’s Game. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain

Best Dialogue: Aaron Sorkin (writer/director) Molly’s Game.  In his directorial debut, Sorkin is helped by his actors: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner who makes his machine gun dialogue sound amazing. 'Molly's Game' New York Premiere

Best Editing: Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss (editors) Edgar Wright (writer/director), Julian Slater (sound designer), for Baby Driver.  I have always been an advocate of the idea that the best editing is invisible.  Baby Drive breaks this rule with very conspicuous editing; there are long takes, single take tracking shots, quick cuts all done in time with the music.  It could have been a disaster, it’s actually a masterpiece.   Baby Driver

Best Comedy: The Death of StalinArmando Iannucci made an interesting choice with his cast using a mix of British and American accents in this story of the power struggle in the days that followed the titular death of Stalin. Farce and satire in equal parts, with a really dark undercurrent, the risk pays off, it is brilliant and hilarious.The-Death-of-Staling-Banner-Poster

Special Award: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.  This special award is for making interesting movie choices.  A decade ago Stewart and Pattinson became two of the biggest stars in the world thanks to the Twilight movies.  Choosing to work with directors including: James Gray, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas, Kelly Reichardt and Woody Allen.  They have continued making interesting and extremely good movie:  Stewart worked with Olivier Assayas for a second time with Personal Shopper, while Pattinson made Good Time with The Safdie Brothers. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson

Fandango Award: William Oldroyd, Alice Birch, and Florence Pugh – Fandango was writer/director Kevin Reynolds debut (and best) feature, and the first notable movie for star Kevin Costner. It gives its name to this award for the best breakout film-makers of the year:  William Oldroyd, Alice Birch, and Florence Pugh are director, writer and star of Lady Macbeth respectively.   The captivating movie is the first feature for Oldroyd and Birch, and the first starring role for  Pugh.William Oldroyd Alice Birch Florence Pugh

Dom 5

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