Quick Hit: Predictable but heart-warming and feel good.
Let’s just get this out there guys – I’m a straight, white, middle-class male. They don’t get more majority than I do they? So when it comes to writing something like Green Book, from Peter Farrelly (yes, of Dumb and Dumber fame), I try to ensure that I keep in mind that my opinion is coming from my perspective, but that there are others in mind. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always stated that movie reviewing is a subjective genre, despite the fact there are many technical aspects that you can drill down to. Long story short, I liked Green Book, quite a bit, despite its predictable nature and questionable historical accuracy.
Green Book, a reference to the travel guide for African Americans in the Jim Crow American South, follows Tony Vallelonga, or, as he’s known, Tony the Lip (Viggo Mortensen). He’s your classic cliché Italian-American – he talks fast in a mush mouth kind of way, he eats food ravenously, and he’s violent and solves problems quickly. Early scenes quickly establish him as racist against a variety of non-whites, going as far to throw glasses away when they are drank from by some black plumbers that visit his home. But shortly thereafter, he gets a job offer – he is to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) around on his concert tour of the South. This means he’s not just a driver, but a protector and a solver of problems. He only gets paid if Shirley shows up to early performance and plays them. Shirley is nearly Tony’s opposite – he’s sophisticated, eloquent, well-spoken, and of course, a black man.
This immediately sets up an Odd Couple dynamic between the two, and the dynamic gives the movie so much of its enjoyment. The Farrelly brothers have made a movie like this before, and so it looks like Peter spun off from Kingpin, an underrated comedy about a bowling Amish man (Randy Quaid) and his hard teacher (Woody Harrelson in top scummy with heart form). There is also are elements borrowed from previous movies, like the road comedy that presents itself as Tony and Dr. Shirley travel across the country together, slowly learning and merging to become closer to each other and learn.
The downside to this movie, is that we’ve seen most of its twists and turns before. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable – far from it, the acting is superb whenever these two men are on screen. It just makes it predictable, and it’s really only the performances that keep it from being a shoulder shrug of a feel-good about a white savior. Mortensen, who reportedly gained fifty pounds for the role, is terrific, nailing the accent and mannerisms of a man whose heart is big but whose surroundings have been bigger for the most part. Ali gives a quieter performance that is no less powerful, imbuing Shirley with a grace and strength that goes much further than the words he speaks, particularly at times in the movie when he is discriminated against.
I think what I enjoyed most about this movie was how it wasn’t afraid to throw lines at you occasionally to make you uncomfortable. One of the best scenes involves the first tour stop, and Tony playing dice games outside with the other chauffeurs (all African-Americans). Shirley is furious and Tony is confused as to why – after all, he’s interacting with other colored people. Shirley replies, “They have to stay outside – you chose to”. These powerful moments of realization are sprinkled throughout the movie, and that’s why I think a lot of the controversy surrounding it might be a bit overblown. I understand we have a long way to go in race relations, but movies sometimes give us an idealized experience. And that’s ok, as long as we learn from them.
I’m giving Green Book an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Deliciously decadent and full of filth as well.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s last couple films were a mixed bag for me. We had The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was pretty much as black as sin. There was also The Lobster, which had amusing moments as well as being a dark film full of death. So I was expecting a much darker film when I went into The Favourite. It’s definitely a dark comedy, but there is no doubt that it is a comedy.
The film follows the exploits of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) as she navigates the court in the midst of a war with France. She is rarely without her lady in waiting, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who is a lifelong friend of the Queen and ministers to her every need. Their world is changed when Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives from the country, covered in mood and asking for a chance to serve for her cousin, Lady Sarah. Sarah eventually sees in her an intelligent pawn to be used in her game, which consists of manipulating the court, such as Leader of the Opposition, Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult).
The film eventually begins to spiral as Abigail climbs first into a position of favor (hence the title) and then a position of power. So much of the film hinges on the performance of Stone, and she is nothing but fantastic. She is able to give the smallest of glances that betray her true intentions, but yet, she portrays an innocence throughout, even when it has eventually come too far. Weisz is her foil and is just as terrific, nothing but power and pure honesty throughout the film, even in her weakest moments. But both are dwarfed by the Titanic performance seen in Colman, whose Queen Anne is equal parts disgusting and imposing, whimsical as well as pitiful. Whereas the film hinges on the relationship between Weisz and Stone, the film rests on Colman who is glorious in her role.
So much of the look and feel of the film can be attributed to the production design. Every part of the palace seems stuffed with… well, stuff. Paintings, mirrors, vases, all are there, but there are also windows and tapestries and huge four poster beds. The look of the costumes can also be mentioned, because their delicious and play well with the design of the sets – whereas the sets are constantly reflected in shadow, the black and white costume palette pops to catch your eye. Lanthimos helps this by using a wide array of filming techniques, and here is the only part of the film I can detract. For some reason, he consistently uses a fish-eyed lens. This creates, at times, a dizzying effect that is a bit too much. It’s almost as if, in the spirit of the excess of the royalty, some rubbed off on Lanthimos too.
But despite it all, I was constantly entertained by The Favourite. The dialogue does everything short of crackle and pop, because it is wickedly smart. It’s full of puns and witticisms, and sexually charged to boot. When given to these extremely talented actresses, there is nothing more that can be asked for. It’s as delightful as oh, a piece of cake. I’m giving The Favourite an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Technically beautiful with a deep heart to match.
Alfonso Cuarón took the world by storm a few years ago with Gravity. He had been a successful director prior to that, with Y Tu Mamá También, Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men all on his resume. His long sweeping takes and beautiful cinematography are his trademarks, but he also is noted for giving human stories with a dark undertone. Roma is no different, but it may be his best.
Roma follows Cleo, a maid for a wealthy family in Mexico. But because the story must get conflict, she finds herself pregnant via a man who takes off after he hears the news. Along with that, there is a revolution brewing here, and the undertones of wrongness are all over the story.
The film brings all of Cuarón’s trademark filming techniques – whether long takes or sweeping camera movements that follow the mundane across the screen (the film opens as we watch Cleo clean the driveway/garage of the family) are still absolutely breathtaking at times. But he also has some new tricks, as Roma is entirely black and white, which gives a depth to the image that may not be there in color. Along with that, it makes the story feel deeper because there is less distraction from the dialogue (the film was also written by Cuarón).
The dialogue is rich and allows you to feel at home in the story. The camera accents that, and you soon feel as if you are simply watching a home video. One of my favorite moments early in the story is two girls doing their exercises, as they tease each other about all the food they ate, and joke about trying to keep quiet so that they don’t wake anyone. But Roma also has a dark side, that features the aforementioned revolution and the havoc the stress of something like this can play on both a pregnancy and a marriage. Make no mistake – there are moments in Roma that are surprising and others that are heartwarming, but there’s also some complete and total devastation that takes place. One scene in particular that is shot in a long take without emotion, allows you to complete focus on the acitng and it tears you heart apart.
A big part of this is Yalitza Aparicio in the role of Cleo. She never wavers in the role, instead presenting a solid front for all of us watching. Whether Cleo is cleaning a table, mourning a loss, or rescuing children, there is no moment where Aparicio doesn’t make Cleo an engaging character. Nearly (but not quite) matching her is Marina de Tavira, the mother in the home. Her role may not get nearly as much screen time, but she makes every ounce of it count and her performance draws you to it every time she’s on screen.
I thought that Roma was fantastic, but I’m also a person who doesn’t mind a black and white movie with subtitles. I fully admit that the movie won’t be for everyone, but for those that can get into it, you won’t be disappointed. I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"