Continuing to keep tabs on the films I watch (so much downtime in Peace Corps) and share my thoughts for those interested.
Beautifully adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena, is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an elderly Irish woman who with the help of Martin Sixsmith, a journalist and recently fired government press advisor, tracks down the son taken from her. That summary doesn’t do it justice – check out the trailer.
The two characters come very different places and social classes, yet so many times despite her seeming small town ignorance, Philomena shows herself to be more worldly than Martin would expect. Despite his growing respect for her, however, Martin continues to return to her religion, disturbed by what he feels is blind adherence to an organization that has abused her trust. There’s one particular scene that I enjoyed where Philomena asks Martin to take her to a church so she can confess. He pokes at her and her religion saying “It’s the Catholic church that should go to confession, not you…”
Philomena – “I just hope God isn’t listening to you.”
Martin – “Well I don’t believe in God. Look. No thunderbolt.”
P – “What are you trying to prove?”
M – “Nothing. That you don’t need religion to live a happy and balanced life.
P – “You’re happy and balanced are you?”
M – “I’m a journalist, Philomena. We ask questions. We don’t believe something because we’re told it’s the truth. What does the Bible say, ‘Happy are those who do not see and believe’ Hooray for blind faith and ignorance.”
P – “And what do you believe in? Picking holes in everyone else? Being a smart aleck?”
The film sparked some serious controversy, and while the Roman Catholic church in Ireland comes under scrutiny, it is not religion to which Philomena turns, but her faith. Faith gives her the strength to love, to live a life without judgement of others, and most importantly, to forgive.
Dallas Buyers Club
It was good, not great, and the ending fell flat.
In Their Skin
So, I’ve been really wanting to watch a good horror film where the antagonist either so completely owns the situation that the brutality is almost godlike (a la Funny Games) or has the rug pulled right out from under him and quickly find himself the hapless victim (a la You’re Next – so I’ve heard. I still haven’t seen it.). In Their Skin, was neither and was as flat as its monochromatic color palette.
The film starts off well – a man panicked and running before headlights until he can go no further is brutally executed by a figure who emerges off camera. We then cut to the brooding, affluent Hughes family heading to their vacation home in a secluded mountain area, after the tragic loss of their daughter. Up to now it’s a classic set up, with Josh Close and Selma Blair as the estranged couple and parents to surviving child Brendon (the only one seemingly unaffected by the death). Close and Blair do a great job of creating characters who are still shell-shocked and on edge, and it’s best apparent when the strange Sakowskis (led by James D’Arcy) show up. The Sakowskis are a family un-used to riches trying a little to hard to ingratiate themselves and it creates a wonderful creepiness with tensions on both sides, which peaks in a moment when Mark (Close) suddenly yanks Bobby (D’Arcy) off the steps with barely restrained violence.
From this I felt led to believe that there’s more to Hughes than we know and I’m titillated by the prospects which never actualize. From here the film goes bland. The Sakowskis get violent and take the Hughes hostage with standard horror film panache. James D’Arcy I enjoyed in his role as a crazy person, but there are awkward situations, especially towards the end which felt out of character, or just lazy. In the meantime the viewer is left with a “twist” that lacks real drama, and I’m left still wanting a good horror film.
I struggle with Madonna’s much maligned movie. There are fragments of the film that I enjoy, but overall feel it deserves the criticism for the vision it attempts and fails to attain. The story shifts back and forth between Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) the famous American who had the indecency to love and be loved by the heir to the British crown, Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), and Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) a woman enthralled by the aforementioned celebrity romance who is struggling in the cage of her own disastrous fairytale.
Stylistically it is a beautiful film and D’Arcy and Riseborough are wonderful. Polished and glossy, it visually jumps off the screen like a fashion magazine. Sets, props and costumes are so well placed in their perfection that it is distracting. And therein lies my main problem with W.E.. It is so perfectly smooth but at the same time fragmented and disjointed with many small elements jarringly pulling you out of the moment, taking away from the overall story. For example Abel Korzeniowski’s score, stunning as it is, is far too reminiscent of his composition for A Single Man, with some sections feeling directly lifted. Then during a party scene, which in itself felt unnecessary, guests go wild to the tune of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant”, which would be interesting if the anachronism had served a purpose other than being “cool”.
The story is expansive, and Madonna and co-writer Alex Keshishian use the juxtaposition of the two relationships to bringing a new perspective to the Wallis and Edward, focusing not just on the romance but the sacrifices that Simpson made. This might have worked, if both women’s stories were equally interesting and dynamic, but the modern tale is banal. The Wallis and Edward story is rich enough without adding an unnecessary and distracting storyline
In fact, it may have been too rich and too big for Madonna’s sophomore foray into directing.
Return of Hannibal and Bates Motel