LGBT Films: Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country and Jayro Bustamante’s Tremors (Temblores)

God’s Own Country (image from Indiewire)

At first glance, he might not be much of anything. Living in complete isolation in the Yorkshire area, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) simply exists: he toils day and night in his family’s farm while his father (Ian Hart) constantly puts him down while his mother (Gemma Jones) gives little warmth. A life that seems to be headed to oblivion, Johnny truly has no friends, he looks perpetually sullen, is given to drink in excess, and enjoys casual sex with anonymous men to let the tension stemming from loneliness go, if at all, for a time. That is, until a stroke debilitates his father, rendering Johnny as temporary head of the house. However, Johnny is unable to run the farm on his own and hires Gheorghe (Alex Secareanu), a Romanian migrant to lend some much-needed help.

At first, it doesn’t seem as though Johnny and Gheorghe would have anything in common; nothing in their characters suggests otherwise except for a few cursory looks both throw at each other from time to time. However, Johnny’s pent-up anger at everything lands a few times on Gheorghe when he calls Gheorghe a gypsy. Gheorghe gives Johnny a warning sign not to call him that. Johnny, seeing that the guy he hired has somehow threatened his own masculinity, lashes out, and it’s not long before Lee flips the scene on the audience and reveals a moment of unbelievable sexuality, raw and dirty and completely animalistic as anything this way from canadian pharmacy no rx needed essay about why i didnt do my homework get link https://elkhartcivictheatre.org/proposal/tips-for-the-sat-essay/3/ should both parents assume equal responsibility in child rearing essay immigration research paper outline enter https://www.carrollkennelclub.org/phrasing/my-best-friend-essay-kids/6/ http://ww2.prescribewellness.com/onlinerx/crushing-lasix/30/ reasons for graduate study essay free composing online get link definition essay mla example https://people.sfs.uwm.edu/blog/equation-essay-reactants/21/ follow site enter follow link essays on beauty is only skin deep coursework ukm https://tffa.org/businessplan/essay-checker-tool/70/ ordering prednisone online generic viagra from canada pharmacy http://belltower.mtaloy.edu/studies/popular-dissertation-ghostwriters-sites-for-phd/20/ urgent nursing essay helper resume text size thesis topic kamagra soft table follow url here dissertation defense definition go site follow url Brokeback Mountain.

However, it would be unfair to compare God’s Own Country with And Lee’s powerful 2005 drama, and the comparisons will and have been made by reason of theme. The men initiate a tentative bonding that soon becomes much more than that — you literally see them falling in love onscreen as they continue to work in near-complete isolation. Lee wisely avoids bringing in any obvious contrivances to his story — there are no suspicious girlfriends, no family confrontations (it is implied Johnny’s parents are mutely aware of Johnny’s sexuality, which may be a reason for Johnny’s almost adversarial relationship with his father) — because God’s Own Country as a romance develops on its own, naturally, and is anchored by its two leads who turn in sharp performances as tonal opposites who simply complement each other in every shape and form.

I am going to say that this is the kind of movie audiences need to see in order to capture the beauty of men falling in love. Too often gay dramas are soaked with plastic models substituting chiseled features for lack of acting, and cardboard storylines, which is why I tend to stay away from gay films (with some exceptions, this being one of them). What I wish Lee would not have done was to diminish his already potent character study and love story with the slur word “faggot” framed by the equally offensive “freak”. Was it necessary? Yes, sometimes people in intimate relationships call themselves by choice names, but I think that by now it’s time to leave the F word behind for once and for all. Too many men have unjustly died for it. [A-]

Now, if I was shocked by the use of the F word in God’s Own Country, nothing could prepare me for the nightmare unleashed by Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante, who just released La Llorona (available on Shudder). Tremors (Temblores) is a surrealistic nightmare with strong Yorgos Lanthimos sensibilities (think Dogtooth). Bustamante starts his movie with the portent of something horrible that has befallen a wealthy Guatemalan family. The hero (or anti-hero) Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) comes home to a house in emotional turmoil. We don’t quite know what exactly is the problem but it soon becomes clear. Pablo’s secret — that is a gay man — has come home to roost. Needless to say, the family is shocked to the core, and Bustamante punctuates this with a carefully placed earthquake in the middle of the scene.

For worldly audiences, this will almost come as a comedy not aware of itself — really? A house in complete disarray praying to God for a miracle, for a cure for the son’s illness? A mother telling her son, on the way to church, to lower his head so he can hide his shame in 2019? At times I had to hold myself to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. However, having lived in the Dominican Republic, Tremors‘ almost telenovela-like dramatics involving a viciously accusatory family who cast more stones than Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and which comes short of holding pitchforks are quite real. The reality in many Latin American countries that are 98% religious and treat their religiosity as an Iron Rule Never to be Questioned, Period rings true if at times it is so shocking one almost can’t believe the insanity unfold. Pablo, already a weakened man due to his backward-thinking society really hasn’t anywhere to go but back to the enforced mafia that is his family, and all attempts to live a normal life come to a crashing halt even before they can begin, proper.

It is a scenario that Bustamante highlights in presenting the gay community as completely marginalized, people barely surviving, their voices unheard, self-aware and woke in a nation that blatantly hates them for being them. The one sympathetic. character is Pablo’s long-suffering boyfriend (Mauricio Armas) who already knows who he is and is okay with it. It’s a shame that Pablo doesn’t, and has to basically submit to the demands of cult-like devotion to a religious life-coach (Sabrina de la Hoz) who arrives with shades of The Handmaids Tale’s Aunt Lydia. My one complaint is that Bustamante did not include some note at the start of the film that would at least soften the blow of what I was about to see. I avoid gay-negative films in general because there is too much negativity in the world already. I cannot recommend this one to anyone who has undergone gay conversion therapy because frankly, Tremors is torture to watch. [B]

Tremors is available on Dekkoo, while God’s Own Country is on Amazon Prime.

Week Three of the 58th New York Film Festival

I Carry You With Me, Heidi Ewing’s newest movie, a standout this film festival, opens January 8, 2021. [Image from Sundance]

And so, another film festival comes to a close. I have to say that the decision to broadcast all movies virtually has been quite the success — it allowed me to view more pictures than I would have normally been able to have they been screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. When you have to commute from a distant town to see a double feature and then commute back home, only the desire to witness great art and new releases — the inherent love of cinema proper — is what keeps a person like me going.

I’m not sure why, but I’m starting to notice a pattern with the New York Film Festival. More often than not the most impressive films will screen first (often right after Opening Night and during the first half, leading up to Centerpiece), leaving the second half to roll out its own list of films that while good, never quite leaves the indelible impression that the first ones did. This is not to say these are lesser films — perish the thought that I would even entertain that! — but I feel that some of them are solid debuts from new directors who haven’t yet found their footing in cinema, re-discoveries that truly merit a second view, and among them, the usual culprits who like clockwork send their newest works to movie-hungry folks waiting like hyenas for the kill.

Red White, and Blue

The only way to create change in a system that clings onto an arcane series of rules is to infiltrate it from the inside and by sheer presence alone, be the change. [As an openly gay man working in a decidedly non-traditional profession I will perfectly agree.] Steve McQueen’s fifth and final episode from his Small Axe series, Red, White, and Blue focuses on the topic of being the lone outsider in a sea of complacency. John Boyega plays Leroy Logan, a forensic scientist who comes to the realization that the only manner in which to bridge the gap between the police force and the Black community in London is to join them.

McQueen’s episode suggests that this is a decision that’s been a long time coming — the catalyst being an incident in Leroy’s childhood when he was stopped and searched as a young teen by police officers who zoomed in on him for the sole reason that he was Black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. The incident, which ended with Leroy’s father Kenneth (Steve Toussaint) warning Leroy never to be a hoodlum or bring a cop to his house, couldn’t be more pregnant with irony, because years later there will be cops arriving at Kenneth’s house, but to recruit Leroy.

Clearly, the scene and story are set to spark conflict not only with Leroy and Kenneth — who gets attacked by cops over a false charge (again laced with racial overtones), but Leroy and his colleagues. The tension, from the moment he arrives at the precinct, is palpable. The only other ethnic officer is an Indian officer who is not even allowed to speak his native language when responding to an incident involving Gujarati speakers. Other than that, this is a milk-white police force, and not many are welcoming — quite the contrary. Red. White and Blue is a sharp episode that ends a bit too abruptly to leave the audience satisfied, but perhaps this is because Leroy’s major accomplishments occur much later than the episode’s timeline. While all that is excellent for the real-life Leroy, we as an audience are left closer to the gaping would of overt racism than anything else, leaving the story at an exclamation point rather than an east resolution. [B]

Small Axe premieres on Amazon Prime on November 20.

The Woman Who Ran

No women run, or even jog, in Hong Sang-soo’s latest movie, a wispy tale of a woman (Min-hee Kim) who travels to the Korean countryside to visit two female friends and has an unplanned encounter with another one.

Parallels between Sang-soo and Woody Allen are again visible. As usual, the woman is a central character, and in his muse and frequent collaborator Min-hee Kim he assigns a task of a frail but determined young woman who still has a ghost of a former lover hanging over her shoulder. This is a well-observed little comedy of manners in which women talk naturally, and within those conversations, you get glimpses of their lives away from their men or at least, the patriarchy.

As a matter of fact, men barely make an appearance in The Woman Who Ran. When they do, it’s under the guise of petty behavior and they get filmed unflatteringly — from the back of their heads, or from a distance. The first one, we only meet from the rear as a neighbor who complains Kim’s friend is feeding a stray cat. Inconsequential, like many of Sang-soo’s events, but later we see another man disrupting Kim’s second friend. This one brings a hint of petty menace as a jilted one-night stand who won’t accept that “she’s just not that into him.” However, it is the final one whom we get to see in full, and it’s the one that Kim herself will have to confront on her own.

The Woman Who Ran is really for Sang-soo enthusiasts and might not be of much consequence because it’s such a slight little drama. Personally, I enjoyed it as I often do with his films, but I will admit that it never quite resonates at an emotional level, barely lingering like a soap bubble seconds floating in the air. [B]

Beginning

Dea Kulumbegashvili’s debut film Beginning is quite an accomplishment, even when it will manage to outrage anyone across the pond who has not lived through a repressive society. Her film tells the story of Yana (Ia Yukitashvili in a stand-out performance), a devout Jehovah’s Witness who finds her life upended after a Molotov bomb explodes inside the church where she and her husband impart the Holy word. The intrusion of a detective (Kakha Kinturashvili) with increasingly nefarious intents against Yana and her family presents itself as a metaphorical serpent in the garden, here to upend her life in the name of “order and the norm”, sent perhaps by the very same people who Yana and her very mortified husband David (Rati Orneli) have gone for help. Beginning, oddly titled, is an uncomfortable experience because it throws a woman’s faith — the one thing she holds on to with conviction — and places her against forces she cannot understand nor defend herself from. Kulumbegashvili’s camera is merciless in depicting an act of debasement that almost borders on torture, but she is trying to make a point. In this world, the oppressed will be humiliated at all costs and must endure until they can find a way out, and any attempt to curb the process might end rather badly. If only Kulumbegashvili had not taken her already tense story into the extreme, I would be able to understand, but sometimes, extreme situations call for extreme actions, and Yana’s final sacrifice seems to be pregnant with meaning that transcends the narrative and eventually finds its way, albeit symbolically, to the corrupt detective (and perhaps the entire organization, since the scene is depicted as a symbol more than an actual occurrence,). Definitely not an easy watch but still ultimately gratifying, I’m going to give Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning a B.

Simone Barbes or Virtue

Of all the French entries that screened at the 58th New York Film Festival (if I remember, a paltry few), this one was the sole movie that held my interest. [Philippe Garrel’s The Salt of Tears held no sway over me as I sensed it would be just another bland entry into a world of casual love and who wants to see that?] Featured in the Retrospectives category, Marie-Claude Treilhou’s debut 1980 film Simone Barbes or Virtue is an uneven gem of a comedy that deserves better recognition among cinephiles and art-house film lovers alike. Hopefully, this film will get shown in the US (Film Forum, pay attention), because this is a movie that seems to be rather ahead of its time while being strictly French.

Simone (Louise Bourgoin) is an usherette working at a porn theater alongside friend Martine (Martine Simonet). Already I find the premise interesting being that you wouldn’t see women in porn theaters (unless I am wrong), but I digress. The women seem to be as jaded as they come — they could be madams in a brothel — tiredly exchanging stories and comments that occasionally lapse into the witty while the men come and go, screening after screening. Meanwhile, the movies’ vocalizations float out into the lobby, sometimes punctuating what’s being discussed right in front of us.

Soon later Simone leaves the movie theater for the night and heads out into a lesbian bar for a night by herself as she both admires the younger girls who also come in for a bit of fun and exchanges small talk with the older butch lesbians who work there. One scene features a trans woman enjoying a night out in a way that would seem common today but was groundbreaking 40 years ago since at the time transgendered people were never seen as anything but in exploitation dramas or horror movies.

The third act is by far the weakest. Once Simone leaves the bar she gets accosted by an older man on the street. Not being standoffish, she decides to take the man’s offer to drive her home, and their banter is rather monotonous and uneventful and somehow diminishes the potency of a character study that could have ended on a higher note. However, even with its final 20 minutes of tedium, Simone Barbes or Virtue is a film unique in its portrayal of lesbians on film as simply existing, with occasional forays into the fantastical, and moments of sharp observational humor. [B-]

Undine

If it weren’t for the outstanding chemistry between Undine‘s Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, I probably would not have cared much for its heavy-handed treatment of a fairy tale which titles Christian Petzold’s movie. Undine tells the story of Undine Wibeau (Beer), a historian who specializes in Berlin’s urban development throughout the years. Her current boyfriend, Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) leaves her for another woman, a thing that at first glides by as an afterthought as Undine literally dives into her work. It isn’t long before she literally runs into another man, Christoph (Rogowski), and soon they initiate a rather breathtaking and sensuous romance that reaches dizzying heights. Of course, no romance would be perfect with a monkey-wrench thrown into the middle of the movie like a spider, and Undine here becomes a bit muddled as it threatens to force its heroine to reenact the tragic actions her myth is known for. If it weren’t for Petzold’s images, which are indeed elegant and restrained even in its moments of passion and in one chilling sequence, I would say that this movie would basically be the equivalent of a director having to meet a quota of a movie every two years whether it makes sense or not. Undine manages to haunt, but not too convincingly, which is a shame when his previous movie Transit basically demanded more than one viewing and was rife with tragedy and suspense that lingered well past the end credits. [C+]

I Carry You With Me (Te llevo conmigo)

It never fails. Every year, new LGBT movies come out in droves and I can only watch as many as I can catch without this turning into a futile upstream swim. Heidi Ewing’s I Carry You With Me (Te llevo conmigo) so far is the standout 2020 has to offer and here’s why. It is a compelling, beautifully shot romance fused with a documentary that chronicles the lives of Ivan and Gerardo, two young men living in Mexico who meed in a time when both had to suppress their own orientation from everyone and live double lives. Ivan (Armando Espitia) makes the decision to forge himself a future and cross the river to the USA, a thing that will ultimately separate him not only from his already estranged wife Paola (Michelle Gonzalez) but also from Gerardo (Christian Vasquez). Matters get a bit complicated with Ivan’s sister Sandra (Michelle Rodriguez) tags along, but from then on, the movie focuses on not just Ivan’s assimilation into American culture, but his long-distance relationship with his son who is growing right in front of his own eyes, and then the arrival of Gerardo who has left everything behind just to be with Ivan.

Heidi Ewing’s I Carry you With Me doesn’t over-romanticize Ivan and Gerardo’s love story; instead, it adopts a position of simply observing the two men meet cute, then meet again, then realize each one carries the burden of living a lie, and finally, realize that they are meant to be together. There are no real mysteries to be had in their story — simply the silent accrual of two men who are destined to be together and create a life out of a labor of love and sacrifices. Later in the movie Ewing departs from the fictional Ivan and Gerardo and settles into the actual Ivan and Gerardo, whom she personally knows, and lets them finish off the final segment of her movie. Mind you, if you don’t walk out not just crying in sheer emotion at seeing a true love story flourish, then you just don’t get what the power of true love is. Ewing’s movie reflects just that and is a standout for LGBT movies. [A–]

I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) will arrive to virtual theaters January 8, 2021.

Closing Night: French Exit

There seems to be a new trope emerging for older actresses to have a field day with due to the opportunities that playing such a role requires and it is the aging socialite. Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert have been playing this type of character for ages now to a point where they can basically phone it in with minimal effort and still come out with flying colors. Over here in the US, the type is still in its infancy (although Jessica Harper and Megan Mullally have nailed it on the small screen in their respective roles as Lucille Bluth and Karen Walker). [I’m sure I am missing others but for now, let’s pretend I didn’t.]

Michelle Pfeiffer essayed a somewhat similar precursor to her most current role in Murder on the Orient Express, but in Azazel Jacobs’ adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s French Exit she pulls out all the stops as Frances Price, a woman of privilege who’s been left practically destitute following the death of her husband (Tracy Letts, voice only). A rash decision following the offer of a friend (Susan Coyne) sees Frances departing to Paris with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and pet cat in tow, where they encounter a series of oddball characters that subtly manage to bring some change into their already messy lives.

There’s an aura of sadness just lurking underneath the apparent flippant facade present in French Exit. We get that Frances is a woman who in her youth was probably not a pleasant person and got by through the sheer power of her looks. Now an aging 60-year-old something with fried red hair and lines starting to mar her face, she’s a bit of a spectacle, an oddity that mostly exists to make cutting remarks that will make you laugh as you also cringe. This is a woman who really has come to the end of her own existence and in the MacGuffin of a psychic subplot to communicate with her dead husband she is attempting to find a way to make amends, with mixed results. It’s no accident that the entire movie feels like a motif to taking a final decision and exiting gracefully.

The cast, comprising of the aforementioned Hedges (second banana to Pfeiffer here), Valerie Mahaffey (who comes across just as batty as a lonely older woman without much grounding and one too many cats might), Danielle MacDonald. Isaac de Bankolé, and Imogen Poots, is uniformly solid, which all together bring a feel of the screwball comedy that went down with The Philadelphia Story 80 years ago. [B]

French Exit is set to premiere February, 2021 in limited release.

A Return to DOWNTON ABBEY, Upgraded for the Big Screen

DOWNTON ABBEY. Country, UK. Director Michael Engler. Screenwriter: Julian Fellowes. Based on the PBS series of the same name and characters created by Julian Fellowes. Cast: Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Tuppence Middleton, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Allen Leech, Imelda Staunton, Harry Haden-Paton, Raquel Cassidy, Robert James-Collier, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter, Kevin Doyle, Michael Fox, Lesley Nicol, Brendan Coyle, Geraldine James, Kate Phillips, Max Brown, Susan Lynch, Simon Jones, David Haig, Philippe Spall, Douglas Reith, Perry Fitzpatrick. Language: English. Release Date: September 20, 2019. Runtime: 120 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: A+

It had to happen. Even though it ended four years ago amidst much drama and fanfare and lots of Kleenex, the series we know and came to love, Downton Abbey, came to an end, and left us Anglophiles with not much to hold on to. While Masterpiece Theatre consistently has brought to life countless shows, some with their own spin-offs, none it seems has resonated with so much verve as Downton, an exploration of (what else?) upstairs and downstairs life at the turn of last century, something that R. F. Delderfield could write in his sleep.

This time, director Michael Engler pulls out all the stops. Even when every episode had the characteristic of a one-hour movie and often was treated with much care and cinematic attention to detail, when we see the movie that is Downton Abbey, we are in for quite the experience. A letter, a very important letter, is on its way to Downton, and its travel is treated with enormous suspense, with the music by John Lunn waxing and waning so beautifully you can’t but help but hold your breath, Once it is clear where it’s headed, cameras floating over the hills reveal the majestic castle, and thus begins the wistful, melancholic, rich theme we have come to know and love. The camera continues to move and pan and zoom in and out, giving us snippets of life at Downton, with Andy (Michael Fox) receiving the letter, Daisy and Mrs Patmore (Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicol) going about in the kitchen, in and about the many, many rooms, where we see Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) discussing business (as it’s clear she’s the one who runs the house). It is a remarkable way to introduce practically everyone who lives and works in Downton, and if you are new to the story, it probably doesn’t require you to have seen the series, as Fellowes has left his people intact, with some slight changes. Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) now runs the house as butler alongside Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and is actually a nice guy. Retired butler Mr Carson (Jim Carter) tends to his garden. Other than that, it is business as usual: the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton) continue to exchange barbs (although, let’s be real, those two love each other in the same way Lady Mary and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), for once, happily married, don’t. Tom Branson (Allen Leech), who had attempted life in the US, is back. Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode)? Absent, mostly. The Bates’ (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt)? Check. Lady in waiting Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy? Check.

Missing, but mentioned? Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) and Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond), and that’s okay, We have new people to introduce, and that letter I mentioned is precisely why Downton begins that way. It turns out that the letter is coming from none other than Buckingham Palace itself. The King (Simon Jones) and Queen (Geraldine James) are coming to visit, since they are performing a tour around the country’s royal residences as a move to espouse the importance of the monarchy. Man the harpoons! Everything has to be picture perfect down to a science. Not having it is Daisy, who voices her more modern opinion that this is all a colossal waste of time, and of course, we side by her, but of course, we don’t really care, because let’s face it, Downton.

Also not quite having it but willing to suffer is Violet. The Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) is also Robert’s cousin once-removed and there has been a falling out over an inheritance that has left the families all estranged.

Interestingly, the real drama starts once the King and Queen’s staff arrive. Richard Ellis (David Haig), the Page of the Backstairs, behaves in a manner that is so offensive he reduces Barrow into absolute timidity. Lady Mary has no other choice but to bring the reliable Carson back, but even that has no effect on the Royal Staff who continue to act as if they own the house and none of the Downton staff even exist. This puts a monkey wrench in the plans of almost everyone involved: Mrs Patmore sees her cooking will not be put to service, Mrs Hughes finds herself relegated to the background, and basically everyone is forced into a corner. In the meantime, Anna Bates who really needs her own show where she plays a Miss Marple character, has put her sleuthing to good use, this time with a Royal Staff employee with a penchant for legerdemain.

Midway up the stairs, Tom Branson has been approached by a stranger with ulterior motives, and Branson finds himself somewhat out of place with the sheer spectacle of it all while he also serves as a counselor to Princess Mary (Kate Phillips) who finds herself trapped in a marriage to an abusive man and he also finds possible love with Maud Bagshaw’s maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton). Busy man.

Interestingly of all is Barrow’s own storyline. Barrow is the only downstairs character who other than being basically a bitter bitch through the entire show never quite had a storyline that would be satisfactory. He makes friends with one of the King’s footmen (Max Brown). It’s only too bad that Fellowes doesn’t take the opportunity to make this meeting a bit more pregnant with some foreboding of times changing the same way he is so verbal with Daisy’s snarling against the attention to pageantry. But, perhaps had this been a three-part miniseries or an official sixth season, that would have been a bit more fleshed out.

Yes, this happens.

There is not a thing I can really say against the movie version of Downton Abbey (other than some plots move at cannonball speed and everything gets touched with such a light tone as to leave the viewer as though he saw it all through an impressionistic fog, but caught only the most salient of the best of the menu. Yes, there is a ridiculous amount of attention to period pieces, detail, gowns, lighting, because again, this isn’t your average 40 inch screen. The writing is often on point and of course, the best and bitchy lines go, hands down, to Maggie Smith, Probably a minor quibble is the way Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville seem to have reduced their characters down to befuddled spectators on the side just enjoying a life of pure privilege, but that is just a side observation. Judging from box office receipts, it looks like America really, really loves royalty, castles, and intricate family plots involving heirs toe and whatnot that only serve to remind that this is a life that once was privy to a handful. Do not be surprised if we in 2021 or 2022 see a further iteration of Downton.

Beatlemania, revisited in Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY

YESTERDAY. Country, UK, Russia. Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Sarah Lancashire, Camila Rutherford, Robert Carlyle. Screenwriters Jack Barth, Richard Curtis. Language: English. Runtime: 116 minutes. Venue: C Newport Mall, Jersey City, NJ. Rating: C+

So you’re a musician, just shy from being a busker, and you’re trying to make it in a world filled with performers of all shapes and sizes, styles and talents. No one, except your only fan, wants to hear you, and you’re left to marinate in an uncertain future and working as a non-entity in a factory just to make ends meet.

That’s the reality of Jack (Himesh Patel), who’s life seems to be destined to hit a brick wall and stay there until Fate, or the Gods, if you will, decides to play a little joke on him. One night upon returning home from yet another disappointment, the planet experiences a massive, global blackout. Jack gets hit by a bus. When he recovers from his ordeal, he performs Yesterday to his friends who, while loving the tune, do not recognize it or The Beatles. At all.

It slowly dawns on him and he confirms during a Google search… The Beatles have never existed. There is no trace of any song from their catalogue, no mention of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. Nothing. That, of course, leads Jack to discover, that if The Beatles never were, neither were bands that based their sound on them — for example, Oasis.

So what’s a man to do? Can it be called plagiarism if Jack ‘steals’ the songs from a group that never existed? Jack never gives this a second thought — and neither it seems, does the movie — and allows that Jack begin performing Beatles tunes that he has, through sheer memory, brought back. He becomes a local sensation, even securing a spot aside Ed Sheeran who becomes a mentor. And then America beckons under the guise of a greedy exec (played to comic perfection by Kate McKinnon) shamelessly approaching Jack to make money “and secure herself another house.” Jack, who’s struggled all his life, can’t but take the offer and face “The Americanization of Jack” while singing songs that aren’t his, all the time wondering how long can the jig last before it’s discovered his performance is a sham.

Yesterday, however, isn’t trying to tell a story about posing — even when Jack’s renditions of Beatles’ classics often skirts the kind of indie music that can be heard ad infinitum on coffee-rock stations, pretty but not especially memorable. In Boyle’s movie you are asked to really listen to the songs, pay attention to the lyrics, as if the Beatles truly were a band nearing extinction, and in that way, it’s pretty clever and unique because it places their artistry at a level of rediscovery not seen since iTunes or their Free as a Bird video from 20 years ago.

Also, In many ways, the whole premise of the world hitting a weird fugue is merely a backdrop for Boyle to tell a sunny romantic love story between a boy and a girl who are meant to be together (and it helps that both Himesh Patel and Lily James are perfectly cast; he as the unwilling, passive rock star; she as the woman who knows him best). It just takes some gentle prodding from the blackout-turned-catalyst and the man himself, John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) in a much-needed emotional scene.

DANCING WITH THE ENEMY

MY COUSIN RACHEL
UK
Director: Roger MIchell
Runtime: 105 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Does anyone remember those haunting opening lines of Rebecca? Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It’s enough to send shivers down your back whether you’ve read the Daphne DuMaurier novel, allegedly plagiarized from Carolina Nabucco’s 1934 novel A Sucessora, or seen the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece in Gothic suspense. It also shows that perhaps this dreamy ambiguity was good for only one novel and nothing else; as a writer, DuMaurier may have had her inspirations, but she was not exactly what I would call a good writer.

Perhaps then this is the reason that Roger MIchell’s version manages to colossally misfire and land in a puddle of mud before it even has time to tell its tale. Picture this, a story in which another ambiguous line starts the wheels of the plot in motion– “Did she? Didn’t she?” — reeks of phoning in a sense of dread, the kind that by its presence and atmosphere alone should grab a hold of your stomach and apply some unsavory pressure little by little until you can’t even breathe. The person who utters that question is our hero Philip (Sam Claflin, previously seen in Their Finest), who plays the male version of Rebecca‘s X — basically a non person who tells of a childhood living wile and free with his cousin Ambrose, who then went off to Italy, and while there met and fell in love with the titular Rachel only to suddenly fall ill and die soon after the two of them were married.

So much build up is placed on these events that we feel that after Ambrose kicks the bucket, Philip will turn into some kind of raving Byronic hero of the kind fo leave even Heathcliff in the dust. He does vow revenge on Rachel, whom he suspects of murdering Ambrose, but once she arrives at Plymouth all that falls by the wayside and Philip is practically giving Rachel the benefits of the doubt and the keys to his entire estate faster than you can see 45 tweet covfefe. Once I saw this happen with frightening speed my eyebrow arched, and I went “What just happened? Can we refresh this scene, please, and play it slowly? No? Okay. ” That, my friends,  just doesn’t quite gel in a story that should be less about what is said, shown, or spoken, and more about insinuations, side glances, and especially emotions just waiting to be released, at least, for a little. It doesn’t help that Rachel Weisz is completely wrong for this film — an actress who could be more enigmatic could have been a better choice — and Sam Claflin, like I said earlier, is written rather blandly. It’s hard to care for any of this movie’s people when they themselves don’t give their own moments on screen any life. My Cousin Rachel isn’t deadly; shes just plain dullsville. Perhaps I’ll wait for Lady Macbeth — that looks like it’s got teeth.

My Cousin Rachel is still playing in theaters and arrives on DVD at the end of August.

MOKA
France / Switzerland
Director: Frederic Mermoud
Runtime:  85 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Emmanuelle Devos is a French actress that I’ve been seeing on film for the past 15 years now, and while she’s a good performer for the most part, that little girl voice of hers and that look of perpetually helpless wait begging to be rescued somewhat puts me off. It’s the sole reason I didn’t go to see Moka at the Film Forum when it premiered and waited a couple of days until it was extended for a third and final week there. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to sit in a theater listening to a woman just over 50 talking like a sex-kitten filled with angst and vulnerabilities plod her way through an intellectual thriller that someone like Isabelle Huppert could handle in her sleep without the slightest effort.

Well, dear reader, I have to say I was blown away with Devos in this little Swiss-French thriller that also paired her with acting giant Nathalie Baye. [As an interesting little note, Baye’s previous role was another barely seen French thriller in which she played the Devos role.] Moka starts with the image of Devos (who plays a woman named Diane) silently banging her head against a window. We don’t know where she is, until the camera pans away and we realize she’s in some sort of mental facility. And then the cards that plant the seeds of the plot get revealed: Diane has lost her son Luc in a freak accident where he was fatally involved in a hit-and-run. Since then, time and basically everything has stopped for Diane. Because the perpetrators were never brought to justice, Diane has hired a private investigator to find out about the vehicle that killed her son. She learns that it was a mocha-colored car registered to a woman who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The woman happens to be Marlene (Baye). Marlene is the owner of a beauty salon, and from the moment both women meet there is a sense of uneasiness in the air. But Diane has other plans, and so does the story: while she is befriending (and getting to know Marlene), she’s also flirting with Marlene’s boyfriend Michel who is selling the mocha vehicle, and at the same time, she also establishes a tentative friendship with Marlene’s daughter from a previous relationship.  To add to the whole situation, Diane has met a guy who does deals on the darkside and produces a gun for her, and as a final nail, Diane’s husband eventually appears on stage wondering what has happened to her. Sounds complicated? It’s because it is, and director Mermoud wastes no time in getting into the meat of the action while allowing it to breathe and develop on its own. We wonder where is all this going and how long can Diane keep her charade alive without recurring to cheap solutions. Devos plays Diane as a relentless avenger, but with enough frailty and vulnerability that we wonder if she will carry out her affairs in Lausanne until the end. Baye, her hair bleached a cheap, older woman peroxide blonde, is prickly, suspicious from the get-go, but all reception. She’s a beautician, so she hears stories from her clients, and Diane’s doesn’t ring totally true. Even so, she lets her slowly in and we wonder if there isn’t some agenda . . . or is she being set up for something terrible.

It’s not often that movies feature strong women in leading roles playing complicated characters that dance around each other like samurais waiting to strike. Moka is a complex psycho drama that touches on the topics of grief and loss and the need to mete out personal justice without turning it into exploitation and offers enough twists and turns and even an emotional finale to out-guess aficionados of the thriller genre and leave them satisfied.






A UNITED KINGDOM

A UNITED KINGDOM

4/5

In 1947 Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams (David Oyelowo and Ruth Williams in outstanding, empathetic roles) met each other in a London dance hall and hit it off immediately from the moment they laid eyes on each other and shared their opinions on jazz music. Soon they were seeing each other with an increasing regularity, sensing an increasing intimacy and something bigger than themselves steadily developing between them. It was only time before their escapades would take another more formal tone, and Seretse would pop the question, to which Ruth would accept even if it meant estrangement from her own family and country.

However, while Ruth and Seretse may have been completely in love with each other, they had one hurdle to overcome. For one, Seretse was Prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana); Ruth Williams was a white Englishwoman. Their marriage occurred two decades before Loving vs. Virginia would take the US by storm and the ban on interracial marriages would get overturned in the entirety of the country. In the UK, while such unions had occurred, Seretse’s and Ruth’s created an international conflict mainly because of Britain’s interests with Bechuanaland and Seretse’s own obligations, which meant he was slated to marry one of his own.

Amma Assante’s follow up to her previous historical romance Belle, a movie that also explored another controversial figure of African descent who had to endure circumstances that were out of her control, is a less complex feature and plays it very, very safe and somewhat two-dimensional. Scenes of intimacy between Seretse and Ruth, for example, are directed with a sense of old-school, old-Hollywood glamour: timidly, and from a safe distance, as opposed to, for example, Brad Pitt’s and Marion Cotillard’s love scene in Allied which went further (and against a whirling sand-storm). I can only assume that Assante believed the story itself was more important, but as a minor observation, I’ve seen other couples receive the full sensual treatment in other movies — that it didn’t happen here may say something of the type of audience this movie was aiming for.

A United Kingdom manages to, even with some time-compressed events, to present the ups and downs the Khamas experienced during the early part of their marriage and the twists and turns both had to undergo in order to prevail above the bureaucracy of the time and the friction between Seretse and his people. Ruth’s fight is just as intense; to win the love and respect of a people who see her as an usurper to the Queen’s throne (as one of Seretse’s sisters spits at her early on. Her’s is a victory hard won and Assante presents it in a moving tribute the woman of the land give Ruth.

And of course, no movie that depicts a couple overcoming odds would be complete without a couple of good villains, and none are as salient and hateful as those played by Jack Davenport and Tom Felton. Both bring that old-school villainy into their performances, and  the picture looks the best when Davenport and David Oyelowo lock horns, and when in one short sequence, Pike quietly and defiantly stands up to Felton. A tad superficial, Assante’s film is a crowd-pleaser filled with emotional peaks and valleys and a highly satisfying ending.