Happy Birthday Benicio Del Toro

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Today Benicio Del Toro turns 53. The ever intense actor who has impressed in many movies with his gravelly voice, passion for playing dark characters and piercing stare. I always like to see Benicio in movies as he always seems to deliver, no matter what the film. So happy birthday to an impressive actor who I’ll never tire of watching

What are your favourite movies set during storms?

With strong winds and rain battering a lot of England, it for me thinking about movies set during stormy conditions. So I pose that question to you all. Which movies set during storms are your favourites? And yes this is officially my comeback to blogging. Please bear with me as I catch up with everyone.

A Message to You All

Lately I’ve felt quite lethargic and as if I’ve hit a creative wall. Having low mood hasn’t helped me either but I’m definitely getting there with the support of those closest. I’m feeling like my mojo is beginning to return to me again. So I just want to say that I will definitely be back with a writing vengeance. And I love you all. Plus, I have many great things lined up for here. So if I’m not available on here, don’t worry as I’ll be fine.

Hello Everyone

Just wanted to check in and assure people I’m still alive. This month has been busy so far and I’m still having trouble with my comments not appearing. It’s a pain, but I’m sure it’ll get sorted. Anyhow, I haven’t been on because I’ve been so busy with other things. I promise to be back soon.

The Blue Lagoon

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A romantic drama that is more remembered for the skin shown and hidden from young Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, The Blue Lagoon is hardly what you’d call intelligent viewing. It gained negative reviews on release but was a big money maker at the box office. The cinematography and music are the big highlights here, but The Blue Lagoon is the kind of movie you’d call something of a guilty pleasure though the flaws shown are noticeable.

In the Victorian era, young cousins Emmeline and Richard are on a boat. They are journeying across the ocean but a fire onboard soon interrupts it. The children are separated from Richard’s father and end up in a rescue boat with boozy cook Paddy( Leo McKern) . After days of drifting, they come across a desert island. Exploring, it appears they aren’t alone and that a tribe resides on the other side of the island. Paddy forbids both children to visit there, while teaching them survival skills in the process. They are left to fend for themselves after Paddy has a drunken binge and drowns. Years later, the two have grown into athletic, attractive teenagers( and are now played by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins). They’ve learned to be self-sufficient and have fashioned a hut to live in. Richard spends most of his days hunting fish for food and exploring, while Emmeline admires the beauty of her surroundings. With both not having much education and having been marooned from civilisation for a long duration, they often don’t understand what they are feeling in any shape or form. This is most prominent in terms of attraction to each other, as they don’t know how to deal with their raging hormones and changes in their bodies. Puberty is hitting for Emmeline and Richard, though they are not really aware of what entirely it is. Yet as their feelings grow into love and they discover the joys of sex, they aren’t prepared for pregnancy or even a chance of survival from the outside world.

Randal Kleiser, of Grease fame, is the director of The Blue Lagoon. He does a decent job, though his overall approach is uneven and choppy. I feel like big parts of the story have been cut out and that the adventure which was promised in pasts wasn’t there. The main point everyone mentions is the sexual content between Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins. Shields was 14 at the time of filming and Atkins was 18. Atkins did his own nude scenes, while Shields had a body double and had her hair stuck to her chest to cover her modesty. While the sexualisation of the two is questionable and would certainly not be allowed today, it’s the fact that film wants to be a showing of natural love but is clearly peek a boo stuff involving young people that stands out. Sex in itself is something natural but The Blue Lagoon treats it in a way that’s on a pedestal yet attempting to seem to be classy . In actuality, The Blue Lagoon is not classy because of the film not having much in the way of realism or sense and is obviously wanting box office returns with the promise of revealing content. I don’t understand how it expected to be one thing when it’s actually the other, marketing might be to blame. The Blue Lagoon wants to be sexy and somehow chases and discovers it can’t be. It’s not difficult to see why the film raised eyebrows on release and is still spoken about now. I must say while there is nudity on show, large parts of it are obscured and films nowadays definitely display more than what is shown in The Blue Lagoon. But I can understand the stir of this film back in 1980, I doubt something like this would be made today.

The script is pretty risible, trying to almost be a sexier Swiss Family Robinson while promoting itself as being a natural and free expression of burgeoning desire. It leaves the stars uttering lines that raise laughter rather than sweetness or sexiness. Plus, certain plot points like the tribe that are on the other side of the island are practically all but forgotten and blink and you’ll miss it. It’s as if someone just cut out that part and thought it would help( in reality, it doesn’t). The best things in The Blue Lagoon are the cinematography and music, which actually provide some feeling of atmosphere. Néstor Almendros is the cinematographer and his use of natural lighting is inspired at capturing the romanticism of paradise and supplying us with an array of breathtaking vistas. He breathes life into the film and shows the set location of Fiji to beautiful effect. Aiding the cinematography and the film itself is the lush music that is simply gorgeous. It has such a sweeping and intoxicating aura to it that is better than the film it belongs too. That can be said of both aspects as you do have to admire them, but obviously wish the film had more to involve us.

The acting from Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins was lambasted on release. Yet while neither is perfect or especially earth shattering, they aren’t horrendous and have some moments to shine. It’s the writing that doesn’t give them a lot to do, often making the characters sound unconvincing. I know they are supposed to be uneducated and unaware of things, but they come off as dim witted. Thankfully, Shields especially has enough charm and presence to compensate this. Not amazing by most standards, Shields, with her prominent eyebrows and dazzling eyes, at least suggests her character’s changing mindset and unsure feelings with some semblance of conviction, As I’ve said, Shields is hardly delivering Oscar worthy work here, but is decent enough and her face is made for the camera. Christopher Atkins comes off less well, mainly seeming overly petulant or over the top . I think both where cast for their attractiveness that is hard to deny, but they are stranded with a story that doesn’t allow much for them to work with. At least they are both watchable (Shields in particular) , considering the main focus of The Blue Lagoon is on them and they are mainly required to be attractive and lounge about in tropical surroundings. Both became stars, with Shields becoming a face of the 80’s and teen idol in the process. Leo McKern, in the time he’s seen in the film, has bluster and fear but most importantly he does move the often slow movie forward.

So thanks to delightfully arresting cinematography, gorgeous music and wonderful setting, The Blue Lagoon has at least three things going for it. Despite its dopey logic and wanting to have its cake and eat it, the film is at least watchable and has the handsome pairing of Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.

Little Women(2019)

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Greta Gerwig brings the classic novel of Louisa May Alcott to life with her interpretation of Little Women. It emerges as a charming, moving and lively portrait of young womanhood and family, complete with an inventively structured narrative and simply stellar performances. You have to see this film it’s as simple as that.

In Concord, Massachusetts, the four March sisters; rule abiding beauty Meg( Emma Watson), boisterous aspiring writer Jo( Saoirse Ronan), painfully shy music lover Beth( Eliza Scanlen) and spoiled, petulant madam Amy( Florence Pugh), grow up with their caring Marmee( Laura Dern) while their father( Bob Odenkirk) is away fighting in the American Civil War. Times are tough and the family are forced to make do without luxuries, but with their closeness and spirit they get through it as best as they can with their warm-hearted and rational mother. Life before them doesn’t really offer many opportunities for women, but feisty Jo is willing to smash those limitations with her writing. Though she’s met with skepticism and even doubts herself, her spirited self won’t rest. She befriends along with her sisters Laurie( Timothée Chalamet); a boy who lives nearby and wants adventure. He in turn likes the feeling of family that the March household has as he finds his Grandfather stern and his life dull. He begins to romantically like Jo, but finds it isn’t always easy in love. Meg is concerned with being a demure lady and has her heart set on a husband and family, preferably with money. She discovers that money isn’t everything when she meets a tutor by the name of John Brooke( James Norton) who doesn’t have a penny. While Meg looks on as other ladies grow in wealth, she only occasionally chafes at it when she realises how good her situation is. Awkward but thoroughly kind-hearted Beth is largely confined to the house as she is shy and prefers to busy herself by playing the piano. Mr Laurence( Chris Cooper) sees this and offers the use of his piano, to the delight of the young girl. Amy, who is often vain and belligerent, aspires to be an artist though she either wants to be “great or nothing”.  The girls endure hardship, sickness in the case of Beth’s bout with Scarlet Fever and their eyes being opened to the world, under the eyes of Marmee and traditional maven Aunt March( Meryl Streep), who enjoys lecturing the family she considers disobedient. The narrative weaves back and forward in time to the American Civil War and the years after it, exploring events in the form of recollection and memory.

With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig announced herself as a talented director. With Little Women, she makes good on her promise to deliver a timeless story with newfound verve and appeal. As previously stated, the choice to shoot the film in a non-linear fashion is an inspired one. Kudos to Gerwig for using it to create an immediacy with the women at the heart of the story. For instance, we are introduced to the sisters separately rather than the traditional all together round the fireplace that’s shown in more traditional versions. I liked seeing them later on and grown up, before cutting back to their childhoods. It creates a vivid contrast, effortlessly displaying the changes in characters and circumstances through being brightly coloured in cinematography for the portions of childhood and more subdued in the adult sections. It’s a gorgeous visual approach that also supplies us with humour, growth and metaphor. It’s a stroke of intelligence and risk to tell such a well known story in this way, but Greta Gerwig clearly understands what she is doing and the results speak successfully for themselves. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll love being in the company of these four memorable ladies. 

Her script is natural and free flowing, with the girl often talking over each other in the cosy home sequences which creates a believable bond as sisters. That’s not to say all the dialogue is like this, in fact it’s very pertinent and acute, but I enjoyed the feeling of sisters having their say in their own way. There is a hustle and bustle to their home life, which marks it in contrast to many a film set in another era that usually feel a bit mannered or overly polite. Little Women has gusto and charm as the sisters fight, rub along together and generally form a feeling go camaraderie the age won’t intrude on. It’s become clear that Gerwig is a fan of exploring young womanhood and family, which was seen in Lady Bird and now in Little Women. And how she examines that even though times have changed, there are still in some places limitations placed on women who want to burst through the glass ceiling. Little Women gets that across with zest and a certain modernity, which thankfully doesn’t put the original story in jeopardy but actually adds to the experience. Alexandre Desplat is a masterful choice for composer as is evidenced by his gorgeous score. Making spirited use of piano along with well timed strings, there is a vibrancy to his music that fits the story perfectly. Seriously, the score should definitely be getting awards notice come that season and I sincerely hope it does.

Saoirse Ronan leads the way with another sterling performance. She gets the unkempt energy, boundless enthusiasm and creeping self-doubt vulnerability just right for Jo. Ronan shows that Jo is often at the mercy of herself and her spirited nature, but how she’s trying to find her own place in the world in a time that isn’t exactly keen on it. Ronan is truly alive here and makes the part of Jo her own, which is saying something as it’s a role that’s been played so many times and can be hard to put your own spin on. Thankfully, Saoirse Ronan is up to the task and splendidly pulls it off much to my delight. Florence Pugh, who is having a banner year so far, closes it off with yet another believable and confident performance. She brings out the bratty and vindictive parts of Amy as a child and her shrewd understanding as an adult. The gifted Pugh gets both ages spot on, charting the rise of a girl whose snooty attitude melts as she learns how to survive in society and play the game better than anyone. I enjoyed how fleshed out Amy was in this version, too often she’s relegated to just being the spoiled one. Yet thankfully, with the script and the luminous Florence Pugh injecting smarts, Amy is given a new lease of life. These two actresses are the main standouts and should both expect award notices, but the rest of the cast is not to be sniffed at either as they fill out the cast of characters with care and skill. Emma Watson has the grace and heart of Meg just right, as she occasionally fails against society but finds that happiness is where romance is at. Some say Meg is the passive part and most traditional of the sisters, but I think that with Watson she emerges with some agency. Eliza Scanlen has the sweet face and  sense of humanity about her that suits Beth and doesn’t make her just a saintly figure. She’s one of the driving forces, particularly in her bond with Jo and Scanlen plays to that with great nuance.

Timothée Chalamet, of floppy hair and eyes that express a lot and most effectively sadness, is ideally cast as Laurie, who comes to be like another member of the March family but who is completely love struck by Jo. He’s spirited and gangly, always moving about and his kinetic behaviour and wearing of emotion on his sleeve ensures Chalamet and Ronan once again prove how effective their chemistry is whenever they are together. Mind you, he has great chemistry with all the women, but in particular Ronan and eventually Pugh. Laura Dern has just the right amount of grit and maternal love as one of the guiding forces for the girl, while Chris Cooper is crusty but mellowed as the neighbour who grows to become close to the March family. Stealing her scenes is the always dependable Meryl Streep, who you can tell had a blast playing the opinionated and cutting Aunt March. She’s a lot of fun to watch as this matron who always has to make a point of something, even if it’s insulting. If there’s a tiny flaw, it’s in that both Bob Odenkirk and James Norton are not given a lot to do. Both are accomplished actors so it would have been nice to have seen them show off some of their talent. But aside from that, I don’t have many quibbles with this movie. Tracy Letts is entertaining in his small but memorable role of publisher who is initially dismissive of Jo, but grows quite fond of her as time goes by.

With Greta Gerwig at the helm, Little Women comes to sparkling life and proves that certain stories can still be fresh no matter how many times it’s been adapted. A winning coming of age story that captures the imagination and heart without resorting to sentimentality, I can’t recommend this version of Little Women highly enough for its energy and splendid cast.

Lady Bird

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Greta Gerwig makes her solo directing debut with Lady Bird; a funny, sometimes painfully honest but incredibly personal story of a teenage girl coming of age in her senior year of school. Her vision is aided by two sensational performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as the mother and daughter at the heart of a tumultuous relationship.

It’s 2002 in Sacramento, California. Here we meet Christine McPherson( Saoirse Ronan), a teenager in her senior year of school. She attends a strict Catholic school, despite the fact her parents are struggling financially. She also goes by the name Lady Bird in an effort to stand out from what she sees as a boring place of no culture or event of note. Her opposition frequently clashes with her hardworking mother Marian( Laurie Metcalf), which results in bust ups throughout the year. Marion is a nurse who works doubles to support the family as her genial husband Larry( Tracy Letts) has been laid off and often tells Lady Bird that she is aspiring for too much. Both are at loggerheads and then fine, followed by more arguing that ebbs and flows. Meanwhile, Lady Bird, who knows she is distinctly average at a lot of things but isn’t short on ambition, has to find her way through the last year of school. which includes taking part in the school play, falling for two different guys in the form of Danny (Lucas Hedges) and sardonic, cool guy Kyle ( Timothée Chalamet), finding trouble with her best friend Julie( Beanie Feldstein) and generally feeling like everyone is somehow against her dreams . At the centre of it all, her relationship with her mother takes twists and turns as they attempt some form of understanding.

While Lady Bird does observe conventions of standard coming of age movies( boys, falling out with friends and rebellion), but there is something in the way that the story is told that makes it feel fresh. The personal undertone that the passionate Gerwig has infused the film with really stands out and captures that awkward time in someone’s life where everything feels like life or death. So while it isn’t an original or full on groundbreaking film, the approach taken and blend of comedy and drama is to be applauded for pulling us in and how it has us laughing one minute and emotional the next. Many scenes illustrate this bit the opening of Lady Bird and her mother going from niceness to bickering in minutes, along with the former throwing herself out of the car so she doesn’t have to listen to disagreement, clearly sums up the kind of film this is. Also, the pink cast Lady Bird wears for most of the film is an apt bit of symbolism that clearly displays our heroine’s desire to be an individual at any cost.

Lady Bird manages to avoid the cloying nature that often saturates a coming of age story to the point of mawkishness and steers clear of being melodramatic. Sure quite a bit happens to the titular character over a year, but it’s shown in such an organic yet warm way that tempers events with seriousness and comedy. I’m a fan of coming of age stories when told with substance and style and Lady Bird owns both of those admirable qualities. There will still be those who will write of Lady Bird as just another teenage comedy drama and not give it a chance. But I think they are really missing out on an often hilarious yet deeply effective evocation of a young girl turning into a woman who wants something out of the world to happen to her. The gold hues of the cinematography, coupled with the use of montage and choice of music, are gorgeously used to create a definite feeling of looking back on memories.

Now on to the acting in this teenage comedy drama and it’s clear to see that it’s one of the best things in Lady Bird’s impressive arsenal. In the lead, the always talented and confident Saoirse Ronan excels stunningly. Those blue peepers and arresting face chart the varying contradictions of Lady Bird as she faces adolescence and how she views it as an existence sent to test her. She’s restless, petulant, dramatic, funny, whacky, caring and acerbic. I’m simply running out of adjectives to describe Ronan here, she is that good at imbuing they part with bite. Ronan makes for a memorably flawed but endearing heroine, even when she’s being unpleasant. It’s the definition of a complete performance that just ticks all the right boxes and Saoirse Ronan owns the role with every fibre of her being. For an actress still so young, I’ve a feeling that she’s becoming one of the finest actresses of her generation and that’s not an exaggeration. Laurie Metcalf superbly supports Ronan with her work portraying a no-nonsense mother who as someone else mentions is as loving as she is frightening. Metcalf supplies the story with a serious undertone but isn’t above humour. Simply stated, she’s remarkable as an opinionated, careworn woman trying to raise a daughter who insists on creating difficulty for her. Ronan and Metcalf are magnetic together; both characters won’t admit it but they do share similarities that they would much rather not. This sets the scene for much drama between them. Beanie Feldstein is an absolute delight as the best friend who is so endearing that you want to give her a hug. The way Feldstein plays her shows that she’s truly alive in her best friend’s company and it’s what gets her through her low self-worth. Tracy Letts is quietly and subtly convincing as the protagonist’s father who is the good cop to his wife’s bad cop. Letts infuses him with a warmth but a big level of sadness as this character is unfortunate but doesn’t make a fuss. He is very moving in his work and his scenes with Saoirse Ronan are a delight. Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet play the two main boys in Lady Bird’s life with energy and awkwardness for the former and scowling but charming rock dude for the latter. I liked both parts from these actors as they had more to them than just the boys the heroine likes, particularly Hedges and his story though Chalamet is no slouch either, far from it in fact. 

Hilarious yet deep, stylish but buttressed by story, Lady Bird is a marvellous solo debut for Greta Gerwig that soars owing to its direction, script and two deservedly Oscar nominated performances at the centre of it.

Black Christmas

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A Yuletide chiller that is generally seem as one of the first slashers ( predating Halloween by a few years), Black Christmas has become a cult classic thanks to its setting up of genre trademarks( plus some breaking too), supreme atmosphere aptly set during a holiday known for cheer and general feeling of patient but unnerving terror.

Its Christmas time and the girls of a sorority house are getting ready to either visit family or stay for the holiday season. At the house there is the rational Jess(Olivia Hussey), extrovert Barb( Margot Kidder), cheerful Phyllis( Andrea Martin) and the timid Clare(Lynne Griffin) . They are watched over by the elderly head of the sorority, a woman with a fondness for booze called Mrs. Mac( Marian Waldman). The main party is winding down when a phone call interrupts things. It’s not the first of these calls, but it is the most alarming. A crazed man on the other end uses a variety of strange voices, yells obscenities and does his damn best to unnerve them all. The girls try to brush it off but are understandably freaked out. What they don’t realise is that the man on the phone is actually in their attic, watching them and waiting to strike. The innocent Clare is the first to meet death by his hand, though the sisters think she has simply gone missing when she doesn’t meet her father for her travels. News spreads of another girl being murdered and the police finally take notice, headed by the dedicated Ltd Fuller(John Saxon). Meanwhile, Jess is grappling with the fact that she’s pregnant with the child of her intense pianist boyfriend Peter( Keir Dullea) . He wants to keep the baby and marry, but she wants an abortion which puts them at odds. But as the uneasiness rises and bodies turn up, it falls to Jess to survive as the killer closes in on her at the most festive time of year. 

Bob Clark, who would later direct a very different holiday movie in A Christmas Story, directs with finesse by cranking the ambience and terror up gradually and letting us get to know the principal characters. Clark just ups the  This makes for very unnerving viewing as there are things the audience are aware of that the characters aren’t and then things we are purposefully kept in the dark about. Now while being termed a slasher, Black Christmas only has bits of blood in it. Not to say that the deaths in Black Christmas aren’t chilling( the first victim who is suffocated with a plastic dress bag then placed on a rocking chair in the attic will freeze your blood), but the fact that we only see parts of the acts makes the imagination run wild. I’m of the view that often what we don’t see can be more scary than actually viewing it. But it definitely qualifies as a slasher in many ways, most of which are very successful and indeed influential on the genre that followed in the ensuing years. The use of POV is inspired as it isn’t always clear cut; we see things from the perspective of the killer which is often at an angle or obscured by something. We sort of see events with the twisted way he does and the fact we aren’t really told what his motives are makes it all the more frightening for the audience.

There is also a welcome dose of humour in between the scares, which are mostly provided by either the naughty antics of Barb or the dumbfounded idiocy of the first cop in the case who really has no clue. Some may take Black Christmas for granted given the amount of films it has inspired with the genre tropes we know very well of, but that shouldn’t be held against the film. If anything, it is fascinating to glimpse these well known ideas and how they are used, which in the case of Black Christmas, is supremely well. Plus, it doesn’t always go by the formula either, slotting in neat diversions from the rules. For instance, in a lot of slashers, it’s the virgin who survives but here she is killed first. And it’s refreshing that the main characters actually have scope to them, rather than just cardboard cut out roles with no room for development. There is mystery to be found, stemming from the fact we never get a good look at the killer, who is mainly referred to as Billy. I enjoy slashers with mystery and Black Christmas ranks among them. A low key, ambient score is the cherry on top of an impressive cake; cloaking events when it appears in an ominous light.

The cast is largely impressive too. Olivia Hussey greatly heads things as the terrified but level headed girl grappling with her own turmoil while trying to stay alive. Although she’s frightened, Hussey projects a certain relatability and serenity to the role of Jess that is most refreshing. I liked her as a final girl it must be said as she seems like a proper person with a sense of resourcefulness and tenacity. A pre-Superman Margot Kidder excels as the foul mouthed sister who has an attitude and isn’t afraid to flaunt it. She’s very charming and often abrasively witty within minutes and her energy is hard to resist. Keir Dullea is effectively mysterious and unpredictable portraying the boyfriend of Jess, who may or may not have evil intentions. John Saxon is superbly stalwart representing the main cop on the case who takes his job seriously and isn’t messing around. Doug McGrath provides some comic relief among the horror as the dim-witted policeman, who is woefully bad at his job and constantly told it. He doesn’t take anything seriously which in turn angers his superior to no end. Marian Waldman gives other bits of humour as the often drunk house mother who isn’t as classy and respectable as she likes to think she is. Andrea Martin is suitably fine as another sorority sister feeling the stress under the horror. Lynne Griffin, though only seen alive for a short duration, takes the honour of having the most memorable image in Black Christmas. Her face locked in a stunned state of fright, wrapped with plastic on a rocking chair is the stuff of nightmares and will burn itself into your brain.

So if it is seasonal horror you are after, the chilling Black Christmas should be high on that list. Prepare for terror when you see this cult classic.