Welcome to The Other Movie Project! (Please click on the link if you are not sure what the Project is.)
I am back and tireder than ever. If you follow my podcast Just A Spoonful you may know that I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a condition as painful to live with as it is to spell. Since my movie load has bumped up to around 12 films a month – TWELVE, which is of course AWESOME – I have not been able to keep up with my viewing for this project. Between illness, other projects and my regular work, I hope you can understand why I might not get to every movie each month. Oh, and we’re calling April ‘the Gas Leak Month’.
Since my brain is in a state of constant brown-out I’ll just be updating this blog whenever I can get to it. I hope you don’t mind, and I really appreciate all the support you’ve been giving this project on Twitter. You all are the best. OK, let’s see what the non-white-guys were up to in cinemas near me this May. 1. A Royal Night Out
A promising set-up – two cloistered princesses, granted a rare night of revelry on the night the whole country is celebrating – unfortunately goes nowhere.
I guess it couldn’t go anywhere, really, since the subjects are real-life Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret. And since their family owns most of the British Isles it must be hard to take any great risks when portraying their story. (Although I’m sure 14 year-old Princess Margaret getting drunk in a ‘knocking shop’ will be risky enough for most senior audiences.) It’s charming to see the nineteen year-old Princess Elizabeth imagined as she might have been before the dour sovereign we’re all familiar with.
The film is based on true events – apparently the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret did in fact slip out of Buckingham Palace on 8 May 1945 (the formal end of World War II in Europe) to go party with the rest of London. But A Royal Night Out makes the mistake of splitting up the princesses early in the movie (whose chemistry is the most interesting of the film), and chasing a dull romantic subplot instead. In the film’s imagining, Princess Elizabeth gets separated from her sister and enlists the help of a random Naval Officer, who plays the role of cranky commoner/love interest.
He is handsome and hates the King, she is pretty and the King’s daughter but it’s a SECRET, will they won’t they oh no class divides blah blah blah. Sorry, but it was pretty boring. Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth is great, but the invented Naval Officer ‘Jack’ is an embarrassing sketch of a working class Londoner. And even though Jack has a pretty sympathetic back story and a reasonably bleak future ahead of him, somehow we end up being positioned to feel sorry for the Royal Family? Sitting down for breakfast in their dining room the size of the war veteran’s house? And oh thank goodness Jack’s realised the King is actually a pretty good guy? Republicans will hate this.
I didn’t hate it, but I did realise very early into the film that I was not its target audience. My presence in the cinema must have brought the median age down to about 56. I’d thought, seeing as it was a film about two young women, I might be about to watch the pacey adventure of two bright, powerful and independently wealthy young women having their first exciting taste of freedom. That’s in there a bit – Princess Margaret steals most of the best scenes – but mostly it’s an unfocussed and slightly turgid love letter to the monarchy.
2. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Twenty-nine year-old Kumiko is dissatisfied with her dead-end Tokyo job and shows no particular interest in her friends or family. At night she sits alone in her cramped apartment, fast-forwarding and rewinding an old VHS tape of the American film Fargo. And Kumiko is taking detailed notes.
She is convinced that Fargo was a true story, and that there is still treasure buried out there somewhere under the Minnesota snow. This premise is a little heavily laid-on, with what I thought were excessive cuts to Kumiko taking out her Fargo maps and staring at them. We get it, she wants to go to Fargo. We know it so well that, although I loved the film’s characterisation of middle-class life in Tokyo, it seems like a long time before Kumiko actually sets off on her quest. In fact, it’s about 45 minutes before the film gets to Minnesota. I began to get impatient during the first half of the film, wanting to set off on the journey already, thinking “Why are we still here??”. Afterwards I realised, hey, that was probably exactly how Kumiko felt. And I was empathising with her. Well played, Zellner Brothers.
The thing is, Kumiko is kind of a jerk. She is surly, she lies, and she seems to have no compunction about stealing – even from charity shops and visually impaired taxi drivers. She is rude and unfriendly and ungrateful for the kindness of anyone who helps her. And that doesn’t change, all the way through the movie. She definitely doesn’t learn the error of her ways. But I found myself wanting her to succeed. Kumiko clearly has difficulty connecting with other people. Her only friend is Bunzo, her pet rabbit (who is actually called Bunzo in real life and I want to break all of Queensland’s laws to adopt it). Kumiko is fed up with banality.
She styles herself as a Spanish conquistador and sets off for The New World to claim the treasure she has ‘discovered’. And that’s the thing about conquistadors – I don’t remember them having much compunction about taking other people’s stuff. Looking at it from Kumiko’s view, her mission makes perfect sense. This treasure is her destiny, why would she lose focus on it for even a moment?
Rinko Kikuchi, as Kumiko, is simply perfect. Using little more than facial expression, she brings complexity to a character that could easily have been under-served by the spare script. Her physicality is impressive, almost clowning – but a tragic clown.
Knowing a little about the real events this film is based on, I wondered how the Zellner Brothers would bring this sad tale to a satisfying close. I was wondering that even up to the final minutes of the film. But, they actually nailed it. And the film never smashes the prism of enchantment that hangs around it. It probably helps to be a fan of Fargo (the movie), but I didn’t find that tripping me up in any way. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a beautiful film.
3. Pitch Perfect 2
Full disclosure here: Pitch Perfect is easily one of my favourite recent comedies. I have watched it more times than I would like to disclose. I knew I was probably not going to be satisfied with the sequel, no matter what they did, because the original was so precious to me.
I was correct. Pitch Perfect 2 suffers from too many locations, unnecessary exposition, and too many new characters added to an already beefy cast. This was too bad because I adore Elizabeth Banks, producer on Pitch Perfect and first-time director on Pitch Perfect 2, and hoped her directing debut would be as excellent as she is. However I couldn’t help noticing the awkward edits undercutting scenes where the comedic talent was so good that all you needed to do was get out of their way.
But again, my expectations were set high for this film based on how quick and funny I found the first one. There are moments of brilliance and genuine heart-feelings. There are some fun developments in the sequel, like old a capella rival Bumper having graduated and joined the team of sad toolies who haunt campus parties insisting they’re still relevant. And a particular scene involving a canoe makes full use of Rebel Wilson as a comedy actor and singer. This movie is a feel-good spectacle and I enjoyed the ride, minus several cringes at fat shaming, American flag-waving, and bafflingly frequent jokes about Guatemala. Guatemala? What did they ever do to you??
Full credit to Elizabeth Banks for continuing a franchise helmed by a team of funny women whose motivations have nothing to do with men. Even in heralded ‘female comedy’ Bridesmaids, the plot centered around a hetero wedding. And Kristen Wiig had to show her emotional development by getting together with the Irish policeman. In Pitch Perfect 2, the women’s focus is on community, self-fulfillment, and the legacy they will leave behind. Relationships with dudes are secondary.
All that being said, the movie’s main conflict is kicked off by the world getting furious about seeing Rebel Wilson’s vagina. A subtle critique of misogyny and cultural anxiety about the female body? Or just a way to be edgy and show people screaming at a vagina? I don’t know, I’m tired. I liked this movie okay?
Final comments: more Ester Dean, always and forever. Look at how much Ester Dean you’ve put into your film, then double it.
Athena quietly wishes they had come up with a better name than Tomorrowland.
This tweet sums up my exact reaction to seeing this film:
I loved it? This was one of those films where you feel good during the ending, but as you walk away from the cinema you’re like, “Wait, why did they? And where was the? And they killed all those people??”
Tomorrowland was not what I expected at all. The trailer did not do it any favours. It was intense, well-paced, and juuuust this side of tacky. The movie is about a sort of parallel dimension called Tomorrowland where everyone rides monorails and wears jumpsuits and anything is possible. It’s basically Disneyland in the 90s. I was a kid in the 90s, and for me the gleaming monorails and curving concrete structures immediately evoke the dream of the future that Disneyland was selling: clean, shiny, the happiest place on Earth.
And like Disneyland in the 90s, Tomorrowland is in decline. The world is losing hope. They need heroes to change the direction of the tide, to move the world back from the brink of destruction. This can only be done by ‘special’ people, like the cringingly named protagonist, Casey – sigh – Newton. Oh guess what she loves science! And she is apparently still in school even though she looks 25 and drives a motorbike around? I found this a genuine impediment to believability in the film, although this may be a cultural divide between America and Australia. Or maybe I’m just a city girl who wishes she was allowed to have her own motorbike in high school.
Even though the world must be saved by people with ‘special abilities’, I didn’t find this exclusionary or, the gods help us, Randian, because their special ability is optimism and it is infectious. The heroes are people who ‘haven’t given up’, who do the work that needs to be done and pull everyone else up with them. Eventually we could all be heroes. It is a beautiful sentiment and I found the ending quite moving despite its potential to be cloying.
How was this movie not cloying? Well, it has some pretty kick-ass fight scenes involving a 12-year-old girl named Athena who can drive a truck like it’s stolen (it is; she stole it). There are fun cameos from Keegan Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn. George Clooney has a great face. But the reason I really liked it was because it slow-walks the viewer through the actual threat facing the world and how the heroes prevent it.
This is a movie for young people. Like many contemporary young adult narratives, it is weighted down with the horror of the broken world we must inherit. Failing economies; inaction on climate change; society-wide distrust and violence. It’s sad. But Tomorrowland offers realistic hope: don’t give up on the world. Despair only causes more despair, but hope encourages more hope. Hugh Laurie delivers a magnificent speech towards the film’s climax about humanity’s choice to let the world burn if it meant they didn’t have to do anything. A Disneyfied riff on the kind of movie I was watching when I was in high school, when Hugo Weaving was telling Keanu Reeves “human beings are a disease”.
Tomorrowland has the classic Disney race problem. Oh sure, there are plenty of diverse ethnicities represented in the background and bit parts, but funnily enough all of the lead roles (and nearly all of the dialogue) goes to white people. It becomes more obvious when you see plenty of Asian, black and Indian people walking around Casey and co. but only hear white people speaking.
Oh and George Clooney is just trolling us now, with his biggest age gap yet: his love interest in this film is 12 years old. He is 54. Nothing really happens, but more happens that it should, you know? It’s borderline is what I’m saying.
But still, I liked Tomorrowland. I think I liked it? So much happened. Wait, why did they kick George Clooney out of Tomorrowland in the first place? And why didn’t he have a relationship with anyone other than a 12-year-old cyborg since he was 18? Oh damn, I don’t think this film made sense at all. Never mind.
Other movies released near me in May that were NOT about white men:
(The ones I didn’t have time to watch!)
5. PIKU (India)
6. Unfriended (US)
7. Testament of Youth (UK)
8. Bombay Velvet (India)
9. Salut d’Amour (South Korea)
10. Spy (US)
11. Woman In Gold (US)
12. San Andreas (US)
Number of movies released near me in May that WERE about white men:
SIX! Holy shit, well done film industry!
A word (or 200) about Mad Max: Fury Road
A few people have asked me if I was going to review Mad Max: Fury Road for The Other Movie Project. Now, I freaking LOVED this film, but it doesn’t qualify for this project and here’s why:
a. It is about Mad Max.
b. Mad Max is a white man.
End of list.
I know many people have been arguing that the film is actually about Imperator Furiosa (the wonderful, WONDERFUL Charlize Theron), but for the purposes of this movie blog, it is not. The movie, titled MAD MAX, follows the story of MAD MAX while he comes to terms with his identity as MAD MAX. We hear his inner monologue, see most of the film from his point of view, and he has the biggest arc. (He goes from angry guy only worried about himself, to angry guy helping a group of women and one cute warboy.) Yes, Imperator Furiosa is the more interesting protagonist and I would follow her into the gaping maw of Death itself. But we only find out her internal workings through what she tells Max and what Max sees when she finds her old tribe. However, I hear rumours that the next Mad Max film will be officially and unreservedly about Furiosa, and WOULDN’T THAT BE FUCKING COOL. If I’m mistaken and the rumour isn’t true, let’s all find George Miller’s email address and make it true.
Now, please excuse me while I start building a pretend prosthetic arm in time to cosplay as Furiosa for Halloween.