Movies: Kedi, Wonder Woman, Table 19, Spiderman, Florence Foster Jenkins and Miss Sloane

So, it turns out that several flights and a few evening’s worth of entertainment add up to several movies I’ve seen recently. In no particular order (certainly not chronologically) …

Miss Sloane

Miss Sloane is one of the best movies I’ve seen for a while. It is the story of a ruthless political consultant, a power behind one of the many thrones in the empire, who is summoned to take up arms against a powerful emperor (the gun lobby). I’ll unpack it a little more below, but if you don’t want to read spoilers, just know – well worth watching.

How will her ultimate battle go? Will she win or lose? Those are all interesting questions, and ones I won’t spoil for you.

What I think is interesting is that any movie, or text, that discusses a political story, has implicit in it some theory of political economy (see for example the Potterian economy). Miss Sloane portrays a world of corrupted power and shady backroom discussions.

Within that world, Miss Sloanne is a lobbyist who is intriguing because she understands deeply the laws of power and how they work behind the scenes, and uses them to good effect in her everyday work. Because of that, she is a study in cynical exercises in manipulation. Fascinating, none the less, because she takes up a cause that even her allies tell her is doomed. Not because of some childhood incident (which would explain away her anomalous behaviour), but because of principle.

There are some moments where the movie feels slightly unrealistic. [SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be talking about key plot points from here on out]. 

In a world as cynical as the one Miss Sloane portrays, it seems unlikely that a sex worker might not have been pressured, or overpowered, into giving up the information her enemies needed. It might be unlikely, too, that her antagonists would fall quite as neatly into line as they do for her big reveal. It might be unlikely, too, for what it’s worth, for a gun-carrier to protect someone else from gun violence seems very  unlikely*.

* This paper suggests that self defence is unlikely and doesn’t reduce the risks. I couldn’t find anything on bystanders carrying and reduced risks, but let me know if there’s any data?

Table 19

I watched Table 19 over the course of two separate flights several days apart, which made it a somewhat disjointed viewing experience. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a fun premise: the table of people ‘Who should have known to RSVP ‘No”, bonding at a wedding as they work through their own problems.

All of them come to the table with some form of baggage; they go on a hilarious journey as they let down their guards to admit they’re all flawed. Through it they bond, and ultimately, they come out the other side just a little bit stronger. And maybe, just maybe, someone at that wedding will find true love.

I laughed out loud. If you’re in the mood for cheesy comedy, you might too.

Kedi

Kedi is the story of several cats in Istanbul. It seems like the kind of story that could only be told in Istanbul, where a large population of cats roams the streets, receiving food and care from the humans they pass amongst, and largely tolerated if not sanctioned by society at large.

The story features swooping shots over the city, and brilliantly shot knee-level camera action that seems like it must have taken months. There are a few other brilliant pieces of work as well, including the night vision shot of a cat hunting. The care of the cinematographer is evident throughout. The music is well picked. If you’re tired the slow pace can be soporific, but in a gentle rather than a frustrating way.

Florence Foster Jenkins

The titular Florence Foster Jenkins was a New York socialite in the early twentieth century. She is famous for both having had a terrible singing voice, and for none the less performing widely, and purportedly being unaware of how bad her own voice was.

The movie Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of Ms Jenkins and her partner (in a complex relationship) St Clair Bayfield. Jenkins is utterly unaware of how bad her voice is, and because of her wealth and her financial support of the artistic community, a smaller number of people are willing to tell her. Those close to her shield her from the truth.

With a scenario like that, it’s hard to know whom to settle on as a protagonist. The movie seems to settle on St Clair Bayfield; his struggle? To encapsulate Jenkins in a bubble of misguided self-esteem, protecting her from the harshness of the real world.

It could, if you weren’t thinking about it, sound like a nice thing. But the reality is that Florence Foster Jenkins had a terrible voice, and was only prevented from being disabused because of her wealth, which seems to have been wasted on some awful concerts. Perhaps she provided some amusement. But I don’t think we should admire her lack of courage or insight in examining her own abilities.

Wonder woman

Wonder woman – the story of a daughter of Zeus born in a secret all-female warrior paradise, destined to fight the god of war to save the world.

There’s been a large number of reviews of Wonder Woman – I won’t rehash most of that. I didn’t find the movie particularly enthralling as a movie, although there were some decent action scenes. I’m not well placed to comment, but from my limited perspective it didn’t strike me as a particularly well-placed blow against the patriarchy. Others may disagree.

 

Spiderman

Once upon a time there was a franchise, a set of stories about superheroes all owned by the same company. Gradually, through the magic of IP law, they were transformed into an unstoppable box-office juggernaut that suffocated anything within sight, leaving us with an endless iteration of superhero structured movies, with a plot outline so formulaic you could recite it in your sleep, and a cast so stereotyped you have trouble remembering which movie you’re watching.

If you feel like a protagonist trapped in an infinitely repeating time loop in (of course) a Marvel superhero movie, you can mark your clock by the fact that the latest (off season) Marvel movie is Spiderman. 

There is a superhero. He (sometimes she) must transform himself to save his community. He fights a villain. He is successful.

If you like all the other Marvel movies enough to be excited by the thought of seeing another, then maybe Spiderman is for you. If not, do anything else at all. Beat your head against a wall. Check for lost pens under your couch. Scrub the grime from your bathtub. Any, or all of those activities, will be better than subjecting yourself to yet another blow from the piston-like production line of Marvel movies.

The Revenant, The Viceroy’s House

The Revenant

 A ‘revenant’ is someone who returns, in particular from the dead. It’s an apt title for Di Caprio’s star vehicle, a story of a wildsman helping a group of trappers. Things go awry, and when one of his companions convinces the others to abandon him, after murdering his son, he faces impossible odds in his quest for justice.

It’s an interesting piece, and the final scene is more satisfying than a simple fight to the death (although there is one). Not one I’d recommend particularly, but not terrible.

The Viceroy’s house

The Viceroy’s house is the story of the partition of India, and a love story between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman. It’s an important topic, and a powerful one. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite live up to its material.

The love story is … not given quite enough air time to breathe, so that it feels pro forma, rather than earned. The story of the partition of India is the more gripping one, and the movie casts Mountbatten as the noble fool, struggling to achieve a just outcome when in fact he’s been played by forces outside his ken.

Whether that’s true or not is a question I don’t know the answer to, because I don’t know the history well enough. There’s an article in The Guardian that argues the historical narrative underlying the movie is wrong; there’s probably more out there. Regardless, if you’re interested in the history of partition, I’d recommend going with a good history book, rather than this movie.

Moanna

Moanna is a beautiful film. It doesn’t seem to have quite achieved the popularity of Let it go Frozen, but it has a catchy soundtrack (by Lin-Manuel Miranda), and a story that features a heroine travelling into a dark and forbidden realm, to save her tribe.

The harder part, though, is the cultural appropriation. This isn’t something I’m qualified to speak on, but this article in The Smithsonian I think reflects a range of views, that there is both good and bad in the movie.

Mahana

Mahana is a beautiful film. It tells the story of Simeon Mahana, grandson of a domineering grandfather who holds iron sway over his family. He wants freedom, and so he challenges his grandfather – that leads, tragically and painfully, to his entire immediate family being cast out.

There is suffering, in the regions they’re cast into, but joy too. It’s there that Simeon gains the strength to challenge his grandfather; so that when a new conflict threatens to roil between the Mahanas and their rival family, Simeon is able to put it to rest.

It’s a beautiful film, and worth watching.

 

Mahana

Mahana is a powerful movie, about a Maori boy growing up in a family of shearers, under a domineering grandfather.

Sometimes it feels like the young boy wants to connect with his grandfather, at other times to overthrow him. That’s understandable; relationships are complicated. But it’s a well put together movie, that doesn’t seek to wrap things up neatly. And there’s a beautiful love story in there too, although it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

The Eagle Huntress

Was good. Visually stunning. And it has a lovely story arc. But I would have loved to see some acknowledgement of the fact that cameras were there, recording the whole thing. The idea of the invisible eye seems tired and false to me; it would have felt more honest if the documentary maker had at least explained how difficult (or easy) it was to get there, and what the film’s stars said to him.

Colossal – a minor disappointment

Colossal was fun, and then it was quite dark and scary, and then it was satisfying, when there was a resolution. Sorry, let me back up.

Colossal is a story about a woman struggling with alcoholism who moves back to her hometown after a relationship breakdown. An old school friend helps her out, and [Mild spoiler alert] she discovers she can control a monster in Seoul by stepping into her local playground.

That that summary doesn’t really tell you much about the conflict at the heart of Colossal is what makes it surprising, but also somehow dissatisfying, because it’s a conflict that feels like it’s introduced in the second act.

Like other reviews, I think Jason Sudeikis does a fantastic job; I just didn’t love the movie overall. Others may.

What’s on Netflix

Netflix has been doing well with the independently commissioned pieces recently (although while it’s refreshing now, it’s in a terrifying position to dominate things in the future).

It’s been a while since the first season of Master of None, but it’s worth the wait. I’m only a few episodes into the second season, but it’s fun, warm, and almost borders on being through provoking at points. It’s not ScrubsParks and Recreation, or the American Office, but it’s warm and fuzzy at a time when there’s not enough warm and fuzzy TV out there.

Dear White People is a TV show following on from the movie that Netflix snapped up. The creator takes the time, in the expanded format, to unpack all the characters, and it’s well worth it. There are some great reviews out there. I’ll just add my two cents: It’s great TV, and well worth it.