Saturday, 23 February 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk (15)

According to one of the Internet Intelligentsia if you like Black Panther then you are a racist. Hey, we don't write the rules, we just have them shouted at us.

Which added an extra layer of something (although heaven knows what) to the thought process when sitting down to watch If Beale Street Could Talk.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins of Moonlight fame, a black cast tell the story of black lives in Harlem as a young couple get torn apart after a false accusation of rape.

Both touching and compelling, it's as much a story about black lives today as it is about how black people survived in the early ’70s.

And it's thoroughly deserving of the three Oscar's it is nominated for — although Jenkins not being in the running for Best Director, and the film not being on the Best Film list is puzzling.

But then maybe the Oscar committee didn't want to appear to be racist by highlighting black issues in a film about black issues.

Apparently that's how that works now.

Not that one person's ignorant ramblings still REALLY annoy....


Where were we?

Yes, the actual film.

Based on the James Baldwin novel, Beale Street is that most rare of beasts — a true ensemble piece.

Yes Regina King is up for several awards, and rightly so, and Kiki Layne is getting a load of thoroughly deserved attention, but like a jigsaw this film needs every piece in place to work.

And work it truly does.

With Harlem being brought so vibrantly to life you can almost feel the dirt under your nails, you feel like neighbours of the characters — like you know and care about them — from the off.

And there's not just one story being told here.

At the centre of things are Tish (Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James), the young Romeo and Juliet divided by prison glass after their lives are torn apart.

But then we have Tish and her family fighting for justice, we have Daniel's tale of life inside, we have Fonny's religious family and their reactions to an impending birth...

At every turn, there's an important tale being told.

Then there's the moment Fonny stands up for Tish in the store, and how everything seems to pivot on that one moment.

In Jenkin's capable hands, the whole thing comes together gently and perfectly — tugging on heart strings here, fuelling anger at injustice there, making you feel what the characters are feeling at every turn.

Not a scene, not a frame, is wasted here. Everything has a job to do.

And then there's the score.

Also up for awards hither and yon, Nicholas Britell has crafted something that at first appears to intrude but soon becomes another character — noisily filling in the silences as if the city itself was full of a string section rather than cars.

And through it all, you are guided to an end experienced not just by you, Fonny and Tish but by victims of a rigged system for the past 40-odd years.

It's a measure of the world we live in today that a story from a different time still has so much relevance.

And while some out there will tut, sigh, roll their eyes and wonder why this is still an issue as it doesn't effect them, the rest of us are paying attention.

If Beale Street Could Talk is softly, gently, showing us what is going on in the world, and as it talks so we all should listen.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Well this is nice, Richard E Grant is up for an Oscar. Ooh, and a Bafta. Well this seems very deserved. Wonder what film this is for...

...aha, it's that new one with Melissa McCarthy.

And, er, she's been nominated as well.

*squints at screen*

Nope, not a typo. Well this has suddenly become a must-see...

...and, it turns out, rightly so.

Based on a true story (awards season you say?), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is about writer Lee Israel and how she found a new way to make ends meet once the books stopped selling.

After happening upon a genuine letter from a famous author and selling it for a few bucks, Lee decides to create more so she can pay the rent, pay her cat's vets bills and eat.

Well, drink. But the cat's health came first.

And it's McCarthy's performance that holds this whole film together.

Deserving of every nomination and accolade coming her way. McCarthy manages the often impossible task of making you like a near-unlikeable character.

Israel has become a solitary, bitter, isolated, curmudgeonly old sod who drinks just to make each day passingly bearable.

Hitting out at all those around her, it's her and the cat against the world before Grant's Jack Hock staggers into view.

And you're not meant to like Lee. Lee doesn't want you to like Lee.

But in McCarthy's hands the character is given a warmth and fragility that makes you care about her. You want her to succeed, even if she's breaking the law, because deep down she's not a bad person.

She just ended up in a bad situation doing a bad thing.

Her note-perfect performance, played with depth and subtle touches, also provides the perfect foil for Grant to let rip.

Bringing back memories of Withnail from the moment he flops down at the bar, Jack Hock is possibly Grant's finest performance (and I say that as both a massive fan of Withnail AND Dr Who).

Where Withnail battered you into submission with acid quips and flamboyant damnation, Hock sidles up to you, puts an arm around your shoulder and is buying you a drink with your money before you've so much as choked on the fumes of his booze-soaked breath.

And you kind of don't mind.

Because, like McCarthy's Israel, Grant's Hock is an unlikeable arse you can't help but warm to.

And again, that's down to the performance.

In lesser paws this would have been a harsh, possibly wooden, almost certainly cliched portrayal of a broken man who is kind of proud of his flaws — but Grant gives us layers, subtlety, nuance.

A more perfect on-screen pairing we haven't seen since St Vincent. And guess who was starring in that...

But while the main pair are hoovering up all the accolades and praise, there are smaller parts that add to the beautiful drama unfolding before us.

As Israel's agent, Jane Curtin has never been more exasperated and politely curt, while Dolly Wells’ lovestruck bookseller deserves as much praise as the main two are getting.

While we're all marvelling at the fine performances, however, something else is going on — and that's that director Marielle Heller and writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty have crafted a note-perfect movie.

Yes, the stars are shining, but behind them these three have created the perfect pacing, the right amount of angst, just enough tugging of heart strings, to keep you wrapped up in this world.

The feel and tone are spot on, and the whole thing just smothers you to the point that you don't want it to end.

Hell, even the choice of songs is spot on.

It's rare in this day and age to find a film with which there is not so much as a quibble, but with Can You Ever Forgive Me? such a film exists.

Blending comedy and tragedy, crime and cat food, this film deserves every ounce of praise being flung its way.

We could watch the whole thing again tomorrow and undoubtedly enjoy it even more.