"Beale Street is a street in New Orleans where my father, where Louis Armstrong and the Jazz were born. Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the black neighbourhood of some American city, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York. Beale Street is our legacy". Barry Jenkins makes this eloquent opening statement as the credits roll in the beginning of his heartbreaking follow up to Moonlight.
Following his Best Picture winning coming-of-age drama, Jenkins returns with yet another overwhelmingly gorgeous work of art. Beale Street serves almost like a second chapter in his portfolio of race related stories. Lifted from the pages of James Baldwin's potent novel, If Beale Street Could Talk provides a glimpse into the life of Tish - a young woman embracing her pregnancy in Harlem during the 1970's. Meanwhile, her family do everything in their power to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime he has been wrongly accused of.
Jenkins makes falling in love feel like a brand new concept. Through his documentary style married with Nicholas Britell's overpowering score and James Laxton's beguiling cinematography, Beale Street is an intimate look at agape - and how trusting love all the way binds us together in a vicious world ruled by hatred. Specifically, Beale Street visualises a young girl's coming of age in a brutal yet beautiful Harlem setting - burning sexual passion and complex family relationships are the flames lit beneath this heart-aching romance.
Kiki Layne was sorely neglected a Best Actress nom. We are aligned with Tish from the outset. Fresh-faced, benevolent and gentle, this adolescent on the cusp of adulthood is on a crash course about the wider world during her pregnancy. Layne delicately portrays the leap from childhood, highlighting her endearing naivety and innocence. Her coy nature gradually fades away as we share her new experiences. You feel the elation and significance of her first sexual encounter, the warmth of her skin pressed against Fonny's, the rain scuttling against the windows and the crackling sound of the record player. Jenkins delivers an extremely raw and sensual narrative, so much so that it's rather astonishing that none of it is actually real.
But that's the power and art of his direction, the ability to take heavy subtext and transform it into a personal cinema experience like no other. The colour green plays an integral role in the film, Tish's blouse, Fonny's shirt, Mamma River's dress, the curtains of the family apartment, even the street they live in is cast in subtle shades of olive. Jenkins ingeniously reinforces the film's themes of life, growth and fertility - it's the colour that ties the family to one another, even when Fonny is chained behind thick sheets of glass. It also ties them to the real Beale Street. Religious connotations can also be discovered in Britell's provocative score: "Eden", "Eros" and "Keeper of the Keys and Seals" fabricate the stunning romance.
In If Beale Street Could Talk, a look really does say a thousand words. Jenkins taps into our soul with characters gazing directly into the camera: he envisions the devotion between Tish and Fonny, the enmity of Officer Bell and the motherly support of Regina King's genuinely impeccable performance as Sharon Rivers. He captures the small intricacies of human expression, utilising the camera in a profoundly personal manner. Beale Street gives love a whole new meaning.
If Beale Street Could Talk:
Years ago you'd have scoffed at the notion of a feature length film centred around LEGO people. Yet with a dollop of Lord and Miller magic, and along with help from the genius animation department, The LEGO Movie proved to be a sucker punch of creative storytelling. Warner Bros knew they'd struck gold and of course - in typical Hollywood fashion - they followed 2014's "piece of resistance" with two more off the wall, but progressively aimless outings.
Everything is mostly awesome for the brick blockbuster franchise now however. Hurling you straight back into the zany realm of LEGO, a battle-scarred Wyldstyle (Lucy) broods over the fall of Bricksberg. Five years after the catastrophic events of Taco Tuesday, citizens of the newly retitled Apocalypseburg face a new threat - LEGO DUPLO space invaders - who are tearing the city apart. The fierce General Mayhem captures Lucy and the gang, and it's up to Emmett to trek across the Sis-Star System in order to save them.
The LEGO Movie 2 welds the derelict landscape of a dystopian Mad Max future with the glittery energy of a four year old girl's bedroom. Everybody has assembled their own post-apocalyptic vehicle and everything is cast in gritty shades of brown and beige - but this doesn't dent this outing's spirit or make it too bland. Chris Pratt makes a wonderful return as the sickly sweet and naively enthusiastic Emmet, who seems un-phased by the destruction of his town. This wacky follow-up sees the gentle do-gooder quest for maturity after Lucy criticises his inability to adjust to the harsh times.
Joining Emmett on his space odyssey is Rex Dangervest - galaxy defending archeologist, cowboy and raptor trainer. Rex is also played by Pratt (funny that?) and the film is all the better for it - definitely double the Pratt, double the power. This boisterous spaceman embodies the actor's most ionic roles, there are Pratt references peppered throughout. He's a brilliantly worked character who manipulates his way into all aspects of the narrative. Looking past the dinos and sewer babies The LEGO Movie 2 is drenched in glitter. In this sparkly sequel Lord and Miller beam us through the Sis-star system - an overwhelmingly pink and purple cosmos that is as mad as a March hare.
In Mike Mitchell (Trolls, Alvin and the Chipmunks - Chip-wrecked) we have a different Director in the cockpit, and it shows. Mitchell delivers the complex metaphors that none other than creators Lord and Miller could properly conceive. Out of nowhere The LEGO movie commented on kids imagination and freedom of expression with understated genius, but The LEGO Movie 2 focuses on the conflict between girls' toys and boys' toys. The message is rather force fed and doesn't really resonate emotionally - nevertheless it's still above the average animation.
Every time Lord and Miller return they up the anti of jokes and wacky cameos - did you expect a guest appearance from Ruth Bader Ginsberg? The fact that The LEGO Movie 2 isn't as awesome as its predecessor doesn't really matter - let's face it, it was inevitable. This rainbow musical has surges of stir-crazy wonder, even though the story is unfittingly ordinary.
The LEGO Movie 2:
James Cameron is the critically acclaimed Michael Bay; he tells his stories through towering set pieces and expansive world building and in the process racks in a LOT of money. Avatar remains the top highest grossing film of all time at $2.7 billion dollars, with Titanic just behind at $2.1 so evidently the man knows what he's doing. Teaming up this time with Sin City's Robert Rodriguez, the rumour has it that Cameron waited ten years for technology to advance in order for him to adapt this manga cartoon. Although he (only) produces and writes here, Alita: Battle Angel is gaining a lot of attention for the two creative mega minds together at work.
In the year 2563, earth is left a desolate wasteland after a cataclysmic war known as "The Fall". Whilst scavenging in the junkyard metropolis of Iron City Dr. Dyson Ido discovers a deactivated cyborg. Following heavy repair and maintenance Alita is reborn, but she can't remember who she is and must learn of what immense power she possesses.
Despite a jaw dropping $200 million budget Alita: Battle Angel's wings are clipped. Cameron's sheeny and superfluous special effects can't rescue this overall cringeworthy tween sci-fi. There is a distinct lack of character, style and (surprisingly) world building - Cameron aims for B-movie, popcorn fun but he barely delivers that. Falling victim to the endless cycle of Hollywood white washing - like we saw with Scarlett Johanson in 2017's Ghost in the Shell - Alita: Battle Angel remains unfaithful to its Japanese source material.
Rosa Salazar stars as the big eyed bot, although her performance never really shines through the endless slathers of CG on her face. The entire film stresses her importance as this extraordinary warrior, but Cameron tries to humanise her with relatable teenage worries - specifically boy problems. In doing so, he undercuts her importance as a character and despite his best efforts in some agreeably bad-ass action sequences - Alita is a forgettable protagonist with extreme feminist qualities uncomfortably forced upon her. Not to forget Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali - three amazing actors all wasted in roles that are given zero development, just token star names for the billboards it seems. The film emphasises Alita's courageous step up to confront evil, and yet she faces no genuine threat.
Along with this Iron City is an insipid and unimpressive setting. From time to time Rodriguez's bitter style gleams through the otherwise clunky metal action scenes - but for the most part Alita: Battle Angel is dominated by Cameron's erratic filmmaking - regardless of the fact he isn't even directing. This should've been an astronomical merging of two creative giants, but alternatively we have a generic adventure flick that is too focused on setting up other sequels than actually creating an adequate origin story.
Alita: Battle Angel
How peculiar is it when a film's title is a question? Is it as peculiar as me opening this review with two? Quite possibly - but Can You Ever Forgive Me? reminds us is that eccentricity isn't always a bad thing, however that's heavily influenced by how you view the legality of certain actions. Author Lee Israel has slipped behind the wave of trendy literature, and as her out of fashion writing sees her career drift steadily into decline she begins forging letters by renowned authors.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? has the dark wit and idiosyncrasies of a classic Woody Allen fable. Following on from 2015's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Director Marielle Heller envisions a terrifically downbeat tale of disenchanted outcasts and dying art. By no means does the film manipulate us into feeling compassionate towards Israel - it's in fact through her aloof nature that we somehow side with her. We see shades of Allen's filmography many in aspects of Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Heller sandwiches together establishing shots of New York, akin to Manhattan (1979) - and even though it's quainter visually, the film is accompanied by a similar swooning jazz score, just the stereotype one imagines as inspiration for writers. Chiefly, though - unlike our conniving protagonist - Heller is not a con artist and despite some reservations Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a strange beauty to behold.
Melissa McCarthy whose career, like Israel's, has been in gentle but steady decline, rises like a phoenix in a strikingly and typically obnoxious role. There is literally nothing to like about her, she's crass, hostile and extremely deceiving and yet McCarthy draws us in to empathise with her social mishaps and sheer loneliness. We've seen the actress in the odd serious role - think St. Vincent (2014) - but nothing with this emotional heft. When I mentioned the film's theme of dying art I was referring to Israel's wilting vocation. McCarthy brings her typical provocativeness but evokes the devastation felt when not being able to meet the current standard, of slipping out of touch, of resorting to falsification as a last and desperate resort. This time around she leaves a different taste in your mouth.
Furthermore Can You Ever Forgive Me? explores the unlikely bond between Israel and her footloose companion Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). They couldn't be anymore different, but when combined their cynical nature is electric. Heller turns a potentially dry subject into a spicy and revealing biopic, focused on a couple of fairly odd but explosive individuals. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is like discovering an enthralling vintage book deep in the archives of your local library - so unexpected, but so rewarding.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?:
Our last Best Picture Academy award nomination finally cruises in. From being trapped on a roller coaster of B-movie comedies - Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal - Director Peter Farrelly finally hits a career high with Green Book. This uplifting
Oscar feature tells the real life story of Tony Lip - a working class, Italian-American bouncer hired by famed African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley to chauffeur him on his concert tour through the deep south during the 1960's.
Charming and thoroughly entertaining this road trip flick glides along effortlessly. Green Book is a whimsical step up from Farrelly - where he usually aims for the lowest common denominator gag this softer approach works like a treat. The film's accessible make up earns itself extra brownie points in yet another Oscar season full of heavy thinkers - which is largely down to the riveting chemistry between the two central characters.
A lively buddy comedy progressing into a relatively gentle racial drama, Green Book thrives in the happier moments. Tony Lip - a wise cracking, average joe is has time on his hands and applies for a job as a driver, when the nightclub he works at closes for a refurb. Fortunately for new employer Dr Shirley, when Lip claims to be "public relations" he is actually involved in professional hand throwing. Paying homage to Goodfellas, we are welcomed into his neighbourhood minus the revolvers, cocaine and gambling of course. His straight talking and uncomplicated way of thinking is soon criticised however by the far more civilised and sophisticated Dr. Don Shirley.
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali ignite alongside each other. Behind the wheel we have a loud mouth, larger-than-life schmuck with a lot to learn - in the back seat we have an aloof and finicky artist. Their personality clash is explosive, and Green Book takes us through a journey in more ways than one. We see glimmers of their friendship from the beginning - through Tony's eyes Dr Shirley appears snooty and nagging, however his stern outer shell is covering a warm and vulnerable interior. Tony exclaims "Why you breakin' my balls?" and Shirley sincerely replies "Because you can do better".
Green Book slightly overlooks the weighty racist themes embedded into its narrative. There is a sprinkle of poignant moments, particularly when the car conks out during the trip and Dr Shirley is faced by a field full of black cotton workers, whilst his white chauffer fixes the stricken car. Even so, the film feels pretty light and superficial and at times Farrelly doesn't dive deeply enough into the outrageous discrimination Shirley is forced to overcome. Though it's sure to slap a smile on your face, this blissful biopic is slightly one note.
For better or worse - this is an easy, breezy road-cum-buddy movie, interlaced with questions about racial and class prejudice. Green Book is fuelled by further outstanding performances by Ali and Mortensen - their unlikely friendship is the film's beating heart. Farrelly has a lot to say about racial stereotypes and role reversal, even if the message isn't always treated with the depth and consequence needed.
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.