SUFFRAGETTE (2015)

November 5, 2015

suffragette Greetings again from the darkness. Most “issues” movies go big in their approach to society-changing events and those that led the charge. Director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, 2007) and writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, 2011) instead show us one little corner, a building block if you will, of the larger movement towards gaining women the right to vote in the UK. By focusing on the efforts of a small group of working class women in 1912, the struggle becomes one of flesh and blood, rather than granite statues.

Carey Mulligan stars as Maud Watts, a manual laborer at a commercial launderer. Her character is a composite of working class women of the time, and we come to appreciate her strength and the incredible sacrifices she makes for the greater cause. Maud seems to be a simple woman. She works hard, loves her son and is loyal to her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw). When first exposed to the civil disobedience of the suffragettes, Maud is caught in the crossfire of a rock-throwing frenzy. She recognizes faces and becomes intrigued with the mission. At first, Sonny tries to be supportive, but soon enough, he is confused, embarrassed and finally forced to take extreme measures. After all, no self-respecting man of the time could allow his wife to sneak about town throwing rocks, setting off bombs, and attending secretive meetings … all for the sake of some ridiculous notion of equality for women!

Helena Bonham Carter appears as the neighborhood pharmacist who is a key cog in the local movement – a movement that had been ongoing peacefully for decades. What’s interesting about her appearance is that Ms. Bonham-Carter is the great-granddaughter of H.H. Asquith, the Prime Minister of UK from 1908-1916. He was an outspoken opponent of the suffragette movement during its most critical time. Her appearance and role in the film is a bit of redemption for the actress and her family.

Deeds not Words. This became the rallying cry for these women thanks to their leader Emmeline Pankhurst. Meryl Streep makes an all-too-brief appearance as Ms. Pankhurst, but it’s a key moment in the film as it solidifies the cause for this group of women who needed to believe that they could make a difference.

Gender inequality seems such an insufficient term for what these women endured. Sexual abuse, domestic violence, unequal pay, hazardous work environments, and almost no child custody rights in disputes with men … these were all commonplace at the time, and the film does a terrific job of making the points without distracting from its central message. Director Gavron’s subtle use of differing color palettes is effective in distinguishing the man’s world from that of the women.

It’s clearly a snapshot of a society on the brink of a revolution, and a grounded yet emotional glimpse at those foot soldiers in the war on injustice. Though this story focuses on the UK, the end credits remind us that in the U.S., it took until 1920 to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote; and even more startling, Switzerland took until 1971 and the women of Saudi Arabia only this year obtained voting rights. The movie is a powerful personal story, and also an effective history lesson on the irrationality involved in bringing about humanistic change.

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE IRON LADY

January 15, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. So many are up in arms about what this movie isn’t, that they have lost sight of what it is. If you are expecting a political drama and biography detailing the finer points of one of the most impactful and controversial world leaders in history, you will undoubtedly be disappointed. If instead, you accept this as a creative way to tell a story and glimpse at a once powerful person struggling with her place in history, while simultaneously fighting the daily battle against Alzheimer’s, then you too will be satisfied with more than the towering performance of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.

Lady Thatcher is one of most controversial political figures in modern history. Pundits fall to pro or con in regards to her 3 terms (11 years) as British Prime Minister. Writer Abi Morgan (Shame) and director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia) don’t take a side in the argument. Instead they offer us the viewpoint of an elderly Lady Thatcher struggling to avoid “going mad”. Her daily battle includes numerous flashbacks to specific moments and events. Through these episodes, we take a quick trip through history … almost a Cliff’s Notes version. Additionally, we witness how she regularly “sees” and speaks with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). Yes, he died years ago. It seems she realizes this, but enjoys the comfort of having him nearby.

During the flashbacks, we get a feel for her early onset political ambition, which evidently came from her dad the grocer (and small town politician). He encouraged her to work hard, be different and think for herself, while never backing down from her beliefs. This seems hard-wired into her personality through the years as she fights the male establishment and climbs the “greasy pole” of British parliament.

The brief segments on the Falkland Islands, Parliamentary debates, and tough Labor Union stance will probably leave you wanting more details on how she negotiated her way through some very unpopular decisions. The best suggestion is to read some of the endless stream of documentation in print regarding her time in office. But don’t let that distract you from an unusual and interesting film. Plus, you certainly want to catch another world-class performance from, whom I consider, the greatest actress in film history.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see an accurate and insightful personal look at a once powerful world leader who is stuggling with Dementia/Alzheimers and her place in history OR you want to see yet another stunning performance from the great Meryl Streep

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a documentary style historical biography on Margaret Thatcher

watch the trailer:


SHAME

December 11, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Can a film be a beautifully crafted work of art AND also a movie that very few will enjoy, or even have an interest in seeing? Clearly, I am in the minority here as critics are raving about the insight and genius of writer/director Steve McQueen (Hunger). McQueen is an art school graduate and has a terrific eye for color, tone, texture and visual acumen. Those talents (and plenty more) are all on display in Shame.

For me, there are two separate aspects to discuss: the look of the film, and the effectiveness of the story. The first deserves recognition and kudos, while the second has resulted in a total lack of interest and ambivalence. Evidently the goal was to detail and humanize the diagnosis of sex addiction, detailing the lack of emotional connection that follows this most personal of activities. The film is rate NC-17 for good reason. Not only are the two stars uninhibited, but much of the supporting cast joins in … too many to count.

I will not itemize the number of ways in which Brandon (Michael Fassbender) tends to his addiction. On the surface, he is a normal looking guy with a normal job in a generic Manhattan office building. We quickly learn that he is always alone and in angst … regardless if he is in a group at hour hour, hooking up with one of his endless stream of partners, or handling his own business. This guy is unable to find joy in anything that life offers.

His isolated world is one day invaded by his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). We learn that their up-bringing has much to do with his always dour mood, and her desperate need for attention and care. They are both a mess … just in different ways. She has a line via voice mail that says “We aren’t bad people. We’re just from a bad place.”. That is meant to explain the rotting foundation without exposing us to another story of poor parenting skills. 

 The clearest indication that Brandon’s emotional issues are well beyond frayed, occurs when he actually starts to see a glimmer of relationship hope with a co-worker (Nicole Beharie), only to have that end in performance failure. He quickly fixes the problem by resorting to what he does best … with no meaning attached.  The best sequence in the film occurs while Brandon eye flirts with a subway passenger, whom he loses in the crowd after the ride. She re-emerges late in the film clearly open to his attention.

Carey Mulligan is building a strong film career and her performance here is wonderful. Michael Fassbender has had a remarkable year with the latest X-Men, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, and Haywire. That is a dream year for an actor. The film is beautiful to look at and has stunning performances. All that for a movie that is not really very interesting and certainly lacks substantive entertainment value for the normal movie-goer.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can ignore the beat down of the story and focus on the artistic film qualities OR you just like to see movie stars naked.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: watching characters in the midst of life-long emotional abyss is less than appealing to you, not matter the high level of art direction

watch the trailer: