Greta Gerwig

Film Bouquets 2018

Bouquets&Brickbats

Bouquets&Brickbats

Bouquets&Brickbats

2018 has yielded a lot of interesting films, and it’s been hard to choose which most deserve Bouquets. Still, we’ve managed it, and here – in order of viewing – are those that made the cut.

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Alexander Payne’s brilliant satire had its detractors, mostly people who had expected a knockabout comedy –  but we thought it was perfectly judged and beautifully played by Matt Damon and Hong Chau.

Coco

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A dazzling, inventive and sometimes surreal love letter to Mexico, this Pixar animation got everything absolutely right, from the stunning artwork to the vibrant musical score. In a word, ravishing.

The Shape of Water

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Guillermo del Toro’s spellbinding fantasy chronicled the most unlikely love affair possible with great aplomb. Endlessly stylish, bursting with creativity, it also featured a wonderful performance from Sally Hawkins.

Lady Bird

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This semi-autobiographical story featured Saoirse Ronan as a self-centred teenager, endlessly at war with her harassed mother (Laurie Metcalfe). Scathingly funny but at times heart-rending, this was an assured directorial debut from Greta Gerwig.

I, Tonya

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Imagine Good Fellas on ice skates and you’ll just about have the measure of this stunning biopic of ice skater Tonya Harding, built around an incandescent performance from Margot Robbie, and featuring a soundtrack to die for.

A Quiet Place

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This film had audiences around the world too self-conscious to unwrap a sweet or slurp their cola. Written and directed by John Kransinski and starring Emily Blunt, it was one of the most original horror films in a very long time – and we loved it.

The Breadwinner

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Set in Kabul, this stunning film offered a totally different approach to animation, and a heart-wrenching tale of a young woman’s fight for survival in a war-torn society. To say that it was gripping would be something of an understatement.

American Animals

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Based on a true story and skilfully intercutting actors with real life protagonists, Bart Layton’s film was a little masterpiece that gleefully played with the audience’s point of view to create something rather unique.

Bad Times at the El Royale

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Drew Goddard’s noir tale brought together a brilliant cast in a unique location, and promptly set about pulling the rug from under our feet, again and again. There was a superb Motown soundtrack and a career making performance from Cynthia Erivo.

Wildlife

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Based on a Richard Ford novel, this subtle but powerful slow-burner was the directorial debut of Paul Dano and featured superb performances from Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and newcomer, Ed Oxenbould.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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The Coen brothers were in exquisite form with this beautifully styled Western, which featured six separate tales of doom and despair, enlivened by a shot of dark humour. But, not for the first (or the last) time, we heard those dreaded words ‘straight to Netflix.’

Roma

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Another Netflix Original (and one that’s hotly tipped for the Oscars), this was Alfonso Cuaron’s lovingly crafted semi-autobiographical tale off his childhood in Mexico, and of the nanny who looked after him and his siblings. It was absolutely extraordinary.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

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Isle of Dogs

25/03/18

The arrival of a new Wes Anderson movie is generally a cause for excitement and Isle of Dogs has the added frisson of seeing him return to work with the London-based 3 Mills animation team, whom he employed to such great effect on Fantastic Mr Fox. It must be said, however, that this is an altogether more ambitious project than his previous stop-motion foray.

The story is set twenty years into the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. After a recent dog-flu epidemic, Mayor Kobayashi (Komichi Nomura) orders all the city’s dogs to be rounded up and exiled to an offshore island, essentially a rat-infested repository for much of Japan’s unwanted garbage.

On the island, a group of dogs are struggling for survival, led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a battle-scarred stray who sees himself very much as the alpha male of the pack. His followers  are voiced by a whole menagerie of A-List talent (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, to name but three). The sudden arrival of Kobayashi’s twelve year old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), changes everything. Atari is in search of his beloved lost pet, Spot, who the mayor has insisted must follow the example of all the other four-legged offenders and be sent into quarantine off-shore. This sets Chief and his pack off on a quest to help Atari by locating the missing canine and, of course, they uncover some startling truths in the process. Meanwhile, a pro-dog student group led by the intrepid Tracy (Greta Gerwig) are leading an insurrection against Kobayashi, who, it seems, has not been as honest as he might have been…

Some critics of the film have accused it of cultural appropriation, but I can’t help hoping they are barking up the wrong tree. The love and respect for Japan and its traditions are evident in just about every frame of this delightful movie, from the Taisho drumming sequences to the visual references to veteran directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Mizazaki. What’s more, the animation is so detailed and so brilliantly realised, it’s hard to suppress my gasps of admiration as the story scampers along at high speed from revelation to revelation. All the usual Anderson qualities are in evidence – witty one-liners, a steadfast refusal to get too sentimental about the characters and a delicious vein of dark humour that ties the whole package neatly together.

On the same day we viewed this, The Cameo Cinema hosted a dog-friendly screening, but, as we chose to attend the humans-only show, I cannot really comment on how it went down with its four-legged viewers.

But in my humble opinion, at least, this film is a howling success.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Lady Bird

16/02/18

Greta Gerwig is a fascinating woman. After seemingly stumbling into the film business via a series of zero budget, mumblecore efforts, she has quickly demonstrated that she is a force to be reckoned with. The semi-autobiographical Frances Ha, written by Gerwig and directed by Noah Baumbach, plays like early Woody Allen and Lady Bird feels very much like a prequel to that film, with Saoirse Ronan stepping up to the plate to play a teenage version of Gerwig. From the opening sequence where Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson argues with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), in a moving car – and then throws herself out of it rather than continue the conversation – we are left in no doubt that this is the story of a troublesome teen, who is likely to get her own way in the end.

Christine lives in Sacramento but longs to go to college in New York, where she believes ‘culture lives’. But it isn’t as easy as that. Her father, Larry (Tracy Letts), recently lost his job, her adopted step brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), seems in no hurry to get one ,and its pretty much left to Marion, a psychiatric nurse, to bring home the bacon. Little wonder the thought of paying for a place at an Ivy League University doesn’t figure highly on her agenda. She and Christine have a troubled relationship and it’s this, more than anything else, that lies at the heart of this powerful and beguiling film, which Gerwig has chosen to direct herself. Typically, she handles it with great aplomb, somehow managing to make the running time fly past and coaxing wonderful performances from everyone involved, especially from Ronan and Metcalf, who make a winning combination.

The story is often very funny (a scene where the a drama group is run by a physical exercise coach is a particular stand out), but it’s powerful enough to occasionally tug at the heartstrings too. I particularly like Beanie Feldstein as Christine’s best friend, Julie, and there’s also a nice cameo from Timothee Chalomet as one of Christine’s patently unsuitable boyfriends. Oscar nominations have been announced and, who knows, in the present climate, the establishment might finally be ready to reward another female director, and Lady Bird could well be a surprise winner.

Whatever the outcome, this is a sublime piece of film-making that never puts a foot wrong and demonstrates only too clearly that Greta Gerwig is a talent to be reckoned with.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

20th Century Women

18/02/17

Not so much a film about women as their life-changing influence upon one young man, 20th Century Women has the great misfortune to be released amidst a crop of bigger, more hard-hitting films, which means it isn’t really getting the degree of attention it  deserves. This is a shame as it many ways it’s one of the most remarkable releases in what has already been an exceptional year.

It’s 1979 and teenager, Jamie (an appealing performance from relative newcomer, Lucas Jade Zuman) lives in a great big crumbling house in Santa Barbara with his eccentric mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), a divorced woman who lives by her own quirky set of values. Fearing that Jamie might be missing a father’s touch, and after he fails t0 bond with live-in handyman William (Billy Crudup), Dorothea enlists the help of two young women to help her son broaden his horizons. Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s girl friend, a wayward spirit who sneaks into his room and shares his bed most nights but resolutely refuses to allow things to go any further, even though he clearly longs for more. She teaches him about friendship and the importance of looking good when you smoke a cigarette. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is the artistic lodger who has recently survived a run in with cervical cancer and who is an absolute authority on clubbing, gender theory and the importance of speaking your mind. All three women submit powerful performances that linger in the mind long after the closing credits have rolled.

The story is presented as Jamie’s memories as he looks back on the events of 1979 from some unspecified point in the future and the resulting film, written and directed by Mike Mills, has a gorgeous elegiac feel, with Jamie’s occasional voiceovers commenting on what happened then and in some cases, what will happen to the lead characters later. The cinematography helps to reinforce this feel – it’s a series of shimmering images, brilliant, evocative, almost iridescent at times. I should also add that the script is very funny in places, though nobody would describe this as a comedy – it’s a lovely, life-affirming jewel of a picture, which I would urge you to see at your earliest opportunity, before it escapes the cinemas and heads for the small screens, where it will inevitably lose some of its mesmerising power.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Jackie

24/01/17

Jackie Kennedy was a celebrated style icon when I was growing up but, I must confess, she’s somebody I haven’t given a great deal of thought to… until now.

Pablo Larrain’s somber and affecting film looks at her experiences during and just after the assassination of JFK. Framed by an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) it shows how her life was transformed and marginalised by her husband’s death. Indeed, within minutes of his demise, as his successor Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in, she suddenly, shockingly finds herself an outcast, a woman totally defined by her husband’s former role. Without him she is an encumbrance, an embarrassment, somebody deemed to be without value.

The film concentrates on her stubborn attempts to ensure that the memory of Jack Kennedy lives on. She insists that he is given a state funeral and that she be allowed to walk alongside her children behind his coffin in an elaborate funeral cortege – and she ruthlessly manipulates everything that is written about him and her.

In the lead role, Natalie Portman delivers an eerie impersonation, capturing Jackie’s style and her weird drawling voice with uncanny precision. It’s a barnstorming performance, one that is likely to win her a well-deserved lead actress Oscar next month. If the film itself does not quite measure up to that stellar performance, it’s nonetheless pretty assured, uncannily cutting between genuine historical footage and skilful recreations without putting a foot wrong. Just look, for instance, at the recreation of Jackie’s famous ‘tour of the White house’ television programme, which is chillingly accurate in every last detail. Most of the other actors have to be content with cameo roles but Peter Sarsgaard shines as Bobby Kennedy and there are winning turns from Greta Gerwig, Richard E. Grant and from John Hurt as the elderly catholic priest that Jackie pours her heart out to in a couple of key scenes.

But make no mistake, this is Portman’s film and she absolutely relishes the opportunity to inhabit a role that allows her to stretch herself as an actor. If she does get to lift that Oscar statuette, it won’t be the night’s biggest surprise.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Maggie’s Plan

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03/08/16

It’s ironic that before the screening of Maggie’s Plan, we’re shown a trailer for Cafe Society, the kind of film that Woody Allen makes now – ironic, because the main feature is the kind of film that he used to make, back at the height of his powers. Greta Gerwig stars as the titular heroine, a self-confessed control freak who believes she has her whole life planned out in advance. Having failed to sustain a meaningful relationship for more than a few months, but deeply addicted to the idea of becoming a mother, she decides to go ahead and have a baby via insemination by Guy (Travis Fimmel) a ‘pickle entrepreneur’ who readily agrees to eschew any notion of parental responsibility. But matters become a bit more complicated when Maggie’s fellow university lecturer, John (Ethan Hawke) asks her if she wouldn’t mind reading some chapters from his novel, a thinly veiled account of his own life and marriage to the highly successful, but  extremely neurotic Georgette (Julianne Moore).

As Maggie and John’s friendship develops, it soon becomes apparent that they are falling for each other and matters are compounded when, inevitably, they sleep together

Three years later, they are a couple with a toddler to look after but Maggie is beginning to realise that this isn’t anything like the kind of rosy future she’d envisaged. As well as her own child, she’s also handling the other kids that John had with Georgette and John is too intent on that blasted novel to pay her any real attention – so Maggie hatches a devious plan to get John and Georgette back together…

The film is a delight, funny, acerbic, beautifully handled by writer/director Rebecca Miller. Gerwig builds on the sterling work she did in Frances Ha and Julianne Moore submits another of her chameleon-like performances, that stays just the right side of caricature. Bill Hader is particularly funny as Maggie’s long-suffering best friend, but to be fair, there’s barely a wrong note anywhere in this movie, which is as light and palatable as a perfectly cooked soufflé. It’s interesting to note that there are no villains in this story, just a collection of people dealing with their own life issues- and there’s a delightful surprise at the film’s conclusion that makes for a truly satisfying ending.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney