More Films To Look Out For

London

You won’t have to look hard to find ‘West Side Story’ – it will no doubt win big at the Oscars; after last year’s dour ‘Nomadland’ audiences could do with an uplift and this fits the bill. It’s respectful of the original, replaces the white actors with a properly Puerto Rican cast, finds a new star in its female lead, Rachel Zegler, and it’s augmented Spielberg-style into a colourful epic with superb orchestration.

But it has no reason to exist. The original is in most ways perfect. Tony Kushner’s over-explanatory new script makes everything neat and tidy, and I lament the passing of long takes in dance routines – watch some of the early films in which Bob Fosse appears and you’ll see dancing with no cutaways. Small quibbles, though, because the film is so entertaining that even musical-haters may be be won over.

At the other end of the spectrum is the kind of arthouse film audiences run a mile from. An Icelandic tale of sheep farmers, filmed in very long slow takes with natural sound. But it’s hard to talk about ‘Lamb’ without mentioning the reveal it holds back for the first half hour. The film requires an investment of faith; a bit of sniggering at the back could ruin it. Naomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason are a happy couple living a simple rural life whom we observe tilling the soil, feeding and delivering animals. There are so very few lines of dialogue that it feels like a silent movie.

But it’s not quite a perfect existence. And those images we see are not quite as peaceful as they look. The couple are childless; there’s an empty crib in the bedroom, and a hint of past tragedy. And when they save the runt of a lamb litter and raise it inside the house, bringing out Rapace’s maternal instincts, you wonder what she will do when the lamb grows up.

As mists drift down from the mountains, an awful feeling of dread hangs over the proceedings. Glances are exchanged. A sheep bleats outside the house, refusing to leave her spot. Hilmir’s dodgy hipster brother turns up and is horrified. Even the dog senses trouble. Something else is going on, but what?

The unforeseen revelation dropped my jaw but will quickly circulate (it’s in the trailer, for God’s sake). Horror and tenderness make for a devastating combination as the closing moments of ‘Lamb’ give the film mythic proportions, in much the same way that lars Von Trier’s ‘Breaking the Waves’ did with its ending of heaven’s bells. And if this proves to be your cup of tea, it benefits from a second viewing.

‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is a horror show that needed a vulgarian director. Instead it’s far too restrained and movie-of-the-week. Jim (Andrew Garfield) and Tammy Bakker (Jessica Chastain) were America’s top televangelists; he was boyishly good looking, she had a taste for mink and looked as if she applied her makeup with a steak hammer. They grew ever richer until corruption charges and accusations of sexual infidelity brought them down.

Neither the glitzy Bakkers nor the concept of shouting on TV for donations will be of much interest to British audiences. I was living in America at the time and remember – like everyone else – Tammy’s huge spiked eyelashes as she nightly sobbed on cue, a grotesque parody that seemed a perfect example of American extremes. A peculiar local story, then, like ‘The Book of Mormon’, now being sold to the world.

But the real-life story is far juicier than the film; Tammy’s supposed lover had hit men after him! The film peddles softly on the duo, perhaps because Jim Bakker was still preaching until very recently, when he was arrested on fraud charges yet again. In the same way that ‘The Founder’ let McDonald’s off the hook while showing how it rose to junk-food ubiquity, ‘Tammy Faye’ mythologises pop trash. Faye was either stupid or faking stupid and Jim was a conman. The real villain of the piece is the repulsive religious far-right homophobe Jerry Falwell, but he slips out of the script without too many stains on his character.

Once Hollywood celebrated explorers and scientists in film biographies. Now they’re grubbing around in the last century’s detritus. Surely we have better stories to tell?

 

10 comments on “More Films To Look Out For”

  1. Everett Jones says:

    Kitsch biopics like “Tammy Faye” probably all hail back to Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.” But Burton and his writers were aware of how absurd their subject was, and they didn’t treat him as important in of himself. They knew they had to justify the audience investing its time in someone who had notoriety but didn’t have any meaningful accomplishments. Directors and stars attracted to bizarre figures like the Bakkers seem to have forgotten that.

  2. Paul+C says:

    Thanks – really looking forward to seeing West Side Story. Interesting that Rita Moreno (who won an Oscar for the original 1961 film) appears in the new version and is also an executive producer. Wonder if she’ll win an Oscar this time too ? That would be quite a double……

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    I think the main difference (for me) between the original ‘West Side Story’ and the current ‘reimagining,’ is that 60 years ago you had a musical with an attempt at relevance; now you have an ‘authentic’ drama with music and dance. As part of that authenticity, the lead and key supporting actors on the Puerto Rican side are Latinos and there are stretches of Spanish/Spanglish without substitles. Although there is an aside or two where non-Spanish speaking viewers may miss out on a joke or two, the rest is pretty easy to understand through context clues. However, even knowing Spanish may give someone pause since the dialogue in question is in largely idiomatic New York Puerto Rican Spanish.

    And of course, considering the current heated political environment, Spielberg’s rather bold creative choice of using unsubtitled Spanish is already generating ‘a storm in a teacup.’ When all is said and done however — whether it was a form of wishful thinking because of the Latino cast and the Spanish/Spanglish dialogue or, simply the writing and direction — or a combination of all three — I found it less of a caricature, and as a result, more intense and visceral — although obviously it shares the basics with the original film the several stage versions I’ve seen. Certainly worth taking 2h 36m out of your life to see in a cinema if you can.

  4. Roger Allen says:

    Petrov’s Flu directed by Kirill Serebrennikov with assorted Russian actors and singers taking part with Petrov and his family tottering on the edge of life and death with the future and the past coming together, in a virtuoso cinematic display.
    Well, I liked it.Someone near me in the auduence thought it was pretentious guff….

  5. Stu-I-Am says:

    I find it interesting (as one to whom even a belaboured comparison is often irresistible) that you posted a piece on Spielberg’s ‘reimagining’ of ‘West Side Story’ at the same time as a link on Twitter to your ‘CrimeReads’ dissertation, ‘The Curse of Englishness: What Every British Thriller is Also a Black Comedy’ (https://crimereads.com/the-curse-of-englishness-why-every-british-thriller-is-also-a-black-comedy/) Both I think embrace or point to, for want of a better term, an ‘authentic voice.’

    In Spielberg’s case it’s Latino actors in their rightful roles of Puerto Ricans and the use of unsubtitled Spanish — reflecting both this true ethnicity and the time and place in which the film is set, when New York Puerto Ricans were constantly upbraided for speaking Spanish, rather than English. As for that ‘Curse of Englishness,’ I prefer to describe it as ‘authenticity.’ More specifically, in your case, ranking membership in what I call the British ‘sly wink’ school of mystery and crime, where there’s almost always more than ‘meets the eye’ initially. While I understand this may indeed be a ‘curse’ in terms of sales (as your American agent rudely emphasised) in the US, which does represent something like 30% of worldwide book sales, it is, as I’ve said before, a blessing for us faithful. Your books, as I also said before in a different context (what’s that about ‘deathless prose?’) your books and those of similar British authors are most often ‘destinations,’ not motorway service areas.

    The fact is, however adept you might be in writing to the American market (and perhaps others in translation) if you could, there is already more than enough competition for the same pap. Now granted, we can’t amongst us possibly buy enough books to allow you to purchase that waterfront mansion in Barcelona, but we are loyal. And slow but sure may at least get the plumbing in the flat and those wobbly stairs (?) fixed.

  6. Cary Watson says:

    Have you seen Only the Animals? It’s a French mystery-thriller that came out two years again in France, but it’s only arrived now on streaming services with English subtitles. Brilliant plotting up there with the best of Sebastian Japrisot.

  7. admin says:

    Saw Only The Animals (although under another title I think) – the farmer talking to the ‘girl’ online, yes? More like Chabrol, I thought.
    Seeing Petrov’s Flu this weekend, going to Cyrano tonight with a Q&A with Peter Dinklage and Joe Wright.

  8. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Surprised nothing from you (yet ?) on ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ Joel Coen’s stunning vision with its extraordinary cast (Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Corey Hawkins and Brendan Gleeson).

  9. Julie says:

    I still have my signed copy of The Ultimate Party Book!
    Would like to say hello after so many years… would you email me?
    Hope the surname in my email + UIP is enough to jog your memory but can send more prompts if not.

  10. Joan says:

    Have to wait to catch West Side Story as it opens tomorrow here. I did see House of Gucci though and quite enjoyed it, even Jared Ledo’s over the top take on Paolo Gucci and Al Pacino’s simmering Aldo. And being Al Pacino you just know he will explode at some point, which he does. Lady Gaga I think nailed Patrizia, awful woman that she was.

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