Joy: film review

If I told you last year I was going to see an award winning film about the invention of a mop, you’d probably tell me to shut the front door. But Joy is just that.

The film is a typical underdog story but with a capitalist twist: anyone can be an entrepreneur, you just have to want to badly enough. It opens with a soap opera: a Dyanasty-esque set up, with a scenario where a lady is asked if she can take the gun, shoot it and make all her troubles go away. This soap opera parallel plays on throughout the film, to good effect.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a single mother to two children who lives at home with her mother, and her grandma, plus her ex-husband who she divorced two years ago but still lives in the basement. And to add to things, her father’s second wife has just kicked him out, so he moves into the already full house.

It is clear from the off that Joy does everything she can for her dysfunctional family: she works for an airline company while her mother (Virginia Madsen) is afraid to leave her bedroom and is living her life binge watching soap operas, her ex-husband struggles with an unsuccessful singing career and her father (Robert De Niro) tries to hold together the family business: a car garage. Joy is a hard worker and a creator. Flashbacks to her childhood see her constructing intricate scenes from paper and talking of her dreams to make things: a super power which means she doesn’t require a prince. You go girl.

When Joy cuts her hands on broken glass when cleaning up a smashed wine glass, she is inspired to create a self-wringing mop. Grabbing her daughter’s crayons, she draws out her ideas and makes a prototype before pitching her business idea to her father’s new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) a wealthy widow with money to spare thanks to her late husband: but Trudy drives a hard bargain. Joy must make the money back within six months.

Joy has to grab the gun and dive head first into business: she sets up a manufacturing line at her father’s garage and gets the patent for her mop. Despite being turned down several times by retailers, being arrested for harassment and having to take out a second mortgage on top of Trudy’s substantial loan Trudy, Joy’s will never faulters. She then meets Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) who heads up QVC, still a fairly new concept at the time, and gives her the opportunity to sell thousands of her mops through the television network. All she needs is an opportunity.

If you enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook, you’re likely to feel the same way about Joy, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as O Russell’s first venture with Lawrence. The elation and enthusiasm is there, but not to the same extent.

Joy sees Jennifer Lawrence team up once again with long-time collaborator David O. Russell, as he directs her in their third film together in four years: a relationship that began with Silver Linings Playbook: the film that won Lawrence a Golden Globe, an Oscar and proved that she was more than just ‘that girl from Hunger Games’, launching her to the Hollywood A list.

Yes, Lawrence had already won an Oscar nomination for her role in Winter’s Bone in 2010, but she was still seen of something of an indie darling: not the cool girl of Hollywood that everyone wishes they were friends with that she is now. She is so likeable and full of energy, and never fails to bring that to her roles. Joy is no exception.

With so many heavy-going films at the cinema at the moment (apparently emotionally draining = chance of winning an Oscar), it was nice for this week’s viewing to be slightly more light hearted. Lawrence is the best part of the film, on top form as always: she is vibrant and fleets between deadpan comedy, clawing desperation and sheer willed determination throughout the two hour screen time. While Joy is enjoyable enough, Lawrence is the reason to go see it.

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Is it time for Leo to win an Oscar?

 
Poor Leonardo DiCaprio has become something of a joke in Hollywood for failing to win an Oscar, and not through lack of trying.

He is one of the industry’s most highly respected actors, having starred in some stellar films throughout his career, which would, arguably not have been as good without him in them. He was won plenty of awards, including Golden Globes and SAG Awards, but that coveted little gold man has always just escaped his grip.

This year, he is nominated for his role in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, a grizzly survival story about a fur trapper left for dead in the wilderness in the 1800s. The film has been lauded as “sublime” by critics, and scooped all the big awards at the Golden Globes earlier this month, including a Best Actor gong for Leo.

But a win at the Golden Globes doesn’t always translate into success at the Oscars: Leo knows this all too well himself, as it happened with The Aviator. But there is so much hype around his role in The Revenant, that you can hardly utter the words “Leonardo DiCaprio” without the word “Oscar” being mentioned in the same sentence. And there’s reason for the hype.

Leo truly embraces the role of Hugh Glass and his battle to survive in the primal wilderness after he is attacked by a bear, buried alive by his cohorts and literally left for dead. The visceral performance shows Hugh’s desperate attempt to track down his nemesis John (Tom Hardy) in his quest for vengeance. The Revenant literally means a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead, and Hugh certainly seems to go through hell and back throughout the course of the film. This is very much a physical performance, there is not much dialogue from DiCaprio, but the challenging scenarios and stunning scenery do enough without the need for words.

“I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” DiCaprio told Yahoo. “Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”

  
The bear attack scene is particularly hard to watch. There were rumours that Hugh got raped by the bear, but it is in fact a mother bear protecting her cubs. But the scene is no less awkward and wince inducing. You can see the desperation in Hugh’s face as he grapples with the monstrous creature that mauls him, claws at his skin, flips him over like a pancake and tests the strength of his skull by standing on it. Ouch. Despite it being a computer animated bear, it feels very real thanks to the grunting, heavy breathing and close ups that reveal looks of desperation (that goes for DiCaprio AND the bear). But the bear is in fact a stunt man in a giant blue suit rolling around with DiCaprio before the CGI team added a bear over the top. 

It’s clear that DiCaprio and his PR team are on the Oscar trail. He is letting everyone know how much he wants it. It public knowledge that he ate raw bison liver, slept inside a dead horse and risked hypothermia while shooting with Inarritu in a nine month shoot that was described by crew members as “a living hell”. Bear Grylls, eat your heart out. 

He said in a recent Time Out interview, “I’ll always feel like an outsider” in reference to how he fits into Hollywood, and I couldn’t help that wonder if this has something to do with him never winning an award. He’s not in the George Clooney inner circle of Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and co, all of whom do well when it comes to awards season. But then he also says that “Marty [Scorsese] was the same. He came from the streets of New York and didn’t feel like he belonged in Hollywood.” And now “Marty” is the toast of tinsel town.   

 
DiCaprio is being widely praised for his role, but he has some tough competition in the Best Actor category at the Oscars: he faces last year’s winner, Eddie Redmayne, for his moving performance as Lily Elbe, the world’s first transgender woman (read my review of The Danish Girl here) and Matt Damon, fellow 2016 Golden Globe Best Actor winner (for a comedy) in The Martian. Also in the category is a post-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston in Trumbo and Michcael Fassbender for his role in the eponymous Steve Jobs biopic. 

DiCaprio has always been good at embracing a role, and his work with Scorsese has toughened him up in preparation for this mammoth film. My favourite character DiCaprio has portrayed was Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street: again he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a comedy that year, but he stood no chance at the Oscars as we were in the grips of the McConaissance, and Matthew McCounaughey (quite rightly) bagged the statuette for his transformative role in Dallas Buyers Clubs. I also thought DiCaprio’s turn as Howard Hughes was brilliant, particuarly his decsent into madness. But neither of these roles had the same gruelling process of that of Hugh Glass: and he’s not afraid to let everyone know it. I just hope that eating that raw bison liver pays off… #OscarForLeo 

The Hateful Eight: film review

 

The Hateful Eight was a film of two haves, literally. There was an interval. The first half was slow paced, and slightly tedious, building the tension in typical Tarantino fashion, but everything came to a head in the second half and culminated in a full on gore fest.
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (see what he did there?) opens with Ennio Morricone’s Golden Globe winning score rumbling over scenes of a frozen landscape of Wyoming with a stage coach approaching. Onboard is John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who is delivering the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Redrock where she will be tried and hanged. Ruth is old fashioned: despite Domergue having a dead or alive bounty of $10,000 on her head, he wants to bring her in kicking and screaming so he can watch her hang, to see justice being delivered and to not cheat the hangman.
Ruth trusts no one. When he encounters fellow bounty hunter, and black civil war veteran Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and new Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), both of whom he knows, he is sceptical to let them aboard the stagecoach to give them a lift to Redrock, despite the risk of them freezing to death with an encroaching blizzard on their trail. Under the condition of wearing handcuffs and handing their guns over the the driver, he begrudgingly lets them aboard.
To evade the blizzard, the party take up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a popular stagecoach rest stop in Wyoming. But Minnie is nowhere to be found. The stopover has been left in the hands of Bob the Mexican, with three residents already being put up for the night: old General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and shifty cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen).
From this point, the film is set entirely within the one-room shack (aside from the odd exterior shot). The 70mm format seems wasted on what is essentially a stage play. It’s a nice cinematography gimmick, and it made for good marketing when the film first launched and toured the US on a 50s style roadshow presentation (hence the 12 minute interval at the cinema) so it could be shown in the special format. 
As the eight residents settle into the one-room set of Minnie’s and get to know each other, Ruth points out that at least one man is not who he says he is, and is likely here to free Daisy before he can take her to hang. In a film where everyone seems to recognise somebody else, there are a lot of unknowns. Once introductions have taken place, something of a murder mystery in reverse unfolds as Ruth and the audience try to ascertain everyone’s motives. 
Samuel L. Jackson is on good form, doing what he does best: having a big old rant and shooting people. He kicks starts proceedings in the second half of the film, and thank goodness, as up until this point I was beginning to wonder where the film was going and when the ‘strong bloody violence’ that warranted the film an 18 certification was going to happen. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also brilliant as the feisty, uncouth Daisy, who’s snarling facial expressions and wild eyes never fail to shine through the blood or bruising on her face. And Channing Tatum’s cameo was a pleasant surprise.
The violence is, as expected, bloody and over the top: with exploding heads, genital injuries and missing limbs. Ruth and Daisy make quite a double act as he dishes out punches and slaps to his captor. It shouldn’t be, but it’s almost comedic thanks to Russell’s delivery and Jason Leigh’s reactions. 
I didn’t think the film wasn’t as good as Django Unchained, and it certainly isn’t up there with Pulp Fiction. This is reflected in the recent award wins nominations: Ennio Morricone quite rightly gets an Oscar nod for his tense, brooding score, and Jennifer Jason Leigh has received several nominations for her performance. But the film as a whole, and Tarantino as a director have been neglected from the shortlists. It did however, gain screenplay nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and the BAFTAs. But a more notable nomination is perhaps the EDA Special Mention Award: Movie you wanted to love, but just couldn’t.

The Danish Girl: film review

Upon leaving the cinema having just watched The Danish Girl, I stood to the side of the door while I waited for my sister and couldn’t help but listen to the comments of people leaving the screening:”I didn’t realise it was based on a true story.”

“His costumes were fantastic.”

“He is so beautiful.”

“It was too weird for me.”

“A very powerful film.”

A mixed bag of responses to say the least. When the credits rolled, I had a tear in my eye. I have to agree with the last comment: it was a very moving film that I am sure will leave an impact on most people, even if the subject matter doesn’t resonate with everyone and may prove “too weird” for some.
I thought the film was far from weird. It was tragic. The story centres on a happily married couple in 1920s Copenhagen, who are both talented artists: Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is celebrated for his stunning landscapes, lauded by critics to be “in the top one” of Danish artists, and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) who paints beautiful portraits, but struggles to sell her work as she is told she hasn’t found the right subject, yet.

 

The film’s pivotal moment is when Gerda is painting a portrait of her friend, Ulla the ballerina and encourages her husband to help her out by posing for her as Ulla. Einar trys on stockings, shoes and holds a dress to his body to let it drape over his legs. At this moment, Redmayne portrays a mix of elation, fear and excitement as he caresses the fabric of the women’s clothing. At this point Ulla (the beautiful Amber Heard) walks in clasping a bunch of lilies, and declares it the perfect name for Einar’s alter ego: Lily.

 

The picturesque cinematography in the film drops hints of Lily’s presence within Einar in the early scenes of the film: Einar’s longing glances at his wife’s clothes and form, trips to the state ballet’s costume cupboard where he brushes his hands through the wardrobes and peers down at Ulla through the tutus hung from the ceiling like clouds suspended in the sky. The whole staging is beautiful, as are the characters.

 

Alicia Vikander stood out as Gerda. She encourages Einar to embrace Lily, although at first she merely thinks of it as a game. As she sees her husband slip away and Lily come to the fore, you can see her struggle with her conflicting feelings: she still loves her husband, but she wants him to be happy, even if that means he is now a she, and essentially no longer her husband.

 

Einar said that Gerda made him beautiful, but she remarks that he has always been beautiful: which is true. Eddie Redmayne is exceptionally good looking, but not handsome in a rugged manner: he is definitely pretty. He fully embraces both the role of confused Einar and plays Lily as a coy, yet determined woman who is finding her feet in the world and embarks on a quest to free herself of the body that has become her prison. Redmayne plays Lily so well, that towards the end of the film, I forgot that it was a man under the red lipstick, sweeps of eyeliner and elegantly flowing dresses.

 

The Danish Girl is essentially a love story. The story that plays out between Einar and Gerda is truly touching. Gerda’s dedication to Einar and to Lily is remarkable. You could argue that Lily is like ‘the other woman’ who comes into their relationship in attempts to tear the two apart. When Gerda finds out that Lily kissed another man, it is clear that she is more upset that her husband cheated on her, regardless of the sex of whom he kissed. As the film progresses and Gerda tells Lily, “I want to see my husband.” It is truly heartbreaking.

 

Tom Hooper has followed up Les Miserables and The King’s Speech with an equally moving film, yet again drawing on themes of determination for his characters to achieve an ultimate dream or goal. The film is beautifully shot, excellently written and superbly acted. No doubt Redmayne will be in the running for Best Actor at the Oscars after last year’s win for The Theory of Everything, but I think Alicia Vikander is one to watch. Depending on who else is in the running for Best Actress, a performance as moving as this will at least get her an Oscar nomination, having already won Hollywood Breakthrough Actress of the Year and receiving nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
I would definitely recommend a trip to the cinema to see this tragic love story.

Why nostalgia was the way forward in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens 

JJ Abrams had a big weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders when he accepted the position at the helm of the new Star Wars film. George Lucas had left very large boots to fill. Although, the enormity the boots came from the much-loved original trilogy, the boots were slightly muddied by the prequel trilogy. Fans feared another Jar Jar Binks shaped mishap. (Don’t worry, we leave the boot metaphor there!)

But the fears turned out to be unfounded. The Force Awakens has been the most successful Star Wars cinematic realease so far, not to mention the box office records it has smashed all around the world, having taken over $1.16 billion so far, making it one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time. 

When the casting of the new film was announced, fans were delighted to see that as well as a pool of fresh new talent, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver, the old threesome of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher was also returning. This was a good sign: the new film was obviously going to hark back to the original trilogy that came before it.

Months later, the posters and trailers revealed that Han, Leia and also Chewy would have more than just cameo parts, although there was no sign of Luke: which lead to much theorising about the Jedi’s whereabouts and moral compass. Particularly when Abrams commented that Luke’s absence from both the trailer and the official poster was intentional. God forbid the valiant Luke had been turned to the Dark Side like his father?
  
No spoilers here, don’t worry: just reflection on why references to events in films that came before was the best thing Abrams could have done: not only continuing the story arc of the original characters that so many fell in love with, but seeping the film with references to its predecessors: the Millennium Falcon for one. and even Admiral Akbar made an appearance.
Even the story structure an features are recognisable as A New Hope 2.0: there’s a bigger and badder Death Star, BB8 is essentially the new R2D2, Rey; the poor scavenger with unknown parents who gets launched into a great adventure (a feisty female Luke), and the villain Kylo Ren admits himself that he is modelled on Darth Vader: mask and all.

The Force Awakens is essentially this generation’s A New Hope. I remember when I was young being so excited for my dad to take me to the cinema to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and my dad remembers going to see A New Hope when he was at university, and thinking it was so good that he dragged his parents to come see it with him for a second time. When I went to see Episode VII, I saw parents taking their children to see the film, wearing t-shirts and clutching branded popcorn buckets.

I read an interview with Abrams that said that he remembered the original Star Wars series as films that fathers would take their sons to see, but he wanted his Star Wars to be a film that mothers would take their daughters to see, which I love. He even went so far to call it a ‘feminist Star Wars‘ thanks to the punchy heroine Rey, who I also love. Daisy Ridley is so expressive in the role: every emotion is etched on her face throughout the film.

Abrams also said of his new heroine that it was intentional that the audience did not know her last name, and the same is true of Finn. It is a Star Wars trope that key characters are related. Even people who have never seen Star Wars know the ‘I am your father line’. As the Star Wars legacy continues, it will be interesting to see if any of the original trilogies’ blood lies will do too…

  
I loved the new duo of Rey and Finn, who teamed up to help BB8 and the Resistance, but the best duo of the film were Chewy and Han, who made quite the comedic double act. The film was littered with jokes, which felt like ‘in jokes’ for fans who could get the references to the original films, but of course the majority of the cinema was ‘in’ on the joke.

The film was a wonderful way to relaunch the Star Wars franchise and to look back to A New Hope and the films that followed it though rose tinted glasses, but not in a gratuitous way. Abrams certainly filled Lucas’s boots (sorry, one more metaphor!) and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for Episode VIII.
 

Blogging 2016: Return of the blonde

The beginning of a new year is a time to think ahead to the coming months and what we are going to do differently, but it is also a time for reflection, which in turn can inform us what we want to do differently this year.

I have been absent from this blog from the last year because 2015 was a busy year of learning new skills and finding my feet on a new career path. Unfortuntaly for my blog, this meant it did not get any attention because my mind was on other things. However, I have a great new job and have transitioned my professional writing from journalism into content marketing and I really enjoy it. 

Despite this blog being called Critically Blonde, although I am critical, (and I mostly just enjoy a good pun) I find it hard to negatively critique for fear of upsetting others: and it is all too often far easier to find the negatives than the positive, which is why journalists have developed a bad reputation and the media industry is termed as ‘nasty’. Marketing is a far better fit for me: writing promotional content and endorsing the positives. It was a steep learning curve that required lots of energy and attention, but I feel that I now thrive in my role and within my marketing agency team.

Now that I have settled into my job, I want to do some writing for myself again, not just for clients. I did write some marketing blogs for my company, Digital Radish, this year and I realised in my annual appraisal that this is one of my favourite tasks. While I relish the challenge of writing an enticing technical report for a new client, every week I look forward to writing a blog. 

The other thing that inspired me to start blogging again was watching the new Star Wars film. It was so breathtakingly brilliant and as a self-confessed Star Wars geek who first watched the original trilogy when she was a little girl with her dad, it was great to see a film that looked both backwards to what had been done previously and also laid out the path for new adventures to come. Much as I am doing in my own life now. 

I did write a blog at the end of 2014 about how I didn’t agree with new year’s resolutions. However, this year I am making an exception and I will resolutely continue to write my Critically Blonde blog. 

Enough about me, onto Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens…