This time last year, post-Boxing Day, as is usual, the pick of the crop were showing in the cinema houses around the country. Many of the award winners-to-be were on delayed release to capitalise on the holiday time-slot Down Under. They were of such quality, these gems viewed into the weeks of the first month of a new year, that several made my ‘best of’ for ‘18. These were exceptional movies.
Fast forward to the start of this mint new year and the same quality has not been provided – in other words, movies that will live long in the synapses. ‘Cold War’ was exquisite and has been the standout, but these other three, though well-represented in the current awards season, were eminently watchable, but didn’t make one marvel.
New Year’s Day took me to the State to see ‘Colette’. I’d been looking forward to it for various reasons, not the least of them being the lead, Keira Knightley. Most will know of the French literary sensation of the first half of last century. I knew the bare bones of her story and was relishing the prospect of flesh being added, for I knew her lifestyle was immeasurably unconventional for those times. And there was some fleshing out in real style.
As with most aspiring women back when Colette was in her late teenagerhood, breaking through the glass ceiling, even in a more liberal France, was not going to be easy. Initially her best hope would be to marry well – and in the much older Henry, she felt, she had hit the jackpot. Under the pseudonym of Willy he was a popular writer in Paris. In reality his scribings were produced by a group of aspiring young authors – he just replaced their names with his to ensure sales. Colette soon shows she has aptitude, as well, with the written word and joins his assembly line. Eventually she starts to produce her wildly successful ‘Claudine’ novels, which Henry (played by ‘The Affair’s’ Dominic West, endowed with a goatee that almost has as much life as its owner) naturally takes full credit for. Of course, its raciness for the times only enhances his cachet with the beautiful people of the city. He’s easy prey for women who want a piece of him. Henry declares this is only to be expected for, after all, a man has his needs outside of his marital duty. Colette starts to chaff under his philandering, misuse of the proceeds from her labours and his increasing fame on her back. She also breaks out sexually, taking lovers of all genders, although she still retains affection for her husband, despite his sins. Eventually, though, enough is enough, when he takes liberties that she comes to find totally unacceptable, even for him.
One of these is bedding the gorgeous southern belle Georgie Raoul-Duva. She’s played by the ravishing Eleanor Tomlinson of ‘Poldark’ fame. Problem is, she’s been in lust with Colette for some time as well. And if I may quietly tell you a little secret, the loves scenes between Knightley and Tomlinson are something to behold.
But for all its attributes Walsh Westmoreland’s Belle Époque offering doesn’t quite crack it into the top league. That a love scene is the lasting memory says it all.
And the same could be said for ‘Vice’, not the love scene – there aren’t any – but not being a top notch contender for greatness. Again there were praiseworthy turns, this time from Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell. But, compared with director Adam McKay’s ‘The Big Short’, it comes up, well, short.
This could have been a demolition job on Dick Cheney – the film presents enough reason, but such is the nature of Bale’s performance in the role the outcome is one of close to grudging admiration for the powerful man. Carrell’s Donald Rumsfeld is less so as he and Cheney take a green POTUS, George W (Sam Rockwell), under their wings, with the latter emerging as the supreme power behind the throne.
And they knew. They knew – although the narration makes clear, in the manner of ‘The Big Short’, that it’s not possible to be definitive for so much of the evidence has ‘disappeared’. For a time it’s difficult to discern how the character playing the narrator fits into the picture, but we should have known that dodgy decisions taken at the highest level have ramifications for those at the coalface – sometimes terrible ramifications.
Those with an interest in the political machinations of men, prepared to stretch the ethical envelope for their own ends, will get their money’s worth from ‘Vice’. And at least their White House was always functional. Could even Cheney and Rumsfeld have handled the Trumpster?
We were eager to see ‘The Favourite’, Leigh and I, although I did have some reservations, having unsuccessfully tried to watch several other of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ offerings. Certainly I lasted to the end of this new one and certainly there were again three thesps with winning portrayals front and centre of it, this time of the opposite gender to the previous. Olivia Coleman, as an addled Queen Anne, was brilliant, with Rachel Weisz playing her partner in governance and in in the royal bed chamber not far behind. Emma Stone played the latter’s wannabe usurper Abigail Hill. Abi’s family had fallen on hard times, so she’s forced to seek employment at the palace in a downstairs role. She has, however, a knowledge of herbal medicine that brings her close to the ailing Queen and gradually she works her way upstairs and to a position to challenge the Duchess of Marlborough as Anne’s favourite caressor of private parts. Occasionally, despite being a few sheep short, her majesty rises to the occasion to stamp her authority, including, at one stage, casting the Duchess out of the boudoir to the outer margins. Hubby, though, is the Duke in charge of the war against France, one of the few men in the movie to be other than a rouged-up dandified fop. Good to have him in her corner.
So, as with ‘Vice’, we have three powerful figures at the pointy end of decision-making, but ‘The Favourite’ left both Leigh and I feeling underwhelmed, even if this period piece will no doubt pick up a few gongs in its journey through the awards season for director and actresses.
None of the trio of films should be dismissed from a looksee, but neither do they set the world on fire. ‘18 was a great year so hopefully it will improve. Maybe there are a few surprises like Lady Gaga and Rami Malek just around the corner.
Trailer for ‘Colette’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnTNgZz4Sm0
Trailer for ‘Vice’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO3GsRQO0dM
Trailer for ‘The Favourite’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOySDafIE74