And it is.
Only 48 hours ago my wife and I belatedly watched the Oscar-winning Moonlight (a very odd choice for the best movie Oscar in my opinion), also written and Directed by Barry Jenkins. Today we saw Jenkins’ follow up. Across the two movies it’s notable that Jenkins doesn’t do ‘action’,as both are glacially paced. He also doesn’t do white actors. There are none at all in Moonlight and only 3 or 4 in Beale Street.
Visually, Beale Street is stunning. Jenkins is not left down by his cinematographer, James Paxton, who was also shot Moonlight. This has moments of jaw-dropping beauty, and in Kiki Layne and Stephen James he has two faces that make for simply beautiful close ups. In creating a love story Jenkins has certainly cast a couple that you truly believe are besotted with another, and that is both sweet and charming.
The movie also boasts am excellent soundtrack that has an epic central theme and a great deal of jazz to create mood where dialogue is in short supply.
But the movie is letdown by a pretty unengaging story, some very dense dialogue (it’s famine or feast in that respect) that is virtually indecipherable in places and central performances by the star struck lovers that are more lovely than moving.
The only performance that, for me, leapt off the screen was that of the mother of Kiki Layne, Regina King. It is nuanced, engaging and powerful and she deserves the recognition she is getting.
This is a year of huge black movies: Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Green Book and this, all of which have been heavily nominated at The Oscars and BAFTAs. Of the four through it’s only Spike Lee’s terrific KKK movie that does it for me.
It’s slim pickings in the best movie department in 2019. Roma is a terrible bore, The Favourite is excellent, but is Lanthimos’ third best feature. For me the movie of the year is Cold War with The Favourite and A Star is Born close behind. Not this, that’s for sure.
That’s the sound of Spike Lee returning with a bang.
Lee’s work has been lean pickings for me since his heyday in the late 80’s and early 90’s with movies like Do the Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It.
But the rest of his cannon (maybe through ignorance on my part) has failed to engage me.
But this almost nails it.
My one overall criticism is that, at times, I’m not sure if Lee wants to make a comedy or a searingly monstrous docu-drama.
For me the hate he brings to the screen out punches the comedy 10:1.
Two characters in the movie should have been booted into touch: both are lampoons and detract from what is otherwise a great whole. These are the hate-filled racist local cop (Officer Clay Mulaney) and the KKK sidekick Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser – hilarious in a similar slapstick role in I Tonya, but misplaced here).
They are minor distractions but become grit in your eye, detracting from the overall menace and subtle humour surrounding a subject that is far from humorous.
What Lee does with this is face up, full on, to the endemic prejudice that fuels the police force and the local white population in small town Colorado.
He creates a sense of time and place that is authentic and cool man. As you would expect from a Spike Lee Joint the black cast are dealt most of the best hands, but Adam Driver (as a Jewish cop – only one step removed from being black in this chapter of the KKK’s eyes) performs an excellent supporting role as the white man who infiltrates the KKK on behalf of his black colleague (John David Washington).
You’ll know the plot constuct by now so I won’t bore you with that.
What makes it a great movie is the sense of time, place and politics, the soundtrack and the unflinching ability of Lee to capture the racist poison that is encapsulated in the performance of Jasper Pääkkönen as Felix Kendrikson; by far the most committed and cynical of the Klansmen. And yet it is underpinned by nice comedic moments (other than the slapstick I described earlier).
There’s a scene in which the Chapter watch a screening of Birth of a Nation where, although underpinned by some humour, that hatred really does come across compellingly. It’s chilling.
It’s a great (true) story that is extremely well told.
At times the cinematography is truly outstanding – in particular the scene in which a visiting black political speaker (Kwame Toure, played by Corey Hawkins) addresses the local black student population. Lee creates a montage of faces from the crowd that echoes Queen’s seminal Bohemian Rhapsody video but so stylistically and handsomely that it’s art on screen for just a few fleeting moments.
It’s seared on my mind.
I am a big, big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos whose two previous deadpan comedic features (The Killing of a Scared Deer and The Lobster) are outstanding movies.
The feature of both of these movies is Lanthimos’ extremely black humour delivered in a unique style.
However, for The Favourite Lanthimos has taken a big decision in abandoning the scriptwriting and handing the duties over to Deborah Davis (her debut) and Tony McNamara (lots of minor TV but no cinema history). It’s strange choice of writing team because they don’t bring any previous to the mix, and neither are fresh-faced youths. But what they bring is an entirely different tonality to Lanthimos’ work and that leaves him to focus on direction, with cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan, who made a big contribution (in my view) to American Honey. Indeed, the cinematography is a major talking point after the writing. Gone is Lanthimos’ naturalistic, almost clinical, lighting of the Lobster and “Deer” instead, although we again go au natural, it’s through a gloom of candle and fire light that renders the screen largely black for a great deal of its 2+ hours.
His frequent choice of extreme wide angle (almost fish eye) lens to capture the scale of the huge palace rooms is highly unusual in cinema and is much more like stills photography. One scene, shot in a long corridor, makes it look like a u-bend when in fact it is completely straight – unlike the principal characters!
But the real meat here is this terrific all female star line-up. In the #MeToo era this is a real vote of confidence in female actors with attitude and sheer quality. Come March it is entirely possible that all of the leads; Olivia Coleman (national treasure that she is), Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone will be career Oscar winners because Coleman’s performance is quite brilliant. The other two already hold this distinction and each has a good chance of adding to their trophy haul.
Although, As Queen Anne, Coleman (who gained 2.5 stone top play the gout-ridden Queen’s part) is the designated lead the film is essentially a three player ensemble with some ineffectual men put into bat to be made to look ridiculous and, oh, they do in Sandy Powell’s outrageous costumes and Beverley Binda’s even more outrageous hair and make up. (“You look like a dead badger’ Weisz tells the Queen as she sets out on a royal engagement.)
The story echoes All About Eve as Queen Anne’s favourite lady in waiting, and lesbian lover, Lady Sarah Marlborough, The Wife of the Duke of Marlborough who is leading the war with France, is gradually pushed out of favouritism by one time lady and now servant girl, Abigail (Emma Stone). Although she does not go without fight.
This is where the scriptwriting team get the nod to create a bawdy and vicious rivalry set in a Draughtsman Contract-esque world.
Overindulgence, poisoning and illness leads to all three leads vomiting at least once each, reflecting this world of excess.
The music track is at times intrusive, but to my mind in a good way; it’s a sort of early 18th Century version of Atticus Rose and Trent Resnor’s soundtrack to The Social Network.
What everyone is talking about is the lead performances. Each is supremely talented and each is given so much scope to truly flex their acting muscles that what results is an acting master-class. In the trailer it seems like a knockabout farce but in reality the movie is actually quite slow paced with moments of true hilarity and enough foul language to shock some of our more prurient audience members. That said, my wife who abhors the C-word volunteered that it was used to great effect several times in this.
The lesbian relationships Queen Anne enjoyed are worthy of note. In a life that saw her lose 17 children (5 still born and many miscarried) her tipping of the velvet was, apart from a bulimic relationship with food, one of her few pleasures. Both Lady Marlborough and Abigail are adept in their duty to pleasure their monarch.
Coleman comes steadily into her own as the movie progresses. The first half belongs to Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone plays a beautifully judged and paced part in which she will do anything to get ahead but in the end it’s Coleman who wins the day with the last 20 minutes belonging to her as she suffers the vagaries of her life. Her portrayal of Queen Anne as a stroke victim is as good a performance as you will see anywhere this year.
It’s a fascinating movie, although I’m not convinced it’s quite as good as its hype. That said, for lovers of history and lovers of Olivia Coleman it has to be seen.
A true pop legend. We don’t need the punk moniker really.
This is one of the greatest Live Bands on earth captured in HD and on fire. An important group for our times.
Seems like they will never run out of bangers.