Thursday, 27 September 2018

Critical Week: Who runs the world?

It's been a busy week for screenings in London, as we're starting to get to see autumn festival titles. This week I was happy to catchup with Wash Westmoreland's biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley as the iconic French author. It's a fiercely clever film, quietly subverting the period drama while addressing issues that are still current. Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born is the fourth version of this involving tale of a fading artist (Cooper as a rocker) being eclipsed by his emerging-sensation girlfriend (Lady Gaga, surprisingly excellent). Damiel Chazelle's First Man stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in the run-up to the moon landing. It's moving and intriguingly internalised. And Night School features the powerhouse team of Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, although the script leaves them hanging.

Other films this week are featuring in the forthcoming London Film Festival (10-21 Oct), including Nicolas Cage in the gonzo horror Mandy, the hilarious Kiwi comedy The Breaker Upperers, Zhang Yimou's silvery-riveting 3rd century Chinese thriller Shadow, and the Indonesian ghostly horror freak-out The May the Devil Take You. There were also two rock 'n' roll docs: Bad Reputation follows the queen herself, Joan Jett, while After the Screaming Stops traces a reunion of Bros twins Matt and Luke Goss. I also saw one film that's in the now-underway Raindance Film Festival (26 Sep-7 Oct): Dizzy Pursuit is a hilarious one-room micro-budget comedy about distracted filmmakers. And then there were these two Supreme Court documentaries...

dir Betsy West, Julie Cohen; with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton
release US 4.May.18 • 18/US Storyville 1h38 ****
This engaging, gentle documentary traces the extraordinary life of the 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born at a time when women didn't dare to be lawyers, she was encouraged by her parents and later her husband to pursue her dreams. Her life is a remarkable story of overcoming barriers, refusing to take no for an answer. Then as a lawyer, professor, judge and justice she has been able to help bolster the law to create a more equal system. The film beautifully portrays her efforts to help men understand how it feels to be a second-class citizen as she pursued landmark cases to the Supreme Court in the 1970s, at a time when no one believed there was such a thing as gender-based discrimination against both women and men. There are also sections that explore Ginsburg's personal life as a wife, mother, grandmother, dedicated opera fan and terrible cook, as well as her unexpectedly close friendship with Justice Scalia. The filmmakers include a terrific range of archival photos and film, as well as interviews with her friends, family, colleagues and other public figures. The film captures her personality as a quiet, thoughtful woman with a steel-trap mind, determined to make the world fairer. She's soft-spoken, but her words have real power, and her lively sense of humour makes her even more likeable. Ginsberg is a living American hero, a champion for equality at various levels of society.

Reversing Roe
dir Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg; with Tony Perkins, Gloria Steinem
release US 13.Sep.18, UK 19.Sep.18 • 18/US Netflix 1h39 ***.
Bang up to date, this propulsive documentary opens as Texas passes laws restricting access to abortion, with a stated goal to ultimately overturn Roe v Wade. "Everything about abortion is a sin," say the proponents. And the other side replies, "Women have always had abortions whether or not they're legal, so if you want to stop them, help stop unwanted pregnancies." The filmmakers take an open-handed approach, exploring the collision of politics and religion that led to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in 1973 and then on to today's standoff. Both sides have their say as the doc carefully outlines the history of the issue in America, including the way Reagan and the Republicans switched sides on abortion (it was a deliberate strategy to lock in a voter base), as did Planned Parenthood (which was originally against abortion). Today the issue has turned religious, arguing against the murder of unborn infants. This has led to a system in which voters make their choice based on this issue alone, not whether the candidate is suitable for office. And in the 1980s it led to violence, including fatal shootings and bombings, perpetrated by fanatics who hypocritically called themselves pro-life. As it carefully balances the presentation of each argument, the film can hardly help but have a pro-choice slant, simply because the separation of church and state makes the issue legally clear. And also because the pro-life side is driven by men who use sleazy tactics. But the film also avoids exploring the idea that abortion is the taking of a human life, focussing instead on the fact that women should choose, not government officials. And certainly not middle-aged male politicians.

This coming week I have a lot more films for Raindance and London festivals, plus regular releases like Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Strikes Again, Joaquin Phoenix in Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot, Tilda Swinton in Suspiria, Aubrey Plaza in An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, Emily Rajtakowski in Cruise, and the animated film Tehran Taboo.

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