Where film fails, TV is pushing the boundaries for unsexualised, realistic heroines.
There’s a new detective drama series on Sky Atlantic. It’s called ‘Mare of Easttown’ and stars the magnificent and beautiful Kate Winslet as a hardbitten female detective investigating a series of brutal murders in a small midwestern town. It’s an impressive series - beautifully and ominously shot with lots of great locations. But what struck me about it most was just how rough the usually smokin’ hot Mrs Winslet looked.
Winslet’s Mare Sheehan is roughed-up in a torn jacket with matted hair. She wears no make-up and appears partnerless. That’s until she meets a hunky Guy Pearce and they have a really graphic sex scene. I always thought the addition of a boyfriend and sex was contradictory to the bechdel-beting power of Winslet’s image - that a woman doesn’t a man to complete her.
I’m not saying female characters need to look rough. Not at all. They need to look realistic, though. Like everyday people - not just like supermodels like Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johansson. On this level, Winslet’s Mare is an everyday average jane and terrific for it. I just wish the showrunners didn’t need a man to complete her.
TV is breaking boundaries for rough n’ ready, realistic heroines. Female characters every bit as battered and bruised and three-dimensional as their male counterparts. I wish the superhero films of today would think with the same level playing field in mind...
*Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic) - ***
Kate Winslet made a sturdy cop, but the gender politics are a bit questionable.
Why do female cops look so rough on TV? That’s a question I’ve been asking ever since seeing Sarah Lund in ‘The Killing’ with her matted grey jumper and shaggy hair. It’s a question I’m asking again in ‘Mare of Easttown’ (Sky Atlantic) which features the magnificent and beautiful Kate Winslet matted-haired and draped in a torn coat. Perhaps it’s symbolic of the Bechdel-beating power of today’s TV dramas that a woman doesn’t need good looks to complete her. But ‘Mare of Easttown’ contradicts this by giving Winslet a hunky boyfriend (Guy Pearce) and a pretty graphic sex scene.
‘Mare of Easttown’ clearly has ambitions to be a Scandi-style noir in vein of ‘The Killing’ and ‘The Bridge’. It’s set in a small midwestern American town with Christmas trees and grey skies that could easily have walked off the set of ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-1991). Winslet is hard bitten detective Mare Sheehan. She’s a cop, a mum and a grandmum to a little boy. And she’s living in a town where a girl is missing, a prowler is peeping through windows and another girl is found dead by a stream.
This is Winslet’s first TV drama in a decade. The last time she did so was in ‘Mildred Pearce’ (another HBO show). She’s very good as Sheehan - battered and bruised and with a pretty right-wing mindset on life in the rural America this drama is set. Her appearance certainly mirrors that of Sarah Lund, but her gender politics do not.
Sarah Lund didn’t need a man or sex to complete her. Here Winslet has sex with Guy Pearce and starts a relationship. It’s quite stereotypical and contradictory of her entire image as being a Bechdel-test-beating heroine. She even picks him up in a bar.
The scenery is stunning and the music very ominous. I especially liked the ending scene where the little girl is washed up next to the stream. Very disturbing stuff. I don’t doubt this whodunnit will become a key focus over the next few weeks.
But the whodunnit aspect is not key to this drama’s success. Like ‘Broadchurch’ and ‘The Missing’, this is really a tale of a tightly-knit community and how tragedy can rip a hole in it. There’s lots of potential suspects with everybody hiding something.
This is a strong, Scandi-style mystery thriller with a powerful female lead. But it could’ve been better had it not played to feminine stereotypes.
‘Mare of Easttown’ is on Now TV now.
The biggest disappointment of this awards season has arrived and I was really looking forward to it. It’s called ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2021) and it’s directed by the super-posh Emerald Fennell who made her name in ‘Call the Midwife’ (2012-). Carey Mulligan stars as the titular avenging angel and caused controversy when a male reviewer claimed she wasn’t as sexy as Margot Robbie. Honestly, after watching ‘Promising Young Woman’, you might well believe that.
Mulligan is 30 year old medical dropout Cassie Thomas who lives with her parents. Years before, her classmate Al Monroe (Bo Burnham) raped her best friend Nina Fisher, but there was no investigation by the school or legal system. Now, Cassie spends her night faking being drunk and allowing men to take her home and reveals her sobriety when they try to take advantage of her.
On a positive front, this movie boasts some sparkling colours and a hip-hop soundtrack. The opening shots set in a nightclub feature an explosion of popping pinks, yellows and red hues. There’s Nina Simone on the soundtrack and ‘Here Come The Girls’ cooing into your living room. It’s all very funky stuff.
The negatives? There are a lot. Most crucially this movie has no idea whether it wants to be a serious movie about sexual assault and its concequences (which could have been really interesting in the #MeToo era) or a semi-man-hating, ‘Birds of Prey’-style revenge porn. There’s an awful lot of men getting beaten up and their parts blown off. That would be ok, but ‘Promising Young Woman’ insists on being a serious movie about rape which it just isn’t.
Carey Mulligan’s performance is a little too classy for this kind of role. I’m not saying the lead actress needed to be sexy necessarily, just a bit more trashy in her personality and image. Margot Robbie perfected this with her trash-talking, arse-kicking Harley Quinn in ‘Birds of Prey’ which was a far less serious movie and far more fun. I can’t understand why Mulligan has attracted so much awards attention for this performance. It all looks a bit like bad drag.
Does this movie glorify sexual assault on men and women? Not quite. But it’s neither smart, sexy or funny enough to really cut to the heart of the subject matter. I just found it a colossal bore.
‘Promising Young Woman’ is on Sky Cinema and Now TV now.
12A, 120 Mins
‘Minari’ is directed by Korean-American director Lee Isaac-Chung and is semi-autobiographically based on his upbringing in rural America. The year is 1983 and Korean immigrant boy David (Alan Kim) moves from California to a new plot of land in Arkansas. Here his father Jacob (Steven Yeun) hopes to grow Korean produce to sell to vendors in Dallas.
One of Jacob’s first decisions is to decline the services of a water diviner and digs a well in a spot he finds of his own. He enlists the help of local man and Korean War veteran Paul (Will Patton). Jacob is optimistic about his life ahead in Arkansas, but his wife Monica (Han Ye-Ri) is disappointed by it and worries about their son David’s heart condition. Jacob and Monica work sexing chicks at a local hatchery and argue continuously while David and his sister (Noel Kate Cho) eavesdrop…
There’s some remarkable similarities between this brilliant coming-of-age drama and Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ (2014). These are especially evident in the opening scenes which see David looking out of a bus window as he moves into his new house. I imagined ‘Hero’ by Family of the Year - a ‘Boyhood’ classic - playing in the background. Like ‘Boyhood’, ‘Minari goes to suggest that growing up can be both fun (like when David picks for Minari plants) and scary (like in the tragic and terrifying film ending).
What this film has which ‘Boyhood’ doesn’t have is a culture clash element. I liked the relationship between Jacob and Korean War veteran Paul. The two men are at odds with each other as the latter was at war in the former’s country. They connect over small things like thatching the roof of Jacob’s new house and it’s a really nice friendship.
This film speaks from the heart about the immigrant experience and that’s evident in the bilingual mix of Korean and English which is lended to the dialogue. It’s also been a source of controversy as ‘Minari’ was not eligible for the Best Drama Golden Globes because it was 50% in Korean and only 50% in English. Thankfully it’s now been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Steven Yeun gives a great performance as Jacob - bilingual, eloquent and insightful at the highs and lows of being an immigrant. I especially liked the relationship with his children.
Then there’s Han Ye-Ri as the grandmother who is amazing. She’s the beating heart and soul of the film - the ultra-conservative Korean matriarchal figure. But she also has a soft side which is exposed in her relationship with David. A scene where she picks the titular minari with him speaks and moves volumes.
‘Minari’ builds to an epic tragedy ending. It involves a house burning and grandmother trapped inside. The shot of the grandmother coming out of the burning building could easily have walked off the set of ‘Titus Andronicus’. Very powerful stuff.
‘Minari’ is topnotch Oscar viewing. A coming-of-age family drama with a big heart and lots of head. This is my favourite to win Best Picture. Wouldn’t it be great if another foreign language film won again?
‘Minari’ is on multiple platforms now.
RIP Helen McCrory
She was married to ‘Homeland’ star Damian Lewis who was the first to break the news of her passing. He broke the news on Twitter saying McCrory had died “peacefully at home”. Lewis said: “I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died...surrounded by a wave of love from family and friends”.
My thoughts are with the Lewis family and my mum who knew McCrory. She was a fabulous actor who bore an uncanny resemblance and impression of Cherie Blair opposite Michael Sheen as Tony.
Mads in Indiana Jones 5
The film marks another franchise this Danish icon is boarding following reports that he will replace Johnny Depp in ‘Fantastic Beasts 3’.
I’d love to see Mikkelsen in a villainous role - he’s brilliant at that on TV in ‘Hannibal’ and in ‘Casino Royale’ (2006); chewing up the scenery with typical Scandi relish. ‘Indiana Jones 5’ opens July 29th, 2021.
Virtual Academy Awards
The organizers of April 25th’s Oscar show including ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ director Steven Soderbergh had earlier said that it “would not be an option for nominees to zoom in for the show”. But, according to the Hollywood Reporter, in a group call with all nominees, the producers outlined plans to set up venues in London and Paris as uncertainty over travel restrictions prevailed.
Frankly I think this is the right step in the right direction for Oscars. The Zoom ban was toxic considering a large proportion of this year’s nominees are Brits who are still under lockdown restrictions. Having signposted venues for nominees to give their speeches might become the norm in the post-Covid world of awards ceremonies…
Lip-biting Lady Di
In the pictures, Stewart smiles at the camera with a layered blonde bob along with a tartan blazer and diamond engagement ring that appears to be copies of those sported by the real princess.
Jack Farthing will star as Prince Charles and the supporting cast includes Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins and Sean Harris.
Stewart looks unrecognizable. She certainly looks the part with her blonde locks and piercing blue eyes. But she needs to get her perpetual habit of biting her bottom lip under control. That always made her very annoying in the ‘Twilight’ movies…
Almost the entire team who starred in the 2019 film are returning for the sequel including Asher Angel and Zachary Levi. David F. Sandberg is directing again from a script by Henry Gayden and ‘West Side Story’ star Rachel Zegler also joins the cast.
Mirren is no stranger to parts in action-packed franchises. She’ll next appear in ‘F9: The Fast Saga’, returning as Queenie Shaw and she also played an assassin in ‘Red’ (2010) and its sequel ‘Red 2’ (2013).
‘Shazam’ should be honoured to have Helen onboard as the villain. She’s a national treasure and I’d love to see her lick up the scenery in a baddie part…
15, 91 Mins
Andy Samberg is Nyles who has a hot, blonde girlfriend named Misty (Meredith Hagner) who he regularly has sex with. On November 9th, Nyles wakes up next to his girlfriend on the wedding day of Tala and Abe (Camila Mendes and Tyler Hoechlin). At the reception, Nyles delivers a touching impromptu speech with the big relief of Tala’s sister, Sarah (googly-eyed Cristin Miloti) who is the drunk and unprepared maid of honour.
Nyles and Sarah grow close and, after she shows him Misty cheating on him with police officer Trevor (Chris Pang), are about to have sex in the desert when Nyles is abruptly shot in the shoulder with a bow and arrow. Wounded, he ends up crawling to a nearby cave and warns Sarah not to follow. Concerned for Nyles’ safety, Sarah follows and is sucked into a vortex. When she wakes up, she realises it is November 9th again…
This ‘Groundhog Day’ concept is hardly new for comedy. What matters is the execution. And this film executes its concept excellently…
There are some very funny set-pieces such as Nyles’ encounter with a herd of brachiosaurus. When Nyles gets shot with a bow and arrow. When he repeats Misty’s voice at the same time as his voice - a sly nod to the ‘Dr. Who’ classic ‘Midnight’ (2008)?
Adam Samberg is adorably geeky and goofy. He’s just handsome enough to pull off having a beautiful blonde girlfriend like Misty and just nerdy enough to relate to a woman like Sarah.
I was transfixed by the actress Cristin Miloti. Her eyes just bore into you like Zooey Deschannel on Cocaine. She gives an adorably bubbly and fabulously quirky performance as Sarah worthy of the best of Sarah Silverman.
The two stars have fabulous chemistry. I especially was moved to sniffles by Nyles’ eventual declaration of his admiration for Sarah. It felt like being young and in love again…
‘Palm Springs’ is never going to win Oscars, but it doesn’t need to. It’s just pure, unpretentious fun with added star power and time travel to boot. Definitely worth watching if you want a night-in with your girlfriend…
‘Palm Springs’ is on Amazon Prime now.
15, 121 Mins
The era is the 1940s and Billie Holiday (Day) is targeted by the government in an effort to racialize the war on drugs - aiming to stop her singing the song ‘Strange Fruit’ which was controversial for its lyrics. This film charts Holiday’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction and her promiscuity with men.
Andra Day’s performance is just a marvel. I mean she really is a marvel - undeniably hot and sexy, but also so quail and vulnerable. She looks good when having sex with various men and stuns in a maxi dress. I was also particularly moved by a scene where she hides in a corner and breaks down in tears. She captures Billie’s fragility beautifully.
The settings of this movie are very televisual - Grand Central Station and a lot of dressing rooms. But the camera makes them cinematic - it spins around Billie’s face, angling and perfecting her beauty, but never ogling. It spins around her body during the sex scenes; creating an illusion as though you are watching this on the biggest screen possible. It looks every bit as good at home as it would at the cinema.
The costumes are immaculate. I loved Billie’s tiara and maxi dresses. I loved the colours and the pearls and the golden floors - this film does a brilliant job at recreating the swinging spirit of the 40s in all its un-PC triumphes.
It’s also a very sad story. Billie died at the hopelessly young age of 44 of cirrhosis - a downside of her much-publicized battle with the bottle. I felt like I was watching a modern-day American tragedy where the United States had truly failed this beautiful, black woman and subjected her to horrific racial abuse over a long and torturous career. It’s very sobering viewing.
‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ (2021) makes a great companion piece to James Erskine’s documentary ‘Billie’ (2020) from last year. Both beautifully and tragically cut to the heart of this incredibly fragile modern-day American icon…
‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ is on Sky Cinema and NowTV now.
When we went last summer, we went to see ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. I was drooling like a hyperactive labrador over a woman dressed as Frankenfurter in tight shorts and skimpy cleavage. They were the real fans - there to celebrate the joys of the movies. Me and my dad in our casual tees and shorts were just everyday joes out of touch with movie culture.
Last time we went to Nightflix Drive-in Cinema at the Newark Showground, they were showing ‘Wonder Woman 1984’. This was at christmas when most places were locked down under the Tier system and Gal Gadot was only playing at select pockets across the country that were not affected by the restrictions. It was bloody cold - -1 and I bloody fell asleep. It had been a long Covid Christmas.
Drive-in cinemas were set to reopen on April 12th and so, me, my dad and my sister booked tickets to the original drive-in movie - ‘Grease’ (1975) - the movie that put drive-ins on the map. Watching a drive-in in a drive-in might as well be called “drive-inception”!
We emerged just as it was getting dark and some uniforms in high-vis vests escorted us to our “Bay Area” - the station of parking which was 4 cars back from the front screen. We were told to tune our radios to 87.70 FM. That’s how the sound works at these drive-ins - there’s no pod anymore that you have to attach to the side of your car. The joys of technology, eh?
I ordered a Coke Zero on my phone, but it wasn’t delivered to our car. I had to trudge up to the food booth and demand my coke - a bottle that is, not the powder. This was me in a slightly stoned state cos I had just taken my sleeping tablet Zopiclone which I have been prescribed for evenings.
Again, it was bloody cold, despite being spring. And I really felt the cold having lost some blubber around the middle section in recent months. I was just wearing a zip-up cardigan.
As for ‘Grease’, well what a treat! It was every bit as good as I remembered. John Travolta looked every bit as hot on a drive-in screen and Olivia Newton John every bit as fanciable. I dug their chemistry, I dug John’s leather jacket, I dug Liv’s blonde locks. It was pure summer lovin’ fun at the drive-in.
Either way, my drive-in experience was a pleasure and a beauty. It was just beautiful to see a movie on a big screen again regardless of the setting...
15, 121 Mins
We open with an utterly immersive sequence of White Stripes-style duo The Blackgammons performing on stage. The drumming is loud and deafening and the guitars very similar too. The Blackgammons are made up of Ruben (Ahmed) and Lou (Cooke) - a boyfriend-girlfriend duo who tour the country in an RV.
One day, Ruben starts to develop hearing problems and so, on the advice of Lou, goes to the doctor for a hearing test. He is told he will be deaf within a year - putting it down to widespread exposure to Heavy Metal music. Ruben becomes depressed and turns to his former drug addicted habits to self-medicate; leading Lou to kick him out.
Desperate to make up to Lou, he begins attending a rehab centre. Here he meets a fellow deaf, recovering alcoholic (Paul Raci) who teaches him sign language and they strike up a unique, palpable friendship…
Riz Ahmed has always been one of the best actors working today, but this film will shoot him to mega stardom and hopefully an Oscar win. It’s an extraordinary performance of big muscles on stage, but minimalist gestures such as hand movements when doing Machaton. You live, breathe and feel like a deaf man because of Ahmed’s performance. It’s also refreshing that his Asian heritage is never mentioned. You focus just on the character, not his race.
Olivia Cooke pumps up crack addict power as Lou. Her petite, fulsome prettiness is covered by a lack of make-up and baggy eyes. You really get the sense she is suffering as much as Riz. Her and Riz’s relationship is the beating heart of the film and they have a really good sex scene.
Newcomer Paul Raci is every bit as good. I especially liked the lack of synchronicity between his hand machaton gestures and his mouth movements. It gives an effect similar to a movie dubbed in a foreign language - an off-kilter effect that comes to the forefront during a recovering drug addict scene outside a rehab centre. He and Riz have a great friendship.
The scenes of sign language have a jarring, alienating quality. I especially liked the scenes where Riz first wears a hearing aid and the screeching, the sound of silence and the humming sense of disrepair are all at full-throttle volume. You feel like you’re wearing a hearing aid yourself.
This is spectacular, sensory cinema - a sensory assault on the senses. It has three terrific performances and will boost its star to A-list status. Let the Oscar campaign for Riz begin!
‘Sound of Metal’ is on Amazon Prime now and is in cinemas from May 17th.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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