The Favourite 2019 ****

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There’s a micro-genre of films which are about royalty/aristocrats, but are not biopics. Like Dangerous Liaisons/Cruel Intentions, or Ridicule, they’re about the wit and cruelty of the extreme upper classes, and The Favourite is a prime example. Not many know much about the reign of Queen Anne, so there’s lots of fun in this story about how favourite Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) fights for her place in the pecking order when Abigail (Emma Stone ) joins the royal household. Indulgence and decadence is very much the order of the day, with duck races and general harlotry going on, but the key to the corruption is Queen Anne herself (the wonderful Olivia Coleman) who is suffering from all kinds of physical maladies and easily influenced by those around her. Sarah and Abigail are in an All About Eve festival of bitchiness, and there’s a very fresh and witty script to keep things moving ; ‘Did you come here to rape me or seduce me? Abigail asks an aspiring seducer who arrives in her bedroom. ‘I am a gentleman!’ he replies . “So, rape it is, then.,,,’ is her caustic reply. This isn’t your prestige history lesson, but a smart, bawdy comedy, with lots of nasty behavior and three great female performances. Director Yorgos Lanthimos returns to the black comedy of The Lobster with real success here, and this was an awards front-runner for a reason.

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Easy A 2010 ****

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Emma Stone rips it up in a star-making performance in Will Gluck’s lively and well-constructed teen movie. Gluck’s Fired Up! demonstrated that he knew his way about campus, and working from a script by Bart L Layton than has the dense deft feel of a good spec, he turns a few clichés inside out here. Stone plays Olive, a smart, sassy girl who pretends to have lost her virginity at the weekend. The notoriety appeals to her, not least because she’s writing a report on The Scarlet Letter (the book, not the Demi Moore film). Soon she’s faking it all over school, or rather, she’s faking being sexually active in return for gift cards provided by boys keen to have a reputation of their own. It’s a scenario that works well at exposing male-female hypocrisy, and Stone gives it her all. There’s support from Malcolm MacDowell as the school head, and Lisa Kudrow as a counsellor with a line in unhelpful advice. The referencing for John Hughes and The Breakfast Club isn’t needed here; Easy A is a teen classic on merit.

Battle of the Sexes 2017 ****

Tennis is generally something of a disaster area for films; fine for a single scene (Strangers on a Train), a feature film tends to come off the rails (Players, Wimbledon). For films like Borg Vs McEnroe, the narrative feels like a long build up to a climax that can’t match up to the actual event. Jonathan Drayton and Valarie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) take the media circus around the tennis challenge match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and dial back the obvious comedy potential; the film is light, but there are hidden depths in the portrayal of women fighting against male domination. Emma Stone and Steve Carell both personify their characters well, despite not looking much like them physically, and Bill Pullman has an effective villainous turn. The final match itself is fairly rousing, as Riggs comes undone in a public humiliation, and King reigns in a crowd-pleasing finale; for some reason, the crowds didn’t turn up for this enjoyable film, but perhaps streaming will redeem it for the ages. There’s also some nice support from Andrea Riseborough as King’s lover and Fred Armisten as a drug-peddling supporter of Riggs.

Maniac 2018 *****

maniac-netflix-e1537802469399Netflix’s promotional campaign for Maniac didn’t make much of it being based on a Norwegian tv show; indeed, despite the star power of Jonah Hill and Emma Stone in the leads, it’s pretty hard to describe Maniac at all; it’s a multiple-story drama that slips in and out of different realities in a way that’s reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s metafictional If On A Winter’s Night, a Traveller. The set up is that Annie (Stone) and Owen (Hill) meet when taking part in a pharmaceutical experiment into dreams; run by the untrustworthy Dr Mantleray (Justin Theroux) the motives of the Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech are hard to discern, but Annie and Owen have little time for looking at the bigger picture when they are thrust into different scenarios, including a shaggy dog story about a missing lemur, a fantasy sequence in a Game of Thrones style, and a 1940’s adventure in which they are con-artists at a séance attempting to discover a magical missing chapter from Don Quixote. Surprisingly erudite and literary, Patrick Somerville’s creation is constantly entertaining, and is given a wonderfully modern sheen by Cary Fukunega, making him an ideal choice to shake up a stale Bond franchise. Everyone concerned with Maniac, down to support from Gabriel Byrne and Sally Field, aces their contribution in an innovative, revolutionary television show that puts most films to shame and is the best reason for a permanent Netflix subscription to date.

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80124522?source=35

Aloha 2015 ***

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Maybe how much we invest in films colors our judgment; people put so much weight on the Marvel universe that casting Tilda Swinton as a Asian character in Dr Strange was deemed acceptable practice, but for Cameron Crowe to cast Emma Stone as a part Asian in Aloha elicited howls of derision and led to public apologies from both film-maker and star. This mistake aside, there’s always something of interest to mine from a Crowe film, and Aloha has some hidden merits. Crowe is a Billy Wilder fan, and there’s elements of classic character-clash here as Brian (Bradley Cooper) travels to Hawaii and has to make a choice between his ex (Rachel McAdams) and his liaison (Stone). The sub-plot is unwieldy, but pertinent, as Bill Murray’s mogul Carson Welch attempts to ‘buy space’ through his satellite launches. Aloha doesn’t quite work, but has a few moment of greatness, particularly a space-docking scene scored to the Blue Nile’s haunting Let’s Go Out Tonight. Like Crowe’s Elizabethtown, Aloha is a misfire, but it’s not a complete bust and deserves a little forgiveness for its casting sins.