Netflix, you did it. I’m so proud of you.

Netflix has proved to be really good at some things. Shows about lady wrestlers. Shows about The Upside-Down. Making you cry about makeovers. Making you cry in a different way over terrible cakes.

They’ve not really nailed the rom-com before.

I watch basically every Netflix Original rom-com that goes on there, but I’ve only seen fit to write about A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance because they were really cheesy and ’twas the season etc. And yes I did actually enjoy Christmas Inheritance but that is because the standard for holiday romances is so, so low. However, I’m not going to pretend I’m not counting down the months until The Princess Switch with Vanessa Hudgens.

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I watch the rest of the nonsense they add. I watched Ibiza, which I felt vastly overestimated the appeal of watching people who are drug-fucked and vastly underused Richard Madden’s natural Scottish accent. Happy Anniversary made me want to never be in a relationship lest I have to talk that much. They do okay with teen rom coms….sometimes? Candy Jar was charming. The Kissing Booth was one of the most problematic things I’ve seen in a long time, GIRL RUN AWAY. I did not watch When We First Met because I hate Adam Devine with the fire of a thousand suns.

So I am extremely pleased to say, they’ve done it. They’ve made a good rom-com. Meet Set It Up: 

The basic structure is barely even trying. Two over-worked and under-appreciated assistants who work in the same building set up their bosses to get some free time: “When they’re boning, we’re free, right?”. In the meantime they hardly realise that they themselves are being drawn closer together. So no, you’re not here for the plot. You’re here for the charm.

This whole movie is like some sort of twisted charisma factory. We start with the most important role, the heroine. I haven’t seen Zoey Deutch in a lot, but I knew something very important going in: she made the dire, horrific mess that is the Vampire Academy movie legitimately enjoyable, purely through charm and excellent line deliveries. There was a moment there where even pashing her PE teacher seemed like a good idea. So yes, I was more than happy to be carried along by Harper’s crazy schemes in Set It Up, even if she made fun of Charlie for being horrifically old. At age 28.

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I’ve mostly seen Glen Powell be kind of blandly handsome and pleasant, as Juliet’s poor old American Not-Michiel-Huisman fiancé in Guernsey, and pleasingly not-racist John Glenn in Hidden Figures. He gets to lean in to his asshole (so to speak) a bit more as Charlie. He gets some amusing and cutting lines, although we’re probably meant to think his deeply terrible boss Taye Diggs has rubbed off on him bit. Look, even Mr Darcy has to learn how to soften up a bit before he’s a worthy romantic hero.

I was pleased to see Lucy Liu given credit as the goddess she is in the movie:

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She’s a badass sports writer with her own publication, and while she has a touch of the Miranda Priestlys to her, you never question Harper’s admiration for her.

There’s a great support cast, a brilliantly old-school soundtrack (there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking that cue from Nora Ephron)… I’ll stop talking. Go watch it. The world is fucking awful, go escape for an hour and 45 minutes.

I’m absolutely delighted that Netflix has managed to produce a movie that balances rom and com so adeptly. I’d love to see writer Katie Silberman do more, but I have some bad news. Her next movie. Such a promising concept:

A young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.

It stars Adam Devine.

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‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’: The Victorian Values Review

It’s a mouthful. I’ve been shortening it to Guernsey – because a lot of this film is about Guernsey, and its experiences during WWII – but I was delighted when the girl at the box office told me that some people have been asking for tickets to ‘The Potato Movie’. Come on guys, Peter Dutton’s a long way off getting a biopic.

First up, as always, a trailer:

This particular film is a difficult one to talk about without spoilers, but golly there’s a few of them in the trailer, anyway. Part of the issue, of course, on basing your movie on a bestselling book (in this case, the 2008 novel of the same name) is that you want book fans to know that the key scenes and lines they love are in there. Nonetheless, the trailer could have dropped a little of the content and still been effective.

The movie starts thusly: Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is a successful writer in London, shortly after the end of WWII. She’s starting to become slightly disillusioned with the explosion of partying that has taken over London society, but is having a damn good time with her American diplomat beau, Mark. Her publisher Sidney (my boyfriend Matthew Goode) would be pretty darn happy if she’d just start her next book. Unexpectedly she received a letter from a pig farmer from the island of Guernsey named Dawsey Adams, asking for a book hookup for a group he’s part of – the titular Society. The story of the group’s origin (and let me reassure you – the name’s a gag) draws Juliet in to a correspondence, with her eventual decision to travel to Guernsey to meet this infamous group. Once she arrives, she becomes drawn in to their lives and the tales of what happened when Guernsey was under German occupation during the war.

I was lucky enough to be recommended the book by a friend many years ago, and was very excited when rumours broke in 2013 (yes, five years ago) that Michelle Dockery had been offered the lead, as I thought she would be perfect. To make it clear how long this movie has been in development hell – it was apparently initially intended to be a vehicle for Kate Winslet, and in 2013, Simon Curtis was attached to direct. Although Mike Newell ended up tapped to direct, the movie ended up maintaining the Downton Abbey connection from Dockery and Curtis (who is married to Elizabeth McGovern who played Cora), with a star turn for James (Rose), and support from Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley), Jessica-Brown Findlay (Sybil) and Goode (Henry Talbot). Taken together you’ve got a whole lotta people who are incredibly comfortable in period costume. Part of me can’t help but mourn for the idea of Dockery in the lead role, however – in the book, Juliet is 32 years old, and James, who has just turned 29, reads a bit young for a successful writer. She is bloody lovely to look at, though, and is less ‘mannered’ than I’ve seen her in other roles, allowing Juliet a bit of goofiness. The cast is mostly rounded out by people you’ve seen on the telly – like Katherine Parkinson from The IT crowd – and a man I shall henceforth know as The Extremely Handsome Michiel Huisman. Look, I’ve seen The Age of Adaline, I’ve seen Game of Thrones, and he has NEVER done it for me more than in his pig farmer get-up. I don’t understand it and I don’t particularly care to. He is extremely swoon-worthy – noble and caring and just a smidge sarcastic – in this movie.

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Sexy men aside, there are so many factors at play that will determine whether you like this movie. I enjoy it, as I did the book, because I’m intrigued by the lives of ordinary people during WWII. I gobble up books and movies set in the period, even though I know they make me cry every fucking time (this one wasn’t too bad). However, if that bores you….this movie will probably bore you too. I will say that the period details are absolutely stunning, from Juliet’s fancy London get-ups, the phones, the recycled and repaired clothes from the folks on Guernsey, to the old-school ships and planes. There is a lot of attention to detail at work here, and I always want to give props to the people behind the scenes that hunt these pieces down and create props. While the story itself could easily be told in a TV movie, the budget that comes along with a studio feature has allowed some gorgeous work to be given a starring role. Also, a word of warning for the ladies: you will want to buy hats after this. Juliet wears an abundance of wonderful 1940s hats, and it’s no bloody coincidence that I saw this movie yesterday and went and bought a knit beret today.

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Not as nice as this one though.

It’s also a love letter to Guernsey, with lush scenery (although it was predominantly filmed in Devon, unfortunately, due to the logistical issues of filming on the island). And what an extraordinary tale the locals had – the book was well-researched, but the movie also does an excellent job of showing just the kind of difficult position they were put in, forced to live alongside their enemy in such a small space for five years. Whilst the Blitz was a horrifying experience for any Londoner, Juliet quickly learns how different the Guernsey experience was to her own. The Society itself grew from an act of resistance, and she learns the complex interrelation between this small group and the occupying forces, and the legacy it has left behind.

The cast bring a lot of warmth, wit, and heart, to what is at its essence a drama. This is a movie that is hugely at risk of being being trod on by genre pics, coming out right in between A Quiet Place (which I also saw yesterday, and really should have seen first to give my heart an opportunity to recover) and Avengers: Infinity War, and as always, I try to review movies that are at risk of being ignored. However, I think just from the trailer, most people know if they want to see this movie or not. If you’re not interested because you don’t like romance…I’m not sure why you’re reading a Victorian Values review, but sure, skip it. If you’re interested but on the fence, I can assure you that the movie is unlikely to disappoint. It’s not a thrill-ride, but it’s stunning to look at, the leads are charming, and the ending is happy.  And Michiel Huisman is very, very handsome.

Lady Bird: The Victorian Values Review

In 2002, when Lady Bird begins, I was 16. As of yesterday, I’m precisely double that. An apt day to travel back in time, to when Nelly held positions three and four in the Billboard Top 100.

(the real tune of this movie is Justin Timberlake’s Britney revenge track Cry Me A River and you should definitely check out director Greta Gerwig’s letter to Timberlake to convince him to allow her permission to use the song solely for the term ‘full on make out‘, underlined for emphasis. This is extremely accurate btw, this is underlined make outs).

There were two pieces of feedback I took on when processing this movie. One was the review from a friend who’d already seen it – she didn’t like it, because she didn’t like the main character. The second was the couple chatting as we exited the cinema. She ‘didn’t get it’.

Let’s address the former first. I kinda knew from the trailer that the main character was going to be a bit infuriating. And I very much get the difficulty connecting with a story when you don’t like the main character – I get that feeling all the time. I cannot get in to Breaking Bad for the life of me. However. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age tale. The character needs to have somewhere to start from to grow.

And I’ve got a secret for you: the titular Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is a lot of us as teenagers. She looks almost exactly like my older sister at 17, with shittily-dyed red hair, chokers and caked-on eyeliner, still insultingly beautiful in the way of some 17-year-olds. And almost all of us were raging assholes. I suspect the problem is we’ve become used to coming-of-age movies being about teenage boys. You probably didn’t hate William in Almost Famous, even though he was also a selfish shit who damn near tortured his mother. So I suspect we’re not trained think of girls in coming-of-age movies to be anything other than objects for teenage boys to fall in love with (Hello, Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower). They have complicated inner lives too, and are battling their hormones just as much as teenage boys (that whole ‘girls mature faster’ thing? Yeah, we actually have to).

Now Lady Bird isn’t me as a teenager. For one thing, she is seriously extroverted (extroversion + hormones is a great recipe for a teenage asshole, by the way). She has what the nuns at her Catholic school call ‘a performative streak’ and god does she show it. So much yelling. But none of us can pretend that we didn’t know this person. We may all wish it gets channeled in to on-stage drama, but sometimes it just gets channeled  in to making a spectacle of yourself. It’s a damn good thing for Lady Bird that YouTube wasn’t around in 2002.  And extroversion isn’t necessarily something you grow out of. The character does mature over the course of the film, but she’s still drunkenly yelling out of windows at the end of the movie.

It’s a movie about relationships, but not really the ones you might think. Male-focused coming-of-age movies tend to be about falling in love, or lust, or whatever you want to call it. They’re not usually strictly romances, so it’s not necessarily about finding The One, just The One Who’ll Teach You Something About Yourself. Lady Bird has some excellent rite-of-passage relationships in the film – the closeted drama kid who just respects you so damn much he doesn’t really wanna touch you, the wanker in a band – but mostly, this is a movie about female relationships. The best friend. The mother. When it does touch on sex and relationships, it doesn’t punish Lady Bird for it. She can masturbate, she can lose her virginity and not fall pregnant her very first time (hello Saved! and Juno). Sure, her sexual experiences aren’t amazing pleasure-fests, but if you’re going to tell me yours were at that age, I’m gonna accuse you of boasting at best.

Cut to Lady Bird sharing a bathroom with her mother in their cramped abode, asking her when the right time to ‘do it’ is. Carefully weighing up how loaded this question is, Marion (Laurie Metcalfe) answers ‘College’. College is about right. She probably knows it’s all a little too late, but Lady Bird turns the conversation to her father, out of work and not coping well. This movie’s not just about being a teen, but about being lower-middle-class, and it’s for that reason, not her extroversion or her strong emotions or her ability to acquire more than one boyfriend, that I connected with Lady Bird. And it informs so much of her relationship with her mother. Neither her mother nor her father can give her a lot – they can give her love and good advice and try to set her up well for the future. You have to be an (early-series) Rory Gilmore angel-type to actually appreciate the sacrifices your parents make to give you a half-decent life, when you’re a teenager surrounded by kids with the shit you don’t have. This is perfectly encapsulated by Lady Bird and her best friend Julie, standing outside a fancy two-storey house, imagining their life inside it. A separate TV room. And snacks. Actually entertaining friends. Lady Bird’s shame about her neighbourhood, and her home, become a point of tension in her relationship with her Mum. And it’s not until you get a little bit older and wiser that you realise that even though all you want to do is give your kid more opportunities than you had, it still hurts like heck that the insecurity that’s part and parcel of being a teenager leads them to reject all the things you work hard to give them. That all they want to do is be somewhere else. Somewhere with the shine of glamour and intellectualism and maybe where they won’t have to shop in thrift stores. The heart of this tension is so incredibly real, and Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe bring so much to it that it made me want to call up my Mum.

If you’ve managed to catch I, Tonya, you know the flipside of this story. My forever crush Allison Janney plays Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona, tough-as-nails, and if she has a heart under there, it only shows in flashes. Whilst fighting for her opportunities, she essentially tries to scare Tonya (Margot Robbie, a revelation) in to achieving. It scars her and sets her up to see her entire life as a fight. Not a struggle. A fistfight. Marion gives Lady Bird some tough talk, but it’s done with a love that she can always recognise, will defend even in the middle of a fit of pique. She might be not believe it at the time, but it’s perfectly possible to be ‘scary and warm’, the perfect description for so many friend’s Mums that I want to go hug them all.

Part of coming-of-age is finding your people. Lady Bird handles the struggle of moving from childhood to adulthood and deciding what you want to keep perfectly. And it wasn’t really Lady Bird I connected with in this circumstance, but her childhood best friend Julie, neglected for the glamour of wealthier and cooler friends. Friends who wouldn’t touch the school play with a ten-foot pole. Because sometimes you end up being the friend who’s left behind. When our small-town grade of maybe 50 kids moved from primary school to a much bigger high school (although still very small in the grand scheme of high schools), my tall, beautiful, blonde, much more extroverted best friend of several years was swept off to the popular group, who liked me about as much as I liked them, which is to say not at all. She and I were never unfriendly, but drifting apart and being the friend who’s left behind sucks (although this is not a tale of woe…the group I eventually settled in, my people, the nerds, handed me the best friend I still have now). And this is such a real experience of being a teenage girl – shifting allegiances, shifting interests, while still feeling the strong bonds that no-one who’s never been a teenage girl can understand. No matter which position you’re in, you eventually have to decide what you fight to keep as you move in to being an adult.

I hope I’ve given Greta Gerwig enough credit for her script and directorial debut. A fitting love letter to her home town, the perfect encapsulation of a time (with a perfect soundtrack, hey there Dave Matthews), and a girl who’s allowed to be a bit of an asshole. This should win a whole bunch of Oscars, but I’m worried. That ‘I don’t get it’ reaction. Was it just the reaction of someone who needs their movies wrapped in a neat bow, lessons learned, no room for growth left in an 18-year-old character? Or do you have to have lived through it, to have your heart crash in to this film?

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‘Hello, Academy? I’m nailing it over here. Pay attention’

An Incomplete Guide To Terrible Netflix Christmas Romances Pt 2

I’ve only watched three additional Terrible Netflix Christmas Romances, in part because did some extracurricular viewing of A Princess For Christmas (awful, awful, but Jamie Fraser is a strong drawcard) and A Royal Winter (actually…not too bad, as far as these things go?). I strongly recommend checking out Part 1 if you want to know how this will go.

Christmas Inheritance
Eliza Taylor and I go way back. No, not just to Neighbours (although Janae Timmins, princess of Colac, was a gift to Australian television). No, not even her struggle to say the word pineapple with a British accent in The Sleepover Club.We go right back to Pirate Islands. Which I watched predominantly because of a severe crush on Oliver Ackland who played Mars. So yeah, Eliza Taylor and I are going strong for 14 years at this point, I knew her way before her turn as the, in turn, blazingly kick-arse and heartbreaking Clarke in The 100, and I feel confident in saying this:
Christmas Inheritance may be Eliza Taylor’s breakthrough role.
You probably didn’t think you’d be reading that about the latest Netflix original Christmas movie, did you? Since I wrote my last post, A Christmas Prince has been subject to waves and waves of internet mockery. Even Netflix itself got in on the act:Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 11.32.24 pm

So here’s my surprise for you all: Christmas Inheritance is actually good (….on the terrible Christmas romance scale), and Eliza Taylor is even better. And we get to see her in a way we never really have before.
We’re not even meant to like her character, Ellen, that much at the start. She’s pulling dumb stunts….for charity. She also pretty much feels bad about it immediately when it gets bad press, and sets about making amends.
These amends involve her going off to Small Town Somewhere to deliver an annual Christmas letter to the co-founder of her father’s company, before her father will decide on appointing her as the next CEO.
….Oh, and she can’t tell people who she is, and she has to do it on $100.
So we’re meant to judge her for not understanding the bus, and not knowing she’s sitting next to Canadian royalty Mag Ruffman, but when she tells her seatmate she’s never been on a bus, you don’t really feel like you’re watching The Simple Life. Because Eliza Taylor is so fucking charming that it’s really, really hard not to like Ellen from the start.

So that’s the thing about this movie. It’s inherently silly. The important tradition is that swapping the letters forces Ellen’s father Jim, and his co-founder Zeke (current position in the business…hazy), to see each other each year, as they physically exchange the letters going back decades, as well as the new one catching up on the goings-on. And yeah, it’s a responsibility, but sending Ellen essentially negates the whole point of the task, which is for Jim and Zeke to see each other. Ellie ends up working at Zeke’s B&B to earn her keep, and attempts to vacuum in skyscraper heels. Her fiance is a cartoon fucko.

But no matter how unlikely all the things around her are, there’s Eliza Taylor, being warm and delightful and learning that maybe giving money to the homeless is actually a good thing and also how to separate eggs. And it lifts the whole damn thing.

Also helpful is some genuine damn chemistry with Jake Lacey. He plays Jake (big stretch), who once had his heart broken by a city girl and now hangs out in Snow Falls and seemingly just keeps the entire tourism industry afloat, particularly when it comes to taxi-driving and B&B managing. Most of the men in these movies, except for the Christian Grey wannabe hot ghost in The Spirt of Christmas, are just sort of blandly nice dudes who mostly exist to fall in love with our heroine, and preferably propose to her at the end. The writers here aren’t afraid to let it run a little awkward and real, for our hero and heroine to have dumb in-jokes and to have misunderstandings about real things, like hold on, why are we about to pash when I have a fiance.
Y’know, that sort of thing.
But chemistry is really important for a romance, funnily enough. You don’t necessarily realise how nice it is to see, until you try to watch two extremely attractive people like Sam Heughan and Katie McGrath barely be able to muster a tiny spark to pass between them. So I like the chemistry, and I really enjoy watching Ellen. She’s sassy and successful but also stares at the newborn baby she’s holding like she’s Rosalie in Twilight, that creep. Jake may or may not get an instant boner at this. Shades of Matty J there.

Look, even the presence of movie-ruining Andie McDowell couldn’t ruin this dumb movie for me. Go watch it with my blessing. Netflix might subtweet you for watching it, but I won’t.

8/10
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Easter egg: there’s a shot of Eliza in her Erinsborough High uniform from Neighbours in the movie, see if you can spot it!

A Wish For Christmas

So it turns out that Hallmark is almost entirely responsible for making sure fetch continues to happen for Lacey Chabert’s career, and the girl is in no less than seven holiday romances. This has led to my new headcanon revolving around her character from A Wish For Christmas trying to find a new family for Christmas each year, because she didn’t try very hard to spend time with her own in this movie. Despite one of parents being deceased.

Unfortunately, this is not, as it should be, about Lacey’s character Sara walking out on her job because the place is full of unmitigated arseholes – even her ‘friend’ at work is a complete and utter cockknuckle to her. And her boss has declared Christmas cancelled in his own life, and is having people work over Christmas.

Did I mention they work at some sort of design agency? Even if office shutdowns aren’t as common in the US as they are in Australia, their work could not be more non-essential. Having fucking Christmas Day off can be factored in to deadlines when they make their pitches! Oh goddddd there’s no just no reason for it, apart from him to see the error of his ways and for one particularly dim-witted colleague to shout ‘WOW BOSS’ when he turns up with food and graciously allows them to go home. If they have families. Fuck the single people, they can keep working until they die.

Uhhh so anyway there’s a mystical wish-granting Santa in this one, not my favourite trope, and he grants her wish to finally have some fucking balls for once in her life. There’s some satisfying chats but still. She should take this opportunity to quit her job. Toxic environments don’t stop being toxic because one person starts asserting themselves. Someone else just becomes the victim instead.

Her boss gets a competence boner for her but I just can’t get invested in this love story about how awful corporate America is and that a boss might need to be taught how to be reasonable human being by a woman who is obsessed with Christmas to the point of deep, deep, delusion. He’s gonna be heartbroken when she goes off to find a new family next year.

2/10

Merry Kissmas

A Nutcracker toy is a key plot point and the elevator is sentient.

Please just watch the trailer to cop low-rent Robert Downey Jr.’s terrible, terrible fake British accent. Eliza Taylor did better than that when she was 14 years old. Anyway, that’s Carlton, famous choreographer and Kayla’s terrible boss and fiance. We know Carlton is terrible because he doesn’t eat carbs. (I should mention that Ellen’s terrible fiance Gray in Christmas Inheritance doesn’t do sugar. What an arsehole).

Meanwhile, Kayla is an idiot with no self-esteem who emotionally unloads, several times, to an unsuspecting Santa on the street, and goes around pashing strangers in elevators. Dustin is quite used to this, as he’s regularly sexually assaulted in said elevator by Ray Barone’s mother. I don’t want to victim blame but maybe Dustin should consider taking the stairs every now and then.

Dustin runs some sort of catering business with his cousin Kim, which we know because he refers to her, when only she is present, as ‘my trusty assistant and favourite cousin’ (the exposition in this film is just so smooth it hurts) and Kayla ingratiates herself with them by baking cookies with them. Actual dialogue when they’re done:
Kayla: ‘Look at these cookies, they look so happy!’
Dustin: ‘They were made with happy!’
Kim:  ‘The real happy’s coming up…’
Apparently Kim is not talking about these simpletons getting their bone on, but about Kim and her friend from the animal shelter bullying Dustin in to adopting a dog, even though he says his lifestyle does not suit pet ownership (given all their food preparation seems to happen in the middle of his apartment, I’m tempted to agree). But anyway. Who am I to complain about a cute guy and a cute dog?

Kayla eventually half-heartedly breaks up with her fiance, so she and Dustin can have their relationship develop in a montage that seems to represent two months but is in fact two days, then she goes back to her godforsaken fiance because she has no spine, and cannot bring herself to break up with him until he is completely flagrant about the fact that he has been cheating on her the whole damn time. I’m not here for this. Everyone except Eliza, quit your job.

Anyway this movie is bad. Not just because at the end of the movie, they use the same costumes and setting from the montage in a scene that’s meant to be one year later. It’s also because of the atrocious music that seems to have been written just for the movie. The opening music talks about being ‘elevated by this Christmas kind of love’. When they pash it’s a song about being ‘under the mistletoe with you’ having ‘our first Christmas kiss’. This music, and this movie, made me consider never celebrating Christmas again.

2/10

I’ll call the series to a close there, as the only terrible Christmas romance I plan to watch from here on out is an off-Netflix movie starring the Hot Ghost. I think you know why.
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Merry Christmas. Fall in love with a stranger. Dump your fiance.

Quit your job.

 

 

An Incomplete Guide To Terrible Netflix Christmas Romances Pt 1

I start this blog post knowing it will probably necessitate a Part 2. But I’m just one girl, and there are just so many shit Christmas romances on Netflix (Australia). On a recent rainy weekend, I managed to knock out four of the suckers. By the rules of these movies, if I’d been hanging out with a stranger for that amount of time, I should be ready to get engaged to that bland white dude by the time the sun set. Anyway this is kinda like my movie reviews, but in this case I only want you to watch them so we can talk about how bad they are. Know my ratings scale bears no relationship to movies that aren’t crappy made-for-TV romances. Titles link to trailers.

A Christmas Prince
The only actual Netflix production from what I can tell (the rest are from the Hallmark/Lifetime school of schmaltz). And if you think this might be reflected in say….production values, a decent script, believable accents? You’re in for a surprise. I guess all the budget went in to procuring the charming Rose McIver from iZombie (although she’s not allergic to made-for-TV-trash…I bring to you, Petals on the Wind). Amber (McIver) is a copy editor at an implausible magazine, somehow sent on the even more implausible mission to attend a press conference in the tiny European nation of Aldovia. Something something the prince has a deadline to accept the crown and he is on permanent walkabout. He turns up just in time to meet our plucky heroine, luckily.
What do you think the accent of every single person in this snowy, mountainous European country is? If you answered ‘vaguely British, I guess’ (romantic lead Ben Lamb is actually English, but still managed to make it sound fake) then you’ve probably seen one of these movies before.
There’s a lot of mysteries in this movie. Why is this royal family’s security so lax that they just merrily accept that any old American who turns up two weeks early is clearly Princess Emily’s tutor? Why are the royalty in these movies so unwilling to do their fucking jobs, which is really just turn up places, smile and shake hands? (this is gonna come up again, sorry). Does Emily actually end up doing any school work over the course of this entire movie? I don’t think they give out degrees in mischievous matchmaking. Also she’s smarter than Amber at maths, and yet Amber’s going to get to be the fuckin’ queen because of some dumb female succession rules (spoilers, I guess? Come on now).  And why does Prince Richard look so much like this guy?

The Christmas Prince actually received my lowest rating, but it was also the first one I watched. I guess I had some warming up to do before I surrendered all attachment to logic (I watched The Room before The Spirit of Christmas, so I was fully off the deep end by that time).

3/10 for so much additional implausibility (wait til you get to the result of Richard’s evil cousin’s schemes, y’all) that I can’t share without spoilers.

Once Upon a Holiday
More dirtbag royalty, oh my god. They didn’t look far for the fucking names in this one, either. Princess Katherine of Montsaurai (Mont Sore Eye) has an aunt named Margaret, an old family friend named George, and meets an old bloke named Harry who may or may not be Santa, or a wizard, I’m not really sure but he can make people disappear and there’s not really any comment on it.  Anyway, Princess Katie is also not a big fan of her minimal responsibilities, or her aunt. Said aunt probably should be a Princess too, given she seems to have been the sister of the king, but it’s all extremely unclear, and in the end Margaret seems to act as a personal assistant and excuse-for-Katie-maker.
Dirtbag Katie sees her opportunity to piss off on a trip to ‘New York’ (I don’t remember any establishing shots that suggested this couldn’t be literally any city in America), so she steals some clothes that were being donated to charity. She runs in to Jack while being completely unable to function in a big city, because apparently sending her to the best universities in the world did not involve her handling money, or  learning how not to casually leave your possessions where they can be stolen. What it DID get her is an inexplicable American accent.
Jack is another classic bland white man, who had some hot shot career and then wanted to work with his hands as a carpenter or some shit. His ex-wife dumped him because ‘she didn’t sign on for a guy who works with power tools’, but I wonder if it was maybe because he’s a gullible idiot. Well, he’s found his perfect match in this terrible liar, who pauses while searching for a fake surname at a holiday party (she settles on ‘Holiday’), and instead of implying she’s ever travelled internationally, tells him she saw an art piece (exhibited in Milan) in a book. It’s a good thing they’re such a perfect match, because at the end he suggests they ‘spend all of their Christmases together’ after legitimately three days of acting like fugitives from justice.

4/10 I was going to leave it at A Christmas Prince but I had to find out what the ‘joys of a normal life’ were that Katie would discover, because to me normal life is taking out the bins and paying the bills, and I’d much prefer to be a princess. Nothing that happened in this movie resembled normal life, anywhere, especially not in ‘New York’. Apart from maybe getting robbed.

A Holiday Engagement
Okay I can’t believe I have to do this but warning: that trailer is basically the whole movie.
Have I mentioned that I read quite a lot of romance novels? It has occurred to me that part of my warm feeling towards this movie is just because it uses one of my favourite tropes – the fake relationship. Made slightly more complicated in this scenario because David is pretending to be a real person – Hillary’s now-ex fiance Jason. So much room for shenanigans!
This is a slightly older one, a special little slice of 2011 which you can date pretty exactly due to the presence of Haylie Duff as the social-climbing sister of Hillary (ha). Golly. Haylie Duff. They really did spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to make fetch happen with that one (she got her very own Terrible Christmas Romance two years later!).
I will say that this one is exactly what you expect, whether you watched the spoileriffic trailer or not, with Hillary’s overbearing Mom (Shelley Long) eventually learning maybe she can quit being terrifying enough for her daughter to think it’s an okay idea to invite a stranger in to their home, and everyone realising Real Jason is garbage, but it really gets by on its leads. I have a bizarre affection for Bonnie Somerville, despite my main association with her being Rachel, Sandy’s co-worker on The OC who tries to seduce him. She can actually fucking act, which is bloody rare for these things, and has some nice chemistry with Jordan Bridges who plays David.

7/10 But I need to deduct a point because this movie is mostly set at Thanksgiving. Luckily Shelley Long starts setting up for Christmas straight-up the day after Thanksgiving, doesn’t she know it’s bad luck not to wait til December? Are you a shopping mall, Shelley Long?
(The internet tells me this is an Australian thing? I will say none of the Americans on my Instagram feed seemed to put them up before we hit December).

The Spirit of Christmas
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You
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Kidding
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Me?
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10/10 for this guy’s fucking face, let’s all go home.

On the narrative side, my new crush up there is a corporeal not-ghost (for 12 days of the year, we don’t really know what he does the rest of the time but presumably it’s mostly ghost-y) who can also disappear and re-appear at will. This movie really doesn’t give a fuck about the rules of ghosts, any more than the others cared about the rules of royalty, getting to know a person for an adequate amount of time, or basic common sense. He took a blow to the head that killed him in 1920 and comes back every year acting like Christian Grey. Except with no BDSM, just with really proper speech and a cranky attitude. The movie only finds one excuse for him to take his shirt off, which is a bit half-arsed. The fact that he likes to be alone in his old house (rather than having to deal with our ‘heroine’, who’s mostly insufferable) is the movie’s reason for him not knowing anything about mobile phones and referring to them as ‘communications devices’.
The spooky mystery element – basically, who dun killed him, and is it stopping him from passing on – is a nice little bonus on top of what would be a pretty ordinary ‘oh you want to bone a ghost? Well that’s fine because he has a body’ story.
I think the best part of this movie is even though it wants us to think all lawyers and the general profession of lawyering is a bit evil and shit (so much time pressure!), she doesn’t stop being a lawyer at the end. I’ll let you guess about the boning.

My rating as above stands.

‘The Big Sick’: The Victorian Values Review

This may come a shock, but I haven’t actually started reviewing every single movie I see. I go the cinema quite a bit, particularly at this time of year when lots of the big US summer movies are coming out. But when I went to see Spider-Man: Homecoming and Baby Driver in one day (the official hashtag for this event was, of course, #ManBaby), I didn’t feel the need to weigh in. When movies are as hyped as they are, the mainstream and social media coverage can be pretty overwhelming. You’ve probably decided months in advance if you’re interested in seeing them, and unless the early reviews are dire, you’ll probably stick with that plan. What I’d prefer to do with reviews is to see if I can encourage people to go see films that get less attention. That often ends up being movies that are ‘female-focused’ – like a period drama (My Cousin Rachel) or a romantic comedy, in the case of a The Big Sick. It’s a pretty straightforward set-up – boy meets girl, boy and girl are torn apart by cultural differences, girl gets sick and ends up in medically-induced coma. You know. The usual stuff.

In a fictional film, when one of the lead characters is in a coma, part of the tension should be whether she will recover and our leads will get (back) together. But because the story is based on the real-life tale of couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, reality sort of ends up as a spoiler. Due to her appearances on the promotional trail (and the retelling of their story over the years in places like Dan Harmon’s podcast), we know Emily’s okay and they’re still together. But the genre of the film works in their favour here. It’s a rom com. We know they’ll end up together in the end, because that’s what happens in the end of a rom com. All we have to do is enjoy the journey.
Somewhere between Kumail’s 65 IMDB acting credits, you’ve seen him in something. For example, I have most recently seem him in the dire 2010 Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel vehicle Life as We Know It, because sometimes I truly should not be left alone Netflix. But it isn’t until you see him play himself that you realise how consistent his deadpan characteristics are. It’s a fun script and a real star vehicle for Kumail – it can be hard to make the deadpan style charming, but the character of Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) softens him to a great extent.bigsick

One of the main settings of the film is the Chicago comedy club that Kumail gigs at, which helps to maintain the ‘com’ tone when things turn serious. This is not only from the snippets of stand-up routines, but also from the backstage banter between Kumail and the characters played by Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler (all accomplished real-world comics). If you’ve seen any other movie that producer Judd Apatow has had a hand in, you’ll have an idea of the humour in their interactions.
The real opportunity for the dramatic chops to come out is when the families come in to the picture. When Emily’s parents meet Kumail they’re immediately hostile – Emily had told them about their reasons for breaking up. We can see through their relationship to their daughter, and to each other, why Emily found it so hard to understand why Kumail had not told his parents about her, and why this was so hurtful. It’s important to have the right actors in the role of Emily’s parents, as we watch them slowly warm to him while going through their own struggles. I don’t need to say anything new about Holly Hunter (apart from, maybe, I want her to be my Mum?), but Ray Romano. Man. I cannot explain how begrudgingly I give respect to the star of Everybody Loves Raymond, but he earns it here. Both Holly and Ray get to have some great comedic moments here too, particularly when they witness one of Kumail’s live shows.

The endless parade of potential Pakistani wives for Kumail is also played for laughs, but their is some dramatic tension in it. Kumail knows he stands to potentially lose his family over choosing an American girl. And if you’re wondering where you’ve seen Anupam Kher before as a kind-hearted Muslim father preaching the importance of keeping marriage within your own culture, let me do you a favour: it’s everyone’s favourite (well, my favourite) early 2000’s British girl’s soccer movie, Bend it Like Beckham.

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I have no idea how he feels about being typecast in this way, but he carries a fair bit of emotional weight in the family scenes.

Lastly I come to Zoe Kazan. It’s a real shame that the mere fact of Kumail and Emily’s story requires her to be sidelined for a significant chunk of the film, because she simply lights up the screen. If you’ve not seen 2013’s What If (also known as The F Word) then ignore what I said earlier about Life as We Know It and fire up your Netflix. You know how she wrote and starred in the fantastic Manic Pixie Dream Girl takedown that is Ruby Sparks? Well, What If is essentially the Friend Zone version of that, with bonus Daniel Radcliffe and Adam Driver. It is a rom com though, and remember what I said about the one thing we know happens at the end of a rom com. Zoe really gets to pull out her dramatic chops in parts of The Big Sick – it feels awful to say, but god is that woman good at crying. However she also gets to maintain her constant charm, and she can play it for laughs like the best of them (like when she doesn’t want to shit in her new boyfriend’s house).

All in all, I have to say that The Big Sick is fairly light on the ‘rom’. We like and root for Kumail and Emily to overcome their obstacles and get together at the end. But with one half of the couple off-screen for a good chunk of the movie, it probably verges more on dramatic comedy territory. I really hope that people who might stick up their nose at the genre will give it a chance – even if it’s just for date night.

 

‘The Beguiled’: The Victorian Values Review

The second Victorian Values review is probably excessively-informed for a movie that has not even been officially released in Australian cinemas.  I knew I wanted to see this movie from the second it was described by Robbie Collin thusly:

It’s what we’re all here for, right? The teaser trailer above just reaffirmed that for me (I suggest avoiding other trailers if possible – I know it’s a remake but the later trailers give a lot of the game away). So I booked in for an advanced screening at one of my favourite Melbourne cinemas, The Lido, and then won tickets to a screening four days earlier. Yep, I saw this movie twice in one week. Now I’m here to tell you why you should go see it.

The movie is set in Virginia during the Civil War. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) has kept her girls’ school open for a handful of students and a teacher (Kirsten Dunst) who have nowhere better to go. When one of the girls finds an injured Yankee soldier (Colin Farell) in the woods adjoining the school, their lives are turned upside down.

Possibly my favourite part of this movie was the visceral reactions it inspired. Partly I think the marketing has worked incredibly well (despite some spoiler-heaviness in the later trailers) – everyone at the first screening had somehow been primed to loathe Colin Farrell. Long, long before the movie gave them any real reason to do so. I have never seen a declaration of love be met with a cinema full of scoffs, but there’s a first time for everything. Be warned, many of the other audible reactions were to some rather loving shots of wounds. I’m sensitive to that sort of stuff so I used some rather judicious looking-at-the-back-of-that-person’s-head-over-there, but even the sounds were (realistically) revolting.

Next, this movie is tight. Even if your local cinema is indulgent with the trailers, you should be in and out in two hours. I’d accuse the film of having no filler, but at the second screening I was considering taking a count of the number of near-identical shots of the porch at the fictional Farnsworth Seminary that feature. The many exterior shots do however do the job of establishing the near-oppressive atmosphere of this micro-world. The hothouse environment is emphasised by a constant background soundtrack of booming combat on the nearby front, cicadas singing and frogs croaking. In this environment, we find female sexuality blooming in the unexpected presence of an injured soldier.

While the movie does have a darkly comedic tone (often relating back to female sexuality, competition, and power), I found Elle Fanning’s teen temptress broad in a way that did not fit in to the tone of the film at first. She lacks the depth hinted at by the more experienced actresses. On my second viewing, I felt that her character fit quite well in to Coppola’s oeuvre – after all, the disaffected, languorous flirt is not a world away from the character Dunst was playing for Coppola eighteen years ago (my apologies if you were just made deeply aware of your own mortality) in The Virgin Suicides. Nonetheless, given the effort this film makes to tell the story from the female perspective (unlike the 1971 original), it would have been rewarding to see more from this character.

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Just a nice casual dinner

One of the things I discussed with a friend after the first screening is the renewing revelation of Nicole Kidman. How somehow finding that you enjoy her work is surprising, over and over again. It seems that she has somehow been shoehorned in to the wrong roles over the years, but is at her best nowadays when she can put forth a steeliness which is greatly used here (I also loved her brittle turn in Lion). As the protective headmistress she wages an internal battle between her urge to see the enemy soldier out the house, and the mounting desire to have him stay. Three years in to a war is a long time, after all. Kirsten Dunst also deserves credit for her turn as the teacher Edwina. In her, every woman can see the part of herself who falls for the classic fuckboy charms (and we can all acknowledge Colin Farrell is annoyingly charming, yet the dangerous side of Corporal John McBurney comes as no surprise when it emerges).

All I wanted to know when I saw the trailer above is what those ‘vengeful bitches’ had done to him, but I’m not going to let you in on that. This is a movie to immerse yourself in. How an atmospherically languid film manages to ratchet up the tension in the way it does is masterful. I would strongly suggest not watching the original film or the latter trailers before going to see it – the audience reactions (including my own!) as the film takes its twists and turns, enhanced by the dark comedy, were all I needed to know that this film is best seen unspoilered. But given the main competition at the Australian box office for The Beguiled will be a teenage boy slinging webs, and a young man driving a baby around (presumably – terrible name), don’t you just want to see a fuckboy taken down for once?