Tag Archives: Working Class

Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Rating: B/ Celie isn’t a slave, but she might as well be. At the tender age of fourteen, Celie’s abusive father passes her off to an equally abusive man in an marriage the two have already arranged. Celie’s only joy comes from her younger sister, Nettie, so when Nettie is sent away and becomes a missionary in Africa, Celie is understandably devastated and writes her sister hundreds of letters in order to keep in touch. The Color Purple is written in epistolary format, and the narrative comes either in the form of letters Celie writes to God attempting to reconcile with her horrid living situation or notes that Celie and Nettie write back and forth to each other, attempting to provide comfort in sad and desperate times. Continue reading Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Film Discussion: Spider (2002)

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Rating: A-/ ***Warning- This is more of a comprehensive discussion of the film Spider than a actual review. Spoilers should be expected.*** First off, I adore Ralph Fiennes. I really just love the guy. I think he’s one of the best (if not actually the best) actors of today. I just rediscovered the greatness of Cronenberg’s psychoanalytic thriller Spider, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about why I think Spider was one of Fiennes’ best performances and one of his most daring film endeavors. I’m also going to discuss what made Spider so great and look at the layers of meaning the psychology of this film provides. Let this be my last warning; this is going to be a spoiler laden post. If you haven’t seen this film yet and want to, avoid this review like the plague. Thank you.

When we first meet Spider (Ralph Fiennes) as he gets off a train, he seems very small and vulnerable, one of society’s undisputed outcasts. Nicotine-stained fingers, raggedy old coat, stubbly, bewildered face- he looks like he wishes he cold just sink into the ground and disappear. We can also see clear as day that not all is right with him psychologically, as he continually mutters incomprehensibly to himself (turn on your subtitles!) and doesn’t seem totally cognizant of his surroundings. He’s definitely out of his element, and rightfully so- Spider has just been released from an insane asylum that he was committed to since childhood, and is being placed in the care of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave,) a crusty old woman who owns a halfway house for the mentally disturbed.

The house could use a spruce-up and Mrs. Wilkinson could use some work on her bedside manner. She treats the patients like naughty children who constantly need to be berated and told off. Spider begins reexamining events that placed him in the care of the state by becoming an ‘observer’ of his childhood, following his boy self around the familiar streets of his youth and sitting in on conversations between people that occurred at that time, and some that didn’t. This is where the brilliance of this movie lies, for as soon as we are introduced to his parents (Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne) we are immediately placed in the shoes of an unreliable narrator. While his mum is long-suffering, beautiful, and kind, his father Bill is a philandering alcoholic and all around jerk who Spider competes with for the affections of his mother.

In a series of events that young Spider couldn’t possibly have been present for, we find that Dad is screwing a local floozy named Yvonne (also played by Miranda Richardson) and that they kill Spider’s saintly mother when she catches them making it in the garden shed. These scenes, and the subsequent scenes where Yvonne takes Mrs. Cleg’s place as Spider’s new ‘mother,’ are ludicrously over-the-top and almost cartoonish in nature. Juxtaposed with the hyperrealistic scenes where Spider himself is present, these parts seem to make no sense unless you take them at face value- that Spider is making them up. That they came out of the mind of a naive, inexperienced, and mentally ill man who has spent most of his life in an institution.

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Yvonne (despite being played by the same actress who played the mother) is slutty, coarse, and rendered with make-up and costume design to be actually fairly unattractive. The infinitely well-meaning Mrs. Cleg is superior in every way to this common street whore; of this Spider is convinced. So he sets out to murder Yvonne by turning the gas stove on as she sleeps, only to find he has murdered his mother and ‘Yvonne’ as he knows her never existed. Yes, maybe he was jokingly flashed by a woman similar to his incarnation of Yvonne (in fact, ‘Flashing Yvonne’ is played a by a whole different actress than Richardson, Allison Egan) and his mind did the rest of the work. Building upon this event he created the ultimate harlot, the woman who would stand by as his dad killed his mom and insist he call her ‘mother.’

So what do I think? I think Spider’s oh-so-virtuous mother became alcoholic and bitter, creating ‘Yvonne’ in his mind and causing him to believe that his dad murdered his mom and replaced her with an uncaring, promiscuous duplicate. Spider obviously has the hots for his mom on some subconscious level, brushing her hair and watching her put on make-up adoringly and eyeing her as she tries on a slinky nightgown. She became boozy and hard due to her marital problems with her husband and his love of going to the Dog and Beggar and drinking. Someone had to be blamed, and the issue had to be put in more black-and-white terms so Spider could understand it.

There’s only one thing about this movie that confuses me, and that’s the scene where Spider’s in a restaurant looking at a picture of a green Yorkshire field. Suddenly he’s standing in a field identical to the one in the picture,  hanging out with a couple of old men who don’t particularly seem to have their mental faculties. I think that he met the men at the asylum (I believe one of these guys was the one wielding a piece of broken glass in the flashback.) He imagined them in a grassy field and used some of the dialogue he had heard from them in the scenario. I’m also very curious whether Spider realized what he had done to his mother (he does refrain from braining Mrs. Wilkinson, who he imagines as Yvonne, with a hammer) or whether the big reveal was just a tip-off to the audience and Spider is as lost as ever.

I don’t think it should be surprising to you that Ralph Fiennes is incredible in this movie. He shows a gift for portraying debilitating mental illness with a nuanced sleight of hand that is not generally present in these kinds of performances. So that’s it. I’ve explained why I think Spider is one of the more complex psychological thrillers I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve offered some explanation to the meaning of the events presented in this movie. Liked this discussion? Have any thoughts? Want me to write another like it? Stop by and tell me in the comments!

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Two Days, One Night (2014)

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You know how some movies feel so real it’s like you’re watching a documentary? Well, this is one of those films. It’s not for everybody, because it’s sllooww, and by slow I mean straight-up kitchen sink realism with virtually no frills. But what I really like about Two Days, One Night is how close it hit to home for me. I grew up with a sporadically depressed mother with very low self-esteem and I started suffering from severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was five, and was put on medication for clinical depression in my early teens.

This movie understands the effects of depression on people suffering from the illness as well as their loved ones. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, an often infuriating but utterly plausible character. Sandra has just been fired from her job at the factory and prepares to sink back into the abyss of depression, taking long afternoon naps and gobbling Xanax like a hardcore druggie.

Sandra is depressed because without her job to sustain her, she will have have nothing to distract her from hopeless sadness and she will be on the dole, but mostly because the majority of her co-workers voted against her in favor of a substantial raise. Shortly after her lay-off, it comes to light that the foreman at the factory, Jean-Marc (Oliver Gourmet,) most likely intimidated the other workers into screwing Sandra over. Now, she has two days to convince the employees to give up their raise so she can return to her job at the company.

Sandra has a devoted husband (Fabrizio Rongione) and two beautiful kids (Pili Groine and Simon Caudry, ) but she is deeply unhappy and endlessly self-defeating. She also undermines her husband’s support at every turn. Even  more concerning than her depression and suicidality is her casual abuse of prescription medication. Both her misuse of drugs and her unhappiness is the proverbial elephant in the room. We can tell immediately something is not right in this household, her husband Manu comes home from work and runs upstairs when she doesn’t immediately respond to his shouted greetings as if her half-expects to find her hanging from the ceiling.

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Marion Cotillard owns this role. She superbly portrays the exhaustion and resignation of being clinically depressed, when everything, well… sucks, and nothing is good enough or fulfilling enough to make you laugh or even smile. The plot of this film is absurdly simple. but Cotillard and every other performance across the board makes it feel incredibly real. Sandra will piss you the fuck off half the time (even, or maybe even especially, if you see some of yourself in her) but you can feel her anguish like a flame burning the back of your hand.

Withholding spoilers, I was really surprised and pleased at how this movie ended. It’s not a conclusion you see coming but when the credits roll you realize it was the perfect way to wrap up the film. Thinking back on the plight of Sandra’s co-workers, I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone gave me that ultimatum on whether to keep a kind but slightly ineffectual co-worker on the team or earn a substantial raise. I would like to think I would pull through for Sandra, but then again who knows?

It wasn’t like these people were living in exorbitant wealth. They had kids to put through college, rooms to paint and renovate, bills to pay and food to put on the table. It’s hard to judge them, but at the same time, it’s hard not to, especially when you see how vulnerable Sandra is and how much she needs to keep her job. That’s the great thing about this movie; it doesn’t judge. The majority of these people aren’t sneering, bullying fat cats sitting on top of a massive fortune; they’re struggling to get by and support their blue collar families. In fact, they’re hardly mean at all, with the the marked exception of an older co-worker’s teenaged son, who’s a piece of work, and Jean-Marc, who’s just a total dick. But that’s realistic too. Not every one can be convivial and nice, just like not everybody is the equivalent of the high school bully who pantses you during gym.

Although this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of rewatch value in my opinion, it’s definitely worth watching once if you like kitchen sink realism and nuanced drama. Some people might be frustrated with the lack of empowerment of Cotillard’s character, but not every woman can be a superheroine. Sometimes, it’s enough just to survive. Again, Two Days, One Night is not a movie for everyone, but Cotillard’s performance is a genuine revelation, and even significant among the barrage of great performances we’ve seen lately, and are likely to see again.

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24 7: Twenty Four Seven (1997)


Shane Meadows is one of my top favorite filmmakers, so although “Twenty Four Seven” is not bad at all, it’s a bit of a disappointment with my expectations set so high. It is a well-intentioned independent feature featuring Meadows’ trademark working-class Brits, and sporting a slightly confusing ending. It lacks Meadows’ usual intensity, and although it has a pretty decent story to tell, I often found myself getting distracted.

Good-natured and dedicated, Alan Darcy (Bob Hoskins) starts a boxing club to bring focus and passion to the kids in his lower-class town’s lives. The kids, who have little to do but mingle and get into trouble, are initially wary of Darcy’s enthusiasm, but eventually they find that boxing is a good outlet for their rage and frustration.

Darcy tries to provide guidance to the disaffected working-class blokes in his neighborhood, including abused teenager Tim (Danny Nussbaum,) sadsack drug addict Fagash (Mat Hand,) and a lonely fat kid uncharitably dubbed ‘Tonka’ (James Corden,) but finds himself becoming increasingly frustrated with the town’s limited options.

When Darcy borrows stolen money to help set up his boxing club, I expected something to come of it, but nothing really comes of the plot thread. I liked Darcy, Tonka, and Tim but didn’t find the characters as compelling as in some of Shane Meadows’ other films, like “A Room for Romeo Brass,” a film I gave 5/5 stars to.

The more I thought about it, the more I had problems with the ending, which I found increasingly unclear. What exactly happened to a certain despicable character, and are we supposed to believe that that certain someone would have a road to Damascus and show up at the funeral at the end? Pfft.

Nevertheless, Bob Hoskins did a good job playing a compelling character, and Shane Meadows’ potential was evident from early on. The home-video footage of the young boy at the beginning was not really crucial to the plot, but I liked it anyway as it fit the mood of the scene.

I would only really recommend this movie to Shane Meadows fans who are curious how his career progressed over the years. It was worth watching once, definitely. The absence of Paddy Considine (“Dead Man’s Shoes”) or Stephen Graham (“This is England”) was disappointing, but Bob Hoskins did a good job as the idealistic protagonist. An interesting movie, if not exactly fulfilling.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

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“Winter’s Bone” is the rare book that, while effective, does not exceed the merit of the movie. The eponymous film, directed by Debra Granik, is a nearly perfect work of art, and I was wary going into the book because I did not expect the it to exceed the film. While I was partially right (Woodrell’s original is more emotionally remote and the film is a masterpiece in it’s own right) the novel is worthwhile and lyrically written, while not being inaccessible.

17-year-old Ree Dolly (rendered less admirable and rougher-hewn in the book) lives in the Ozarks, surrounded by a cloistered community of violent and thuggish crystal meth cooks. Nearly everybody is related to everyone else somehow, and the mountain people defend their own kind against the cops- unless one of their own crosses the line. That’s what Ree’s dad Jessup did, and he’s missing. Worse yet, Jessup put bail bond on the house before he disappeared, and Ree has to prove that he’s dead before she loses the family home.

Ree almost single-handedly takes care of her mother, who has long ago turned insane, and her little brothers Sonny and Harold. She’s trying her best to cope with difficult circumstances. Ree’s rough, but sometimes roughness comes with persistence, and this girl’s nothing if not persistent. She tries to get the true circumstances of Jessup’s death from the locals, but they don’t like questions much. Soon she finds herself fighting for her life, desperately sinking into a situation that is fast getting out of hand.

Ree is  helped hesitantly by her enemy/lifeline Uncle Teardrop (played in the movie by the brilliant John Hawkes,) a crank cook whose criminal  activities she wants no part in. Although this is not mentioned in the movie, I got a strong feeling from the book that Ree was gay. On one level, the fact that Ree rejects the thought of pairing up with a man may stem from her fierce independence and the fact that the majority of the local men are leering, toothless pieces of white trash. But considering her activities shared with her friend Gail in her childhood and in the present (swimming together in the buff, kissing,) I got a slightly different vibe from the story.

The writing presented here is quite beautiful. You would think for a book set in such a bleak place, the writing would be similar to the setting- harsh and ugly. But it’s lovely. Sure, “Winter’s Bone” doesn’t for a minute romanticize the hardness and coldness of the Ozarks community Ree is forced to grow up and survive in. But it finds the prettiness in something nasty and tough.

“Winter’s Bone” transports the suburban, middle-class reader into a setting unlike most of us will ever experience. It may not be pretty, but it’s rough and real and thrillingly brutal. Instead of mocking its characters, it’s presents them as matter-of-fact and as direct as a slap to the face. I have to say, I could not stop picturing Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, although the novel stated the book Ree was a brunette instead of a blonde. I guess Jennifer Lawrence is so good at what she does that any other face feels like an impostor.

My mom LOVED this book and read it twice in a row; my reaction was a little more ‘meh,’ although I did think it was very good and solid. I like how in both the book and movie you felt hope for Ree and the kids. For all it’s bleakness, for all it’s toughness, you don’t see dead ends. You see opportunities. And you hope (and believe) that Ree will snatch those opportunities, which, after all, do not come easy in a place like this.

Vera Drake (2004)

Mike Leigh’s 2004 effort, Vera Drake, is sure to be controversial, but not for the reasons you might expect. Instead of providing shock value (and the blood and guts of franchises such as Saw and Hostel,) Vera Drake takes a hot-button topic and views it from a much-maligned perspective. It may make you uncomfortable or angry, but the well made status of the film is hard to deny. The eponymous Vera is a jolly 1950’s housewife who lives in post-war Britain and works cleaning other people’s homes. She is the proud mother of two adult children, sarcastic Sid (Daniel Mays) and excruciatingly shy Ethel (Alex Kelly) and wants to find a eligible bachelor for her isolated daughter. She is happily married to mustached mechanic George (Richard Graham).

In secret, Vera is an abortionist, terminating women’s pregnancies for no pay. She uses the same soothing rhetoric for every incident and is never caught. The procedure is relatively clean and safe, and as far as she is concerned she does no wrong. I didn’t always like Vera. She was blind to the implications of her acts and cheery to a fault. Yet she always tried to do the right thing. I think something horrible happened in her past, but it was never fully explained. Yet, life goes on. Vera and George find a possible “eligible bachelor,” Reg (Eddie Marsan), an introvert highly affected by the war. Vera continues her operations with women who have been  put into contact with her friend Lily (Ruth Sheen), who has untrustworthy motives. But when a near tragedy occurs, Vera is put out in the open and ages ten years in a strenuous couple of days.

Possibly more interesting than Vera are her kids Ethel and Sid. Ethel holds herself hunched and quiet, with zero self-esteem. She meets her match with Reg, who seems as unsure of the courtship as she is. I wasn’t quite sure where their relationship would go. Sid and his friend Ronny (Leo Bill) discuss post war issues and try to score a dance at a party, and Sid is the one to reasonably question his mother when the doody hits the fan.

The film has a strong sense of place. A rape scene occurs, and it is handled tastefully (as tastefully as a rape can be). Imelda Staunton gives a great performance, going from a cheery, confident woman to a slumped person who can barely drag her feet across the floor.

Vera is not a liberal Wonder Woman, a superhero who keeps her powers of cheerful strength no matter what. She is vulnerable and fallible, and she can be and will be broken.  But somehow, I wasn’t as involved the second time I watched it as I could have been. I think the director was pushing me too hard with the tragedy of it all and what a great person Vera is. That never helps. You’ve got to hand it to Sid though. With everyone else referring to  the center of the operations as “trouble” and “problems,” Sid is the first to offer the humanizing word “babies.” (Rated R.)

Tyrannosaur (2011)

Emotionally devastating and rewarding, a study of desperate individuals with seemingly nothing to lose, “Tyrannosaur” is one to put on your watch list. Now. Featuring electrifying performances from Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, and the criminally underused Eddie Marsan, it is as riveting as it is disturbing and shocking.

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man seething with rage and contempt. When we first see him, he is leaving a bar after a fight. Irritated suddenly by the whining of his dog, tied up outside, he gives it a fatal kick in the ribs.

Joseph seems to have this effect on everyone who crosses his path, and he certainly seems incapable of any lasting change, but that doesn’t stop kind Christian charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Coleman) from trying to help, to Joseph’s great puzzlement.


Hannah, despite her soft and motherly exterior, has a heapful of s**t going on at home. Heartbreakingly unable to have children, she is also saddled with the world’s biggest d**k as a husband – James (Eddie Marsan,) who abuses her in every way possible.

How these two lonely souls find each other is the subject of this discomforting drama, which to me is the most genuinely distressing film since Simon Rumley’s “The Living and the Dead.” “Tyrannosaur” thrives on that stark realism we’ve come to expect from the Brits, but goes deeper than most Brit flicks, let alone American films.

I was in one state of distress or another throughout the film. The violence can be upsetting, especially if you are an animal lover, but don’t let a couple of scenes prevent you from watching what is most certainly one of the best British films of the last ten years.

Writer/director Paddy Constantine (actor/co-writer of the also great “Dead Man’s Shoes”) touches his characters with a little something extra, refraining from turning them into dim-witted caricatures. You get something from this film that you don’t get very often- the feeling that you have watched a truly great movie. And how great is that? Recommended.