There’s something exciting about genuinely divisive cinema. Lots of films come and go with huge critical acclaim or a gluttony of one-star reviews, but it’s rare to find films that completely split people down the middle. Think of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, despised by Roger Ebert yet loved by his on-screen partner Gene Siskel. Recall Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, a deeply distressing film that caused many to flee cinemas. In recent years, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! split critical opinion; some found it wild and intense, while others believed the director had disappeared up his own arse.
This week, another such film is being released in the UK, nearly a year after it premiered at Cannes to bewildered reactions. David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake, his follow-up to the terrifying It Follows, couldn’t be more polarising. Time Out gave it five stars, calling it ‘hypnotic, spiralling and deliriously high”, while Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian despised the film, ranting that it is “catastrophically boring, callow and indulgent”. Whether good or bad, these reactions always suggest a film with grand ambitions, a film that challenges taboos or offers no easy frame of reference – a film that dares to be genuinely different. Having watched Under the Silver Lake, I can understand the mixed reactions and intense love/hatred.
But just what is it that makes Under the Silver Lake such an oddity?
2019 is an interesting time for television comedy. While traditional sitcoms are still as popular as ever (just look at the success of Derry Girls in the UK), it feels like comedy writers are exploring darker, weirder ideas. In America, violent black comedy hitman saga Barry and time loop mystery Russian Doll have recently captured audiences’ imaginations, while returning hit The Good Place has taken the ideas of a conventional sitcom and boosted them with more twists and turns than your average season finale.
It goes even further in the UK. In the last few years, the most acclaimed British comedies have included Inside No. 9 (a macabre anthology from League of Gentlemen creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton), Catastrophe (a painful, painfully-funny comedy drama about marriage and parenthood), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s stunning Fleabag (following a young woman going through an emotional crisis). Though there’s still room for crowd-pleasers like Peter Kay’s Car Share and mockumentaries like People Just Do Nothing, TV comedy is increasingly pushing boundaries and provoking reactions beyond laughter.
With that in mind, I would like to talk about Flowers, Will Sharpe’s extraordinary comedy drama. Though Flowers has slapstick, silly one-liners, and incredibly graphic children’s drawings, I cannot understate the darkness at the heart of this unique programme; this is possibly the saddest programme I have ever seen. Suicide, grief, and loneliness provide a backbone to the story of the Flowers family, consisting of depressed father Maurice (Julian Barratt), desperate mother Deborah (Olivia Colman), unpredictable daughter Amy (Sophia De Martini), manchild son Donald (Daniel Rigby), and Shun (played by Sharpe himself), the Japanese illustrator who will do everything he can to keep his makeshift family together.
Forget Green Book’s baffling victory and Rami Malek’s undeserved Best Actor win. There is only one Oscar that mattered last night (24th Feb), and it is national treasure Olivia Colman winning a much-deserved Best Actress award for her performance in The Favourite. It’s been a long, unusual journey for Colman, and last night was the crowning glory of what has been a tremendous two decades.
Dear fans of Bohemian Rhapsody,
Sit down. We need to talk. I know you’re riding high on the success of Bryan Singer’s Freddie Mercury biopic, and I’m not surprised. Nearly $900 million dollars at the box office, five Oscar nominations and an almost-guaranteed Best Actor win for Rami Malek must feel pretty good. Not to mention the nostalgia you’re feeling after watching a bunch of actors wearing bad wigs lip-syncing along to your favourite Queen tracks.
But we do need to have a serious talk. Because Bohemian Rhapsody, that film you’re talking about buying on DVD and recommending to all your friends? It’s not good. Scratch that; I’m being polite. Bohemian Rhapsody is a colossal turd of a film. It’s a hodgepodge of creaky biopic clichés, lazy writing, hyperactive editing, and offensively-inaccurate storytelling. It’s also an unilluminating, staggeringly-dull depiction of one of rock’s most fascinating icons. Apart from the fact it features a few Queen songs we all like, Bohemian Rhapsody is almost irredeemable.
Shall we get into some of the specifics?
It’s been a funny old awards season so far, hasn’t it? For every terrific, acclaimed film like The Favourite and Roma, we’ve seen award wins for…less terrific films like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. Last night’s BAFTAs was a mostly-solid night of awards – nothing too controversial, nothing too outstanding, just a bunch of mostly worthy winners and some very creaky gags from host Joanna Lumley, who seemed to inspire nothing but winces from the crowd. Let’s break down a few of the winners:
Outstanding British Film: The Favourite
I was rooting for You Were Never Really Here, but The Favourite was the expected choice. Yorgos Lanthimos’ spiky period drama is terrific fun, with a host of great performances and a fantastic screenplay. Can it go all the way at the Academy Awards, or will its racing ducks and angry handjobs alienate older voters?
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Rachel Weisz – The Favourite
Pretty expected here, as The Favourite lived up to its name on the night (more on that later) and Weisz is a national treasure. I can’t see this happening come Oscar night (Regina King seems a better bet), but I’m glad Weisz is getting recognition for her terrific performance – even if she should be in the leading category.
There have been a lot of reports recently about the fate of The Simpsons. With Disney acquiring Fox, the longest-running scripted programme in television history is only becoming more prosperous, and it’s looking increasingly-likely that the show will continue to run and run well into the next decade. But should it keep going?
The Simpsons is my favourite television programme of all time. That sentence used to be perfectly acceptable, but now it must come with a caveat – a tiny asterisk that won’t make people think I’m lying or stupid. Here goes: The Simpsons is my favourite television programme of all time*
*as long as I pretend it ended before the year 2000.
I often get asked about how many films I’ve seen, or how much time I spend watching TV, or how I came to have such great taste in music (okay, I don’t get asked that very often, but I should). In 2018, I decided to keep track of the media I consumed – films and shorts, TV, music, and stories. It was an interesting experiment – I saw over 200 films yet only read 12 books and/or stories throughout the year, and my TV watching was pretty firmly rooted in the past. Just for fun, I’m posting my 2018 Media List so you can see what a typical year at Ford On Films looks like: