Films I Saw This Week (13/07/2015)
Dear White People (2015)
My new pick for best film of 2015, Justin Simien’s satirical comedy drama Dear White People is a sharp, hilarious, and depressingly relevant look at modern racial identity. Focusing on the events leading up to a riot in a stuffy All-American college, Dear White People succeeds partly because of the on-point verbal takedowns and one-liners of Simien’s golden script (“You’re more Banksy than Barack”, “The minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two”), and partly because Simien avoids preaching or condescending. Stylistically, the film’s use of chapter titles and classical music are a joy, like Wes Anderson directing School Daze.
Occasionally, the film vilifies its white characters a little too much, and the middle section is a little dry and uneventful, but the terrific acting performances across the board (especially from identity-free outsider Tyler James Williams and furious crusader Tessa Thompson) keep the film engaging, building to an outstanding climax. This is the film Spike Lee has been trying to make since Do The Right Thing, done properly.
The China Syndrome (1979)
Jane Fonda and a young Michael Douglas give very good performances in James Bridges’ conspiracy thriller The China Syndrome, but they are both eclipsed by the always-outstanding Jack Lemmon as a nuclear engineer who refuses to cover up a near-meltdown. Like many conspiracy thrillers of the 70’s, Bridges’ films often prefers talking to action, which can make the film feel slow, but The China Syndrome has an engaging script and a terrific trio of performances.
Margin Call (2011)
J.C. Chandor’s low budget stock market disaster movie has an ensemble cast to rival all others. In a great extended cameo, Stanley Tucci’s newly-redundant risk manager discovers the market is about to crash; Margin Call takes place in the 36 hours following as Zachary Quinto’s eager analyst, Kevin Spacey’s world weary executive and Jeremy Irons’ ruthless CEO try and sort out the mess. The low budget of the film does restrict its ambition, keeping it confined to a few locations. More frustrating are the sound problems; the film’s audio ducks in and out, at first irritating, completely distracting by the end. Thankfully, the Glengarry Glen Ross-esque script and the great performances make Margin Call very watchable, if not quite as satisfying as it should be.
The Crying Game (1992)
While Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game is most famous for its controversial twist, it has plenty to offer past that. A story separated into thirds, the first half hour of The Crying Game follows an IRA soldier (played solidly by Stephen Rea) as he interrogates a British soldier (Forrest Whitaker, sporting one of the worst British accents in film history). Once the soldier is out of the picture, Rea sets off for England to seek out Whitaker’s love interest, the enigmatic Dil (the outstanding Jaye Davidson), before an unhinged Miranda Richardson (with a pitch perfect Irish accent) reappears as Rea’s old IRA cohort. The first third is a little weak and the finale is anticlimactic, but Davidson lights up the screen and carries the film wonderfully.
The Guard (2011)
It seems odd to say that a comedy doesn’t entirely work despite having plenty of laughs, but John Michael McDonagh’s debut film The Guard is not hugely successful, even with McDonagh’s genuinely hilarious script. Brendan Gleeson, perhaps the most underrated actor of his generation, is as good as ever as the racist, prostitute-loving, drug-sampling police officer partnered up with a flustered American cop (the also perpetually-underrated Don Cheadle) to investigate drug runners.
The Guard is consistently amusing, especially when the film’s philosophising villains Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong and David Wilmot are on screen, but as a whole, the film never quite gels. Gleeson’s character isn’t as compelling as McDonagh thinks he is, occasionally so repugnant he’s hard to care about, while most of the supporting characters are completely unmemorable. The Guard is a decent film but McDonagh’s follow-up Calvary is far, far more successful.
Man On The Moon (1999)
Jim Carrey has often descended into laziness and schtick, but at his best, he is truly outstanding. In Man On The Moon, Milos Forman’s strange Andy Kauffman biopic, Carrey gives possibly the best performance of his career. Covering so many personas (child-like onstage, aggressive as alter-ego Tony Clifton, persistent but frustrated behind the scenes), he fully embraces the role and convinces in every scene.
Even when the film uses the usual biopic clichés (lightbulb moments leading to an iconic performance, too many montages), Man On The Moon is hugely entertaining whilst retaining an edge of melancholy; Kauffman was a confusing and depressed man who struggled to find his place in life. The film faced mixed reviews in 1999. Over fifteen years later, it’s time for a reassessment.
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: Films I Saw This Week ♦ Reviews
- Tagged: 1979, 1992, 1999, 2011, 2015, biopic, brendan glesson, calvary, comedy, controversial, dear white people, do the right thing, don cheadle, forrest whitaker, Irish, jack lemmon, jc chandor, jeremy irons, jim broadbent, jim carrey, john michael mcdonagh, justin simien, kevin spacey, liam cunningham, man on the moon, margin call, mark strong, michael douglas, milos forman, miranda richardson, neil jordan, paul bettany, school daze, spike lee, stanley tucci, stephen rea, tessa thompson, the china syndrome, the crying game, the guard, twist, tyler james williams, wes anderson, zachary quinto