On the flight back to Winnipeg, I caught up on four films I missed at the cinema. Three of them are about women, the fourth has been labelled misogynist. Here are my mini-reviews of the four films, from worst to best (though I consider all four films worth a look):
Panned by the critics, this sci-fi film from Morten Tyldum stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as Jim and Aurora, two passengers on a space ship taking 120 years to get to its destination (a new home for the 5,000 passengers on board). Trying to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that Jim and Aurora wake up early and face some serious challenges. Michael Sheen and Lawrence Fishburne also star. Given the reviews, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, even watching on the wee screen. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s an entertaining space yarn and the key moral dilemma is fascinating to think about (and not unrealistically portrayed, though whether its resolution is a positive thing is an important question for discussion). The acting was quite passable as well. Passengers gets ***. My mug is up.
Natalie Portman deserves all the acclaim she received for her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in a film that focuses on the week after JFK’s assassination. I also loved watching John Hurt in one of his last roles, playing an Irish priest who has some great conversations with Jackie (one of the highlights of the film). And then there were the many references to Camelot (the musical) in the last minutes of the film, which is guaranteed to impress me. There were many other moments in Jackie that impressed me, but not enough to make this a classic. My biggest complaint about Jackie is that Jackie spends rather too much time wandering the halls and planning the funeral. I know that this is a unique kind of film that’s trying to get into Jackie’s headspace during this traumatic time, but it just didn’t quite work for me. I thought the film should have tried to be a little more controversial to grab the audience. Nevertheless, a solid *** verging on ***+. My mug is up.
Christine, directed by Antonio Campus, is a very dark drama which relates the true story of a TV news reporter who shoots herself while reporting live on TV in 1974. Rebecca Hall is absolutely terrific as Christine Chubbuck, a smart young reporter who struggles with relationships and her career. She knows there is something fundamentally wrong with her boss’s emphasis on leading the news with stories of violence but can’t seem to get through to anyone (she would be horrified that, 43 years later, there’s still no one listening). Michael C. Hall is good as the news anchor Christine has a crush on. Christine is a difficult film to watch but I found it surprisingly compelling. ***+. My mug is up.
Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is pure arthouse cinema and will appeal mainly to lovers of quiet European-style arthouse dramas. Of course, I am one of those people, so the film did captivate me, though it also fell short (for me) of the greatness I was hoping for. In its slow, thoughtful poetic way, with no score, Certain Women tells the stories of four frustrated lonely women (two are in one story, the others in two different stories) in Montana. Laura Dern plays a lawyer whose client (played by Jared Harris) is making her life very difficult, not least because she is a woman. Michelle Williams plays a business woman who is frustrated by both her husband and an elderly neighbour when she tries to purchase a pile of sandstone blocks. Lily Gladstone plays a ranch hand who tries to befriend a new teacher in town (Kristen Stewart), who is also a lawyer but finds herself driving eight hours every week to a remote town to teach. The acting is very strong and many scenes are quite powerful. The challenges facing strong women in this remote part of the U.S. are well-portrayed. A solid ***+. My mug is up.