March was Oscar month, so I did a push on the nominees. I did my round up of them all in this post, and am actually pretty happy with the winners, particularly CODA being named best film, because it absolutely was. It was also good enough all by itself to justify the Apple TV+ subscription which has also brought me Ted Lasso, so it’s a double win for me.
But for all that, I only watched 8 films in March, and only one new release (Turning Red – premiering on Disney+ and reviewed here). That’s a bit poor, my excuses are that work is insane and I stupidly installed Civilisation VI.
All the talk on this film seems to have been about Kristen Stewart’s performance, and I was expecting great things. What I wasn’t expecting was that the film would be so incredibly bad that it was a struggle to stand it enough to even watch the performance. The writing, and other performances in the film are incredibly poor, “lumpy” was the word that sprang to mind. There was no subtlety, and none of the dialogue, personalities, or situations came across as remotely believable even excusing the bizarreness of Royal life. Diana herself had such a weird way of speaking and over-blown mannerisms that any attempt to recreate them feels like a caricature even if it’s not. I think Stewart is doing a very good performance, but unfortunately it’s as an unbelievable character, in an unbelievable situation with unbelievably bad dialogue. I found the film almost completely unbearable. 4 / 10
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
This biography follows the rise and fall of Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, two of the biggest figures in American televangelism and their eventual downfall through scandal and fraud. The problem is that I don’t think anyone quite knows whether Tammy Faye was complicit in the fraud, whether she deliberately chose to look the other way and enjoy the fame and money, or if in fact she was actually too simple to even think contemplate what was going on. Rather than pick a motivation, or even creating a complex character that maybe could have blended different ideas, I felt the film makers actually just made a bit of a mess because they didn’t want to commit. I don’t know whether the character lacked agency because Tammy Faye did, or because the writers couldn’t work out what her agency was. All the impressive makeup and excellent acting from Jessica Chastain couldn’t make up for the lack of substance at the heart of the film. It’s entertaining, but in a cheesy hallmark movie kind of way rather than anything more substantial. 6 / 10
I signed up for Apple TV+ mainly to watch this film and it was one of my better decisions. It is a brilliant film, doing all the things that a good film should do – saying something interesting, exposing you to a world different to your own, being beautiful to look at and fun to watch. The characters and locations are vibrant and immediately believable, the family are each fully rich personalities in their own rights, but with complex relationships and groupings between them. The specifics of the story are original, but the themes more universal so there’s both something new to experience and something relatable.
The only minor gripe I had was some of the nuts a bolts of Ruby’s discovery as an amazing singer felt a little bit of a stretch. I cringed at the singing teacher making the teenagers sing Lets Get it On and romantic duets. But this is a coming of age story and a feel good film so I’m not going to get that cross because the film had me utterly gripped throughout and has really stayed with me. 9 / 10
The Tragedy of Macbeth
I don’t like Shakespeare. There, I’ve said it. The stories are ok, although it tends to be the same ones done over and over again, but in the original language I find them utterly indecipherable. On the plus side for this film, I studied Macbeth at school, so at least understood the plot (and all the slightly tedious metaphor and context stuff); but that also just meant that I could zone out of the dialogue completely because I didn’t need or like it. The only two saving graces of this film then are Denzel Washington’s performance (which ALMOST made me understand) and the production design. It was a fascinating style that blended stage elements and film lighting effects to make something other-worldly. So at least there was something interesting to look at while being bored by the film. 6 / 10
West Side Story (2021)
I really didn’t like the original and there’s a mixture of that dislike carrying over into this remake and being resolved. The thing that isn’t changed is that I don’t like the songs, they’re just not to my taste, but at least this version has the actors singing and so doesn’t have the dubbing issues. The dancing I also got along with a bit better this time, the choreography and scale of it meant I stayed focused on it and could see much more the beauty in the mixture of ballet and salsa and jazz. Unfortunately I still didn’t have much enthusiasm for the story, I don’t really get the starcrossed lovers thing (“I’ve seen you across a crowded room and now I will throw away all our futures for you”). The chemistry between Tony and Maria was solid and had a joy to it that I liked, but it didn’t completely blow me away and there were some deeply questionable character choices. I understand completely the decision to keep the Spanish unsubtitled, but I hadn’t expected there to be so much of it at such key moments that I just didn’t know what people were saying and so couldn’t engage fully with their characters and stories.
The film is beautifully designed, shot and directed; the cast all very solid… but the material does not sing for me, making the two and a half hour runtime a bit of a slog. 6 / 10
Robin Hood (Disney’s 1973)
One of my favourite Disney films of all time, this was a staple on rotation in my family growing up and the simple mention of it is enough to bring a big grin to my face. With the exception of a slightly insufferable love song in the middle the film absolutely charges along with an utterly improbable collection of animals in the various roles. Even after all these years, it still makes me laugh and sing along. 8 / 10
Stranger Than Fiction
What a brilliant film! I was expecting a mediocre rom-com with a typically irritating Will Ferrell character. What I actually got was a very smart, very funny, very sweet, tragic comedy that kept me smiling and guessing the whole way through. The direction was stylish without being over the top and the writing was clever without being smarmy. 9 / 10