George Michael: Freedom (2017)

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I knew how to make these records and I knew just how to make them jump out of the radio. George Michael was making this film about his career when he died so unexpectedly and tragically on Christmas Day last year. Slickly narrated and beautifully edited, this astonishing combination of archive footage, home movies, music videos and contemporary interviews with his peers, friends and lawyers is as artfully constructed, witty, mesmerising and moving as the music of the man himself.  From his schoolboy antics with Andew Ridgeley in a terrible ska band through the unexpected stardom of Wham! when they played up their wideboy appeal with satirical lyrics which largely bypassed the masses, to his phenomenal breakthrough as a solo artiste, this manages to be both a testimonial to his own brilliance as well as a scathing commentary on the demands of the music industry. Following his astonishing crossover success in the US where he got a Grammy for Faith, the resistance from the black community (who played him day and night on radio) to what would now be termed his ‘cultural appropriation’  led to the great Listen Without Prejudice Vol. I which Sony America did not want to promote. His battle with the company (put down to cultural differences – hmmm…) coincided with his meeting the man of his life, Anselmo Feleppa, when their eyes met across a stage in Rio. But his new companion was soon diagnosed with HIV and when he died Michael was faced with a legal action against Sony for restraint of trade, which he lost. Amongst the interviews (clearly recorded before his death and therefore this is somewhat lacking in the latter stages) directed by Michael with his co-director and former manager, Michael Austin are Ricky Gervais, busy extracting the urine calling him “my favourite singing convict,” Tracey Emin, Elton John, Mark Ronson, Nile Rogers and Clive Davis, who compliments Frank Sinatra (or his publicist) for writing a letter urging George to promote his work while excoriating Michael’s decision not to turn up at the opening of an envelope. How absolutely ingenious that he chose Linda Evangelista to be his avatar – and how very Nineties! It’s very cool to have Stevie Wonder, one of his many admirable and admiring collaborators, throw into the race debate, “You mean George is white?! Oh my God!!!” (What must they make of Elvis?!) The most revealing personal section of the film is rather strange precisely because the people upon whom it pivots are not there except in slight footage or photos – his lover and his mother, and Ridgeley is not interviewed either. This is a man undone by grief about their deaths and who took years to process his losses, pouring it all into amazing songs. He could write and interpret lyrics like nobody of his generation. His narration is composed from old interviews. His description of being at home in England at Christmas while Feleppa was awaiting the outcome of an HIV test in Brazil is unbearable:  he had not even told his parents about his new relationship and thought he himself could be infected. The other irony of the film is the title itself (also one of his recordings) because he felt so imprisoned by his sexuality, his accompanying psychological difficulties and the recording contract which so confined him:  how completely bizarre that this should be a Sony Music film and it is now an obituary to Michael by Michael himself. If he were to be remembered, he says, it would hopefully be as a great singer-songwriter and as someone with integrity. Written, produced and directed by George Michael, this clearly had to be somewhat rewritten as it was not completed prior to his untimely death. What a guy. And what an unutterably terrible loss.

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Juste la fin du monde (2016)

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Aka It’s Only the End of the World. On a peur du temps. Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) est un dramaturge qui rentre dans sa maison familiale pour la première fois depuis de nombreuses années pour les informer qu’il est en phase terminale. Il arrive à un psychodrame qu’il aurait pu créer lui-même et regarde de son côté alors que sa mère glamourpuse (Nathalie Baye) sèche ses ongles et agit comme une reine du théâtre, sa petite soeur Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) jette des propos caustiques de l’écart et son plus âgé frère Antoine (Vincent Cassel) se moque de tout le monde, sa superbe femme Catherine (Marion Cotillard) surtout. Alors que Louis parle à peine – faire des remarques de deux et trois mots à la mode de ces cartes postales qu’il a envoyées au cours des années – personne d’autre ne peut se taire. De l’ouverture hystérique aux rencontres plus calmes de la maison, tout le monde parle à Louis à son tour les tensions autour de son arrivée sont mises à nu. Ils ne sont brisés que par l’appel téléphonique qu’il prend dans lequel il admet à l’appelant qu’il n’a pas encore réussi à révéler son état. Sa belle-sœur vient de le rencontrer pour la première fois et elle semble se sentir en train de mourir. Au cours d’un repas tendu, tout le monde commence à exploser avec anxiété. Un retour à leur ancienne maison avec Antoine déclenche l’explosion finale. Tout ce que Louis transpirent, incapable d’admettre qu’il est en train de mourir. Adapté de la pièce de Jean-Luc Lagarce par l’écrivain / réalisateur Xavier Dolan, l’humeur défavorable se déroule pour raconter dans les flashbacks du passé un moment plus heureux, quand Louis était un enfant. Mais il transpire les conversations qui s’intéressent toujours à son absence et à ce que les gens ressentent à son sujet. La plus grande absence est la mention d’un père et il semble que sa mère, sa soeur et son frère projettent leur colère contre sa perte sur Louis. On ne l’explique jamais, comme un trou noir dans lequel les craintes de chacun sont déversées. Un mot gênant est le mot. Bien organisé par Dolan, cela a remporté plusieurs prix et est basé sur des performances fantastiques. Si on a une famille, on comprend tout.

Grimsby (2016)

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Aka The Brothers Grimsby. Where to start in this ode to Northern British scum? Liam Gallagher lookalike kebab-munching Nobby Butcher (Sacha Baron Cohen) keeps a tribute wall to the brother from whom he was separated 28 years earlier. It means as much to him as his football team in his awful council house where he’s shacked up with knickerless flatulent Dawn (Rebel Wilson), their 11 bastards and sundry grandchildren. He finds brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) at a London gathering for healthcare philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) and disrupts his work as a crack secret agent preventing an assassination, causing calamitous results including infecting Daniel Radcliffe with AIDS. They have to go on the run to protect Sebastian and go back home while MI5 boss Ian McShane unleashes ‘Chilcott’ (hmm!) on his black ops man turned supposed rogue agent, information helpfully supplied by Isla Fisher who’s hairless Sebastian’s on-off love interest. After some family bonding and flashbacks to their separation, the burst of post-Thatcher social realism amid the feral underclass shifts from one favela to another, in South Africa, where Nobby puts his daytime TV knowledge too good use, gets on down with the drug dealers (big up to LinkedIn!) and proves an idiot adept at the old spy game. The outrageous story complete with anal and phallic acts, animal abuse, defecation, fellatio, football hooligans, paedophilia, miscegenation, murders accidental and otherwise, takes place in a narrative of fraternal empathy, foster care, the World Cup, politics, eugenics and global germ warfare. And it’s literally jaw-droppingly tasteless, Jeremy Kyle Does James Bond, with a very large if flaccid and out-dated swipe at the kind of people who despise the shameless amoral creatures at its centre. I winced, I gasped and yes I did laugh on occasion:  more than I did during The Girl on the Train. And there is a suitably explosive ending. Plus an unnervingly up to date joke about a certain TV sleb turned US Presidential candidate. I do hope the elephants weren’t hurt as this action bomb lands on its footballs.Where to next for Baron Cohen? F**k knows, as he would undoubtedly say. Un film de Louis Leterrier.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

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Admittedly as a woman I am not the target audience for this biopic of pioneering gangsta rap/hiphop outfit Niggaz Wit Attitudes who shot to fame with the eponymous album documenting their experiences in South Central LA. A bunch of arrogant black men who don’t speak the Queen’s English? Quick, call the Kardashians! The first thirty minutes – and oh, one hundred or so ‘motherf*****s’ – are tough to endure.  But once you get accustomed to the casual sexism, violence, drug abuse (massively toned down, apparently, since this was officially sanctioned), nudity and sometimes incomprehensible argot, it settles into a fairly traditional music business movie with everyone divided against each other and robbed blind by manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). Ice Cube is the first to pull the plug with a solo album and go all Hollywood with an appearance in Boyz in the Hood. Then a really full-on maniac Suge Knight comes into the frame with Death Row records when Dr Dre decamps for his solo album. Directed by F. Gary Gray who made a lot of the guys’ videos back in the day. Ho hum. Or, should I say, F*** Tha Police?!

Philadelphia (1993)

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Tom Hanks is such a part of the universal film firmament that it’s difficult to accept he has been ignored yet again in the Academy Awards for Bridge of Spies, 22 years after he got his first Oscar for this, the major studio movie that brought AIDS to the masses.  By the time this role rolled along, he was generally thought to be a hugely likable, charismatic comic actor, especially for Big (1988). Here he’s a dying lawyer suing his firm for discrimination through a homophobic black law firm whose only practitioner advertises on TV for clientele. Denzel Washington is brash and vicious, which is precisely what is required. It’s strange to think of Hanks as being young. Here he is emaciated, young and perfect. However we learn next to nothing about him other than his love of the law – he remains a cipher for other people’s projected prejudice. Some of his scenes with onscreen boyfriend Antonio Banderas were (ironically) cut from the cinema release. And the family of the lawyer whose lawsuit and interviews inspired the film had to sue for compensation after producer Scott Rudin abandoned the first production and claimed not to have used their material. Hanks’ Oscar speech outed his high school drama teacher, an incident that led to a very funny film, In & Out, starring Kevin Kline. Hanks then won again the following year for Forrest Gump, yet he just gets better and better – he was brilliant in Apollo 13 (still Ron Howard’s best), convincing in the slyly comic Charlie Wilson’s War and thrillingly ordinary in Captain Phillips, until the final section when he gets to emote and break down (as you would after a Somali pirate group attacked you.) He has also achieved legendary status courtesy of the Toy Story films. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme has had an interesting career and here gives homage to early mentor Roger Corman with a cameo as a nasty CEO. He made Caged Heat amongst others under his tutelage. Further evidence of his exploitation days is in the casting of Charles Napier as the judge and director Stephanie Roth in a small role. And of course from his early shot at respectability there’s Jason Robards from Melvin and Howard as the reptilian head of the law firm that fired Andy. And it’s nice to see Quentin Crisp turning up to Denzel’s ‘first gay party’.  Writer Ron Nyswaner had cut his teeth doing fixing work on Smithereens and Swing Shift (directed by Demme) and more recently has worked on Ray Donovan and Homeland, two of the best TV shows in years. This is dated in the best sense of the term – it marks a watershed in mainstream entertainment.