Films I watched in…August

Collage of the film posters for God's Own Country, The Sapphires, Marie Antoinette, School of Rock, The Dressmaker, and The Lovebirds.

Reviewing my month’s movie going

I’ve been making a concerted effort to watch more films this year. I’m aware that even when cinemas were open I could go ages without watching new films, and miss out on some amazing creations. Add to this my aim to ‘Up my film knowledge’ as part of my 30 before 30 challenge, and I think I’m well placed to make better use of my Netflix subscription. Part of the problem is my old lady-ish association of movies (“Moving pictures”) with the weekend. It feels a little odd to watch a film on a “school night”. However this is something I clearly need to overcome, and if I’m going to achieve my 30 before 30 goal I’ll need to harness my whole week.

To help me keep track I thought I’d document my progress each month with bite-sized reviews of everything I’ve seen. Some of these will be supplement with full reviews, which I’ll link to in each post. So let’s get started, and look at what I watched in August!

The Lovebirds, Michael Showalter, 2020

Film poster for The Lovebirds, with Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani sa on a street curb with a brightly lit street behind them.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Well I’m kind of in love with this movie. Despite a fairly un-representative promo campaign, it met all of my quite high expectations. I think I’d watch pretty much anything Kumail Nanjiani was in, and Issa Rae is a total delight. The plot follows the eponymous “lovebirds” Leilani and Jibran as they try to uncover the truth behind a crime they witness/accidentally take part in. Comedy is placed front and centre, but the leads are wonderful at portraying their relationship, and it ends up being a surprisingly uplifting film. At times it does feel a bit like a repurposed stand-up set, but that barely detracts from a fun narrative.

The Dressmaker, Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2015

Film poster for The Dressmaker, with Kate Winslet in  a 1950s dress carrying a sewing machine, and the Australian countryside behind her.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This film, which could loosely be tagged as a period drama, stars Kate Winslet, and has tonal shifts so sharp and sudden that they could break your neck. As someone with an interest in vintage fashion, I’d wanted to watch this film for a while, but was put off by some fairly hash reviews (it scored a lowly 57% on Rotten Tomatoes). Billed as a ‘revenge comedy drama’, it’s based on Rosalie Ham’s novel of the same name, and centres on Tilly Dunnage returning to her small village home to seek revenge on those who wronged her as a child. I won’t say too much about the story’s central mystery, but it is intriguing enough to keep you invested, even when the rest of the film feels off-putting. Winslet is great as ever, and a performance by Hugo Weaving as a rural police officer with a love of Parisian fashion offers one of the film’s highlights. Less successful is Liam Hemsworth’s love interest character. No matter how hard they try, there is just no chemistry between him and Winslet. Thankfully this is little more than a side plot, with the relationships between the women taking centre stage. With jarring leaps in tone, the story feels a bit like an early draft. One can’t help but feel that a good editor could have whipped it into better shape. Nonetheless it was an engaging film that kept my attention, and had some interesting things to say about the power of clothing as performance or personal expression. I would quite like to give the book a try. Overall not a great film, but one that is bizarrely hard to look away from.

The Sapphires, Wayne Blair, 2012

Film poster for the Sapphires with four women in blue sequin dresses and Chris O'Dowd in a red suit in the background.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is such a feel-good movie, and this was actually my third or fourth viewing of it. Loosely (very loosely) based on the story of The Sapphires, it centres on the formation of an Aboriginal soul singer group, and their tour entertaining troops in Vietnam. With standout performances from Deborah Mailman and Chris O’Dowd, it manages to be funny whilst also examinations the utterly heartbreaking history of Australia’s Stolen Generation. The soundtrack is, as you would expect, absolutely fantastic, and if you don’t come away from this film smiling, you must be made of stone. It isn’t particularly nuanced in some aspects – there is virtually no examination of the Vietnam War itself for instance – but as it aims for a light tone this is forgivable. I hope that films like this can bring greater awareness of the oppression and racism that Aboriginal people have experienced, and indeed continue to experience. All in all it is a great film that I’d highly recommend.

The House, Andrew Jay Cohen, 2017

Film poster for The House, with Amy Poehler making a 'shh' expression with her finger to her lips, wearing a black sequin dress, and Will Ferrell with arms crosses wearing a burgundy check suit and large sunglasses.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

This film was absolutely mauled by critics, and didn’t fair much better with audiences. It made only $34.2 million at the box office on a budget of $40 million. The combination of Amy Poehler and Jason Mantzoukas is one I’d find hard to resist, and sometimes you need a little (very) light entertainment to switch your brain off to. To be quite honest I don’t understand why this did so badly – it is what it is, and does pretty much exactly what you’d expect. It isn’t fantastic, the writing isn’t great, and some of the performances are lacklustre (the daughter delivers her lines as if she is reading them for the first time), but who really expects more from this genre? I did laugh, and it has a decent premise. There’s enough there to hold it together. Poehler and Ferrell make a good pairing, and throw Mantzoukas’ hyperactive charm into the mix and you have a pretty decent trio. Don’t expect too much and this’ll be a perfectly easy way to wile away a few hours (well, 88 minutes) after a long day of using your brain. I can’t really give it a higher rating than I have, but I enjoyed it none the less.

God’s Own Country, Francis Less, 2017

Film poster for God's Own Country, with Josh O'Connor sat cross legged with his arms on his knees, and lying down next to him

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the ridiculous to the sublime. This film is just stunning. Josh O’Connor (now better known as Prince Charles in The Crown) is superb as Johnny, a young and disaffected farmer. Alec Secareanu is equally brilliant as Gheorghe, the Romanian shepherd who comes to help on the farm during lambing season. It has the distilled feeling of a play, with only four main characters (Johnny’s father and grandmother make up the quartet, played with wonderful subtlety by Ian Hart and Gemma Jones). Oft compared to Brokeback Mountain (the couple become involved while camping alone on the hills during lambing), it many ways it exceeds this, not least for showing how far society has come in terms of inclusivity. I don’t want to spoil it, but for once this is a gay love story that doesn’t have their experience of homophobia as a primary plot point! Hurrah! This is I gather something Lee is quite adamant on, pointing out that rural communities are often wrongly assumed to be ‘backward’ in this regard. The cinematography is beautiful, all the performances are nuanced and believable, and overall it is just a great film. I’ve gushing, I know, but the combination of a refreshing story with those stunning landscapes was too much for me not to totally fall for this film. I feel like I have more interesting and articulate things to say than this, so maybe a full review will follow. But for now, I just want to urge you to go and see it. It’s incredible. I’m really excited to see Lee’s next work, Ammonite, a trailer for which has recently been released. If it’s anywhere near as good as God’s Own Country, it’ll be one not to miss.

School of Rock, Richard Linklater, 2003

Poster for School of Rock, with Jack Black flamboyantly strumming a guitar, and a class of kids behind him in punk rock takes on their school uniforms.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Amazingly I’d never seen this film before. Something about it just kind of put me off. I’ll admit that I don’t always find Jack Black characters being endearing, but the infectious enthusiasm of Dewey Finn could win anyone over. The story of a fake substitute teacher bringing a love of rock music to his class of kids at a stuffy private school (in a plot that would fail a thousand safeguarding tests), it is funny and charming, and revels in not taking itself too seriously. Richard Linklater’s filmography is certainly a varied one, but this must be one of his most popular offerings. Bonus points for the unexpected style icon that is Joan Cusack as Rosalie Mullins.

Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola, 2006

Film poster for Marie Antoinette, with Kirsten Dunst in the title role.  A close up of her face, with the typical hairdo, and bright jeweled earrings.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I think a full The Bid Rewatch will follow on this, because it is unashamedly one of my favourite films. Undeservedly panned at time of release, it has grown to have a cult classic status. It is a perfect example of every element of a production coming together to tell the story. The costumes are incredible, the use of modern music is ingenious, and the performances are surprisingly subtle. A largely sympathetic telling of the life of child-bride Marie Antoinette, the film deftly explores the pressures placed on her as mother to the potential heir to the thrown of France. We all know how that story ends. The film cleverly focuses as much on her relationship with Versailles – as a place and an idea – as with the other characters. The final shot of her smashed up bedroom is a masterpiece – a perfect microcosm of France at the dawn of the Revolution. The film captures mood and atmosphere, and even the slower, slightly dragging sections contribute to our understanding of character and motivation. The sheer visual appeal of the film is almost a character in its own right. The film is a beautiful exploration of a society complicit in its own downfall, and one I am pleased to see enjoying something of a revival.

What did you watch in August? Are there any new releases that caught your eye, or have you revisited some old classics? I’d love to hear your recommendations for what I should watch in September, so please leave them in the comments below!

All images sourced from Wikipedia

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