Music Video of the Day: Escape Velocity by the Chemical Brothers (2010, dir by Adam Smith and Marcus Lyal)


Hi there, everyone!

Today’s music video of the day is the video for the 2nd track off of The Chemical Brothers’s Further.  Things pick up exactly where Snow ended, with the woman swimming under water.  (The woman is played by Jenny Godding when she’s swimming and by Romola Garai when she’s not.)  When the woman emerges from the water, she is treated to a light show that should be familiar to anyone who has been lucky enough to see The Chemical Brothers perform live.

I know, I know.  This is the type of music that drives some people crazy.  I happen to love it.  It’s all about the way it makes you feel and it makes me feel like dancing.

Enjoy!

 

Film Review: Suffragette (dir by Sarah Gavron)


Suffragette_poster

It’s funny (or perhaps not) when you think about it.  I’ve always taken my right to vote (and, in theory at least, have some say over how I’m governed) for granted.  Even before I turned 18 and officially registered, I never had any doubt that, some day, I would be able to vote for President and every other elected office.  (And, even before that, I voted in student council and mock presidential elections.)  Voting is something that I so take for granted that, even when I cast my first official vote in the 2004 Presidential election, it didn’t really mean much to me.  Given the choice between Bush and Kerry, I wrote in the name of Charles Jay, the candidate of the Personal Choice Party.  I knew nothing about Mr. Jay but I had come across his name online and I liked the idea of personal choice and I thought it would make for a funny story to tell all of my friends who were actually taking the election seriously.  (Even back then, I enjoyed annoying people who actually cared.)  Essentially, I threw my vote away and I did it without a second thought.

Of course, what I didn’t understand at that time was that the right to vote was something that many brave women had fought for, gone to prison for, and even died for.  If I had lived before 1920, I would not have had the right to vote and I certainly would not have had the opportunity to so casually toss my vote away.  Women in the U.S. did not win the right to vote until 1920.  But before everyone starts in with the usual “America is so backwards!” crap, consider this.  In Britain, women did not win the right to vote until 1928.  Women could not vote in France until 1944 and Switzerland waited until 1984!  Last year, women in Saudi Arabia voted for the first time.

The struggle of British women to gain equal rights under the law is the subject of the film Suffragette.  Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan, my generation’s Audrey Hepburn) is a laundress living in London in 1912.  She spends her day working for little money and for a male boss who, for years, has sexually harassed and abused the women working under him.  Unlike a lot of the women who work at the laundry, Maud has a stable home life.  She is a devoted mother and her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), is supportive.

Or, at least, he seems to be at first.  Things chance once Maud gets involved in the suffragette movement.  It’s not just that her lecherous boss laughs at her for wanting to be treated equally,  That, we expect.  No, what is truly infuriating is to watch how quickly Sonny goes from being a loving husband to a monster, the type who forbids Maud from seeing her own son and then callously puts the boy up for adoption.  Confronted by his wife’s demand to be treated as his equal, Sonny reveals himself to be no better than the casual misogynists that Maud must deal with, on a daily basis, at work.  Raised on a diet of films where men come to their senses and justice (and love) somehow prevails, I kept expecting Sonny to see the error of his ways or for Maud to at least be reunited with her son.  Needless to say, none of that happened.  This is a film that never lets us forget the sacrifice involved in fighting for equal rights.

Instead, having lost everything that previously defined her life, Maud throws herself into the battle for women’s rights.  And, as Suffragette makes clear, that meant a lot more than just winning the right to vote.

It’s an inspiring story and both Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham-Carter (who plays another suffragette) give powerful performances.  At the same time — and this is something that many critics need to understand and acknowledge — you can love a film for what it has to say while, at the same time, acknowledging that it doesn’t totally work as a piece of cinema.  Suffragette is not a perfect film and reviewing it, I found myself torn between praising the film’s message and criticizing director Sarah Gavron’s frequently uninspired cinematic technique.  (From a strictly cinematic point of view, Suffragette will play better on television than on a big movie screen.)

Perhaps for me, the film’s great weakness was casting Meryl Streep in the role of real-life activist Emmeline Pankhurst.  Ms. Pankhurst was the leader of the Suffragette movement and is an inspiring historical figure.  Unfortunately, as soon as Meryl shows up for her four-minute cameo, it becomes impossible to see her as being anyone other than Meryl Streep, a wealthy white woman who — unlike the real-life Ms. Pankhurst — will never be sent to prison for demanding the right to vote.  When Meryl shows up as Ms. Pankhurst, it takes the viewer out of the historical reality of the film.  You’re no longer watching a group of brave women risking their lives and demanding to be treated equally under the law.  Instead, you’re just watching a Meryl Streep cameo.

Throughout the film, Maud stays in a succession of safe houses and decrepit offices.  She always has a picture of Ms. Pankhurst near her and occasionally, she looks to it for strength and guidance.  However, since the picture of Ms. Pankhurst is really just a picture of Meryl Streep, it again serves to take the viewer out of the film.  Perhaps if Meryl Streep had more screen time, she would be able to get us to think of her as being Ms. Pankhurst but since she’s only onscreen for four minutes, she instead just serves to distract from the film’s message.

(Personally, I would have cast either Emma Thompson and Kristin Scott Thomas in the role of Ms. Pankhurst, two great actresses who would could have portrayed her charisma without being quite as distracting as Meryl Streep.)

As I said earlier, Suffragette is not a perfect film but it does teach an important lesson that needs to be learned, especially by those of us who occasionally take our rights for granted.  It’s a film that reminds us that years ago, brave women fought for everything that we have now and it’s a film that encourages us to keep fighting.  It’s not a perfect film but it’s a film that deserves to be seen.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #110: Atonement (dir by Joe Wright)


Atonement_UK_posterWhenever I think back on the 2007 best picture nominee Atonement, my first thought is usually, “Oh my God!  Benedict Cumberbatch is in this movie!”

And, indeed, he is.  However, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know who Benedict was when I first saw this film because, if I had, I doubt I would have ever been able to look at him in quite the same way again.  (Fortunately, I had somehow forgotten that I had previously seen him in Atonement when I first saw Benedict in Sherlock.)  Benedict’s role in Atonement is not a large one but it is pivotal to the film’s plot.  He plays Paul Marshall, a man who has made a fortune as a chocolate manufacturer in pre-World War II England.  Paul is handsome, charming, and rich.  After all, he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  He’s also a rapist who, later in the film, marries one of his victims specifically to make it impossible for her to ever testify against him in court.

Atonement is one of those films where the British upper class meets the lower class and forbidden love and tragedy follow.  Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) is the oldest of the Tallis sisters.  Her family is rich but she’s in love with Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the housekeeper.  One night, Robbie attempts to write a love note to Cecilia and, growing frustrated with his inability to come up with right words, he writes an over-the-top, sexually explicit letter as a joke.  (And the audience gaps, “Oh my God!  They used that word in the 30s!?”)  He then goes on to write a more standard love note.  However, when he asks Cicilia’s younger sister, 13 year-old Briony (Saorise Ronan) to deliver the note to Cecilia, he accidentally gives her the wrong note.  Briony reads it to her cousin Lola (Juno Temple) and, already jealous of Robbie and Cecilia’s flirtation, she decides that Robbie must be a “sex maniac.”

Briony, who writes plays in her spare time, later spies on Robbie and Cecilia as they have sex for the first time.  Briony, who has a crush on Robbie, grows more and more jealous.  Later that night, while looking for Lola’s twin brothers, Briony sees a man running through the woods.  When she goes to investigate, Briony discovers that the man has raped Lola.  When asked by the police, Briony lies and says that Robbie was the man running in the woods.  She also shows everyone the “joke” letter that Robbie wrote, proving, in their eyes, that Robbie is guilty.  Robbie is sent to prison.  Of the Tallises, only Cecilia believes that Robbie is innocent.  Angered over their quickness to accuse Robbie, Cecilia cuts off all contact with her family.

As the years pass, Briony comes to realize that Paul was the rapist and she struggles to deal with her guilt.  When World War II breaks out, Robbie is released from prison on the condition that he join the army.  Meanwhile, Briony volunteers as a nurse and tries to come up with a way to bring Cecilia and Robbie back together.

I didn’t really appreciate the film the first time that I saw it but, with subsequent viewings, I came to appreciate Atonement as an intelligent and well-acted look at guilt, forgiveness, and redemption.  James McAvoy and Keira Knightley both have amazing chemistry and Saoirse Ronan is amazing in her film debut.  You can see why Atonement‘s director, Joe Wright, subsequently cast her in Hanna.  Compared to the other films nominated for best picture of 2007 — No Country For Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood, and Michael ClaytonAtonement is definitely a low-key film.  But it definitely more than deserved its nomination.