Movies I’ve seen in the past month
Logan – A (See review)
American Pastoral – D. For his directorial debut Ewan McGregor had the nerve to adapt a Philip Roth novel, but not the grasp of Roth’s fury or the chops to do the material justice. Devoid of Roth-ness, American Pastoral is a family melodrama that could’ve happened anywhere at anytime. The usually luminous Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning come off as shrill, and Ewan is his charming self, but empty.
Denial – C. The real-life case of an American historian (Rachel Weisz) who takes on a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall, who can go from repulsive to almost sympathetic in a snap) is rendered as an earnest TV movie of the week, and by TV I mean pre-21st century television, before TV took over from movies as the primary medium of the visual storyteller. Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott are the lawyers who counsel the historian not to speak at her own trial as it would legitimize the denier’s lies. Or as they are called today by the White House, alternative facts.
Loving – B. Another factual case: In the 1960s the interracial Mr and Mrs Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) break the state of Virginia’s law against mixed marriages and their case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Like Hidden Figures, Loving reminds us of how recently the civil rights movement happened, and how quickly its gains might be undone by a lunatic on Twitter.
Jackie – A-. When Natalie Portman opens her mouth and that breathy baby voice with the strange enunciation comes out it’s unnerving, but a quick trip to YouTube will show that that is exactly how Jackie Kennedy spoke. Driven by Portman’s awesome technical achievement, Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is the story of a woman underestimated by everyone, who at the worst time of her life demonstrates that she understands better than anyone how history is made.
Like her more experimental previous novel NW, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time follows kids who grow up on a council estate in London and make their way in the world. This time the kids are two girls who meet in dance class. One can really dance and makes it to the chorus line; the other becomes a personal assistant to a hysterically famous pop diva who decides to use her money and influence to do good in Africa. Swing Time is a riveting, insightful and often moving study of female friendship through the lenses of race, education and money. It hits all the hot topics of the moment: feminism, cultural appropriation, pop stars trying to change the world, and makes them intimate and personal. If literature’s job is to explain us to ourselves, Smith does it beautifully.