Colette: French sexiness, by British people

Colette is a pretty and often engaging look at Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the French author active mainly during the early 20th Century and nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1948.

What it is not is a 'French drama'.

Shot in Hungary and at various UK locations, produced by Brit Stephen Woolley and directed by Brit Wash Westmoreland, with two British stars, Colette never nails the feeling of 1900s Paris, nor embraces the sensuality and sexuality the subject matter lends itself towards. It feels like a free-spirited French topic, as seen through the eyes of us over the channel and the repressed up-tightness we are so famous for.

This leads, inevitably, to the unfortunate guessing game where you wonder what might have been. Were Colette's story to be put into the hands of Pedro Almodóvar or Desiree Akhavan or Olivier Assayas, to name just three tantalising possibilities, then you wonder if something all the more daring, more lascivious and in-touch with its material might have been produced.

As it is, Westmoreland (who co-wrote the script with husband Richard Glatzer, who sadly passed away in 2015) organises what is here adroitly, if not with any great spunk. The leads, Keira Knightley and Dominic West, crackle with some level of significant spark and, given that they are surrounded by a fairly thin supporting cast, Westmoreland does well to rarely let them off screen. Indeed; no-one develops significantly beyond the central pairing and it is difficult to think of a scene that does not feature at least one of the couple.

West's Willy is genius, particularly placed in our modern context, #MeToo and our muddy sexual politics. Willy is resolutely not as a monster would normally be painted, but monster he is. He controls his throng of ghost writers by ransoming their work with his name and squandering the proceeds on lavish luncheons. But Westmoreland never presents it as such. There is never the wink or the nudge that what Willy is doing is evil. He just does it. On at least two occasions he explains to Colette that his affairs are 'just what men do'. A late significant action he takes as part of the act of saving himself is so blasé that he could well simply be quaffing the copious amounts of wine he consumes in restaurants. Here is your monster of today as this film sees it; unhidden, preening, presenting what he does as perfectly natural.

Knightley is much more subtle, but her character stands up to Willy in the moments where the drama demands it. Otherwise, hers is a journey of somewhat quiet awakening, punctuated by moments that show the film's strengths and where it falls short. A passionate, physical affair at about the half way point is given the lace curtain effect and fumbled even more once West gets involved. Its resolution is punctual, without any European flinging of tables and chairs; heightened emotion made British. A later love of Colette though gets much better shrift, though it is still short. Colette, by now exploring her sexuality more fully, embraces love rather than lust and the film finds something of a comfort point; walks in French (English) countryside with meaningful conversations on gender roles and the monster in the sitting room.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Watching films with a two-and-a-half year-old (a poem) (yes really)

I have recently been reading a lot of the poetry of contemporary poet Brian Bilston (discovered via none other than this parish's Ben Broadribb). In an attempt to both a) write something in his inimitable style, (because it's great and I like a challenge), b) at least partially provide an excuse (at least to myself) for a lack of posting, c) write something about fatherhood and films, and how fatherhood changes films and d) to just... write something, here's a poem about watching films with a two-and-a-half year-old. The title took ages to think up.

Watching films with a two-and-a-half year-old

I've watched more films on a plane than in a cinema this year,
A two-point-five year-old son means there's just no time for Cape Fear.

Watching films up on high isn't exactly ideal,
But they do have those mini wine bottles and those blankets you can steal.

Still, there's plenty of 'screenings' happening in our house,
Totoro almost daily, and the odd one with Disney's mouse.

Some are watched for an hour, some only for five minutes, or two,
The two-point-five year-old saw 101 Dalmatians whilst he was having a poo.

I've watched more films on a plane than in a cinema this year,
And some would say that's a tragedy, (though I'd settle for a good Comedy, or even the new version of King Lear).

Kubo and The Two Strings was perhaps a bit too dark,
But I think he'd forgotten about it by the time we arrived at the park.

Song of the Sea is one our favourites; dad, son and mum watching Cartoon Saloon's best,
One of that crowd decided to take everything off but his vest.

I've watched more films on a plane than in a cinema this year, and that's a trade worth making,
There's less movies now but plenty more hugs and afternoons of messy baking.

Yes, sure there might be the occasional potty accident,
But there's also a huge smile when you create a den, or a DVD-box tent.

The best ones might not get watched as often but they're still fulfilling a purpose,
'Empathy machines' and man, you look at him and think... 'it was all worth it'.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Journeyman - DVD Review

'As emotionally punishing and dramatically satisfying as Considine's directorial debut Tyrannosaur'

Mark Kermode likes to remind his audience every so often that Jaws may be a film with a shark in it, but it isn't a film about a shark. This isn't a review of Jaws, so I'll leave it up to you whether or not you want to discover what Kermode thinks Spielberg's film is actually about - preferably after reading this review, if you don't mind.

The reason I mention this is because Journeyman has a similar relationship with boxing: the central character may be a boxer, but the film isn't actually about the sport. The title refers to Matty Burton's (Paddy Considine) status as a proficient and popular fighter who has never managed to make it truly big - we learn early on that his WBO title was won on a technicality rather than a definitive victory. But it soon takes on an additional and far more weighty meaning as Matty suffers a devastating head injury, from which both the medical and personal roads to recovery are long and far from easy.

It's a shame then that Considine as writer and director takes a bit too long to realise Journeyman isn't a boxing story, making the first fifteen minutes of his film an unremarkable opening chapter which establishes Matty's professional life and concludes with a boxing match that fails to engage in the way boxing's legacy on the big screen proves that it can. The dialogue here at times feels particularly stilted: brash opponent Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh) ominously describes the match as a "life-changer" for Matty several times in multiple scenes, telegraphing for anyone who might have missed it that this is the point at which a major plot development is going to happen.

It's to Considine's immense credit therefore that, beyond this opening section, Journeyman shifts up several gears to deliver an experience as emotionally punishing and dramatically satisfying as his directorial debut Tyrannosaur. The film never holds back in showing the aftermath of Matty's injury for him, his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and their infant daughter Mia, the couple struggling to come to terms with the challenges they now face both individually and together.

Whilst Considine's direction feels far more assured here than earlier, it's the flawless performances he and Whittaker deliver which make the film such a compelling, heartbreaking watch. Considine in particular makes Matty's transformation in the weeks and months following his injury both sensitive and believable; slowly bringing back enough of the version of the man he plays at the start, without ever hinting that an artificial fairytale ending might be on the cards.

That said, Journeyman does allow sentimentality creep in as the story nears its conclusion, something which fans of Tyrannosaur may find more difficult to accept than the more hard-hitting scenes of the film's middle act. But, thanks to the fine work of Considine both in front of and behind the camera, the film has by this point earned the emotional conclusion it offers.

Journeyman was released on UK DVD, Blu-ray and digital download on Monday 30th July.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his PhD. He's also on and Twitter.

Lear's Shadow: 'Unaccommodated' Shakespearean appropriation

In a year in which acting heavyweights Anthony Sher, Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins are set to give us a trio of ‘superstar’ Lears on stage and screen, it’s refreshing also to have the chance to experience films like Lear’s Shadow, an independently made two-hander willing to approach King Lear with both boldness and humility. Brian Elerding’s film highlights the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s tragic play not by making that goal its explicit purpose, but by taking Lear’s relevance as an accepted truth and applying that truth to tragic circumstances extraordinary in their impact yet ordinary in their potential occurrence.

‘You know, I’ve always wished that I could just do the main plot’, says Jack (Fred Cross) at a point soon after running through dialogue from 1.1 of Lear in a rehearsal room with Stephen (David Blue), an actor in the theatre company of which Jack is the director. From this point on in Lear’s Shadow, that’s exactly what the two men do, piecing together a ‘Lear-only Lear’ as they describe it by running through a handful of scenes from the play focused on the titular king. From a filmmaking perspective, this decision by writer and director Elerding also makes pragmatic sense: in a low-budget production such as this, just over an hour in length and with only two characters on screen for most of that time, attempting to cover every plot element of Lear would likely have set the film up to disappoint if not fail altogether.

Jack justifies his wish by expressing a desire to gain greater understanding of Lear as a character, feeling that the play’s subplot prevents him from doing that. Initially therefore, having the two characters play out only Lear-centric scenes appears to give Elerding the opportunity to do what Jack feels he’s never been able to do. In fact, Elerding doesn’t ‘try to do Lear without the subplot’ (as Jack puts it) at all. Instead, he introduces a subplot of his own in place of Shakespeare’s delivered through modern-day scripted dialogue spoken by Jack, Stephen and later Rachel (Katie Peabody), Jack’s daughter. Importantly, it’s a subplot which neither attempts to recreate the Gloucester story from the play nor to contemporise the main Lear-centric plot. Elerding’s script is better than that, subtly but powerfully resonating with themes from Shakespeare’s play as facts and hints about what has happened to these characters leading up to the hour or so we spend with them are interwoven with the director’s chosen scenes from the play. As such, Elerding’s use of Lear is reminiscent of Kristian Levring’s 2001 film The King Is Alive, in which a group of tourists stranded in the Namibian desert resort to rehearsing the play as a distraction from the desperate situation in which they find themselves. Elerding’s appropriation of Lear shuns Levring’s nihilistic and self-destructive perspective, however, utilising the play instead to present an intimate exploration of the complex relationships between colleagues, friends and family still in the immediate throes of personal tragedy.

Adapted for the screen by Elerding from his Ensemble Shakespeare Theater Company play of the same name, Lear’s Shadow retains the essence of theatrical performance without ever feeling simply like a filmed stage production. The play was first performed in 2017 with the audience sat at rehearsal tables surrounding the performance space as if ready to take part in a table read1; Elerding’s use of close-ups and mid-shots throughout his film, especially at times of heightened emotion, emulates the way in which the theatre audience would have been in close proximity to his characters when experiencing the original play. The director ensures his camerawork never distracts from the performances of his cast, choosing the moments to employ relatively more cinematic shooting techniques carefully. At one point, Jack and Stephen discuss whether or not sound effects are needed to bring the storm scene of 3.2 to life, with Jack declaring the best version of the scene he ever saw was Lear standing fully lit centre stage, simply making you believe the storm surrounded him. Moments later, the camera slowly pans around Jack as he delivers Lear’s opening speech of 3.2 in the middle of the rehearsal space, Elerding’s understated camerawork and Cross’s raw performance eloquently proving the character’s point. Mention must also be made of Ryan Moore’s original score heard at key points throughout, which is consistently cinematic whilst never feeling intrusive, melancholic without ever becoming melodramatic.

In almost every scene from Lear included in the film, Jack takes on the role of Lear; Stephen meanwhile shifts between a number of roles, at times playing multiple parts one after another in the same scene. It’s a smart choice. Sporting a wire crown and cheap red cloak over his everyday dress, and with a prominent black eye beneath his spectacles, Cross as Jack makes for a formidable yet vulnerable Lear, oscillating between ‘the dragon’ (1.1.123) of the early moments of the play and the ‘foolish, fond old man’ (4.7.60) of the later scenes impressively and, at times, without warning. Blue meanwhile deserves equal praise, believably presenting Stephen as an actor both willing and able to switch between multiple roles to drive Jack as Lear, keeping him focused on what they’re doing in the rehearsal room and not on anything else that may or may not be going on outside it.

Away from their Shakespearean performances, the dynamic between Jack and Stephen is authentically realised by Cross and Blue. The pair’s relationship has clearly been fraught in the past (professional grievances and personal bugbears make their way to the surface on a number of occasions) but it’s also clear that both men understand and care about each other deeply – something which feels as though it matters more during the brief time we spend with them than it has at any point in their lives before then, making it all the more important that Cross and Blue successfully convince us of that fact throughout. Whilst the character’s role is relatively small, Rachel turns Lear’s Shadow from a two- to a three-hander at the right moment, adding just enough to our understanding of the story as a whole without becoming a crude expository device or deus ex machina. Katie Peabody shrewdly uses her limited screen time to effectively craft Rachel into the quasi-Cordelia Jack’s Lear requires.

Whilst the division between Shakespeare’s scenes and the dialogue written by Elerding is overt, the film is at its best when the boundaries between Jack and Stephen and the Shakespearean roles they play are at their most blurred. As the two men perform sections of 1.4 – Jack as Lear, Stephen alternating between the Fool and Goneril – Jack becomes increasingly infuriated as he delivers Lear’s speech, in the play seemingly in response to Albany (not present in Jack and Stephen’s version) but delivered as an apostrophe to 'Nature … dear goddess' (1.4.267). As Jack yells the final words, ‘Away, away!’ (1.4.281), Stephen looks visibly moved by his anger, unable for a few seconds to respond or even to comprehend Jack’s outburst; but it’s not clear if this reaction is in role as the Fool, or as Goneril, or whether at this point Blue has moved back to simply playing Stephen. Perhaps Blue is playing both Stephen and the Fool, or Stephen and Goneril – maybe even all three. Sublime moments such as this are the reason that Lear’s Shadow never needs to set out to prove the relevance of Lear, allowing Shakespeare’s text and Elerding’s direction to exist concurrently to craft a single moment of simultaneous conflicting, enigmatic, yet utterly human emotion.

Lear's Shadow is currently on the festival circuit, although no screenings within the UK are scheduled at the time of writing. The film will also be made available through online streaming services in the future.

1 Ellen Dostal (2017) BWW Review: Ensemble Shakespeare Theatre Transforms Tragedy Using Theatre in LEAR'S SHADOW

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his PhD. He's also on and Twitter.

Macbeth (2018) - Online Review

'As the camera swoops through rooms, snakes down staircases and soars around the exterior of this impossible environment, the film feels at its most cinematically vibrant and innovative'.

In one of the most well-known speeches from Macbeth, the title character describes life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". It's a line which could quite easily be lifted from the play and applied to any number of CGI-fuelled Hollywood blockbusters, but perhaps less often to screen adaptations of Shakespeare's own works. However, when considering Kit Monkman's overtly stylised version of Macbeth shot entirely on green screen, the words of the murderous protagonist could quite easily become the director's very own Banquo: haunting Monkman whilst spelling his downfall.

Thankfully, the director's aesthetic choices are for the most part a success. Monkman's version of the story unfolds in a collossal globe-like structure, assembled like a fantastical life-size doll's house made up of the settings in which the various scenes play out. As the camera swoops through rooms, snakes down staircases and soars around the exterior of this impossible environment, the film feels at its most cinematically vibrant and innovative. Architectural sketchwork is regularly worked into the picture: a pleasing and subtly executed touch, making it feel as if we're watching the story unfold in an edifice being designed and constructed before our eyes. The technical ambition on display is admirable throughout, helping the film to look unlike any version of Macbeth we've seen before.

It's when Monkman relies more on the dramatic and narrative elements of his film than the technical ones, however, that he flounders most often. Perhaps surprisingly for an adaptation clearly not set in our world, the supernatural elements of the story are remarkably reduced. Many of the witches' scenes are pared down or cut altogether, their remaining lines delivered by Mother (Wunmi Musaku) - a mysterious figure but one that Monkman is careful never to present as being distinctly magical.

Neither do we see Macbeth's "dagger of the mind" nor Banquo's ghost, both unequivocally presented here as figments of the murderous Scot's increasingly fragile mental state. Whilst this potentially makes for a more psychological rather than supernatural interpretation of Shakespeare's play, Monkman's investigation of this approach doesn't quite go far enough, leaving his version of the story feeling too rudimentary in places. Mark Rowley and Akiya Henry as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively are both fine, but their scenes together - particularly those in Acts 1 and 2 - struggle to authentically create the charged, power-hungry relationship needed between the two characters.

The most intriguing element of the film is the Porter (Kes's David Bradley), transformed from Shakespearean fool to a non-speaking observer of the action, and who spends much of the film watching Mario Caserini's 1909 silent film version of Macbeth. It's a nice metacinematic touch, reminding the audience that they're watching just one of the many screen adaptations of this particular play. It's a shame therefore that Monkman does little more with the idea than this - a criticism which could arguably be applied to the whole film. As an experiment in innovative cinematic approaches to Shakespeare, this new version of Macbeth rightfully deserves to be applauded; as a new big screen take on a play already committed to celluloid countless times, however, Monkman's film rarely does enough to distinguish itself from its many forebears.

Macbeth is available to watch digitally now. 

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a contributing editor at Film Intel. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. When he's not writing about films here, Ben is usually writing about films - mostly Shakespeare adaptations - for his PhD. He's also on and Twitter.

The low-fi, B-movie Thriller lives on in Bushwick. Still isn't very good.

Bushwick appears to have been afforded a level of respect above that normally granted to low budget Thrillers, starring a recently ex-wrestler. For reference, see early John Cena vehicles The Marine and 12 Rounds, or rather, don't.

Some snappy pacing and a dedication to grit aside it's difficult to see why Bushwick has been elevated out of its particular allotted place. Dave Bautista, the man formally known simply as Bautista, has shown significant promise in Guardians Of The Galaxy, but here he's back being another ex-wrestler who can't really act, given a sound mix which unkindly suggests he can barely speak. Predictably he does finally get a shouty moment to prove he can act/annunciate, barking at co-star Brittany Snow just before he breaks down and gives her his life story.

That odd couple are paired together when Lucy (Snow) emerges from the subway with her boyfriend (soon departed) to find her old neighbourhood of Bushwick at war. With whom exactly isn't made clear and the film is all the better for it the longer it isn't made clear. When one of the black-suited men is finally cornered and spills the beans on the 'plan' (after Bautista has performed the obligatory 'looks like a scrap, might be a wrestling move' on him) mouths start to open and eyes start to widen. Really? Is that really the excuse for the film's violence? Are we expected to believe that one of the antagonists sat down and seriously thought that was going to work? Does he also have a job as a Scooby-Doo scriptwriter?

The logic then is lacking and the same goes for the co-director's (Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott) exploration of the themes on show. Bushwick is a multicultural, integrated neighbourhood and whilst the antagonists think it should just roll over, the residents are banding together to fight back. Cue scenes of orthodox Jews charging armed men with assault rifles and the local gang (or 'club', if you believe the leader's mother) supplying munitions to the citizen uprising. It's a nice idea, but it's muddled and ill-explored. There seems to be scope in Lucy's family to explore the idea of strength through integration and harmony, for example, but her sister is introduced far too later in proceedings to matter, which also ends up undercutting some of the plot machinations.

Murnion and Milott shoot mainly in close-up and behind the characters, following them at close quarters as they navigate the warring streets. This produces effective imagery of armed men disappearing behind the car Lucy and Stupe (Bautista) are using to hide and exiting, frame right. It's effective on this level of budget and whilst it doesn't entirely convince you that Bushwick is now Iraq, it does get close. Too soon though there's a lack of logic as to why the characters are going where they are going. There's an almost videogame level of hopping from place to place to get this person or complete this quest. It becomes an excuse for another effective scene behind a car, a reason for the characters not to just stay in a flat and wait it out, rather than anything more involved. That fact is eventually proven when the finales start and your emotional engagement stays at home.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

Quick awards season takes: Three Billboards, The Post, Molly's Game

There is plenty of talk at the moment around a The Post ‘backlash’, which I must admit to me seems like a misnomer. Was it a film that garnered a massive amount of support to begin with? It sits with just a 6.6 average on IMDb and a 65% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The critic Rotten Tomato score is admittedly better at 86%.

Still, it’s not as if there have been unequivocal raves for it and I’m on board with not unequivocally raving for it. Spielberg’s recent cinema has, for me, lagged behind his contemporaries, lacked dynamic plotting and visual flourish and, most surprisingly of all for this director, followed some fairly turgid pacing.

The Post is the apex of that trend. It plays as if Spielberg hasn’t seen the newsroom covered on film before. There’s none of the tension or drive of Spotlight, none of the thrill of Zodiac. And that’s before we get on to the All The President’s Men references, which raised The Post for me from dull and flaccid to downright irritating.

The film covers the period immediately before All The President’s Men and is therefore almost obligated to touch on it. But the way that this happens, placing itself in the All The President’s Men continuum, has a smack of arrogance about it. Does Spielberg deserve licence to give himself such a lofty perch? On balance, yes, probably; but his film does not. We are a whisker away from Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) meeting a young journalist who introduces himself as either Woodward or Bernstein, prompting a double-take of James Bond-pigeon proportions. It’s unsophisticated, plain of message and lacking in thrills.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a brighter watch, although not to the point where I felt it troubling my top 10 of the year (constantly in progress here).

This is the first Martin McDonagh film I’ve felt mixed on, rather than at one end of the spectrum or the other. I admire the morals of the film and the attack on the ills of the world, the intricacies of being human and making mistakes and the plain wrong.

That said, in doing all of that, McDonagh comes across a little like a highly strung film student; someone who knows right from wrong and is going to lay all of that out over a couple of hours, so that we do too.

In doing so he leaves himself a lot to resolve and only manages a portion of it. One character turns into an omnipotent controller of the plot and the other characters within it. Another goes through an about turn that chimes as much with his previous roles as it grates against his initial casting against type. The victim in the central murder is lost somewhere in everything else that is going on. Perhaps that’s a fair reflection of the familial chaos that follows such an event.

The performances stick with you above anything else. Lucas Hedges shows Manchester By The Sea was no fluke. Woody Harrelson does his thing and can continue to do it until the end of time. Sam Rockwell is impressive. Frances McDormand is a titan and deserves awards recognition. Abbie Cornish bizarrely fails to mask her Australian accent on a regular basis. Caleb Landry Jones’ drawl is, for probably the first time ever, not completely distracting.

Giving much more trouble to my top 10 consideration was Molly’s Game, during which Jessica Chastain gets to take on a series of moronic powerful men and Idris Elba acts as the audience’s moral guide. Elba’s character is at once impressed by Chastain’s Molly and uncertain of her aims and values. As he attempts to unpick them so do we.

There are two missteps that belie the fact that Aaron Sorkin is a longtime writer but first time director. A scene where Molly is assaulted is shot with horrible fades and generally gives the impression that Sorkin has never directed a piece of very physical ‘action’ before, nor asked anyone how he should do it. Late on, he manufactures two characters together in a way that doesn’t make sense and could surely have been solved in the script.

That script though is impressive and Sorkin proves that he can keep up with himself. He has described the film as his typical mid-budget adult Thriller; the only things he knows how to write and now, demonstrably, direct. If screenplay is everything and this is by one of our greatest living screenwriters then, hey, it must be good to a degree. The real skill is in that negotiating of Molly's morals. Sorkin has spoken of how he was never in doubt of where Molly lay on a spectrum of good and evil, but the film paints in enough shades of grey to both keep you guessing and keep the character sympathetic.

Elba, released from the mumbling shackles of his iconic Bell and Luther roles, really impresses. His future is more intelligent and more cerebral than Bond; interestingly a similar arc that Chastain continues to tread.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.