Friday, August 26, 2016

Four recent releases that got a PG-13 in the States but a 15 here.

I’m going through a bit of a tough time at the moment. I shan’t spell out why, but instead, cryptically point you in the direction of this post I did on Blue is the Warmest Colour a few weeks ago by way of an explanation.

My state of depression will only be exacerbated once my brother flies the nest at the end of this month. My bro is my best friend and my partner in crime, and usually always has a cheeky line of banter to elevate my spirits when I’ve had a bad day. He’s my comfort blanket, and his wit and compassionate nature always cheers me up. So the thought of not having him around is adding to my anxious/sad state. Bear with me if I’m a moody cow, both on here, and in real life, in the next few weeks.

Anyway, I’ve tried to displace unhappy thoughts from my mind by the only way I know how: making good use of my Odeon Unlimited card; I was in Birmingham for a conference this week and saw two films there alone.

Having seen those two films (The Shallows, Lights Out), I’ve now seen four movies (those two and Nerve and Suicide Squad), all released fairly recently, that got rated a PG-13 by the MPAA and, rather than get the rating that is roughly equivalent over here, the 12A (which about 90% of US PG-13s get), they were slapped with the older sister rating, the 15.

I thought I’d be super-nerdy and discuss my thoughts on the BBFC’s decision to rate them 15, rather than the actual quality of films themselves.

Lights Out: 15 for strong supernatural threat, bloody images.
My verdict: 15.
Far from being one of the scariest 15s I’ve seen, but there were a lot of jump moments, some funny, but some very intense which would have been just a bit too terrifying for a 12A. The main antagonist was also too creepy in appearance for 12 year olds and under to stomach.

Nerve: 15 for risky imitable behaviour.
My verdict: 15.
The film portrays teenagers being egged on to do increasingly more daring and ill-advised things for money, and that fact that some of these really dangerous acts don’t have negative consequences (eg, lying on a train track as a train crosses, or driving a motorcycle at perilously high speeds without sight [Dave Franco in motorcycle gear tho. Swoon]) could potentially send out the wrong message to impressionable pre-teens, which the 12A rating would have allowed them watch. Thus, agreed with the BBFC on this one.

The Shallows: 15 for sustained threat, bloody injury detail
My verdict: 12A.
To paraphrase a defender’s protestations after his clumsy foul has led to conceding a penalty, ‘Never a 15!!!’ This survival movie, about a young Medical school dropout (Blake Lively, surprisingly decent) and her battle with an aggressive shark, felt more vaguely unsettling, rather than relentlessly frightening. There were some moments where her vs the shark felt a bit touch-and-go, but the focus on the resourcefulness of Lively’s character gave me faith that she wasn’t going to go down without a fight; I didn’t feel the threat really was ‘sustained’.

Also, the injury detail, whilst grisly, was no worse than what Matt Damon had to address in The Martian, a 12A.

Suicide Squad: 15 for sustained threat, moderate violence
My verdict: undecided.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy it got a 15, because it meant I got to enjoy Suicide Squad in relative peace (the cinema was full when I saw it because I watched it the day it was released to maximise the number of hits I’d get for my review for it. I’m cool like that).

But in terms of precedent, the 12A-rated 10 Cloverfield Lane made me a lot more nervous than this film did, and I also thought the tone of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight was bleaker than Suicide Squad. Plus the BBFC rating for that 12A title featured ‘strong violence’, so if strong violence is allowed in a 12A (The Kite Runner, another 12A, has strong violence), then moderate violence shouldn’t be really flagged as a 15 category-defining issue, no? #pedanticChinawoman

On the other hand, I do think the scenes between Joker and Harley were a little disturbing, particularly when she voluntarily jumps into a vat of acid to pledge her love to him; the juxtaposition of Kehlani’s seductive vocals on ‘Gangster’ with the disquieting visuals perfectly capturing Harley's brainwashed mental state (Margot Robbie in glasses tho. Swoon). I guess Jared Leto’s Joker’s unhinged grin when he was torturing people contributed to the 15 certificate and may go someway to explaining why The Dark Knight wasn’t a 15 – Heath Ledger’s Joker committed acts of violence and murder, but those acts were more functional rather than Leto’s, who definitely had an element of relish to his acts.

So yeah, sitting on the fence on this one.

In conclusion, I fervently agree with the BBFC on two of their 15s, strongly disagree with one, and don’t know about the final one.

I previously mentioned 10 Cloverfield Lane; I’d like to highlight again that that was far too scary for a 12A (even if it did get a PG-13 in the States, but a lot of our 15-rated horrors are also PG-13, showing that the two certificates don’t directly align in the category of threat). Here is a film that definitely could have done with being one certificate higher; if any movie merits the ‘sustained threat’ rubric, it was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which filled me with dread from beginning to end.

Yet the BBFC, bafflingly, claimed the threat in 10 Cloverfield Lane was purely ‘moderate’. They also assigned ‘moderate threat’ to the 12A rating to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, somewhat laughably. Those two films were not at all comparable in the fear stakes.

The IFCO, the Irish film board, rated that a 15, as well as Suicide Squad, Lights Out and Nerve 15s, and The Shallows a 12A. Looks like me and the IFCO are in closer alignment when it comes to these five films!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

10 Sexiest Female Performances in Film.

I just unleashed my inner Kevin Spacey in American Beauty / Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street. Spoiler alert: I wasn't thinking about Mena Suvari or Margot Robbie when carrying out the act.

Aaaaaaaaanyway, that line of cryptic 12A-rated innuendo (the kind of innuendo this blog specialises in) is basically the perfect gateway for me to list my top 10 sexiest female performances in movies, as both Mena and Margot grace said list. What follows are 10 ladies who, in my eyes, just oozed sex appeal in their cinematic turns. So much sex appeal that it had me questioning my preferences, in fact.

Basically this is an excuses for me to fawn over my girlcrushes, old and new. I'm a tad transparent.

10. Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch
Marilyn Monroe's character in The Seven Year Itch doesn't even have a proper name; she's just called 'The Girl', in Billy Wilder's playful comedy about a married man who's wife and son leave town he finds himself more than a little tempted when his gorgeous neighbour falls, quite literally, into his lap. 

The Girl is a role which makes the most of Marilyn Monroe’s god-given physical assets, and the scene where a gust of wind from the subway grate blows her dress is still, to this day, one of the most iconic in film.  
(I even bought a dress of my own because I thought it looked a bit like the one Marilyn wore in this film haha. I snagged a photo with Arsenal’s captain, Per Mertesacker, in it, so there you go! I have Marilyn Monroe to thank for that).

09. Eva Green, Casino Royale

Eva Green’s breakthrough role came in Martin Campbell’s reboot of the 007 franchise, and she was handed a formidable task: to play the woman who steals James Bond’s heart, and her ensuing breaking of it leads to his womanising ways. 

Green is completely up to the challenge. Her (apropos, given her surname) bewitching emerald eyes are absolutely stunning, and her natural beauty is enhanced by a cleavage-bearing wardrobe and some lines so smooth they would put the spy she seduces to shame.

08. Kristen Stewart, On the Road 
Despite the common consensus that Kristen Stewart is a terrible actress, I actually disagree. I don’t think she’s bad (that’s a descriptive that is reservec for the likes of Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne), rather, just limited in the roles she can play, but if handed one that plays to her strengths, as the part of Marylou in On the Road does, she excels (her performance in this film actually made my top 10 acting performances of 2012 list).

Here, she’s the flighty, up for it sexpot with a libertine spirit to match travelling companion and sort-of boyfriend Dean Moriarty’s (Garrett Hedlund), a car thief who has a few wives he’s casually abandoned up and down the country to go on a road trip to nowhere in particular.

The story is told from Dean’s friend Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), and it’s quite apparent he fancies the fascinating Marylou. His crush on his mate’s missus is mirrored by the audience, and the illicit boiling pot of emotions and urges makes for a fascinating, erotically charged journey with the three friends.

07. Ziyi Zhang, 2046
The sort-of-but-not-quite sequel to In the Mood for Love sees Tony Leung's Chow Mo-wan, having had his heart broken in the previous film, deciding that the best way to forget his ex is by having meaningless sex... and lots of it. 

One of these notches on his bedpost is Ziyi Zhang's Bai Ling, a flirtatious high-class call girl who's forward exterior masks inner vulnerability and, as with the vast majority of girls, a need to be loved. 

This need is not satisfied by Chow, who regards all womankind with contempt following his ordeal in In the Mood for Love. Ziyi Zhang is exceptional; the perfect illustration of a person who lets their walls down in the  misguided hope that the object of their affections will reciprocate their affections. 

The sensual 2046 has a distinctly otherwordly feel, but the emotional honesty of Ziyi's performance renders the experience a very human one. 

06. Mena Suvari, American Beauty 
Ah, the modern day Lolita.

American Beauty, Sam Mendes' masterpiece about middle-aged malaise, sits just outside of my top ten films of all-time, and is my favourite 18-rated film. It follows Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham, a sexually frustrated man trapped in a loveless marriage, has a job he despises and a teenage daughter who hates his guts.

So far, so White People Problems. But one day, attending his daughter's cheerleading recital, his head is turned by her nubile friend Angela (Mena Suvari). He soon becomes obsessed with Angela, and spends many a night fantasizing about her covered in rose petals, both a literal ('American Beauty' is a breed of rose) and metaphorical representation of the title of the film.

Mena Suvari is stunning in this film. Looks-wise, you can definitely see why a middle-aged bloke would lust after her, especially when she gets predatory around Lester. I read the script to American Beauty because I was just so enamored with Alan Ball's excellent writing in it, and the screenplay described her as 'blonde, blue-eyed, all-American girl', and to that end, Suvari certainly fits the bill. But as the film goes on, we learn that she, like Ziyi Zhang in 2046, is overcompensating for something with her coquettish behaviour. Insecurity, perhaps. Or just a desperation to feel 'special'.

I find this element of fragility in female characters fascinating. To quote Lana del Rey, 'this is what makes us girls'. American Beauty is a sensational film because whilst it has the naughty stuff, this is counterbalanced by a very astute observation that behind bold sexual exterior, Angela is still a delicate girl. 

05. Rita Hayworth, Gilda 
The second character on this list who was one of Tim Robbins' Andy's posters in his prison wall in The Shawshank Redemption!

Rita Hayworth's vampish Gilda shimmies across the stage in a wide range of figure-hugging silk dresses, her curves accentuated with shiny, bold belts. Her performance outshines ever the sparkliness of her belts, as she exudes sultry elegance in every frame. Her character is jaded, cynical and has no qualms with using and abusing any men she comes across, but one smouldering look from her and it's not hard to see why she has men going gaga for her. Her chemistry with Glenn Ford's Johnny (who, in a classic display of life imitating art, she would later bed in real life) is sizzling and their exchanges demonstrate perfectly that fine line between love, hate, and how easy it is for the two to fuse.

Game-playing  Battle of the Sexes has never looked so good.

04. Mila Kunis, Black Swan
I wasn't a huge fan of Darren Aronofsky's bloated drama Black Swan, about Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina who would do anything to get the lead in the production of Swan Lake. Her ballet instructor, played with brilliant sliminess by Vincent Cassel, tells her to become a better dancer, she needs to embrace her immoral side, pointing her in the direction of Mila Kunis' Lily.

Lily is viewed through Nina's jealous gaze, and we come to regard her in the same light as the protagonist: with a combination of envy, annoyance and morbidly curious lust. The latter comes to a fore when the two, on an ecstasy trip, make love, in one of the most erotically charged sex scenes in cinema, where at one point, Kunis, with her head between Portman's legs, looks up at her lover, and her big hazel eyes look absolutely amazing.

Building up to that scene, like Nina, are drawn to Lily, wanting to find out more about her, whilst not letting on that we've got her on our radar. The curious casting of Portman and Kunis, who don't look dissimilar, really brings out the difference in their two personalities; Nina, the obsessive-compulsive who is obsessed with getting every piece of choreography down to a T, and Lily, who is more than happy to live her life and go where the wind blows and isn't really fussed about dancing, which paradoxically, gives her dancing a quality that Nina's lacks.

Furthermore, what I thought was clever about Kunis' portrayal of Lily is that she presents her character as appearing to be a friendly, fun-loving girl, yet Nina feels completely and utterly threatened by her. Whether this discomfort towards Lily is justified, or a product of Nina's deteriorating mental condition, well, that forms much of the basis of the trippy, second-guessing vibes of Black Swan. And I've definitely been there in terms of having a girl I'm both intimidated by, yet am also in weird awe of.

Mila Kunis has been a staple on my yearly girlcrush lists. She looks incredible in every film I've seen her in (Forgetting Sarah MarshallFriends with BenefitsTed to name a few titles), but in Black Swan there's a darkness to her performance and character that elevates her sex appeal to an 11.

03. Emmanuelle Béart, Manon des Sources
In Manon des Sources, Béart's Manon has elements of Amy Dunne, in that her character is principally motivated by revenge, for the mistreatment her father received from Yves Montand's character that led him to pass before his time. But unlike Amy, she's a rather more genteel presence and ultimately, such is her natural grace and poise, that revenge doesn't consume her. 

The enchanting Manon is perved on by the dim-witted nephew of her enemy, played by Daniel Auteuil (whom Béart would marry in real life in 1993) in one scene, where she dances naked, and unlike most nude scenes in films, it's an innocuous scene, where Manon is completely at one with nature.

Emmanuelle Béart has played more sexual characters in plenty of other films, but her natural prettiness, and the slightly unusual quality to her looks made her a great fit for the role of shepherdess, and hence is my chosen entrant on this list. One would expect such a photogenetic woman to be too glamorous for such a role, but Béart sells it.

02. Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction
No list of Sexiest women in movies would be complete without the quintessential femme fatale!

20 years before Rosamund Pike bought Amy Dunne to life, Linda Fiorentino blazed the trail for conniving cows in cinema. If Ziyi Zhang and Mena Suvari's characters are summed up by the Lana del Rey song 'This is What Makes Us Girls', Fiorentino's anthem would be 'I Fucked My way Up to the Top'.

Her Bridget Gregory knows what she want and boy, does she know how to get it. Her cavalier attitude to sex is both scandalous and titillating 22 years on, never mind back in 1994, but watching her calculated sexuality is a real ride. And I'm not just talking about the all the dicks she rides.  

Her man-eating ways are epitomised in this oh-so-cool exchange, made all the more audacious given it takes place just after she's screwed her next hapless prey, thirsty Mike (Peter Berg) against a fence.

Bridget Gregory: You're my designated fuck.
Mike Swale: Designated fuck? Do they make cards for that? What if I want to be more than your designated fuck?
Bridget Gregory: Then I'll designate someone else. 


01. Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street

A blonde bombshell opened the list, so it seems only apropos that a blond bombshell closes it!

It makes sense, that in The Wolf of Wall Street, a film about excess: the excess of money, cocaine, hookers, Leonardo DiCaprio's eponymous Wolf, Jordan Belfort, should get the hottest wife.

But Margot isn't just the hottest woman in the movie. She's the hottest woman in all movies.

When Margot walked across the screen in The Wolf of Wall Street wearing nothing but stockings and stilettos, my jaw dropped; I'd never seen such an unabashed, untamed display of female sexuality on the screen before. 

Her sleek body was, and still is, the most perfect example of the female form I've ever seen. Slim waist, long, tanned legs, sun-kissed skin. Then there's the face: huge yet distinctively cat-shaped eyes, lips you could nibble on all day (her juicy lips were particularly prominent in smudged red lipstick in Suicide Squad, too)... unf. 

Margot Robbie was only 22 years old when she filmed The Wolf of Wall Street, and it was quite daring for her to bare all in her first established film role, but both she and savvy film director Martin Scorsese (my favourite film director, just so you know) knew what they was doing.

In fact, in the end, it wasn't so much a question of whether Margot could handle a full-frontal nudity scene.

The real question is whether we handle her.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Film review: DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD (Ricky Gervais, 2016)

15 years on from the BBC's mockumentary covering Britain's thirstiest boss, Brent is Back. Except, rather than back in the domain of being a Regional Manager, he's now a sales rep for Lavichem, a toiletries distributor. His heart, however, doesn't lie with tampons; he wishes to make it as a rockstar. So, impetuously and not at all financially judiciously, he cleans out his pensions fund to pay four musicians, an aspiring rapper Dom (Doc Brown, aka Ben Bailey Smith aka Zadie Smith's brother) and a sound engineer to go on tour with him as the band 'Foregone Conclusion'. A three week tour around Berkshire, to be precise.

As a big fan of the TV show, I was expecting cringe and situational comedy aplenty in David Brent: Life on the Road, and to that end, the film certainly delivers. Probably a little too much so. Brent's self-funded tour is, not surprisingly, a complete crash and burn. The four musicians can play their instruments and the sound engineer (played by Tom Basden) has experience aplenty, but no amount of aural wizardry could come close to atoning for the sheer egotism of the band's frontman.

Brent's delusions of grandeur, thinking he's singing about matters of substance (from racism, to disabled people, to the plight of the Native Americans) is toe-curdingly embarrassing. The cringe factor is compounded by his complete lack of self-awareness, and the earnest look on Brent's face as he delivers lyrics like 'they fly like an eagle, sit like a pelican' about the Native Americans. As audience numbers dwindle and Brent's sense of isolation kicks in, he actually has to pay his bandmates just to have a pint with him. It's mortifying, and where there should be laughs, we're just feeling unease.

But there's now a glossiness to David Brent: Life on the Road that betrays the films' TV roots. The film looks like a film, what with overhead tracking shots and excellent sound design (which must have been down to Gervais wanting the best possible platform to exhibit his pipes). But in having good production value, the intimate air that the TV show has been lost. And, even more of an issue, because the film uproots Brent to a new company with a new group of colleagues, you're not able to engage with them in the film's 90 or so minute running time.

For example, David Brent's only friend at Lavichem, Nigel (played by Phoneshop's Tom Bennett), admits that nobody really gets him, and hence why he and Brent gravitate towards each other. His social clumsiness make him a sitting duck for the rest of the office. It's not nice watching him get bullied, particularly as he definitely isn't an ill-meaning person, and I feel more character development on his part would have made the movie a more satisfying viewing experience.

The fact that Nigel doesn't get to come into his own and is relegated to the role of a sideshow is because this film, quite clearly, revolves around Ricky Gervais David Brent. Gervais writes, directs, stars, and, much like his cinematic counterpart, he can't stand it when the spotlight isn't on him. The fact that Gervais' most authentic acting in David Brent: Life on the Road was the scene in which  Brent jealously watches Dom, the rapper he 'befriends' (mainly as a get out of jail-free card for his un-PC jokes) rapping to the adulation of a crowd, speaks volumes.

Still, credit to the supporting players who are still able to make an impact despite their paltry screen time. Ben Bailey Smith captures the viewers emotions perfectly in terms of his reaction shots to each of Brent's misguided quips, and his rapping style is understated but incisive; the perfect foil to Brent's bloated singing style. Tom Bennett genuinely moved me as Nigel. His character has a bit of Mackenzie Crook's Gareth's zaniness, a bit of Martin Freeman's Tim's quiet compassion, as well as injecting a third element, of the overgrown schoolboy who sadly never outgrew getting picked on. And finally, Tom Basden, as Foregone Conclusion's Sound Engineer, is a dignified presence throughout the film, his low tolerance for Brent's crap gradually softening as his watches him go through degradation upon degradation. 

These three British talents are good factors that contribute to the quality of David Brent: Life on the Road. But what stops the film from achieving greatness is the sheer, unrelenting narcissism of Gervais. This was never really a film that needed to be made; The Office's co-creator, Stephen Merchant's absence on this film speaks volumes. Like Finding Dory, the superfluous sequel that should never have been made, this film is overkill.

The Office Christmas special was the perfect time to end it, because it balanced tying up story loose ends with long-suffering characters getting some well-earnt redemption. I really cared about Tim and Dawn. By the end, I'd even cared about Gareth. But I didn't care about David Brent a fraction as much as Ricky Gervais wanted me to, and tries to get you to, working overtime, in this film.

Because his affection for a character he created is not mirrored by the audience, after a while, the novelty of watching Gervais play himself wears thin.

There's a sequence in the film where David Brent pays for a photoshoot, where he goes through all the masturbatory notions of gazing into the camera in all manner of provocative poses. Brent really fancies himself a lead singer in a band.

Despite all the humiliation, the awkward silences and the tiny crowds throughout the film, it's quite clear that so does Gervais.



Here's a nerdy spot that I couldn't not flag. 

Julieta, Pedro Almodóvar's upcoming movie, is rated 15 by the BBFC for strong sex. This in itself is nothing special; several of Almodóvar's movies are a 15 for strong sex (amongst other classification issues), for example Broken Embraces and The Skin I Live In.

In fact, it's because I'm so familiar with BBFC classification issues (particularly at 15), and the rubric for them in a short insight, that when I walked past this at my local train station, I was a little surprised:

'Strong sexual content', as opposed to 'strong sex', is a distinctly American wording, one that the MPAA occasionally adopt (although they didn't for Julieta, which was an R for 'sexuality/nudity'.) So that was confusing - I thought perhaps, when constructing the film poster, the BBFC had given a 15 but no specific reason yet, so the poster designers pulled the wording from the MPAA. But apparently not.

I'm sure this phenomena - of the short insight on the poster and that given by the BBFC on their website being disparate - has occurred a few times before, but it has only come to my attention one other time, for last year's embarrassingly poorly written Tom Hardy vehicle, Legend.

Legend is an 18 for 'very strong language, strong violence'. The poster I saw for it, in Picturehouse Central, said 'strong language, violence and sex references'. I know the general gist is correct, but there's a big difference between strong ('f_ck', 'motherf_cker' and 'c_cksucker') and very strong language (cnut [with the n and the u rearranged]). So that was kind of bad they didn't get that precisely right. 

Plus, at 18, you're only supposed to list the stuff that contributed towards the 18 certificate. So the fact that there were strong sex references in Legend is correct. But the dialogue was no more crude than that in many a 15-rated film, including a recent watch of mine, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, or the Bad Neighbours series. 

The actual BBFC short insight only flags the language and the violence as the classification issues at 18. Whoever did a haphazard job constructing the Legend poster placed in Picturehouse Central may well have had a mate who saw the film, and then just wrote down the three things they thought would be an issue - the swearing, the violence and the sexual dialogue. But the latter wasn't why it was 18, the former two were. 

And the swearing was very strong, not just strong.

So if the dude was gonna make up his own BBFC short insight for Legend, he should have known the guidelines better.

Just being a pedant.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

OOTD: going to pick up A-level results with my brother

It was A-level results today, and my brother did OK. ("OK" is an understatement: he got into his first choice Uni and was singled out on two websites for his exceptional performance. But I've raved about him on several social media outlets already, so to avoid getting repetitive because I never repeat myself. Cara Delevingne was shit in Suicide Squad, by the way, I'll just display my grungy outfit!

Glasses: Red or Dead
Homer Simpson T-shirt: H&M
Cardigan: H&M

Here he is breaking the good news to mum. Why so serious mate?

Sorry, I know I just said I wasn't gonna repeat myself but... TOM ABSOLUTELY KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE PARK, YOOOOOOOO. #LIKEABOSS Could not be more proud to call myself his sister. Boy is clever, compassionate, kind, and doesn't take himself too seriously. All things I'm not.

He's gonna go far. 💯

Retrospective OOTD: my first ever cricket game at The Oval.

The cricket match, which I attended last Friday, was dull AF (I'm a football girl and a football girl only. All other sports bore me to tears), but a day spent drinking Pimm's in the sun is never a day wasted, if you ask me.

Toga: Monsoon Accessorize
Brooch: Greenwich market
Cardigan (tied around waist): H&M
Sunglasses: New Look

A few other photos I took from the day at The Oval: