popcorn in white bowl

What I Watched: April 2023

With no theme, I thought this month would just involve a lot of Castle bingeing (which it did), but a road trip holiday also meant a lot of movies.

The Banshees of Inisherin
This was such a sad and beautiful film. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, and starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, it follows two friends living on a (fictional) island off the coast of Ireland. Farrell received a lot of praise for his performance, as did the rest of the cast, and rightly so. They all do a superb job with thoughtfully written characters. Yet no matter how well written, in the hands of another actor, Farrell’s role (Pádraic) could easily have come across as irritating or exasperating – after all, that’s how the folks on Inisherin often feel about him. But Farrell gives him a vulnerability and sweetness, and a surprising tenacity, that makes your heart bleed. Similarly, Gleeson’s surly Colm could easily have been unlikeable, but you can’t help growing fond of him too, even as you silently berate him for rebuffing Pádraic. Farrell has always been expert at juggling blockbusters and popcorn movies with smaller, interesting, and even offbeat films and roles – in fact, I’d say he does a better job picking the latter.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover
I’ve long wanted to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and it’s been on my shelf for a long time. This new adaptation prompted me to finally read it. I watched the film afterwards and it’s a pretty faithful adaptation; and the performances by Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell as Connie Chatterley and Oliver Mellors are excellent. Simple yet standout scenes from the book make it in, which pleased me, but while the couple’s relationship is beautifully brought to life, it’s a lot more difficult to convey the many philosophical reflections and social commentary reeling through Lawrence’s work in a two-hour movie. Read, then watch.

A rough and bleak look into the lives of a group of teenagers living in the Mexico City slums, this film is directed by Gael García Bernal. I’ve watched a lot of his work as an actor, but must admit I didn’t know he directed as well. I was completely absorbed by this tale of teen protagonists trying to escape their home turf and this is in large part due to an exceptional cast of young actors who beautifully bring across all the reckless zeal, vulnerability, and confusion of their youth.

The Menu
Anya Taylor-Joy, and the film being about food, drew me to The Menu. And I loved it and her in it. It also stars Nicholas Hoult as a pompous foodie and Ralph Fiennes as a high-end chef. They are equally fantastic, as are Janet McTeer as an acerbic food critic and John Leguizamo as a faded movie star. And then there’s Hong Chau as Elsa in a performance so dry, she’s used as kindling to ignite a lot of the brilliantly crazy shit that does down. She is truly a marvel. Dark, funny, clever, and surprising, The Menu employs one of my favourite plot devices: confining the action to one setting. In this case, it’s an über-fancy restaurant that’s so fancy schmancy it’s located on a private island. The funny thing is, about twenty years ago, I appeared in a play, written by a friend, that had a very similar story…although, a much darker ending…

Assault on Precinct 13
A very typical, early noughties action thriller, I was very entertained by this remake of the 1976 movie (which I haven’t seen). Choosing to watch it was also prompted by an actor – this time, Ethan Hawke. It also stars the very awesome Laurence Fishburne who is as coolly awesome as ever. The end had a bit of a twist that I did not see coming, but when you think about it afterwards is actually super obvious.

Judas and the Black Messiah
Yet another film I watched for its cast, this time for Daniel Kaluuya (who really is a great actor but is also such a vibe during interviews, evidence below) and Jesse Plemons. Respectively they play the Black Panther’s Chicago chapter leader Fred Hampton and FBI agent Roy Mitchell. However, the story centres on FBI informant Bill O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield. He gives a great performance and the story does try to provide background and context to O’Neal’s actions, which acted as a catalyst in Hampton’s assassination. But ultimately the film seems to have little sympathy for O’Neal, no matter how conflicted. If there was any doubt, just read the movie’s title again.

Romancing the Stone
This action-adventure feels somehow older than something released in the 1980s. But its silly premise and predictable outcome set it firmly in that decade and it’s an entertaining, rollicking romp, the likes of which are no longer made. When I worked in a video store this, and its sequel Jewel of the Nile, sat on the adventure shelf for years and yet it took me all this time to watch. I have, however, watched a lot of Michael Douglas movies, but don’t recall ever seeing him in a role like this. It was fun seeing this different side to his acting, with his charm being charming instead of smarmy. Kathleen Turner is equally, but differently, charming and has great chemistry with Douglas. Danny DeVito is classic DeVito, riffing delightfully with every actor he encounters.

Seasons 3 and 4
More of the same, which as I said before, is exactly what I want from this show. Towards the end of season 3, it got a bit gritty as it returned to the mystery of Beckett’s mother’s murder. The comfort lies in knowing that come season 5, they’ll course-correct to the light-hearted, episodic nature of the show. Early noughties’ shows did this course-correcting well. At the turn of the century, viewers were expecting more from television. But episodic shows were still going strong and when you offer audiences this kind of show, they get hooked on the formula and want writers to stick to it. Yet, while expecting the story and characters to stay the same, the audience still wants to see things moving and improving – hence the seasonal arcs (or in Castle, what appears to be a series-wide arc). It takes great skill to grow your characters yet keep them standing still. It’s a total contradiction in terms, but Castle does it well (House is another show that smartly and skillfully maneuvered this balance). It’s also thanks to great actors.

Nathan Fillion’s Castle is showing tenderness and even maturity while retaining the silly, snarky, child-like side that makes us love him; while Esposito and Ryan progress further from interchangeable sidekicks to distinguishable characters. Beckett doesn’t really change, but she goes through a bunch of stuff thanks to being shot through the heart, and Katic pulls it off well – anxious, troubled, and confused, but without relying on melodrama to relay it all. Oh, and Beckett totally did have a boyfriend, a fact that completely escaped me until the end of season 3 – which just goes to show how inconsequential a character he was and that no one was supposed to care about him (or, in my case, notice – even though he is played by the very likeable and easy-on-the-eye Victor Webster) because we all know Castle and Beckett will land up together.

Jewel of the Nile
The sequel to Romancing the Stone, this movie’s even more rollicking and ridiculous, so much so that I couldn’t stop giggling through most of it. It’s still a ton of fun and Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are as charming as ever. And, fun fact: South African musician Hugh Masekela is behind one of the film’s tracks.

Image credit.

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