When it comes to movies and their quality, there are no real definitive answers. A film that I love is one that you may hate and vice versa… there is, of course, an exception to this statement. Namely, if you answer “What is the greatest movie of all time” with any movie other than “Citizen Kane”, you are factually inaccurate in the eyes of everyone who would bother to ask that question and will probably be stoned in the streets.
Shirley Jackson is perhaps best known as the author of the book The Haunting of Hill House, a book that’s been adapted multiple times into films (both a beloved 1963 version and a reviled 1999 version) and into the recent hit Netflix series. She has been named as an influence on authors like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman among a slew of others. Her work has stood the test of time and now at last we have a biopic about her. The biopic happens to be a genre I’m not exactly fond of because usually they are all very similar… which is why an exception like Shirley is much appreciated.
Racial injustice is a topic that never ever makes anything controversial or hard to talk about. Never, I never ever go “oh how do I open this review” when I watch any film about racial justice because surely it is a non-controversial topic that I can never say anything wrong about, right? Of course not, that’s impossible but yes today I’m reviewing a movie, specifically Just Mercy, that does that thing where it tries to remind people “Hey, the justice system as it currently exists has a horrific problem regarding race that disproportionately affects people of colour and it would be great if someone would do something about that” because apparently that’s a thing we still need to be reminded of in the year 2020 because some mouthbreathers don’t seem to realise that there’s this big horrific problem so maybe they’ll pay attention if they hear it from Jamie Foxx, Michael B Jordan and Brie Larson in a legal drama… and a really good legal drama, like one of the best I’ve seen in a while.
In 2005, chemical company DuPont was fined $16.5 million by the EPA for, essentially, poisoning the water supply of a town with Perfluorooctanoic Acid, a chemical used to create teflon. They were forced to pay this, along with several other settlements with people who they poisoned, thanks to a civil suit filed by Robert Bilott way back in 1999. The full scope of the poisoning and what it did to the people affected by it wouldn’t be known for years and the entire story is one of negligence and capitalism run rampant in a story we’ve heard time and time again, told in the film Dark Waters with a passion that cannot be denied.
The last time I got to see a film in a cinema was the 21st of March when I went to see Onward. Even back then I kind of knew that I wouldn’t be walking into a cinema for a while but no way could I have known it would be a little over 3 months. In that time we’ve watched as film after film has been pushed back to be released either in the latter half of this year or sometime in 2021, if not just sent straight to digital streaming where they probably should’ve gone in the first place (Hello Artemis Fowl) and I was left to wonder just what would be the first film I saw when the cinemas would reopen. Well, they finally opened my local up again and to the shock of no one, the pickings are slim so I decided to dive into a big theme of this year in cinema… “Hey, what’re the Avengers cast doing to follow up Endgame?”. Well, technically this film was made BEFORE Endgame but still, I figured seeing Dr Strange, Spiderman, Beast and Zod running around in period outfits and arguing about electricity would be a fairly good time and I almost got what I expected, so that’s nice.
In 1960 at 8230 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, a little bookstore named Book Circus opened up. Loaded with hardcore gay pornography, the store managed to keep the doors open until 1982 when Barry Mason found out that the store was in trouble and wound up buying it. One brief name change later and the little porno store owned by a cocaine addict would turn into the mom and pop shop Circus of Books, still dealing in gay pornography and run by a former special effects engineer and a heavily religious journalist. It would become one of the most important hotspots in gay culture and would be there for a lot of essential moments in queer history. This documentary tells that story through the eyes of the daughter of Barry and his wife Karen and it tells it beautifully.
In 2017, Anthony McCarten wrote The Pope as a stage play. Sadly I don’t know who was in it originally (and god damn it’s impossible to find out any details of that 2017 production even though I know it existed!) but it was apparently clear to everyone from the jump that this little biographic play about the old pope and the new pope having a lengthy conversation was destined to become a movie. It was also pretty obvious to everyone that Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce were the guys who should take the lead. In Netflix’s bid to try and get an Oscar for Best Picture, they bought the rights and produced the movie version, probably figuring that the last three things Anthony McCarten wrote (Theory of Everything, Darkest Hourand Bohemian Rhapsody) all ended up with Best Picture nods so if they had him adapt his own stage play then it might happen again… it didn’t, cos this isn’t a best picture nominee, but the film is still pretty damn good.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood never made the journey down to the shores of Australia. As far as I am personally aware, as much as I can tell from my research, none of the 912 episodes of the PBS program ever aired on any of the networks that were broadcasting in Australia at any point during its incredibly long run. This period of time when Mister Rogers was inviting the children of America to visit him in his neighborhood started long before my life began, and ended in the 2000’s without me ever once being able to sit down and see the legendarily kind man walk into his home and change from a work jacket and work shoes into a red jumper and pair of comfortable sneakers.
True History of the Kelly Gang is a lie. It’s a work of fiction based upon the novel of the same name written by Peter Carey. The original novel pretends to be a journal written by the real Ned Kelly but is a highly fictionalised version of the story. Claiming to be told by Kelly to his daughter, the book spins a yarn about one of Australia’s most infamous historical figures. Adapting it to a movie is certainly not something to be taken lightly, a story about a real figure that is full of lies meant to try and reveal a greater truth about the man is not easy to translate to film. Clearly, it’s not easy at all because the film doesn’t work as well as I wanted it to.
If I had to put a label on it, I’m what you might call a leftist, I believe in a lot of left-wing causes, particularly in regards to things like LGBTQIA+ rights and the rights of other minority groups and like all good left-wingers I hate Fox News. I hate them, I hate everything about them. I really hate Rupert Murdoch and have since before he scarpered off to become a US citizen and help to change the news landscape forever by taking what he had already done with the Australian and British news media and turned it up to 11. Why am I opening with this? Simple, I need you to know my biases before we go on. I need you to be aware of where my head was when I walked into this movie. I always do my best to walk in with an open mind on just about everything I review but there are times when I know there’s a bias that will in some way alter my judgement. Being impartial in regards to a film is a pipe dream anyway, there is no such thing as an impartial review. If you want a review that doesn’t in some way reflect the politics and beliefs of the author… well, you don’t actually want a review, what you want is a plot synopsis written by the studio itself. This film is a political film that deals with a political company and a political issue, therefore the viewers politics will shape on some level how you view the film and it would be a fools errand to pretend otherwise. Please note that this does not mean I want to be involved in a political debate, not only because I’m exhausted with those (It’s 2020, aren’t we all exhausted?) but because even if you somehow changed my mind right now that would not impact my mindset walking into this film which is why I’m bringing it up at all. I’d rather just get all that out in the open now so you can consider it when you read what follows and how much of it you feel would be relevant to you. Oh, one more tiny bit of bias… I’m sincerely happy that Roger Ailes is dead and by the time you finish watching this movie, you’ll probably feel the same way I do.