Here we go again ! Our eleventh summer season of backyard movies, and we have unashamedly settled into a routine which makes a nonsense of the great annual debate - "What is the theme for this summer's movies ?" Linda and I literally just picked 8 movies which we thought would make a good season, and then shoe-horned a tag line on top of them. Quite coincidentally, seven of this years movies have either a direct or loose musical connection, and as the eighth is both literally and symbolically very dark, we came up with - "A Little Night Music". Here is the list for your edification.
A STAR IS BORN – A straight forward musical offering to open our season. I believe the critical reaction to this movie suffered because of the big name/Lady Gaga/commercial hype circus that surrounded it. It is a very powerful remake of a familiar story, with great songs, and two intensely good central performances. Bradley Cooper should feel hard done by for his paltry return in awards season.
GREEN BOOK – On my birthday film marathon, this took the prize as best film of the day, so I was not sorry to see it get the Best Film Oscar. It would be very easy to assume this is a familiar or predictable story about overcoming racial prejudice, but the threads are much more complicated and go so much deeper than that simplistic narrative.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY – I was a little underwhelmed by this, particularly the slightly comic-book style of the biographic detail. And I have written previously about how biopic performances of idiosyncratic characters attract disproportionate praise. However, Rami Malek does a great (if not Oscar worthy) job of portraying Freddie and the concert numbers are terrific.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS – Family Film night in July brings us the familiar story of Mary Poppins, but with Emily Blunt and - as I gather from the trailers - a rather strangulated 'posh' english accent. It will have to go a long way to live up to the original and the simply vast array of excellent, familiar Sherman Brothers songs.
THE FAVOURITE – Linda's favorite film from last year, featuring our own National Treasure, the irrepressible Olivia Coleman. Having seen several of Yorgos Lanthimos' surreal and somewhat difficult movies (The Lobster, Killing Of A Sacred Deer), it was a relief that this was relatively 'normal' and very engaging. The three female leads are all excellent, and Olivia's Best Actress Oscar was well-deserved.
BLACKKKLANSMAN – This movie was picked because we really should have seen it, but we haven't yet. So I don't have too many comments, except to say that the premise is one of the weirdest real-life stories I could imagine (Black policeman goes undercover to infiltrate the KKK !) and I can't wait to see how that works in practice.
MAMMA MIA ! HERE WE GO AGAIN – So...there is a significant backstory to this. In our very first season, we tried to show the original Mamma Mia on several occasions, only to be thwarted time and time again by the weather. Ironic for a movie set on an idyllic greek island in the Mediterranean... Do not be surprised if the gods prevent us from redeeming ourselves, by bringing in a sudden downpour. After all, I hear the sequel is pretty much the same story as the first one !
ROCKETMAN – Nothing to say about this, except that we are crossing our fingers, hoping that this is out on DVD in time for our presentation... It's not in the cinemas yet, and at the time of writing, it is not even rated. However, the trailers suggest that Taron Egerton does an excellent job performing Elton's songs, making Rami Malik look a bit feeble by comparison.
So there you have it. Starting on 1st June, the best season ever - again ! Keep watching the page for more updates, and I will also be trying to write more often about other movie subjects as we go through the summer (a promise I have made before and been hopelessly unsuccessful in keeping...).
Interesting is a word often associated with faint praise and diplomatic deflection. “What do you think of my new hair cut, dear ?” “Hmm, interesting…”Yet interesting is the word that was foremost in my mind in reaction to I, Tonya on Saturday, and I am not just trying to be polite. Maybe thought-provoking is a word that can stand in for interesting. This whole movie was about different ways of looking at things.
I knew in advance that the structure of the movie would offer challenges to the nature of truth, especially around media and celebrity. But I never expected to experience such a contrast between the reality of the scenes played out on the screen in front of us, and the idea that what we were seeing might not actually be the truth - the ultimate instance being Tonya chasing her husband with a shotgun and shooting at him while calmly explaining to the camera “This never actually happened…”
If, as Churchill said, history is written by the victors, then it could feel depressing to feel that the story of the rise and fall of Tonya Harding was simply defined and handed down by a voracious, ratings-obsessed media, while Tonya’s side of things expressed here was conveniently ignored. And yet, and yet… her propensity for narcissistic self-delusion and blame avoidance casts long shadows of doubt over her version - to the extent that I even began to doubt the blacker than black depiction of a loveless mother, cruel to the point of sadism. I mean really, could anyone really be THAT bad, except in the mind of a self-serving egomaniac ?
The central question - was Tonya in on the plot, or was it all the work of Oregon's own Laurel and Hardy - her hapless husband and his dumbass buddy - was wonderfully ambiguous. Tonya’s revelation that Jeff is the culprit is very convincing, but then so were so many other things we know to be untrue.
The fact that this tapestry of doubtful truth and braggardly bluster should be so thought provoking was largely due to the excellent screenplay, but would not have succeeded without the utter conviction of the main players. Allison Janney was merciless as the vicious LaVona Harding and well deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and Margot Robbie conveyed Tonya Harding with such artfulness that I don’t know what adjectives to use - manipulative, or manipulated ? Naive, or cunning ? By the end, I truly couldn’t tell. With all the players having told their versions of the story, its too much to hope that a definitive truth will ever come out. Now, that would be interesting…
The Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan media blitz was not a huge event in the UK, so everything I know about the historical background to this story has been absorbed through popular media mentions after the fact. Which, as I understand it, makes for an interesting context through which to approach this movie.
Apparently, by allowing the characters to explain their actions to the viewers through the fourth wall, the writers challenge us to question what version of the truth we should accept. Interesting, given that the ways in which we come to learn about people – particularly celebrities – are mostly through media where objective truth is often a long way down the list of priorities. In this movie, everyone has their own version of their personal truth, and we get the chance to see several of these versions, and decide for ourselves what makes sense to us.
I know that Tonya Harding has developed a reputation as a bad apple, and I don’t know how far this movie goes to offer redemption to that reputation. I do know that it promises to be stimulating, and I also know that Allison Janney – one of my favorite actresses who plays Tonya’s mother, LaVona - won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, narrowly beating out the pet bird who sits on her shoulder for much of the movie.
As the longest day is fast approaching, we do not expect to start our presentation much before 8.30 due to the light. Please join us for what should be a thought provoking movie.
I cannot talk about our presentation on Saturday evening without thanking everyone for a great turn out and making it a great evening. It’s very nice to receive so many compliments about our new patio, but it also makes us feel just a little bit smug. We’re very pleased with how it turned out, so to get so much validation from others is very pleasing. As Linda says, expect ‘Party Patio’ to be party central this summer…
I got something like a similar feeling of validation with The Greatest Showman. On first viewing last December, I had felt that the tale of a great showman who used fakery, bluster and larger than life spectacle to engage with his audience had delivered just that - an experience that was just a bit too big, fantastical and slick to have a genuine heart - hence, I called it ‘artificial’.
I admit that my second viewing was rather distracted by the prospect of thunderstorms in the air, and spent some time anxiously watching the distant flashes in the sky. We’d taken an ultimately successful gamble on the weather forecast, and perhaps with practice we are developing a keenness on how to interpret Accuweather’s radar. However, that did not fully account for the lack of chemistry I felt between me and the happenings on the screen.
As I tried to account for my personal disconnection, I realized that the individual elements that made up the movie were all very good indeed. The songs were all excellent, extremely emotive. The dancing set pieces were first class, full of the exotic and the spectacular, and the story moved along at a reasonable pace.
Then I realized that the one element which was ‘off’ for me was the emotion. It seemed obvious that a lot of engineering had gone into the building blocks of the movie - the songs were anthemic when they needed to be, then poignant and moving, or sentimental at just the right moment in the plot. In fact, considering this and the choreography, I am left with the feeling that the ‘emotional engineering’ is on display just too much. It wasn’t just the lightning in the sky that got in the way, it was the sense that the emotional path had been carefully plotted in a writer’s room rather than emerging organically from the performance that got in the way - for me - of a truly emotional reaction to what was on the screen. And coming full circle, for me the movie trades in the bombast and emotional manipulation which gave the real P.T. Barnum his success. Ironic, huh ?
There’s lots to like here, don’t get me wrong. This is a movie to admire, like a fantastic piece of civil engineering. But like the many new skyscrapers in Manhattan, I stand to be impressed - but for me, it’s not a movie to fall in love with.
Postscript: Just to reinforce the emotional message, compare this stirring live performance of This Is Me by Keala Settle on the BBC's Graham Norton Show.
Roll up, Roll up ! The countdown has begun ! Just one more week until the curtain goes up on our new season, with all the razzamatazz of the circus. The Greatest Showman is a musical biopic of P.T. Barnum, probably the first - and certainly one of the most outrageous - showman of the modern era. Barnum is often described rather politely using terms like ‘larger than life’ and ‘mesmerizing’, though his name has also been used for a psychological phenomenon called ‘The Barnum Effect’, used to con people into believing in false supernatural claims.
One man’s showman might be another man’s conman, but here the shadyness is sanitized, and the story is mostly heroic - of dreams, ambitions, love and overcoming all the odds – all set to soaring tunes and acrobatic dance moves.
Having seen this on my birthday adventure and formed a view, I will reserve my full opinion until the review, and after a second viewing. I do remember being impressed with the musical elements, and the song ‘This Is Me’ was my choice for Best Original song at the Oscars. I’m sure if you love musical theater, you will really enjoy this.
On a separate note, those returning for yet another year will hopefully be surprised and hopefully excited to see our remodeled backyard. We’re really pleased with how it looks, and the number of variations it offers for showing the movies as well as our wide open yard.
Look for more movie posts this summer than normal on this blog, and please join us on Saturday 2nd June for The Greatest Showman !
So finally, after a steady flow of hints and clues, the time has come to announce the theme for our 10th Anniversary season, and with it the movies we are showing this year. There was actually a good reason for having our little detour down memory lane. It wasn't just an indulgent self-congratulation, but a timely reminder of the various themes we have chosen over the years - precisely because those themes provide the inspiration for this year's program. To celebrate our tenth season, we have picked one new, previously unscreened movie to fit each of the previous nine themes - that's one musical, one travel, one food...etc, etc...you get the picture. When we thought about it, it seemed a very fitting way to celebrate ten years, and then when we picked the movies we realised it allowed us to provide what is without doubt the best line-up we've ever had (with only one slight bit of artistic license to fit the theme...)
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – I always defer to Linda on the subject of musicals, and given her HUGE crush on Hugh Jackman, this was an inevitable choice for this category. We saw this on my birthday bash, and although I thought it was a little forced, I can see this being a staple of amateur dramatics for many years to come, and I honestly thought the 'This Is Me' should have won the Oscar for Best Song. Great singing, great dancing and a typical musical theatre book, this is a very worthy start to our season.
I, TONYA – So this is potentially a very divisive choice, since I understand that there is still a lot of resentment for Tonya Harding out there. But by all accounts this is as much an exploration on the nature of truth in a media age (hugely relevant in this day and age !) as it is about ice skating and crowbars. And of course, not only was Margot Robbie nominated for Best Actress, but the wonderful Allison Janney, took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES
BABY DRIVER – Choosing my words carefully, I announce that this was my favorite movie of 2018. Whilst I accept 3 Billboards and others were probably better movies cinematically, I got the biggest smile on my face from this one, and have already seen it twice. I can honestly say I have never seen a movie with a better use of soundtrack songs integrated into the action, only Moulin Rouge comes close and that was a straight up musical. I can't wait to share this with you. Whatever you do, don't arrive late and miss the stunning opening credits.
COCO – So this is our stretch theme (Food - Coco - geddit ?) This will be a special evening, as we are showing this on Sunday 8th July. We will have family and friends from England staying with us, AND we will make this our Family Night Special and will do something with ice cream for the kids. Oh, and of course this won Oscars for Best Animated Movie and Best Song. Not a bad choice, and worth the sleight of theme...
MOVIES ABOUT MOVIES
FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL – Probably the least well known of our season, this is the true story of actress Gloria Grahame, and her last days living through her illness with her ex-lover and his family in Liverpool. Starring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in the main roles, the movie has a host of important English actors, including Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Walters. If you don't know the intriguing story of Grahame's life and death, this should be a very interesting watch.
RED SPARROW – I love Jennifer Lawrence, and will watch her in anything. Apparently, in this movie we get to see a lot more of Jennifer than we have ever seen before. There has been some controversy about the sexually exploitative nature of the plot, particularly in light of the growing #MeToo movement. But the New York Times film critic describes the movie as "preposterously entertaining" and says of Jennifer "like all great stars, [Lawrence] can slip into a role as if sliding into another skin, unburdened by hesitation or self-doubt."
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
DARKEST HOUR – So, decision time - which Dunkirk bio-pic movie to show ? We went for The Darkest Hour - partly because Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk deserves to be seen on a huge IMAX screen with a super duper sound system, not through a conference room projector - but mainly because having seen this on my birthday bash, we both thought Gary Oldman's performance was outstanding, and not just because of the prosthetic makeup. Character driven rather than action driven, this does a great job of generating the fear and tension that must have been prevalent in England at one of our darkest moments.
GIRLS ON FILM
LADY BIRD – So if 3 Billboards was my 'best' movie of 2018, and Baby Driver was my 'favourite' movie of the year, this fits squarely between the two. I really enjoyed everything about this, especially the relationship between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe's mother and daughter, but above all, Ronan's performance is outstanding. And while I hoped beyond hope that she would get the Oscar, we all knew it would be Frances McDormand's year. After this, and her performance in Brooklyn, its only a matter of time before she gets the reward she deserves.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
THE SHAPE OF WATER – And we finish the summer with the Best Movie winner of 2018. I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed by this on first showing, but I am looking forward to another viewing, where I can concentrate on the cinematic quality rather than the story. To my understanding, while it is still fantastical, the story is more mainstream than most Del Toro movies, and is rightly described as mesmerizing. It also stars Michael Shannon as the baddie, who is on my list of 'actors who must be watched in everything they do'.
So there you have it. Starting on 2nd June, the best season ever ! Keep watching the page for more updates, and I will also be trying to write more often about other movie subjects as we go through the summer (a promise I have made before and been hopelessly unsuccessful in keeping...).
Now that the 2018 fridge magnets have arrived (and they look great !), I’m anxious to announce our summer program. But there are still a number of years to revisit in our stroll down memory lane. So this is going to be a bumper edition of ‘The Way We Were’ with some pictures thrown in for good measure.
Back in 2010, we attempted our first fully thematic season of Sports, rather than simply picking a genre. Trailers and fridge magnets were still some way in the future, and we struggled badly with the weather. The special screening of Happy Feet - namely the green-tinged and cracked Antarctic landscape - convinced me that we needed a new projector. But the undoubted ‘high’ point (chuckle!) was my introduction to that American classic Caddyshack. Much loved by so many, I honestly and objectively judged it to be one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Read my apologia here.
2012 was the first year of the season trailer. Using Microsoft MovieMaker and some low resolution film clips, I drove Thomas (and to some extent myself) insane with the constant repetition of Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly With Me’ as I strove to get the opening sequence correct. However I was particularly proud of the Pearl and Dean-like FAFC animation I created. So proud, I never used it again...
2013 was the year we discovered how to program the season. With so many great recent movies to choose from, the theme of Movies about Movies picked itself. We were able to include many recent Oscar winners, including The Artist, Argo, Hugo and My Week with Marilyn, as well as Linda’s special choice, Les Miserables. Surprisingly for a season about movies, I did not produce my own movie trailer…
In 2014 we struggled to find enough choices to complete the theme of Colours, as evidenced by our stretching of the colors concept to include ‘sunshine’ and ‘dark’. The very fine Blue Jasmine opened the season and was probably the best movie of the summer, although both The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Silver Linings Playbook were also well received, as were Laurie’s Crabby Snacks as accompaniment to the latter. I was also inspired to produce the longest trailer ever…
Its nice to look back over the years, from our very humble origins to where we are ten years later, and be proud of what we achieved. For example, the evolution of our screen from lashed together door trim to the cinema-like offering of today.
As previously mentioned, the tradition of bringing food along really began in 2011 with our Food, Glorious Food season. The highpoint of that season was the pie contest for Waitress. We really do not expect people to bring food, but it is always welcome. Many thanks.
So we will go on making memories for at least one more summer. Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years, our regulars and the not so regulars, everyone who has ever helped make popcorn, or stacked chairs at the end of the evening. And with a breath of excitement, I will tell you that I intend to publish this year's program over the weekend. And Linda and I think this year, fittingly, has the best line-up of our ten year history !!
Continuing our stroll down memory lane, let's take a look at a couple more summers.
2010 - ‘Food, Glorious Food’ was - for obvious reasons - one of our favorite seasons, and started a new trend on Saturday evenings.
It was also probably the last time that we chose the theme before we chose the movies, and researched hard to find a fitting set of movies. ‘Julie & Julia’ was probably the only automatic choice, but we did unearth some gems like ‘Big Night’ (which contains one of my now favorite ever movie scenes), ‘Chocolat’ and, of course, ‘Waitress’ with the fantastic Kerry Russell, which has since become a Broadway musical. Waitress was also the highpoint of the new trend that began that summer, of bringing along food to match the movies. I can’t remember everything we did, but it included Nancy’s sublime slow cooked short ribs for openers with Julie & Julia, burgers with Amy’s ratatouille relish for Ratatouille, meatball subs with Big Night and a chocolate fountain for Chocolat. Finally, we rounded the season off with a legendary pie competition for Waitress. I was so inspired by the food season that I actually made two mini movies…
By 2016 we were in our stride, and I had now got a Mac Mini. Everything FAFC-wise was at a new level, Girls On Film was our theme and Duran Duran provided not only the theme for the season, but also the design inspiration for our fridge magnet and the soundtrack for my mini movie. The films were pretty good too, with Oscar recognition for ‘Carol’, ‘The Danish Girl’, ‘Still Alice’ and the surprisingly good ‘Her’. And one of my best promos...
2009 was a momentous year by any standard. The first ever Black President of the United States was sworn in, ushering in a new era of hope for many people. However, the idea of a that shining new future was still dulled by the long shadow of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, as the world struggled with economic recession and job losses.
And in the dark summer of 2009, while we all feared H1N1 swine flu, and mourned the death of the King of Pop, a little brightness was shone into the world from the projector lamp in our backyard. Back in 2009, armed only with a bedsheet, some door trim, a borrowed projector and a guitar amp, Folly Avenue Film Club brought moving images to life under the stars, and a grand tradition - nay, a movement - was born. 10 years later, we come together to celebrate a decade of popcorn, dewy grass, mosquito bites, loud frogs and some of the best movie watching experiences one can imagine.
Over the last 9 years, our little cinematic gathering has evolved at a rate which would even make Darwin proud. Advanced projection systems, hi fi quality sound, top quality catering are all things to which we still aspire unfortunately, but we have come a very long way, and become organised in a way only my wife could have been responsible for. And we have enjoyed every last little moment of what we have put together.
There are two things that have made the last nine years such a pleasure to have experienced. The first, and most important is people. We have had different sets of ‘regulars’ at different times, reflecting the passage of time and the inevitable changes in people’s lives. Jobs take people away, babies make it difficult for new parents to get out at night, but for the new friendships we have forged and the socials bonds that we have strengthened through love of movies, we are so grateful.
The second - and also most important - element are the movies themselves. As you should know, every summer our movies are loosely herded into a theme. Over the years we have progressed from selecting a theme which allowed us to spotlight a deserving group of movies, to basically picking the best movies from the previous couple of years, and inelegantly bolting a label on them. This rather crude method has been hugely successful, and in recent years we have had the best possible seasons.
Before we announce the theme for our celebratory tenth season of Folly Avenue Film Club, we thought we would take a little stroll down memory lane. Over the next couple of weeks, we will revisit some of our previous seasons, hopefully stirring up some memories, and whetting the appetite for our new line-up.
In 2009, with our modest technical set-up, we put together a program of our favorite musicals, including Moulin Rouge, Chicago and of course - the best musical movie of all time - Singin’ In The Rain. We learned an early lesson in 2009 that outdoor activities necesitate close attention to the weather. A number of nights were washed out by rain and we STILL haven’t shown Mamma Mia !
By 2015, we were in our stride. Our movie selection policy had matured, and our mastery of the presentation side had expanded to include pre-show trailers and even promotional videos. Here is something I put together to promote and celebrate the theme of ‘Based on a True Story’.
Stay tuned for more journeys down memory lane and some other movie related posts as we build towards Summer 2018, and the announcement of this year’s theme.
So first of all, apologies for the last minute rescheduling of our recent movie The Light Between Oceans. We obviously were tempting fate by having a season with a water theme, because this is the second time we have been rained out. Having said that, we were pleasantly surprised by how many people were able to show up on a Sunday night, particularly our neighbours from Princeton Farms. Thank you for turning out - it gave us pause to think whether Sunday might be a better choice for people. We’re going to stick with the schedule we have for now, but if we have another postponement we’ll probably try this again.
As for the movie…if last week’s Promised Land was noticeably lacking in water, then The Light Between Oceans made up for it in spades - and buckets. A windswept rock called Janus Rock, storms a-plenty, boats adrift – lots of climate, but perhaps sadly lacking in atmosphere. The story is unfortunately very workman-like. After losing two infants through miscarriage, the couple at the centre of the story, Tom and Isobel Sherbourne (played by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) find a baby adrift in a rowboat. The isolation of their lighthouse home allows them to pass it off as their own, until they come across the grieving mother whose husband and baby was lost at sea. Tom Sherbourne, racked with guilt, leaves her clues to the baby’s origin until the deception is uncovered, and he is jailed. The baby-now-child is returned to her family, and everyone lives unhappily ever after.
I’m being a bit cynical about the plot, because in all honesty by the end of the movie I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, and what should have been an emotional payoff was rather limp. Rachel Weisz, who plays Hannah Roennfeldt – the baby’s birth mother – delivers a rather confusing performance which includes a ‘wisdom of Solomon’ moment when she is prepared to give up her daughter for the common good – this comes completely out of nowhere, with hardly any justification. The coda of ’20 Years later’ – Isobel’s death and the grown Lucy-Grace’s visit to a still stoic Tom seems like a rushed afterthought, and not as profound as it was probably meant to be.
Probably unfairly, I had misgivings that the original book might be of a certain type – a genre dominated by the likes of Nicholas Sparks, producing movies which tend to be saccharine-laced and contrived. The contrivance was certainly on show, but I would probably have enjoyed any kind of artificial flavoring, if it only it provided something more tasty to remember…