Standing in its overly chic building, the trendy mod design and all too familiar Barnes and Noble feel began slowly creeping through my body. Complete with coffee shop and overpriced bindings of literature and gloss, QB World Books in Indonesia is a far cry from its more desolate locale. It was like standing in the Stockton Barnes and Nobles, which I had been just a year ago. Strangely enough, with thousands of miles in between, one glaring aspect stood out in my mind; I couldn’t afford a single thing in the building. With the exception of a cup of coffee, I made my usual browsing and proceeded to leave empty-handed. By now I’m sure the employees have my picture under the text “never buys anything” stapled to their work desks. On the way out, I was greeted with their glaring eyes and a small brochure to which I caught the words “Film Festival”. With my sleight of hand, I whisked away a copy and promptly made my exit.
The 5th Annual British Film Festival had kicked off in Jakarta and even though I never knew of a 4th, 3rd, 2nd or 1st, I had decided that I would make my presence felt at the 2002 version. Having not read the brochure properly, both my brother and I failed to purchase tickets before hand and instead had to try our luck at the box office. Unlike more prestigious North American or European film festivals, there were no celebrities, pageantry or celebration. In fact, they didn’t even have their own venue, having to share with the largest cinema chain here. I would have even settled for the Sundance Film Festival treatment. Nevertheless, perusing through this year’s selected movies, we highlighted two that appealed to us most. The two having been the Oscar-nominated Sexy Beast starring Ben Kingsley and the less known comedy-drama Purely Belter.
While waiting in line at the box office for Sexy Beast we noticed that the line was rather short. We thought that this was a sure sign of definite seats in the cinema. Until of course, one of the badly designed t-shirt wearing organizers appeared before us and informed us that they only had twelve (a dozen, one less than thirteen) tickets left for this movie. With this announcement, our attention quickly turned to those in front of us as we quickly counted heads. With lady luck happening to pass through at the time, my brother and I were number eleven and twelve respectively. With a slight sigh of relief, we secured our tickets. While other film festivals are filled lavish food, we decided that the Colonel’s humble chickenry would feed our hunger just fine.
Before they screened Sexy Beast they delighted us with short length films and so here are both of the day’s screenings written and reviewed –
To Have and to Hold (short film)
Slightly confused as to what was going on, what everyone thought was ‘Sexy Beast’ turned out to be this short film gem. Directed by John Hardwick, this short film portrays a man and woman driving through the backwoods. While their hands are clasped together, the car swerves off the road and crashes into the lining trees. When the woman awakes, she is horrified to find her friend dead in the passenger seat and her hand still firmly clasped in his. Truly a remarkable short piece as the next day or so has her trying to escape his cold dead grasp. Well shot, terrifically acted by Susanne Lothar, who manages to display the horror, fear, frustration, and desperation of this woman trapped. In thirteen minutes, this piece is able to capture some gruesome, harrowing emotions some full-length thrillers can’t in an hour and a half.
Having heard plenty of good reviews, this film was an obvious choice at this year’s British Film Festival. It truly did not disappoint. To try to describe this film, it can be said that it is a mixture of Quentin Tarantino’s finer moments with the best and bloodiest of Guy Ritchie. It tells the story of psychotic gangster Don Logan (played to perfection by Ben Kingsley) who recruits now retired Gal (the also brilliant Ray Winstone) for one final job. The fireworks fly between the raging lunatic that is Don Logan and the now more subdued Gal, the intensity in which Ben Kingsley portrays his character is outrageous and extreme. It truly defines this movie and no matter how good the rest of the cast is, Kingsley and his character steals this show. It’s intense, crazy, clever and it has all that British wit and humor that makes us wonder why it wasn’t Kingsley who gave the award-winning speech for best supporting actor. There is plenty of violence and enough cursing to fill trailer parks from Texas to Kentucky. Truly a remarkable, enjoyable and intense crime drama that is riveting, smart and dead sexy.
Before catching the movies on day two we had ventured to their drive-thru portion of the festival. Hoping to see 80’s inspired design, we were instead greeted by a gravel filled lot that had just had its grass cleared away. The projector was mounted on a wooden tower while the screen was hoisted upon a similar, but bigger structure. It’s nice to know that all their sponsor money was being put to good use.
There was another short movie shown before Purely Belter but it was so terrible that the name itself escapes me. It was an animated mess of remarkably unfunny school kids at their class disco. The organizers also tried to be entertaining before the screening as they tried a pop quiz that was mostly met with dead silence. Did you know that it’s difficult to name five James Bonds when you’ve got Kit Kat bars waiting in the wings and a studio audience staring you in the face? My brother managed to pull it off and win the chocolate; he did it while naming Roger Moore twice.
This appealing look at life in Newcastle’s football-hungry city was a nice surprise. Directed by Mark Herman, this story surrounds two young Geordie kids who try to raise a thousand pounds in order to purchase two season tickets to their favorite football club; Newcastle United. The two kids (played by Chris Beattie and Greg McLane) embark on their quest which has them pawning junk, coning people, stealing, lying, cheating and doing whatever they possibly can to secure the necessary funds. After a slow start, the movie picks up the pace as they both endure the harsh realities of their less than gifted lives and shortcomings. Its bittersweet humor and drama are well conceived and to those who are fans of Newcastle United, English football, life and humor will surely take to this movie. For American audiences, it may be little more difficult to understand and most of their eccentricities will fall upon deaf ears. There are some truly comedic lines and scenes that will captivate audiences the world over. My personal favorite being after the two kids have stolen Alan Shearer’s car and are driving through the countryside. The character Sewell is sifting through Shearer’s CD collected and lo and behold – “No Alan…not Celine friggin’ Dion”. I haven’t seen an English comedy this enjoyable in years.
When our part in the festival was over, we realized that although there were many limitations, there was hope for the future. There aren’t many opportunities for the community here to catch smaller independent films and festivals like these are currently the only option. Perhaps with a little better planning and structure, the British Film Festival may one day be able to rival some of the bigger names and more prestigious festivals, or at least that whole Sundance thing they do in Utah.
Election still wins by a landslide
Twenty years later, the black comedy Election is still a hysterical look at power grabs and the meaning of integrity. But while the film hasn’t changed, the story is completely different —and better than ever.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the incisive satire Election. Based on a Tom Perotta novel, Election tells the story of a high-school civics teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who plans to take down know-it-all student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) as she vies for school council.
The film is still hilarious — a well-liked but sad-sack teacher tries to thwart an overachiever’s bid for school president by throwing a popular football hero into the race (and, accidentally, his disaffected sister). Thematically, it’s as relevant as ever. Integrity. Meritocracy. Nihilism. Hypocrisy. Ethics versus morals.
Watching Jim and Tracy’s battle of the wits many years ago, I recall Election posing the question not just of who would win, but who should win. The audience grappled with who to root for because Tracy and Jim’s misdeeds were presented on relatively equal footing. On paper, Jim’s deeds are far more dastardly than Tracy’s, but at the time, their personalities mattered more. Reviewers painted Jim as imperfect but well intentioned, while Tracy was obnoxious. Seductive. Even an “aggressive vixen” (cough cough Roger Ebert).
But a rewatch in 2019 reveals Tracy as more of a heroine than ever — and Jim McAllister a more pathetic and mean-spirited hypocrite than he seemed 20 years ago.
Part of what fuels Jim’s disdain for Tracy is a complicated plot point—his best friend and fellow teacher, Dave Novotny, was fired because he began sleeping with her. The film (and book) mostly portray Tracy as an equal, willing participant in this relationship, even a manipulative one at that. Tracy narrates her full consent, a point likely meant to assuage viewers and readers of the 90s, but today’s (hopefully) better understanding of power dynamics have us questioning not just the claims of Tracy’s manipulation, but her ability to consent.
A clearer understanding of a troublesome sexual relationship aside, it’s also easier to champion Tracy Flick thanks to shows like Parks and Recreation, a rare mainstream hit that humanizes ambitious women. The strong parallels between Election and Parks and Recreation are obvious. In true Leslie Knope fashion, Tracy’s mother writes letters to successful women like Connie Chung, soliciting advice for her daughter. And the race between Tracy Flick and Paul Metzler—played hysterically by forgotten teen dope of the 90s Chris Klein—closely mirrors Leslie Knope’s city council race against Bobby Newport. In every one of Paul Metzler’s ditzy and excited proclamations, it’s hard not to hear Paul Rudd’s portrayal of Pawnee’s fortunate son turned political candidate. (It’s also hard not to wonder if April Ludgate was partly based off Paul’s nihilistic sister, Tammy.)
More than anything, though, what changes how we see Tracy Flick in 2019 is how we see Jim McAllister in 2019.
Twenty years ago, Jim was far more convincing as a passionate educator. Sure, he was smug and made stupid decisions and treated people poorly. But his steadfast belief in morality (skewed as his version of it was) made him more sympathetic than he deserved to be.
Jim is truly despicable, though. His obsession with thwarting Tracy’s achievements reveals precisely who he is. He is every man who had a chance to achieve and fell short. He is every man who wasted his privilege and settled for something less than great. And he is every man who has ever resented a woman for rising to where he didn’t, despite his head start.
What Jim hates more than anything is feeling bested, particularly by women. After Linda Novotny, Dave’s ex-wife, comes clean about their affair to Jim’s wife Diane, his smothering declarations of love instantly turn dark.
“Why did you do that?” he screams into Linda’s answering machine. “You ruined my life, is that what you wanted?” Later, when Linda explains their tryst was a mistake and that he took advantage of her vulnerability, his anger turns into gaslighting.
“You hugged me! You kissed me!” he whines, as though Linda didn’t promptly reject his first hamfisted advance right after her marriage fell apart. (She did.)
Much as he lectures about it, Jim has a piss-poor understanding of morality. His treatment of Tracy shows how little he cares about a grown man taking advantage of a high-school student; his scolding judgments of Dave’s relationship with her seem performative and self-important. For all the lukewarm proclamations of affection for his wife, when his infidelity is revealed, he expresses nothing more beyond an expectation to be forgiven after a waiting period. And while he wields it often, he shows no understanding of the unfair power dynamic he briefly has with Linda, a vulnerable and confused woman who relied on him for support during a difficult time.
That’s why, when Jim describes seeing Tracy silently celebrating her victory in the hallway outside his classroom, he projects his anger and clings to his version of morality.
Defending his plan to throw the vote count in Paul’s favor, he says: “The sight of Tracy at that moment affected me in a way I can’t explain.”
But we can explain it, no problem. He is filled with pitiful male rage.
After all, underachieving Jim channels his need for validation through his relationship with women — an affair with Linda, “winning” against Tracy. But Tracy only channels hers into achievements. Extracurriculars. College applications. And winning the student council election she knows she deserves. She’s never concerned with “beating” Jim McAllister because she knows just how insignificant he will be in her life. And that infuriates and enrages him, like it does with countless other men when they’re outwitted by a woman.
While the film itself obviously hasn’t changed in 20 years, this dichotomy between Tracy and Jim used to be murkier. Tracy Flick is ambitious, cutthroat, smarter than her classmates and teachers, and shrill. That used to be all you had to say to get an audience to view a female character as at least partially unsympathetic, if not an automatic antagonist.
Back in 1999, Election relied on this assumption to paint Jim’s and Tracy’s wrongdoings in a similar light.The film’s trailer pieced together snippets of Tracy’s most stick-in-the-mud soundbites and pitched the movie as the story of an “ego the size of the Grand Canyon.” And it still is, but now we’re finally asking the right question.
Whose ego is that?
Election was originally released in April of 1999.
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes