How To Build A Girl

A fuck-yeah coming-of-age based on Caitlin Moran’s memoir of being a teenage music critic.

A movie about self-discovery, self-invention, self-destruction, self-reflection, and self-reinvention. Johanna from Wolverhampton becomes rock diva take-down artist Dolly Wilde, providing for her broke-ass family and making a new identity for herself. It makes her bold, it makes her sexy, it makes her adventurous. But is it making her a good person?

A film about learning to speak out, but remembering to use your own voice when you do.

Proxima

Proxima is a film about the relationship between an astronaut and her daughter. Unlike most movies about space and astronauts, it focuses almost entirely on the training and preparation for going into space, which is gruelling. The main character’s journey as she prepares to leave Earth is mirrored in the emotional journey as she prepares to leave her daughter.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it had a more ponderous pace than I expected. It is very grounded in the daily grind of training, of the work you have to put in, and can’t skip or montage your way out of. Similarly motherhood has no skips and so much is just being there every day, putting in the emotional labour.

Less pew-pew, more sweat and tears.

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Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai is a nail-bitingly tense dramatisation of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Now, my main concern about this movie was this that it was going to be a It Shouldn’t Happen To A White Guy movie. This is when a movie is made about an event that affected the lives of hundreds of people of colour, but the movie follows the one white guy who lives through it. Luckily this was not the case. A handful of white people have lines and only two could be said to be major characters. The main character is Arjun, the hero of the piece, a sikh waiter who stays behind to save the guests of the hotel, at risk to his own life.

This is something that I hadn’t really grasped at the time in 2008. The hotel staff were initially able to escape as the attackers at first were not aware of the staff stairways, exits and entrances. Many staff in fact stayed behind voluntarily in order to clear the guests out the hotel. Many of them paid for this with their life. Over half the casualties inside the hotel were staff members.

This film is brutal and intense. I had to decompress for a bit after seeing it. But it isn’t a film that comes off as exploitative or gratuitous, but a film that genuinely attempts to pay tribute to the bravery and heroism of the Taj Hotel staff. 

Yuli

A biopic of dancer and choreographer Carlos Acosta. Such a beautiful film. It tells his life and journey alongside the actual Carlos Acosta dancing and directing his own pieces based on each period in his life. I just loved this mode of storytelling because with each struggle, you are seeing the actual outcome that they’re fighting for. Dance is not an abstract, it’s there for you to see what he achieved.

A big theme in this film is dislocation. Geographically, because he grew up in Cuba but had to travel the world to get his education. Socially, because his family struggle by in poverty but he ends up in a relatively privileged position living in London. And also within the family bonds, as the son struggles with the life that his father has chosen for him, a path he would not have picked but which has had undeniable benefits.

Race is also a big theme throughout the movie. His father pushes him so hard because he wants to see Carlos break down barriers, which he does. He becomes the first black dancer to play lead in a number of roles, including Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. If that doesn’t sound like much, Carlos himself is biracial, and one incident in the film shows his mother’s family emigrating to America and offering to take her and her light-skinned daughter, but not her 2 children that have inherited their father’s dark skin. So for Carlos to play Romeo and kiss a white woman on stage and have everyone applaud is kind of a big deal.

Having just seen White Crow last night, it was a refreshing change in Yuli to see a dancer who was not driven, not ambitious, not consumed with a need to dance. As a child he shirks and bunks off and rebels. It is the decisions and sacrafices of others who put him in dance school and it is only once he is there, alone without family or friends, that dance becomes all he has.

After Yuli, Girl and White Crow, one thing I’ve learned about ballet is that to be good at it, it must destroy the rest of your life. Everyone in ballet needs to chill.

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The Public

The Public is an American movie about homeless people occupying a public library one night during winter. Before the occupation starts, the depiction of what it’s like to work in a library is TOO TRUTH. Defo recognisable to anyone who’s worked in one.

The occupation starts out of humanitarian need, but becomes politicised during the city’s mayoral race. It’s lead by Michael K. Williams (that’s Omar from The Wire to you and me) and aided by the librarian, played by Emilio Estavez, who also wrote and directed the movie. Despite an A-list cast including Jeffrey Wright and Alex Baldwin, the performances are flat and feel fake. It also doesn’t help that almost nothing that happens makes sense. The librarian spends the evening negotiating with the police despite not having any leverage. No one is armed, no one is a hostage, this is exactly the time when the polis just boot fuck out you and drag you outside. Like every American movie with an explicit left-wing political message, it’s heavy-handed and overly long. 

Tell It To The Bees

You wouldn’t think you could make a lesbian love story set in 1950s Scotland boring, but somehow Tell It To The Bees manages it. And this is me, someone who could like nothing more than queer women in period dress in raunchy sex scenes. And yet.

And what is meant to be a sexy love story, it is punctuated by the most awful scenes of sexual violence, from a woman forced to watch her lover gangraped in front of her, to a woman being held down and have a forcible abortion performed against her will for carrying a mixed race child, to a woman struggling to fend off a beating and rape while her child hammers on the door to stop it.

I’d give it a miss.

The Vanishing

A movie based on the Flannan Isle Mystery. It has a 3 scene cameo from my favourite pencil-necked, blue-eyed psychopath Soren Malling, which almost steals the show for understated ratcheting of tension. Much in the same vein as Shallow Grave and A Simple Plan, it has an element of conflict injected into a tight group, and everything falls to shit.

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Nae Pasaran

Just out of Nae Pasaran, which would have brought a tear tae a glass een. A documentary about the East Kilbride workers who refused to service or ship the engines used by the planes of the Chilean dictatorship during the 70s. Their legacy is examined in first-hand accounts of surviving political prisoners who recount what news of acts of solidarity did for them during their internment and torture, including the discovery that some were even set free and given refuge in the UK in return for the prospect of gaining the engines.

The heroes that you walk past and don’t even know! A group of auld men from East Kilbride that you’d pass by on the bus, and their actions saved countless lives. At the start of the coup, the military dictatorship had two-dozen planes in the air, all armed with machine guns and missile launchers. Five years later they had 3, and those were in such a precarious state that they could only sent out on essential missions, as any damage could not be effectively repaired. That’s 5 years of taking nearly two-dozen planes out the air that had the capacity to slaughter countless people.

This film manages to strike the balance of being about both collectivism and individual contribution. The East Kilbride workers are modest, and although they describe starting the action in solidarity with the people of Chile, they point out that every single worker in that factory was part of that action, and it was the totality of their efforts that made the ‘blacking’ of the engines possible. This film is about little cogs that turn big wheels that turn the world. It does not call on larger-than-life heroics, but for each individual to follow their conscience and, if they see wrong, to refuse to participate in it. Collectively, that should be enough.

I know I have been guilty in recent years of having moments where I thought of all the things I’ve done, all the things I’ve participated in, and thought, “What is the point? The world is a darker, more racist, more unjust place than when you were a kid. You could have stayed home and done nothing and it would still have been the same. What a waste of time.” But this film is about how none of it is a waste. Because it lets the desperate know they are not forgotten, and every voice that’s raised encourages others to do the same. Those men never knew what their effect was, until now, 40 years later. Doing the right thing doesn’t require that you see the effect, or get a pay-off. It simply remains the right thing to do.

Everyone should see this film.