Monday, April 22, 2024
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Weird, twisted, powerful films to watch

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I love Yorgos Llanithmos’s films. They are wonderfully weird (Dogtooth) and have a unique visceral quality that leaves me feeling all odd (Killing of a Sacred Deer). He has this way of digging into the mire of the human psyche and showing us it’s ugliest (The Favourite) and most peculiar (The Lobster) parts. So, I was very excited when I heard he had a new film out called Poor Things.

Starring Emma Stone, the film follows Bella Baxter, a bold young woman who has been brought back to life by the scientist Godwin “God” Baxter. The pair embark on a journey during which Bella grows bolder in her desire to fight for freedom and equality. Little did I know that this story is based on a book by another creator I have a deep love for: Alisdair Gray.

I came across Gray one bleak winter many years ago on a trip to Glasgow. An exhibition of his bold graphic artworks was showing at the city’s Gallery of Modern Art to celebrate his 80th birthday. Poor Things is adapted from his book of the same name and is the perfect encapsulation of the sort of radical thinking Gray brought to his creative practice and life.

An experimental blend of visual and literary forms, Poor Things questions those in power and sets out a bold progressive vision of a free Scotland where all (even the English who live in it) are free and equal. Joe Jackson has written a wonderful profile of this maverick thinker and managed to make me even more excited to see this film.

Abusive relationships

Another filmmaker whose style I like is Sofia Coppola, whose films have a wonderful look and atmosphere about them. Her latest, sheds light on the relationships between the king of rock’n’roll, Elvis Presley, and his wife, Priscilla – who the film is named for. Adapted from her autobiography, the film exposes the dark side of what was seen by some as a fairytale. The pair’s relationship began when Priscilla was only 14 and Elvis was 24. Audiences watch as she matures and undergoes abuse under the firm control of Elvis, whose own life is slowly being ruined by addiction.

In true Coppola style, it is a gorgeously wrought film. Priscilla’s world is beautiful: deeply feminine, full of sumptuous colour, lush fabrics and beautiful rich interiors. But, also in true Coppola style, it is deeply claustrophobic. Like Charlotte in Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and the Lisbon girls in Virgin Suicides, Priscilla is trapped in a gilded cage.

Priscilla is quite subtle, creating a feeling and showing rather than telling when it comes to depicting domestic abuse. The new season of Fargo is much more direct. The series follows Dot Lyon (Juno Temple), a seemingly normal housewife thrust back into a life she thought she had left behind when she lands in hot water with the authorities. One of the people to return from her past is her abusive ex-husband, North Dakota sheriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm).

Through Tillman, our writer has noted, Fargo has boldly drawn connections between modern toxic masculinity and domestic abuse. Many dramas tackling domestic abuse have not done so in such a forceful and direct way, she writes, and it’s refreshing to see a show that isn’t afraid to make it clear that violence against women isn’t a rare phenomenon, but an ever-present threat and a widespread cultural problem.

Exposing wrongdoing

A must-watch for me this week is the BBC game show, The Traitors. If you don’t know the show, 22 strangers (or are they?) compete in tasks to grow a prize pot. Among them are a series of players who have been designated as “traitors” who secretly plot to kill the other players (known as “faithfuls”) to win all the prize money for themselves. The faithfuls have a chance each episode to out a traitor by voting someone out.

It’s a thrilling watch, where human nature and psychology come into sharp focus as players judge every word and action of their fellow contestants. Aspersions are cast on people for all sorts of wild reasons, from being too nerdy or reclusive to being too cool and outspoken. Humans are terrible lie detectors, according to research (and the show), and one of our experts has written a great piece on why context is key when trying to catch someone out.

Another show everyone has been talking about has been ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office. The four-part drama about the Post Office Horizon IT scandal has brought increased scrutiny on one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history that saw 746 sub-postmasters wrongly prosecuted. The show focuses on a few of these sub-postmasters who were central to bringing the scandal to light.

The show has been aired during a public inquiry into the scandal that began in 2022, bringing greater public awareness and an increased sense of urgency to the proceedings. In this long read, a group of researchers have identified the four main barriers that the victims of this scandal faced when trying to expose the injustice they had faced. (The Conversation)

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