Tag Archives: KiKi Layne

The declaration of love in The Old Guard (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2020)

I was watching The Old Guard on Netflix last night — junky but enjoyable and surprisingly ethical —  thinking things like: ‘Charleze Theron’s career has become what Demi Moore dreamt for herself but failed to get in the 1990”s; ‘Isn’t Mathias Schonaert’s good? Why isn’t he getting top roles any more?; ‘amazing that the old guard is handing power over to a young black woman (an excellent Kiki Layne)’;’ the make-up of the group is such a seamlessly dramatised ethnic mix, unlike The Avengers’ …and so on when I was floored by the scene below:

 

What makes it potent and unusual is that it occurs almost exactly halfway through the film (1 hour into a 2h5m minute film: subtract the credits, and it’s practically on the dot); that it takes place amongst subsidiary characters that are given a very considerable moment. I would add that it’s in a mainstream film streaming to 72 million people and likely to join the ranks of one of Netflix’s most popular movies of all time, though that is perhaps more common than the film being directed by a woman of colour, Gina Prince-Bythewood.

I don’t find it particularly well acted, and the dialogue rings a little bit false. It’s not a patch on the Frobisher sequence  in Cloud Atlas …and yet…. it moved me so. To have those sentiments expressed in a public setting, showcased in the very structure of the film the way the film does, expressed with sincerity, even if the editing gives it a witty but slightly deflationary ending…..sigh.

Moreover, as Andrew Grimes Griffin observes, ‘One of the more interesting things about it is that the declaration is made while they are surrounded by homophobic, armed men. They are supposedly prisoners and supposedly in a vulnerable position, and yet there is not only the speech, but the kiss.’ It’s almost like it makes you cry for yourself. What it wold have meant to see this forty years ago. It felt an illustration of the visual equivalent of Noel Coward’s old joke about the potency of cheap music.

And, of course, as Kieran Galpin writes.

This is not all there is to the show and it goes beyond Joe and Nicky’s story: ‘there has also been a lot of speculation around a second queer relationship woven into the story’s narrative.

Andy (Charlize Theron) and Quynh (Veronica Ngo) have very little screen time together and yet all signs pointed to something more profound than friendship. “Just you and me,” Quynh whispers while chained to the wall, ushering a reply of “until the end” from Andy.’

and: ‘

Theron and Ngo’s brilliant performances definitely hint at a romantic relationship, and though it is never explicitly confirmed, queer Twitter seems to be unified in the belief that they are immortal lovers.

“Andy and Quynh are a power couple and no one can tell me otherwise,” writes one user, while another candidly captions a video clip of the pair, saying: “The Old Guard says give the gays immortality.”

 

 

So much to appreciate and so much to look forward to.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 134 – If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight – Second Screening

We return to Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, his sumptuous romantic drama set in 1970s New York, for a deep dive, and take the opportunity to revisit his previous film, 2016’s Best Picture winner Moonlight. It’s an enriching conversation and we’re glad we took the time to engage in it. (The first podcast can be found here.)

We begin with Moonlight, working through our responses to what we experienced differently since having seen it previously (Mike last saw it during its cinema release, while José has seen it a few times on more recent occasions). The film’s final third is given serious thought, José in particular enjoying the opportunity to properly work through his longstanding problems with it, which amount to the film’s fear of the sex in homosexuality, its conscious refusal to openly and honestly depict two gay men being intimate – the film denies them even a kiss at the very end – and the critical establishment’s bad faith in refusing to engage with this particular point. It’s great to have finally discussed this topic, particularly paying close attention to the final few shots, where the problems are condensed and made perfectly clear; as José says, it’s an itch he’s wanted to scratch for a long time.

Moving on to Beale Street, we re-engage with some points we brought up in our first podcast, such as the dissonance between the opening intertitle’s invocation of drums and the soundtrack’s absence of them, and the relative richness of the characters that surround Tish and Fonny to the central couple. And we draw out new observations and thoughts, in particular returning on a few occasions to the conversation between Fonny and Daniel, discussing the lighting that drops them into deep shadow, picking up just the lightest outlines of their features as if to expose their souls instead, and how shot selection, editing and the use of a rack focus develop the drama and bring the characters together but simultaneously isolate Daniel within his own traumatic experiences. Mike picks up on a motif of redness in their eyes, acknowledging that the reading he offers is always going to be a stretch but finding it meaningful nonetheless.

We discuss the use of photo montages to reach for the universality of experience that the title implies and we felt was an issue the first time around, José describing how they thematically focus the film on black male incarceration and the lived experience of black masculinity in the United States. Mike feels that it’s a bit of a hangout movie, wanting to spend time with the characters and in their world, despite – perhaps because of? – the hardships they experience and discuss at times; certainly because of the romantic transparency, the care and love that characters show for each other, and the richness of their conversations. José finds fault with how the Latinx characters are lit and generally visually portrayed to less than their best, arguing that they were excluded from the visual romance that bathes the rest of the film.

And we see direct comparisons between Beale Street and MoonlightBeale Street‘s sex scene is an obvious point of discussion with respect to Moonlight‘s ending, but we also find parallels in the elements that depict or imply betrayal between friends, Moonlight‘s hazing scene and Daniel’s ostensible usefulness as an exculpatory witness for Fonny sharing complexities around whether the betrayals they depict are truly betrayals.

A hugely enriching discussion that we had great fun having, thanks to two intricate, beautiful, thought-provoking films.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 132 – If Beale Street Could Talk

Achingly romantic and visually rapturous, If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, utterly bowls Mike over, while José expresses some reservations about it, despite also finding it enormously impressive. A love story set in New York City in the late 60s/early 70s, the film follows Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) as they fall in love, begin to build a life together, but are threatened with its destruction by a racist cop and a false accusation of rape.

The title refers to a street in New Orleans that Baldwin, and subsequently Jenkins, use as a metaphor for the black experience across America, and arguably this is overambitious (if not simply impossible). The universality implied by the title is dissonant with what the film offers, which is much more personal and idiosyncratic. José points out the lack of anger in the film, anger that would be absolutely justified to express given both the general institutional racism the characters face in their place and time, and the specific instance of racist behaviour to which they are subjected: the rape accusation. Instead of fury, we see coping, survival, sadness, resistance and love, all communicated with an extraordinary depth of feeling and a camera that finds the beauty and subtlety in everyone’s face. And ultimately this is wonderful, it’s just that the title and opening intertitle that explains it somehow don’t seem to quite understand their own story.

There’s a huge amount we discuss, including the narration; the film’s excursion to Puerto Rico and how its depiction of the experience of Latinx people might or might not offer an interesting comparison to its central interest, the African-American community; how Brian Tyree Henry shows up for a scene and steals the entire film; how the film aims for visual poetry; how Jenkins conveys rich sense of different people’s lives and environments with just a few shots; and how the film chokes you up with its incredibly tactile depth of feeling that is sustained more or less throughout. We also bring up comparisons to Green BookGet Out, and in particular, Moonlight, Jenkins’ previous film – José has issues with how he copped out of giving his story of a gay black boy’s difficulties growing up an honest ending, and takes issue with how viscerally one feels Tish’s desire for Fonny due to the way he’s shot, finding it even more disappointing than before that Jenkins didn’t do the same in Moonlight.

It’s a film we want to see again, infectious and emotionally rich, and if you don’t see it in a cinema you’re missing out. It’s great.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.