Cinema Corner: “Priscilla”/”Night Swim”/”The Boy and the Heron”/”Poor Things”/”The Beekeeper”/ “Mean Girls”


Biopics – you live for them. No, quite literally, you have to live for them to exist. Following the release of Elvis in 2022, I can only imagine that Sofia Coppola watched that and wondered, “Who is this woman that Elvis acknowledges from time to time?” The result is a biopic about the wife of the one and only, Elvis Presley. But unlike Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, we get a much more interesting look into the life of a Presley, as opposed to flipping through a biography at lightspeed.

Priscilla Beaulieu sits alone in a diner before a strange man approaches her, inviting her to Elvis Presley’s party – at a house that looks very fitting for a popstar, who’d you forget is currently serving in West Germany for the US military. She would love to go!…but as the issue with most fourteen-year-olds, she has to ask her parent, and approaches the situation like a teenager begging their parents to let them stay over at a friend’s house (don’t worry, his parents are cool with it, she swears). After an immediate no from the smart parents, they’re convinced after they get sweet talked by a friend of Elvis. This would be the first time Priscilla witnessed that Elvis gets what Elvis wants. If Elvis wants you to fall in love with him, you will. Lucky for him, Priscilla effortlessly falls in love with the twenty-four-year-old Elvis Presley.

Prior to the film coming out, and before her death, Lisa Marie Presley criticised the film for its depiction of her father, claiming it made him “…come across as a predator and manipulative.” Well, she’s not damn wrong. But it’s also not surprising that Elvis got her approval for the way that film interpreted him as a hero and a victim. I’m not an Elvis hater, I love his music, however, this film does portray him as a groomer towards a young girl. There’s no two ways about it.

To play Devil’s Advocate, things were very different in the ‘50s, with even Priscilla’s parents agreeing to everything. It’s not like they were left in the cold. Coppola approaches it from a non-judgemental perspective. The film is subjectively told through Priscilla’s eyes. When they fall in love, we see that through admiring montages, but she still goes to his room with food dressed in her school uniform, constantly saying “I have to ask my parents.” Elvis wants her to stay the same with this sweet, blissful innocence, even going as far as to make her promise to stay the same before he leaves for the US.

Coppola’s eye for extravagant design is on display here. From the cars to the sets to the costumes, and especially to the costumes, we are placed straight into the Presley lifestyle. To counteract this gloss, a cold colour grading is applied, leaving behind a muted colour palette for us to view this glamorous life and leaving the terrific Cailee Spaeny, stranded in a depressing sea of blue dresses, awaiting the arrival of her king – played by the king of Saltburn, Jacob Elordi.

Cailee leaves her mark so strongly by using her timidness and young looks to really play against Jacob’s height. You can’t help but be reminded of the age difference every time you see them together, just by the contrast of their heights as they wrap their arms around each other and walk together. Candid in nature, while desperately trying to rid herself of her virginity, Cailee shows off the emotions of a developing girl around a superstar whom every teenage girl and their mother would kill to be with and struggling with whether to trust her partner’s word when she sees headlines of Elvis hitting it off with another woman.

Priscilla is a love story that is ultimately a complicated one to look at from a modern point of view, but it’s one that Priscilla herself is very dedicated to; putting on makeup before going into labour to keep up appearances and look the best she can for Elvis while delivering his baby. Elvis gives Priscilla one job: To keep the fires blazing back at Graceland. But towards the end of the film, the fire is certainly dying out, as it struggles to maintain the fascination gathered in the first two acts. Watching on as love slowly deteriorates through the same arguments. Yet even at the end, you’re still convinced that their burning love hasn’t died out as Priscilla’s name pops up in the credits as an executive producer. Once you see that, and only then, you know one thing: The queen has left the building.

Night Swim

Night Swim is a film that can be explained in about one sentence: The pool is haunted. How you can make a feature out of that premise is beyond me, but Bryce McGuire decided to give it a shot by turning his 2014 four-minute short film of the same name into a 98-minute long feature. Taking a spectacular dive into the pool but plunging into the shallow end.

Wyatt Russell plays Ray Waller, a professional baseball player whose career has come to a halt after being diagnosed with an illness, leaving him to walk with the help of a cane. Kerry Condon plays the super-supportive wife who just wants to settle down with the kids after constantly moving whenever her husband gets traded to a new team. After shopping around for the perfect house, they take a trip to the doctor’s office, where the doctor tells them that water therapy would help Ray’s condition. Lo and behold, they just happened to cross a house with an outside pool in the back garden. How lucky! But it’s haunted. How unlucky.

The film is filled with sequences of each family member getting their own close call with the haunted pool. When someone’s leg gets pulled down further into the water, you hope that there isn’t a struggle so you can escape the boredom. Being confined to a gimmick of a haunted pool isn’t liberating; it’s constraining, forcing you to think inside the box rather than outside. It’s no surprise that the scare well runs dry after the first half-hour. So does the plot for that matter; getting glimpses into each generic character but never allowing them to break out into anything worthwhile.

The closest we get is when Ray goes to coach the school baseball team. Even then, the film is plagued with the question of where does the story go next? The answer is the typical, modern horror trope of trying to find out the origin of this mysterious object/being/pool. I need only point towards Talk to Me to show that you don’t need any investigation into how this creepy stuff came to be. Just have fun with the idea and be creative.

McGuire, for the most part, shoots the pool sections underwater, diving the camera right in with the character as the film re-enacts its best It impression by a pool drain. But that’s about as high of praise as I can give the film, with scares being so tasteless and apathetic. The script feels like you’re just watching someone do laps in a pool, going back and forth through the same motions, and at some points, you literally are. It’s a bad sign when your mouth opens to yawn at a horror film instead of opening to scream, giving you a chance to get one last breath of air before it pulls you under. But at that point, don’t bother; just drag me down without giving me a chance.

The Boy and the Heron

When I tell people that I haven’t seen a Studio Ghibli film before, the typical reaction is mostly repeating what I just said but swap out the “I” for a “you” and give them about two higher octaves in their voice compared to mine. A reaction which is fair when you mention films that people typically associate with their childhood. You’d get the same reaction with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Ghibli films weren’t a part of my upbringing, and I’ve been ignorant to them ever since – aware of the wonder and amazement they attain but haven’t dived into them yet. “Yet” being the key word.

The Boy and The Heron (or How Do You Live as it was previously and more aptly called) follows the story of a young boy, Mahito, who has just lost his mother in a hospital fire. Bereaved, his father carries on with his life and marries Natsuko, the sister of his former wife. Moving away from a town to a rural, secluded area, Mahito struggles with getting along with his new stepmother. The pesky heron that floats about doesn’t help either by pecking at the window or leading Mahito into a strange and ominous tower that is located in their gardens. Out of the blue, while pregnant, Natsuko goes missing into the woods, and Mahito decides to investigate and find his adoptive mother. One thing is for sure: that bird is quite suspicious after literally speaking to Mahito. If David Lynch were here, he’d probably say “The heron is not what it seems.”

Look, let’s get the obvious out of the way: The film is beautiful. Colour, scale, and bizarreness are only a handful of words to illustrate the animation style. Each shot is painstakingly hand-drawn to perfection. Seeing it on an IMAX screen puts to shame the corpse of the previous superhero film reel that was just rolled out of the projection room. It’s both visually and audibly breathtaking (if sounds could also take your breath away). The score by Joe Hisaishi – and I don’t say this lightly – bears a heavy weight on your ears. If the goal of a composer is to make the music hidden, he’s utterly failed in that aspect. Because this soundtrack is equally as stunning as the images; not feeling the need to retreat when everything about this movie is in your face.

When I looked down to write a few notes, my eyes happened to land upon the time. I was stunned. An hour had passed. The opening is so masterfully paced that I barely even felt that time going by. Taking its time methodically and patiently, without feeling like a drag. It’s only when it gets wilder – with sections akin to something like Pan’s Labyrinth, which is a mighty fine comparison – towards the later end that it loses that sense of pace it established so well. With the build-up in haste, you can get lost in the whirlwind of what is happening on screen. Admittedly, I know I felt disjointed for certain sections before landing on my feet again and connecting the dots.

I started off this review by saying that I had not seen a Studio Ghibli film before, but I can see what Hayao Miyazaki is saying here: Reflecting on the legacy of his work and his family. Wanting to pass the torch on to his son with the world’s he has created. Wanting him to build his own. Yet, there’s still another acceptance towards his son if he chooses to not follow his steps. To go spend time with his family or travel down another path. Ultimately, it’s a story about acceptance, understanding, and family. What people were when they were younger, and who they will be when they’re older.

Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos has never been a conventional filmmaker. The stories he tells and the way his eye works through a lens are distinctive to his work ethos. If you’re comfortable watching a Lanthimos film, you probably aren’t watching a Lanthimos film. Emma Stone reunites once again with him on his latest feature outing, Poor Things, which is ironic cause there’s nothing poor about this film.

Emma Stone – or Bella Baxter in the film – stars as a reanimated woman thanks to the handiwork of one crazed doctor, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), and acts with the thought process and functionality of a child. After some debating, she convinces Godwin to let her leave home and go explore the world for herself, but with the suave Duncan Wedderburn along with her, promising to return once she has done so. I think I’ll leave the synopsis there to keep certain things under wrap.

The best way to watch this film is to know nothing at all. I’ll try to be as broad as possible, but if you want the best experience with this film, stop reading right now. It’s not often that when you look at a font, you get the gist of what a film is about. Writing the title in something akin to chicken scratch gives the off-kilter feel of something created unnaturally, yet, somehow being natural with its presentation. Poor Things, in that sense, is both natural and unnatural. Opening in colour with Bella leaping from a bridge before being tossed into black and white. Wide-angle and fisheye lenses invoke such a sense of unsettledness; Bella doesn’t operate comfortably, so why should we be able to watch comfortably? Lanthimos understands this and utilises – to great effect too – slow zooms on characters while they speak; etching closer and closer to their face until we’re in it. Ireland’s own Robbie Ryan does an outlandishly good job at capturing the wackiness and wonder of this world that is put on screen. Shot on sound stages but made it feel lively, as if I stepped outside of the cinema and ended up in Lisbon. The film is screaming out to be viewed on a large, large screen.

It’s deeply funny in only a way that a film like this can be. Most of the humour comes from naive observations or utterly outrageous line deliveries from Mark Ruffalo, which got more laughs out of me than a typical comedy. If you liked Willem Dafoe’s line readings in The Lighthouse, you’ll adore this. There’s no way you won’t be leaving the cinema without having one line or word stuck in your head – “furious jumping” was the one for me. While on the topic of writing, Tony McNamara weaves an impressive script with fluidity as his dialogue transitions Bella from a baby to a fully grown intellectual woman effortlessly. Her vocabulary and sentence structure slowly improved to the point that you forget she could barely say a word that made logical sense.

This is all thanks to a really ridiculous performance from Emma Stone. The way she talks, even the way she walks, indicates that a newborn baby has been plopped into the body of a 35-year-old woman. Over the course of the film, Bella ebbs and flows as a character before settling into the woman she becomes. This transition helped along with the gorgeous, and atrocious by design, score from Jerskin Fendrix. Telling a story in its own right as the out-of-synch horns eventually become tighter and play in tandem with each other; finally, arriving at the harmonious, satisfying endpoint.

As Bella walks through Europe, she breaks the rule of society, and explores and discovers what the world has to offer (and what it is ashamed of). But Bella is never ashamed, living the way she wants. People constantly forgive her for her actions, even though Bella never asked for it. Becoming inured to the social awkwardness so many of us would cringe at, Emma Stone inhabits a person who has lost hope but finds it again through falling in love with life. The woman who jumped off the bridge has been eradicated and replaced with a woman who is quite happy with what she’s got. There’s a lot to learn from this film, but the most important lesson of them all is to live life like Bella does.

The Beekeeper

Your dad’s favourite movie is back. In other words, Jason Statham has a new film out. In the latest series of Jason Statham movies based on job titles, we’ve got The Beekeeper. He’s just your standard, ordinary beekeeper until you wrong him; then, he becomes a highly-trained and the most dangerous killer… in the world.

The plot of The Beekeeper isn’t a hard one to understand. Jason Statham is renting a barn to stay in from an elderly woman who lives on very remote land. One night, when Statham (yes, I’ll call him by his real name for this, as his character name is so generic) is bringing a jar of honey over, he finds the woman dead in a chair. How has this happened? Well, she’s the latest victim in a cyber scam and just lost all her money, resorting to suicide. Need only take one look at Statham’s face to know that they fucked with the wrong old lady.

From there on, the film just escalates and escalates. With Jason Statham, sorry, Adam Clay – even his character name insinuates that it can just be moulded into Jason Statham – leaving the scene of the crime in a dramatic fashion each time. Driving away as a building explodes, jumping out a window before he gets handcuffs on him, and driving away from an exploding garage. Yes, he drives away from two explosions to end scenes.

David Ayer shoots the film to look as cool as possible with anamorphic lenses and inexplicable fog appearing in shots. Leaving in its trail of destruction, perfectly serviceable action. What isn’t perfectly serviceable is the script. Taken from the depths of the bee-movie action films of the 2000s. Buzzing with bee puns and one-liners from Jason Statham. Alright, I’ll stop now. One of the characters at a point asks Adam Clay: “Is that a hint of the British Isles I hear?” Like she isn’t standing in front of the most Cockney man in the world. Between the action, the story and the dialogue, you’ll for sure be laughing at this film. It’s in the category of so bad it’s good.

All of this leads to a group of the best of the best to fight Jason Statham. Before he promptly disposes of them, and then it leads to another group of the best of the best… and the same again. Unpredictability isn’t its strong point until you realise what the final destination is; you wouldn’t be able to guess where the endpoint will be from the start of the movie. Jeremy Irons being a man-on-the-phone type bad guy, still a better antagonist than whatever wimpy, tech-bro character Josh Hutcherson was left with. Still, you know what you’re getting into here with this one. Jason Statham fighting a metric ton of thugs to get revenge; and it does what it says on the tin.

Mean Girls

Remakes aren’t a new practice within the Hollywood system. Still, to remake a movie that is so recent is absurd. Mean Girls is only… 20 years old. (Yes, it really is 20 years old.) It might be a hard-hitting revelation to some folk; it is for me, and I’m still on the younger side of my twenties. The first question that must be asked regarding any remake is: Why does this story need to be retold? Does it justify its existence? From an outside perspective, no. All the marketing leads you to believe it’s another retelling of the classic story of Mean Girls. Except it’s not. Despite the poorly led marketing team’s decision to hide this fact, this rendition of Mean Girls is an encore of the musical.

There’s not much new to add in terms of story for Mean Girls 2024 (for some baffling reason, opting to not throw “The Musical” into the title to separate them, so we’re stuck with the year). If you know the 2004 film, you know the 2024 version. Cady Heron (Angourie Rice) ends her homeschooling tenure in Kenya and returns to America, where she is greeted by the wonderful world that is an urban area. Trading the animal kingdom for another one: High school (tough to know which one is more savage).

Not having the best first impression of the school, Cady is eventually nestled up by friendly outcasts, Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey). But it’s not long before Cady’s innocent and naive face grabs the attention of the most influential girl in school, head of The Plastics, Regina George (Reneé Rapp), who offers sweet, pure Cady a chance to hang out with the popular girls. She just needs to wear pink on Wednesdays and not get on the bad side of Regina. Janis then recruits Cady to report back to her and Damien on what The Plastics are getting up to, warning her that their pockets might be deep, but their personalities are shallow.

I didn’t think I’d be seeing a new Mean Girls film – especially after the house fire that was Mean Girls 2 – but the filled screening I saw it in showed me that people want to see it. Quite literally, they showed me. Through a row of teenage girls in front of me with their phones out, waiting to snap a picture of the IFCO bumper. Which turned into a surreal moment as when I looked up from the phones taking pictures, Auli’i Cravalho was filming herself vertically on her phone. It was almost instantly that it clicked with me: These mean girls are for the younger generation. Tagging in more contemporary references and lingo to keep up with modern times, a lot has changed since 2004. 

For fans of the originals, you’ve still got people asking what day it is, asking losers to get into cars, and girls trying to make fetch happen. Spliced in between the hits are the songs. Directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. take advantage of swapping between comedy and over-dramatic musical numbers, going OTT, letterboxing the frame and drastically switching the lighting around to make the scene more melodramatic; only occasionally though, for the bigger moments. There’s some fine direction with one-takes and some memorable set pieces involving humans acting like animals and a whole party freezing. But I still can’t help that they could’ve gone that extra step further with some of the set pieces.

While the visuals are pleasing to the ears, the same can’t be said about the music. Transferring the dancing to the silver screen, but keeping the music on Broadway, the production doesn’t hold up as well while listening to it. Sounding cheaper than a Kidz Bop record, concerning the instrumentation. Fitting of a musical on Broadway where there are limitations, but not a movie musical. The singing aspect is very well managed, however. Getting Reneé Rapp from Broadway and Auli’i Cravalho from Moana means that you’ve got a talented set of vocal performers, and they don’t miss.

Living up to the cast of the original is a hard thing to do, but the 2024 remake gives it its best shot. Angourie Rice plays the ingenuous Cady Heron pretty well. Jaquel Spivey and Auli’i Cravalho bounce off each other like a slinky going down a set of stairs, with the former being an absolute joy to see on screen whenever he appears. Tina Fey – looking almost exactly the same as she did 20 years ago – also returns in her role as Ms Norbury, a maths teacher who wants Cady to stop purposefully failing her tests so she can hang out with a boy more. Her lines got a lot of laughs from me. And finally, Reneé Rapp. You can tell she’s more than a fan of the original; coming off as bodacious as ever, trying to live up to Rachel McAdams. Putting a new spin on the character, she is the modern Regina George.

Although with an extra thirty minutes on the runtime compared to the original, Mean Girls 2024 doesn’t have an awful lot to add to the conversation; saying the same sentiment but in a new voice. It doesn’t pale in comparison to the original, but it can’t live up to the high standards set by the 2000s classic. Yet, that same group of teenagers all gave the film a round of applause as the credits rolled, so what do I know? And to Hollywood, be proud that the film is a musical and let people know that it is one. Stop trying to make secret musicals happen, it’s not going to happen!



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