‘Widows’ is a Departure From McQueen’s Intimate Style – For Better or Worse

Artist-turned-director Steve McQueen has a certain flair for the insightful. His previous works, Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013) have focused upon singular characters, fixating on the intimate details of an individual’s life and creating a display which feels almost private. With Widows (2018), however, McQueen branches out from this intimate filmmaking, to establish a world which feels colossal in its realism, and painfully current in its observations of today’s racial, sexual and class politics.

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Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki in Widows (2018) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The widows in question – Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) – represent women from across various different social circles and spectrums. Veronica is a teacher’s union delegate and lives a lavish lifestyle, but remains acutely aware of the racism entrenched within her surroundings, especially as a black woman married to a white man. Considerably worse off financially is Linda, who juggles a business and two young children. With lived knowledge of the prison system, Linda is naturally more cautious than her contemporaries, illuminating a class difference that is essential to McQueen’s depiction of an intersectional environment. Alice, on the other hand, works as a high-end escort and experiences the daily struggles of male egocentrism. After suffering abuse at the hands of her husband, her journey is one of rediscovering her own independence – and it just so happens that a $5 million heist is the perfect way to pull this off. 

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Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Widows (2018) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

For these widows are not just widows, they are widows in extreme trouble. After the death of their criminal husbands, Veronica is threatened by crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), whose money her late partner stole. With one month to raise $2 million, she rounds up Linda and Alice and explains the situation: they must pull off a heist, or face the wrath of Manning and his terrifying brother-turned-henchman Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya, in a villainous performance so good you’ll hold your breath every time he’s on screen). Easy, right? Not so much. The widows, different as they are, clash quickly, with Veronica proving far too bossy and straight-edged for the much more easygoing Linda and Alice. This works to the film’s success, as through their arguments and their mistakes, these women are allowed to be unlikable, messy, and even ugly. In Widows, McQueen crafts three women who are fully-rounded characters, with all the shit that comes with it. 

Unfortunately, with such a huge cast – additionally featuring Colin Farrell as a politician I simply didn’t care about – we never quite get enough time with these women. A systematic approach to the plot, most likely influenced by the film’s place as a literary adaptation, means that Widows sometimes feels overlong and fragmented, never giving enough attention to any of the cast in its attempts to create such a huge and realistic world. Scenes are often too short and fail to give wonderful, impactful dialogue the time it needs to settle. Though this fast pacing does keep the film engaging, and plot twists are executed perfectly, the true stars here are the widows themselves, with the surrounding characters (Kaluuya’s Jatemme excluded) simply window-dressing. 

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Viola Davis in Widows (2018) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It is, however, refreshing to be able to state that the film’s female characters have far more depth than their male counterparts, and that this depth is channelled through to the bonds between them. Alice, whose difficult relationship with her own mother hangs over her constantly, forms an almost parental relationship with the older, and stricter, Veronica. Impatient at first, we witness Veronica soften through the film, particularly after Alice proves herself to be much cleverer than she initially appears. One scene presents their changing relationship perfectly; when Alice goes to answer a knock at her door, she presumes it to be her mother. “It’s Veronica,” comes the steely reply – a thousand miles from the gentle nature of what one would associate a mother with. A few minutes later, after a vicious argument, Alice is crying into Veronica’s arms, and the full scope of emotions contained within such a complex relationship are laid out in a single scene; this is where Widows is at its most wonderful. 

Though never overemotional, the widows do reach a mutual respect, and when they carry out their heist, they are equal in the eyes of the audience. Bodies encased in practical black, masks covering their faces, they finally work as one unit, succeeding through their status as women, rather than despite it – as Veronica states powerfully, nobody expects them to have the balls to pull this off. For those few minutes, for which they have worked for a month, their differences evaporate as they chase the same dream – freedom and independence in a patriarchal world.

‘Overlord’ Is the Kind of Over-The-Top, Bloody Escapism That We Deserve

In the first year of my mom and dad’s marriage, my mom remembers coming home late to see my dad sprawled on the couch, exhausted, watching Die Hard (1988). When she asked him what had made him decide to watch this particular film so late in the night on a weekday, he replied, “I’ve had a stressful day. I just needed to watch people blow up.” Although not nearly as charismatic or witty as John McTiernan’s modern classic, my father’s exhausted confession perfectly sums up my feelings about Julius Avery’s Overlord (2018).

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Men Who Love Men Deserve Better Than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

The Freddie Mercury biopic has been cooking up since 2010. Originally meant to be a Sacha Baron Cohen and David Fincher collaboration, the biopic’s direction had shifted into the hands of the remaining members of Queen. This led to Baron Cohen leaving the project due to artistic disagreements, envisioning a much more adult version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Eventually, Anthony McCarten’s screenplay was green-lit with Bryan Singer (ugh) attached to direct. Soon they found Mercury in Rami Malek, as well as some reforms after Singer was fired from the project, some backlash for the lack of inclusion of the AIDs crisis, and accusations of “de-queering” Mercury’s depiction the film (more ugh)! It’s almost impressive that a project with such an infamously-controversial development stage could amount to a film this dull.

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Rami Malek’s performance is valiant, the filmmaking is not.

But here we are. Bohemian Rhapsody, despite a mixed critical reception, hit the #1 spot of the box office, making an estimated $50 million dollar earning. Somehow, this has only sparked more controversy as a quite irritating critics-versus-audiences conversation has formed once again. I think we have bigger things to worry about, considering the director credit has gone to an accused pedophile (he is currently being campaigned for by Fox for best director as part of the upcoming awards season). Simply put, this film already gave me a headache before I even got the chance to see it. Dubbed the “unseasoned chicken” of cinema by our editor-in-chief, Dilara, and writer, Iana, Bohemian Rhapsody is not only the blandest on-screen version of Mercury’s extravagant life possible, but it also does a major disservice to the gay and bi men who have looked up to the idol since the 80s. While the “de-queering” criticism may be slightly hyperbolic as Mercury’s sexuality is a large thread within the film, it is not handled with the amount of care to be worthy of high praise.

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Netflix Resurrects Orson Welles for an Original Where Art Imitates Life

After 40 years of waiting, seeing the words “Netflix presents…An Orson Welles picture” is incredibly surreal. The excitement that came with discovering that The Other Side of the Wind was to be completed for this year, was like seeing an article about lost silent films that were found in someone’s barn after believing they would be lost forever. Now, one of Welles’ last big pictures is available to everyone with a Netflix subscription.

Welles was an auteur who was always experimenting with new ways to tell a story. This is seen most famously in his first film, Citizen Kane. The director perfectly utilizes all the stylish camera techniques used at the time and puts them together to depict the rise and fall of the world’s biggest business magnate, Charles Foster Kane. Where the narrative is concerned, it doesn’t stay on the traditional paths that Hollywood storytelling walked on up to that point. It’s not linear or chronological — instead, it relies heavily on flashbacks and several narrators to express different points of view and recount different parts of Kane’s life. If The Other Side of the Wind proves anything, it’s that Welles never stopped experimenting.

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John Huston in ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ © Netflix

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‘Been So Long’ is A Messy, Lovable Story of Starting Life Anew

When your heart has been broken and betrayed, trust is no longer in your favour. Your world is now protected from the enriching experience of life, and the sadness that will definitely come from living one. Like living in a bubble; only its security would only make you isolate yourself and push people away slowly. This is the world that Been So Long is trying to unravel, the metamorphosis of gathering a piece of yourself in the midst of tests that life is throwing at you. Been So Long is a film directed by Tinge Krishnan and written by Ché Walker. Adapted from the musical of the same name, the film was picked up by Netflix in a multi-million dollar deal, believed to be Netflix’s biggest acquisition of a U.K. film in history.

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Podcast #1: Halloween, Horror, and Childhood Scares

Dear Much Ado readers, get ready to be listeners!

We’re so proud to share the first episode of our podcast with you. It’s been a year (and a month) since we opened Much Ado and we could never imagine how far we’d come in such a short time.

On our Patreon page we set a goal of $75 to start working on our podcast and this month we hit that goal, thanks to your help! Every time we gain a new Patron, we come one step closer to saving enough money to pay to our writers. You can help us with as little as $1.

Our first episode is about, as it should be on October 31st, Halloween! Podcast host Charlie Dykstal talks with our writers Mia Vicino, Mary Beth McAndrews and Tyler Llewyn Taing about horror films that scared them in childhood, jump scares and how cathartic horror films can be.

Listen to the first episode on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play. Don’t forget to subscribe for upcoming episodes and share your feedback with us on twitter or via e-mail at muchadoaboutcinema@gmail.com.

‘Mid90s’ is a Nostlagia Trip With Not a Lot on Its Mind

If the sight of Ryan Gosling’s moon mission and the sound of Lady Gaga’s commanding vocals are any indications, we are officially in the bold beginnings of awards season. Curiously, this year’s new wave involves well-established talent making the jump behind the camera and into the director’s chair. From Paul Dano and Bo Burnham to Amy Poehler and Olivia Wilde, these classic career transitions are offering interesting voices a place in the film industry. Enter Jonah Hill, known for comedies such as Superbad and 21 Jump Street, who has recently been making the slow transition into more serious character roles in The Wolf of Wallstreet and Fukunaga’s Netflix joint, Maniac. His card to throw into this directorial debut poker table is Mid90s, produced by big-name-indie-house A24.

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Set in Los Angeles, Mid90s is a slice-of-life film centered on a young boy named Stevie (Sunny Suljic) who encounters and becomes part of a local skateboarding clique. This group becomes Stevie’s escape as he gets into violent fights with his older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges) and starts to feel detached with his mother (Katherine Waterston) in his home life. Hill sought to authentically portray L.A. skate culture by hiring real skateboard talent as actors for his ensemble cast. Fixed to a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, Hill commands every technical aspect within and around the frame to evoke nostalgic aesthetics and feel as grungy as the 90s itself.

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