Another round of film reviews

Posted on February 20, 2019 under Reviews

With the Oscars around the corner, here’s another batch of reviews of some films I’ve seen recently in my quest to be a knowledgeable Oscar viewer for once. The films I’ve seen in 2019 have generally been a lot more enjoyable than the ones I watched in the fall, though I have criticisms of most of them!

Mary Queen of Scots, dir. Josie Rourke

This film was a mess. It could have been far more enjoyable if it had leaned into its messiness, but instead it was a strange, hollow narrative with some great performances from Saoirse Ronan (with a slightly-questionable Scottish accent) and Margot Robbie (who did a valiant job of pretending she was ugly). The political drama at the centre of the film was not particularly well-realized. There were hints of a camp consciousness that I really wished the film had explored further, particularly in Robbie’s Elizabeth. There was so much promise in her increasingly bizarre appearance coupled with the scene in which she makes paper crafts while drinking wine as her nemesis has a baby. However, the film as a whole never lived up to that potential. It was still kind of enjoyable in its messiness, particularly in the absurdity of Ronan’s Mary being cast as a gay ally. Also the part where Elizabeth snatches her own wig. I saw this one with my coworker and her roommate, and when it was over we sat in silence for a moment before saying, “I don’t know what just happened.” It was simultaneously insane and boring. (Really, it was mostly boring with some insane moments.)

If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins

This was my Oscar pick until it was snubbed quite thoroughly, but I will not dwell on that! (Though it really is terrible.) Screen adaptations are always a tricky beast, and I imagine the pressure of adapting James Baldwin’s work must be immense. I probably would have side-eyed this project had it been done by anyone but Barry Jenkins, who managed to capture the tenderness of the novel while staying faithful to the particular advantages of film. (The cinematography was absolutely beautiful, and the use of colour symbolism was a gorgeous touch. The costume design was just wonderful! Oh, and the score – so lush and evocative.) The love story at the heart of the film is as touching and fully-realized as in the novel, but Jenkins engages with the political aspects of the story a bit more overtly. In particular, the film mixes in archival photographs of police brutality and Black prisoners over Tish’s narration in order to situate the story of Fonny’s unjust incarceration within the climate of systemic racism. It’s hard not to speculate that this political message (and exclusive focus on complex Black characters, of course) might have prevented this wonderful film from reaching the mainstream success one would expect of a project directed by a man who just won the Oscar for Best Picture two years ago… Anyway, please go see this one. It’s just beautiful.

Vice, dir. Adam McKay

While Vice definitely verges on self-impressed at times, the outstanding performances by Christian Bale and Amy Adams make it hard not to enjoy. Bale is obviously transformative, literally unrecognizable in this role. Amy Adams’ performance is subtle and nuanced; she plays Lynne Cheney as a sweet, agreeable woman with a venomous hunger for power lurking just below the surface. Some of the other performances, while enjoyable, are a bit broad (Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush in particular, though the resemblance is uncanny). I won’t spoil it, but the reveal of the narrator’s identity feels forced for the sake of cleverness. (Indeed, this is a fictional invention on McKay’s part.) The scope of the film is ambitious, which leads to an erratic feeling. There’s Cheney’s personal life (especially the friction between his political ambitions and the fact that his daughter Mary is a lesbian), there’s his ascent to power, there’s the wider historical context. It’s trying to do so much that it fails to fully realize any of its aspirations. The ultimate political message of the film, delivered in a direct address monologue, is that if Dick Cheney abused his power while in office, the American people wanted it. It’s a tempting idea: that decades of democratically-elected politicians chipping away at civil liberties with the full knowledge of the people have delivered us to this point in history. But the reality of the Bush-Cheney White House, as well as the current administration (which the film certainly wants us to draw parallels to), is not so cut and dry. The blame for the political climate cannot be placed squarely on the shoulders of the American people. What about the imperialism that created America in the first place, the capitalism at the heart of the political system? It’s a film that plays around with form and that asks a lot of big questions, but ultimately I found it ambivalent in making any truly interesting points. That said, it’s still enjoyable – if you can get past its smugness.

The Favourite, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

This is the over-the-top period drama I wanted Mary Queen of Scots to be. The performances are uniformly wonderful. Olivia Colman as Queen Anne is bubbling with overblown emotion while displaying more subtle affect; Rachel Weisz’s brusque Lady Marlborough is simply brimming with ambition, and her fall from grace is rendered brilliantly. (Emma Stone is great, too, but since she’s nominated in the same category as Weisz I’d have to take her out of the running.) The cinematography is inspired, with fisheye shots suggesting emotional isolation. (I’ve discussed this before when writing about Alias Grace, but I love when historical films draw attention to the fact that they are films through their cinematography, suggesting anachronism in the use of technology.) You could get lost in the extravagant mise-en-scène. I loved the costume design: the delightful anachronisms (the prints! the denim dresses! redbottoms!), the colour symbolism (Abigail and Sarah switch colour palettes as their power dynamics shift), the naturalism of the women’s appearances contrasted with the extravagance of the male characters. We can really see the facial expressions of the women, whereas the men’s emotional depth is precluded by the layers of makeup and enormous wigs. Speaking of the male characters, none of them are particularly important narratively; Masham functions only as a way for Abigail to get closer to the Queen, which is a delightful inversion of the usual power dynamics. The men posture and preen with no real potency. In the world of this film, men are basically irrelevant – they aren’t even needed sexually. The Favourite is hilarious, richly textured, and completely enjoyable. I’d love to watch it again – there’s just so much going on visually and thematically, I think it invites a repeat viewing.

(ALSO Rachel Weisz in breeches is everything. We are so lucky.)

Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuarón

I went into Roma knowing the following things: 1) It’s a co-production between Mexico and the US (and it’s in Spanish); 2) It’s a Netflix original (though it was also released in select theatres I assume to make it Oscar-eligible); 3) It is highly favoured to win Best Picture; 4) It’s in black and white. 1) and 2) combined to make the prospect of 3) appealing; the Oscars are so blatantly stuck in the past that I’m excited by the possibility of a foreign-language streaming service original winning the top prize, though one could argue that the Academy’s historic ambivalence towards both foreign films and non-traditionally-distributed content points to its increasing obsolescence in today’s media landscape. Anyway, I was ready to end up thinking 4) was a cheap signifier of artistic merit, which is how I viewed the artsy shots in Beautiful Boy.

It very quickly became evident to me that Roma is a deliberate nod to Italian neorealism of the 1940s: its focus on the everyday life of the working class, its heavy use of children, the non-professional actors. (Speaking of which, Yalitza Aparicio was so phenomenally expressive in the leading role of Cleo.) The black and white is then excusable, but I’ve talked to a few people who aren’t familiar with Italian cinematic history who still find the choice strange. It’s a clever nod (and the film is certainly a stellar modern take on the genre), but to fully work it requires specialized knowledge. That’s nothing new for the Academy, which has for decades generally gone for arty films over popular offerings. (See this year’s controversy over the proposed Best Popular Picture category…) Not every film has to be accessible, but I can’t really blame people who aren’t film buffs for not quite getting some of the artistic choices here.

That said, if we can get past the black and white issue, this is a stirring, stunningly-shot film that is at its core about women’s resilience in the face of men’s betrayal. The class difference between live-in housekeeper/nanny Cleo and her mistress Sofía is blatant both visually and behaviourally; their dynamic is fascinating because Sofía does genuinely love the vulnerable and emotional Cleo while never quite treating her like a family member. (At the beginning of the film, Cleo has just settled in to watch TV with the family when Sofía asks her to get her husband a cup of tea.) Yet there is a bond and solidarity between them that transcends these boundaries. Sofía is incredibly supportive of Cleo’s pregnancy, even when the father wants nothing to do with her or the baby, and thanks to Cleo’s loving care of Sofía’s four children, they remain basically carefree even when their father leaves his family for another woman. Sofía tells Cleo that women are always alone, but this is not true, and the film knows it: women have one another.

In my cynicism I think the Academy will probably prove the betting people right and give Roma best picture, partially because it’s a beautiful, well-constructed film, but partially because they’re going to have to acknowledge Netflix sooner or later or risk irrelevance, and it’s relatively on brand to reward a film that makes slightly esoteric nods to film history written and directed by a guy who’s already won an Oscar. I’m not saying Roma doesn’t deserve the award, but the Oscars are entirely political and I’d wager there’s a lot going on behind the scenes when it comes to a foreign-language Netflix original being so heavily favoured to win the most coveted prize in the film industry.

Anyway, my pick out of all the Best Picture nominees has to be The Favourite, but I’d be happy if Roma won. Best Supporting Actress is an incredibly stacked category and realistically anyone could deservedly win, but I’m hoping for either Regina King (to make up for If Beale Street Could Talk being snubbed!!) or Amy Adams (because SHE DESERVES AN OSCAR!!!). Glenn Close is a shoe-in for Best Actress, but The Favourite‘s recent success at the BAFTAs makes me hope for an Olivia Colman upset. The Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories are pretty bad, so I’m just hoping A Star Is Born/Bradley Cooper win as little as possible. Yes, I am petty and bitter. What else is new?

Trying Glossier: Lash Slick Mascara and Lidstar in Fawn

Posted on February 06, 2019 under Reviews

While my aesthetic isn’t quite as minimalistic as Glossier’s, I think my own personal approach to makeup is more in line with the brand than with mid-2010s Instagram looks. And though Glossier has been shipping to Canada for a year and a half now, I’ve been reluctant to dip my toes into the water. I’ve learned from various ill-fated ColourPop orders that it’s best not to buy makeup sight unseen, and Glossier’s marketing has always felt a bit self-congratulatory to me even if the products themselves appeal. All this to explain why I’m embarrassingly late on this bandwagon. Although my usual strategy is to be behind the curve so other people can do the hard work of trying things out and telling me what’s good, in which case a) this is par for the course, and b) I’m not sure why I have a beauty blog.

Now, I won a stick of Haloscope in Quartz from a giveaway on Renee’s blog back in 2016, so I was already aware that there was at least one Glossier product that I love an ungodly amount. (I still use Haloscope basically every day.) So I guess this was a slightly lower-risk enterprise than my numerous ColourPop hauls. Anyway, I picked up the much-hyped Lash Slick mascara on the recommendation of the entire internet but specifically Alison and Auxiliary Beauty, as well as the Lidstar in Fawn thanks to reviews from the same people. I’ve been trying them both out for about a month now, so I can give a proper review in case you really needed my opinion on two products that have been out for like forty-six years.

Glossier Lash Slick Mascara

As always, my biggest mascara-related issues are that everything seems to smudge on my lower eyelid and that nothing holds a curl. Except waterproof mascara. But waterproof mascara is hard to take off and it still smudges, which seems like a very garbage combination of qualities. There has to be a better way! I was promised (promised, I tell you) by multiple bloggers that Lash Slick does not smudge. I was also promised by Glossier (a less trustworthy source, I understand) that it “curls and sculpts as it lengthens, enhancing the look of your natural lashes instead of clumping them together”. I tend to get on pretty well with fibre mascaras, so this seemed promising.

My actual stance on Lash Slick is that it’s okay. Here’s what I like about it: first, it absolutely does not smudge. I have heard of it smudging on other people, but it does not smudge on me, which I’m sure you’ll agree is what actually matters here. It’s not the least bit clumpy, which is definitely great, although that does mean that it gives a subtler overall look. Ideally my eyelashes would look very long and defined without being thick and clumpy, and Lash Slick does fall short of that, although that’s to be expected from Glossier and the actual subtler look is certainly nice.

My biggest issue is that this mascara doesn’t hold a curl on me despite Glossier’s promise, which is a huge bummer. It’s like, what’s the point of my eyelashes looking nice if they’re pointing downwards and nobody can see they look nice? If lashes look nice in a forest but nobody sees them, is a $20 mascara really worth it?

I think this a good mascara and it would be ideally-suited for someone who doesn’t struggle with downward-pointing, curl-resistant lashes and who likes a more natural look. Honestly, even though it’s a bit more subtle than I usually go for, I could be convinced to keep buying it for the smudge-resistant factor alone if only it held a damn curl. But that’s always a dealbreaker.

Anyway, here’s the plastic brush on Lash Slick, which is usually not my favourite type of applicator but does a fine job in this case:

And here’s how my lashes look without and with a few coats of Lash Slick:

I’m sure you can agree that things would be a lot better for all of us if my lashes were curled more than a millimetre. Also if I hadn’t smudged mascara on my eyelid, but that’s real life around these parts.

Glossier Lidstar in Fawn

I’ve been dabbling in the world of liquid eyeshadows for about two years now; between the various Stila offerings and the never-talked-about Urban Decay Liquid Moondust eyeshadows, I’ve been pretty satisfied. But why not try another formula, especially when Glossier makes Fawn, an irresistible cool taupe? Ugh, I can’t say no to a true taupe, and my collection actually lacks this type of colour in powder or liquid form.

The elephant in the room is obviously that the packaging of the Lidstars, which cost $22, looks like cheap shit. I’ve heard the caps are prone to cracking, as well, which I have not yet experienced but which I will eagerly anticipate. Anyway, packaging notwithstanding, I really like this product.

I have not felt any desire to do complex eyeshadow looks for months now, and this is the perfect lazy day eyeshadow. I can dot a bit onto each lid and blend it out with my finger and be done with things. This is undoubtedly a sheer, thin formula, although it can be built up without any disaster. (I’ve tried some liquid eyeshadows that feel gummy and crease horribly when layered too much.) I find it sets fairly quickly, so quick response time is necessary when blending it out. It’s smooth as butter to blend, though. Departing slightly from the glowing reviews I’ve read of the Lidstars, I do find the most minimal creasing at the end of a full day of wear. (This doesn’t bother me, but I thought I’d point it out for the sake of thoroughness.)

Here’s how two layers, blended out, looks on my eyes:

I told you that I always smudge mascara on my eyelid!!!

Obviously, this is by no means an impactful visual statement, but that absolutely has a place in my life.

Here’s what the doefoot applicator looks like:

It’s quite small, which I appreciate greatly as I do not have large swaths of eyelid space.

And here’s a comparison to some other liquid eyeshadows:

L-R: Glossier Lidstar in Fawn blended out; Fawn built up and unblended; Stila Shimmer and Glow Liquid Eyeshadow in Jezebel; Urban Decay Liquid Moondust in Solstice

Stila is the most opaque and metallic; UD is semi-sheer but still more opaque than Glossier, and it has more densely-packed glitter particles. I always think of liquid eyeshadows as high-impact and high-shine, but Glossier has blessed us with a formula that’s super quick and easy to apply and that makes for a subtle but still gorgeous look.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the Lidstar in Fawn and a little more lukewarm on Lash Slick. Lash Slick is a bummer because it was so close to being incredible, but I’m glad it fulfils that niche for other people. And, you know, at least I have my still unbroken tube of Lidstar (and my Haloscope).

The disappointments of 2018

Posted on December 21, 2018 under Reviews

Time to complain about things I didn’t like! Actually, almost everything on this list is merely mediocre – there were very few outright fails this year. But I am not that tolerant of mediocre when the cosmetics market is so saturated, even less so when the products in question are pricey. So, in no particular order, here are the things I didn’t enjoy in 2018.

Function of Beauty Shampoo and Conditioner

It’s hard for me to say, definitively, that this product is not worth it, because by nature everyone’s formula will differ. I was initially swayed to drop some hefty cash on this custom shampoo and conditioner duo precisely because I had read reviews that claimed it was worth it. I’m sure it is, for some. But for me, these are two products that do the job and nothing more. I can get serviceable shampoo and conditioner at the drugstore.

Pat McGrath LuxeTrance Lipstick in 35mm

This is probably the biggest disappointment of all, because you know I wanted so badly to like a $52, gaudily-packaged luxury lipstick whose name references my academic discipline. (Well, kind of, I’m more on the TV side of things but TV used to be shot in 35mm too.) I firmly maintain that this isn’t a bad lipstick, it’s just an okay lipstick. The colour is pretty but nothing special, nothing that I can’t find for $30 or even $10, it’s a bit prone to patchiness on dry lips, and the wear time is far from remarkable. (I wore this lipstick to my work party the other week primarily out of guilt that I’ve barely touched it since receiving it in January, and I had to perform quite a few touch-ups.) I seem to remain the only person on this planet who has had a less-than-glowing experience with this formula, so take that as you will.

Avène High Protection SPF 50+ Emulsion

My main issue with this sunscreen is that it leaves such a white cast, and that is coming from me. I can’t even begin to imagine how unworkable this sunscreen would be on darker skin tones! I mean, the sunscreen itself is fine: it’s a nice lotion texture, it sits well under makeup without pilling, and it does seem to adequately protect from the sun. But, come on. There are too many sunscreens out there for anyone to be spending $25 on one with a severe white cast.

Avène Cold Cream Lip Balm and Abnomaly Petrowhat? in Milk

Two mediocre lip balms! The Avène has a texture that is simultaneously thin and slippery, and it doesn’t seem to ever actually sink into my lips and do any type of moisturizing. It offers temporary relief from really uncomfortably dry lips, but it wears off quickly and doesn’t leave my lips in an improved condition. Luckily I got this as gratis at my old job.

I was excited about Petrowhat?, a new-ish Deciem launch. This lip balm is supposed to mimic the feeling of petroleum jelly-based lip balms, but it’s made with squalane and amino acids. However, I find that this is too thick and greasy and that it just sits on top of my lips. It also has quite a strong salty taste thanks to the amino acids. This is a multipurpose balm so I’m trying to use it up on my cuticles and elbows. Despite the cute packaging and coconut scent, this is a no-go for me and I’d advise you to spend your seven bucks elsewhere.

OGX Flexible+ Beeswax Texture Spray Wax

I picked this up at Walmart on an impulse, because I thought Yes, why not get a texturizing spray? Though I like to make minimal effort with my hair, I thought that a texturizing spray was something I could take fifteen seconds to incorporate. But this just makes my hair a gross, sticky mess. I want to wash my hair as soon as I spray this in. Do not impulse buy hair products at Walmart, everyone.

Luckily, those are the only products that wronged me enough that I had to share. Most of what I bought this year was either satisfactory or too boring to work up any real emotion about. My next post will, of course, be all about the best products I discovered this year, so we can end the year on a positive note instead of dwelling on things that made me sad.