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For this month’s round-up, we turn our attention to Logan, The Founder, Arrival, and Certain Women. What verdicts shall we render? You simply must listen to find out!
The safety catch is very much off as Hugh Jackman dons the adamantium claws for one last roll of the Wolverine, and fans of the character’s comic book treatment are in for a treat. It’s brutal, it’s unrelenting and it’s surprisingly human. Drew and Craig do their best to give you the skinny of this most X-rated of X-Men movies, but you’ll have to excuse the pub ambience. We know, we know. We won’t be doing it again.
It was a clever move to minimise the name “McDonalds” on the promo material for this, encumbered as it is with its own baggage and prejudice. But, for a little while longer at least, it is with living memory that the burger behemoth was not the globe bestriding exemplar of all that is good and bad about neoliberal capitalism, but a simple burger stand out California way ran by Dick and Mac McDonald, played here by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch respectively.
I say simple, as that’s how it seems from our decadent modernity, but back in the fifties the tradition of the great American Diner was not really all that great, as hard-grafting travelling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) knew from bitter first hand experience. The carhops were overworked, the food wasn’t well prepared, assuming you were lucky enough to get what you ordered. So, while on the road hawking a more efficient milkshake machine, he’s stunned to come across the diner model that the McDonalds have innovated.
It’s largely as McDonald’s is these days, although even more streamlined, offering only a very few items which can then be made to a consistent standard and quality, as opposed to diners that offered a wide selection of badly done food. Greatly impressed, he buttonholes the McDonalds in order to get their story then insists on shoehorning himself into their operations in order to franchise their idea across the USA.
They’d tried that idea before with sub-optimal results, as it became impossible to maintain standards, and the stress of attempting to put Mac into the hospital. Ray swears things will be different this time. Which, I suppose, is one thing that he said that was truthful.
We follow Ray in his attempts to pitch an initially unreceptive world about this idea before finding a few people willing to sign up, one of whom being Patrick Wilson’s Rollie Smith, although it’s his wife Joan (Linda Cardellini) that Ray’s really more interested in. This will eventually become a problem for Ray’s long-ignored wife (Laura Dern).
As the idea catches on, and more and more franchisees sign up with Ray, he starts to want far more influence and control than the iron-clad contract with the McDonald’s allow, and soon starts butting heads with them, and making more money by some side deals relating to the property the restaurants are built on that are against the spirit, if not the letter, of the deal.
Things eventually come to a head, as Ray pushes ever more strongly against the McDonalds control before outright defying them, secure in the knowledge that having made far more money off the McDonald’s idea than they themselves have, any possible lawsuit for breech of contract could be lawyer-ed out until the McDonalds run out of money.
So reluctantly, the McDonalds give up their idea, and their name, for a mere fraction of what it’s worth to what’s become a greedy, unscrupulous, uncaring corporate monolith. Which is largely infuriating because intitially, Ray doesn’t seem all that bad.
Now, that’s not to minimise the way Ray’s exceedingly distant relationship with his wife, which is a pretty shabby byproduct of his line of work, but not actively hateful. But the story of The Founder, despite how intertwined it necessarily is with the McDonald’s brothers, in truth has very little to do with them, and almost all to do with the slide of Ray Kroc from somewhat hapless, hard-working, almost stereotypical salesman to the embodiment of the over-reaching corporate mentality that is either everything that is great or is fundamentally broken about neo-liberal capitalism, depending on where you fall on the Lenin – Ayn Rand spectrum.
Which is a very interesting framing device, but it’s Michael Keaton who knocks this out of the park with a tremendous performance that does a bag-up job of capturing Ray’s changing attitudes as he goes from underdog to overdog. Offerman and Carroll Lynch play well the roles that this dramatisation requires, both being so, well, nice, that when Ray starts hard-charging them it seems like he’s kicking puppies.
How realistic are these portrayals? I can’t really say, but I’d be willing to bet “not hugely”, and there’s most likely a great deal more complexity in the dealings between the parties than is represented here, and there’s some good reasons for Kroc to feel aggrieved over his treatment that aren’t explored quite as fully as they should be if this was aiming to be fair and balanced. But I’m not really looking for a legal briefing, and as a drama it all works very well indeed.
Even if you don’t care a whit for the wrangling of the rights to McDonalds, this is well worth watching purely on the basis of Keaton’s performance. It’s one of the rare films that left me infuriated enough that I very much wished to reach through the screen and throttle the lead character. And that’s got to count for something, I suppose. Well worth seeking out and adding to your diet.
Certain Women was pitched to me by the slick, silvertounged salesman of the American Airlines in-flight entertainment system as the intersecting stories of three women blazing their own trail in small-town Northwestern U.S.A. This is what we used to call a lie, although I suppose it’s just an alternative plot synopsis these days. To the best of my recollection, the three strands of the narrative do not come anywhere close to each other, which I believe makes them anti-secting stories.
In our first strand Laura Dern plays a lawyer, also named Laura, representing Jared Harris’s Fuller, who’s refusing to take her advice that there is no basis to sue for further workplace accident compensation after previously accepting a low-ball offer. She has cause to wonder about institutional sexism when a second opinion, from a male colleague, is accepted without the months of questioning she received. The kicker to this comes when Fuller snaps and takes a security guard hostage at gunpoint in his former place of employment. Laura is called to act as a negotiator, the totality of which I assure you is a whole lot more low-key than a quick recap makes it sound.
The second strand sees a young family headed by Gina (Michelle Williams) and Ryan (James Le Gros) attempt to buy a quantity of sandstone from Odo aff Deep Space Nine (Rene Auberjonois), who appears to be on the cusp of some form of dementia.
That’s literally all there is to that strand.
The final story is often incorrectly stated as centring on Kristen Stewart, although the real protagonist is the rather strangely un-named on IMDB The Rancher (Lily Gladstone) who is, and stop me if this is a shock, a ranch-hand, specifically a temporary winter one with no roots or friends in the microscopic town she finds herself in. Lonely, she drifts into a late night class being taught by Stewart’s Elizabeth Travis, a lawyer from a town a four hour drive away who’s very much having second thoughts about the whole teaching gig. Over the course of a few weeks of the post-class trip to the diner, The Rancher tries to strike up at the very least a friendship with Elizabeth, who’s clearly not that into her. Between these one-sided conversations, really more of a moaning session on Elizabeth’s part, The Rancher goes through the repetitive motions of looking after the horses. The closest this gets to drama is when Elizabeth quits the class, and The Rancher impulsively decides to drive to Elizabeth’s town to track her down to say hello.
Which she does. Then goes back to the ranch.
Writer / director Kelly Reichardt has some chops to her, to be sure. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and the isolation and distance of the characters and the locations conveyed well by shots that aren’t necessarily the most obvious to select. It’s attracted a talented cast whom I’m generally quite fond of, and also Kristen Stewart. To be fair, even she’s eminently believable in her role and I can’t find flaw with the cast as a whole, with Laura Dern giving a particularly strong turn.
Furthermore, I’m sure there are people who either find themselves dealing with the isolation of small town life, or who do not receive the professional or familial respect they are clearly due, be they male or female, that will find something to connect with in Certain Women. I’m not altogether sure how much everyone else will get from it, though.
The pacing, as you’ve presumably already inferred from the recaps, is necessarily sedate. So sedate, in fact, that I fell asleep while watching it and had to rewind an hour of it, although that’s perhaps more a reflection on the conditions of my watching it than the quality of the film. However, I do have a fairly high tolerance for the glacially paced, and this is close to my limits, so it may well prove too much, or rather, too little for general audiences.
The Bechdel test remains disappointingly relevant, and while it’s nice to see a film fly over that bar, I can’t cut it any slack for, well, not really doing or saying very much. It’s not that the observations it’s making about the attitudes of men towards women aren’t valid, but they’re the same ones that have been obvious for decades, at the very least. I suppose, until that changes, it’s important to keep bringing them to the fore, but I doubt that Certain Women is going to do much to change attitudes – it’s really more of a choir-preaching exercise.
I can see the reasons for this having been warmly critically received, but it’s also quite clear to me why this is a limited release – a double bill of this and nigh-on any major studio general audience film would be quite the style clash.
Still, this is a warning in search of a problem. It’s the sort of film you’re only likely to have heard about if your cinematic tastes skew in its direction, and if so you’ll probably like what it offers up. If, however, this is the first you’ve heard of Certain Women, I’ll lay decent odds on you best leaving it alone.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed today, please hit us up on Twitter (@fudsonfilm), on Facebook (facebook.com/fudsonfilm), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to receive our podcast on a regular basis, please add our feed to your podcasting software of choice, or subscribe on iTunes. If you could see your way clear to leaving a review on iTunes, we’d be eternally grateful, but we won’t blame you if you don’t. We’ll be back with you on the first of April with a look at the films Hollywood make about its hometown, but until then, take care of yourself, and each other.