Watching Rosamund Pike slink and vape her way through crafty, cruel thriller I Care A Lot, a trail of acid in her wake, had me scratching my head over just who else could pull off such a specifically, supernaturally savage performance. There can be something inherently unsettling about her otherworldly beauty, something that David Fincher deftly spotted and utilised in Gone Girl, where she combined brittle Upper East Side elegance with the ferocity of the shark from Jaws. She’s not always picked the best projects since, often disappearing in films where she should be forcing her way to the front but British writer-director J Blakeson, who broke out with another crafty thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed before tailing off somewhat, has landed her with a doozy of a character here, a materialistic and morally vacant antihero, heavy emphasis on the anti.
Pike is Marla Grayson, a pristinely styled legal guardian who uses her position to steal from her elderly wards, a court-approved criminal, working tirelessly and ruthlessly with her girlfriend and partner in crime Fran (Eiza Gonzalez). A network of equally callous doctors and care home managers allows them to seamlessly operate without a hiccup, that is until a new mark threatens to unravel it all. Jennifer (Dianne Wiest) is what they call a ‘cherry’, a cash cow waiting for them to forcefully milk every last dollar, made even easier by her lack of family. But after they strand her in a facility, the pair find that she has some important friends who won’t take her new situation lying down.
I Care A Lot is a bracingly heartless movie, the kind that will repel certain viewers, Blakeson leaving anything close to real humanity on the cutting-room floor, offering us a parade of horrible people doing increasingly horrible things to each other. Marla and Fran find themselves up against a violent pack of gangsters who are more up front about their vicious tactics and a dangerous game begins between both sides, although we’re well aware that there will never really be a true winner. What’s most remarkable about Blakeson’s devilish script is his careful avoidance of excess. It’s a nasty film but not one that feels the need to show off just how nasty it is – like Pike’s electric yet controlled performance, the bile is boiling under the surface only occasionally seeping out. Too often when writers create acrid antiheroes such as Marla, they resort to overkill, so giddily proud of their monsters that they lose sight of the reality of the world around them. Rather than having Marla exhaustingly “shock” those she meets with sour and provocative quips as characters like this often do (cut to jaw-on-the-floor reaction trailer moment), she smoothly and professionally glides from situation to situation, efficiently working the room in whatever way it demands, Blakeson realising that a power-player such as this can’t afford to let her mask slip on the daily. We also see some love, or something resembling love, between her and Fran, and it’s rare to see queerness so casually and coolly inserted into a thriller, a quiet victory the film doesn’t need to make a big deal about.
Marla is very clearly a Movie Character, styled and framed as such, yet she’s one who sneakily plays by the rules of a very real framework, and while the inhumanity of those she works alongside might seem overplayed, Blakeson’s idea originated from a “Google rabbithole” of true stories telling of predatory guardians in the US and the horrifying power they wield. He’s not offering us a sweeping sermon on a corrupt system – his story is too laser-focused for that – but in among the gristle, there’s a stinging reminder of how the elderly are undervalued and targeted. There’s dark humour here but in detailing Marla’s treatment of her latest target, her predicament is played for horror and Blakeson sensitively shines a light on the Kafkaesque nightmare that many are faced with. As the stakes are raised, like a cornered animal, Marla’s claws come out even further, and her abhorrent bullying of an elderly woman makes us question just what we want and expect for such an audaciously vile protagonist.
But Blakeson isn’t interested in making it easy for anyone, not for his characters and not for his audience. Marla’s backstory is elegantly slight as are her real motivations. There’s a half-hearted attempt on her part at explaining away her criminality as revenge against the men who mistreated her but Blakeson doesn’t let her out of the deep swamp she’s swimming in that easily (there’s also a killer throwaway comment about her mother – one of the film’s most darkly funny moments).
Pike is astonishingly good, tearing into her role with the same icy menace that made her Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl so indelible and like the script she’s working from, there’s such restraint with her venom that it makes her all the more terrifying. She shares some knife-edge back-and-forths with an affecting and not-to-be-fucked-with Wiest as well as Peter Dinklage, starring as her main nemesis, both trying desperately to compete against an all-time high-scorer. It’s a little overlong, sagging slightly in the last act and Blakeson does rely on a repetitive and sometimes overbearing Reznor and Ross-lite score, but all is mostly forgiven as he caps it off with a delicious final scene.
Going into this year’s Toronto film festival without a distributor, I Care A Lot deserves a swift big money pickup. It’s a major, much-needed win for both Pike and Blakeson, a caustic little treat for those of us who prefer our stories with a spoonful of salt.
From Beyoncé to the Oscars: Mary Twala, Africa’s queen of cinema | Film
Mary Twala died just a few weeks before Beyoncé’s Black Is King came out. In the film, the 80-year-old embodied the story’s shaman figure, the last part she’d ever play in a six-decade career. The deep lines of her face, white paint over her eyes and red beads covering her head, made a striking impression, introducing the actor to a whole new audience.
Among its other virtues, Black Is King opened a portal for western audiences to some of the best talent from the continent – some emerging, others, like Twala, already well established. But for those only just discovering her in the wake of Beyoncé’s visual album release, the best of Twala’s work is arguably still to come.
Born in Soweto, Johannesburg in 1939, Twala had been acting since her early 20s, when her sister brought her along to an audition. Her range was wide: among the many productions she starred in were Generations, the first soap centred on Black middle-class characters, created in 1993 in the run-up to South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections; and Sarafina!, which screened at the 1992 Cannes film festival.
Over her career, Twala garnered many accolades – none bigger than South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga (silver), presented to her by the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2019 for outstanding contribution to the arts. She was mourned by the nation when she died at the beginning of July as a result of Covid-19.
Although Black Is King was Twala’s last role, it won’t be the last chance to see her on screen. The final feature film she acted in, This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, has been travelling the festival circuit for the past year, in advance of its theatrical release. In it, Twala plays an elder of a tiny village in Lesotho, whose deep grief sets off a defiant spirit of protest among her community against local developers. The film is the debut narrative fiction feature of film-maker and writer Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, who was born in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru.
Made under Venice’s Biennale College initiative, Burial premiered at the festival last year before competing in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic competition, where it earned the special jury award for visionary film-making in January. Since its first screening, it’s collected more than 20 festival awards, including best actress for Twala at the Durban international film festival. The film has just been submitted as Lesotho’s first ever entry into best international feature at the Oscars, making history even before the nominations are announced.
South African producer Cait Pansegrouw brought Twala to Mosese’s attention, showing him a photo of her while they were developing the film. Inspired by Mosese’s own grandmother’s experience of being displaced from her village, the story is deeply personal, drawing, too, on universal themes of identity, progress and tradition. “When I saw the picture of Mary, I knew that this is the right canvas,” he says. “She surrendered her body as a canvas for my thoughts and observations to literally paint my painting. The painting that I’ve been having in my mind for all these years,” says Mosese.
The film rests on Twala’s diminutive shoulders and she carries it ably – in the close-ups of her face mourning the death of her husband, in her small stature against the majestic Lesotho mountains, in the wails of her tears. The landscape of Lesotho becomes a character in the film, just as Twala’s character Mantoa, becomes its own landscape. “The film is almost like a performance art. It was very physical,” says Mosese. “And for her, it wasn’t a question of if we can do this. It was, ‘When do you want to do it? Should we do it now?’”
As Pansegrouw and Mosese explain, the conditions in the remote part of Lesotho, Ha Dinizulu, where they filmed were tough, with a lack of infrastructure and the weather fluctuating from -2C degree mornings to 28-degree days. At times, they shot through electrical storms. But Pansegrouw says Twala was up for anything they needed her to do during the 24-day shoot, including learning the intricate Sesotho language.
“I’d always go to her little room before bedtime to make sure she was cool,” says Pansegrouw. “And one night I said, ‘Mary, are you okay? Like, this is a crazy experience, are you OK?’ And she was like, ‘I’ve made many films in my life, and many films I have read. And many films I have heard. This is the first film that I see. I see it so clearly.’”
Mosese thinks the growing curiosity towards the continent from outside – fanned by the likes of Beyoncé – is a beautiful thing. But he’s more excited about the younger film-makers coming up behind him, who might see in his work an accessible way to realise their own dreams, utilising great African talent, like Twala’s, along the way.
How Kerry Washington Celebrated The 2020 Election
Dancing, ice cream — could you ask for anything more?
Kerry Washington stumped for Biden and Harris before Election Day (as you can see in this photo) — so it’s no surprise that she told People about her family celebrating when the election was formally called.
“I was hanging out with my family, and it was actually raining here,” she explained. “My kids and I, [as soon as we heard the news], we went out and danced in the rain. We were splashing around in puddles and just enjoying it.”
“We told them they could have ice cream. They were like, ‘We get ice cream!’ And I was like, ‘And also democracy!'”
Washington also talked to People about why she believes it’s important for her to speak her mind politically.
“…It’s not so much that I want to use my celebrity to tell people what to do,” she said. “It’s more just that as Americans, we live in a democracy that needs all of us to contribute and to use our voices.”
“…I’m not using social media to say, ‘I’m Kerry Washington, listen to me.’ I’m more saying, ‘I want you all to know that your voices are as important as mine. For this democracy to work, we need all of us to show up and to contribute.'”
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