CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #7 – ‘FLAMENCO DANCE’ SCENE – HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008)
Directed and written by: Mike Leigh
Produced by: Simon Channing Williams
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Karina Fernandez etc.
Music: Gary Yershon
Cinematography: Dick Pope
While I’m a massive fan of Mike Leigh’s body of work, I disliked Happy Go Lucky (2008) when I first saw it. I think I must have been in a bad mood or just did not get it. Maybe, on first watch, I felt it was an inconsequential film when compared to his others?
However, having re-watched it a couple of times in the last year I must admit I have completely changed my mind about it. Indeed, Sally Hawkins’ characterisation and acting as Poppy Cross is a joy.
In the ‘Flamenco Dance’ scene we find Poppy joining a dance class for what she hopes is a bit of fun and exercise. The teacher, passionately portrayed by Karina Fernandez, is Poppy’s opposite in terms of intensity and seriousness. This is all meant to be a bit of a laugh as Hawkins’ wonderful facial expressions suggest.
Yet, while the scene begins humorously it ends rather embarrassingly as the Flamenco teacher has a hell of an emotional meltdown in front of the class. I love this scene because of Hawkins’ sly performance juxtaposing with Fernandez’ heartfelt breakdown; all of which captures wildly different emotions in a short period of time.
Sally Hawkins is such a formidable actor. She is likeable, bright, and funny; possessing an expert ability to bring pathos and emotion to every role. Having first really noticed her in Mike Leigh’s compelling period drama Vera Drake (2004), it’s mainly in the last decade she’s getting the leading roles her talent demands. Thus, here are five of Sally Hawkins most impressive performances that are well worth watching again and again.
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
Yes, I know it says “cinematic romance” and Fingersmith was a two-part British TV programme, however, Sarah Waters’ novel was also made into a film by Park-Chan Wook called The Handmaiden (2016), so it kind of counts. Hawkins portrays Sue Trinder, raised to be a thief in Victorian England, who enters into a scam to rob an heiress. However, her relationship with the ‘mark’ becomes very complex indeed as the twisting complex plot becomes a veritable joy. Hawkins is a sympathetic criminal faced dealing with the sexist oppression of the day and she delivers thoughtful acting combining vulnerability and romance. One of Hawkins early starring performances shows what a great talent she is and will become.
When I first saw this film I really did not enjoy it. Perhaps I was in a bad mood or just not up for any kind of positivity. I was also surprised Mike Leigh had delivered something, in comparison to Vera Drake (2004), a film so inconsequential. However, having re-watched it in the last year I must admit I was a total fool and wrong. Sally Hawkins character work and acting as Poppy Cross is a joy. Her character is very natural, optimistic and care-free. She enjoys her job as a primary school teacher and drifts through life happily. Hawkins imbues Poppy with a light comedic touch and her timing of a look, little giggle and innocence gags just make you feel better about life. If everyone was like Poppy the world would be a far better place.
BLUE JASMINE (2013)
While Woody Allen’s work has been re-evaluated in light of his very questionable personal choices, there’s no doubting his casting selections are absolute quality. It’s becoming more and more difficult to separate the creative from his apparent sins this in no way impacts on the sterling work of Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in an excellent family comedy full of barbed wit and conflict. Hawkins performance as Ginger, an every person just trying to get by, sparks and conflicts with Blanchett’s neurotic socialite in effervescent comedic fashion. The two actors excel and Hawkins was nominated for an Academy award for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ as Blanchett took away the main prize.
Perhaps overshadowed by the success of the big budget monster/love story The Shape of Water (2017), the low-budget Maudie features another stunning Hawkins turn. She is quietly powerful in the role of Nova Scotia painter Maud Dowling who came to prominence for her painting in the late 1960s and became somewhat of a cult treasure. Hawkins and Ethan Hawke steal the acting honours as the unlikely husband and wife, as Aisling Walsh directs a fine tribute to a small woman with a massive artistic talent. Hawkins is just brilliant though as the bullied and beaten women who refuses to break as the performance demonstrates a human being small of stature but big in spirit.
THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)
Sally Hawkins plays mute cleaner Elisa Esposito, who works at a top secret U.S. army base. Silent from birth, what she lacks in voice, Elisa more than makes up for in courage, compassion and confidence. When a mysterious “Asset” is delivered to Elisa’s place of work she suddenly becomes entwined in an incredible story of sacrifice and love. Hawkins and Doug Jones performances are entrancing as two silent characters are able to say more with a look, hand signal and touch than a thousand words could achieve. In any other year Sally Hawkins would have walked away with all the Best Actress honours; yet she was up against the incredible Frances McDormand. Nonetheless, Hawkins gives us such a nuanced and heart-rending performance you forget that she cannot speak.
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
Amidst the incredible visual magic, themes of the outsider, forbidden love and the onerous scope of the patriarchy are replete within the works of fantasist Guillermo Del Toro. They are often more than not presented within allegories too where the fantastic elements are employed to both create spellbinding awe while secretly delivering an important socio-political message. For me, Del Toro in attempting to marry grandiose concepts with important messages must be praised for his risk-taking. Above all else there is no doubt, as his latest film The Shape of Water confirms, he is a filmmaker of some brilliance.
Del Toro’s body of work demonstrates: outsiders, freaks, the silent minority and the shunned are never far away from his vision. In The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pans Labyrinth (2006), children find themselves the victims of horrific civil war. While, similarly, in Hellboy (2004) war with the Nazis is central to the core as our anti-hero, a sarcastic red ‘demon’, fights against all manner of monstrous foes. Prejudice against Hellboy is also represented within his “forbidden” love for Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), while an altogether more sinister romance is shown in gothic thriller Crimson Peak (2015). Even muscular vampire-hunter played by Wesley Snipes in Blade II (2002) is a freakish hybrid who does not fit into the societal and patriarchal order.
In The Shape of Water, Del Toro has successfully taken all of these elements and themes and delivered a magical, poetic, at times disturbing, but overall incredible cinematic experience. Set during the Cold War in 1950s Washington, Sally Hawkins plays mute cleaner Elisa Esposito, who along with her friend, Zelda (a wonderful Octavia Spencer), works at a top secret U.S. army base. Silent from birth, what she lacks in voice, Elisa more than makes up for in courage, compassion and confidence. She shares her living space with retired copywriter, Giles — portrayed with incredible warmth and wit by Richard Jenkins — and his army of cats. But when a mysterious “Asset” is delivered to Elisa’s place of work she suddenly becomes entwined in an incredible story of sacrifice and love.
The “Asset” is considered a monster by the United States Army and the security team is led by a dominant bully and alpha male called Strickland. Here, once again, Michael Shannon proves himself a formidable actor. He doesn’t just do cartoon bad guys but, thanks to some great writing and acting, Strickland is shown to be the biggest monster of the film; full of nasty quirks and a sadistic desire for control. Doug Jones as the Amphibian Man also deserves a special mention as the scenes between him and Sally Hawkins are very special. Here two silent characters are able to say more with a look, hand signal and touch than a thousand words could achieve. Del Toro supports the acting with some terrific visuals, many of them water-based, as raindrops, bath water and aquatic underwater images submerge us in a rich palette of blues and greens. The music is cleverly used too; from Alexander Desplat’s melodious score to the old classic songs of yesteryear humming from the cinema below Elsa’s apartment building.
In any other year Sally Hawkins, and she may well still do, walk away with all the Best Actress honours; yet she is up against the incredible Frances McDormand. Nonetheless, Hawkins gives us such a nuanced and heartrending performance you forget that she cannot speak. But that is what Del Toro does so well because throughout his oeuvre he gives voices to the outsiders, orphans, children, supposed monsters and victims of oppression. This is mainly a love story but I also enjoyed the brilliant writing from Vanessa Taylor and Del Toro as the script leaps from romance to horror, suspense, action, cold-war thriller and black comedy. Overall, within this magical experience Del Toro invites us into a dark world where prejudice is ultimately defeated by tenderness; and brutality will never stop the path of true love.
This massive budget reboot of Tohu’s iconic monster GODZILLA is not a terrible movie. It is a technical triumph in fact and has some memorable moments; however, for a MONSTER movie and cinematic experience it was a bitter, bitter disappointment. Plus, at times – dare I say it – it was pretty boring.
If I pay ten quid to see a film called GODZILLA I expect and demand ultimate carnage with the lives of thousands destroyed – eaten and crushed and fire-balled to death – while cities and oceans are awash with blood, rubble and the tears of survivors. Because Godzilla is a metaphor for nuclear attacks don’t you know so surely this should be your first priority: show annihilation and destruction of cities and humans? That’s what I want for my money!
Gareth Edwards and his massive team of filmmakers offer some destruction over its 120 minutes but ultimately Godzilla fails as a monster movie; it fails as a disaster film and fails most importantly as a piece of drama driven by believable and empathetic characters. It’s not a great surprise to be honest as the sophomore director got the gig on the back of his independent film MONSTERS (2010) which was filmed on Prosumer cameras with special effects and editing also done very cheaply. Much kudos goes to Edwards’ for creating Monsters on such a low budget and he is certainly a filmmaker who deserved a big break.
Monsters, like Godzilla was slow-moving, solemn and very serious in tone and in both films their monsters are hidden from view only appearing in full way too late in the narrative for my liking. I enjoyed Monsters because it gave us the brilliant actor Scoot McNairy who has gone onto to feature in some fine films notably Argo (2012) and Killing Them Softly (2012). But it was essentially a love-story-come-travelogue with the creatures having little direct impact or threat on the characters.
Sadly, this also happens somewhat in Godzilla. It begins promisingly enough in 1999 with a nuclear explosion caused by the hatching of an egg which releases an unknown creature into the sea. So far, so intrigued. Flash forward 15 years and Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is devastated by the loss of his wife (Juliette Binoche) during said nuclear disaster and obsessively attempts to find out what happened that fateful day. Throw Brody’s son portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson – quite handily a bomb disposal expert – into the mix and you get a promising character axis on the go. Simultaneously, scientists Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe enter the fray to investigate but they are dull cardboard cut-outs there to serve us mundane expositional ramblings with no character momentum whatsoever. But Cranston’s character disappears from the narrative quite quickly and moreover, having to wait an hour before the first main bit of monster action really tested my patience.
I realise Edwards chose to go down the less-is-more route of Jaws (1975) but the reason the shark could not be seen in that was because the mechanical beast was beset with troubles and didn’t work so Spielberg and his team had to think creatively around this issue. Consequently, they created so many great set-pieces – something severely lacking in Godzilla. For example the scene with the two fishermen trying to catch the shark with a lump of meat is an especially brilliant sequence where the camera and music act as the shark. It’s a quality and economical piece of filmmaking with a fantastic punchline at the end to lift the mood.
When they do appear the Monsters are amazing to look at but there was not enough in the screenplay for me to actually give a damn by that time. The ensemble cast are pretty much wasted in my view and the less said about the screenplay the better. I feel it would have been better to have done a Towering Inferno (1974) or Poseidon Adventure (1972) style disaster movie with an ensemble star cast battling against the impact of Godzilla on their lives. In fact, Godzilla, however impressive he may look is pretty benign as a threat to humans; a decision which dumbfounded me. Overall, I felt the film needed a bigger name director like Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson or a James Cameron figure to give us that WOW factor. The screenplay also had a humour bypass too and I failed to get value for my entrance fee. Sad to say this film was a gigantic disappointment.