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July 21st 2019
Have you heard of Mahershala Ali? If you'd describe yourself as a film fan, the chances are that you have; if you wouldn't, the chances are you haven't.
Let's try another one. Have you heard of Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington or Michael Caine? Whether or not you're a film buff, I suspect you know them all. What all these actors - as well as Mahershala Ali - have in common is that they have won two Oscars. What makes Ali special in this list is that his two have come in the last three years, for supporting roles in Moonlight and Green Book respectively, and perhaps the fact that neither of these films were exactly blockbusters (despite both winning Best Picture Oscars) is why Ali is not as well known as he deserves to be. He is an incredible actor. I mean, don't take my word for it, the Academy gave him two flippin' Oscars in three years. And, happily for Marvel fans, he'll be reaching larger audiences by dint of having just been announced as Blade. But that's not what I want to write about today.
I re-watched Green Book recently, and it truly is a fantastic film, which I want to recommend to anyone who hasn't already seen it. Or, indeed, if you saw it at the cinema and (like me) forgot how good it was.

Green Book

Green Book tells the true story of Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Ali), respectively an Italian-American bouncer and an African-American jazz pianist, who tour the American Deep South in the 1960s. Tony is hired as a driver and semi-reluctantly takes the job; the film is the story of the friendship that grows between this unlikely pairing with the backdrop of the racism prevalent in both the attitudes and the laws of the time.
A lot of nonsense was spoken and written about Green Book during its Oscar campaign - it was a funny awards season all round, in fact, as a lot of people decided they hated the perfectly decent Bohemian Rhapsody, despite a stand-out turn by Rami Malek as Freddie Murphy (who won both a Coddie and a Oscar) - and it would be a shame if that stopped anyone from watching it.
Firstly, a lot of people were critical that the story was told through the eyes of Tony Lip rather than Don Shirley. That's a bit silly, frankly. Everyone has a story; this one was Tony's (co-written by his son, in fact), and it certainly isn't to the detriment of Shirley's character, whose own emotional arc is deep and rich. Secondly, there were criticisms from members of Shirley's family, who suggested that the two characters were never friends in real life, and only had an employer / employee relationship. This is debunked by recordings in which Don Shirley says precisely the opposite.
Thirdly, the most frequent criticism - as well as the most confused and self-contradictory - is that this is either a "White Saviour" narrative or a (paraphrasing - read the article if you want to see why) "Magical Black Person" narrative. Or, indeed, both. Summarising these tropes, they are respectively a white person helping a black one, and a black person helping a white one. Both of these are regarded as racist against black people, which in itself is tricky to balance, but the point is that, in Green Book, we have a story of two men helping each other. To suggest that one kind of help is White Saviour racist and the other kind is Magical Black Person racist is simply perverse. Don't believe me? Ask Mahershala Ali.
Actually, there is one scene that I wish had been cut, as it is the only one that really lends credence to these kind of complaints. Early in the film, Tony Lip's wife hires a couple of black workmen, and Tony throws away two glasses just because these men have drunk out of them. It is a moment of absurd bigotry that is never hinted at again by the character - while he does have to come to terms with his own bias, it is never so overt or concious, and the scene feels totally out of place in the movie.
Part of the genius of the film, actually, is that as well as the obvious theme of anti-black racism - and the interesting exploration of the racism Shirley faces from other black men because he is not, apparently, black enough - it also raises the question of prejudice against Italian-Americans. And not just onscreen. Yes, Tony gets slurs because of his heritage, but more interesting is the way the film deals with the audience's unconcious bias regarding a particular kind of Italian-American movie character. Tony is a bouncer, sometimes a violent one, and I think the film pokes at what we expect that to mean in his relationship with his wife, played peerlessly by Linda Cardellini, the film's secret weapon. Think of De Niro in Raging Bull, or any number of mafia heavies, and you expect Tony to lay down the law with his wife and show her the back of his hand if she steps out of line. Far from it. For Green Book, as well as everything else it's doing, is also a love story: Tony's letters to his wife, written with the guidance of the vastly more educated Don Shirley, form the most touching subplot of the film.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the movie is that it's directed by Peter Farrelly, who made his name as one half of the Farrelly Brothers directing gross-out comedies like Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary. In fact, this appears to be his first serious film - even if it is billed as a comedy-drama - and hopefully the harbinger of plenty more to come. It is certainly funny in places, and throughout is handled with a lightness of touch that means the poignant messages never come across as preaching, even in the most dramatic moments. Of course, going back to where I started, a large part of that is due to Mahershala Ali: the scene where he offers Tony a raise is worth the Oscar by itself.
I should put in a word for Viggo Mortensen as well, who piled on the pounds for this role, and plays it broadly - big Italian-American accent, hand gestures, the lot - but always movingly and engrossingly. He was deservedly Oscar-nominated as well, and can expect to feature when next year's Coddies roll around. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention since his days as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings (and I must admit I've only seen Captain Fantastic, for which he was also nominated), he's still doing brilliant, unique work.
So... check out Green Book. And, if you didn't already know who Mahershala Ali is, I hope you do now. All things considered, though, please don't seek him out in the last two Hunger Games films. You can do better.

July 22nd 2019
Listen, there is no way that this isn't a #humblebrag, but I feel I owe you an update on my woebegone entry of June 12th, when I was fresh from my Analytic Number Theory exam. If you recall, I thought it had gone OK but was rather disappointed that I hadn't done better. The short version of the update - indeed, the only version - is that it went rather better than I'd thought, and I discovered tonight that I got 98%. Some fairly drastic scaling to a curve, I suspect.
Anyhow, I'm rather pleased. And I'm definitely vowing, for what must be the hundredth time, never to make predictions about my exam performance again. Next stop: Advanced Mathematical Methods.

what was I listening to?
Greatest Hits - The Cure
what was I reading?
Girls in Love - Jacqueline Wilson
what was I watching?
The Lion King/font>
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