Sunday, May 19, 2019

Banana Split

Today I screened Banana Split, starring Hannah Marks and Liana Liberato.

April (Marks) is devastated by her breakup with Nick (Dylan Sprouse). It's the summer after high school graduation and instead of focusing on her upcoming entrance to college across the country, she instead focuses on learning more about Nick's new flame, Clara (Liberato).

Determined to loathe her, April has friends spying on Clara's Instagram account and is displeased when they end up at the same party. Until she gets to know Clara. And likes her.

The two girls unexpectedly form a genuine friendship, but choose to keep their association from Nick. Throughout the summer they visit each other's homes, go out to eat, take trips and behave just as besties do. And really, it shouldn't be so surprising—they fell for the same boy, so it's not weird they enjoy the same types of things, right?

Right. Until said same boy gets in the way and things get complicated all of a sudden.

I won't spoil the ending, but it's realistic and satisfying in a way that many films are not. And that's my take on the entire movie: it's realistic and satisfying in a way that many films are not. It examines the complicated friendships women sometimes enter into coupled with the complicated feelings of young love. The characters speak the way real people speak and the story progresses like life.

Don't miss this one—especially if you have (or ever were) a teenage girl.

~~~

Banana Split screened at the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Gloria Bell

This morning I saw Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore and John Turturro.

Gloria (Moore) is a fifty-something divorcée working in a standard job, living her best life in the after-hours, dancing the night away at Los Angeles clubs. It's at one of these clubs that she meets Arnold (Turturro), a more recently divorced father of two with a demanding ex-wife and two grown children who are just as needy.

At first, they find bliss in each other's arms, then Gloria grows tired of the hold Arnold's family has over him and from there they begin a frustrating pattern of wanting to be together, but often abandoning plans (sometimes in the middle of said plans). All the while Gloria is navigating a disturbingly loud neighbor, a hairless cat that keeps sneaking into her apartment and her own grown children, who have issues too.

The film seemed to repeatedly remind us that in life, "It's always something."

Moore is fantastic as this independent woman, prone to sing-a-longs and demanding more from the world. Her face never betrays her intentions and her intentions are often bold. That's not to say she doesn't have moments of weakness—one of the best scenes in the film happens when she's most vulnerable and her mother, played by the always-amazing Holland Taylor, comes to pick up the pieces. In those moments of quiet, we really saw the essence of the woman.

That said, the film sometimes meandered too much for my attention span and scenes lingered longer than they needed to for sufficient effect.

Still, you could do worse than spending a few hours with these characters.

~~~

Friday, March 22, 2019

Us

Last night I saw Us, starring Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke.

Gabe (Duke) wants to take his family for a relaxing vacation in Santa Cruz, California. They're game ... as long as they can bring along their phones and magic tricks. His wife Adelaide (Nyong'o) has reservations because of an incident that happened to her on the same beach when she was a young girl and voices her apprehension. But they go anyway.

After they meet up with friends and enjoy some sun, the family heads back to their summer house to call it a night. The kids are tucked into bed and the couple is chatting when a family appears at the end of their driveway. At first, Gabe tells everyone not to worry and tries to approach the four with kindness. When they don't respond, things escalate and soon they become hostages in their own home.

Each of the figures who appeared in the driveway appear to be clones of Gabe's family and attack their identical counterparts. Soon the entire group is in chaos, spread out inside and outside of the house and into the neighborhood.

From this point on, the battle continues as more about these "tethered" people is revealed and the family sees what they're up against.

Those who say Writer/Director Jordan Peele has invented his own sub-genre of horror are correct. He doesn't just use psychological tricks, he blends the unknown with a welcome humor to appease the audience at just the right time before launching another "gotcha" moment and finishing with a twist. His techniques are more satisfying than traditional horror because their smarter.

I had a lot of fun at this film and seeing it in a sold-out theater amongst jumpy, squealy filmgoers only added to the experience. Make sure to see this one on the big screen if you can.

~~~

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Marvel

Tonight I saw Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson.

Carol (Larson) wrecks in an unknown place while in-flight with her fellow pilot/mentor/hero, Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening). Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) takes her under his wing to train her to defend her new people. After a harrowing mission, she crash lands into earth and discovers she's been there before.

As Carol navigates her once-known territory, she gets help revealing her long-forgotten life from human Nick Fury (Jackson), who acts as a right-hand-man and takes a liking to Goose, the cat that's along for the ride.

For me, who isn't much of an action fan, there was perhaps too much action upfront to allow me to embrace the characters. I felt like I was supposed to like Carol, and rooted for her, but the flashbacks of her origin story weren't really enough for me to attach myself to with any solid emotion.

Couple that with a literal darkness that enveloped the space and fight scenes, and I found it hard to stay with in certain sections.

What went well? The chemistry between Larson and Jackson; the brilliant 1990s soundtrack that had me singing along with it throughout and the sarcasm/clever one-liners that Marvel is so good at. There are definitely moments to savor. Of course, the ass-kicking woman is the greatest element.

That said, this is no Wonder Woman.

When I left that film after the first viewing, I wanted to go don a metal outfit and start taking over. When I left this film, I had a pleasant feeling, but it didn't stay with me far beyond the parking lot.

I'm hoping the next installment really shows what Brie can do in Carol's skin.

~~~


Sunday, February 24, 2019

My 2019 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Here are my final picks for tonight's ceremony:

WRITING: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: FIRST REFORMED

WRITING: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: BLACKKKLANSMAN
My Pick: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Win: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
My Pick: FIRST MAN

SOUND MIXING
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

SOUND EDITING
Who Will Win: A QUIET PLACE
My Pick: A QUIET PLACE

SHORT FILM: LIVE ACTION
Who Will Win: SKIN
My Pick: DETAINMENT

SHORT FILM: ANIMATED
Who Will Win: ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
My Pick: BAO

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: MARY POPPINS RETURNS

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Who Will Win: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN
My Pick: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Who Will Win: BLACK PANTHER
My Pick: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Who Will Win: VICE
My Pick: VICE

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Who Will Win: ROMA
My Pick: COLD WAR

FILM EDITING
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: VICE

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Who Will Win: LIFEBOAT
My Pick: END GAME

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
Who Will Win: FREE SOLO
My Pick: RBG

DIRECTING
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for ROMA
My Pick: Spike Lee for BLACKKKLANSMAN

COSTUME DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who Will Win: ROMA
My Pick: THE FAVOURITE

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Win: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
My Pick: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
My Pick: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for GREEN BOOK
My Pick: Richard E. Grant for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Glenn Close for THE WIFE
My Pick: Melissa McCarthy for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Rami Malek for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: Christian Bale for VICE

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

~~~

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Isn't It Romantic

Today I saw Isn't It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine.

Natalie (Wilson) is an under-appreciated architect who hates the clichés of romantic comedy narratives. When she gets mugged in a New York City subway station, she awakes to a new world where the streets are clean and the world is painted in colors of love.

After reluctantly entering into a relationship with colleague Blake (Hemsworth), she realizes that to break out of this fantasy world she finds so uncomfortable, she must actually fall in love with who she's meant to be with to break the spell and return to her normal life, so she begins pursuing her best friend, Josh (Devine).

Of course, Rebel Wilson is a pure delight in the lead role and her two suitors are well-cast. Basically this is a fun, clever, classic dig on traditional romantic comedies as it unfolds into one itself.

A welcome reprieve from real life for just under two hours.

~~~

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Documentary Short Nominees (Oscars 2019)

Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Documentary Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order the films were shown.

BLACK SHEEP (UNITED KINGDOM)

A first-person narrative by an African boy whose mother moved their family from London to Essex to be less susceptible to racist violence. Unfortunately, the area they moved to was run by racists and he suffered terrible bullying at the hands of the street kids. His solution was to become more like them so they would leave him alone ... and it worked.

A classic story of becoming a monster to defeat a monster. 

END GAME (UNITED STATES)

An intimate look at several patients who are near death and their many caretakers working to make their last days and weeks the best they can be. By the time the credits are rolling you are invested in what happens to each and every one of these lovely people.

A testament to the good that remains in our world and the agony of the tough decisions that have to be made as we all exit this earth.

A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN (UNITED STATES)

Archival footage provides the burden of proof that 20,000 Americans gathered to celebrate the Nazi movement rising in 1939. This short film reminds us that even in our most diverse of cities, hate can fester and grow.

Chilling, horrific and sadly timely for today.

LIFEBOAT (UNITED STATES)

The organization Sea Watch, a German nonprofit, is responsible for saving over 35,000 people by rescuing refugees from the rough Mediterranean waters. This film explores the lengths they go to on a daily basis to perform those rescues and the severe trauma of the journey.

This serves as a sad reminder of what refugees face as they flee their unsafe home countries.

PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. (UNITED STATES)
Women in a small Indian village are shamed by their menstruation cycles and finally they may be taking steps to overcome this—by producing modern sanitary napkins and selling them to area women. 

An inspiring, uplifting look at female empowerment, entrepreneurship and necessary cultural shifts.

~~~

So, what's my pick to win? End Game will undoubtedly stay with me the longest, so that gets my vote.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2019)

Today I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order the films were shown.

MADRE (Spain)

What begins as a mundane day for Marta (Marta Nieto) rapidly unfolds into a nightmare as her 6-year-old son Ivan (Alvaro Balas) calls to tell her he is alone on a beach in France (she and her mother, who is with her, are in Spain). His father left to retrieve a forgotten toy and he has yet to return. Concern turns to panic when Marta can't deduce exactly what beach Ivan is stranded on and the police are of no help. Did I mention Ivan's phone battery is running low?

An intense back-and-forth commences right up until the end. A well-done suspense tale that will keep your heart racing throughout.

FAUVE (Canada)

Friends Tyler (Félix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) are out exploring their surroundings as young boys often do. Benjamin "cries wolf" faking an injury, then swears he sees a fox, but Tyler doesn't believe him and they go on about their day. The end up running around a surface mine and when Benjamin gets close to the water, his feet slide into the moving earth and he yells out for help. By the time Tyler realizes he's not again crying wolf, it's too late for him to retrieve him without being sucked into the mud/sand himself, so he leaves the mine to seek help from an adult.

Grenier deserves an Oscar of his own for the way his face changes when he realizes his friend is in real danger, and his shell-shocked manner in the events that follow. Difficult to watch, but brilliantly executed.

MARGUERITE (Canada)

Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) is elderly and in poor health. She requires in-home care. Her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), is wonderfully attentive, bathing her and administering all of her necessary tests. The two develop a lovely friendship as Marguerite nears the end of her life and begins to reflect on her younger years.

Though this is the slowest-paced film of the five, it's no less poignant as the two characters realize they share a bond they didn't know they had. Beautiful story.

DETAINMENT (IRELAND)

Based on a true story, this film recounts the questioning of the killers following the horrific kidnapping, torture and murder of toddler James Bulger (Caleb Mason) in Liverpool, England. The tragic twist? The murderers were kids themselves. The transcripts of the two ten-year-olds, Jon (Ely Solan) and Robert (Leon Hughes), confessing to the crime is how the filmmakers tell the story. It was almost unbearable to watch, so good were these young actors.

A college student when this happened in real life, I don't recall hearing about it on the news at the time, but it stands as one of the most notable murders in modern U.K. history because of the age of the killers. These images won't leave me anytime soon.

SKIN (USA)

The worst of America is represented in the small-minded, trashy community surrounding Johnny (Jonathan Tucker). The white group of friends teach their young how to be sharpshooters and how to hate people of other races.

One night when a black man makes Johnny's son laugh in a grocery checkout line, Johnny snaps, calls for "backup" and beats the man to a pulp in the parking lot as his wife and child look on in horror. They get away with it until ... it's payback time.

The audience I watched with in a Seattle theater literally clapped when Johnny got what was coming to him (which very much re-defines the Biblical "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth") — a powerful psychological exercise that should perhaps be used in schools today.


~~~

So, what's my pick to win? These were all strong contenders in their own right, but I feel as if Detained will linger in my psyche longer than the rest.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Free Solo

Today I saw the documentary, Free Solo, about the life of Alex Honnold.

You know a documentary is good when you have absolutely zero interest in the topic, yet it grabs you from the first few frames and keeps you until the final credits. That was my experience here, watching nearly two hours of scenes about rock climbing.

Alex Honnold is an almost-fearless climber. He has turned his hobby into his career and as a result has very few human connections. He remarks that friends and former girlfriends have concluded he's not normal (which he attempts to validate with an MRI that admittedly has telling results), but he proclaims this with more curiosity than contempt.

Digging into Honnold's past, we learn that his immediate family was never affectionate and that he had to 'learn' to be a hugger in his '20s. His relationship with his current girlfriend (who he met in Seattle at his own book signing) shows that he still struggles with emotional maturity, but he's chosen a wonderful, patient partner to navigate that with him.

His main quest throughout the film is to 'free solo' (climb without using ropes) the vertical El Capitan peak at Yosemite National Park. This is challenging for countless reasons: it's never been done before; the camera crew interferes with his concentration and sometimes his physical movements; there's a section of the rock that's slippery, etc. The part about falling to his death if he screws it up seems to be the least of his concerns, though his loved ones—especially his girlfriend—understandably agonize about it frequently.

If you've watched the news in the past year, you know how this ends, but the journey of it is no less nail-biting as even his own film crew turns around at a certain point because they can't bear to watch if he doesn't make it.

It's a thrilling path to watch, though one I'd never have a desire to replicate. However, the human spirit setting an unimaginable goal and reaching it? That's the stuff of [good] movies.

~~~


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

At Eternity's Gate

Tonight I saw At Eternity's Gate, starring Willem Dafoe and Rupert Friend.

The famed painter Vincent Van Gogh (Dafoe) was not accepted as the artistic genius he was during his time on earth. The connection he felt to nature and the closeness he felt to his work weren't fully appreciated while he was alive, but this film aims to validate those aspects of his career.

Filmed on location in Arles, France, where Van Gogh spent his final weeks, Director/Co-Screenwriter Julian Schnabel puts the viewer in a stream-of-consciousness time machine that offers a glimpse of how the artist absorbed and visually shared his surroundings. A friend described the movie as "hypnotic" and that to me was the perfect interpretation of the vibe.

Dafoe, moving easily between English and French throughout the narrative, was captivating as the troubled painter. Aside from physically resembling the real artist (which undoubtedly helps), his manner, the confusion behind his eyes, his passion—it all made us viewers sure we were stealing an intimate look at one of the most fascinating characters in all of art history.

Though the pace is slow and the story not entirely linear (except that it's chronological), it keeps your attention, as you want to know why Van Gogh felt the things he felt and acted the way he did.

There's tragedy in the suffering his mental illness causes; there's sadness in the lack of recognition he received while he was in his prime, but most off all there's light in the beautiful landscapes and people he brought to life through his timeless paintings.

That's what's illuminated so magically in this film.

~~~


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Green Book

Today I saw Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

Tony (Mortensen) needs a temporary job while the club he works for undergoes renovations; Dr. Shirley (Ali) is a pianist who needs a driver who can double as a bodyguard for his upcoming tour. Tony is Italian; Dr. Shirley is black. It's the 1960s and America isn't the safest place for black citizens.

As they embark on their journey, the differences between the two men become clear: Dr. Shirley is an educated man who takes pride in behaving with dignity; Tony is a tell-it-like-it-is guy with an uncommonly large appetite and low threshold for BS. At first, this personality contrast divides them, but as their trip carries on they begin to mutually appreciate each other's differences.

So why is the film called Green Book?

That's the travel guide black families used in that era to determine safe places to sleep and eat across America. It's the book these two utilized when they took their actual trip (the film of course is based on a true story). It's absurd that the guide ever existed—that it ever had to—but it's also a symbolic reminder of how far we've come as a nation, though our nightly news would indicate otherwise.

Though the film was undeniably formulaic and predictable (even if you hadn't read up on the real story), it was enjoyable from start to finish. The two lead actors disappeared into their roles and delivered award-winning performances.

It's a long movie that doesn't feel long, which drives home a lesson that a nation should have long ago learned: we're all more alike than different.

~~~

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Titanic


Today I saw Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

I’ve reviewed the film twice before, so I won’t do another formal write-up, but I will say that seeing this film on the big screen never gets old or disappoints. Hearing the crowd react to the various now-legendary scenes is always a delight.

I can’t wait until the theaters find another excuse to host an additional showing.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

This morning I saw If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Kiki Layne and Regina King.

Tish (Layne) is in love with Fonny (Stephan James), a childhood friend she's grown up with in their predominantly black New York City neighborhood. They have a bright future ahead of them with Tish employed by a perfume counter at a high-end department store and Fonny getting his own career off the ground as they prepare to set down roots with a space of their own.

When they make love for the first time, Tish becomes pregnant with their child, which is unexpected but welcomed by the couple. Fonny's mother and sisters aren't so accepting (and the announcement to them about the pregnancy is perhaps the best scene in the film).

Unfortunately, Fonny has been arrested for a crime he did not commit and is placed in prison while Tish's family desperately tries to find and convince the accuser to recant her lineup identification. All the while, Tish faithfully visits and updates him on her pregnancy.

Some viewers may be frustrated by the slow pace of the film, but I actually appreciated it. We really got to know these characters and believe in their love as they battle the injustice of their situation.

Regina King who plays Tish's mother, Sharon, is especially phenomenal, showing every ounce of pain and concern as she comforts and helps her daughter. King deservedly won the Golden Globe for this performance and I'm hoping the takes the Oscar for it as well. She's that good.

Also important is the timing of this story. As our country seems to be enduring an unwelcome revival of hate crimes and racism, these are the narratives we need too see via art to help turn things around. Granted, the folks who need to see films like this probably won't. But for the few that may, it will have been worth it.

Another excellent chapter from Barry Jenkins.

~~~


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Vice

Today I saw Vice, starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

If you're a staunch republican, you may not like this film, but if you're a liberal (or even perhaps an independent) you may chuckle along with the rest of the audience at this exaggerated—but undoubtedly entertaining—look at the life of Dick Cheney (Bale).

Christian Bale transforms physically and verbally into the former vice president so convincingly, you'd probably forget it was a fictional take were it not for the breaking of the fourth wall, the snappy cutaways and wink-y storytelling approach.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every minute of it.

Then again, I'm the Pacific Northwestern liberal target audience they were probably banking on selling tickets to, so I didn't have a hard time buying what they were selling. What they were selling was of course how miserable of a human being Dick Cheney truly is, save for his one redeeming quality. He really seems to love and advocate for his lesbian daughter (although his other daughter does not). Other than that, it appears that his wife Lynne (Adams) calls the shots, and they aren't always in the best interest of the country.

If you're not of the belief that the story is true, at least see the film for the performances. If you do believe, well, be prepared to laugh (and possibly cry) at what a mess this man made of the world.

~~~

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Favourite

Today I saw The Favourite, starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is a mess—physically, mentally, politically. She has a close confidante/lover/advisor in Lady Sarah (Weisz) and utilizes her to truly run the country.

Along comes Sarah's cousin Abigail (Stone) to throw everything off course.

She enters the castle as one of the "help," but soon has her eyes set on a better title, knowing she'll need to get close to the Queen to do so. Lady Sarah is very threatened by Abigail and in turn lets her know it. Sarah underestimates Abigail's capacity for self-preservation and Sarah soon finds herself ill from a poisoned cup of tea.

Abigail gets closer and closer to the Queen and soon marries, rapidly regaining her "Lady" status. However, she maintains a sexual relationship with the Queen and remains by her side at all times. This infuriates Sarah, who does everything in her power to put things back the way they were.

This film can easily be described as a "romp" and that's not a bad thing. It's fun to watch these women get caught up in each other's drama and compete for the attention of a crazy, aging royal. All three leads are perfectly cast and leave you believing the nonsense. Funny thing? Much of the story is actually true, which only makes it more fun.

If you want a good, racy laugh delivered by fine actors in amazing costumes, this is the film for you.

~~~


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns

Today I saw Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Banks children need some assistance. Michael (Ben Wishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) are going to lose the family house to the bank if they don't come up with its full value because Michael repeatedly forgot to pay the mortgage.

The mean banker (Colin Firth, playing against type) doesn't want them to find the missing share certificates that will save them because he's hungry for more property. Out of the sky, Mary Poppins (Blunt) arrives to save the day.

Blunt is fantastic, as is lamplighter Jack (Miranda) and if only there were more of those two in the film, perhaps it could've met my expectations, but alas it did not.

The positives? The film is visually stunning. The sequences that include animation (the bath, my favorite) are nothing short of brilliant, with bright colors popping like a Target commercial and crisp, beautiful illustrations to match. This is the only place where, due to technology, the present-day film surpasses the classic.

Also great are the cameos by Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and Meryl Streep. Each gets an ample amount of time to do their thing and they all, of course, do it well.

The issues? The "magic" is few and far between. We feel it in the opening sequence with Jack singing about London; when Mary emerges from the clouds; when the kids dive into their first psychedelic-ish experience (in the bathtub); when the lamplighters do their dance near the end. But that's about it. The songs aren't really that memorable (through no fault of the singers) and way too much time is spent dwelling on the looming bank deadline.

While I'm on the topic of time: This film did not need to be as long as it was. It could have easily been a 90-minute delight. But no ... sequences drag on (I'm looking at you broken bowl) and character development somersaults until we're sick of hearing Michael yell and of watching the kids lose track of Georgie (Joel Dawson).

Also frustrating is the romance that is teased between Jack and Jane for the duration of the film, but never truly realized. They make a cute couple—why not give us that one?

All in all, the message is lovely and if it sparks a new generation of kids to go back and see what the original was all about, then it was worth it.

If you're hungry for a happy ending, then go forth and enjoy. But if you're looking for something transcendent, you may come away wishing for more.

~~~


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Today I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton.

The life of Freddie Mercury (Malek) is explored with great flair in this loose retelling, which chronicles his rise to fame with Queen through to their landmark performance at Live Aid.

First of all, it can't be understated how good Malek is at capturing Mercury's movements and mannerisms. If you squint you may just not be able to tell the difference. He was a joy to watch because you could tell he was having a ball portraying this legend.

Second, Mary (Boynton), who many claim was the true love of Mercury's life, is given a respectable place in his history (though before this film casual fans may never have heard of her).

Third, the finale, which replicates the famous Live Aid performance is stunning. Note-for-note, prance-for-prance, it's all there in its incredible glory. I went right home afterward and watched the real performance and marveled about how close the film truly got to it.

Now, for the issues: the creative team took liberties with some key facts, which is forgivable if it makes the story better, but I'd argue that Mercury's story was plenty interesting as it really occurred.

Also, the film is called "Bohemian Rhapsody," and we get teased by seeing how the song came to fruition, but we never get a full performance of it, which I thought was a missed opportunity.

And while we're on the topic of songs, I sort of felt like this was a wanna-be musical that would only tease us with the beginnings of the hits (i.e. "We Will Rock You") and then move on to the next scene before our thirst for the music was quenched.

It was also too long. This is a trend in movies these days, to exceed the standard 2-hour running time, but really, less is more. It could've been shorter or they could have used some of the time they took to remind us of his bisexuality and just played the title song.

~~~



Saturday, November 24, 2018

Can you ever forgive me?

This morning I saw Can you ever forgive me? Starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.

Lee Israel (McCarthy) was an acclaimed writer of biographies in a bit of a slump. Her agent wasn't doing anything to promote the book she was working on and her financial situation was dire. One day as she was doing some research at the library, a personal letter by the author of the book she was reading fell out. She kept it and sold it to an independent bookstore that dealt in collectibles. Amazed by the amount of money she received for it, she came up with a plan to make more.

Because she was such a gifted writer, Israel was able to mimic the style of several long-gone authors and forge believable letters, which she would then "weather" to appear old. She found a few reliable dealers who would purchase from her and made a good living, affording her to catch up on her rent and save her ill cat.

When a savvy customer catches on to her deception, she is blacklisted around town and enlists the help of her only friend Jack (Grant) who enjoys stepping in to take the reigns. Soon enough they're in real trouble and must face the consequences.

Although there were perhaps too many scenes of her sickly cat and too many references to the bugs in her apartment (it's clear that her situation was bad), McCarthy is never boring and the uneven pace is forgivable just to watch her magic. She makes a very unlikable person sympathetic and convinces you to root for her, though she way she treats people (including herself) is awful.

It's sad that someone so talented couldn't sustain success under her own name, but of course the ordeal gave her enough material to write the book upon which this film is based. If she were alive today, I'd bet she'd get a kick out of McCarthy's portrayal of her.

~~~


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Today I saw Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding.

American Rachel (Wu) is happy to head to Singapore to meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick (Golding) for a wedding. He doesn't talk much about them, so she's unaware that they are one of the most prominent, wealthy families in the city.

Upon her arrival, she's received in a very cold manner by Nick's mother, who doesn't believe Rachel is good enough for her son. Coupled with that are all the jealous women in Singapore who resent an American claiming the heart of one of their most eligible bachelors. She has to overcome this and Nick has to prove to her he won't side with the community that created him.

The entire film is a sometimes funny, sometimes sad look at the cultural boundaries that often end relationships that would otherwise thrive. The diversity of a fully Asian cast is undoubtedly refreshing (and I love what the success of the film will hopefully do for more non-white filmmakers), but the story is incredibly formulaic and predictable, no matter how appealing the actors are (and they're very appealing).

I enjoyed this for what it was, and would rate it on par with any average romantic comedy. Other than that, it's nothing special.

~~~

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Widows

Tonight I screened Widows, starring Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki.

Veronica (Davis) is married to Harry (Liam Neeson), who is a criminal. He orchestrates a heist that goes horribly wrong and his whole crew is killed as a result. When the dirty politician he did business with comes to collect his debt, Veronica is forced to take matters into her own hands.

She enlists the help of her fellow widows from the heist crew to assist her in carrying out a final "job" using meticulous instructions left behind by her husband. Alice (Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) are hesitant at first, but are also desperate to stay afloat financially, so they agree to the plan. Amidst the back-and-forth are several (unnecessary) supporting characters that don't do much except chew scenery (Colin Farrell and Daniel Kaluuya). There are crooked representatives, white collar men who pay for escorts, saintly drivers, innocent children—you name it, the gang's all here.

Of course Davis can carry any film, no matter how flawed. She's extraordinary alternating between grieving wife, angry widow, badass leader-of-the-pack and fierce opponent. Just to sit and watch her work is worth the price of admission. And there are many clever twists that were fun to absorb although the overall story had too much going on to be truly effective.

I'd say if you just want a ride that bumps and crashes and moves at a fast pace, you may leave satisfied, but if you're craving substance or something more clever than your average thriller you may be disappointed.

~~~

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tea With the Dames

Today I saw Tea With the Dames, starring four British Dames.

Four women have been friends for decades and regularly get together in the English countryside for tea and conversation. It's only an afterthought that all of these individuals happen to be official Dames. Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins and Dame Joan Plowright (who is also a Lady as a result of her marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier), to be exact.

Four women who are all stars of the stage and screen. Four women who have worked together, competed for roles and raised their families alongside one another. To say that their conversations are interesting would be an understatement. Though they may struggle with hearing at times, and Joan has lost much of her eyesight, they are as sharp (and hilarious) as ever.

The filmmakers did a lovely job of splicing in clips of the theater performances, films and television shows that they discuss, as well as footage of them with their husbands, families and each other over time. It's like watching a living scrapbook, complete with narration by its subjects. 

I'm familiar with much of the work of these wonderful ladies, but I had no idea how personally intertwined they all are and am happy knowing that they've had other similar women to lean on all these years.

If you're in the mood for something light yet sentimental, give this a go. You'll leave the theater smiling.

~~~


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Halloween (2018)

Last night I saw Halloween, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer.

It's been 40 years since Laurie Strode (Curtis), a young babysitter, survived an attack by killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) in her Illinois town. Now, he's being transferred from one prison facility to another, and Laurie is ready for him.

Laurie's severe PTSD from the incident has plagued her for decades, causing her to lose her family due to her paranoia. She lives outside of town in a house she's converted to a bunker of sorts, complete with an arsenal of weapons to protect herself. Her daughter Karen (Greer) keeps her distance and encourages her own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) to do the same.

Unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong during the transfer and Myers is again a free man, roaming the same streets he once terrorized so many Halloweens ago. Laurie, along with members of law enforcement who were on the hunt for him in 1978, set out to get justice—one way or another.

This sequel to the original (which pretends none of the other sequels happened) is satisfying on many levels: seeing the original actors return to reprise their roles is a delight and the realistic way they've advanced the characters is a relief. Honestly, I couldn't find much wrong with this. It was suspenseful, clever, fun, jumpy and terrifying just like the first one.

Michael Myers strikes again.

~~~


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pick of the Litter

Today I saw the documentary, Pick of the Litter, starring Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil.

The story follows five puppies from birth through training, right up to decision day as part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind program. The nonprofit places qualified dogs with visually impaired persons to help them navigate life.

Dogs are bred specifically for the purpose of breeding or becoming guides, and those who do not make the cut after rigorous conditioning are "career changed" (which is a polite way of saying they're fired and going to live their lives out as a normal pet, or perhaps passed along to another organization who will work with their shortcomings to make them useful in other scenarios). Some of the most delightful of dogs are "career changed."

The puppies begin with "puppy raisers" who provide a loving, disciplined home for their first few months of life and record their behaviors to report back to the folks at the nonprofit. If the experts don't think the 'child-rearing' is preparing the puppies well enough, they will be re-assigned to raisers who have more experience. We see this happen during the film and it's hard on all involved, though it's most likely what's best for the animal.

After they have lived out their youth with their host families, they return to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus for one-to-one training with an expert who schools them in everything from obedience to traffic reactions. Once those classes are complete, they are tested in five areas of excellence and must pass all five to become official guide dogs. Only a few from the group we take the journey with will make it.

We also see the impact to the recipients of the dogs; a man who has been blind since 18 months and a woman who lost her sight over several decades. Both are thrilled to be receiving these helpful friends and have waited great lengths of time to meet them.

Basically, this is the perfect film for the state of the world we're in right now. You'll laugh, you'll cry (in a cathartic way), you'll audibly "awww" several times and have your faith in humanity restored. Plus, you'll learn a lot about the wonderful people and animals who work every day to make this place a better world.

~~~

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Bookshop

Last night I saw The Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson.

Florence (Mortimer) is a British widow who decides to take back her life after grieving her husband's death. She makes her dream of opening an independent bookshop a reality in the small village of Hardborough.

The town reacts positively to the shop, visiting in droves to buy forbidden titles such as Lolita. Florence also develops a friendship with a wealthy recluse (played by the always-great Bill Nighy) who has her send him as many Ray Bradbury titles as she can find.

Trouble brews when the town powerhouse, Mrs. Gamart (Clarkson), wants to use the building Florence opened the shop in for an arts center. Florence must decide whether or not it's worth it to deplete her resources and take on the legal battle, or let it be and move on.

Though the pace of the film is incredibly uneven, there are many enjoyable aspects to it. Watching Clarkson as a villainess is fun, as is seeing Nighy in a more understated role. Perhaps the most compelling touch is the fact the film's story is told like a book, complete with voiceover narrations and actors who behave like caricatures.

More importantly it's an assessment of the toxicity that can surface in communities when gossip and abuse of power rule.

See it for the performances, the ambiance and the satisfying twist ending.

~~~


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Star Is Born

Last night I saw A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

Jackson (Cooper) is a star of the stage—unfortunately he's as good at drinking as he is at singing and playing guitar. Ally (Gaga) is an amateur with an amazing voice who performs as the only "real" girl at drag shows. Jackson stumbles into one of those shows one evening and experiences love at first sight.

Soon, Ally is piggybacking her talent onto his successful music career and getting noticed in her own right. All the while, Jackson keeps drinking, keeps drugging.

Even if you've seen any of the previous versions of this story, you'll be able to predict where it's headed. Her star shines bright, his addiction worsens, etc.

At the heart of it, it's a story about the endurance of love through tough times. Anyone who has suffered from addiction, or suffered because of someone else's addiction will be able to relate. Anyone who's been so deeply in love with another soul will relate. Anyone who has struggled to reach their dreams will relate.

With the two leads having insanely strong chemistry (not to mention brilliant singing voices), it will be terribly surprising if they aren't both Oscar-nominated for their performances. It just works on so many levels.

If you can stand blinking through your tears, go see it. You won't regret it.

~~~


Sunday, September 09, 2018

The Sound of Music

Today I saw The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, as part of the 70mm film festival at Seattle's Cinerama theater.

I was raised on this film. Every year, around Easter, the movie would be shown on television and we'd put sleeping bags on the living room floor and pop popcorn to properly watch as a family. When I got to high school, my best friend and I would make treats and have our own film fests watching it. As an adult, I bought every anniversary edition of the VHS, then DVD & Blu-ray that was released. It never got old and I never got tired of it. The songs, which I sang endlessly, helped me become a better singer.

I've probably seen the film over 30 times (no exaggeration), so each time I watch now, I try to hone in on something I've never concentrated on in the past. Today, I decided to focus on the relationship between Maria (Andrews) and Gayorg (Plummer).

The theater representative shared that the film was originally shot in 70mm, so we were seeing it today "as it was intended." It was a gorgeous print, almost dream-like hazy, with colors that radiated the screen with life in every frame.

I must admit, I'd forgotten how devastatingly handsome Plummer was in the role—his chiseled features and piercing eyes were the perfect type of sexy for the role in which he portrayed. Never mind that the real Gayorg was a sweet man all along, and was much more in love with Maria than she with him (at least, at first). But that dance they do at the party ... oh, that dance.

It helps to see these films with a crowd from time to time. I loved the fact that the audience was made up of probably 75% adults and 25% children, yet once the film started not one person, large or small, made a peep. I also enjoyed the women and gay men gasping at the aforementioned hottie Captain and the audible groans and sighs from just about everyone each time the nazis appeared.

The songs still bring a smiles and the story still moves rapidly, though the running time of the film is over 3 hours.

My discovery today was that aside from being a legendary musical, this is one of the most romantic films ever made. From the flirtatious banter to the climactic dance to the kiss in the gazebo to the divine wedding—we should all be so lucky to find a partner that connects with us so strongly.

One of the best films ever made.

~~~

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Eighth Grade

Last night I saw Eighth Grade, starring Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton.

Kayla (Fisher) is a typical eighth grader in the modern world—she's always on her phone, engrossed in her laptop and hosts her own YouTube channel. She's awkward and anxious and lonely, but she desperately wants to fit in with the 'cool' crowd.

There are wonderful things about this film and not-so-great things about this film that keep me from agreeing with the general consensus (that it's fantastic).

First, the positive:

  • The lead actress is phenomenal. Right down to the body language, how she hunches her shoulders as she walks, Fisher conveys the lack of self-esteem that plagues young women today and wears every scar in her downward glances.
  • It's refreshing to see a coming-of-age film about a girl instead of a boy.
  • In subtle ways, this film tells more about the horrors of the digital age than any previous fictional exploration.
Now, the negative:

  • Kayla's dad (Hamilton) is practically a caricature of the embarrassing parent. He tries too hard, says all the wrong things and shows up when he's least welcome. He would have been a lot more effective if he'd been less blatant.
  • The 'mean girls' that serve as the popular kids Kayla attempts to mingle with at a pool party are very one-dimensional. Sure, a pack of nasty girls can blend into one throbbing nightmare for any adolescent outcast, but the audience knows there is always more than meets the eye. 
  • In contrast to the girls her own age, Kayla's high school mentor is almost too nice to the young girl, inviting her to hang out amongst her pals after hours.
The pace is also frustrating because it's so uneven. We may get two or three comedic elements and then a long-drawn out dramatic sequence. I did look at my watch more than once.

So ... who should see this? Sure, parents should have a look. But really, it would be best if they took their adolescents with them and paid attention to the scenes that may trigger them. Have conversations about what to do if put in similar situations. Use it as an opening for dialog.

It is in those parent-child conversations that its best purpose will be served.

~~~

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Leave No Trace

Yesterday I saw Leave No Trace, starring Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.

Will (Foster) is a veteran suffering from PTSD, raising his teenage daughter in the woods of a public park outside Portland, Oregon. Tom (McKenzie) accepts this life with grace as it's all she knows. We assume mom has passed away, but she's only mentioned briefly, quite vaguely, so we're not sure.

When Tom gets spotted by a hiker, their life is exposed and social services relocates them to temporary housing on a farm. There, Tom begins to make friends with nearby kids her age and Will works on the owner's tree farm in exchange for lodging. Tom loves it and Will hates it.

After just a few weeks, Will insists they leave and soon enough, they're back to a transient lifestyle. For the first time Tom lets Will know that she was happy with the structure and stability of the farm life. Though it pains him to make her suffer because of his issues, that doesn't prevent him from caving and they continue to press on.

The film is both tender and excruciating to watch. This father and daughter are genuine friends, and their love runs deep. Tom has learned amazing survival skills from Will, but his unreasonable need to be off the grid is unfair to her and she comes to realize that. Though his actions make you angry, you feel for him and that's a testament to the pain that comes through Ben Foster's eyes in every scene.

Tom McKenzie is also convincing as a young girl who just wants more out of life, but doesn't want to hurt her father.

If you're looking for a film that moves along at a quiet, but important-to-the-story pace and also makes you re-think every homeless person you encounter, give this a chance. It may just bring perspective along with the tears.

~~~

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Juliet, Naked

Tonight I saw Juliet, Naked, starring Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke.

British Annie (Byrne) is in a relationship with Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) who is obsessed with Tucker Crowe (Hawke), a washed up American independent singer/songwriter who hasn't released music in decades.

A rare piece of music by Tucker surfaces and Duncan is overcome with excitement. Annie, fed up with the fandom, writes a scathing review in response to Duncan's enthusiasm and gets a reply ... from Tucker himself. Soon the two are corresponding via email and developing a friendship. And Duncan has his sights on a colleague.

So the story follows Annie's odd love triangle and Tucker's complicated life while we are treated to a lighthearted, yet oddly meaningful journey that's quite believable. The three leads are perfectly cast and the supporting players who act as the colleagues, siblings and children of the leads are a welcome addition.

What's more, Ethan Hawke does his own singing as the character, so it's fun to hear him exercise yet another creative talent.

Immersed in a few "super-fan" music communities myself, I found Duncan's character very relatable (and truthfully it helped to laugh at his behavior). He's more realistic than some may assume, and he plays it beautifully.

You should go see this. It will make you smile.

~~~


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Puzzle

Last night I saw Puzzle, starring Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan.

Agnes (Macdonald) is a content Connecticut housewife in a traditional Patriarchal Catholic marriage to Louie (David Denman), who with help from their eldest son, runs the local auto body shop. They have another, younger son who appears somewhat spoiled.

In the first scene of the film, we see Agnes act as a gracious hostess to a house full of people—she cleans up after a dish breaks, brings cake out for all to enjoy. What we soon realize is that the birthday party she's so carefully attending to is her own. In perhaps the saddest sequence, we see her open her presents, alone, after all the guests are gone and she's thoroughly cleaned the home.

Among those gifts is a 1,000-piece puzzle from her aunt who lives in New York City. The way she carefully opens the puzzle, studying it before practically attacking it on the table, lets us know that puzzles mean something to her.

She's very fast at constructing them and treats them almost like a drug—she sneaks around putting them together, becomes preoccupied thinking about them and has a visceral reaction to their completion.

Needing another "fix" she calls her aunt to inquire about where she found the one she got for her birthday. The aunt directs her to a store in Manhattan and soon she's making a day trip on the train there to feed her habit. In the store, she notices a flyer someone has posted who is seeking a puzzle partner for an upcoming competition. Intrigued, she uses her new iPhone (a birthday gift from her family) to text the gentleman and soon meets up with him in his New York City apartment.

Robert (Khan) is living an opposite lifestyle from her—he's wealthy, single and glued to the 24-hour news channels. She is bound by her duty to family and church, making sure dinner is on the table each night and the chores are properly done.

Though different, the two enjoy each other's company and agree to be partners, working toward a title at the Nationals. Agnes keeps this all from her family, who think she's aiding an injured relative when she ventures into the city twice a week.

Of course, the metaphor is strong—as Agnes succeeds in putting the puzzles together with Robert, the pieces of what's missing in her own life also begin to fall into place.

Her husband isn't "bad" enough to be unlikeable, but we still root for Robert, if nothing else because we know he'll let Agnes flourish however she chooses to.

The performances, especially by the two leads, are nothing short of perfection, which helps us believe a situation like this could happen.

A satisfying and strangely empowering film.

~~~

Sunday, August 12, 2018

BlacKkKlansman

This morning I saw BlacKkKlansman, starring John David Washington and Adam Driver.

Ron Stallworth (Washington) is a rookie cop in Colorado Springs, bored with his responsibilities running the Records room. He approaches his superiors to be reassigned, and soon enough he gets his wish.

In the 1970s, detectives scoured the newspapers to find items of concern to respond to in the community. During one of these searches, Stallworth, who is black, noticed a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan and responded to it via telephone. Accidentally giving his real name to the organizer, he realized he couldn't meet him in person and sent white colleague Flip Zimmerman (Driver) in his place. From there, the two carried out a successful investigation into one of the most controversial groups in history.

The story is told in good humor with excellent acting from all, as many of the scenarios actually played out, but all the while the ignorance of the hate group is present, rising to the surface in every ghastly word that comes out of their mouths.

Director Spike Lee does a phenomenal job of showing how rapidly things can escalate, and how those perceived to be less intelligent can organize to become frighteningly powerful.

The ending packs a punch I wasn't quite prepared for, with real footage from Charlottesville showing the monsters at their rally. I'm glad he put in there, though.

It only proves how far our country has yet to go in the fight against racism.

~~~

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The 10 Documentaries I Tell Everyone to See

A recent conversation about the greatness of a documentary in theaters today prompted me to create this list; just keep in mind that I omitted music documentaries from possible inclusion because that's a list of its own.

10. CRUMB, 1995

This film about cult cartoonist Robert Crumb took the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and it's not hard to see why. He came from a family of damaged souls, and of course battled his own demons. Perhaps too dark to be nominated for an Oscar, the film community understandably embraced it.

If you're discovering it for the first time, I highly recommend the Criterion Collection version, which features a commentary with the late Roger Ebert.

9. TIG, 2015

Who can endure a breakup, a near-fatal illness, the death of a parent and a cancer diagnosis ... then go on stage in front of a hundred guests and laugh about it? The incomparable comic, Tig Notaro, who tells her story in this oddly hilarious movie. My original review, when it debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival, is here.

At the time of this writing, you can stream this on Netflix.

8. MY FLESH AND BLOOD, 2004

Susan Tom is a single mother in California who has two biological children and 11 adopted, special needs children. This film chronicles a year in their life, which is run as efficiently as a military operation, but exposes the emotional gaps that result from a parent being spread so thin and gets at the reasons why Ms. Tom seems to be hoarding humans. Michael and I discuss this on a classic episode of Cinebanter.

This film is available on iTunes.

7.  CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, 2003

What began as a film about kids' birthday party entertainers soon turns into a portrait of a severely dysfunctional family. With two family members accused of sexual abuse (yet maintaining their innocence) the film leaves the audience wondering—if the charges are true, is pedophilia genetic? Note: this is one of the rare instances where I recommend not reading anything about the film before going in. Let the horror unfold and wash over you organically.

Available on demand via HBO GO, this film is still in rotation on the network as well.

6. ETHEL, 2012

If there's such a thing as a refreshing political documentary, this is it. Democrat or Republican, it's hard not to fall for the charms of RFK's widow Ethel Kennedy, who is profiled here by her daughter Rory. It's delightful, sad, surprising and inspiring. I wrote a gushing review of it for Cinebanter, when it played at SIFF and have seen it several times since. Every viewing is a pleasure.

This film can be found in DVD format via Amazon.

5. THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, 1984

Though Sean Penn's Oscar-winning turn as the famous politician in the fictionalized version, Milk, was nothing short of phenomenal, I dare say I prefer this documentary over it. Seeing the real people discuss their friend and leader, and with archival footage of Milk himself, the powerful nature of his life and death become all the more luminous. Michael and I discussed it in this episode of Cinebanter.

You can rent this film via Amazon Prime.

4. MARWENCOL, 2010

This is one of those films you walk out of and say to yourself, "What just happened?" I loved it when I saw it at SIFF and was excited to learn a fictional version of it starring Steve Carell called Welcome to Marwen will be released later this year.

You can watch this film via iTunes.

3. DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER, 2008

Only listen to our Cinebanter episode where we talk about this after you've watched the film, because there are spoilers at every turn. This has everything—joy, drama, mystery, horror—you name it. At heart, it's just a story about a father and son and the influence that destroys their lives. By the time I'd finally recovered from seeing it (two years later) I ended up at a Cinequest table with the director, and over drinks gasped all over again hearing additional details that salted the wounds.

You can stream this free with an Amazon Prime membership.

2. FINDING VIVIAN MAIER, 2014

Imagine being infinitely gifted in a medium of art but living your entire life telling no one about that gift, having an alternate career and then dying with a full storage unit of your work that may or may not be discovered. That was the way of Vivian Maier, an immigrant nanny who was also a stunning photographer. Read my original review here. And like I did, find an exhibit of her photos (they regularly tour) and take them all in.

This film is available for purchase on Amazon.

1. PARADISE LOST TRILOGY, 1996, 2000 & 2011

I never thought I'd develop a crush on a convicted killer, but that's what happened when I saw Damien Echols in these films for the first time. It's a harrowing story of a brutal murder of three children and the three innocent teenagers (dubbed the "West Memphis Three") who were convicted of killing them. At the urging of my Cinebanter partner, Michael, I caught up with the first two and we discussed them on our show; the third one I saw in the theater when it was released and then met Damien and his wife at an event three years later.

All three films are sold in a collection via Amazon. Note: After watching, be sure to google the footage of their release if you want a good cry.

Three Identical Strangers

On Monday I saw the documentary Three Identical Strangers.

In 1980,  Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman discovered they were triplets. They grew up in separate households within 100 miles from one another, all adopted from the same agency. They had no prior knowledge they were part of a multiple birth, nor did their adoptive parents. But they were grateful to have found one another and became fast friends.

The triplets moved in together, went into business together and went clubbing together. They enjoyed instant fame and took advantage of all the perks it provided.

The parents, on the other hand, wanted answers. They returned to the agency where they'd adopted their boys and demanded to know why they weren't told they were triplets. They were told they would have been harder to place if kept together—but that wasn't the truth.

In reality, the triplets and dozens of other twins were part of an elaborate secret study trying to determine the power of nurture over nature. Case workers visited their houses as they grew up to observe their behavior, interview them, film them and learn about their habits—all under the guise of a study that was just meant to study adopted children.

Once they discover this deceit, they search for those who can provide answers, and the tale gets even more twisted from there. Laced with tragedy and pain, the true magnitude of how many people the study impacted may never be known.

The film was excellent, but is shot like a news magazine so there's nothing new to the storytelling. Also, I wish they hadn't repeated a few of the clips multiple times because that diluted, instead of strengthened, the point they were trying to make.

Still, well worth seeing for the story itself, which confirms that truth remains stranger than fiction.

~~~

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

On Saturday, I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, starring Amanda Seyfried and Lily James.

Sophie (Seyfried) is on the verge of opening the hotel her mother Donna (James/Meryl Streep) had always dreamed of running. She's having trouble with her boyfriend, trouble with the weather and trouble with nausea. Of course, she sings about all of it.

Through present-day scenes with her and flashbacks of her young mother at a similar time in her life, we explore the parallels between the two women in a more heartwarming way that I honestly expected.

Lily James does a brilliant job of conveying the spirit of young Donna (a role originated by the magnificent Streep), finding herself in a new life on a small island, pregnant with Sophie. We get the backstory on how she first met Sophie's three dads (in somewhat comical retellings) and see her bravery and fears surface in vibrant color.

The film is enjoyable, if not a bit sad at poignant moments, and the always-reliable A-list stars definitely deliver (they even let Pierce Brosnan sing again).

My only disappointments would be the under-utilized Cher and the slow pace of the first 30 minutes.

~~~

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yellow Submarine

Yesterday I saw the animated classic Yellow Submarine.

It's been 50 years since the film was first released and the anniversary this summer brings a glorious new 4k restoration to theaters worldwide. The Beatles always seem to reappear when we need them most.

The premise of the film is simple: Blue Meanies (short, round creatures with yellow teeth) hate the power of music, so they invade Pepperland. The conductor escapes into a Yellow Submarine to seek The Beatles' help.

But really, it's about the music.

11 classic Beatles tunes set to beautiful, hilarious (sometimes even heartbreaking, in the case of "Eleanor Rigby") imagery that moves from psychedelic to reality and back. Even if the movie had no plot, the musical sequences would be worth the price of admission, but lucky for us we get both. The result is a charming, witty, snapshot of a moment-in-time that leaves those of us who weren't even alive when it was released aching to return to it.

As one of the fab four states in the film, "Nothing is Beatle-proof."

Thankfully, that includes our hearts.

~~~

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Disobedience


On Tuesday I saw Disobedience, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.

Ronit (Weisz) is the daughter of a beloved rabbi who returns home to England from America following his death. Esti (McAdams) is the girl she once fancied, who is now married to one of their (male) mutual friends and still lives in their hometown. Because they are from an Orthodox Jewish community, the former tryst between the two women is not spoken of and Ronit is treated more as an intruder than a grieving family member. Nonetheless, the couple make space in their home for Ronit as she navigates her past.

At first, the interactions between Ronit and Esti are tense, as if they aren’t willing to acknowledge their shared history, but as the film unfolds—at a pace that feels slow, yet authentic—we see there was so much more to their story than a physical attraction between kids.

Each glance, each longing stare across the room exhibits how much emotion still resides within each woman with regard to their love for the other. Finally, when they get time alone in a space where there are no judgmental eyes watching them, they are honest with themselves and each other about their resurfacing feelings. But their renewed understanding is not without consequences. How can they move forward when one lives a life that is free in another country and the other has embraced a life of conformity at home?

The answers to this come painfully and somewhat surprisingly as the last 30 minutes of the film take us one way and then drastically another.

Brilliant performances are certainly key here, but the superb writing for me is what takes it to another level. The complexities of love, tradition, culture and friendship all erupt in beautiful and tragic ways. I was left thinking about these characters long after I left the theater.


~~~

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hereditary

This morning I saw Hereditary, starring Toni Collette and Ann Dowd.

Annie (Collette) is a daughter, grieving the loss of her not-so-wonderful mother when her whole world seems to fall apart. Consumed with tragedy, she turns to a support group for those who have lost loved ones and meets Joan (Dowd), a kind woman who is experiencing a similar pain.

Annie hides this support group—and her friendship with Joan—from her family and tells them she's going to the movies instead. They're all processing their pain differently, but her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) does his best to move on in the most normal way possible, hiding the desecration of her mother's grave from her and urging their son Peter (Alex Wolff) to arrange for college testing.

What seems like a normal American family trying to navigate the fog of grief the best way they know how soon turns into a paranormal dance with something dark that Annie has unknowingly invited into their home.

Once she realizes it could be dangerous, it could be too late and we watch as the rest of the film unfolds into a mix of gotcha scares, creepy shadow shots and (somewhat) unexpected outcomes.

Why should you see this film? Toni Collette is a force. She's indifferent, grief-stricken, furious, depressed, deflated, defeated and terrified .. then back again. It's not all written in her lines, but it's seen in her face, over and over. Her performance rises above the majority of horror performances simply because it's so multi-dimensional. She's a mom and a wife and a daughter and a friend and a freak ... all at the same time.

Is that all? Not necessarily. If you like trying to solve puzzles, you may enjoy the layers being peeled back here as the story progresses.

The ending, though? A bit conventional for a film that up until that point didn't subscribe to any horror templates.

~~~


Saturday, June 02, 2018

Adrift

Last night I saw Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin.

Tami (Woodley), a free spirit from California, falls in love with Richard (Claflin), a sailor from England. Their romance is flirtatious and fast, leading to a quick engagement and a commitment to sail the world together.

Blissful in their travels, they soon agree to take a job delivering a friend's yacht back to California and run into a horrific storm (what would be recorded as one of the worst hurricanes in history). The storm injures them and damages the boat severely. From that point on, every hour of every day is a battle for survival as they float adrift dangerously off course.

Based on a true story, if you've read the book by the real Tami, you know how the story ends, but this film is all about how the story plays out and both leads rise to the challenge. The acting is nothing short of terrific.

Witnessing this turmoil I was alternately cold, hot, tired, dizzy, hungry, thirsty and devastated. It's an emotionally draining film to watch, but also a testament to the absolute will for survival us humans possess.

What's more amazing? Tami was only 24 when she endured this living hell.

I enjoyed the agony of this adventure; the excruciating nature of it may not be for everyone, but it's doubtful anyone would argue it lacks merit.

~~~

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Last night I saw Won't You Be My Neighbor?—a documentary about the career of Fred Rogers.

Through archival footage of the legendary Mister Rogers' Neighborhood program to old interviews with Rogers himself and current discussions with his family, friends and colleagues, Director Morgan Neville pieces together a triumphant public life.

It's not a biography in the sense that we see Mr. Rogers' life story, because we don't—in fact very little time is spent on his life before becoming the iconic children's show host—but that's okay. What we do see is so moving and sweet, it's well worth the price of admission. Aside from his television persona, we learn he behaved the same way (letting kindness be his guide) in real life and had a great sense of humor as well.

The Pittsburgh-based minister who had an uncommon (but perfectly respectable) affection for children broke through more barriers that my young self, an avid watcher of the show in the late '70s and early '80s, remembers. I don't recall the episode where he invited the black cop to join him in the pool shortly after an incident in real life where whites poured cleaning agents into a community pool to chase the black people out. I don't remember his acceptance of gay people or his hard discussions with kids about divorce.

But all of those episodes happened, and our world was better for it.

What I do remember was the calming voice of a man who felt like the grandfather I never knew; a man who was far more gentle than the men I grew up around. A place where puppets had lives, music was plentiful and cardigans were always in style.

This documentary couldn't have come at a more perfect time—our world is in desperate need of folks who demonstrate kindness as a way of life.

It should be required viewing in all schools, workplaces and houses of worship. We need the refresher course.

~~~


On Chesil Beach

On Friday night I saw On Chesil Beach, starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle.

Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Howle) are a young couple, madly in love. They've just been married and are beginning to enjoy their honeymoon on the beach, indulging in a fancy dinner, then retiring to bed to do what honeymooning couples do.

This is the entirety of the film, which was originally based on the novella of the same name. Author Ian McEwan adapted his own work here for the big screen and the story stays strong, but feels more like a play than a film.

Each scene, placed carefully in between the scenario I detailed above, is a flashback that gives us more insight into how the two came together and what their lives were like growing up. One had a well-to-do family; the other struggled with a mentally ill parent. One was welcomed with open arms into the other's family; the other not so much.

Each vignette gives us clues as to why their honeymoon is so filled with tension and somewhat cleverly begins to draw us in to both characters.

To put it more plainly, I didn't know I was emotionally invested in either of them until one of the final scenes, when I effortlessly burst into tears.

Wonderful storytelling in an unconventional way with two brilliant actors.

If you're fascinated by love and relationships as I am, you should see this film.

~~~

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

RGB

Last night I saw RGB, a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Most Americans are aware of the liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justice who has adapted the nickname "Notorious RGB," but few probably know all that she's accomplished in her 80+ years on earth.

Here are just a few things she's done:

  • Became the second female justice ever appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Was one of just a dozen women at Harvard Law School.
  • Graduated first in her law school class at Columbia.
  • Nursed her husband through cancer.
  • Raised two children.
  • Was a professor at Rutgers School of Law.
  • Was a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU before becoming one of its General Counsels.
  • Survived cancer (twice).
  • Co-founded the first law journal to focus exclusively on women's rights.
The list goes on.

This charming film mixes interviews with Justice Ginsburg, her family, journalists, politicians, friends and foes with archive footage from her illustrious career to tell her entire story (so far).

Despite her age, you get the sense she's just getting started and I can't think of a more inspirational role model for women to spotlight.

A simply perfect film.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Beirut

Last night I saw Beirut, starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike.

Mason (Hamm) is an alcoholic former diplomat who previously made a life in Beirut. It's been ten years since he lost his love in a night of gunfire. He returned to America shortly thereafter and has never looked back.

Unfortunately, his country needs him and summons him to return to the "scene of the crime" because his closest colleague/friend has been taken hostage and the kidnappers only want Mason to negotiate. Reluctantly he returns to the horrors he left and thus begins a game of cat and mouse between the Americans (amongst each other) and the terrorists.

Really, it's a pretty straightforward story, with good guys and bad guys and damaged guys who fall somewhere in between. Though Mason and his chauffeur Sandy (Pike) spend a lot of time together, sparks never fly for them, which seems like a missed opportunity for an otherwise one-dimensional plot.

The reason to see this is Hamm, who looks more like Don Draper than his real self, and melts comfortably back into the drunken/angry/smart hero role. He's great.

As for the story, well, if you lived during the 1980s, it will conjure up bad flashbacks of depressing evening news broadcasts showing violence and death that seemed to have no end.

If only we'd come farther since then, this would be easier to stomach.

~~~

Friday, April 20, 2018

I Feel Pretty

Last night I saw I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer and Michelle Williams.

Renee Bennett (Schumer) is an average-weight woman who is obsessed with beauty and works in the online division of a high-end cosmetics company. All she wants is to be pretty, and an accident at her nearby SoulCycle soon has her believing she's as glamorous as she desires.

This new-found confidence, though her outward appearance hasn't changed, works positively to advance her love life, career and general well-being. By believing in her beauty, and projecting that aura, others pick up on her vibes and want to be a part of it.

It's such a simple concept, but something so many people struggle with that perhaps more movies like this are needed to serve as blatant reminders.

I won't be shy about saying I loved the film ... for all its good humor, for the message it sends and for the endearing actors. Though Williams plays a cartoonish character with a silly voice who could easily be cold in a Devil Wears Prada sort of way, the writers refrained from making her evil, which I appreciated. Not everyone who is conventionally beautiful (or rich, or powerful) is automatically a bad person, and I'm glad they emphasized that point through her (and her on-screen family, who all seemed like decent folks).

Really, it's a great exploration of throwing all sorts of stereotypes out the window; not just the frumpy single girl who lays on her couch drinking wine watching old movies.

Go see it. And take your daughters.

~~~

Friday, April 06, 2018

A Quiet Place

Last night I saw A Quiet Place, starring real-life spouses Emily Blunt and John Krasinski. John also directed the film.

Lee (Krasinski) and Eveyln (Blunt) are normal parents—they have strict rules for their children to follow, they work hard to protect and provide for them. But this family has it a bit harder. They live in a time of crises where the earth has been invaded by alien creatures who hunt sound. This means if they make noise, they die.

For adults, maintaining silence isn't too difficult, but for kids, it's a lot harder. Also, their eldest, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), is deaf. On one hand, at least the entire family can communicate by sign language; on the other hand, Regan can't hear danger coming.

You may think an entire film shot mostly in silence could be boring, but this is the absolute opposite of that. The story is at times sweet, terrifying, heartwarming and heart-wrenching. Above all else, it's tense.

Think of living your life in your most adrenaline-fueled, anxious, on-guard state and that's what these folks are forced to do every minute of every day.

They carry on, we assume only for love, because life is pretty difficult. Think about all the activities that make noise—laughing, crying, making love, cooking, making music ... the list goes on.

Of course they have little ways of enjoying sound ... nature, headphones, etc. but to overcome human instinct is a battle that should never have to be fought.

I held my breath throughout most of this film because they were such nice people I wanted them to make it. It should also be noted that the entire cast is phenomenal, acting 90% of their roles through facial expressions.

Also refreshing: what you think might happen doesn't. On more than one occasion.

I can't wait to see what Director Krasinski does next.

~~~

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Isle of Dogs

This morning I saw Isle of Dogs, starring the voices of Bryan Cranston and Scarlett Johansson.

Wes Anderson's latest release is inventive, clever, heartwarming, funny, detailed and unique in his signature style. It's also slow-paced, underutilized and at times (sorry) just plain boring.

On the positive side, the voice actors are all brilliant and suited to the persons or canines they represent. Cranston's "Chief" is a dog who bites and doesn't take kindly to being told what to do. Johansson's "Nutmeg" is a sultry beauty, prone to performing tricks at will (and asking observers to imagine her missing props). Bill Murray's "Boss," is well ... very Bill Murray.

Hearing these actors interact with convincing dog dialog is delightful. Anyone who's ever had a pet develops ways of communicating with them, but here we get to imagine what their conversations would be like amongst one another. Where the film fell flat was when it focused on "The Little Pilot," an annoying student activist and the government characters who deport the dogs from Japan.

Perhaps their similarities to our modern-day political world hit too close to home, or maybe I'm just conditioned to see pets portrayed in simpler situations. Whatever the case, the film suffered for me when the focus was on the humans.

In addition, the animation is brilliant, but there are quite a few shots of the dogs walking across the screen in a line. Also several scenes of the trash island they've been deported to (that feels sadly like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). There's also a hell of a lot of drumming throughout everything. And that gets old real fast.

Go for the gorgeous artistry and strong writing; just know you may need a cup of coffee to get through some of the duller stretches.

~~~


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Black Panther

Last night I saw Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan.

T'Challa (Boseman) is Wakanda's new King. He's peace-keeping, well-liked, intelligent and careful to guard the African nation's advanced technology (Vibranium, a super-metal that they develop into clothing, spacecrafts, etc.), so when he's challenged by a long-lost Californian cousin (Jordan) for the crown, things get tense.

It seems like a simple premise ... and it is, but the execution and the underlying meaning goes so much deeper.

Here we are in 2018, still talking about racism, still fighting police brutality toward people of color, still scratching our heads that oppression in any form can still exist. But it does, and the film is quick to point that out. Even the "bad guy" cousin has a reason for the anger that drives him, and for that we have a tough time completely hating him.

What I loved about this movie wasn't only the clear messages of social justice, but the fact it had a little bit of everything: Comedy? Check. Love story? Check. Family drama? Check. Cool sci-fi trickery? Check. Gorgeous cinematography? Check.

I make no secret of the fact I'm not a fan of most superhero flicks, but this is an exception. I was engaged from the moment I sat down to the moment the lights came up. I cared about the characters (thank you for the tears, Sterling K. Brown) immediately and grew tense when my favorites faced danger.

It was well-written, well-directed, well-acted and well-intentioned.

If you haven't seen it, do. I'll be going back, for sure.

~~~