Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Just Mercy

On Friday, I saw Just Mercy, starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan.

Walter McMillian (Foxx) is a black man, living in Alabama, running his own business clearing out trees and brush around town. He has a family, a clean record and is well-liked in his community. One day in 1986, a white girl is murdered at a local dry cleaning store. There are no obvious suspects, but after six months, they bring McMillian in and accuse him of the crime, mostly because he once had an affair with a white woman. They have no evidence to support their theory, yet he is convicted and lands on death row.

His saving grace is Bryan Stevenson (Jordan), a recent east coast transplant who is dedicated to helping those wrongly convicted with their legal cases.

In the film, Foxx portrays McMillian as calm, rational, patient and (justifiably) angry. He doesn't have a lot of faith when Stevenson materializes because he's been let down so many times in the past, but you can feel him wanting to trust; wanting to have hope in someone. Alternately, Stevenson can't believe just how unfairly McMillian and several others in the system have been treated and vows to vindicate them. Jordan conveys a determined, if at times naive, man driven to succeed.

Though the reality of what I was watching was hard to take (because the story is true and the film is accurate in its retelling), I enjoyed it thoroughly. The performances drew me right in as if I was a member of that community, watching for the sidelines, praying for justice.

The wins have you wanting to cheer and the losses will make you weep, but you won't look at your watch once, and if you stay through the credits you get to see photos and updates about all of the featured characters.

~~~

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Labyrinth

Yesterday I saw Labyrinth, starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie.

Sarah (Connelly) is a teenager annoyed with the responsibility of babysitting for her infant brother. In a fit of anger, she wishes that the goblins would take him and they do. Soon the baby is being bounced around by the Goblin King (Bowie) and Sarah must navigate a complicated labyrinth to retrieve him.

Seeing this film on the big screen for the first time since the '80s was a real treat—the world created within the maze Sarah is sent through pulses with personality (and music) as she encounters each character. They're all the more effective when larger than life.

Jim Henson's puppetry work was underrated at the time, but thankfully the film's cult status has erased the initial negativity and made the film beloved as it so rightly deserves.

The print was shown in honor of Bowie's birthday this week and though we lost him four years ago next week, I doubt the world will ever be over his passing (I know I'm not). Still, it's a joy to watch him in his vibrant years, prancing about in a Tina Turner-like wig and capturing just the right amount of weird to be intriguing.

A welcome story to revisit on many levels.

~~~

Saturday, January 04, 2020

My Top 10s of 2019

FILM

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  2. Joker
  3. Mystify: Michael Hutchence
  4. Toy Story 4
  5. Women of the Wild Buffalo
  6. Knives Out
  7. Harriet
  8. The Biggest Little Farm
  9. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  10. Little Women
Honorable Mention: Bombshell, Richard Jewell, Pavarotti

TELEVISION
  1. Killing Eve
  2. Catastrophe
  3. 9-1-1
  4. The Handmaid's Tale
  5. This is Us
  6. Grace and Frankie
  7. 90-Day Fiancé
  8. Doc Martin
  9. Queen Sugar
  10. Dead to Me
Honorable Mention: Stranger Things, Outlander, You, Harlots, Famously Afraid

~~~

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Little Women

Yesterday I saw Little Women, starring Saiorse Ronan and Florence Pugh.

It's a beloved book, but one I'll confess I always found a tad boring. That said, this film isn't boring and provides a more faithful adaptation than most that have come before it.

Greta Gerwig's casting of Ronan as the star sister, Jo, couldn't have been more spot on—the Irish actress has just enough spunk to inspire and not enough glamour to be unbelievable. Pugh as her rival sister Amy is also strong, capturing just the right amount of allure and arrogance.

I also enjoyed the performance by Laura Dern, who plays the Little Women's mother. She's warm and lively and everything she'd need to be to navigate parenting four such unique girls.

As we watch the ladies fall in and out of love, follow their passions and explore each of their unique gifts, we're reminded of author Louisa May Alcott's era when it wasn't a given women would get to 'be' what they desired. Not that it's even necessarily true now, but less so then, which is what makes their paths as writers, painters, actresses and musicians all the more miraculous.

If you loved the book, chances are you'll love this retelling. If you didn't love the book, like me you may still enjoy their charming journey.

There are worse ways to spend two hours and fifteen minutes.

~~~

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Judy

Today I saw Judy, starring Renee Zellweger and Finn Witrock.

Sometimes even the greatest of artists aren't given a fighting chance in this world and that seemed to be the case for actress/singer Judy Garland (Zellweger). On stage since she was 2 1/2,  Garland's mother began supplying her with pills to ensure she was fit to perform before the age of 10. Once she was under contract with MGM studios as a child actress, it was reported they continued to supply pills, and further her dependency. This film shows the journey and result of her difficult path through life as an addict.

Garland is struggling financially when we join her on screen here, and is forced to take her two youngest children to their father's house in the middle of the night so they'll have a place to sleep. From here she must face the fact that she has to take the only job currently being offered to her to stay afloat, and that job happens to be a long way from California—in London. Though she loves the English city, she has a tough time leaving her children behind (though the stability is good for them) and continues to self-medicate to get through it all.

Her performances are both triumphant and tragic, and her audiences respond in kind. She's often late for her shows, so terrified to go on stage that she has to physically be pushed onto it to perform and often ends up swearing or storming off before it's over. In one instance, the guests are so angry with her behavior that they begin throwing dinner rolls at her.

In the midst of all of the chaos, she finds a fifth husband in musician Mickey Deans (Witrock), who provides her momentary happiness from the state of her fractured life, but he isn't enough to save her. Just months after her London tour concludes, he finds her dead of an accidental overdose.

The film shows a good representation of how addicts function, even in spite of huge commitments like sold-out concerts. There is a desperation in Zellweger's performance that left me exhausted, but that's a good thing because that's what being around an addict is like.

Zellweger's mannerisms, her voice, her speaking cadence—all very close to the real Garland who we can watch at will in the library of famous performances she left behind.

I was sad to see that most of the sequences in the film are based on truth simply because they're so sad, but perhaps we all need to see how influences, whether they be family or industry, can literally kill someone.

~~~

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Bombshell

Today I saw Bombshell, starring Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman.

The women who brought down Fox News executive Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) weren't always united, but they all shared a common problem in their workplace: him. This film traces the journey of three of those women (two based on real people; one a fictional composite) and what they endured to reveal their truths.

Charlize Theron is almost unrecognizable as she dissolves into the role of Megyn Kelly, arguably the biggest female star that's ever graced the Fox network. Kelly was harassed early in her career by Ailes, but kept quiet until it was evident his behavior had continued and worsened over the years. Theron's performance is what everyone is talking about and they should be for how frighteningly good it is, right down to the sound of her voice and the way she enunciates words. I was never much of a fan of Kelly, but this portrayal of how she handled the situation makes me dislike her a lot less.

Nicole Kidman is also strong as Gretchen Carlson, the woman who began the fight—and finished it by furnishing a series of conversations she'd recorded of Ailes saying vile things to her in the workplace.

Of course the creepy, disgusting source of everyone's pain had to be shown and Lithgow does a fine job of repulsing us with his inappropriate grunts and demands. This old, overweight villain is both terrifying and pathetic in equal measure.

There is a satisfying element in seeing Ailes brought down, but in retrospect, considering how comfortably he got to live out his life (as did/are others who were fired for similar offenses), it's truly bittersweet.

The fast pace of the film thankfully absolves us from seeing all of the horrors this monster inflicted, but reveals enough to remind men that those days are over and we're coming for them if they attempt this behavior going forward.

Girls, take all of the men in your life to see this film—especially your sons.

~~~


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Knives Out

Today I saw Knives Out, starring Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig.

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is a wealthy novelist who is found dead of an apparent suicide. While his family swarms to line up for their inevitable inheritances, investigator Benoit Blanc (Craig) appears on scene with the cops to determine whether or not it was really a suicide.

All along, Marta (de Armas), Thrombey's nurse, has a painful secret she's desperately trying to keep under wraps, and the family's black sheep —who cleverly goes by 'Ransom'—(Chris Evans) is most certainly up to something, but we don't know what.

The film starts out as a straight whodunnit with all of the suspicious parties interviewed separately by law enforcement. After the presentation of a certain scenario, it's obvious what happened, so as an audience member you wonder why the reveal was done so early ... until you realize there is a twist. And then another. And then more after that.

All throughout, crackling dialog laced with hilarious listen-close-or-you'll-miss-them lines pepper the story with a strong dose of humor, making this modern mystery a lot of fun.

The only thing I could have done without was the vomiting. Future viewers: Tere's a lot of that, so be forewarned.

Otherwise, sit back and let the ride take you where it will—you won't be disappointed.

~~~

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Ford v Ferrari

Today I saw Ford v Ferrari, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon.

Caroll Shelby (Damon) is a former race car driver who had to stop racing due to a heart condition. He has been tasked with helping the Ford motor company develop a new race car to beat Ferrari, who insulted them during acquisition negotiations.

Shelby accepts the challenge and brings his friend, British war veteran Ken Miles (Bale), who is an engineer and driver, along with him. The entire film centers around the building of this super-fast vehicle and the race that will determine certain victory for one of the rivals.

Chtristian Bale is predictably superb as a hot-headed, but good-at-heart racer who has a deep passion for his craft. Miles is also a family man who dearly loves his supportive wife Mollie (Catriona Balfe) and adoring son Peter (Noah Jupe).

Damon is predictably solid as Shelby, who wants to do right by his bosses, but usually personally agrees with Miles (though his behavior is sometimes wild).

The story makes the representatives of Ford very unlikeable, especially that of VP Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), who, though based on the real man, is portrayed as a composite of every slimy corporate white-man-of-privilege any of us have had the displeasure of working with or for, and that's a bit much to take.

With few exceptions the order of events is followed faithfully to the climactic race that determines the winner. And the buildup to that is fun to watch, but the best parts of the film are the moments that examine the genuine friendship between Shelby and Miles and the genuine love between Miles and his family.

I enjoyed the film—mostly because of Bale's performance—but thought it could have been about an hour shorter.

~~~

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Richard Jewell

Yesterday I saw Richard Jewell, starring Paul Walter Hauser and Sam Rockwell.

During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a domestic terrorist detonated a bomb in Centennial Park that killed one person and injured over a hundred others. The reason there was not a larger loss of life was due solely to the actions of a security guard on duty that night, Richard Jewell (Hauser).

At first the media—and the world—celebrated Jewell as the hero he was. He was interviewed by dozens of prominent journalists to tell his story of that night and appeared as a sincere, thoughtful man.

Then, the FBI needed a fall guy, so they decided Jewell was the easiest target. A local newspaper reporter got wind of their suspicions and blew the story up, making Jewell's life a living hell and shifting resources away from finding the true bomber (Eric Rudolph, who was caught years later).

This film tells the story of what was happening behind the scenes to Jewell and his mother (who he lived with). The acting is superb; especially from Rockwell, who portrays the attorney who stood by Jewell and ultimately got him cleared.

Watching it will make you angry, sad and disappointed in the pack mentality that seems to run rampant in our country, but hopefully will restore the reputation of a hero some still mistakenly think was responsible for a horrible act.

Too bad Jewell himself is no longer alive to see it.

~~~

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Die Hard

Tonight I saw Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman.

John McClane (Willis) is a New York City police officer who travels to Los Angeles to see his family for Christmas. His wife has taken an important job there, and things aren't so great between the couple.

McClane arrives the evening of his wife's company Christmas party and is away from the crowd when a German terrorist group, led by Hans Gruber (Rickman), begins to wreak havoc on the guests. Thus starts a cat-and-mouse game where McClane must save the day because the fumbling law enforcement that's collected outside makes a wrong step at every turn.

This Christmas classic never gets old.

It was thrilling to be able to see it on the big screen at a local indie theater because the crowd was just as into it tonight as they were in 1988. From the quotable one-liners that McClane delivers to the ever-evil posturing of the late Alan Rickman, it was nothing short of a pleasure to re-live. And boy, how it made me miss Rickman.

Until next year ...

~~~

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Marriage Story

On Saturday I saw Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) are a creative couple in the New York theater world, and they are divorcing. They share one son, whom they both adore, but struggle to work out the details of their new lives, though they mostly want the same things. It's a good exploration how even those with good intentions in situations like this can spiral out of control at the suggestions of others.

Like the characters toward each other, I have mixed emotions about this film.

On one hand, there are several incredible performances to note: Laura Dern, Merritt Weaver, Julie Hagerty and Ray Liotta all come to mind. They're supporting characters, but they're the folks in the film who feel real.

On the other hand, our two leads, Driver and Johansson are of course great actors and their performances here are no exception, but their delivery is nothing short of annoying (and I don't think that's their fault). I realize they're supposed to be stage actors in the film, but every one of their arguments or sad conversations is delivered as a monologue as if they were starring in a play. Instead of the raw, authentic way we see the others.

If only each scene didn't feel like a performance, I would have believed them.

~~~

Friday, December 06, 2019

Elf

Tonight I saw Elf, starring Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel.

The modern holiday classic is always a joy to watch, but I had never seen it on the big screen until tonight. Thank you, Edmonds Theater!

Buddy (Ferrell) is adopted at the North Pole and raised as an elf in Santa's workshop, though his human qualities don't always fit in with his peers. He begins a quest to develop a relationship with his father, Walter (James Caan), and heads to New York City to do so.

There, Buddy is basically a bull in a China shop. He dresses as an elf and disrupts every environment he enters with his childlike behavior and naiveté. Though his father thinks of him as a burden, his stepmother Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and his colleague Jovie (Deschanel) see past his oddball tendencies and realize the sweet spirit that lies beneath.

It's a hilarious character that could only be executed by Ferrell in this way; for underneath the slapstick is a whole lot of heart. That, coupled with his chemistry with Deschanel (who, thankfully for us, gets to share her beautiful voice for a bit in this film) makes for a surprisingly sentimental holiday comedy.

I won't ever tire of this Christmas treat.

~~~

Friday, November 29, 2019

Ghostbusters

Tonight I saw Ghostbusters live with the San Francisco Symphony. It was an amazing night with the director in attendance and the film was, of course, phenomenal

I've reviewed it before; you can find those reviews here.

Always a good time.

~~~


Monday, November 25, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Today I saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks.

The story is a simple one: cynical journalist gets fluffy assignment and the subject softens him. Sounds sappy, right? Well, it could have been, but it wasn't. This film, which tells of Lloyd Vogel's (Rhys) coverage of children's icon Fred Rogers (Hanks) several decades ago, gets the temperature right.

The star, Matthew Rhys of The Americans,  was perfectly cast as the prickly writer who scoffs at his boss when she assigns him to interview Mr. Rogers. He's a Serious Journalist after all, and reporting on humanitarian "heroes" is well beneath his skill set.

But actually, it wasn't. The timing coincided with some personal conflicts the writer was going through and true to form, Mr. Rogers was exactly the salve his soul needed to resolve them. Of course, Hanks as Rogers is as good as it gets, him nailing the legend's slow cadence of speaking and mannerisms.

Really, the whole film, though quite sad in many sequences, was a pleasure to watch, both for its message and its reminder of a man who made genuine kindness his brand.

A welcome return to the neighborhood.

~~~

Friday, November 22, 2019

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Yesterday I saw Brittany Runs a Marathon, starring Jillian Bell and Jennifer Dundas.

Based on a real woman who transformed her life, the film tells the story of Brittany, an overweight twenty-something who likes to have fun. Perhaps too much fun.

After an awkward doctor's appointment where she's basically diagnosed as being "fat," Brittany decides to take control of her life and does just that. She takes up running, leaves a troublesome friend behind, makes new friends and resumes dating. Along the way she goes through the natural ups and downs associated with life changes and finds herself in situations that result in some not-so-great behavior.

Jillian Bell is fantastic in this role because she makes you sympathize with her pain, yet get angry at her mishaps. She's also got perfect comedic timing, which keeps the dialog from getting formulaic. Her actions felt real and by the time the film was over, us audience members felt like an honorary friend who shared her journey.

I was a bit annoyed by her romantic partner and the predictability of their progression, but other than that, this was a sweet little film.

~~~

Friday, November 15, 2019

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Harriet

On Wednesday, I screened Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom, Jr.

Minty Ross (Erivo) was a headstrong slave in Maryland who yearned for her freedom. She decided that she would risk anything to achieve that liberty, so in 1849 she left her husband, parents and siblings behind to walk alone nearly 90 miles to reach the safety of Pennsylvania. Minty Ross would transform into Harriet Tubman.

In this film chronicling her journey and what happened beyond her arrival, we learn just how awful the family was who owned hers; how she couldn't rest until she went back for her family and so many others (she did, successfully) and how she believed the visions she saw were coming directly from God.

Cynthia Erivo is painfully convincing as this tortured soul who finds the strength not only to free slaves but to continue the fight for justice in many more ways, during the war and later during the women's suffrage movement. As an American child, I studied Mrs. Tubman, but never knew the raw details of what she actually faced.

The film is brutal during several scenes, but never gratuitous—if ever there was a time where we needed to see the effects of the violence of racism, that time is now.

Go see this film and rejoice on Oscar night when it deservingly wins some major awards.

~~~


Friday, October 18, 2019

Joker

Today I saw Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro.

Arthur (Phoenix) is a working-class clown who likes to make children laugh, cares tenderly for his elderly mother (Frances Conroy) and harbors an innocent crush on his attractive neighbor (Zazie Beetz). By all accounts, Arthur is a nice person just trying to life his life.

When he's attacked by some kids who steal the sign he's holding as part of his job, then beaten up by the same crowd when he attempts to retrieve it, it's easy to brim with sadness for him. Through a brief glimpse into one of his therapy sessions, we learn he's on a cocktail of drugs to aid in his mental health and that he dreams of being a stand-up comedian.

Arthur is also obsessed with a Johnny Carson-like talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (De Niro) and watches faithfully. He finally gets the chance to perform at a local comedy club and it doesn't go so well, but Franklin picks up clips from the disaster and uses them on his program, which leads to an invitation for Arthur to appear.

Meanwhile, a colleague gives Arthur a gun for protection, which he graciously accepts. You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that a mentally ill, constantly bullied man with a firearm is a bad idea ... but that's as far as I can go without spoiling.

I must say this, however: Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of phenomenal in the role. Every expression, every ounce of pain Arthur experiences seeps from his pores onto the screen. When he aches, you ache for him, and when he rages; well—you sort of can't help but rage along with him.

It's truly an intense character study into the deterioration of the human spirit. Someone who could've had a shot at leading a decent life, but got kicked around too many times, and that coupled with other factors creates a monster, somewhat literally. The narrative got so intense I almost couldn't breathe, so I stepped into the lobby to take a moment. I can't remember the last time I film got to me in the same way.

Joker is tragic to claustrophobic proportions and more disturbing than it would be otherwise if our world wasn't presently so cruel.

Incredibly well done.

~~~



Thursday, October 17, 2019

Countdown

Tonight I screened Countdown, starring Elizabeth Lail and Peter Facinelli.

A group of friends dare each other at a party to download an app that supposedly reveals your time of death and the person with the soonest fate has to drink the remaining drinks. Silly, right? Sure it is ... until that individual dies at the precise time that app said she would (and no, not from alcohol poisoning).

A story for modern times, for sure—with all of the tech nerd cheap shots they can fit–that examines our obsession with Smartphones and attempts to provide some jumps and scares in the meantime.

After one of her patients passes away, also at the time the app says he would, Quinn (Lail), a new nurse, downloads the app to her phone. She's alarmed when the time of death is just a few days away and begins seeing and hearing things that make her think there's more to it. She does what any sane person would do and attempts to delete the app from her phone, but that proves to be impossible.

She soon meets another app "victim" and they become friends, seeking ways to rid themselves of their certain fates. They enlist the help of an almost cartoonish young priest who is new to the demon-fighting trade and the film turns from wannabe-thriller to unsuccessful screwball comedy.

Did I mention there's a whole #MeToo side story in there too? I was excited to see Peter Facinelli emerge as the slimy doctor (I always loved him in a similar role on Nurse Jackie), but really as a fine actor, he deserved more.

Overall, this wasn't terribly scary, didn't ever really solve why the deaths were happening (what motivated the "demons") and gratuitously set up the sequel at the end. Thanks, but I'll pass.

~~~

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Maiden

Tonight I saw Maiden, starring Tracy Edwards and Jo Gooding.

In 1989, Tracy Edwards led an all-female team in the Whitbread Round the World Race, though she'd never been a skipper before. This documentary recalls the years leading up to the race featuring interviews conducted with original crew members and the journalists who covered them, in addition to archival footage.

Throughout her young life, Edwards had trouble committing to things. After an idyllic childhood cut short by her father's premature death, the young woman found herself always escaping. After being expelled from school and backpacking around Europe, she ended up on charter boats doing various jobs including cooking and acting as a deckhand.

After a chance meeting with King Hussein of Jordan during a trip to the U.S., she was helped by him to acquire a boat and organize a team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. The team was all-female and struggled to find sponsorships because of those who underestimated their potential.

Finally, by 1989, the team and funding was in place and the women were able to compete alongside their male counterparts, gaining momentum with each milestone reached.

The film does a fantastic job of re-living their journey as it happened and relishing in every last victory these amazing women enjoyed.

A perfect movie for 2019.

~~~

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Downton Abbey

On Thursday night I screened Downton Abbey, starring Dame Maggie Smith and Allen Leech.

We rejoin our beloved upper-class British family in 1927 when they are set to host King George V and Queen Mary for a night at their estate. As preparations for the royal visit progress, the staff is excited for the opportunity to serve royalty and the Crawleys themselves are anxious, yet pleased.

True to fashion, things don't exactly go as planned. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is concerned that Barrow (Robert-James Collier) isn't up to the task of leading the team and requests that Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) come out of retirement to assure things run smoothly. Flattered, he agrees to do so. Then, the boiler breaks, and a sexy plumber (James Cartwright)—sort of a cross between Ben Affleck and Justin Hartley—arrives to save the day, making Andy (Michael C. Fox) furious with jealously, as Daisy (Sophie McShera) flirts up a storm.

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is awaiting the delivery of her ball gown and has a secret to share with her husband. Violet (Smith) is ready to cause trouble when a cousin comes along for the visit and doesn't plan to name Robert as the family heir. Items around Downton also mysteriously start to go missing.

As usual, there's a lot going on.

In addition, Tom (Leech) maintains a prominent place in the family, still raising his daughter at Downton and managing the property with Lady Mary. He is part of two main storylines here, but I can't mention them in any depth without spoilers, so I'll just say his presence is welcome and he's better than ever.

At heart, this felt like a very satisfying extended episode of the show we said goodbye to just a few years back. There's drama, romance, mystery and comedy. But is there anything particularly cinematic about it? Not really, but that's okay. Downton was grand as a television show with lavish costumes and sweeping landscapes, and it's even more of a pleasure to watch them on a big screen.

The show maintains its usual charm and wit, especially in Smith's delivery, then goes for an emotional sucker-punch (that I personally didn't see coming) at the end. If you're like me, you'll both laugh and cry as you acclimate to the comfort of spending time with characters who already feel like family.

~~~

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Today I saw Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, starring Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza.

As a child in the '80s, many lunchtimes were spent huddled underneath a table in the school library with my friends, reading aloud from the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I remember some of the characters and stories so vividly I can still see them in my mind's eye.

So when I heard that an adaptation was coming to the big screen and Guillermo del Toro was involved, I got very excited. Unfortunately I later learned that this film would carry a PG-13 rating, which usually means it won't be allowed to be as scary as it could be, but I was still willing to give it a chance, so I did. Here's what I thought:

The pros:

The screenwriters do a nice job of weaving together the stories with one cohesive narrative. The kids visit a haunted house on Halloween and disturb the wrong entity. She starts writing stories in a book they have possession of to destroy each of them one by one.

The visuals are very close to what I remember of the book and come alive in horrifically magical ways.

The child actors are all quite good and not the least bit annoying. Together they have a "Goonies" vibe, which is a lot of fun.

The cons:

It takes them a while to get to the first story. Too long. And the Halloween sequence going after the bully feels too much like so many other movie scenes of the same nature.

It's almost gratuitous with gore. Sure, many of the stories (the toe, etc.) have gross elements to them, but I had to look away more than I'd have preferred.

They dialed down some of the most terrifying elements probably because of the rating, which is a shame because the book used to keep me up at night; this did not.

All-in-all it was entertaining, but in a sanitized-for-the-YA-crowd sort of way, which was disappointing. If they make a second, I hope they'll go for the R rating.

~~~

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Last night I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

This was the most fun I've had at a Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction.

The year is 1969 and Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a has-been television star that is struggling with the reality that his best days are behind him. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his stunt double and best friend who has a tarnished reputation in the entertainment industry for allegedly killing his wife. They are both very "Hollywood" in their own right.

Rick lives next door to Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) on an affluent Benedict Canyon street. He hopes to connect with the famed director, but has yet to encounter him directly. Booth lives alone with his trusted dog and keeps a positive attitude despite his entire existence being dependent on Dalton's success.

We explore Dalton's pain—and hubris—through a series of meetings and parts he's won as he struggles to stay relevant. We understand just how much of a badass Cliff is based on his ability to protect himself in any given situation (even coming face to face with the Manson family on the abandoned ranch where they reside).

They're both hilarious in their own ways, sad as their situation may be, and as we watch them each navigate their self-imposed drama, we become distracted by following the idyllic life of rising star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who is married to Polanski and also lives next door.

Tate hangs out with friends, goes to see her own film at a nearby theater and generally seems like a lovely human being. Anyone who knows the real history of what became of her will feel a sense of dread as the summer progresses in the film.

It would be spoiling everything to go any further, but I will say that the "controversies" (Tarantino's treatment of women and representation of Bruce Lee) in this film I find to be silly. Every thing he does to every woman and the famed Asian star are part of the storytelling that's needed to shape his anti-hero (Booth). The laughs and gasps and reactions from the audience work because of this writing and I for one don't think he needs to apologize for it—he's not making a documentary, after all.

And men did call women "honey" in the workplace in the 1960s (for God's sake in some workplaces, they still do). As for the violence? Well, I knew what I was getting into when I bought a ticket to a Tarantino movie.

What a joy to watch DiCaprio and Pitt on-screen together, clearly having a great time; and what a thrill to see footage of the real Sharon Tate spliced in with Robbie's elegant portrayal of her.

I may just have to go see it again.

~~~



Monday, August 05, 2019

Late Night


Yesterday I saw Late Night, starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson.

Molly (Kaling) works at a chemical plant, loves comedy and wants to be a writer. She applies for a position at a Late Night television show where Katherine (Thompson) is an aging, out-of-touch host. Because they need a “diversity hire” she gets the job—never mind the fact she has no experience in the industry.

Soon she’s adapting to an otherwise all-male writers’ room full of egos and habits that are hard to break, plus the abuse that comes from the top, as the boss is resistant to change, though her ratings are steadily dropping.

Molly has fresh ideas and she’s not afraid to share them, which gets her into some trouble, but she is undeterred. As Katherine’s situation becomes worse and worse, she has to decide whether or not to listen to Molly or potentially lose her show.

Mindy's character has the potential to be annoying, but isn't in the least and Emma's has the potential to be one-note, yet is refreshingly multi-dimensional. And the men—even the bros—have redemptive qualities, though they could have easily been written as stereotypically awful.

Put simply: this perfectly paced, satisfying film was such a welcome reprieve from the world that I almost turned around and bought a ticket to see it again upon its end. It's that great.

We need more films like this. Films that have a basic beginning, middle and end yet don't feel like fluff and allow us to care about the characters because there is something about them that is worth caring about.

~~~

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Wizard of Oz

Tonight I saw The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton.

I've seen this film countless times, of course, growing up with it on TV once a year, then owning a VHS copy, then a DVD version and attending multiple anniversary showings. Tonight's occasion was a Throwback Thursday presentation at a local indie theater. That was reason enough for me to attend.

Though made in the late '30s, the film's themes and sentiments continue to have relevance in present day. For example, when the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) mutters that "... some people without brains do a lot of talking" the audience clapped and cheered.

The story is simple: a young Kansas farm girl, Dorothy (Garland), gets caught in a tornado and passes out. While she's unconscious she travels to the land of Oz, a magical place where she's joined by three new friends, along with her dog Toto, on a journey to see the Wizard, who they hope can help them all in one way or another and send her safely home. A wicked witch (Hamilton) tries to stop them each step of the way, coveting Dorothy's new ruby slippers, which possess magical qualities.

Though the effects are of their time, the colors and sets still look beautiful all these years later and the heart of the film rings true: Courage, belief in self and goodwill toward others will lead you to your ultimate goal no matter what lies in your path. You just have to find the strength to overcome it.

~~~

Monday, July 15, 2019

Pavarotti


On Saturday, I saw Pavarotti, a documentary about the life of the legendary tenor.

Some people have a presence. It’s an intangible x factor that only a select amount of individuals possess, but those who do are unforgettable—Luciano Pavarotti was one of them.

The story of the Italian opera great is told here in a linear way by director Ron Howard, who conducted over 50 interviews to arrive at the finished work. From his childhood in Italy to his profound success as perhaps the greatest tenor of all time, Pavarotti’s life is recounted in a beautiful narrative by the people who knew him best.

He was a family man, a mentor, a friend and a humanitarian. He was also a philanderer, a diva and a man plagued with self-doubt. I’m grateful Howard chose to show both sides. Sometimes when we get to know someone larger than life, it’s only their persona that’s noticed; here we get to explore the human for all of his flaws, and we’re better for it.

Aside from his technical talent, his charisma is remembered through scenes from his friendship with Princess Diana and hilarious stories told by Bono. Pavarotti seemed to love life—his women, his friends, his children, his colleagues, his fans, his food. This was reflected in the way he lived his life, to the fullest of course, and that made it all the more heartbreaking to reach the end of the film where the last months of his life, as he suffered from pancreatic cancer, are remembered.

Though not much of an opera fan, because of his undeniable popularity and yes, because of the U2 song “Miss Sarajevo,” I knew about Pavarotti before seeing the film, but never did I think I’d enjoy such an intimate look at him.

I only wish I’d seen him perform when I had the chance.


~~~

Saturday, July 13, 2019

E.T.

On Wednesday, I saw E.T. in Concert with the Seattle Symphony.

My memory of seeing E.T. in the theater when I was 6 years old is vivid. My sister and my cousin took me. We sat closer than we normally would because the theater was full. It was crowded and hot and I didn't take my eyes off the screen for the duration.

I developed an instant crush on Elliot (Henry Thomas) and even though we're the same age, found Gertie (Drew Barrymore) to be adorable. I was scared of E.T. at first, but once they showed how gentle he was, and the scenes with the beer drinking and costumes surfaced, I was completely on-board with this new alien friend.

My other remembrance is how hard I sobbed when Elliott and E.T. suffered in the makeshift treatment facility that the government sets up in Elliott's house. Scarred me for life.

That said, the iconic bike scene and the legendary score by John Williams never left me, and I went on to consume many Reese's Pieces and buy E.T.-related memorabilia in the years that followed (I still have a pair of socks and earrings).

I was delighted when I saw this would return to the theater and be accompanied live by the Seattle Symphony last winter and quickly bought tickets. Unfortunately, our snow storm postponed the performance and we just now got to see it. I can safely say it was worth the wait.

The sweet tale of a family struggling with parental separation in the 1980s focuses on the bond between Elliott (the boy who finds the alien) and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Instead of siblings that are always at each other's throats, the brothers and sister in this family look out for each other (and successfully hide E.T. for a period of time).

Drew Barrymore is the standout as young Gertie—an exceptional actress even then, she's alternately funny, vulnerable and sad.

I enjoyed seeing this Spielberg classic on the screen again and feel privileged I got to hear the amazing live music that accompanied it.

The narrative is simple: find alien, hide alien, attempt to reunite alien with his family before the government captures him to experiment on him, but the story is told with such heart that it's remained in our consciousness for over 40 years. It should—and most likely will—hold that legacy forever.

~~~

Friday, July 05, 2019

The Biggest Little Farm

Yesterday I saw The Biggest Little Farm, starring John and Molly Chester.

John and Molly are married, living a pleasant life in the city. Molly is a personal chef; John is a documentarian. On one of his assignments, he films a home with an animal hoarder and falls in love with one of the dogs. He and Molly end up adopting said dog, Todd, and soon run into trouble because he won't stop barking. After many unsuccessful attempts to correct the dog's behavior, they're evicted from their apartment and decide to build a completely new life.

The couple buy a farm an hour north of Los Angeles and with the help of a dedicated mentor, commit themselves to reviving the land by farming using old-school methods that are kinder to the environment. This documentary chronicles their first seven years on the farm and all of the tragedy and victory that came with it. From pigs that won't eat to coyotes that murder their ducks and chickens, there's never a dull moment

Throughout the story, thankfully told chronologically, we recognize how idealistic and naive the couple were to start this venture with no previous farming experience, but also root for them because they refuse to give up regardless of the challenges they face. There is never a direct reference to climate change, but I sat there silently thanking them each time they "won" a bit of nature back (i.e. area bees returning and thriving). What they're doing all farmers should be doing.

The animals become family members, the lush landscapes provide both a peaceful retreat and an endless supply of headaches (some more dangerous than you may think) and every moment is entertaining whether you've ever had the desire to live on a farm yourself (I personally, have not).

At one point when their pig, Emma, is giving birth to what seems like an endless amount of piglets, Molly smiles with delight and says "I love our life!"

I, for one, loved watching their life.

~~~

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Toy Story 4

Tonight I saw Toy Story 4, starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Annie Potts.

Woody (Hanks) and the gang of toys who used to belong to Andy (John Morris) have settled in nicely with young Bonnie (Madeline McGraw) and her family. Bonnie is hesitant about starting Kindergarten, so Woody tags along for her orientation. That's where she creates a new toy, Forky, (Tony Hale) from a utensil that was thrown into the trash.

Forky helps Bonnie adjust to her new school and becomes immediately beloved, but Forky doesn't really want to be a toy and attempts to return to the trash every chance he gets. This keeps Woody on his toes, chasing after him at every turn to ensure he stays put. But Woody isn't always successful and Forky successfully escapes during a road trip. Woody goes after him and they both end up at an antique store where they encounter a doll named Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who has a broken voice box and is desperate to replace it with Woody's.

Meanwhile, Bonnie is devastated that Forky is missing and that sends the family road trip into chaos, with all of the remaining toys in the vehicle worried for Woody and Forky.

All of the usual wit and clever blink-or-you'll-miss-them funnies are as present here as they were in the first three films, as is the charm and heart. It's lovely spending time with characters like Woody and Little Bo Peep (Potts) who we've seen before and the addition of several supporting characters only add delight—Keanu Reeves is a standout as the always-posing stuntman, Duke.

Of course there's a huge action sequence at the climax of the plot, a little creepiness, some genuine sadness and even a budding romance. Really, for a film that's fourth in a franchise, it's incredibly satisfying.

Go see it. You'll still be smiling when you get home.

~~~

Yesterday

Last night I saw Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

A world without The Beatles or Coca-Cola isn't a world I'd ever want to live in, but it's the warped reality that struggling English musician, Jack (Patel), experiences when he wakes from an accident. Jack was hit by a bus during a freak, 12-second worldwide blackout and seems to be the only person who remembers the most famous band that ever existed and the iconic soda.

Of course he doesn't have the formula for Coke, but he does remember a fair amount of The Beatles catalog of songs, so he begins to "write" them one-by-one and pass them off as his own. Of course, the world (again) loves them.

Side note: For those of us who are die-hard Beatles fans who absolutely hate covers of their songs, listening to him play their sacred hits throughout the film is as excruciating as you'd imagine.

By his side on his rise to fame is Ellie (James) who has known him since childhood and acts as his manager until he's recruited by a bigger fish, who arrives in the form of Kate McKinnon as Debra. She is a very welcome distraction, as is Ed Sheeran who portrays himself.

Although the film is marketed as this philosophical "what if" regarding the cultural shift that would happen if the band who influenced nearly every major rock act that came after them never happened, it's really just a mediocre romantic comedy about two people who don't have much chemistry and struggle to get past the friend zone. In fact, the film should have been called The Friend Zone.

As someone who counts Love Actually among the greatest rom coms of all time, I hoped that writer Richard Curtis would sprinkle his fairy dust on this couple as well, but instead all we got were a series of groan-worthy jokes (re-naming "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude") and an odd twist at the end that contemplates what John Lennon would be doing today if he hadn't been murdered (for what it's worth, I don't think they even came close).

A film exploring an alternate Back to the Future-ish reality about how music would suck had rock 'n' roll never been blessed with John, Paul, George and Ringo? Now that would have been compelling.

Unfortunately, the greatest part of this film was the very end—when the real Beatles sing "Hey Jude" over the credits.

~~~


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Annabelle Comes Home

Tonight I saw Annabelle Comes Home, starring McKenna Grace and Vera Farmiga.

Paranormal investigators Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) and her husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) decide the best place to contain the evil that the Annabelle doll possesses is in their private museum at home. As they transport the doll to their residence, a number of bad things happen. And so it begins ...

The latest installment in the series that began with The Conjuring, which was based loosely on the real-life experiences of the Warrens, centers around a time when the couple has to go away for the night and their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) is left in the care of a babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Mary Ellen's friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) shows up and starts snooping where she shouldn't in the paranormal museum. Soon, all hell breaks loose and all three are put in grave danger from the Annabelle doll being released from her protective locked case.

On the fright meter, unfortunately this installment ranks pretty low. Sure, there are things that chase and things that jump, but overall it doesn't have the creepy factor that some of the other films in the series had. Also, it doesn't have enough of Lorraine and Ed.

Although this is one of the few franchises that I welcome more prequels and sequels from, this one didn't deliver the chills and thrills I've come to expect.

Hopefully the next will be a return to form.

~~~

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Jaws

Tonight I saw Jaws, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider in honor of its 44th anniversary.

The legendary score, the almost-laughable fake shark, the unlikely bonding of the bros who venture out to kill the beast—I simply never tire of this classic, which is just a few months older than me.

I've seen the film dozens of times, but I don't recall ever enjoying it on the big screen, so I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite indie theaters would host a complimentary viewing as part of their Throwback Thursday series. The crowd was in my age range (with many of their kids in tow) and the audience behavior was perfect. Absolute silence throughout, with the exception of claps and cheers when famous lines were spoken.

The thing I realized that had never dawned on me before was the emphasis on the 1%/educated character besting the blue collar warrior who at first seems to know far better in every circumstance. It's an interesting lens in which to see the film, especially in light of our class divisions present day, and one that perhaps deserves a closer look.

Nevertheless, the experience was a wonderful way to welcome summer and keep me out of the water for at least a few more days.

~~~




Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Souvenir

Tonight I saw The Souvenir, starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tom Burke.

Julie (Swinton Byrne) is a film student in love with journalist Anthony (Burke), who also happens to be a heroin addict. It's England in the 1980s and she'll sacrifice everything for her art and her affair.

Who hasn't fallen for someone they shouldn't? Who hasn't made bad choices in the name of love ... or lust? Who hasn't stayed in toxic situations because of the emotions attached to them? These themes, along with a passionate thirst for the craft of film, are the tapestry that weaves this narrative together. Sort of.

I say 'sort of' because although the story is easy to follow, it's anything but linear, and the pace is agonizingly slow. Still, you can't look away. Swinton Byrne, who shares the screen with her real-life Mother (portraying her mother here too), Tilda Swinton, is phenomenal as a naive, yet fiercely dedicated film student. Tom Burke, as her tortured and torturous, addicted beau is equally compelling.

The way the film is shot captures the feel of the era it represents and what's left unsaid becomes just as important as the dialog that's spoken.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the film, because it's a truly tragic story (and drawn from the real life of its creator, Joanna Hogg), but I certainly appreciated it and all that it represents.

If you're wondering why it's achieved almost universal acclaim, it's because of the lingering feelings  about the powerful characters you're left with long after you leave the theater.

~~~


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Rocketman

Yesterday I saw Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton and Bryce Dallas Howard.

I can see why Elton John gave this film his blessing. The ride through his life that covers the time between childhood and sobriety is tender, thrilling and above all, honest. A fitting tribute to such an interesting icon.

Young Elton is played by Matthew Illesly who bears such a strong resemblance to him, I want to see what he looks like in 40 years. We see Reggie (his given name) as a young piano prodigy, who's talent is celebrated by his grandmother (Gemma Jones) and merely tolerated by his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). He has an inherent enthusiasm for music and thankfully follows his instinct to pursue it despite his dysfunctional family life.

His instructors immediately recognize his gift, and as he grows older (and is then played by Kit Connor), it's clear this will be how his life plays out.

By the time we reach adult Elton (Taron Egerton), we know he's gay and that he's found a lifetime friend and creative partner in Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). The road to success was paved with drama and pain and joy and hard work and as a result of all of it, an addiction has has taken over his spirit.

The film is shown in flashbacks from his point of view at a rehabilitation meeting and structured in a traditional musical sense: The characters break into song frequently in the middle of otherwise linear scenes and sometimes recreate classic performances or videos.

At first, I found the format jarring, but as the film went on and I grew to expect it, I liked it. What was especially fun was seeing photos from the real situations in comparison to the film reenactments at the end. It makes me sorry I only had the privilege of seeing Elton live twice in my lifetime.

All in all, it's a very satisfying, enjoyable look at the remarkable life of a musical genius.

~~~



Sunday, June 02, 2019

Wine Calling

Today I screened Wine Calling, a documentary about French wine producers who are committed to producing their wines with natural methods.

Even if you're not a wine snob, you can probably appreciate the elegance of a great glass of vino, made with care in one of the most beautiful regions in the world. If so, you may enjoy this casual journey to meet some of the passionate winemakers in the French Riviera, dedicated to leaving the unnatural "extras" out.

What I enjoyed: The people behind the wines who in many cases started from scratch and built up their brands with good, old-fashioned hard work. Hearing from the makers directly and realizing how down-to-earth they truly are resolves any perception of pretentiousness. They also make a great case for their reasoning behind natural wine production.

What I didn't enjoy: A lot of B-roll with dogs playing, kids frolicking, grassy hills, etc. set to music that didn't always match the vibe the narrative was creating. I'm not adverse to non-linear storytelling, but sometimes the jumping from one frame to another seemed unnecessary.

I did, however, want to drink an entire bottle of wine once the film concluded, so perhaps it was more effective than I'm giving it credit for delivering.

~~~

Wine Calling screened at the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Top End Wedding

On Sunday I screened Top End Wedding, starring Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee.

Lauren (Tapsell) and Ned (Lee) are in love and planning a whirlwind ceremony for their nuptials in 10 days, hut there's a complication—Lauren's mother is missing. They must find her or their perfect Top End Wedding will not happen.

What starts as a plane trip becomes a road trip and a journey deep into family dynamics and secrets from the past emerge, as if on cue. It's all executed in a comedic, fun way, but the real themes that anchor the story keep the film grounded enough to have meaning.

It's also an exploration of the merging of cultures (the bride's mother comes from an indigenous Australian tribe) and the traditions that come along with being part of something so sacred.

I very much enjoyed the fast-paced vibe of this film set in gorgeous remote areas of Australia. The characters were likeable (even those who were specifically supposed to serve as the opposite) and
the scenery breathtaking.

A satisfying romp with genuine roots.

~~~

Top End Wedding screened at the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Emma Peters

Tonight I screened Emma Peeters, starring Monia Chokri and Fabrice Adde.

Emma (Chokri) is a thirty-something actress who spends her days juggling auditions for parts she doesn't get with a dead-end job at an electronics store, where she miserably succeeds in becoming the top salesperson. She decides that life is no longer worth living and begins an elaborate plan to commit suicide on her birthday.

As preparations begin, she encounters an enthusiastic funeral director, Alex (Adde), who comments that she doesn't appear sick. One thing leads to another and they become close as her self-imposed deadline approaches.

Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it could be, but here it's more of a morbid-black-comedy vibe than a sad one, no matter how depressing her progress becomes.

Throw in a persistent cat named Jim (after Morrison), clueless parents and selfish friends and you can sort of see why Emma is disillusioned. That said, the thought of suicide isn't pleasant and the closer she gets to going through with it, the more you pray as an audience member that the happy ending film formula will win out and save her life.

You'll have to see the film to learn how it turns out, but I personally could have done with less squirming along the way.

~~~

Emma Peeters screened at the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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