Sunday, January 14, 2018

Top 10 of 2017

FILM
  1. Maudie
  2. Get Out
  3. The Shape of Water
  4. The Post
  5. Wonder Woman
  6. I, Tonya
  7. Molly's Game
  8. Detroit
  9. Lady Bird
  10. Beatriz at Dinner
Honorable Mention: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, It, Paris Can Wait, All the Money in the World

TELEVISION
  1. The Handmaid's Tale
  2. Outlander
  3. Big Little Lies
  4. The Americans
  5. This is Us
  6. Grace and Frankie
  7. Catastrophe
  8. Twin Peaks: The Return
  9. The Crown
  10. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Honorable Mention: Stranger Things, Alias Grace, Mom, Difficult People


Phantom Thread

Today I saw Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.

Your enjoyment of this film will depend primarily on the lens in which you choose to view the main character, Reynolds (Day-Lewis), a celebrated dressmaker in 1950s London.

One path leads you to a creative genius who is the opposite of eccentric, favoring everything in very specific (perhaps obsessive compulsive) ways. His emotional palette must be clear to begin his morning work; his space must be free from distractions—and if all demands are met, peace remains and politeness ensues.

Another view of Reynolds shows you a narcissistic, paranoid control freak who must maintain a specific decorum to command the respect he feels he's due. Abusive, hypersensitive and passive aggressive, he's attracted to women only for what he can use them for, whether that be modeling, sewing, cooking, serving or sex.

You choose.

Alma (Krieps) is taken by his charm and gets quickly caught up in the glamour of his craft. She's young, but she's also a lot smarter than he (and his imposing live-in sister) gives her credit for. Though appreciative of his talents she can't be bothered with his rules (like not buttering her bread so loudly) and soon devises a most clever way of making him appreciate her. I felt like cheering when she first put her plan into place.

Like all Paul Thomas Anderson films, the score is itself a character, but here I appreciated it more than felt it a nuisance. The pomp and circumstance associated with high fashion in some way warrants it, or even invites it.

Of course the main reason to see the film, unless you're a sucker for claustrophobic tension, is Day-Lewis, who claims this is his last big screen performance. I hope to God he's bluffing, but if he isn't, it's safe to say (as usual) he gave it his "all" and offered complexities to the character that I'm confident no other human being on earth could achieve.

But no, on the whole I didn't really like the film.

Maybe it's the present social climate for women that's to blame, but to be held hostage for over two hours by the whims of a high maintenance brat who happens to be good at his job while a clever, attractive woman adjusts every ounce of her life to accommodate or manipulate his just isn't pleasurable.

And the dresses weren't my style.

~~~


Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Insidious: The Last Key

Today I saw Insidious: The Last Key, starring Lin Shaye and Josh Stewart.

Like the other three films in this series, the focus is on family, which I think sets it apart (in a good way) from other horror franchises.

We start in the childhood of our heroine Elise (Shaye) as she struggles with her emerging psychic gift and her abusive father rallies against it. Much as she tries to protect her younger brother, after her mother is killed in a horrific supernatural event, she leaves home to escape further torture.

In present day, Elise is working full-time as a psychic, complete with two sidekick ghost hunters that come with a cheesy bus of their own. They seem to be there purely to gawk at pretty girls and perpetuate the television stereotypes of paranormal investigators, but thankfully they didn't distract too much from the story.

A call comes for help and Elise is rattled to learn that it's her childhood home that needs to be checked out. Making use of the new bus, the trio sets out for New Mexico to exorcise her demons. At the town diner they run into two of Elise's nieces, whom she's never met, and then her brother. I won't spoil it, but let's just say the family drama has only been resting on "pause" all these years.

Soon enough, the horrors of that dark house are unleashed and Elise finds herself in a wicked battle. This is where the film offers its best scares (there are definitely a few jump-out-of-your-seat moments) and the truth of the past rises to the present.

Shaye is fantastic here—in every frame her face conveys the pain, discovery and struggle of her situation. The film simply wouldn't work without her complexity, but she brings it, and it does.

For a prequel to a sequel (I hope I got that right), this is pretty darned satisfying.

~~~


Sunday, January 07, 2018

My 2018 Golden Globe Picks and Predictions

On the eve of the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards, I give you my picks and predictions:

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR A MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

My Pick: Jessica Biel, The Sinner
Will Win: Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies

WINNER: Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

My Pick: Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Will Win: Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name

WINNER: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES - MUSICAL OR COMEDY

My Pick: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Will Win: Alison Brie, GLOW

WINNER: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES - DRAMA

My Pick: Claire Foy, The Crown

Will Win: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

WINNER: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

My Pick: The Handmaid’s Tale

Will Win: The Handmaid's Tale

WINNER: The Handmaid's Tale

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES - DRAMA

My Pick: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

Will Win: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

WINNER: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

My Pick: David Harbour, Stranger Things

Will Win: Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies

WINNER: Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

My Pick: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water

Will Win: Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

WINNER: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water


BEST ORIGINAL SONG — MOTION PICTURE

My Pick: Mighty River, Mudbound

Will Win: This is Me, The Greatest Showman

WINNER: This is Me, The Greatest Showman

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE  - MUSICAL OR COMEDY

My Pick: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Will Win: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

WINNER: James Franco, The Disaster Artist


BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

My Pick: Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies

Will Win: Ann Dowd, The Handmaid's Tale

WINNER: Laura Dern, Big Little Lies


BEST MOTION PICTURE - ANIMATED

My Pick: Coco

Will Win: Coco

WINNER: Coco


BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE 

My Pick: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

WINNER: Allison Janney, I Tonya

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE

My Pick: Aaron Sorkin, Molly's Game

Will Win: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

WINNER: Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST MOTION PICTURE - FOREIGN LANGUAGE

My Pick: First They Killed My Father
Will Win: The Square

WINNER: In the Fade

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR A MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

My Pick: Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks

Will Win: Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks

WINNER: Ewan McGregor, Fargo

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES - MUSICAL OR COMEDY

My Pick: Kevin Bacon, I Love Dick
Will Win: Aziz Ansari, Master of None

WINNER: Aziz Ansari, Master of None

BEST TELEVISION SERIES, MUSICAL OR COMEDY

My Pick: SMILF
Will Win: Will & Grace

WINNER: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


BEST DIRECTOR - MOTION PICTURE

My Pick: Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World
Will Win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

WINNER: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

BEST TELEVISION LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

My Pick: Big Little Lies

Will Win: Big Little Lies

WINNER: Big Little Lies


BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE  - MUSICAL OR COMEDY

My Pick: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Will Win: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

WINNER: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird


BEST MOTION PICTURE — MUSICAL OR COMEDY

My Pick: I, Tonya

Will Win: Lady Bird

WINNER: Lady Bird


BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA

My Pick: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Will Win: Tom Hanks, The Post 

WINNER: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour


BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA

My Pick: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

WINNER: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST MOTION PICTURE — DRAMA

My Pick: The Shape of Water
Will Win: The Post

WINNER: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


~~~

Saturday, January 06, 2018

I, Tonya

This morning I saw I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie and Allison Janney.

Figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) should be remembered for her career-making triple axel, but the history books will only care about the scandal involving how her rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), got clubbed in the knee. This film shows what (may have) happened, based on interviews with Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) who were both charged in the attack.

Disclaimer before I continue: Tonya Harding isn't just some abstract figure that I saw on television when I was younger—she was a girl from the neighborhood. As a Southeast Portland native, our families crossed paths multiple times. As a young child, my sister took ice skating lessons with her at Lloyd Center ice rink; in high school, I spent many lunch breaks watching Tonya practice for The Olympics because she trained at the Clackamas Town Center rink, which was in the mall where I worked. Also in the early 1990s, my Grandmother worked for a senior club's dance classes where I sometimes helped out at the registration desk—and chatted often with Tonya's mother (who went by 'Sandy,' not LaVona, as the movie shows). She was always quite pleasant to me.

The movie is shot like a mockumentary. The actors narrate their sides of the story, talking-head style, and re-enactments look back on the events that shaped Tonya's life. They begin with her practices at Lloyd Center in the early '70s, emphasizing how tough her mother was on her. They age her quickly so Margo Robbie can take the reins portraying her, and that she does quite well. Her scenes are both laugh-out-loud hilarious and tear-inducing sad.

By the time Tonya's competing at a professional level, she's already fallen in love with Gillooly (who was also abusive) and fallen out with her mother. Tonya was bratty, rebellious, tough—a poster girl for white trash—but she was also dedicated, talented and real.

Janney's portrayal of Sandy ... er, LaVona, is bait for every major award. She nails her mannerisms and intonation, and offers just enough in her eyes to show that the mother truly loves her daughter. Also impressive was Sebastian Stan as Gillooly, who always appeared very mild-mannered on the surface, but was a violent jerk behind closed doors. I'm pretty sure he really loved Tonya too, in whatever warped way he could.

Where the film goes wrong is its portrayal of Portland. Those of us who were born and raised there (and probably those who have only visited, too) can tell that it wasn't filmed there. Georgia foliage doesn't look like Pacific Northwest greenery. Also, little details are off—like, Lloyd Center was an outside mall until their major remodel in 1991, but in the first few scenes it looks like tiny Tonya practices on an indoor rink. The vibe should be more Portlandia and less small-town-hicksville. We get that she didn't have a lot of money; simple stock footage of the skyline would have been a nice touch to remind us there was a city that claimed her and was alternately proud/embarrassed by her.

The way they present the sequence of events is wildly entertaining, though. You won't be bored for a millisecond. And the story will most likely leave you empathizing with the former skater more than hating her.

Overall, I'd give it a 5.8.

~~~


Friday, January 05, 2018

Call Me By Your Name

This afternoon I saw Call Me By Your Name, starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

Oliver (Hammer) can only be described as magnetic—those who know him can't help but love him. When he arrives in Italy to be the research assistant for one of his favorite professors, he's immediately popular, especially with the professor's teenage son, Elio (Chalamet).

Though Oliver and Elio are both seeing women, they develop an undeniable attraction, which they fight because Oliver declares he wants to "be good."

As the summer progresses, the two grow closer and their feelings can no longer be denied. The relationship becomes sexual and feelings intensify.

I love the way Director Luca Guadagnino treated these scenes; they were awkward, tender, scary, sweet—all of the things that traditionally happen when a couple touches intimately for the first time. Oliver was protective of the younger Elio, who was a bundle of repressed hormones. Their passion was equal, though their experience with sex clearly was not. You felt happy and sad for them all at once.

Hammer is gorgeously charismatic with bright blue eyes and a perfect confidence that invites the viewer to gawk. Chalamet plays Elio very endearing, ripe for pain and drama as he loses his innocence.

When it comes time for Oliver to leave, Elio's parents recognize how close they've become and encourage the "special friendship" (as Elio's dad calls it). The two have one last getaway together and then Oliver returns home. Elio is heartbroken, but seems realistic about the separation.

In some ways, this is a very basic story of "the one who got away," when circumstance guides lovers' decisions more than their hearts, leaving a hollowness that will never be filled. In other ways, this is a very complex story about homosexuality, age difference, geography, religion and society.

Either way you choose to see it, it's (beautifully) heartbreaking.

~~~

The Post

This morning I saw The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

It's hard not to anticipate liking a movie when Streep and Hanks are its two biggest stars and Spielberg is the director. You know they'll never let you down and this film was no exception.

In 1971, The New York Times revealed the first secrets contained within The Pentagon Papers, a classified commissioned study about the Vietnam War. It was leaked to them by a military analyst who also sent the same pages to various media outlets. When Nixon's White House imposed an injunction on the newspaper for printing "secrets," The Washington Post was faced with the tough decision whether or not to proceed with what they had from the same analyst.

Ben Bradlee (Hanks), the Executive Editor of the newspaper, was greatly in favor of publishing the scoop because he wanted to get in the game as a national publication; Katherine Graham (Streep), the publisher, had reservations because they had just taken the company public and the action could cause investors to flee, which ultimately meant risking the health of the newspaper.

Of course, there's also the matter of women (even those in charge) not getting their due respect from (most of) the men in the room. Ms. Graham was an absolute professional who believed in maintaining decorum, despite the chauvinistic actions of her colleagues and board members, but she also knew the decision was hers and went with her instincts.

Whether or not you know the outcome of the real events, this movie will have you gripping your seat in suspense, right up to the end. Perhaps because I saw the first public showing in Seattle today, I was in the most amped-up company, but the energy in the room was palpable.

Every time Ms. Graham shut a man down, people clapped. When key elements of the outcome were revealed, everyone cheered. An elderly woman stood up after the final scene, screamed an obscenity to our current Commander-in-Chief and the crowd went wild. It was the type of moviegoing experience that makes putting up with all the other theater nonsense worth it.

The acting is so good here that I got goosebumps several times over, just the way they delivered their lines. I heard recent replays of interviews with the real Graham and Bradlee and I'd swear they dubbed in their voices if I didn't know better (plus, Graham passed away many years ago, so that would be impossible).

Just go see it. It's painfully timely, but just what the doctor ordered.

~~~




Thursday, January 04, 2018

Coco

Tonight I saw Coco, featuring the voices of Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Miguel (Gonzalez) is a young boy in love with music. He plays the guitar, sings and enjoys the sounds that he passes by in town, but he's forbidden from music by his strict family.

They are in the midst of preparing for El Dia de los Muertos—The Day of the Dead—where they display photos of their ancestors to invite them to come and "visit" that one special day of the year. As this is going on, Miguel plans to enter the town talent show without permission until his guitar gets destroyed so he goes to look for another one.

As he finds the one he intends to "borrow," something paranormal occurs and he's transported into the dead world. There he meets his ancestors, who are entering a rigid customs-like process to be able to cross over to the living world for that one day visit. No, the metaphor couldn't be more obvious.

It's there he encounters Hector (Garcia Bernal) who begs him to take his photo back to the living world with him so he can be remembered and earn visitation. There is also the matter of Miguel coming face to face with his musical idol and realizing things aren't always as they seem.

In typical Pixar fashion, whether you want to or not, you'll shed some tears along the way. It's not as devastating as Up or Toy Story 3, but the writers hit the right tender notes to bring the sads (not that that's a bad thing).

It's also one of their most visually stunning films. The brilliant colors burst with vibrant energy, weaving you deep into Mexican culture as the magical elements capture your senses. Furthermore, the details are impeccable—watch for skeleton faces in everything from the fireworks to the synchronized swimmers.

An emotionally rich, delightful ride for the whole family that will make your heart sing.

~~~

The Disaster Artist

Today I saw The Disaster Artist, starring James and Dave Franco.

Tommy Wiseau (J. Franco) is an aspiring actor who can't seem to catch a break. Hollywood isn't interested in what he's selling ... and what he's selling happens to be words delivered in a mysterious, yet unplaceable accent, crazy over-acting and wild rants that he writes off as "human behaviors."

He meets another aspiring actor, Greg (D. Franco), who is entertained by Tommy's presence. Greg befriends Tommy and soon moves in with him, learning that he's also somehow independently wealthy.

When rejection just becomes too much for Tommy, he decides to fund, direct, produce and star in a movie himself. That movie is what will become the cult classic, The Room. This film chronicles the months it took to make the movie, which is so embarrassingly bad the crew and cast are sure no one will show up to see it.

Franco transforms into Tommy in every way possible—looks, intonation, expressions—it's astounding how far he truly disappears into him. Though Tommy is undoubtedly annoying (perhaps infuriating to those closest to him), it's hard to take your eyes off him, for the simple appeal of what he may do next.

Dave Franco is also great as the levelheaded friend Greg. He's a good kid who just wants to make it in the business all the while preserving the feelings of his nutty buddy. Because of James' stellar makeup, you can't see how much the Franco brothers truly resemble each other in real life.

Seth Rogen and Alison Brie are also supporting players as the script supervisor and girlfriend, respectively. Both suited to their parts, I was happy when each appeared on screen.

I guess what I'm really saying is that I'm not sure this movie needed to be made, but it's fun to watch nonetheless.

~~~

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Battle of the Sexes

Tonight I saw Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell.

I've never cared for watching tennis, but this film drew me into the excitement of it—at least for a real-life match that took place two years before I was born.

The 1973 exhibition match, dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes," was between famed female star Billie Jean King (Stone) and aging has-been Bobby Riggs (Carrell). King was 29 and Riggs was 55. Everyone was sure he'd win.

The story begins as King fights for wage equality for female tennis players. Losing that battle, she founds the Women's Tennis Association and takes with her the greatest players of the era. In the midst of their new fame, King is challenged to a match by Riggs and reluctantly agrees.

The film chronicles the lead up to and playing of the game, also focusing on the personal lives of Riggs and King—who both had troubled marriages. His for his gambling addiction; hers for the lesbian lover she's taken, though she genuinely loves her husband too.

Carrell is campy and obnoxious like the real Riggs, and Stone stays true to the mannerisms of the real-life King, bringing an endearing focus to the domestic side of her.

Supporting players like Sarah Silverman and Elisabeth Shue are a welcome addition to the mix, which is thoroughly entertaining throughout.

A solid film, with the women's fight for equal rights unfortunately still timely though the match happened over 40 years ago.

~~~


Molly's Game

This afternoon I saw Molly's Game, starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.

Molly Bloom (Chastain) was an unhappy L.A. cocktail waitress when one of her restaurant bosses invited her to organize a poker game for his high-profile friends. This film tells the story of how she orchestrated a good game, then took it over and made millions on both coasts.

It would be hard to argue that anyone does crackling dialog better than Aaron Sorkin and this film is no exception. It's so quick and fast you don't have much time to breathe, but that's okay—the lengthy running time is forgivable because not a second is wasted. Sorkin also directed the film, and did a damn fine job.

Aside from drowning in Chastain's gratuitous cleavage, there's really not much wrong with the movie. They make Tobey Maguire's character (referred to as "Player X") almost likable, with Michael Cera playing him, though what he did to Ms. Bloom in real life is far worse than what's shown in the movie. They emphasize how hard Bloom's father (played here by the always-reliable Kevin Costner) was on her, and that provides the perfect excuse for why she's so strong and somewhat unlikable herself.

Idris Elba saves the day as the earnest lawyer, determined to keep is client out of jail, though she's guilty of everything of which she is accused.

If it sounds as if I'm just delivering critiques in pieces, it's because I am. That's how I digest Sorkin films digested because there's so much to absorb. To say that Chastain is "good" wouldn't do her justice. She's phenomenal and the camera is barely off of her for the duration. Every supporting character is strong, every note hit just right to strike the needed balance.

This is one of those rare occasions where I saw the film before I read the book, and the book will have to be stellar to beat it.

~~~




Downsizing

Last night I saw Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz.

In a world where the environmental health of the planet is in jeopardy, a clever Norwegian scientist formulates a solution: To shrink human beings into tiny colonies to reduce the carbon footprint and establish a new way of life.

Of course, the incentive for most to take advantage of this technology is not the environmental altruism, but the personal promise of a life upgrade since money goes much further in a micro-society.

Matt Damon plays Paul, an occupational therapist for workers at Omaha Steaks who is married to Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who seems to be a good wife. Paul cares for his mother, massages his wife when she gets headaches and barely squeaks by on his salary. He's a perfect candidate for the sales pitch of the folks at Leisureland, the most popular micro-community for the newly transitioned.

When Paul decides to go through with the procedure, but Audrey chickens out, he's faced with soul searching like he's never faced before. He arrives in his new body craving a purpose and flying solo, until he meets Ngoc (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese micro-resident who was miniaturized against her will for activism and now serves as his neighbor's cleaning lady.

And this is where the film went off the rails.

Aside from being completely annoying, playing up the Asian stereotypes through her broken English, the movie shifts from showing us the novelty of all that tinyhood entails (protective domes to keep birds/insects from eating you, giant-size flowers, toy-size cars to transport yourself around the property) to becoming a "statement" film about either: the environment, class divisions, depression or cults. It's not sure which, and therefore neither are we.

Smaller (pun intended) players such as Christoph Waltz, who plays an enterprising, obnoxious neighbor, are welcome additions to the mix, but not there long enough to save the story.

Did I mention the film is long too? Whoever thought that editing this to 2 hours, 15 minutes was a good idea wasn't paying attention.

Or maybe they were and hoped the extra time would improve it.

~~~

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Jane

Yesterday I saw Jane, a documentary about the life of Jane Goodall.

A 26-year-old secretary is probably not the first person you'd expect to be deployed to Africa to study chimpanzees close up, but that's exactly what happened to Jane Goodall. She was an animal lover, a quick study and academically ignorant since she hadn't attended college, so her boss thought her the perfect choice. Turns out, he was right.

For over 50 years, Ms. Goodall has conducted the most extensive research on primates in history. Her ability to integrate seamlessly into their communities enables her to get closer to their families, which yields more intimate glimpses into how they live and love. In this film, Director Brett Morgen blends archive footage from National Geographic with narration and present-day interviews with Ms. Goodall to create the complete journey of her life.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't get tired of seeing young Ms. Goodall flirtatiously smirk toward the lens (which was at the time being pointed by her future husband, who was a photographer hired by the magazine), but I did appreciate the many scenes of authentic interactions between her and the chimps, and the chimps among themselves.

Though what she was/is doing is undoubtedly dangerous (primates aren't the only wild animals roaming Africa, of course), it does show that species can peacefully co-exist and does remind us that the world is full of intelligent, emotional creatures.

Anyone who sees this will feel they are entering a world they'd never otherwise get to witness.

~~~

Darkest Hour

Yesterday I saw Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman and Lily James.

The film chronicles the time that Winston Churchill (Oldman) rose to power in Great Britain and chose to fight the Nazis instead of attempting a peace agreement with them.

For those who know history, the ending will serve as no surprise, but how Britain got there might. Many, including me, didn't know that there was ever serious thought given to a peace treaty with Hitler or that Churchill faced such brutal opposition from his own team for his resolve against Germany.

So, how exciting is that to watch? More exciting than you may expect, because suspense builds even if you know the outcome. And the raves about Oldman's portrayal of the great leader are not at all exaggerated—he inhabits him in a scary-authentic way. From his mannerisms to his intonation, someone we know as a slender, handsome man, becomes the pudgy, quick-tempered, quirky prime minister before our eyes. The performance is Oscar bait, for sure.

Also great is Lily James as Churchill's secretary Elizabeth. She is wounded when he's hard on her and hopeful when she sees him doing the right thing. Though her words are few, her expressions tell us everything we need to know. A perfect example of how women were treated in the era and how "the job" was perceived to be more important than standing up for themselves or expressing their opinions.

Darkest Hour is a satisfying, if not fast-paced, glimpse into a period of history we can't seem to stop re-visiting. See it for Oldman's performance, if nothing else.

~~~

Thursday, December 28, 2017

All the Money in the World

Yesterday I saw All the Money in the World, starring Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams.

The film is based on the true story of Paul Getty's kidnapping in 1973. Getty (Charlie Plummer) was of course the grandson of JP Getty (Christopher Plummer), the billionaire oil tycoon.

Gail Getty (Michelle Williams) receives a call one day that her son Paul has been abducted and the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of $17 million. Though she's not in contact with her drug-addicted ex-husband, she does appeal to his wealthy father for the money, which he flatly refuses, suspecting Paul staged the kidnapping himself to extort cash from him.

As the weeks go on, it's evident the abduction is real, but Getty still can't be convinced and getting tired of waiting, the captors sell him to another group of criminals who aren't as nice (the first group let him listen to the radio, fed him relatively well, etc.)—everything escalates and a violent action is taken to prove they're serious.

It's only then that the victim's grandfather considers the situation 'real' and decides to help ... with conditions.

The film is heart-pounding suspenseful, even if you know the outcome. To say the acting is good would be an understatement, especially considering that this film was "in the can" so to speak when Kevin Spacey's controversy emerged and director Ridley Scott decided to replace him with Christopher Plummer.

How they seamlessly re-shot all of the senior Getty's scenes and edited them into the final print in time for their original release date is baffling to me, but they did. And they did it well.

No one would ever know that Plummer came in on the fly or that any of the scenes were filmed out of sync with the rest. It's flawless and the story is so strong, you forget about the "replacement" about 5 minutes in.

I loved this movie because it's a good movie, but I recommend it with twice as much emphasis because of the circumstance.

~~~

The Shape of Water

On Christmas Eve I saw The Shape of Water, starring Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon.

Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute cleaning lady at a scientific facility in the early 1960s. She leads a simple life: sleeps alone in a modest apartment; watches TV with her neighbor and prepares the same lunch every day. Her best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) can easily communicate with her despite the fact she doesn't speak. She seems content with her situation.

One day, the horrible boss (Shannon) brings in a male sea creature that captures Elisa's attention. Though he's chained to his survival tank and has displayed violent behavior to the team, she is unafraid and begins sharing her lunch with him.

The two different species develop a friendship and soon enough Elisa is obsessed with saving the creature from a miserable fate. She enlists the help of Zelda and her neighbor (Richard Jenkins, at his comedic best), risking her job and perhaps her life.

This is a movie with everything. It has humor, sadness, fright, romance, fear—seriously, everything.

As a huge fan of director Guillermo del Toro's Pan Labyrinth, I was expecting to be entertained in an intelligent, unique way, but this soared well above and beyond even that level of greatness. Though there was more blood than I typically tolerate, none of it was gratuitous, nor was the sex or the language (and there's that too).

It's just a brilliantly acted, beautifully shot masterpiece with a beating heart.

~~~

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Tonight I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, starring Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

The film picks up soon after The Force Awakens left off showing us Rey (Daisy Ridley), a cliffside compound and the legendary Luke Skywalker (Hamill). Instead of the badass we know him to be, Luke has retreated to a monk-like lifestyle, watching over the ancient Jedi texts as he reflects on his regrets regarding nephew, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He has no desire to return to battle.

Meanwhile, the Resistance is facing more drama and they're in desperate need of some backup. After perhaps too many characters get a few moments in the spotlight, everything scatters into chaos. There are welcome additions, however, like the spritely Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who meshes well with Finn (John Boyega).

I could have done with less of them, though—and Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Though they're all good characters portrayed by good actors, I'd just have preferred a shorter movie that had less going on the side. The core of the film is Luke and Leia (Fisher) and Ren and Rey. And they can hold their own.

That said, I still think this was a great movie. The original Star Wars was the first film I ever saw in a theater and I will always get goosebumps when that iconic score bursts into sound, no matter what installment of the story I'm watching. I haven't loved all of them, but this one to me felt like the classic in many ways, and for that I am grateful.

Yes, the characters tell us throughout that the torch is being passed. The title itself implies the Jedis are on their way out. A new generation is taking over, blah blah. But I'd argue that the real message here was that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Through all that transpires (and I won't spoil for those who have yet to see), it all goes back to Luke and Leia. C-3PO and R2-D2 pop in, along with Chewbacca and Yoda. In the traditional sense, some of those appearances are cameos, but they don't feel that way. Their presence (whether literal or metaphorical) is a comfort; something that's always been there and that will continue to be when all of us kids from the '70s—who were the first to freak out in this alternate reality—are long gone to enjoy it.

I liked the strong message about the future being female (listen closely to Carrie Fisher's last line), the nod to children and the younger characters emerging strong. But what I liked more was the sense of history and lineage that permeates the franchise and has never been more evident as it is now.

The Force will always be with us.

~~~


Friday, December 15, 2017

Victoria & Abdul

Today I saw Victoria & Abdul, starring Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.

Queen Victoria (Dench) made friends with one of her Indian servants, Abdul Karim (Fazal) toward the end of her life and ruffled many feathers in her household.

The film is based on a true story, though the disclaimer at the beginning admits it gets it "mostly" right. Knowing that, I decided just to sit back and enjoy the ride, and I very much did.

Dame Judi Dench, who has played this queen before, has her down pat. Based on how the history books describe the legendary Victoria, she exemplifies the best and worst of her without making her a caricature. Ali Fazal in the role of Abdul is handsome and likable, though probably not quite as arrogant as the real man was.

Their chemistry was real and their pairing unlikely, but the two developed a genuine kinship that so annoyed her family and staff that they burned all of her letters to him upon her passing. What survived was Karim's diary, which was passed down in his family and only revealed to the public in 2010.

Though the content is indisputably light, the story has darker tones of racism and class divisions that absolutely contributed to the controversy surrounding their friendship.

What a shame that so many years later, we still have similar issues.

~~~

Voyeur

Today I saw the documentary Voyeur.

In the late '60s, Gerald Foos bought a motel in Aurora, Colorado for the sole purpose of voyeurism. He built a platform in the attic and drilled a viewing panel underneath fake air vents so he could see his guests, but not be seen by them.

On this platform he spent endless days and nights witnessing random private behaviors, intimate sexual acts and once, even a murder. He doesn't express remorse or guilt over all of this because he saw himself at the time as a researcher, not unlike famed doctors Masters and Johnson (though their subjects always knew when they were watching).

Of course, his "research" wasn't always clinical, as he did confess to the sexual pleasure derived from witnessing it. But he did keep meticulous records of the guests and their actions (orgasms included).

In the early '80s, Foos wrote a letter to journalist Gay Talese, who had authored a saucy book, The Neighbor's Wife, about the fluid sex lives of Americans. Foos confessed his practices and offered the story to Talese because he felt it needed to be told. Talese kept the knowledge of this tricked-out motel confidential (even visiting and witnessing acts himself) and spent decades learning all about Foos and his obsessions.

A documentary crew got involved and chronicled the journey of Talese writing the book and regularly meeting with Foos, and that's the finished film we get here.

Though it sounds X-rated, this movie plays it safe with only brief nudity and references to sexual behaviors as part of the reenactments. Really, it's primarily talking head video of the journalist and his subject, the friends they become and the battles they get into as the years go on.

I was intrigued by the subject matter (and the fact Foos was never convicted of any crimes) but must admit after the story was told, I began to find all of the major players quite sad.

It's interesting enough not to walk away from, but not captivating enough to leave you wanting more.

~~~

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Lady Bird

Today I saw Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

When discussing films in the coming-of-age genre, with few exceptions we typically refer to films about boys: Stand By MeThe Goonies, etc. Perhaps that's why it's so refreshing to see a girl figuring things out in this brilliant directorial debut from Greta Garwig.

Christine (Ronan) demands to be called Lady Bird and wishes to leave what she calls "the Midwest of California" (a.k.a. Sacramento) in the dust for a New York college. She's bored at Catholic school (although she doesn't do so well in it) and falls in and out of love with boys who seem to like her back. Her family is refreshingly real (Dad's out of work; Mom is overly critical) and her best friend is sweet and supportive.

As Lady Bird makes her way through her senior year of high school, she's both clever and clumsy in her quest to reach her goals. Her honesty sometimes gets her in trouble, but we continue to root for her regardless.

But her story is admittedly not terribly compelling. What's so well done here is the character exposition. We feel as if we know each of the players intimately, but none of them are shoved in our face. What isn't said between Lady Bird and her mother is far more powerful than what is, and the performances by Ronan and Metcalf are a huge part of that success.

It's been a while since a movie made me laugh and cry in equal measure—I'm thankful Ms. Gerwig brought that kind of emotion out in me. And I can't wait to see what she does next.

~~~


Monday, November 27, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

On Tuesday, I saw Murder on the Orient Express, starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

A story that has survived since Agatha Christie's book of the same name was published in 1934, this Murder may have been better off left in the past. With an all-star cast and a star director (Kenneth Branagh), it was almost doomed to fail. And unfortunately, fail it did.

The mystique and character of a Christie novel is admittedly hard to bring to life, but you'd think with such a talented bunch it would happen. It didn't.

Instead of truly "wondering" who committed this heinous act on a glamorous train filled with people of status, the audience spends time hoping something—the train, the plot, the dialogue—will speed up. The quiet, slow pace isn't suspense-building (as it may have been intended); instead it's nerve-wracking.

The cinematography is beautiful, and the actors do their parts well, of course. It just wasn't enough to save it (or the victim) in the end.

~~~

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas

On Wednesday, I saw The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer.

Based on a script that was based on a non-fiction work, this film tells a dramatized version of the weeks leading up to the publication of Charles Dickens' masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. As a Dickens freak myself (first stop on my first trip to London was a visit to his historical house), I couldn't have been more excited when I heard this was coming out, with Downton Abbey's Stevens in the lead role. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the outcome.

The film attempts to tell, in an overtly manic way, how chaotic Dickens' life was when he was dreaming up this story. People constantly coming in and out of the house, more children than they knew what to do with and a father that just kept "taking" from his famous son. It can't have been easy to concentrate on writing, and if that was the goal of the movie, then it was well achieved.

The problem is, it's rather annoying. Most importantly, the narrative is devoid of the magic expected in a presentation about a work of literature that changed the way the British (and later the world, it could be argued) celebrated Christmas.

Christopher Plummer isn't in it enough as Scrooge, and the minor characters are perhaps too minor to care out.

A shame, because the topic is such a rich one.


~~~

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Tonight I screened Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

Mildred (McDormand) seeks justice for the rape and murder of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) in the small town of (fictional) Ebbing, Missouri, where the police—in her view—spend more time hassling minorities than they do solving crimes.

Because the case has gone dormant, she pays to post three billboards asking the police chief (Woody Harrelson) why. This upsets the tight community and she gets grief from the local priest and other townspeople.

The chief is truly on her side, but after suffering another tragedy, she feels she has nowhere to turn and seeks revenge instead of justice. A series of bloody, scary, hilarious (yes, it's all those things) events follows and McDormand pretty much seals up her Oscar nomination.

But she's not the only great player here. Harrelson is tough, yet sincere as the chief whose hands are tied by circumstance; Sam Rockwell as the dim-witted Officer Dixon keeps his character from becoming a caricature by adding dimension through emotion, and Peter Dinklage is the welcome town oddity as the "midget" who is hot for Mildred.

I'd say the stereotypes are a bit much, but I did live in Missouri for five years, and for better or worse, I encountered people who resembled every last one of these folks.

In addition to addressing the horrific themes of sexual assault, racism and domestic violence—so timely considering our current national conversation—it reminds us that not every good person makes smart choices and not every bad apple is without a conscience.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh was inspired to write the film after driving past similar billboards in real life. I shudder to think what prompted their placement. The movie based on them isn't easy to watch, but you won't be able to take your eyes off of it.

~~~

Saturday, November 04, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas

Last night I saw A Bad Moms Christmas, starring Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn.

Amy (Kunis) is determined to have a normal Christmas without interference from her mother Ruth (Christine Baranski), who is visiting for the holiday. Simultaneously, her friends Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) are having issues with their own mothers, also in town.

The film, a sequel to last year's Bad Moms, focuses not on the drama of other parents, but solely on the complicated family ties that bind or break during the Christmas season. I'd love to say this was complete fluff and nonsense, but the story actually touches on some very real issues for women.

From one mother who has no boundaries to another who is a financial mess, to the seriousness of a mom who doesn't think anything her daughter does is good enough, the film is bound to touch a nerve with many.

That aside, it's also laugh-out-loud funny throughout.

Kathryn Hahn is a national treasure. I feel the need to say that, though it's probably already been said. Her timing, her physical comedy, her impeccable delivery—all hysterical, especially when she falls for exotic dancer Ty (Justin Hartley). 

The laughs are plenty, the situations (while intentionally inflated) are relatable and at the core of the movie is a lot of heart.

You could do worse at the theater this holiday season.


~~~

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dunkirk

Today I saw Dunkirk, starring Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance.

The true story of Dunkirk is miraculous, and an often overlooked moment in history. Director Christopher Nolan does a brilliant job of not re-telling the story, but bringing the human pieces of it into a relatable, terrifying narrative.

Instead of bringing us war scenes as we are used to seeing them, he goes one step further. He takes us to the ground, to the water, to the sky into the adrenaline rushes of the men suffering through it.

We don't know their backstories or see them longingly looking at photos of wives back home; we see them catching leaflets telling them they're surrounded moments before being shot at (and in some cases killed). We see them suffocating inside a shot-down plane as they try to break out using the lens of a camera. We see them numb from PTSD, just moments after being pulled to safety.

We experience war, we don't watch it.

Though the tension was excruciating and the sounds of the haunting score will probably echo in my nightmares, I appreciated the first-hand approach.

If only those in power would realize the eternal damage war does to the collective human spirit and put an end to it for the rest of time.


~~~

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Last night I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund.

Nancy (Langenkamp) attends a sleepover with a friend only to wake in the middle of the night to the sounds of that friend's murder. They both had the same nightmare about a burnt-faced man with knives on his fingers. Nancy fears because of this commonality, she is next.

After more nightmares and an eventual confession from her own alcoholic mother, Nancy learns the man in their dreams is Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), and gets his backstory. With this new information, she, along with her boyfriend across the street, Glenn (a very young Johnny Depp), attempt to defeat this monster with a mix of sleep deprivation and calculated nightmare-planning.

This film came out in 1984. I first saw it a year later at a friend's slumber party, much to the dismay of my mother, who forbid me from such parties when I came home afterword, terrified. I refused to sleep for days.

"1 ... 2 ... Freddy's coming for you, 3 ... 4 ... " The song the kids sing as they jump rope in the background of the film stayed with me all these years, and hearing it again gave me a visceral reaction.

It's funny what you remember and what you don't.

For example, I had clear recollections of Freddy: everything from his voice to his nails to his legendary sweater. I also remembered that Nancy was a "good girl" and her house was nice, in a good neighborhood.

What I failed to remember was Nancy's alcoholic mother, the sexual jokes and references (perhaps they just went over my head in youth) and the somewhat shocking ending. All were hilarious and satisfying last night.

The score by Charles Bernstein is a big factor as well—each time the music enters, it's hard not to put your guard up; you know something is coming.

Wes Craven knew how to do horror.

As silly and dated as many of the references and occurrences are, the film holds up. It is spooky, it is creepy, and it makes you jump. The origin story of the villain is also horrific and effective.

A classic already, and surely for years to come.

~~~



Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fright Night

Last night I saw Fright Night, starring Chris Sarandon and William Ragsdale.

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a typical 1980s teenager—he enjoys late night television, making out with his girlfriend and spying on neighbors. One evening, he sees the guys next door carry a coffin into their yard and suspects they may be vampires. His fears are confirmed as he witnesses an intimate moment between one of them and their partner. The trouble is, they're onto him.

Soon enough said vampire, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), covets Charlie's naive mother and all hell breaks loose. Charley attempts to kill Jerry unsuccessfully, so he solicits the help of a late night show host who claims to be a vampire killer. Along with him, Charley's recruits his best friend and girlfriend, and the group attempt to eliminate this neighborhood threat.

Here, the film surpasses all attempts at actual horror and becomes a full-on camp fest. But that's not a bad thing—the special effects are so over-the-top, they leave you fascinated by the work that must have gone into creating them.

As for the acting, Sarandon chews scenery like the best of them, smirking and flirting his way across the screen, seducing the audience along with his desired victims. They couldn't have cast a more perfect, pompous vampire. And William Ragsdale's Charley is desperate and scared and paranoid just as a hormonal teenager with a great imagination would be (even though he turns out to be right).

Over 30 years later, I still enjoyed this ride and will continue to return to it in the Octobers to yet to come.

~~~

Thursday, September 14, 2017

It

Last night I saw It, starring Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis.

Based on the famous Stephen King novel, It certainly delivers on its promise of shivers and scares.

When we first meet the residents of Derry, Maine, it's because we're watching a sick Bill (Lieberher) finish making a paper boat for his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) to float out in the rainstorm. He can't go out in the storm to supervise because of his illness and mom is busy playing the piano.

Once ready to set sail, Georgie takes the boat outside and giggles happily along the street as he communicates via Walkie Talkie with Bill, who is watching out his bedroom window. Of course, before long, Georgie veers out of view and the boat sails right into the sewer. Worried that his brother will be angry with him, Georgie attempts to retrieve it and is met by a "friendly" clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who offers to hand it back to him.

We know where this is going before it happens, but it's still jarring to see the young boy snatched up by this menacing monster. The story continues as other kids disappear, and one of the new students in town does historical research on the town. He discovers that awful things have been happening every 27 years.

The group of Bill's friends, made up of kids who consider themselves "losers" because they are bullied, teased, abused, etc. bands together to confront the evil—and in the process face their own demons.

There are many opportunities for the film to go cheesy, but it really never does. Skarsgard's Pennywise is angry and creepy, but not the least bit campy. The other manifestations a la Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, such as a painting that comes to life, are even more disturbing.

What's great about the film is the heart of the kids we get to know and the faithful nod to the era of Walkmans and Rubik's Cubes.

If you can stand the occasional gore and potential nightmares, nothing should stop you from seeing It.


~~~

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Home Again

On Friday I saw Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon and Pico Alexander.

Alice (Witherspoon) is a single mother, separated from her husband, who is a big-wig in the music industry. To make a fresh start she moves back home to L.A. with her two girls. On a night out with her friends, she meets Harry (Alexander) and two of his friends; all are trying to break into the film business. Her father was a legendary filmmaker. Before long, the three are living in Alice's guesthouse and she and Harry are falling for each other.

Things get complicated when her husband, Austin (Michael Sheen), decides he'd like to reconcile and makes his way to L.A. Alice is torn between starting over and returning to a comfortable familiarity for her kids.

This is a textbook rom-com with a convenient love triangle, which addresses age, commitment and societal norms. That said, it is also thoroughly enjoyable. Predictable, sure—but enjoyable.

Witherspoon is delightful as a genuinely good mom who only wants what's best for her kids, and the supporting players all foster her decision-making by staying true to their personas. The girls who play her daughters, Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield, are also spectacular. They hit just the right notes of confusion and joy as their lives take a topsy-turvy turn.

If you're looking for something deep or dark, this isn't the film for you. But if you want to take a break from our fractured world and breathe for a while, I can safely say you'll be in good hands with this sweet flick.

~~~

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lady Macbeth

Last night I saw Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh and Cosmo Jarvis.

Katherine (Pugh) is sold into a loveless marriage with an abusive, sexually challenged husband. His father who lives with them is also horrible, and coupled with the unhappy help, this all makes for a pretty miserable home.

Based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which was inspired by the famous Shakespeare work, this re-telling softens nothing. The audience feels every lashing that Katherine's dark-skinned lover Sebastian (Jarvis) gets and absorbs the emanating hatred Katherine has for the family she married into. In fact, the only one seemingly immune from all this brutality is a thin, sherbet-colored cat that pops up almost humorously, scene after scene, observing the chaos with typical curiosity.

But don't be fooled; there's not much comedy here. After her father-in-law allegedly sends her husband away, Katherine becomes obsessed with Sebastian, who works on the property. They don't do much to conceal their lovemaking and word travels fast. When her father-in-law confronts her with this news, the results are tragic—but Katherine is the one with the upper hand.

She's a force to be reckoned with, and anyone or anything that gets in her way from that point forward is put in clear and imminent danger.

The transformation of this character is a credit to the genius work of newcomer Pugh. Her ability to show the audience what simmers beneath the surface, yet behave as she's expected for the other characters is fascinating to watch. She's the star, after all, but I have a feeling I wouldn't have taken my eyes off of her even if she wasn't.

Lady Macbeth is a sexy, frightening, vivid interpretation of a life lived out of desperation. If you don't mind frequent violence (and a lot of nudity), give it a shot.

~~~


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Detroit

Last night I saw Detroit, starring John Boyega and Will Poulter.

The 1967 Detroit Rebellion was a reaction to a police raid of an after-hours unlicensed black bar, where a celebration was being held to welcome back soldiers. Over 40 lives were lost and nearly 2,000 people were injured during the five days of riots.

One incident that erupted during that unsettling time happened at the Algiers Motel, where a group of young black men and two white women were held hostage by white police and tortured because of a gunshot the cops thought they heard coming from the property. By the end of the incident, three unarmed black men were dead. No weapon was ever found.

In Kathryn Bigelow's fictionalized version of that event, she retells what happened with minor poetic license. Though most are represented accurately (according to survivors and witnesses), dialog of course has to be imagined with the exception of phrases/insults that were recounted in court transcripts at the murder trials.

The film is long, but so was that night for the innocent victims who suffered at the hands of brutal racists. Watching their agony and seeing the merciless actions of the white men continue is just a painful reminder that we haven't come so far since then. Police brutality is alive and well in America, as is racism, so we must force ourselves to sit through art such as this to see why we can't let these injustices continue.

The performance Will Poulter gives as Krauss, the ringleader of the whole operation, is Oscar-worthy, as you can barely look at him by the time the film concludes. Also stellar is John Boyega as Dismukes, a black guard who witnessed the incident, but remained unharmed because he "befriended" the cops. The struggle to stay silent is reflected in his eyes as the horrors play out.

Though it was unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch, I truly hope that high schools around the country will show this film as part of their Civil Rights lessons and show how a dark period in America's past played out. If we don't convince the youth to be color-blind, we'll find ourselves right back in that horrible place in no time.

~~~


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

Tonight I saw Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek and Connie Britton.

Beatriz (Hayek) is a Mexican healer who gives her affluent client Cathy (Britton) a massage after a losing a beloved pet. She can't hide her grief, but Cathy is compassionate and listens to her as she tells the story of an angry neighbor who killed her goat. As she's leaving the mansion, her car breaks down so she calls a friend to come and fix it. It will be a few hours until he can get there, so Cathy invites her to stay for dinner.

At the meal are Cathy and her husband, plus two couples. Both of the men work with her husband in the real estate development business. All of them are white.

Beatriz awkwardly greets the dinner party visitors with warm hugs instead of the cold handshakes they're used to and the night is off to a weird start. The more wine Beatriz drinks, the more honest she becomes and soon the polite conversation turns contentious.

John Lithgow is condescending and cool as the mogul Doug, who everyone seems to be kissing up to. Immediately he stereotypes Beatriz, asking her first to get him a drink (mistaking her for the help), then joking that maybe she once danced in Vegas when she mentions he looks familiar. 

During the meal, Beatriz has a small meltdown when she mistakes Doug for a corporate animal who ruined her home town in Mexico. She leaves the group to rest and uncovers something more. The story continues with her return to the party.

The film is very light on actual action, but the dialog here crackles so easily that's it's hard to notice. Every note of every word is carefully chosen either by the two who are sparring or those aiming to diffuse them.

It's hard to take your eyes of off Hayek, as her performance has so many dimensions. She emotes from deep within her eyes and carries herself as a confident holistic healer offended by soulless people would.

Alternately, Lithgow makes small sparks of his character redeeming, yet we can't help but shake our heads in disgust at his behavior.

A quiet—but no less powerful—commentary on our culturally volatile times.

~~~

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Beguiled

Yesterday I saw The Beguiled, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

Corporal John McBurney (Farrell) fell into the Union army by way of desperation—he'd just arrived from Ireland without a penny to speak of, so while he was up for the job, he didn't have a specific affinity to either American side. When he is wounded in battle, a young girl finds him bleeding and helpless in the woods. She does the "Christian" thing (as they often mention), although he is from the opposite side, and brings him to safety at the girls' seminary where she lives.

The seminary is run by strict headmistress Martha (Kidman) who immediately mends his wound, cleans him up and transforms the music area into a makeshift bedroom for him. Soon all the young girls, and their teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), are smitten with their guest, bending over backwards to see to his comfort.

He is grateful and gracious—gentle with the young girls and flirtatious with the women. His wound heals nicely and it is determined that it's not appropriate for him to remain, so (sexual) tensions rise as the group knows their time with him will end soon.

There is rivalry, violence, betrayal and heartbreak as the truth unfolds. To say any more would be to spoil, so I'll just mention that the soft, pearly light that Sofia Coppola always casts over her movies with works well here. Instead of being a raw, dusty war-time drama, it feels more like an occasional thriller with some splashes of romance that hang in the air like a misty Southern fog.

~~~

Sunday, August 06, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

On Friday, I saw the documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Anyone who watched the Oscar-winning first installment, An Inconvenient Truth, could tell that former Vice President Al Gore would make saving the environment his life's mission. This film confirms that.

Although there are flashbacks to his time in office, and scenes of him lamenting the results of the election that could have made him president, he has moved on with a Jimmy Carter-like spirit for making the most of his post-political career.

The crew follows him to Paris when the original Paris Agreement was made in the shadow of the horrific terrorist attacks of 2015. He was in the heart of the city when those incidents occurred, and his remarks afterward will make even the toughest among us shed some tears.

The triumph of that global victory was unfortunately short-lived due to our current Commander-in-Chief pulling out of said Agreement just two months ago. Mr. Gore shows us why that was such a devastating blow to the progress that had been made and what we must do as citizens to continue the fight.

He can't resist bringing along his beloved PowerPoint presentations again to share some shocking bar graphs. He advances the slides that prove his point with blatant satisfaction—trouble is, we wish he weren't so right.

This is a crises of epic proportions. Future generations (if we haven't killed the human race by then) will shake their heads in disbelief at America's stupidity if we don't turn things around and make this right.

My favorite part of the film shows Gore meeting with a conservative Texan mayor who is on the right side of history, making his town an environmentally friendly model for the rest of the nation. Though he may disagree with liberal politics, he says that taking care of our earth is just "common sense," and has found a fiscally responsible way of doing it.

Unfortunately, the people who need to see this film probably won't. But if it gets just a few people to change their votes, to write some letters, to make some noise, it won't all have been for nothing.

~~~


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Last night I screened Annabelle: Creation, starring Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson.

A couple who suffered a tragedy years ago opens their home with good intentions to a girls' orphanage, but soon things go awry. Though the Mullins ask the girls to respect their privacy and stay away from their deceased daughter's old room, the toys inside prove too tempting for Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson), so all hell breaks loose.

To top it off, as if being an orphan shunned by the "cool" girls isn't enough, Janice is disabled, wearing a brace on her leg and using a cane. She has to reach her bedroom upstairs by a chair lift, reminiscent of the one in Gremlins.

After a horrific encounter seemingly sparked by a doll (the famous "Annabelle" one from the prior film), Janice ends up paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Because this is the 1950s and we're at a faraway farmhouse, the chair looks like something from the 1800s.

Anyway, much ensues—mysteries surrounding the bed-confined Mrs. Mullins are revealed, Linda proves to be a loyal friend to a fault and I spent the better portion of the movie trying to place the accent of the resident nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Post-film research reveals in real-life she is from Mexico, but I'm not sure her character was supposed to be?

So, here's what you need to know: the film does have scary, jumpy moments; the acting (especially by the two child leads) is excellent and the ending ... well, leads us exactly to where we began with the film Annabelle, since this was a prequel.

I enjoyed it, but missing were our trusted anchors—Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, for whom this franchise centers. Their absence was palpable and I hope the team doesn't complete another film without them.

This installment wasn't as good as the others, but it wasn't bad. Go see it for the "gotcha" moments or rent it on a dark night, holding a doll for good measure.

~~~

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Big Sick

On Saturday I saw The Big Sick, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan.

Kumail (Nanjiani) is a struggling stand up comic doing his best to avoid his mother's attempts at setting him up with a Pakistani wife. One night he gets heckled by Emily (Kazan), a white girl who lives nearby and they have a meet cute and fall in love.

Unfortunately, their path to happily-ever-after wasn't so simple: his parents weren't okay with him falling for a white girl so he broke up with her and Emily became severely ill, going into a coma shortly after their courtship fell apart.

While she's unconscious, Kumail realizes his feelings for her and visits her hospital room often. He gets to know her parents (played here charmingly by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) and grows on them. By the time Emily wakes up, he's ready to resume their relationship, but she hasn't had the same time to process her feelings. So another roadblock emerges.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Sad as this all sounds, the film is a comedy. And, remarkably, it's also true—co-written by the real-life couple (Kumail and his wife Emily V. Gordon).

I have to admit, I'm still on the fence about this one.

I wanted desperately to like it because I tend to embrace stories of love overcoming all odds to prevail. I also appreciate when people with deep cultural values can learn to embrace new ideas and ideals for the sake of love. This has all of that ... but it's not perfect.

First, Kumail playing himself takes me out of the story. Maybe it's because I know him from Silicon Valley or because he always seems to have a smirk on deck even if the scene isn't comedic, but him being him made the rest of the cast feel like they were trying too hard (and they're all amazing actors who delivered stellar performances). I believed Emily was very ill. I got that Emily's father had greatly hurt Emily's mother. But that all felt like a play because Kumail was always there, hanging out, reminding us this was his life we were seeing.

I also found the roommate to be too dumb. They dedicated a lot of screen time to emphasizing how much of a loser he was, then made the audience feel guilty for not feeling worse when he didn't get chosen to be part of something the rest of them did. I would have much rather had that time with the other comedians or happy moments with the couple when all was said and done.

Annoying as well were the moments with Kumail's family. They seemed very one-dimensional since we seldom see them away from the dinner table.

I can't imagine what it must be like to see your life rewound on the big screen and I applaud the couple for the courage to tell their story.

i just wish it went lighter on the stereotypes and deeper into the heart of their love.

~~~