Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yellow Submarine

Yesterday I saw the animated classic Yellow Submarine.

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

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

But really, it's about the music.

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

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

Thankfully, that includes our hearts.

~~~

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Disobedience


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

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

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

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

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

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


~~~

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hereditary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~


Saturday, June 02, 2018

Adrift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~


On Chesil Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderful storytelling in an unconventional way with two brilliant actors.

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

~~~

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

RGB

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

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

Here are just a few things she's done:

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

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

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

A simply perfect film.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Beirut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Friday, April 20, 2018

I Feel Pretty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go see it. And take your daughters.

~~~

Friday, April 06, 2018

A Quiet Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Isle of Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Black Panther

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Love, Simon

Today I saw Love, Simon, starring Nick Robinson and Logan Miller.

Simon (Robinson) is a closeted gay high school student, scared to come out to his friends and family. He begins a secret correspondence with another closeted gay student and all is well until their emails become intercepted.

Without knowing each other's identity, they can't meet in person—at least not yet—and it's a race to keep the one person in-the-know from spilling the beans on both of them.

Simon is incredibly likable—he's a sweet older brother to his only sister, respectful to his parents and teachers, and genuine with his close-knit group of friends. He's someone everyone wants to be around, which is why it's so painful to watch him grapple with this dilemma alone.

In fact, what's very refreshing about the film is that nearly everyone (save for the "interceptor" and a few childish a-holes at school) is likable. We aren't hit over the head with hate, though there are prominent race and LGBTQ themes throughout the movie. As a viewer, I very much appreciated that.

Also refreshing are lighthearted scenes (one involving a Whitney Houston song is especially lovely) that are peppered throughout to keep it from feeling like an After School Special™or heavy drama.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cheer—you'll very much enjoy this movie if you go see it!

~~~


Friday, March 02, 2018

My 2018 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Here are my final picks for Sunday's ceremony:

WRITING: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: LADY BIRD
My Pick: LADY BIRD

WRITING: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: CALL ME MY YOUR NAME
My Pick: MOLLY'S GAME

VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Win: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
My Pick: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

SOUND MIXING
Who Will Win: DUNKIRK
My Pick: THE SHAPE OF WATER

SOUND EDITING
Who Will Win: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
My Pick: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

SHORT FILM: LIVE ACTION
Who Will Win: MY NEPHEW EMMETT
My Pick: DEKALB ELEMENTARY

SHORT FILM: ANIMATED
Who Will Win: LOU
My Pick: GARDEN PARTY

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE SHAPE OF WATER
My Pick: THE SHAPE OF WATER

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Who Will Win: "Remember Me" from COCO
My Pick: "Mighty River" from MUDBOUND

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Who Will Win: DUNKIRK
My Pick: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Who Will Win: DARKEST HOUR
My Pick: VICTORIA & ABDUL

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Who Will Win: THE SQUARE
My Pick: THE SQUARE

FILM EDITING
Who Will Win: DUNKIRK
My Pick: I, TONYA

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Who Will Win: EDITH+EDDIE
My Pick: HEROIN(E)

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
Who Will Win: ICARUS
My Pick: FACES PLACES

DIRECTING
Who Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for THE SHAPE OF WATER
My Pick: Guillermo del Toro for THE SHAPE OF WATER

COSTUME DESIGN
Who Will Win: PHANTOM THREAD
My Pick: PHANTOM THREAD

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who Will Win: THE SHAPE OF WATER
My Pick: THE SHAPE OF WATER

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Win: COCO
My Pick: LOVING VINCENT

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Allison Janney for I, TONYA
My Pick: Allison Janney for I, TONYA

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI
My Pick: Christopher Plummer for ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Frances McDormand for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI
My Pick: Sally Hawkins for THE SHAPE OF WATER

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Gary Oldman for DARKEST HOUR
My Pick: Gary Oldman for DARKEST HOUR

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Win: GET OUT
My Pick: GET OUT

~~~

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2018)

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.

DEKALB ELEMENTARY (USA)

Based on true events, this film tells the story of a school shooting in Atlanta that was halted due to the kindness of the bookkeeper. When the intruder enters, he's agitated and angry, planning to kill and okay with being killed as a result. Once the woman at the front desk develops a rapport with him, he begins to calm down and show remorse for the terrifying situation he's caused for the whole community. The acting is phenomenal and the lesson is clear: Always start with compassion.

THE SILENT CHILD (UNITED KINGDOM)

Libby is a difficult child for her parents to handle—she's deaf and mostly unresponsive to her hearing family. They hire Joanne, who teaches Libby to communicate through sign language and her life is transformed. The issue is the mother who is reluctant to keep up with it because she wants her to integrate into regular school and get by on lip reading. Inspired by true events, the title cards at the end give evidence of many children who needlessly suffer loneliness because of this disability. Very moving and infuriating.

MY NEPHEW EMMETT (USA)

This film, again capturing an event that actually happened in Mississippi in 1955, tells of the vicious racism that impacted a peaceful black family who were simply living their lives. When Emmett comes to live with them from Chicago, he's unfamiliar with the dangers of being black in that part of the country, and he pays the price. Incredibly disturbing, but unfortunately something our country still needs to see.

THE ELEVEN O'CLOCK (AUSTRALIA)

The only comedy in the bunch, this film provides welcome relief in the form of a silly narrative about two men who claim to be the doctor in one shrink's office. The puzzle is figuring out who is the true patient. Although I solved the mystery relatively early into it, the dialog was still enjoyable and the actors charming, trying to ping-pong us into thinking one thing and then changing the next.

WATU WOTE: ALL OF US (GERMANY/KENYA)

The final film in the presentation told the horrific and beautiful (true) story of a bus attack along the Kenya/Somalia border. The Muslim attackers, desiring to take Christian lives for their treatment of Islam had a tough time distinguishing the Christians from the Muslims because the Muslims gave them their clothing to masquerade as one of their own. They protected their supposed enemy in the face of a group interpreting their religion in a twisted, irrational way. As a result, many lives were saved that would otherwise have been lost. I'll be thinking about this one for days.

~~~

Fifty Shades Freed

On Sunday I saw Fifty Shades Freed, starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

In this third (excruciating) installment of the most popular worst trilogy ever made, Anastasia (Johnson) is married to Christian (Dornan) and has to navigate their new life, which includes taking an extravagant honeymoon to France; preparing a new mansion/love nest; 'working' as a book editor and fending off the attacks of her disgruntled former boss (who harbors a secret that involves her husband).

Before you question why I even sat through this, let me provide you two reasons:

1) The films are set in Seattle, near where I live and work, so I enjoy seeing "home" on the screen.
2) My friend's birthday is this week and she planned a girls' night around the film to celebrate.

See—I had no choice. But no, this wasn't good.

Was it fun to hoot and holler at during the saucy scenes? Sure. Was it great to see beautiful scenes of France and Washington? Absolutely.

But dear God, that dialog couldn't be worse. Honestly, Ms. Johnson and Mr. Dornan should get some kind of award just for keeping a straight face during what are supposed to be "dramatic" scenes. They are amazing.

And for pure visual pleasure, I still think we should have had more of Christian than Anastasia, but that's not how it played out.

At least in a few moments Anastasia truly exerted her girl power and took control of her situations.

Small consolation for such a dud.

~~~

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Documentary Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2018)

Today 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.

TRAFFIC STOP (USA)

Director Kate Davis gives us a first-hand look at a subject that's all-too-familiar across our country: white police misusing their power on black citizens. In this case, the city is Austin, Texas (often known for its liberal, accepting nature) and the victim is Breaion King, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, who is caught speeding and pulls into a Wendy's parking lot. There, the white cops treat her like a violent criminal (though all she's does is question why she's being arrested) and toss her around like a rag doll (a gifted dancer, she's only 112 lbs.)—she sustains physical injuries that were completely avoidable and emotional damage from which she may never recover. Should be required viewing for all cadets entering the force—in any town.

EDITH + EDDIE (USA)

In the lush greenery of a quiet neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia lives Eddie, a 95-year-old white man and Edith, his 96-year-old black wife. They share a happy existence, attending church with their community and enjoying the picturesque water near their home. Their happiness is disrupted when Edith's daughter Patricia, anxious to sell her house, challenges her sister Rebecca for custodial rights to their mother. Since they can't come to an agreement, a stranger is appointed legal guardian and threatens to separate the beautiful life Eddie & Edith built. I could barely make it through this one; as the laws meant to protect elders in this case are doing just the opposite. Frustrating and painful to watch, but incredibly well done.

HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405 (USA)

Mindy Alper is an accomplished artist with works exhibited in one of the top Los Angeles galleries, but she has struggled all her life with severe mental health issues. These problems have pulled her to and from her family, and her art over the course of her 56 years. This film allows Mindy—and those closest to her—to share her story unfiltered and shows how powerful validation can be on one's journey toward contentment.

HEROIN(E) (USA)

Many may write off Huntington, West Virginia as a lost cause for a town considering its overdose rates are 10 times that of the national average—but there are three women in the community who refuse to give up on these citizens and this film tells their story. Necia runs the Brown Bag Ministry, handing out meals and finding shelter for addicted working girls on the street; Jan is the fire chief who personally saves countless lives when addicts overdose; Patricia is the drug court judge who holds sobriety graduation ceremonies for her criminals who go clean. The love is there and because of that love there is hope.

KNIFE SKILLS (USA)

A lot rests on the opening of Edwins restaurant in Cleveland. It's not just another place in the city to eat; it's a life-changing factory for recently released inmates who are working toward a better life. The founder himself is a former convict and he recognizes what's at stake by trusting these new recruits. He also knows that he'll never find more loyal or dedicated staff members because everyone on his team has something to prove. As expected, they all don't make it to the finish line, but for the ones who do the results are inspiring. Most of all, we're reminded that when it comes to reforming criminals, there's a better way to do it than the usual: Just give them a sense of purpose.

~~~

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Winchester

This morning I saw Winchester, starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke.

Sarah Winchester (Mirren) is a grieving widow who uprooted her east coast life to (literally) rebuild in San Jose, California. She is continually (as in, 24-hrs. a day, 7 days a week) constructing more rooms for her mansion to satisfy the spirits of those killed with the firearms her husband's company manufactured. The year is 1906 and the company (which she partially inherited following her husband's death) would like to get rid of her. Dr. Price (Clarke) is sent to stay with her and prove she's mentally unfit.

Clarke is a favorite of mine from his Brotherhood days, and it goes without saying that Mirren is always perfection. But this film was a huge disappointment despite their best efforts to save a weak script.

Aside from the possessed grand-nephew and some "gotcha" ghoulish appearances, this doesn't feel much like a horror film, or even a thriller. Furthermore, the actual property (which, full disclosure: I have visited) is incredibly captivating, but most of what we see of it here are dark hallways, nails spitting out of walls and slammed doors. I was also let down by the San Francisco earthquake scene, expecting far more supernatural elements at play.

Though many of the facts are correct in the film (the house was severely damaged in the quake of 1906; Sarah did continually build; niece Marion really existed) the fictional story they created to harness the essence of the Winchester history falls flat.

As I sat and watched, I imagined how I would have re-written it (perhaps cold open with a seance; maybe bring to life the wheelbarrow man ghost that supposedly haunts the house present-day; show a present-day tour and flashback). So many possibilities—and the fact I had time to concoct them as I sat there means my boredom was high.

You'd be better off watching a documentary about the property. Those actually have the power to spook you.

~~~



Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Florida Project

Last night I saw The Florida Project, starring Brooklynn Prince and Willem Dafoe.

Moonee (Prince) is a precocious hellraiser, talking her friends into all sorts of mischief (some harmless, some serious) to pass the time. She's on summer break and lives at a motel not too far from Disney World, where those more fortunate go to have fun. Her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) is young, reckless and barely able to make each week's "rent," (though the property is breaking rules by allowing them to live there).

The film is told through the sun-kissed lens of Florida, but is one of the darkest stories I've seen in a while.

When Halley can't scrape up enough cash to pay the front desk, she turns tricks in her room, sometimes with Moonee nearby in the bathtub (the sound of her customers masked by loud hip-hop music). Discovering that Moonee has talked her son into doing something illegal, the downstairs neighbor cuts off all contact, which results in Halley confronting her at her place of business, then physically attacking her on a separate occasion. You'd assume that Moonee's chances of a having normal life are slim—and you'd be right—were it not for the motel manager, Bobby (Dafoe), who spends as much time looking out for her as he does caring for the property.

I spent the duration of the film reminding myself that it was fictional so I wouldn't erupt into a rage-cry, but I know that several variations of this story do exist in real life, so the tears were hard to avoid. I remembered watching Alexandra Pelosi's amazing documentary, Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County, back in 2010. That had a similar vibe though it was real children and real parents, and they lived near Disneyland, not Disney World. Also, the parents in her story weren't monsters, they were hard-working people desperate to build a better life for their families, if the universe would just give them an out.

It's not easy to watch, but you can't take your eyes off of it. Prince, just 6 years-old when this was filmed, is phenomenal (and looks like a tiny version of Diane Lane); Vinaite is impressive too, displaying enough love for her girl that you sympathize with her in spite of her horrific behavior. And Dafoe, who is Oscar-nominated for his performance, hits all the right notes as the compassionate observer.

It will be a long time before these characters leave my mind.

~~~




Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Loving Vincent

Tonight I saw Loving Vincent, starring Douglas Booth and Saoirse Ronan.

Do everything in your power to see this in the theater if it's still available in your area. Seriously.

What Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and over 100 painters did is simply magnificent. They shot an entire movie—then painted over every frame (over 65,000 of them). So trust me when I say that you'll experience the first hand-painted full-length film in a much more immersive way if the images envelop you from the brilliance of a gigantic screen vs. a television or home theater.

The story picks up after the death of Vincent Van Gogh, when Armand Roulin (Booth), one of Van Gogh's subjects, attempts to solve the questions behind the famous artist's suicide (or murder, depending on what theory you believe) and travels to various scenes in the style of Van Gogh's works to do so. I'll admit I got so lost in the visuals that the dialog/plot points suffered for me, but perhaps if I watch it again, I'll pay more attention?

Probably not. But as a huge Van Gogh admirer, this was an incredible visual treat. It was as if all of the scenes I'd witnessed my entire life in museums and on postcards had come to life, straight from my mind's eye.

Of course, I was then preoccupied wondering (hoping) this technique gets explored via other artists too (Andrew Wyeth and Claude Monet would be my first choices, but I could also be happy with Georges Seurat if anyone's up for it).

I certainly hope this isn't the last we've seen of such beauty.

~~~

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.

~~~