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

  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

  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:


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

WINNER: Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies


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


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

WINNER: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


My Pick: Claire Foy, The Crown

Will Win: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

WINNER: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale


My Pick: The Handmaid’s Tale

Will Win: The Handmaid's Tale

WINNER: The Handmaid's Tale


My Pick: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

Will Win: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

WINNER: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us


My Pick: David Harbour, Stranger Things

Will Win: Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies

WINNER: Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies


My Pick: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water

Will Win: Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

WINNER: Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water


My Pick: Mighty River, Mudbound

Will Win: This is Me, The Greatest Showman

WINNER: This is Me, The Greatest Showman


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

WINNER: James Franco, The Disaster Artist


My Pick: Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies

Will Win: Ann Dowd, The Handmaid's Tale

WINNER: Laura Dern, Big Little Lies


My Pick: Coco

Will Win: Coco



My Pick: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

WINNER: Allison Janney, I Tonya


My Pick: Aaron Sorkin, Molly's Game

Will Win: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

WINNER: Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


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

WINNER: In the Fade


My Pick: Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks

Will Win: Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks

WINNER: Ewan McGregor, Fargo


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

WINNER: Aziz Ansari, Master of None


My Pick: SMILF
Will Win: Will & Grace

WINNER: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


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

WINNER: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water


My Pick: Big Little Lies

Will Win: Big Little Lies

WINNER: Big Little Lies


My Pick: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Will Win: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

WINNER: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird


My Pick: I, Tonya

Will Win: Lady Bird

WINNER: Lady Bird


My Pick: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Will Win: Tom Hanks, The Post 

WINNER: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour


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


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


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.



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


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.