Thursday, August 30, 2018

Juliet, Naked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 29, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A satisfying and strangely empowering film.


Sunday, August 12, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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