Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tea With the Dames

Today I saw Tea With the Dames, starring four British Dames.

Four women have been friends for decades and regularly get together in the English countryside for tea and conversation. It's only an afterthought that all of these individuals happen to be official Dames. Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins and Dame Joan Plowright (who is also a Lady as a result of her marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier), to be exact.

Four women who are all stars of the stage and screen. Four women who have worked together, competed for roles and raised their families alongside one another. To say that their conversations are interesting would be an understatement. Though they may struggle with hearing at times, and Joan has lost much of her eyesight, they are as sharp (and hilarious) as ever.

The filmmakers did a lovely job of splicing in clips of the theater performances, films and television shows that they discuss, as well as footage of them with their husbands, families and each other over time. It's like watching a living scrapbook, complete with narration by its subjects. 

I'm familiar with much of the work of these wonderful ladies, but I had no idea how personally intertwined they all are and am happy knowing that they've had other similar women to lean on all these years.

If you're in the mood for something light yet sentimental, give this a go. You'll leave the theater smiling.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Halloween (2018)

Last night I saw Halloween, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer.

It's been 40 years since Laurie Strode (Curtis), a young babysitter, survived an attack by killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) in her Illinois town. Now, he's being transferred from one prison facility to another, and Laurie is ready for him.

Laurie's severe PTSD from the incident has plagued her for decades, causing her to lose her family due to her paranoia. She lives outside of town in a house she's converted to a bunker of sorts, complete with an arsenal of weapons to protect herself. Her daughter Karen (Greer) keeps her distance and encourages her own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) to do the same.

Unfortunately, something goes horribly wrong during the transfer and Myers is again a free man, roaming the same streets he once terrorized so many Halloweens ago. Laurie, along with members of law enforcement who were on the hunt for him in 1978, set out to get justice—one way or another.

This sequel to the original (which pretends none of the other sequels happened) is satisfying on many levels: seeing the original actors return to reprise their roles is a delight and the realistic way they've advanced the characters is a relief. Honestly, I couldn't find much wrong with this. It was suspenseful, clever, fun, jumpy and terrifying just like the first one.

Michael Myers strikes again.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pick of the Litter

Today I saw the documentary, Pick of the Litter, starring Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil.

The story follows five puppies from birth through training, right up to decision day as part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind program. The nonprofit places qualified dogs with visually impaired persons to help them navigate life.

Dogs are bred specifically for the purpose of breeding or becoming guides, and those who do not make the cut after rigorous conditioning are "career changed" (which is a polite way of saying they're fired and going to live their lives out as a normal pet, or perhaps passed along to another organization who will work with their shortcomings to make them useful in other scenarios). Some of the most delightful of dogs are "career changed."

The puppies begin with "puppy raisers" who provide a loving, disciplined home for their first few months of life and record their behaviors to report back to the folks at the nonprofit. If the experts don't think the 'child-rearing' is preparing the puppies well enough, they will be re-assigned to raisers who have more experience. We see this happen during the film and it's hard on all involved, though it's most likely what's best for the animal.

After they have lived out their youth with their host families, they return to the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus for one-to-one training with an expert who schools them in everything from obedience to traffic reactions. Once those classes are complete, they are tested in five areas of excellence and must pass all five to become official guide dogs. Only a few from the group we take the journey with will make it.

We also see the impact to the recipients of the dogs; a man who has been blind since 18 months and a woman who lost her sight over several decades. Both are thrilled to be receiving these helpful friends and have waited great lengths of time to meet them.

Basically, this is the perfect film for the state of the world we're in right now. You'll laugh, you'll cry (in a cathartic way), you'll audibly "awww" several times and have your faith in humanity restored. Plus, you'll learn a lot about the wonderful people and animals who work every day to make this place a better world.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Bookshop

Last night I saw The Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson.

Florence (Mortimer) is a British widow who decides to take back her life after grieving her husband's death. She makes her dream of opening an independent bookshop a reality in the small village of Hardborough.

The town reacts positively to the shop, visiting in droves to buy forbidden titles such as Lolita. Florence also develops a friendship with a wealthy recluse (played by the always-great Bill Nighy) who has her send him as many Ray Bradbury titles as she can find.

Trouble brews when the town powerhouse, Mrs. Gamart (Clarkson), wants to use the building Florence opened the shop in for an arts center. Florence must decide whether or not it's worth it to deplete her resources and take on the legal battle, or let it be and move on.

Though the pace of the film is incredibly uneven, there are many enjoyable aspects to it. Watching Clarkson as a villainess is fun, as is seeing Nighy in a more understated role. Perhaps the most compelling touch is the fact the film's story is told like a book, complete with voiceover narrations and actors who behave like caricatures.

More importantly it's an assessment of the toxicity that can surface in communities when gossip and abuse of power rule.

See it for the performances, the ambiance and the satisfying twist ending.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Star Is Born

Last night I saw A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

Jackson (Cooper) is a star of the stage—unfortunately he's as good at drinking as he is at singing and playing guitar. Ally (Gaga) is an amateur with an amazing voice who performs as the only "real" girl at drag shows. Jackson stumbles into one of those shows one evening and experiences love at first sight.

Soon, Ally is piggybacking her talent onto his successful music career and getting noticed in her own right. All the while, Jackson keeps drinking, keeps drugging.

Even if you've seen any of the previous versions of this story, you'll be able to predict where it's headed. Her star shines bright, his addiction worsens, etc.

At the heart of it, it's a story about the endurance of love through tough times. Anyone who has suffered from addiction, or suffered because of someone else's addiction will be able to relate. Anyone who's been so deeply in love with another soul will relate. Anyone who has struggled to reach their dreams will relate.

With the two leads having insanely strong chemistry (not to mention brilliant singing voices), it will be terribly surprising if they aren't both Oscar-nominated for their performances. It just works on so many levels.

If you can stand blinking through your tears, go see it. You won't regret it.