Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Wizard of Oz

Tonight I saw The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton.

I've seen this film countless times, of course, growing up with it on TV once a year, then owning a VHS copy, then a DVD version and attending multiple anniversary showings. Tonight's occasion was a Throwback Thursday presentation at a local indie theater. That was reason enough for me to attend.

Though made in the late '30s, the film's themes and sentiments continue to have relevance in present day. For example, when the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) mutters that "... some people without brains do a lot of talking" the audience clapped and cheered.

The story is simple: a young Kansas farm girl, Dorothy (Garland), gets caught in a tornado and passes out. While she's unconscious she travels to the land of Oz, a magical place where she's joined by three new friends, along with her dog Toto, on a journey to see the Wizard, who they hope can help them all in one way or another and send her safely home. A wicked witch (Hamilton) tries to stop them each step of the way, coveting Dorothy's new ruby slippers, which possess magical qualities.

Though the effects are of their time, the colors and sets still look beautiful all these years later and the heart of the film rings true: Courage, belief in self and goodwill toward others will lead you to your ultimate goal no matter what lies in your path. You just have to find the strength to overcome it.

~~~

Monday, July 15, 2019

Pavarotti


On Saturday, I saw Pavarotti, a documentary about the life of the legendary tenor.

Some people have a presence. It’s an intangible x factor that only a select amount of individuals possess, but those who do are unforgettable—Luciano Pavarotti was one of them.

The story of the Italian opera great is told here in a linear way by director Ron Howard, who conducted over 50 interviews to arrive at the finished work. From his childhood in Italy to his profound success as perhaps the greatest tenor of all time, Pavarotti’s life is recounted in a beautiful narrative by the people who knew him best.

He was a family man, a mentor, a friend and a humanitarian. He was also a philanderer, a diva and a man plagued with self-doubt. I’m grateful Howard chose to show both sides. Sometimes when we get to know someone larger than life, it’s only their persona that’s noticed; here we get to explore the human for all of his flaws, and we’re better for it.

Aside from his technical talent, his charisma is remembered through scenes from his friendship with Princess Diana and hilarious stories told by Bono. Pavarotti seemed to love life—his women, his friends, his children, his colleagues, his fans, his food. This was reflected in the way he lived his life, to the fullest of course, and that made it all the more heartbreaking to reach the end of the film where the last months of his life, as he suffered from pancreatic cancer, are remembered.

Though not much of an opera fan, because of his undeniable popularity and yes, because of the U2 song “Miss Sarajevo,” I knew about Pavarotti before seeing the film, but never did I think I’d enjoy such an intimate look at him.

I only wish I’d seen him perform when I had the chance.


~~~

Saturday, July 13, 2019

E.T.

On Wednesday, I saw E.T. in Concert with the Seattle Symphony.

My memory of seeing E.T. in the theater when I was 6 years old is vivid. My sister and my cousin took me. We sat closer than we normally would because the theater was full. It was crowded and hot and I didn't take my eyes off the screen for the duration.

I developed an instant crush on Elliot (Henry Thomas) and even though we're the same age, found Gertie (Drew Barrymore) to be adorable. I was scared of E.T. at first, but once they showed how gentle he was, and the scenes with the beer drinking and costumes surfaced, I was completely on-board with this new alien friend.

My other remembrance is how hard I sobbed when Elliott and E.T. suffered in the makeshift treatment facility that the government sets up in Elliott's house. Scarred me for life.

That said, the iconic bike scene and the legendary score by John Williams never left me, and I went on to consume many Reese's Pieces and buy E.T.-related memorabilia in the years that followed (I still have a pair of socks and earrings).

I was delighted when I saw this would return to the theater and be accompanied live by the Seattle Symphony last winter and quickly bought tickets. Unfortunately, our snow storm postponed the performance and we just now got to see it. I can safely say it was worth the wait.

The sweet tale of a family struggling with parental separation in the 1980s focuses on the bond between Elliott (the boy who finds the alien) and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Instead of siblings that are always at each other's throats, the brothers and sister in this family look out for each other (and successfully hide E.T. for a period of time).

Drew Barrymore is the standout as young Gertie—an exceptional actress even then, she's alternately funny, vulnerable and sad.

I enjoyed seeing this Spielberg classic on the screen again and feel privileged I got to hear the amazing live music that accompanied it.

The narrative is simple: find alien, hide alien, attempt to reunite alien with his family before the government captures him to experiment on him, but the story is told with such heart that it's remained in our consciousness for over 40 years. It should—and most likely will—hold that legacy forever.

~~~

Friday, July 05, 2019

The Biggest Little Farm

Yesterday I saw The Biggest Little Farm, starring John and Molly Chester.

John and Molly are married, living a pleasant life in the city. Molly is a personal chef; John is a documentarian. On one of his assignments, he films a home with an animal hoarder and falls in love with one of the dogs. He and Molly end up adopting said dog, Todd, and soon run into trouble because he won't stop barking. After many unsuccessful attempts to correct the dog's behavior, they're evicted from their apartment and decide to build a completely new life.

The couple buy a farm an hour north of Los Angeles and with the help of a dedicated mentor, commit themselves to reviving the land by farming using old-school methods that are kinder to the environment. This documentary chronicles their first seven years on the farm and all of the tragedy and victory that came with it. From pigs that won't eat to coyotes that murder their ducks and chickens, there's never a dull moment

Throughout the story, thankfully told chronologically, we recognize how idealistic and naive the couple were to start this venture with no previous farming experience, but also root for them because they refuse to give up regardless of the challenges they face. There is never a direct reference to climate change, but I sat there silently thanking them each time they "won" a bit of nature back (i.e. area bees returning and thriving). What they're doing all farmers should be doing.

The animals become family members, the lush landscapes provide both a peaceful retreat and an endless supply of headaches (some more dangerous than you may think) and every moment is entertaining whether you've ever had the desire to live on a farm yourself (I personally, have not).

At one point when their pig, Emma, is giving birth to what seems like an endless amount of piglets, Molly smiles with delight and says "I love our life!"

I, for one, loved watching their life.

~~~

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Toy Story 4

Tonight I saw Toy Story 4, starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Annie Potts.

Woody (Hanks) and the gang of toys who used to belong to Andy (John Morris) have settled in nicely with young Bonnie (Madeline McGraw) and her family. Bonnie is hesitant about starting Kindergarten, so Woody tags along for her orientation. That's where she creates a new toy, Forky, (Tony Hale) from a utensil that was thrown into the trash.

Forky helps Bonnie adjust to her new school and becomes immediately beloved, but Forky doesn't really want to be a toy and attempts to return to the trash every chance he gets. This keeps Woody on his toes, chasing after him at every turn to ensure he stays put. But Woody isn't always successful and Forky successfully escapes during a road trip. Woody goes after him and they both end up at an antique store where they encounter a doll named Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who has a broken voice box and is desperate to replace it with Woody's.

Meanwhile, Bonnie is devastated that Forky is missing and that sends the family road trip into chaos, with all of the remaining toys in the vehicle worried for Woody and Forky.

All of the usual wit and clever blink-or-you'll-miss-them funnies are as present here as they were in the first three films, as is the charm and heart. It's lovely spending time with characters like Woody and Little Bo Peep (Potts) who we've seen before and the addition of several supporting characters only add delight—Keanu Reeves is a standout as the always-posing stuntman, Duke.

Of course there's a huge action sequence at the climax of the plot, a little creepiness, some genuine sadness and even a budding romance. Really, for a film that's fourth in a franchise, it's incredibly satisfying.

Go see it. You'll still be smiling when you get home.

~~~

Yesterday

Last night I saw Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

A world without The Beatles or Coca-Cola isn't a world I'd ever want to live in, but it's the warped reality that struggling English musician, Jack (Patel), experiences when he wakes from an accident. Jack was hit by a bus during a freak, 12-second worldwide blackout and seems to be the only person who remembers the most famous band that ever existed and the iconic soda.

Of course he doesn't have the formula for Coke, but he does remember a fair amount of The Beatles catalog of songs, so he begins to "write" them one-by-one and pass them off as his own. Of course, the world (again) loves them.

Side note: For those of us who are die-hard Beatles fans who absolutely hate covers of their songs, listening to him play their sacred hits throughout the film is as excruciating as you'd imagine.

By his side on his rise to fame is Ellie (James) who has known him since childhood and acts as his manager until he's recruited by a bigger fish, who arrives in the form of Kate McKinnon as Debra. She is a very welcome distraction, as is Ed Sheeran who portrays himself.

Although the film is marketed as this philosophical "what if" regarding the cultural shift that would happen if the band who influenced nearly every major rock act that came after them never happened, it's really just a mediocre romantic comedy about two people who don't have much chemistry and struggle to get past the friend zone. In fact, the film should have been called The Friend Zone.

As someone who counts Love Actually among the greatest rom coms of all time, I hoped that writer Richard Curtis would sprinkle his fairy dust on this couple as well, but instead all we got were a series of groan-worthy jokes (re-naming "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude") and an odd twist at the end that contemplates what John Lennon would be doing today if he hadn't been murdered (for what it's worth, I don't think they even came close).

A film exploring an alternate Back to the Future-ish reality about how music would suck had rock 'n' roll never been blessed with John, Paul, George and Ringo? Now that would have been compelling.

Unfortunately, the greatest part of this film was the very end—when the real Beatles sing "Hey Jude" over the credits.

~~~


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Annabelle Comes Home

Tonight I saw Annabelle Comes Home, starring McKenna Grace and Vera Farmiga.

Paranormal investigators Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) and her husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) decide the best place to contain the evil that the Annabelle doll possesses is in their private museum at home. As they transport the doll to their residence, a number of bad things happen. And so it begins ...

The latest installment in the series that began with The Conjuring, which was based loosely on the real-life experiences of the Warrens, centers around a time when the couple has to go away for the night and their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) is left in the care of a babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Mary Ellen's friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) shows up and starts snooping where she shouldn't in the paranormal museum. Soon, all hell breaks loose and all three are put in grave danger from the Annabelle doll being released from her protective locked case.

On the fright meter, unfortunately this installment ranks pretty low. Sure, there are things that chase and things that jump, but overall it doesn't have the creepy factor that some of the other films in the series had. Also, it doesn't have enough of Lorraine and Ed.

Although this is one of the few franchises that I welcome more prequels and sequels from, this one didn't deliver the chills and thrills I've come to expect.

Hopefully the next will be a return to form.

~~~

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Jaws

Tonight I saw Jaws, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider in honor of its 44th anniversary.

The legendary score, the almost-laughable fake shark, the unlikely bonding of the bros who venture out to kill the beast—I simply never tire of this classic, which is just a few months older than me.

I've seen the film dozens of times, but I don't recall ever enjoying it on the big screen, so I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite indie theaters would host a complimentary viewing as part of their Throwback Thursday series. The crowd was in my age range (with many of their kids in tow) and the audience behavior was perfect. Absolute silence throughout, with the exception of claps and cheers when famous lines were spoken.

The thing I realized that had never dawned on me before was the emphasis on the 1%/educated character besting the blue collar warrior who at first seems to know far better in every circumstance. It's an interesting lens in which to see the film, especially in light of our class divisions present day, and one that perhaps deserves a closer look.

Nevertheless, the experience was a wonderful way to welcome summer and keep me out of the water for at least a few more days.

~~~




Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Souvenir

Tonight I saw The Souvenir, starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tom Burke.

Julie (Swinton Byrne) is a film student in love with journalist Anthony (Burke), who also happens to be a heroin addict. It's England in the 1980s and she'll sacrifice everything for her art and her affair.

Who hasn't fallen for someone they shouldn't? Who hasn't made bad choices in the name of love ... or lust? Who hasn't stayed in toxic situations because of the emotions attached to them? These themes, along with a passionate thirst for the craft of film, are the tapestry that weaves this narrative together. Sort of.

I say 'sort of' because although the story is easy to follow, it's anything but linear, and the pace is agonizingly slow. Still, you can't look away. Swinton Byrne, who shares the screen with her real-life Mother (portraying her mother here too), Tilda Swinton, is phenomenal as a naive, yet fiercely dedicated film student. Tom Burke, as her tortured and torturous, addicted beau is equally compelling.

The way the film is shot captures the feel of the era it represents and what's left unsaid becomes just as important as the dialog that's spoken.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the film, because it's a truly tragic story (and drawn from the real life of its creator, Joanna Hogg), but I certainly appreciated it and all that it represents.

If you're wondering why it's achieved almost universal acclaim, it's because of the lingering feelings  about the powerful characters you're left with long after you leave the theater.

~~~


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Rocketman

Yesterday I saw Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton and Bryce Dallas Howard.

I can see why Elton John gave this film his blessing. The ride through his life that covers the time between childhood and sobriety is tender, thrilling and above all, honest. A fitting tribute to such an interesting icon.

Young Elton is played by Matthew Illesly who bears such a strong resemblance to him, I want to see what he looks like in 40 years. We see Reggie (his given name) as a young piano prodigy, who's talent is celebrated by his grandmother (Gemma Jones) and merely tolerated by his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). He has an inherent enthusiasm for music and thankfully follows his instinct to pursue it despite his dysfunctional family life.

His instructors immediately recognize his gift, and as he grows older (and is then played by Kit Connor), it's clear this will be how his life plays out.

By the time we reach adult Elton (Taron Egerton), we know he's gay and that he's found a lifetime friend and creative partner in Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). The road to success was paved with drama and pain and joy and hard work and as a result of all of it, an addiction has has taken over his spirit.

The film is shown in flashbacks from his point of view at a rehabilitation meeting and structured in a traditional musical sense: The characters break into song frequently in the middle of otherwise linear scenes and sometimes recreate classic performances or videos.

At first, I found the format jarring, but as the film went on and I grew to expect it, I liked it. What was especially fun was seeing photos from the real situations in comparison to the film reenactments at the end. It makes me sorry I only had the privilege of seeing Elton live twice in my lifetime.

All in all, it's a very satisfying, enjoyable look at the remarkable life of a musical genius.

~~~



Sunday, June 02, 2019

Wine Calling

Today I screened Wine Calling, a documentary about French wine producers who are committed to producing their wines with natural methods.

Even if you're not a wine snob, you can probably appreciate the elegance of a great glass of vino, made with care in one of the most beautiful regions in the world. If so, you may enjoy this casual journey to meet some of the passionate winemakers in the French Riviera, dedicated to leaving the unnatural "extras" out.

What I enjoyed: The people behind the wines who in many cases started from scratch and built up their brands with good, old-fashioned hard work. Hearing from the makers directly and realizing how down-to-earth they truly are resolves any perception of pretentiousness. They also make a great case for their reasoning behind natural wine production.

What I didn't enjoy: A lot of B-roll with dogs playing, kids frolicking, grassy hills, etc. set to music that didn't always match the vibe the narrative was creating. I'm not adverse to non-linear storytelling, but sometimes the jumping from one frame to another seemed unnecessary.

I did, however, want to drink an entire bottle of wine once the film concluded, so perhaps it was more effective than I'm giving it credit for delivering.

~~~

Wine Calling screened at the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Top End Wedding

On Sunday I screened Top End Wedding, starring Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee.

Lauren (Tapsell) and Ned (Lee) are in love and planning a whirlwind ceremony for their nuptials in 10 days, hut there's a complication—Lauren's mother is missing. They must find her or their perfect Top End Wedding will not happen.

What starts as a plane trip becomes a road trip and a journey deep into family dynamics and secrets from the past emerge, as if on cue. It's all executed in a comedic, fun way, but the real themes that anchor the story keep the film grounded enough to have meaning.

It's also an exploration of the merging of cultures (the bride's mother comes from an indigenous Australian tribe) and the traditions that come along with being part of something so sacred.

I very much enjoyed the fast-paced vibe of this film set in gorgeous remote areas of Australia. The characters were likeable (even those who were specifically supposed to serve as the opposite) and
the scenery breathtaking.

A satisfying romp with genuine roots.

~~~

Top End Wedding screened at the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Emma Peters

Tonight I screened Emma Peeters, starring Monia Chokri and Fabrice Adde.

Emma (Chokri) is a thirty-something actress who spends her days juggling auditions for parts she doesn't get with a dead-end job at an electronics store, where she miserably succeeds in becoming the top salesperson. She decides that life is no longer worth living and begins an elaborate plan to commit suicide on her birthday.

As preparations begin, she encounters an enthusiastic funeral director, Alex (Adde), who comments that she doesn't appear sick. One thing leads to another and they become close as her self-imposed deadline approaches.

Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it could be, but here it's more of a morbid-black-comedy vibe than a sad one, no matter how depressing her progress becomes.

Throw in a persistent cat named Jim (after Morrison), clueless parents and selfish friends and you can sort of see why Emma is disillusioned. That said, the thought of suicide isn't pleasant and the closer she gets to going through with it, the more you pray as an audience member that the happy ending film formula will win out and save her life.

You'll have to see the film to learn how it turns out, but I personally could have done with less squirming along the way.

~~~

Emma Peeters screened at the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Banana Split

Today I screened Banana Split, starring Hannah Marks and Liana Liberato.

April (Marks) is devastated by her breakup with Nick (Dylan Sprouse). It's the summer after high school graduation and instead of focusing on her upcoming entrance to college across the country, she instead focuses on learning more about Nick's new flame, Clara (Liberato).

Determined to loathe her, April has friends spying on Clara's Instagram account and is displeased when they end up at the same party. Until she gets to know Clara. And likes her.

The two girls unexpectedly form a genuine friendship, but choose to keep their association from Nick. Throughout the summer they visit each other's homes, go out to eat, take trips and behave just as besties do. And really, it shouldn't be so surprising—they fell for the same boy, so it's not weird they enjoy the same types of things, right?

Right. Until said same boy gets in the way and things get complicated all of a sudden.

I won't spoil the ending, but it's realistic and satisfying in a way that many films are not. And that's my take on the entire movie: it's realistic and satisfying in a way that many films are not. It examines the complicated friendships women sometimes enter into coupled with the complicated feelings of young love. The characters speak the way real people speak and the story progresses like life.

Don't miss this one—especially if you have (or ever were) a teenage girl.

~~~

Banana Split screened at the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Gloria Bell

This morning I saw Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore and John Turturro.

Gloria (Moore) is a fifty-something divorcée working in a standard job, living her best life in the after-hours, dancing the night away at Los Angeles clubs. It's at one of these clubs that she meets Arnold (Turturro), a more recently divorced father of two with a demanding ex-wife and two grown children who are just as needy.

At first, they find bliss in each other's arms, then Gloria grows tired of the hold Arnold's family has over him and from there they begin a frustrating pattern of wanting to be together, but often abandoning plans (sometimes in the middle of said plans). All the while Gloria is navigating a disturbingly loud neighbor, a hairless cat that keeps sneaking into her apartment and her own grown children, who have issues too.

The film seemed to repeatedly remind us that in life, "It's always something."

Moore is fantastic as this independent woman, prone to sing-a-longs and demanding more from the world. Her face never betrays her intentions and her intentions are often bold. That's not to say she doesn't have moments of weakness—one of the best scenes in the film happens when she's most vulnerable and her mother, played by the always-amazing Holland Taylor, comes to pick up the pieces. In those moments of quiet, we really saw the essence of the woman.

That said, the film sometimes meandered too much for my attention span and scenes lingered longer than they needed to for sufficient effect.

Still, you could do worse than spending a few hours with these characters.

~~~

Friday, March 22, 2019

Us

Last night I saw Us, starring Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke.

Gabe (Duke) wants to take his family for a relaxing vacation in Santa Cruz, California. They're game ... as long as they can bring along their phones and magic tricks. His wife Adelaide (Nyong'o) has reservations because of an incident that happened to her on the same beach when she was a young girl and voices her apprehension. But they go anyway.

After they meet up with friends and enjoy some sun, the family heads back to their summer house to call it a night. The kids are tucked into bed and the couple is chatting when a family appears at the end of their driveway. At first, Gabe tells everyone not to worry and tries to approach the four with kindness. When they don't respond, things escalate and soon they become hostages in their own home.

Each of the figures who appeared in the driveway appear to be clones of Gabe's family and attack their identical counterparts. Soon the entire group is in chaos, spread out inside and outside of the house and into the neighborhood.

From this point on, the battle continues as more about these "tethered" people is revealed and the family sees what they're up against.

Those who say Writer/Director Jordan Peele has invented his own sub-genre of horror are correct. He doesn't just use psychological tricks, he blends the unknown with a welcome humor to appease the audience at just the right time before launching another "gotcha" moment and finishing with a twist. His techniques are more satisfying than traditional horror because their smarter.

I had a lot of fun at this film and seeing it in a sold-out theater amongst jumpy, squealy filmgoers only added to the experience. Make sure to see this one on the big screen if you can.

~~~

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Captain Marvel

Tonight I saw Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson.

Carol (Larson) wrecks in an unknown place while in-flight with her fellow pilot/mentor/hero, Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening). Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) takes her under his wing to train her to defend her new people. After a harrowing mission, she crash lands into earth and discovers she's been there before.

As Carol navigates her once-known territory, she gets help revealing her long-forgotten life from human Nick Fury (Jackson), who acts as a right-hand-man and takes a liking to Goose, the cat that's along for the ride.

For me, who isn't much of an action fan, there was perhaps too much action upfront to allow me to embrace the characters. I felt like I was supposed to like Carol, and rooted for her, but the flashbacks of her origin story weren't really enough for me to attach myself to with any solid emotion.

Couple that with a literal darkness that enveloped the space and fight scenes, and I found it hard to stay with in certain sections.

What went well? The chemistry between Larson and Jackson; the brilliant 1990s soundtrack that had me singing along with it throughout and the sarcasm/clever one-liners that Marvel is so good at. There are definitely moments to savor. Of course, the ass-kicking woman is the greatest element.

That said, this is no Wonder Woman.

When I left that film after the first viewing, I wanted to go don a metal outfit and start taking over. When I left this film, I had a pleasant feeling, but it didn't stay with me far beyond the parking lot.

I'm hoping the next installment really shows what Brie can do in Carol's skin.

~~~


Sunday, February 24, 2019

My 2019 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Here are my final picks for tonight's ceremony:

WRITING: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: FIRST REFORMED

WRITING: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who Will Win: BLACKKKLANSMAN
My Pick: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

VISUAL EFFECTS
Who Will Win: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
My Pick: FIRST MAN

SOUND MIXING
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

SOUND EDITING
Who Will Win: A QUIET PLACE
My Pick: A QUIET PLACE

SHORT FILM: LIVE ACTION
Who Will Win: SKIN
My Pick: DETAINMENT

SHORT FILM: ANIMATED
Who Will Win: ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
My Pick: BAO

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: MARY POPPINS RETURNS

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Who Will Win: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN
My Pick: "Shallow" from A STAR IS BORN

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Who Will Win: BLACK PANTHER
My Pick: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Who Will Win: VICE
My Pick: VICE

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Who Will Win: ROMA
My Pick: COLD WAR

FILM EDITING
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: VICE

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Who Will Win: LIFEBOAT
My Pick: END GAME

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)
Who Will Win: FREE SOLO
My Pick: RBG

DIRECTING
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for ROMA
My Pick: Spike Lee for BLACKKKLANSMAN

COSTUME DESIGN
Who Will Win: THE FAVOURITE
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Who Will Win: ROMA
My Pick: THE FAVOURITE

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who Will Win: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
My Pick: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
My Pick: Regina King for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for GREEN BOOK
My Pick: Richard E. Grant for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Glenn Close for THE WIFE
My Pick: Melissa McCarthy for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Who Will Win: Rami Malek for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: Christian Bale for VICE

BEST PICTURE
Who Will Win: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
My Pick: BLACK PANTHER

~~~

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Isn't It Romantic

Today I saw Isn't It Romantic, starring Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine.

Natalie (Wilson) is an under-appreciated architect who hates the clichés of romantic comedy narratives. When she gets mugged in a New York City subway station, she awakes to a new world where the streets are clean and the world is painted in colors of love.

After reluctantly entering into a relationship with colleague Blake (Hemsworth), she realizes that to break out of this fantasy world she finds so uncomfortable, she must actually fall in love with who she's meant to be with to break the spell and return to her normal life, so she begins pursuing her best friend, Josh (Devine).

Of course, Rebel Wilson is a pure delight in the lead role and her two suitors are well-cast. Basically this is a fun, clever, classic dig on traditional romantic comedies as it unfolds into one itself.

A welcome reprieve from real life for just under two hours.

~~~

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Documentary Short Nominees (Oscars 2019)

Tonight 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.

BLACK SHEEP (UNITED KINGDOM)

A first-person narrative by an African boy whose mother moved their family from London to Essex to be less susceptible to racist violence. Unfortunately, the area they moved to was run by racists and he suffered terrible bullying at the hands of the street kids. His solution was to become more like them so they would leave him alone ... and it worked.

A classic story of becoming a monster to defeat a monster. 

END GAME (UNITED STATES)

An intimate look at several patients who are near death and their many caretakers working to make their last days and weeks the best they can be. By the time the credits are rolling you are invested in what happens to each and every one of these lovely people.

A testament to the good that remains in our world and the agony of the tough decisions that have to be made as we all exit this earth.

A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN (UNITED STATES)

Archival footage provides the burden of proof that 20,000 Americans gathered to celebrate the Nazi movement rising in 1939. This short film reminds us that even in our most diverse of cities, hate can fester and grow.

Chilling, horrific and sadly timely for today.

LIFEBOAT (UNITED STATES)

The organization Sea Watch, a German nonprofit, is responsible for saving over 35,000 people by rescuing refugees from the rough Mediterranean waters. This film explores the lengths they go to on a daily basis to perform those rescues and the severe trauma of the journey.

This serves as a sad reminder of what refugees face as they flee their unsafe home countries.

PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. (UNITED STATES)
Women in a small Indian village are shamed by their menstruation cycles and finally they may be taking steps to overcome this—by producing modern sanitary napkins and selling them to area women. 

An inspiring, uplifting look at female empowerment, entrepreneurship and necessary cultural shifts.

~~~

So, what's my pick to win? End Game will undoubtedly stay with me the longest, so that gets my vote.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2019)

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.

MADRE (Spain)

What begins as a mundane day for Marta (Marta Nieto) rapidly unfolds into a nightmare as her 6-year-old son Ivan (Alvaro Balas) calls to tell her he is alone on a beach in France (she and her mother, who is with her, are in Spain). His father left to retrieve a forgotten toy and he has yet to return. Concern turns to panic when Marta can't deduce exactly what beach Ivan is stranded on and the police are of no help. Did I mention Ivan's phone battery is running low?

An intense back-and-forth commences right up until the end. A well-done suspense tale that will keep your heart racing throughout.

FAUVE (Canada)

Friends Tyler (Félix Grenier) and Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) are out exploring their surroundings as young boys often do. Benjamin "cries wolf" faking an injury, then swears he sees a fox, but Tyler doesn't believe him and they go on about their day. The end up running around a surface mine and when Benjamin gets close to the water, his feet slide into the moving earth and he yells out for help. By the time Tyler realizes he's not again crying wolf, it's too late for him to retrieve him without being sucked into the mud/sand himself, so he leaves the mine to seek help from an adult.

Grenier deserves an Oscar of his own for the way his face changes when he realizes his friend is in real danger, and his shell-shocked manner in the events that follow. Difficult to watch, but brilliantly executed.

MARGUERITE (Canada)

Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) is elderly and in poor health. She requires in-home care. Her nurse, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson), is wonderfully attentive, bathing her and administering all of her necessary tests. The two develop a lovely friendship as Marguerite nears the end of her life and begins to reflect on her younger years.

Though this is the slowest-paced film of the five, it's no less poignant as the two characters realize they share a bond they didn't know they had. Beautiful story.

DETAINMENT (IRELAND)

Based on a true story, this film recounts the questioning of the killers following the horrific kidnapping, torture and murder of toddler James Bulger (Caleb Mason) in Liverpool, England. The tragic twist? The murderers were kids themselves. The transcripts of the two ten-year-olds, Jon (Ely Solan) and Robert (Leon Hughes), confessing to the crime is how the filmmakers tell the story. It was almost unbearable to watch, so good were these young actors.

A college student when this happened in real life, I don't recall hearing about it on the news at the time, but it stands as one of the most notable murders in modern U.K. history because of the age of the killers. These images won't leave me anytime soon.

SKIN (USA)

The worst of America is represented in the small-minded, trashy community surrounding Johnny (Jonathan Tucker). The white group of friends teach their young how to be sharpshooters and how to hate people of other races.

One night when a black man makes Johnny's son laugh in a grocery checkout line, Johnny snaps, calls for "backup" and beats the man to a pulp in the parking lot as his wife and child look on in horror. They get away with it until ... it's payback time.

The audience I watched with in a Seattle theater literally clapped when Johnny got what was coming to him (which very much re-defines the Biblical "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth") — a powerful psychological exercise that should perhaps be used in schools today.


~~~

So, what's my pick to win? These were all strong contenders in their own right, but I feel as if Detained will linger in my psyche longer than the rest.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Free Solo

Today I saw the documentary, Free Solo, about the life of Alex Honnold.

You know a documentary is good when you have absolutely zero interest in the topic, yet it grabs you from the first few frames and keeps you until the final credits. That was my experience here, watching nearly two hours of scenes about rock climbing.

Alex Honnold is an almost-fearless climber. He has turned his hobby into his career and as a result has very few human connections. He remarks that friends and former girlfriends have concluded he's not normal (which he attempts to validate with an MRI that admittedly has telling results), but he proclaims this with more curiosity than contempt.

Digging into Honnold's past, we learn that his immediate family was never affectionate and that he had to 'learn' to be a hugger in his '20s. His relationship with his current girlfriend (who he met in Seattle at his own book signing) shows that he still struggles with emotional maturity, but he's chosen a wonderful, patient partner to navigate that with him.

His main quest throughout the film is to 'free solo' (climb without using ropes) the vertical El Capitan peak at Yosemite National Park. This is challenging for countless reasons: it's never been done before; the camera crew interferes with his concentration and sometimes his physical movements; there's a section of the rock that's slippery, etc. The part about falling to his death if he screws it up seems to be the least of his concerns, though his loved ones—especially his girlfriend—understandably agonize about it frequently.

If you've watched the news in the past year, you know how this ends, but the journey of it is no less nail-biting as even his own film crew turns around at a certain point because they can't bear to watch if he doesn't make it.

It's a thrilling path to watch, though one I'd never have a desire to replicate. However, the human spirit setting an unimaginable goal and reaching it? That's the stuff of [good] movies.

~~~


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

At Eternity's Gate

Tonight I saw At Eternity's Gate, starring Willem Dafoe and Rupert Friend.

The famed painter Vincent Van Gogh (Dafoe) was not accepted as the artistic genius he was during his time on earth. The connection he felt to nature and the closeness he felt to his work weren't fully appreciated while he was alive, but this film aims to validate those aspects of his career.

Filmed on location in Arles, France, where Van Gogh spent his final weeks, Director/Co-Screenwriter Julian Schnabel puts the viewer in a stream-of-consciousness time machine that offers a glimpse of how the artist absorbed and visually shared his surroundings. A friend described the movie as "hypnotic" and that to me was the perfect interpretation of the vibe.

Dafoe, moving easily between English and French throughout the narrative, was captivating as the troubled painter. Aside from physically resembling the real artist (which undoubtedly helps), his manner, the confusion behind his eyes, his passion—it all made us viewers sure we were stealing an intimate look at one of the most fascinating characters in all of art history.

Though the pace is slow and the story not entirely linear (except that it's chronological), it keeps your attention, as you want to know why Van Gogh felt the things he felt and acted the way he did.

There's tragedy in the suffering his mental illness causes; there's sadness in the lack of recognition he received while he was in his prime, but most off all there's light in the beautiful landscapes and people he brought to life through his timeless paintings.

That's what's illuminated so magically in this film.

~~~


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Green Book

Today I saw Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

Tony (Mortensen) needs a temporary job while the club he works for undergoes renovations; Dr. Shirley (Ali) is a pianist who needs a driver who can double as a bodyguard for his upcoming tour. Tony is Italian; Dr. Shirley is black. It's the 1960s and America isn't the safest place for black citizens.

As they embark on their journey, the differences between the two men become clear: Dr. Shirley is an educated man who takes pride in behaving with dignity; Tony is a tell-it-like-it-is guy with an uncommonly large appetite and low threshold for BS. At first, this personality contrast divides them, but as their trip carries on they begin to mutually appreciate each other's differences.

So why is the film called Green Book?

That's the travel guide black families used in that era to determine safe places to sleep and eat across America. It's the book these two utilized when they took their actual trip (the film of course is based on a true story). It's absurd that the guide ever existed—that it ever had to—but it's also a symbolic reminder of how far we've come as a nation, though our nightly news would indicate otherwise.

Though the film was undeniably formulaic and predictable (even if you hadn't read up on the real story), it was enjoyable from start to finish. The two lead actors disappeared into their roles and delivered award-winning performances.

It's a long movie that doesn't feel long, which drives home a lesson that a nation should have long ago learned: we're all more alike than different.

~~~

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Titanic


Today I saw Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

I’ve reviewed the film twice before, so I won’t do another formal write-up, but I will say that seeing this film on the big screen never gets old or disappoints. Hearing the crowd react to the various now-legendary scenes is always a delight.

I can’t wait until the theaters find another excuse to host an additional showing.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

This morning I saw If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Kiki Layne and Regina King.

Tish (Layne) is in love with Fonny (Stephan James), a childhood friend she's grown up with in their predominantly black New York City neighborhood. They have a bright future ahead of them with Tish employed by a perfume counter at a high-end department store and Fonny getting his own career off the ground as they prepare to set down roots with a space of their own.

When they make love for the first time, Tish becomes pregnant with their child, which is unexpected but welcomed by the couple. Fonny's mother and sisters aren't so accepting (and the announcement to them about the pregnancy is perhaps the best scene in the film).

Unfortunately, Fonny has been arrested for a crime he did not commit and is placed in prison while Tish's family desperately tries to find and convince the accuser to recant her lineup identification. All the while, Tish faithfully visits and updates him on her pregnancy.

Some viewers may be frustrated by the slow pace of the film, but I actually appreciated it. We really got to know these characters and believe in their love as they battle the injustice of their situation.

Regina King who plays Tish's mother, Sharon, is especially phenomenal, showing every ounce of pain and concern as she comforts and helps her daughter. King deservedly won the Golden Globe for this performance and I'm hoping the takes the Oscar for it as well. She's that good.

Also important is the timing of this story. As our country seems to be enduring an unwelcome revival of hate crimes and racism, these are the narratives we need too see via art to help turn things around. Granted, the folks who need to see films like this probably won't. But for the few that may, it will have been worth it.

Another excellent chapter from Barry Jenkins.

~~~