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


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.