Happy Awards Season! It’s already shaking up to be an interesting one, full of rants at the Golden Globes and lots of awkward jokes about Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s relationship. I’ve seen a lot so far (though I’m still waiting impatiently for Little Women to open…) and it’s been an interesting film year, with a real range of genres and styles.
(For the record, I do not plan to see Joker or Us because I do not see horror movies/I have a queasy feeling about Todd Phillips. I may change my mind on this, but for now, those are my outs.)
OK, here we go…(settle in, this is always my longest post of the year.)
I don’t know if it was the presence of Beanie Feldstein or the female director (great debut, Olivia Wilde), but I went into this expecting a slightly raunchier Lady Bird, and that it is not. But once I got over my preconceptions and met this movie on its own terms, I ended up liking it a lot.
Teen movies are fun, because high school and hormones basically turn the volume up on everything, so even the most outrageous stuff can still feel true. I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying this is like “Superbad for girls” because that’s dumb. Superbad can be for girls and Booksmart is for people of all genders. But who it is really for is nerds, 21st century girl nerds especially, who (like me) were raised on a steady diet of female empowerment and working hard and (maybe) had some trouble remembering that letting off steam is important too. (Though there’s nothing wrong with realizing that in your twenties either – believe me – even if it gets you banned from Jamba Juice.) At the end of the day, I’ll be shocked if this movie ends up on my Top 10 this year, but I’m glad it exists.)
I was wary of this when I saw the trailer, biopics of still living stars are always tricky and I was afraid it was going to be just a retread of Bohemian Rhapsody (which I thought was fine), but I was so pleasantly surprised.
The best part of this movie it its structure, rather than a Music Biopic this is a Movie Musical, where all the characters sing and dance their way through Elton’s story and I’m a sucker for a well done movie musical. The performances are all great (Taron Egerton as Elton of course, but I loved seeing Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin) and the visuals are all as over the top as Elton deserves. I cried, I laughed, I weirdly sway-danced in my chair. Loved it.
Emma Thompson is my idol. I love her. This movie is a fun, feminist workplace comedy that never really shocks, but never veers out of being enjoyable. But again – Emma Thompson! That should be reason enough for you all to stream it right now.
I had heard the This American Life story that writer/director Lulu Wang had done about this story (when her grandmother in China was diagnosed with cancer, her family decides not to tell her) and was excited to see the movie because I found the take on the American immigrant experience unique. And it was an interesting cultural snapshot, but it was also a deeply heartfelt, and at times unexpectedly hilarious, portrait of a specific family, who were all portrayed with warmth and humanity.
I’ve loved Awkwafina in all of her broadly comic supporting roles in the last couple of years, so it was really great to see her step up and do so well in a complex, leading role.
The central conceit of the film, and Wang’s family’s lie, centers around her cousin getting married to a woman he just started dating to give everyone an excuse to come home without making her grandma suspicious, and this leads to farce (though its subtle farce, if such a thing exists) but also real emotional difficulty for all involved. (I have a lot of questions for and about the bride.)
I really loved this movie (my only quibble is the score, though lovely musically, felt a bit obtrusive at certain moments) and urge you to see it.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
I was very nervous about going to see this movie. Longtime readers will know that I’ve basically boycotted Quentin Tarantino for a long while now, but I also have my cult fascination and my Karina Longwirth-given Manson Family/Hollywood history knowledge, so I felt like I needed to break my rule and go.
And, in one way, I’m glad that I did. Based on reactions on my Twitter feed I expected this to be a 3 hour violence against women extravaganza. While I admit that I closed my eyes for the extended sequence of a teen girl getting her head bashed against a mantle, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it is mostly a slow-burn exercise in dread, doubling as an examination of Westerns as the primary myth of American masculinity and the way that that was/is manufactured.
All that being said this movie made me angry, not in the knee jerk ways I was expecting and maybe not even in ways that are completely fair. My boyfriend commented on our train ride home that I may be “the worst possible person” to watch this movie, because of my knowledge of the real events, and I think he may be right, because I have a lot of questions for Tarantino beginning with “who do you think you are?” and ending with “what gives you the right?”
(This is going to get a little spoilery.)
What frustrates me more than his completely revising the tragic history to have the 1960s be saved by two symbols of white male power most popular a decade earlier (though I find that gross and frankly insulting to the 17 year old Steven Parent who was actually at the bottom of Cielo Drive that night and maybe could have been a hero if he had been handed a fucking flamethrower) is the fact that if I brought this and other historical inaccuracies up to QT, I feel like his eyes would twinkle and he would shrug and he would say, “I’m the artist.”
And fair enough, I understand that he’s not writing a historical account of the Manson murders (if you want that – and frankly even if you don’t – I cannot recommend Longwirth’s series enough), but then I guess my question becomes, why use your significant artistic talents to manipulate history to downplay the influence of Charles Manson’s abusive techniques (including starvation, forced drug use, and rampant sexual violence) to frame the Family’s actions more as the choices of his (mostly female) followers? Or, for that matter, why ignore completely the racist motivations for their violence?
Aside from his gory visuals and questionable respect for women, the thing that has always bothered me about QT is that seems so smug. That he has a quick, curt answer for every critic and that he likes to frame legitimate critics of his work as people who just didn’t understand it. Well, I think I understand that Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood is a deliberate manipulation of our expectations, but I guess my final question is why he worked so hard to get a room full of people to cheer at an abused girl’s violent death?
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Richard Linklater is one of my favorite artists because he tells human stories and that made him a great fit for this material. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read the novel.) The plot could have felt zany and arch, but Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup (and Kristen Wiig) breathe real life into their “genius” characters. This movie isn’t perfect (it veers a little too saccharine at points for me) but it’s funny and warm and nuanced and I’m very glad I saw it.
I’m having complicated feelings about this movie, so let me start with the unequivocal positives:
- J. Lo is a superstar and this role gives her the opportunity to use her talent, charisma and (crucially) warmth and if she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, I’m going to scream
- I’m so, so, so glad this story (based on a magazine article that was clearly always going to be a movie) was given to a woman to make. Yes, there are titillating shots of strippers, but the women dancing are allowed their full humanity and stripping is treated as work that they are good at, and while I may have feminist objections to the system that exploits female bodies for male pleasure, I can only shudder to imagine what many male directors would have done in this milieu
OK, now I’ve already started veering off into theory, because this crime movie about strippers is actually at its core a heavy movie about capitalism and found families and the precarity of living in a system that only works for the men at the very top, whom are protected from the consequences of their own misdeeds.
This is all to set up, that this movie made me a little queasy. It’s weird to think of a movie set in the exact years I became an adult (this starts in 2007, my senior year of high school and the bulk of the action ends in 2013) made as a period piece and to have a kind of nostalgia for the pre-Recession economy where dripping in diamonds and furs was sold to us all unironically as the cultural ideal – that was within reach for more than just the 1%. I get the overall point Lorena Scafaria is making about how these Wall Street clients were hustling the American people, but its hard not to have sympathy for a human being, no matter how he made his money, when you see his face go slack from too much ketamine being slipped into his drink. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t exonerate the women at its core from wrongdoing, but I’m still grappling with what it was exactly saying. Maybe (OK, definitely) some of these men were dangerous, leches who deserved what they got, but weren’t some of them also just victims of the system we’re all stuck in? I don’t know.
To end on a good note: I’ve never seen a crime movie grapple so directly with the demands of motherhood before, and “Motherhood is a mental illness,” is a line for the ages.
Renée Zellweger does a great job embodying an icon as a human being, and that’s not an easy task. I don’t think it really matters whether or not she actually looks like Judy Garland, but it just so happens that at certain moments, especially in profile or wide shot, she looks so much like her it almost took me out of the story.
As successful biopics do, the creative team here chose to tell just a sliver of Garland’s life, a messy sliver, though with her, I’m not sure there was any other kind. Admirably though the film never loses sight of Judy the human being, the mother, the addict (not just to booze, but also to fame itself.)
There’s nothing too groundbreaking going on here, but everything is done with admirable style, and the supporting cast (particularly Jessie Buckley as the kind, no-nonsense handler assigned to Judy in London) are all great. The flashback sequences, to Judy at MGM, tormented by LB Mayer (Richard Cordery), feel a little stilted to me, but I think they can be read as dream-like, Judy’s own memories filtered through her current haze. I can also rationalize the jarringly sentimental last minute, at first I wanted to shake my head at its implausibility, but on second thought, there have been enough truly, heartfelt moments of sentiment by that point that I think, on the whole, the movie earns its sing a long.
I can’t figure out if this movie is bad or not. I mean, I can tell you that I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience of watching it, but I don’t think enjoyment is what Robert Eggers was going for. He’s clearly going for something though, and I guess I want to commend him for that. Both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are fully committed, but is that enough? I feel like a movie this portentous should be making a point, and I’m not sure what the point of this was beyond, stay away from lighthouses.
I grew up watching Shia LaBeouf on the Disney Channel, and I’ve always had a, sometimes unexplainable, fondness for him. I have a very distinct memory of reading an interview with him (I think it was Eagle Eye era?) where he talked about his “unconventional” upbringing and his “eccentric father.” It was played for laughs at the time, but whenever Shia would be in the news doing some weird new thing, and people would be speculating about his mental health, I would think of the subtext of that profile, that he was a man clearly carrying a lot of trauma around and trying to use it to create (even if he sometimes does that in baffling and/or misguided ways). And this autobiographical film, which Shia wrote and costars in as his father, is the most literal of those attempts. (It’s directed by Alma Har’el, with able flair.)
It’s raw and at times hard to watch, but also deeply human and filled with compassion for all its characters. It would have been easy to tell this story in a straightforward way, LaBeouf’s father is nothing but a villain, but that’s not how life or therapy – and for mostly better, sometimes worse, this film feels like a therapeutic exercise – work. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s ultimately a rewarding one. I hope it means LaBeouf has turned a corner as an artist, because I’m still fond of him, and this was a beautiful piece of work.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
I was predisposed to love this based on the fact that it was directed by Marielle Heller (of last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and about Mr. Rogers (whose documentary last year made me cry just the most) and – I did. It’s, crucially, not a biopic, Tom Hanks‘s Fred Rogers is the heart of the film, I think maybe because Rogers had so much heart that any story involving him would have him at the heart, but its actually the story of a journalist (Matthew Rhys – who is beleaguered and compelling) trying to write a profile of kindness personified without being tacky or boring – not to mention dealing with a dying, estranged father and an infant.
It could have been a cheesy premise, but in Heller’s hands its just off-center enough to be lovely. Like Mr. Rogers’s work its warm without being simplistic. There are a few scenes in this that are going to stick with me, but I’ll leave you with one. Rhys meets Joanne (Mrs. Rogers, played here by Maryann Plunkett) and asks her what it’s like to be married to a saint. She replies, “I don’t like that phrase,” because it makes the way he is unattainable, “It’s a practice, he works at it.” This movie does a great job of showing us what that work might look like and inviting us into it without too much preaching, just like its subject.
Full disclosure: I watched this with my family after Thanksgiving dinner, when I was definitely too close to a turkey & Riesling coma to give it full attention. (I think we chose it mostly to be able to stop talking about what movie to watch, Happy Holidays!)
Another round of disclosure: I’ve never seen The Godfather (it’s on the Best Picture list, I’ll get there eventually). I have seen Goodfellas (but not Casino or Mean Streets) all of which is to say that this particular type of gangster milieu isn’t a language I speak fluently, nor do I care to learn it, frankly.
To state for the record, this is an exceptionally well made film, the acting is great, it’s well shot, edited, and designed. The de-aging thing works, sort of, there’s enough dissonance around the fact that I know how old Robert De Niro actually is compared to say, Bobby Cannavale, that I got a little muddled about timelines, but overall it didn’t super bother me.
I guess the feeling I got at the end of the 3.5 hours was, OK, mobsters are humans? I understand, I think, why Martin Scorsese, growing up where and when he did, is fascinated by the Mafia and clearly sees their history as a synecdoche of American history, but I think that’s a matter of emphasis. If you’re looking for organized crime then its there for you to see, but the same would be true of Labor or, stay with me on this, women with thoughts they share out loud. (That’s not completely fair, and, for the record, I don’t think Scorsese is misogynist, but I was disappointed by how underused Anna Paquin was in this.)
So, I guess this is a shrug of a reaction, and a movie on this scale, surely deserves something bigger than that, but, uh, it’s not for me.
This was our traditional day after Thanksgiving trip to the movies choice this year as a family and it was perfect for that. The cast is stacked, and they are all clearly having so much fun. I can’t remember the last time we had a real who-done it on the big screen. (I think because TV has basically become nothing but that?)
Anyway, this was a stylish, satisfying example of the genre with genuinely surprising twists. My only complaint was that I wanted to spend more time with many of the characters which is a good complaint to have.
I think this movie got too hyped up for me before I saw it, both in terms of quality and its fear factor. Honestly, it’s…good. Extremely well shot, the acting is great. I closed my eyes through the gory part. I kept hearing rumblings about a “twist,” but I had to ask Tim after what he thought the twist was.
I don’t have a well thought out explanation for my feelings on this, except that it left me feeling sad and hopeless and kind of meh.
Noah Baumbach isn’t always an easy watch for me, in fact I turned off Meyerowitz Stories about 1/3 of the way in. But, this one is getting all the buzz, so I dove in…and, it’s good! Upsetting emotionally, a little stagey in feel, a tad overwrought at times, but overall effecting. (Affecting? I never know.)
My main quibble is with Scarlett Johansson, whom I don’t love. She felt a little too, practiced? I’m not sure what the right word is, but in certain scenes I felt like I could see her thinking about her blocking. Adam Driver was playing a harder character to love, but I believed him more. (He shouldn’t have fired Alan Alda though.)
Laura Dern is lovely, and terrifying, and always inexplicably wearing cocktail dresses.
This is a visually stunning, spiritual biography of a modern saint masquerading as a straight-ahead biopic. Director and co-writer, Kasi Lemmons has crafted a mythic image of Ms. Tubman, and she deserves it obviously, and Cynthia Erivo does a great job of embodying her strength, while never letting go of the fact that she was a full human being with personal concerns in addition to her grand mission.
(Also, this side note is so unimportant in the scheme of things, but – why does Joe Alwyn keep playing such creepy characters?)