This is going to be another monster post. In past years I’ve tried to keep up with posting once a week everything I see this time of year, but with traveling I’ve now gone two, very movie filled, weeks without an update. (And I haven’t even updated my list with yesterday’s BAFTA nominations yet…) So bear with me, because I saw some great stuff.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
I’m actually kind of shocked that I hadn’t written about this before. I watched it when it first aired on HBO, and (unsurprisingly given my fascination with alternative religious philosophies) found it compelling, and frankly terrifying. I had read the book over winter break last year, so I already knew a lot of the juicier revelations in this doc, but it was still a good watch. What I like most about the book and film is the way that Lawrence Wright sincerely wants to understand the motivations and mechanisms that attract members to Scientology and keep them there.
Scientology’s theology is easy to laugh at, but the abuses of power Wright and his collaborators describe are seriously scary. So it can boggle the mind how otherwise functional people allow themselves to be caught up in an obviously (at least to a detached observer) exploitative system. The stories the subjects share here aren’t necessarily relatable but they are much closer to it than anything else about the Church I’ve ever read or seen before.
Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors
Here’s the thing. I love Dolly Parton. She’s a legend. This “movie” is terrible. It’s like those overly religious, gold-embossed Hallmark cards that take up way too much space on the rack at Walgreen’s. OK, that’s harsh. But, I couldn’t take the preachy schmaltz of this. Frankly, after about 10 minutes, I just had this on in the background and read my book. Jennifer Nettles is very pretty though. And Alyvia Alyn Lind is cute and spunky as a young Dolly, but do yourself a favor and skip this one.
The Danish Girl
The first half of this movie is intimate I almost felt like a voyeur. The story of Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener) and her wife, fellow painter, Gerta Wegener, is historically important. (Elbe was one of the first patients to attempt full sex reassignment surgery.) But this movie illustrates well how deeply personal (rather than political) gender dysmorphia and transition is. And it was even more difficult for Elbe since she didn’t even have the modern context and language of the Trans Rights Movement to describe herself to herself (let alone her wife or anyone else.) Although the scenes of the psychologists misdiagnosing her are horrific, they also make sense, at times her attempts to describe how she’s feeling to sound almost schizophrenic.
I was able to think this deeply about these issues because my two loves Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander were both so raw and wonderful. It wasn’t my favorite movie of the season so far. (Brooklyn and Spotlight are vying for that spot right now), but it was beautiful, both visually and emotionally and it makes clear, not just the drama, of Lili and Gerda’s lives but their complexity. (Ben Whishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts – also great this year in Far From the Madding Crowd and Amber Heard were all also lovely.)
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-Parent Trap–Nancy Myers movie before*, which is pretty awful of me considering the fact that as a feminist I should be buying tickets to female directed movies (especially those that tell women’s stories) as often as possible, but somehow it never happened.
But, I liked this one enough that I’ll probably go back and watch her other ones. This is a pretty world filled with rich, pretty, well-dressed people, but sometimes you just want to live in a world where everyone in Brooklyn can afford a claw foot bathtub and a revolving tie rack.
This movie works because Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro can charm a stone. I especially loved DeNiro in this. I tend to think of him as an intimidating presence, but here he plays as a big softie. (Like my mom and I literally “awed” multiple times.)
*Note: I have also seen The Holiday
I know that David O. Russell is insane, but I’m pretty excited that Jennifer Lawrence wants to work with him until one of them dies, because they make damn good movies together. This one may not be the most consistent (that’s probably American Hustle) but its rough edge match its subject matter and I found it incredibly watchable. I especially loved the strange soap opera sequences starring actual soap actors and the way the permeated the early story, because Joy (Lawrence)’s reality was so tough you almost (key word there) understood why her mother (the delightful Virginia Madsen) would rather stay in bed watching TV.
Lawrence carries the film wonderfully with chillingly great supporting turns from DeNiro, Elisabeth Rohm, Isabella Rossellini. Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have their same electric chemistry (channeled in a new direction) and Joy’s truly loveable ex-husband was played by my new discovery, Édgar Ramírez . It’s not a love fest, but there is love in the mess and inspiration in the chaos.
I loved the trailer for this, but really hated the director‘s last (somehow Oscar winning)film The Great Beauty. So I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this one. Well, it feels like a much improved 2nd draft of Beauty. It’s still an exploration of aging artists – Michael Caine plays a composer and Harvey Keitel his film director friend – and their coming to terms with the proverbial gaps in life.
I don’t want to describe this too much it’s a surreal fever dream, but somehow also a very real investigation of relationships romantic, platonic and familial. But I really don’t think I can convey its strange tone. So, I’ll just say the performances, particularly Keitel and Paul Dano (as a disaffected Hollywood actor contemplating a role), are captivating and full. It’s a weird one, but ultimately moving.
I don’t know if this suffered from inflated expectations or what, but I didn’t find this as moving as I would have liked. That being said, it was visually gorgeous, the colors and lighting are mesmerizing, and the 1950s clothes and set dressing are impeccable.
I’m trying to figure out what held me back from buying into this. The performances were exceptional, from Sarah Paulson and Jake Lacey in great supporting turns to Kyle Chandler doing an excellent job of playing what could have been a villain – Carol (Cate Blanchett)’s estranged husband who can’t handle her sexuality – as an essentially good person who is acting out of fear, ignorance, and hurt.
Which brings me to the central duo. Rooney Mara is breathtaking, both like she’s beautiful and her performance is subtle and lovely. Blanchett, while obviously striking built a character that had so many layers of artiface that it took me a long time to like her. Not that likability should be the goal of a performance, but I kept thinking they way she talked was reminiscent of her Blue Jasmine turn, which as I said then, felt more like a caricature than character. So, maybe (and this feels like a confession I’ll get some flack for) I’m just not a big Cate Blanchett fan. She’s undoubtedly talented, but I can’t seem to connect to her.
The Big Short
I’m having trouble deciding how I want to write about The Big Short. On the one hand, it’s a technically interesting film – it combines montage and meta-narrative (voice overs, winks at the camera, Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining arcane economic instruments) to tell us about culture using the manic visual language of our culture.
And it’s also a large ensemble comedy (though it didn’t make me laugh much, but I’ll come back to that) starring great actors both famous (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, etc.) and new to me (standouts include Jeremy Strong, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock), and a host of cameos (the pop culture junky in my lives for cameos.)
In other words, I wanted to love this, I wanted to be taken along on the ride and feel the righteous indignation director/co-writer Adam McKay wants us to about the crash. But in the end I felt indignant sure, but I mostly felt sad. Sad that we, as a country and a world, continually find new ways to exploit poor people. Sad at the way we (and I am completely including myself in this) seem to worship money and business as if wealth were some kind of self-justifying Good.
The movie attempts, in a roundabout ways to address this, but mostly it left me feeling like, you know what the whole thing (as in the economic system) is fucked anyway, may as well get what you can. This is probably my issue, not the movie’s but let’s just say I didn’t find it to be a laugh riot.
(Also, as Julia texted me, this is a total Bechdel fail.)
Just a bunch of white dudes in oxfords fucking over the world…