Images from the #NoBanNoWall Protest at Battery Park 1/29/2017

Apparently this is going to be a new blog series. This rally and march came together in under a day, and it was very impressive to see New Yorkers come together quickly, and strongly for the brave people being illegally kept out of our country right now.

 Senator Gillibrand summed it up pretty well:

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Cher Horowitz would approve

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Awards Show Roundup: SAG Awards 2017

Even for an awards super fan like me, with all that’s going on in the world it felt a little weird to sit down and watch actors congratulate each other, but, my Hollywood coastal elite loves, took the platform and used it to speak out for good so, it was actually a really nice way to end the weekend.

Ashton Kutcher and Julia Louis-Dreyfus started the night out strong:

I don’t watch it any more, but I love that Orange is the New Black submits their entire 37 person ensemble, it’s always such a great moment:

To quote Denzel Washinton: Viola. Davis.

In case you haven’t taken my advice and watched Captain Fantastic yet, this might be some motivation now:

Power to the people, stick it to the man

Marhershala Ali made me cry, yes with his performance in Moonlight, but also with this speech:

I love Lily Tomlin, I want to be her when I grow up (and I’m glad I could find a video that didn’t include Dolly Parton’s boob joke filled introduction):

I really need to watch The Crown, because John Lithgow and Claire Foy are delights:

The kids from Stranger Things are adorable, still not watching that show though they did give the best speech ever:

Also, I just love Winona Ryder, she really went on a journey through this speech.

I think Natalie Portman should have won Best Actress, but I love Emma Stone, and I feel a real kinship with her, and this is the kind of speech I would give if ever called upon to:

I’m never going to complain about Denzel Washington winning an award, especially when he is genuinely surprised:

Look, I think Moonlight was robbed, but the Hidden Figures women gave a speech that made their win worth it:

And look, it was a weird night for fashion. Every time I thought, “Oh I like that dress,” and then it would have a strange flower applique, lace detail, or sheer panel. But here were some favorites:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Lela Rose (Photo Credit: Getty)

 

Annalise Basso in Bibhu Mohapatra (Photo Credit: Women’s Day)

Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Michelle Dockery in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock)

Bryce Dallas Howard in Dress the Population (it’s off the rack!) (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) 

Rasida Jones in Vivienne Westwood (Photo Credit: Getty) 

Emily Blunt in Roberto Cavalli (Photo Credit: WENN)

Kirsten Dunst in Dior (Photo Credit: AP)

 

Five Star Book: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

A friend and I have started a 2017 long-distance book club, and I chose this for our first pick. I admit that this was based mainly on the yellow flowers on the cover and a recent (previously discussed) preoccupation with what it would be like to live like a hermit in the mountains.

Well, if this book is to be believed it will drive you crazy. But that’s a very glib summary of a beautifully empathetic novel. Idaho starts with the story of Ann, an English woman who is the second wife of a man named Wade who is dealing with early onset dementia. They live in a small town in Idaho, or more accurately, near a small town, nestled on a farm on the side of a mountain. That would be a bleak enough premise, but as the book goes on and the perspective shifts a few times, you learn that what Wade has forgotten is more tragic than he could even imagine.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but if you are particularly sensitive to harm coming to children you may want to skip this one. But, I hesitate to even write that, because if I had read that warning I wouldn’t have picked up this book, and I really loved it. It’s not an easy experience, my reading buddy and I both decided we couldn’t read it at night, which meant for me, reading it on the subway, which meant crying on the subway. (But the nice thing about New York is a woman crying while reading on the subway isn’t even on the list of top weird things someone will see in a day, so people barely seemed to notice.)

Emily Ruskovich’s style is gorgeous and lush, and you do get a sense why these characters feel drawn to this landscape, even in its bleakest periods, but the real strength of this book is her talent for building character. I feel like I know all of the people in this book intimately now, and I feel for them, even the ones who did terrible things. I also appreciated how she handled the central tragedy. It’s always present but she never delves too deeply into the details or the motivations, because, as another great writer put it, “there are moments that the words don’t reach.”

Images from the Women’s March on Washington

I tried to write up my reactions to the Women’s March last night, but I couldn’t manage to be coherent. (Partly because it was a wonderfully overwhelming experience, and partly because I’m still pretty exhausted.) So, instead, here are a lot of photos I took of my parents and our friends and a bunch of strangers with their signs:

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At Starbucks on the drive down, with our pussy ears. It felt like everyone we ran into on the way down seemed to be heading to the March

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Mom and Allie up and ready to march

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Dad after I asked him

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Mom and I are still bad at selfies

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We were under a parachute of a giant boob…

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GLORIA

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Dad watching Gloria

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This was my favorite sign

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I left my sign near Leia

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This fence wrapped around the whole ellipse

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Women dressed as suffragists

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Rest stop on the way back, also filled with marchers

Weekly Adventure: In Transit at Circle in the Square

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With all the craziness (and expense) of moving and the holidays and all my awards season movie, I haven’t been as focused on my Broadway lottos recently. So, I haven’t been to the theater in a while. But, I luckily have a wonderful woman I refer to as my New York godmother, who sometimes out of the blue emails me things like “Are you free to see In Transit some day next week?” And I was.

I didn’t know a ton about the show going in, except that it is the first all a capella musical on Broadway, which Baboo was very excited about as she had been in an a capella group in college. I cannot sing, but have always been a fan of people who can, so I was intrigued.

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Pre-show selfie to make my mom jealous

And the show was completely charming. The a capella blend is beautiful and the beat boxer at the center of it (played last night by Chesney Snow) has impressive range. I saw a review this morning that says this is like if Love Actually were a musical set in New York, and that captures it pretty beautifully.

The plot is a series of interlocking stories of New Yorkers on the subway dealing with loss (of love and career), ambition, and love. It’s not breaking any ground, but a few of the songs are genuinely moving. And the whole cast is incredibly talented. As Baboo would say they have a great “blend” and the soloists were all wonderful, particularly Aureilia Williams. (Side note: at one point she wears a dress made of Metro Cards, which would win a Project Runway, unconventional challenge in a heartbeat. It was amazing.)

(Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

As a big fan of the Broadway-centric web series Submissions Only it was also a thrill to see Colin Hanlon, who apparently just joined the cast as a replacement, in a very sweet story with Justin Guarini. (Who you probably know from the first season of American Idol, but for me will always be the guy who at the stage door of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, repeated the sentence “It’s like being living art” to many times and Hanna and I couldn’t stop laughing.)

Anyway, the show is really fun, and definitely worth it. We got discount tickets, but the Circle in the Square is such an intimate house that there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.

 

Read Harder Review: The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel

Yay a new series! Sometime last year I subscribed to the, excellent, Book Riot newsletter, which has given me a million things to add to my “to read” list. But it’s also given me a new blog series idea! And this one isn’t about movies, for those of you who are just muddling through my nearly incessant ramblings about film, I now give you: more frequent ramblings about books! (I promise to return to Shakespeare and baking updates soon too!) Anyway, Book Riot hosts a challenge each year to get people out of their reading comfort zones, and I’m going to attempt it this year. (Though looking at the list, I am going to need recommendation help, especially for the comics. I don’t really read comics…)

I started off the year by knocking out arguably the easiest one on the list for me, considering I live in New York City, “A book that’s set within 100 miles of your location.” I picked this book up at the Queen’s Library Broadway location mostly based on a whim and the blurbs. I’m going to try to be more thoughtful in my selections from here on out: 

The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel 

God, so much of post-modernism is so boring to me. This is apparently an “anti-novel,” because it is both a book, and a book within the book at the same time, or something. I’m not completely sure how I was supposed to read the chapters of the novel that were written by the main characters of the other chapters.Were they intentionally overwrought bordering on bad? If so they weren’t different enough from the chapters set in “reality.” And the woman the fictional novelist is obsessed with, absurdly named Starshine, is a ridiculously drawn, borderline misongynist picture of a single, free-spirited woman. At times the descriptions of her, particularly in relation to the men she sleeps with/lusts after, made me very uncomfortable. Was I supposed to read this as simply the deluded ramblings of the desperate protagonist? Well, then I wish Appel had included at least one actual woman who could conceivably exist somewhere in the book.

The descriptions of New York were nice though.

 

 

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 5

BAFTA nominations came out this week! Which means that in addition to the movies I saw in the last week, I have a few catch up posts, and an even longer list of things to see! So this may be a bit of a long one, but there’s some great stuff.

Weiner

Note: I wrote this review this summer, before the latest round of investigations into Anthony Weiner and their devastating implications for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Instead of rewriting it, I’m sharing it here as a time capsule of my initial thoughts on this film.

 

I’ll admit I went to this basically because I wanted to go to the IFC Film Center, but I’m glad I wandered in. Look, Anthony Weiner seems like a difficult person, but I think he genuinely would had good policies as a mayor. Though one with an anger management problem. The real story here isn’t why he sexted (obviously that’s some combination of lust, ego and a maybe pathological need to be adored) but why that’s unforgivable when others things aren’t. And more importantly its about how amazing his wife Huma is. Not for putting up with his crap (how and why she did is her business. Note: Though I’m glad she’s gotten out now) but for creating boundaries for herself and sticking to them even when there’s a documentary crew in her house. She’s me new definition of grace under fire.

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

If you’ve read this blog, or ever talked to me, you probably know that the Harry Potter stories (I almost wrote universe, but I don’t like that. Maybe the Harry Potter mythology?) are incredibly important to me. In other words, this movie was made for me. And it was a delightful return to a world that I love. Plus Eddie Redmayne & Colin Farrell are 2 of my all time favorite actors, so I’m happy to watch them run around New York (including the museum I used to work at!) reducing it rubble.

The magical creatures are wonderfully rendered. I especially love the platypus like creature who collects gold in a pouch, which google tells me is a niffler. And I loved the sequences where Newt (Redmayne) walks his new, no-maj (aka muggle) friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) around his suitcase taking care of his animals. It was a lovely touch of warmth and whimsy.

Which honestly was needed, because the main plot of this movie is very dark, and the anti-magic Second Salem crusaders are super creepy. No spoilers, but until something towards the end becomes clearer about him, I found it very hard to watch Ezra Miller‘s character Creedance (and don’t get me started on his creepy little sister…)

But, as always, in J.K. Rowling’s world at least, there is hope in the darkness (and its usually in the form of a smart woman – I loved Katherine Waterston as Tina!)

And while I am not happy at all about the casting of a domestic abuser as the franchise’s new villain, I am happy to see where the story goes from here.

Divines

I wanted to like this movie so much. It tells the story of 2 French girls of color, one the daughter of an imam, growing up in the equivalent of the projects. At first it was giving me Fish Tank vibes and I was so in. But, I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or my over empathizing problem, but I could not get over my, ultimately justified, fear for these girls.

At every step along the way I wanted to save them from their self destructive decisions. I understand the point that writer-director Houda Benyamina, was making about the truly bone crushing stagnation of poverty, but I ultimately didn’t enjoy watching their naive attempt at escape (through the emulation of a local female drug dealer) grind them even further into despair.

That being said, the two actresses at the center here, Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumena were remarkable and Kevin Mischel added a lovely touch of romantic relief.

20th Century Women

I love the way Mike Mills tells stories. I loved Beginners and this felt like a true companion piece to that. Not just because Mills has said this is his love letter to his mom the way Beginners was to his Dad, but they feel cut from the same stylistic sloth. And I love that cloth.

It’s a mixture of collage, nonlinear storytelling and other technical tricks with real emotional depth and sly humor. Every character in this movie feels like a real, full person, even the ones that easily could have been jokes, like Billy Crudup‘s post-hippie handyman.

Annette Bening is quietly wonderful as the older, single mom of a 15 year old boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) who she feels unequipped to raise into a “good man,” (Because, “who even knows what that means any more?”) She enlists the help of his friend Julie (Elle Fanning), and renter Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and while her plan doesn’t quite work out they all do their best along with Crudup to form a family.

And its beautiful, and at times absurd, and I’m a little concerned about how much I want to wear all of Annette Bening’s costumes considering she’s  a fifty something women in this, but whatever, the 70s are in. Anyway, this is a beautiful film, filled with empathy, and you should all see it.

Don’t Think Twice

Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite artists in any medium, his stand up and radio stories are like comfort food to me. And this movie has a lot of the qualities that I about about his work: wry, observational comedy, self-deprecation that doesn’t wallow its way into self-pity, and a deep empathy for the frailty of its characters.

This movie, Birbiblia’s second as writer-director, follows an improv group that starts the move as a family of lovable losers and tracks the changes that occur hen one of them gets hired on a (very thinly veiled) stand in for Saturday Night Live. 

I find improv very hard to watch. (I get so nervous for the performers!) but the performance scenes here act as great illustrations of the group dynamic. The whole cast is great and the story is realistic, painful and warm, and brutal and lovely. It’s an insightful depiction of how people define success differently for themselves and how that can be impossible to describe.

A Monster Calls

I wasn’t going to see this. I feel like the darkness of the trailer made me think it was going to be creepy, but it wasn’t at all. It was a lovely little fable about anger and loss and love.

I bet it was probably a children’s book (it was!) and the movies felt like walking through a fairy tale. The young boy at the center (Lewis MacDougall) has a great “British orphan” face, even though he doesn’t play an orphan. What I mean is he looks like a kid out of a Dickens adaptation. And this feels like it will take its rightful place in the long tradition of British children’s stories.

And, like a lot of those stories, this is pretty bleak. Connor has had to grow up very quickly, because his mother (the always lovely Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, he’s bullied at school, and his dad, though generally kind, lives in a far away land (Los Angeles). His relief comes in the form of a Yew tree monster, delightfully voiced by Liam Neeson, who comes to help him come to terms with all of his conflicting emotions. It’s a tear jerker, and the animation is gorgeous. I feel like this isn’t getting the buzz it deserves. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

Julieta

Film nerd confession: until last night I don’t think I had ever actually seen a Pedro Almodóvar film. I knew all about him, knew I should probably watch Volver at some point, and had even seen the very underrated musical adaptation of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown during its brief Broadway run, but I hadn’t ever just sat down and watched one.

Well, I don’t know how Julieta fits in with his work obviously, but I can say that I liked it a great deal. Based on a few Alice Munro short stories, the film follows the title character backwards and forwards through her life, slowly solving the emotional mystery of how bright, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) becomes the secretly sad, middle aged woman (Emma Suárez).

Almodóvar paces melodrama like a thriller, suspense heightening score by (Alberto Iglesias) and all. I love stories about complicated women that still feel real and this is a good one. I’m definitely going to catch up with more of his work now.

 

Award Show Round Up: Golden Globes 2017

The HFPA likes to surprise us. This has always been true, and it certainly was last night. From the first award, which by all rights I think should have gone to Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, though I do love the Taylor-Johnson family:

And then Billy Bob Thornton for “Goliath.” Most liked tweet of the night: “Honest question, what is Goliath?”

You may have noticed that I skipped over Jimmy Fallon’s opening. That’s because I don’t really remember it. I know it was a La La Land parody, and then his monologue was fine. He’s charming and has a lot of energy. He didn’t detract from my experience the way Ricky Gervais did last year, but I still just miss Amy and Tina.

Anyway, in great news, Tracee Ellis Ross won!

And I have to watch Atlanta:

Hugh Laurie is always charming:

La La Land won everything, but I really enjoy composer Justin Hurwitz’s nervous energy immensely:

Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress of course, but she should have won leading actress (sorry Isabelle Huppert, but it’s true):

My award for cutest moment of the evening:

Ryan Gosling, thank you for being as amazing as I  think you are:

Barry Jenkins was robbed for Screenplay. (Or maybe Kenneth Lonergan even.) The story of La La Land is not the point, come on HFPA, spread the love a bit.

Kristen Wiig should host next year. Steve Carrell could come too if he wants:

Meryl Streep is the greatest. Not just the greatest actor of our time, but maybe one of the greatest humans:

And Viola’s presentation almost made me cry. And I see what you’re doing there director by cutting to Vince Vaughan and Mel Gibson in the middle of her speech. And I saw people on Twitter talking about how upset they looked. But c’mon they are used to being the only conservatives in a Hollywood room. And they were sitting and listening respectfully, what did you expect them to do? You should have just stayed focused on Ms. Streep and her message.

I do love Emma Stone:

And Casey’s performance deserved this award. And I encourage you to listen to his episode of WTF with Marc Maron. I’m not trying to excuse away his past behavior, but he is a complicated man, with an interesting story:

And then, thankfully, Moonlight got it’s due:

And of course, a lot of the women were wearing very beautiful dresses:

Viola Davis in Michael Kors (Photo Credit: Jay  L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in Georges Chakra (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images)

Emma Stone in Valentino (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty)

Mandy  Moore in Naeem Kahn (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) 

Sienna Miller in Michael Kors (Photo Credit: Getty) 

Blake Lively in Atelier Versace (Photo Credit: Getty/Frazer Harrison) 

Reese Witherspoon in Atelier Versace (Photo Credit: Rex/Shutterstock)

Tracee Ellis Ross in Zuhair Murad (Photo Credit: Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock)

Goldie Hawn (Photo Credit: Getty/Frazer Harrison)

Brie Larson in Rodarte (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 4

I took a mini blog break over the holidays. (Mostly, I just didn’t feel like lugging my laptop back and forth to New Haven…) which means I have a couple of weeks worth of watching to update on. I saw some really good stuff! Including my second favorite film of the year. (You can see my full list on Twitter.)

Florence Foster Jenkins

First things first, Meryl Streep, is obviously the best actress of this generation and maby any generation. But honestly, I feel like I had seen her play this character before, and after awhile the humor of bad singing got kind of old for me.

But, I must say that I was delighted by Hugh Grant‘s performance in this. He does a great job of riding the line between sleezy and charming (like in real life) that kept me wondering if he truly loved Florence or just her money and position. Simon Helberg is also very good and it’s nice to see him do something other thank broad nerd jokes on The Big Bang Theory.

Overall, I found this to be a nice way to spend a few hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but I’m glad that I didn’t pay theater prices for it. I did appreciate the warmth and compassion it had for all its characters, and its acknowledgement that there is more than one kind of successful marriage. (Though I do wonder if it is truly a kindness to treat a grown woman like a child, even when it stems form a loving, protective impulse.)

La La Land

Look. There was no possible version of this movie that I wouldn’t love. A jazzy musical that is both an original score and a love letter to Old Hollywood musicals, directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. That’s got my name written all over it. And I have to say I think this is the best possible version of that movie possible.

The performances are overflowing with charm, but its tempered by real emotion. The music is at turns effervescent, haunting, catchy, and heartbreaking. And the choreography, by Mandy Moore (the So You Think You Can Dance one not the This Is Us/”Candy” one).

(Spoilers below the photo.)

I also found Chazelle’s take on the traditional musical plot very refreshing. It’s tough for two people with equally demanding dreams to find balance, and both are treated as equally important. And a happy ending does not automatically mean a wedding (even an implied one), sometimes it’s a Gene Kelly dream ballet and a slight smile and nod across a room.

Love & Friendship

I’m not sure why I waited so long to see this. It’s an Austen adaptation starring Kate Beckinsale (whom I’ve always found very charming) and directed by Whit Stillman, whom I have often been told I would love. But it came and went in theaters, and despite great reviews, I couldn’t motivate myself to go. It may be because Lady Susanthe novella this is based on, has never been my favorite Austen. It takes the mean wit she keeps on the edges of her longer works and puts it at the center, which is to borrow a phrase, “a bit tedious.”

But, watching this with my mom on the last night of Christmas vacation, I was pleasantly surprised by how bright and cheerful it was. Stillman uses the score to zip us along through the ridiculous drama that his conniving heroine (Beckinsale) creates for herself, and swiftly blames on others. The heightened tone and delightfully mannered performances (particularly from Tom Bennett as the suitor that makes Pride & Prejudice‘s Mr. Collins seem like a genius of a catch worth holding out for) make it clear that this a trifle. No moralizing or grand romance, so its almost not Austen, but it is a lot of a fun.

Hell or High Water

I’ll admit right at the top that I didn’t really give this movie my full attention. I rented it from Redbox and was paying my bills and attending to other tedious tasks while watching. But it never really grabbed me in and compelled me to stop puttering. (But that might not be a fair standard for film criticism.)

It’s a little funny that I would preoccupied by paying my student loan while watching a movie that centers around the desperate actions of two men whose mother was screwed over by a predatory bank.

But I digress.

The performances in this are very good. Jeff Bridges is always brilliant and my love Ben Foster does his best scenery chewing Ben Foster thing as the crazed criminaly half of a brother bank heist team. Though, as always, I like him best when he gets quiet and thoughtful. (Now I want to go watch Ain’t Them Bodies Saints again…)

Chris Pine was a revelation for me here. I tend to think of him as a generically-handsome, competent leading man, but he has a real depth and maturity in this.

So, the acting was good. The cinematography captured the bleak beauty of West Texas really well. But that’s all I can really think to say. I don’t have any big gripes. It was fine.

Hidden Figures

The performances in this movie as very good. Octavia Spencer particularly got the entire packed theater to cheer for her multiple times. And the African-American women who helped get Americans into space deserve absolutely to be remembered and celebrated. And for those reasons, I encourage you to go see this movie.

But, there are moments in this that felt so overwrought that it became close to laughable. The discrimination these woman faced and persevered through was real and harrowing and I don’t want to downplay that at all. But there were speeches that felt written with Oscar clip packages in mind (rather than what the characters’ would actually so/say.)

I’m pretty sure I’m not being fair to this movie. It’s good. Really good even. It’s just that I’ve seen Loving and Jackie recently. So, I have evidence that historical dramas and “issue” movies can be subtle and moving without hitting the audience over the head with a message.

*OK, with the distance of a few days and after reading some positive posts on Facebook, I admit that I may have been being a bit of a snob. This movie is important in that it centers the stories of black women who were not slaves of maids. That is depressingly rare, and we should go buy tickets to support this.

Fences

I read a review of this that said it was too much like the play. By which I think the reviewer meant that, by keeping the single setting of the Maxson family home in the Pittsburgh Hill district, makes the story feel caged in or stilted. But frankly, that’s bullshit. August Wilson‘s language is engrossing and stylized. There are monologues in this that sound like Shakespeare. And this cast is as legendary as any British Shakespearean troupe you could show me.

This is an emotionally rough watch. Even when things are going relatively well for this family, you can feel the precariousness of their lives.

Denzel is as solidly great as always as the broken patriarch, Jovan Adepo is excellent as the vulnerable son learning how to be defiant. But the real star here is Viola Davis. She is soul-shakingly fantastic in this. Her speeches will tear your heart out, and she can command a scene with just a look. Which brings me to my rant:

Why the fuck is she being submitted as a Best Supporting Actress? I know she’ll win, as she should. But she should be winning Best Actress. And I believe she would. This is the same strange BS they pulled with Alicia Vikander last year, and while I’m glad she has an Oscar, this is some sexist BS I’m sure. I wish producers would have more confidence in their female leading players. Especially when they are Viola fucking Davis.