And the Nominees Are: Round “I Finally Saw Get Out”

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Happy Oscars Weekend! Usually by this point in the year I have a few straggler foreign or documentary nominees I’ve managed to fit in the last weeks of awards season. But this year, as anyone reading this blog even passingly could tell you, I had a major nominee blind spot that I kept pushing off seeing.

I hate horror movies. I have a very visual memory and I can’t stand gore, and I don’t understand the appeal of making myself anxious for two hours. (Thinking about this this week I’ve decided that it’s because I feel anxious a lot all on my own and I don’t experience this as a cathartic experience, instead I had to go through all of my anxiety remedies after finishing it to be able to fall asleep. But I only had one nightmare!! Healthy coping mechanisms for the win!)

OK, personal feelings on genre aside, I was told in no uncertain terms by many people, including my mother, that I had to watch this. So, I did. And, it’s really good. Like, worth watching a horror movie good.

It’ll probably win Best Original Screenplay, and it should. The premise is clever but grounded enough in reality that it never feels too far fetched (and it should, because the actual procedure is bonkers). The acting is astoundingly good. Daniel Kaluuya is a revelation, those eyes will be burned into my brain for a long time. And I don’t think I will ever be able to look at Allison Williams ever again without a shiver.

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Awards Show Round Up: Critics Choice Awards 2018

So, I have to start with a confession. I slept through most of this show last night. It wasn’t the show’s fault. I actually thought Olivia Munn did a great job hosting and despite the fact that pretty much none of the film awards went to who I would given them too, there were some great speeches. (No love at all for Lady Bird, I mean…come on.) But I had the stomach flu this week so…I was out of it.

But from what I did see, and what I’ve put together from YouTube this morning here were some highlights:

Once again I’m skipping ahead to my favorite feminist moment, the #SeeHer Award, which this year went to the totally deserving Gal Godot:

One of the awards I was wholeheartedly excited about, was Brooklynn Prince for The Florida Project. This was totally deserved and she managed to say more with her speech than most of the adult winners:

Another winner I’m never mad about…Ann Dowd:

Now for awards I would have given to others, but I can’t really be mad about:

(Actually not mad at all about James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name is being criminally under sung.)

I mean, you knew I was going to post a speech that included that final sentiment right?

Also, her friendship with Saoirse Ronan makes me very happy (I can’t wait for Mary Queen of Scots): 

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Photo Credit: RTÉ

I think Christopher Nolan is being really snubbed for Director’s honors this year. Dunkirk was really a technical and storytelling marvel, but Guillermo del Toro is pretty adorable:

And now, dresses! It was a strange night, fashion wise, I like that the women are taking risks, but that means sometimes they just look crazy. But here were my favs:

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Laura Dern in Balmain (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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Betsy Brandt (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

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Mary J. Blige in Vivienne Westwood Couture (Photo Credit: Getty/Steve Granitz)

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Alison Brie in Roberto Cavalli (Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

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Rachel Brosnahan in Zuhair Murad (Photo Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

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Saoirse Ronan in Michael Kors (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Constance Wu in Galia Lahav (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

And the Nominees Are 2018: Round 3

I didn’t get as much awards viewing done over the holidays as I usually do, but I made some progress. No new favorites in this bunch, but nothing too terrible either.

Girl’s Trip

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I have a couple of confessions:

  1. I watched this in bed while dealing with a cold
  2. I think its time to admit that broad comedies aren’t really my thing. (Because I hate fun I guess, but generally because I am a Victorian grandmother.)

That being said, Tiffany Haddish, whose supporting performance has earned the nominations that led me to watch this, is really hilarious and charming.

The movie overall is fun fluff, and she’s by far the best part.

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Darkest Hour

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This movie suffered for me because it came out the same year as DunkirkIt’s probably not fair, but it was really hard to watch a movie built around the Great Man theory of history of WWII when I still have Christopher Nolan’s images of those poor boys on the beaches all lines up waiting to die. I know Churchill’s historical importance is hard to overstate (and that I probably shouldn’t be basing all of my historical analysis on films) but it was just hard for me to find a rich, white man leaving his servants behind to deign to talk to some citizens in the subway that endearing.

That being said, Gary Oldman is, as always, a magnificent chameleon and he plays Churchill with an endearing childishness that belies his strength of character. Lily James is charming, and it was lovely to see Kristin Scott Thomas. More importantly to me this was a great reminder that Joe Wright is an excellent director, his movies have a beautiful, unique rhythm (most evident in his underrated Anna Karenina adaptation from a few years back) and this ticks long like a clock.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

In the latest rush of accusations Gary Oldman hasn’t been discussed much, but his ex wife accused him of domestic violence, and so I’ve practiced Filmanthropy with a donation to Safe Horizon.

The Shape of Water

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Let me start with the positive, this is visually stunning and wholly unique. Guillermo del Toro and his design team clearly thought through every detail of this world. And the performances are all well realized. Though I’ve liked all of these actors better in different roles. Except maybe Richard Jenkins, he’s particularly great here, but I think I just haven’t seen him in a lot of other substantial roles.

Anyway, I don’t know if this just suffered from inflated expectations, because so many film critics were waxing rhapsodic about this, but I just didn’t fall for it as hard as I wanted to.

At its heart its a fable, with easy to spot heroes and villains and not a lot of ambiguity. Which is fine of course, sometimes I love a fairy tale, but I feel like I couldn’t buy the central love story. Not because it’s between a human woman (Sally Hawkins) and a fish monster (Doug Jones), but because the movie just jumped from then meeting to them being in love, before it had even made it clear to me that they could communicate with each other.

Fantasy can be a tough sell for me, not because I can’t suspend disbelief, but because world building often tales the place of character development, and I think that sort of happened here.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Molly’s Game

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Jessica Chastain is a goddess and I would watch her read a menu.

Aaron Sorkin is a genius of a dialogue and I like the way he frames pretty much anything with gravitas.

Both of these statements are proven by the fact that his combination made me care about a woman who ran a high stakes poke game. This is a good movie, paced well and, for Sorkin script, surprisingly light on speechifying. I could have done with less voice over and armchair psychoanalysis. But, I liked the digs at the patriarchy and Idris Elba (despite the fact that his English accent bled through at moments of heightened emotion), is always fun to watch. Sorkin should direct again. Chastain should be in at least one awards movie a year. Oh, and the government should give Molly Bloom back her money.

P.S. If the Michael Cera character is based on who the internet tells me he is, then Tobey Maguire is a sociopath. Just FYI.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Stronger

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I’ve liked a lot of Writer/Director David Gordon Green‘s work. And I think Jake Gyllenhaal is always an interesting actor to watch, even when I don’t like the movie he’s in, but I was hesitant to see this movie when it came out in theaters to see this movie when it came out in theaters (and seemingly quickly left). I think I had conflated it in my head with the Mark Wahlberg-heroism-porn-looking movie called something like Boston Strong (note: It was actually called Patriots Day). But this is much more nuances and interesting than that.

A biopic of Jeff Bauman, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, who was famously photographed being rescued, this is almost an indictment of the idea of a movie like I assume that Wahlberg vehicle is. Bauman didn’t want to be a hero and wasn’t prepared to be a symbol and this movie is an honest portrayal of how fucked up it is that we demand that of the victims of tragedies.

Gyllenhaal gives a deeply lived in performance of a person in pain and he deserves the accolades he’s quietly getting. Tatiana Maslany is also great as his on-again-off-again love who finds herself unexpectedly playing caregiver. The ending takes kind of an abrupt turn into more straightforward biopic land, but it still made me cry, so…I guess I didn’t hate that.

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5 More Songs from Julia (and a couple from me)

I don’t know if Julia thought she was starting a series for my blog when she started texting me random song recs, but apparently she was. What can I say, she has good taste in music, and I’ve mostly been listening to Reputation on repeat lately. Oh and this:

Anyway here are her newest picks:

Pretend You’re Missing Me – Betty Who

Lake Tahoe – Jaws of Love

New Rules – Dua Lipa

Sit Next to Me – Foster the People

Borrowed Lives – Pierce Fulton feat. NVDES

Also, this video of two Broadway greats singing T. Swift exists, so Merry Christmas:

Read Harder Review Catch Up

So, I sort of forgot that I was doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, but I discovered my spreadsheet for it (occupational hazard, I have spreadsheets for everything) yesterday, and saw that unintentionally I’ve crossed some off the list in the past few months. Here are some mini-reviews (mostly taken from my Goodreads. Are you on Goodreads? Let’s be friends there.)

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood “A book that has been banned or heavily challenged in your country” 

This is a terrifying book. The timely resonance is chilling of course, and it made it harder to read than it probably would have been before the open misogyny of the current administration. It’s well written and the character is realistic, even in her weakness – this is a person not a “strong female character,” which I appreciated. But I’m not sure how I feel now that I’ve finished it. At times it felt like a chore, not because it was dull, but because it was scary. I think I’ll be processing this one for a bit

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – “A classic by an author of color” 

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I could remember next to nothing about this book. I think I read it in high school, but it was a quick, beautiful read. The dialect (like all dialect) took me a little bit to get into, but I really loved the rhythm of it after a bit. Janie is an excellent central character. Knocking it a star for the bullshit (of it’s time) attitude towards domestic violence.

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No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts – “A book where all of the POV characters are of color” 

Billed as a reworking of The Great Gatsby, set in a present-day, economically depressed, African American community in the South. So not really The Great Gatsby at all. But that’s great! Watts takes the broad themes, and some of the character types, from Fitzgerald’s novel and then deeply roots them in their new context. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and deeply humane. (So maybe not that different from Gatsby at all.)

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A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval – “A book published by a micropress”

So, I’m stretching a bit to classify Haymarket Books as a micropress, but whatever. This book is amazing. It will break your heart, make you laugh, and leave you wanting to storm some barricades. If you’re me, it will also make you incredibly homesick.

Weekly Adventure: Colm Tóibín at the Paula Cooper Gallery

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Almost 8 years ago (!), when I was studying abroad at University College Cork, my contemporary Irish literature professor assigned Blackwater Lightship, and since then I have been mildly obsessed with its author Colm Tóibín. I’ve been working my way through all of his books (and they range in genre including short stories, novels, memoirs, and literary criticism.) I’ve loved all of them. Many of them fall into the category of “things that are too important to me for me to write about in any coherent fashion.”

So instead, I will just give you my three favorite quotes from last night, remind you that sometimes it is great to meet your heroes (he was so kind and I’m inspired to write for the first time in ages), and tell you all to go buy his new book, or any of his old books.

“A novel loves money, it loves disappointment, it loves a marriage, it loves a marriage that does not happen.” – On novels as secular spaces

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Follow up: “So on page 6, I rid of the gods.” 

“If you’re a novelist, the most interesting part of a story is the blurred figure in the photograph.”

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Related: The Story of Night (a beautiful book about a gay man in Argentina) is “about someone who has not spoken before but must now speak”

Where I’m from the men didn’t say much, but the women would all be talking all at the same time.” – on why he writes with such power (to borrow a phrase from a question asker) in the voices of women

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A Whole String of Adventures

Full disclosure, this is a super lazy post. I’m tired…I’ve been doing a lot…

It’s been an eventful week for me, filled with theater and movies. And I’ve been really bad about blogging about them. I’m not going to write long reviews of everything, mostly because I don’t want to, but here were some highlights:

The Golden Apple from ENCORES! at City Center

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I didn’t know anything about this show going when my New York godmother invited me to take her extra ticket last Thursday. But after reading this wonderful article, I was intrigued. I’ve always wanted to go to an Encores show, and this was a really fun discovery all around. The show is a lighthearted retelling of Homer, and I loved the choice to recreate Paris (Barton Cowperthwaite) as a silent ballet dancer. One because I love ballet and two because it allows the show to sidestep taking any stance on the character’s culpability.

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Lindsay Mendez as Helen with Cowperthwaite (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Badlands at Videology Bar and Cinema

I’ve written before about how much I love this dark, weird little fable. So for now I’ll just share my friend Arely’s thought at from some angles young Martin Sheen looks exactly like Charlie and from others exactly like Emilio Esteves. It’s sort of crazy.

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An Emilio moment

Also, the queso hot dog at Videology was a pretty tasty way to end a week.

Six Degrees of Separation (with Allison Janney!) 

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

It was raining a lot on Saturday. So I almost refused my lotto win ticket to Six Degrees of Separation. But I’m so glad I didn’t. Obivously the biggest draw is Janney and she is as fabulous as you expect her to be. But the play in general, which I had only ever read before, is surprisingly funny and heartwarming. It’s sad how relevant the racial issues (and CATS hatred) still are 26 years on, but the 1990 setting does lend a delightful pre-Google detective story element to the plot.

Also on Saturday I met an actress in the audience whom I’m a big fan of and she was very sweet. 

Mother’s Day trip to Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

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I’ve wanted to see this show for a long time. I love Carole King, and so I was so excited to get to share it with my mom on Sunday. And it was the perfect Mother’s Day show. (I’m pretty sure the entire audience was there celebrating the holiday.) We were unable to stop ourselved from singing along. We briefly felt bad but everyone else was also clapping and dancing. Highly recommend it. Bring your mom, or your most mom like friend. (I’m happy to play the role of mom like friend in your life for this occasion.)

Wakefield at the IFC Center

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A perk of my membership at the IFC is monthly free screenings. I generally go to all of these, even when I know nothing about the film (obvious caveat for avoiding horror/extreme violence), which was the case with this one. It’s…strange. Adapted from an E.L. Doctorow short story by writer/director Robin Swicord, it tells the story of a man (Bryan Cranston) who abandons his wife and family, only to live above the garage and spy on them. It works more as a conceit than it has any right to, but it also has some really icky undertones I’ll be processing for awhile. Cranston is great though.

 

Coming Clean about Purple Rain*

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Can anyone in this movie act? — No.

Is the dialogue straight up awful? — Yes.

Are the sexual politics at best questionable? — Well, there’s a scene where a woman is literally thrown in a dumpster for daring to ask something of a man…so, yeah. (It is done by the villain, but it’s played for laughs, so…)

Is it still, somehow, a masterpiece? Absolutely.

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I’ve been trying to piece together why this movie is so magical since the minute I walked out of a free screening at the Brooklyn Bazaar Wednesday night. It’s obviously a lot to do with the music, and I’ll always be thankful for the experience of singing along to “Purple Rain” with a ballroom filled with tipsy strangers. But, that can’t be all of it, because then I would just want this to be a concert film, and that’s not how I feel at all.

It may be that for all its soppy melodrama, and petrified-wooded performances, the film does have a unique and striking (if a bit dated) visual style. The lighting design and cinematography (by Donald E. Thorin) do a lot to elevate the action.

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But, lets be real, the magic here is Prince himself. Not just in his musical performances (though goddamn), but as a presence onscreen. That mad had a two hour face, and the ability to simultaneously be winking at the audience and be completely vulnerable and in the moment. Sure, the world of this movie is absurd, but his emotion was real and so its easy to get swept up with him for the ride.

 

*This series used to be called “Classics from the Queue, but no one has a Netflix Queue anymore, and that title never really got across this idea that these were movie I had lied about seeing so these posts will now be called “Coming Clean” reviews.

Read Harder Review (and Five Star Book!): Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

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I underlined so many passages in this book. A fact I know Ms. Fadiman would appreciate. I also bought it on a trip to a bookstore that was explicitly to buy a book club book, and nothing else. But it fit the “book about books” line on my Book Riot Read Harder challenge list, so naturally I had to get it. (If that reeks of rationalization and addict behavior, you’re not wrong.) I knew from the blurb on the back that I was going to love this book, but I didn’t know just how much I would identify with it. Yes, I knew that Fadiman and I are both book people, who were also raised by book people, but more than that we’re both the same kind of book people.

For one, we’re both obsessive annotators, she described it as treating reading like a conversation, which I loved. We are also both collectors of words. She has an essay in here about quizzing her friends and family on words she had to look up while reading a 1920 Carl Van Vechten essay, something I have never done – I want my friends to keep liking me – but I have definitely made the same kinds of lists. (Honestly, I made a long one reading this book. I would argue her word choice was overly grand if I didn’t know she was just reveling in the diversity of the English language.)

Aside from the kinship with a fellow book and word nerd, I really loved her description of her family. When she was growing up they used to watch quiz shows religiously and shared a love of proofreading menus. I know that to some (most?) of you that must sound insufferable, but to me it was warmly familiar. My dad gives my mom (and anyone else who is around) a history quiz from the morning paper. My brother once took a victory lap around our dining room table after besting us all on a final Jeopardy question. A couple of months ago my brother’s high school friend responded to my correcting my father’s statement that Faneuil Hall opened in the 1990s by saying that he meant it was renovated then, by saying, “You can’t get away with anything with the Dennetts.” So maybe we’re a little insufferable too, but this book made me feel in good company.

Side note: She writes a lot about her husband George, and each time he came up I thought, “he seems great.” Turns out – I had read and loved his own memoir The Big House and thought the same about her!

Weekly Adventure: Mini-Break to Salem

The idea of witches has always been pretty fascinating to me. I’ve always loved reading Alice Hoffman novels, in high school I wore out my copy of The Probable Future, and I still return to her sprawling tales of New England women with complicated “gifts.” It’s no surprise that this was my favorite sign at the Women’s March in January:

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Because so much of the moral panic of witch trials can be tied back to women who didn’t fit into the idea of what a woman should do. Which is why its surprising that I actually hadn’t been to Salem, MA until this past weekend. Well, this weekend I took the Megabus up to visit Hanna in Cambridge (well actually Somerville…) and we took the train out to see what Salem had to offer.

And…it was awesome! For a few reasons:

1. It’s a super cute little New England harbor town, which is a particular kind of charm I really enjoy.

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2. The history, both of the witch trials and otherwise (it’s also Nathaniel Hawthorne’s hometown)

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3. The witchy wonderfulness. There is so much camp, and so much earnest Wiccan stuff. It was just exactly what I wanted it to be, and it was also incredibly strange once I stopped to think about it. The actual historical trials were about the paranoid superstition of a group of people who were wrongly accused of witchcraft, which is obviously a tragedy. But now the town is forever associated with witchcraft, and is a Mecca of sorts for the Wiccan and neo-Pagan community. Which is cool in that it’s sort of the ultimate fuck you to the Puritan authorities, but it also leads to a strange tension where the town can’t decide if they believe if witches are real or not, which opens the uncomfortable question about the (obvious at least to me) innocence of those executed. This narrative is most confused at the Salem Witch Museum, which I wish I could describe to you but it is beyond my power. Please just go, it costs $12 but you will never experience anything quite like it….

Anyway, it was also just a great first real Spring weekend up here in the Northeast, and Hanna and I had a delightful time being silly through the streets:

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I did not buy any, but I’m really regretting that now…