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.
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.
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.
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.