And the Nominees Are 2018: Round 5

So, I was going to wait until I had finally watched Get Out before I posted this latest update, but it’s getting long so I guess I’ll share this now and continue to promise I’ll see it soon.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected)

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So, I didn’t finish watching this movie. I got about 5 minutes into Ben Stiller‘s story and then I had to give up. I’ll admit that I have a mental block against Noah Baumbach (especially when not writing with Greta Gerwig) but this felt stilted and awkward. Obvously I can’t write a full review, but this wasn’t for me.

The Post

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My boss described this movies as solid. And that is exactly what it is. Steven Spielberg is an expert craftsman. The script is well structured, clever, timely, and moving. The supporting cast is filled with wonderful character actors who all play their parts well. Mr. Hanks is charming and charismatic. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep.

I left the theater satisfied and unsurprised. (Except the opening scenes in Vietnam, which were unexpected but thematically helpful in reminding viewers what was at stake in the Pentagon Papers.)

I had learned about this historical momen in school, but I always absorb things better as a story, and Mr. Spielberg and his cast and crew sure know how to tell as story well.

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YOU CAN READ MY POEM ABOUT THIS FILM HERE.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

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I read the memoir this was based on over Christmas, and while Peter Turner‘s love for Gloria Grahame was clear, his writing style was hard for me to connect to. But this film accomplishes that rarest of feats – it’s better than the book.

And more than that, it’s a beautiful work of art in its own right. The central couple, the icon Annette Bening as faded movie star Grahame, and Jamie Bell as Turner, have a compelling chemistry, that makes you believe the central love story, which could possibly have been played as a curiosity. Bening and Bell instead play every moment with a heart-wrenching vulnerability that made me ache for their situation.

I knew walking his that that film had great stars, but I was pleasantly surprised by the stylistic choices director Paul McGuigan made. The movie shifts timelines and perspectives with a beautiful fluidity and the different ways he presents each locale (Hollywood, New York, London, and Liverpool) echoes Peter’s journey through the fairy tale dreamland of first love to the dark realities of illness and scandal. Overall I was blown away by this one and I think it got lost in the end of the year shuffle. Seek if out if you can.

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YOU CAN READ MY POEM ABOUT THIS FILM HERE.

In the Fade

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Oomph… I literally cried so hard at the second act of this film that I injured my eye. That sounds like a joke but it isn’t. This is the only movie I’ve seen this season that made me say “Jesus Christ” our loud in the theater at multiple points.

The film follows a woman (Diane Kruger) in the aftermath of her family dying in a Neo-Nazi attack. It was terrifying and heart shattering and I owe Kruger an apology. I have always thought of her a beautiful woman who was often miscast, but here she proves that she is capable of a strong, layered performance. This isn’t an easy watch, at all, but if you do see it, please tell me. I’m dying to discuss the ending of this movie so much!

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YOU CAN READ MY POEM ABOUT THIS FILM HERE.

Paddington 2

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What a delightful (and frankly necessary) breath of fresh air. (Not coincidentally that’s what I said three years ago about the first one.) I’m all for a delightfully charming movie about a polite bear who teaches us how to be better humans with genuinely clever physical comedy and genuinely moving emotional stakes. Do yourself a favor and go.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

 

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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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And The Nominees Are 2018: Round 2

So Golden Globes and SAG nominations came out this week! And I’m actually really mad at the HFPA for their inexplicable snub of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, and the SAG nominations are as strange as always. No Post at all? Steve Carrell for Best Supporting Actor but no love for either of the supporting men from Call Me By Your Name? I did appreciate The Big Sick ensemble nod though. Anyway, here’s what I saw this week, and my Baby Driver thoughts since the Globes did rightfully acknowledge that Ansel Elgort is perfectly cast there.

Baby Driver

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This movie is slick, cold and dabbled with ultra violence and toxic masculinity and centers around cars. In other words, it is literally everything I hate. But, I loved this. I saw a review that said it was a musical masquerading as a car chase and that sums it up perfectly.

Yes, too many people get carelessly shot, but Baby (Ansel Elgort – perfectly cast) has enough remorse and humanity that I don’t think the movie can be read as an endorsement of that violence. Instead it’s a stylized love story, a highly choreographed dance (both of feet and tires), well cast, directed, and orchestrated. And it will make you feel like you are in your very own movie if you put your earbuds in and crank up the volume on the way home.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Although the allegations against Kevin Spacey hadn’t come to light this summer when I saw this, I have made a filmanthropy contribution to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Relief Fund for Sexual Assault Victims

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

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I have a long history with Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright turned filmmaker, who wrote and directed this. And that history is mostly filled with dread. I was assigned his plays in college and there are sections of The Pillowman and The Beauty Queen of Leenane that still haunt my dreams. So, I’m wary of watching his movies, my violence tolerance has grown a bit over the years, but I still don’t seek it out, but then Frances McDormand got nominated, so…I went.

And it was violent, but certainly not likely to give me nightmares. But it will certainly stick in my head. Not just because McDormand continues to be the most badass actor, who manages to convey strength and vulnerability in the same moment. But also, because the story revises really interesting questions about what grief and anger and trauma and revenge and redemption mean, and maybe more interestingly, what they require from us.

Every person in this movie is perfectly cast, but I particularly loved Woody Harrelson as the sheriff called out by Frances’s character’s billboards. But I guess at this point I just love anything Woody does (similarly Lucas Hedges and Peter Dinklage are fantastic here.)

I think it loses its bite a bit by the end, but the ensemble is amazing and the plot tight and thrilling and heartbreaking.

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Battle of the Sexes

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Firstly,  this isn’t really a comedy. But if I was going to get upset about genre classification each year then I wouldn’t have enough energy to be mad at nominating bodies for snubbing female directors and creators of color.

Anyway, what it is a well made dramatization of an episode in American cultural history that deserves to be better understood. I feel like we throw around the tag line “Battle of the Sexes” without talking much about what it actually was. This movie does a great job of telling the complex story behind the famous match. Bobby Riggs (the always great Steve Carrell – though I think his best performance this year was in Last Flag Flying), was certainly a “chauvinist pig” but his aims were more monetary than political. The filmmakers capture his situation with empathy, but without shying away from the depressing reality that for him, and men like him, women’s fight for equality can be a game or an opportunity for self-promotion, while for Billie Jean King (the really subtle and great Emma Stone) it was make or break, not just for her own career, but for women’s tennis and working women in general.

It was a stacked desk and King navigated expertly, which the movie makes clear, while not omitting how complicated her personal life, as a closed lesbian, married to a man she really cared about was at the time. In fact, the parts of this that will stay with me are about her relationships. They’re also two of the most emotional dialogue free moments for the year so far. One where she watches the woman she’s attracted to (Andrea Riseborough) dance to “Crimson and Clover” and is clearly overcome. And the other is a long shot, much later, of her husband (Austin Stowell) standing mutely in a hotel hallway holding his bags after discovering what’s going on. It crushed me. But yeah, great comedy.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

BPM (Beats Per Minute) 

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I almost wrote, “my first foreign language film nominee!” But then I remembered I endured The Square, but that’s best forgotten.

This is a beautiful film about ACT UP Paris in the 1990s. It manages the tricky balance of being about AIDS activists without preaching. It captures the way the personal is political in a really lovely and vital way. It’s told with a lose grip on time, allowing the protest to blend into the meeting room onto the dance floor into the bedroom, with a captivating fluidity.

There’s something visceral about the way director Robin Campillo shoots these lives – both public and private – that makes it feel somehow both artful and natural. His camera doesn’t flinch from pleasure or (sometimes extreme) pain. But it never veers into suffering-porn. This type of story is a tightrope, but this movie walks it almost perfectly.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

 

 

And the Nominees Are 2018: Round 1!

Happy Awards Season!

The 2018 Critics Choice nominations have been announced! And I have already seen a bunch of the nominees (this year is already so good you guys, at one point I had 4 movies tied for my favorite film.)

Also, I’ve started a new project, combining two of my great loves, movies and poems. It’s a new site, called Poems from the Pictures. Basically I’m writing a new poem about each movie I see in the theater. I’ll link to poems for movies I review here, but I don’t just write about award nominees over there, so please go check it out! (And share it with your friends.) (The project also has a Twitter account, please follow it!)

OK, enough self-promotion, here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Gifted

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Chris Evans can act. That kid is cute. Jenny Slate is perfect. Watch this on a Saturday afternoon when you feel bad about humanity.

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The Big Sick

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This is the only movie on this list that I’ve seen twice, but I managed to not take any notes on for a post, which I feel really stupid about, because it combines a lot of my favorite things. Zoe Kazan. Indie romantic comedies. The city of Chicago. Comas. OK I don’t love comas, obviously, but I do love real life love stories and charming characters and this one has all that in spades. Sorry I’m giving short shrift in this review. Just watch it, it’ll make you angry and sad and then happy.

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Dunkirk

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I know I overuse the word remarkable, but this is really a remarkable film. It’s a quintessentially Christopher Nolan piece – sweeping, complicated, immersive, with an innovative narrative structure – but also a classic-feeling WWII picture. The casting is impeccable, even the potential stunt of casting a pop star is quickly forgotten, as each of these men inhabit the desperation of their characters so completely.

I’m not breaking any ground by saying I love this. So instead of waxing rhapsodic about Nolan and his collaborators’ expert artistry I will point out my three favorite choices he/they made.

  1. The minimal dialogue. When you are 95% sure you will die but are being told to wait in a line for a ship that even if you get on it will probably sink, what is there to say really? In a more traditional movie about this battle there are so many opportunities for bombastic Oscar reel speeches, but its much more heart-wrenching to see a tear in Kenneth Brannagh‘s eyes or three boys sitting on a beach passing around a can of water.
  2. Which, also, the casting of actors that are actually 19-20 was such a great choice. So often Hollywood shoots these stories with fully grown, “built,” action heroes. But these men were ordinary young people, and that makes the horror that they lived through (and we live a bit of with them) all the more harrowing.
  3. See this on a big screen (it’s being rereleased for a special awards season engagement). It is immersive and it’s meant to be. My mom and I both jumped and gasped our way through this, especially the sequences in the air.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Florida Project

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I realized weeks after seeing this that I had forgotten to write notes for a review, which sucks because its one of favorite movies of the year. But I’ll try to reconstruct why I loved it.

Firstly, it’s visually appealing. It makes rundown motels look like confections and made Florida wasteland look like a classical landscape painting. But all the artistry in the world wouldn’t matter much to me without the people at the center of it.

Sean Baker takes a story that could have been melodrama, teen mom living on the margins with her young daughter and gives us a humane, warm but not saccharine portrait of a childhood. A lot of the brilliance here is in the casting of both the little girl (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother (Bria Vinaite) both of whom weren’t actors before this, but radiate a kind of pressure. Baker’s work is remarkably naturalistic and it feels less like watching performers and more like peeking in on a life.

That life is precarious though, and as long time readers know, images of children in peril (even when they don’t seem to realize it) usually stress me our so much I can’t enjoy a film (I call this my Beasts of the Southern Wild/Lion phenomenon.) But Baker solves this problem by including Willem Dafoe as a kind, beleaguered motel manager who keeps a watchful eye out for the kids (and their parents). His empathy and sadness for his tenants’ situations never crosses a line into condescension and this movie completely changed my opinion of Dafoe as a performer. Oh, I could gush forever, just go see it.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Wonderstruck

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I wanted to like this movie. And there were sections in it, particularly the earliest sections with the young deaf actress (and Critics Choice nominee!) Millicent Simmonds journeying to 1920s NYC. I like modern takes on classic film technique, and I think I would have loved to watch just her story as a short film.

Which isn’t to say necessarily that I didn’t like the sections set in the 1970s, because they have their own charm, and I tend to like stories that begin disparate and eventually interweave. But, I think the quiet style of director Todd Haynes (which I’ve liked in the past but never quite understood the critical community’s rapturous ton about) doesn’t lend itself will to a story with this much plot. I but this book is charming, but the film left me confused.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Lady Bird

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I don’t even know how to write about this movie. I just…love it. It’s honest and warm, well crafted and witty, with wonderfully grounded performances from everyone. (Especially my girl Saoirse Ronan and Laurie MetcalfLaurie Metcalf. Oh and Timotheé Chalamet and Lucas Hedges…and Tracy Letts, literally everyone in the movie.)

I put this in the “Movies That I Related To So Strongly I Can’t Explain Why Without Oversharing” category. (This category now has 2 entries, this and last year’s Edge of Seventeen no coincidence that they are both written and directed by women.) And in this case its even more so, because its set in 2003, the year I started high school and this protagonist left it. The cultural references, and high school theater nerd subculture is perfectly captured. Greta Gerwig clearly lived this life, as someone who lived a similar one, she totally nails it.

I will talk your ear off in person about its perfection when it comes to religion, female friendship (both its strength and fragility), mother-daughter relationships (in all their maddening-complexity), and class tensions in a culture that does not want to acknowledge that i has a class system*. But for this post I want to end with the fact that this movie has such affection for its characters, sure there’s the hindsight is 20/20 moments about how much Lady Bird has to learn, and some cringing at how dumb high schools are in general, but it never veers into mocking. It takes the life of a teenage girl seriously without making it a tragedy. It’s fantastic.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

*Seriously seek me out if you want to have these conversations. 

The Square

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I’m not sure I can coherently articulate how much I hate this film. Which was really disappointing because I loved Force Majeure (also written and directed by Ruben Östlund). But this was, to quote my boyfriend “nihilistic trash.” To avoid spiraling into the rant I have by now subjected my friends, family, coworkers, and roommate to I will just say 4 things:

  1. It’s too long. (It have Grand Beauty never ending problems.)
  2. I can’t decide if its making fun of pretentious arty people or is for pretentious arty people, but it’s condescending either way.
  3. It’s borderline exploitative of poor and homeless people.
  4. It portrays casual violence in a way that it doesn’t earn. I understand it’s supposed to be a critique of how bystanders don’t help each other, but then it also ridicules those who try for trying. If I’m going to be subjected to images of women being pulled by their hair onto the ground or children being pushed down staircases you better be making a coherent fucking point.

Or, as I emailed Tim the day after we it: “That piece of trash won the P’alme Dor?!?!? I definitely have an awards season nemesis now.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Wonder

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I had heard people rave about R.J. Palcio’s novel for young people, Wonder, seemingly endlessly since it came out in 2012. But I only got around to reading it when the trailer for this movie was released. I (as so often happens) shouldn’t have held out on the book, but I’m glad this movie exists to introduce the Pullman family to a wider audience.

If you have an issue with earnestness (no judgement a few of my favorite people do) then this tale of children learning to overcome their fear and prejudice of a little boy with a genetically malformed (differently formed? I don’t know what the preferred language is on that. I’m sorry!) face, probably isn’t for you. But if you, like me, sometimes need a well acted tear-jerker on a Friday night, you could do a lot worse than this lovely reminder that we’re all carrying burdens, some of them are just easier to hid. (Plus Broadway nerd bonus points for Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs, shoring up as inspirational educators!)

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You can read my poem about this film here.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

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Not going to lie. I did not think I would have to be writing this for awards time. But it’s fun. And Taika Waititi is a really talented director who brought a unique vision to this silly world.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Mudbound

mudbound-posters-00I’m having trouble putting my feelings about this one down on paper. Director and co-writer Dee Rees has created a layered and visually stunning epic of the mid-century American South that brought to mind early Terrance Malick (in the best way.) And not only because she loves a voice over. The acting is a universally stunning. Mary J. Blige is a particular surprise.

The story itself makes for a rough sit. It’s about the mid-century American South after all, but despite its realism about the violence that hung in the air around these characters, Rees never allows her main characters to be anything less than human. That, of course, doesn’t mean that those who aren’t poisoned to a greater and lesser extents by hatred. I’m not going to write a treatise about the original sin of American racism, others have done that better than I ever could, but I think this film does a remarkable job of showing the brutal ways that power, particularly white supremacist, patriarchal power, reasserts itself. (Often by punishing those white people (or men) who refuse to participate in the status quo. It’s a brutal watch, but a vital and important one. And it’s one Netflix, so you don’t even have to ugly cry in public like I did.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

Call Me By Your Name

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Based on the trailer for this I went out and the book to fill the time before I could see the beauty that is Timothée Chalamet pining after Armie Hammer. It’s a great book, but – and I almost never say this, like I think I can think of maybe 3 other times – this movie matches and maybe even surpasses it.

A lot of its brilliance is stylistic, it’s beautifully shot and edited to make everything on screen seem sumptuous, like if you could just reach out and touch the screen then you would be able to feel everything. This sensuality was present in director, Luca Guadagnino‘s previous work, but I always felt a certain distance from his sharacters. Which is where the richness of author André Aciman and screenwriter James Ivory‘s script come in. Every person here, even those we meet only for a scene, is a fully drawn human being. Even Hammer, how I’ve always liked but often found a bit icy, melts into this world.

I won’t get started on how Chalamet’s raw desire is palpable and gorgeous because I don’t want to cry at my desk. But, speaking of crying, Michael Stuhlbarg (as Chalamet’s father) delivers a monologue at the end of this film that should go down in history as one of the great tear jerker moments in acting history. So glad he’s getting recognition for it.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Disaster Artist

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I should start with 2 facts:

  1. I’ve seen The Room once, 10ish years ago and I wasn’t sober. I saw that appeal, but re-watching something just because its awful isn’t that interesting to me.
  2. I love James Franco. I hear your reasons that you find him insufferable, and I hear you and love him more because of them. Dude goes for things. I admire that, (Hell, he’s sort of the reason I have a blog.)

OK, not that all of that has been disclosed, I…liked this fine. I appreciated that it didn’t feel like one long joke at Tommy Wiseau, when the first trailed made it seem it might be. But, despite good performances from both Franco brothersbrothers and surrounding cast I couldn’t quite get on the level of love for him (and Greg Sestero) the movie clearly has. Instead of being appreciative of the commitment these two had to their dreams (and the Francoian drive to do the thing you want to do, no matter how unlikely or strange) I came away mostly sad. Not for Wiseau, I’m not convinced that he’s not an alien, at the very least he doesn’t seem to take in others’ criticism of his work. But for Sestero who, as far as I can tell has basically been trapped by Wiseau into a very strange life. I’m overthink this I know, but while parts are very  funny, the movie just left me a bit deflated.

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You can read my poem about this film here.

The Shakespeare Project: Henry VI, Part III

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The Writer’s Almanac helpfully reminded me yesterday that it was Shakespeare Day (both his birth and death day, or at least as far was we know), which was good encouragement to finish reading Henry VI. I only had a few scenes left, but was having trouble motivating myself. Because, as I have now mentioned multiple times, I’m pretty over this particular interpretation of the War of the Roses. I admit this is because I have, based on very casual personal research, and a crush on this well-cast actor, I’m pretty much decided that the Yorkists were right and therefore this whole conflict was wasted bloodshed.

I basically had made up my mind at the end of Part II how I felt about all characters involved in this tragic miscommunication, and at first it felt like there was a possibility for poor Henry to escape away to a monastery and pray, letting York and his sons take back the throne (as clearly based on patriarchal genetic inheritance ridiculousness was theirs). But of course, this is a Shakespearean history play so 1. there must be heads cut off and 2. a woman must ruin everything.

I wrote last time about how I appreciated Queen Margaret’s badassery, and I still kind of do, but it turns to folly in this part. Not just because she loses the ultimate battle, but because she has no foresight. She and her son should have stayed in France and they would have lived long, prosperous lives, claiming to be wrongfully exiled but with their heads intact. But, no, the all important crown must be won back for “poor Ned.” (Side note: why did they all name all of their sons Edward? I appreciate the comparative lack of Henrys in this installment, but still…diversify for the sake of clarity at least.) She does seem to love her son, but it’s clear that she really wants to hold power for herself and as she is female this is evil, I get that. But the scene where she and Clifford murder York is a bit heavy handed on the hand wringing villainy. Great wordplay sure, but it must be tricky to play and keep her seeming even remotely human.

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Gabriela Petrushevska in a Macedonian production available from Shakespeare’s Globe Player

Even if I hadn’t already made up my mind about the rightful claimants to the throne, the really disturbing, onstage murder of the youngest York boy would have turned me against the Lancastrians from then on. (Yes, I know that the York’s then retaliate by killing the also seventeen year old Prince of Wales, but he was actively waging war against the York princes when they killed him. Rutland was traveling home with his tutor and literally begging to spared the sins of his father. It’s heartbreaking and I’m not sure how you can watch that scene and then root for anyone associated with Clifford.)

This play also begins the character assassination of Richard III, which I won’t bore you with all my grievances now, but suffice to say the conflation of physical disfigurement with moral ineptitude is pretty hard to read with a modern eye. You’ll all get to read my full treatise on this if I ever reach the Rs. For now, just one more Henry to go!

Six Degrees of Cinema: Paterson

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Remember when I used to do these posts? Well, I have a couple of non-nominated Adam Driver movies that I wanted to see so I’m resurrecting this. As I wrote yesterday, I had just finished rereading Paterson by William Carlos Williams, the morning that I went to see this. I didn’t know if that would feel relevant, but it definitely did. It’s not a direct adaptation of Williams’s poem, but the feeling of the movie, it’s repetition and it’s preoccupation with notable figures in history with some connection to Paterson, has the same tone and rhythm.

On the level of plot there’s not much to recap here. A bus driver named Paterson wakes up next to his Iranian partner, gets up, eats Cheerios, works on a poem, drives his bus, eats dinner, walks the woman’s English bulldog Marvin, goes to the bar. Repeat. Then repeat again, with slight variations throughout the week. She flits between slightly odd creative projects, all variations on black and white, he remains consistent, but they clearly love each other. There is no love between the man and the dog. That’s it really.

But the sum of these days is something really lovely. Watching this couple navigate the mundane while also remaining committed to their creativity was quietly inspiring. Sitting in the this theater felt like communal meditation. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it felt like reading poetry. Complete with symbols that are clearly important but open to interpretation (what’s with all the twins?) and a laundromat rapper reminding us of WCW’s mantra, “No ideas but in things. No ideas but in things.”

In this chain: Paterson – 

Read Harder Review: Paterson by William Carlos Williams

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So, this one is a bit of a cheat. I’m counting Paterson as my “book I had read before” on my Book Riot Read Harder list, because I have a distinct memory of being assigned the book length poem in college. I even remember that the only copy I had at the time was in a Norton Anthology, one of those bricks with the very thin paper and crazy small print. I remember reading the first page, that English professors always made us buy for survey courses. (I think this was for Modern American Poetry? Or maybe even just the second half of the intro to American Lit? Fellow Northwestern English majors help me remember…)

Anyway, that’s really all I remember about having read this. I’m sure I finished it. I was/am a big nerd and usually did all of my reading, especially in my poetry classes. But like most stuff I read for survey classes, I remember the one sentence , (in this case: “No ideas but in things,” that I’m sure I quoted in a midterm paper. You may know that there is a movie of the same name out right now with Adam Driver as a bus driving poet. The director, the indie legend Jim Jarmusch, didn’t directly adapt the book (that’s really not possible), but seems to have taken his own swing at the Williams’s central premise, that a man and a city can stand in for each other.

I’m going to see the movie tonight and decided to revisit the book in preparation. And this time around I was amazed that I could ever have forgotten it. It’s an epic collage of history, found text (including letters from a young, slightly sycophantic Allen Ginsberg!), and of course, poetry.

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As with any work of this length, some sections are better than others. It went off the rails a bit in the third (or maybe 4th book) when he tries to tell a more coherent narrative story. I much prefer the grand pronouncements (though he didn’t like them much himself – see above re: ideas and things.)

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This section really spoke to me as I read it the night of the airport protests. My Instagram followers seemed to like it too.

He also takes a weird tangent in book 5 where he goes on and on about women being either virgins or whores, where I couldn’t tell if he believed that, or his Paterson believed that, or if he was being satirical. I kind of don’t want to unpack it, because I hate discovering my favorite writers hate women…especially when he dropped this reference in an earlier book:

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For those not in the know on their Temperance Movement radicals…Carrie Nation was hardcore

But contradictions are part of the point of course. (There’s a direct line easily drawn between Leaves of Grass and Whitman’s multitudes and this poem.) If Paterson the character is Paterson the city, I think it’s pretty clear to say that Paterson the city is also means to be America. And as we all see right now, America is a mess of contradictions.

But if you let Williams’s writing just wash over you, the effect can be pretty glorious:

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And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 3

This time of year I basically schedule the rest of my life around movie showtimes, and this week that has made me really happy. But first a catch up review:

Deadpool

Much like my review of Spy last year, I saw this near when it came out and didn’t take any notes, because it didn’t occur to me that it would be considered one of the best movies of the year. Also, I went to this after a grad school happy hour and under the influence of an Alamo Drafthouse alcoholic milkshake. Which I think is probably the best way to see this. Ryan Reynolds is very funny. The film in general is incredibly crude. And that’s really all I remember.

Captain Fantastic

What a strange, beautiful little movie. When I heard the premise, a man (Viggo Mortensen) raises his kids (there are 6 of them) out in the wilderness of Oregon, homeschooling them and training them to survive (complete with gifts of boning knives and cliff face climbing.) I was sure I going to have a Beasts of the Southern Wild reaction, where the rest of the film gets obscured by my obsessive worry over the well-being of the children. But 1. I truly believe these kids could take care of themselves 2. I actually really understood appeal of the life this father (and his recently deceased wife) had created for their family. I wouldn’t personally choose to forego Christmas in honor of Noam Chomsky’s birthday, but reading by a campfire only stopping to all play music together totally worked on me.

These are characters completely committed to the counter culture, and rather than treating them like a joke* like it would have been easy to, writer-director Matt Ross, lovingly portrays the pitfalls and joys of that choice. The kids can all quote the entire Western cannon, but have real trouble talking to people their own age, which is wonderfully dramatized through the oldest son Bo (George MacKay)’s story. He wants to honor his father and the life he clearly loves, but is heartbreakingly uncomfortable around girls and knows his discomfort is because of the choices his parents made.

I think this is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time, particularly when my periodic, fleeting urge to go be a hermit in the mountains hits me.

*Hello, Critics’ Choice – this is not a comedy. Thankfully the HFPA got that right for the Globes.

Miss Sloane

I went into this movie pretty blind. In all of the movies that I’ve been going to recently I never saw one trailer for this and only remember a few tweets from Jessica Chastain the week before it opened. But she got nominated for a Golden Globe, so I went.

And I honestly can’t figure out why no one is talking about this movie. It follows a high powered lobbyist (Chastain) who switches sides to work on behalf of passing common sense gun legislation. But this is less Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and more Ides of March.  Miss Sloane is ruthless, unethical, and cold. She never sleeps and has no life. For the first half of the film I kept waiting for her weeping moment of missing out on family life. Or the story to punish her in some way for being too masculine, because that is what usually happens to female characters with too much power.

But then this movie completely surprised me and turned out to be a story about a ruthless, powerful woman who is in control of her own narrative. She isn’t likeable, but she’s not a robot. She has a backstory, but the writer Jonathan Perera and director John Madden don’t feel the need to “soften” her by giving us all the details of how she “got so cold.”

At the end I was reminded of the conversation around Sandra Bullock’s character in Our Brand Is Crisis (which I haven’t seen) and how it was originally written for a man. Miss Sloane felt like the writer created a compelling story and then thought Chastain was the best actor to fill the part (and she is) rather than setting out to create “a strong female character.”

Sadly, probably due to terrible marketing, this movie didn’t do very well at the box office, which has led a lot of right wing press and idiots on Twitter, to declare that “feminist, gun control propaganda” doesn’t sell. So, if you live somewhere that this is in theaters, I urge you to go see it, one because it’s good and two to show the studio that we will pay for stories about complex women and “liberal causes.

(Side note: This movie is a somewhat depressing picture of what it will take for liberals to win in Washington. we’re gonna need to fight like the other guys do…even when we don’t like it.)

Also Jake Lacy plays a hooker with a heart of gold….

 

Lion

The fact that Dev Patel is being submitted as a supporting actor for this film is insane. Just wanted to get that on record right away. Although he doesn’t show up until half way through, he and his performance are the soul of this movie. Also, I have a new appreciation for his face. I’ve always thought of him as a quirky and charming presence, but damn he has a two hour face. (Side note: He and Rooney Mara have great chemistry. Their love story is really just a side narrative in this, as it should be, but I would love to see them do something else together.)

This tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a man who, as a young boy, got separated from his family in rural India by horrible misadventure (he accidentally got on a decommissioned train) and survived the slums of Calcutta until he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman – who gives great performance despite terrible hair, is that a wig? A horrible perm? and David Wenham). He grows up to the a successful hotel manager but becomes consumed by the search for his birth family, using the earliest versions of Google Earth.

The story is emotional and the imagery beautiful. And the only things keeping it from being in my list of best of the year are totally personal preferences:

  1. In this post Boyhood and Moonlight world  could really do without the titles on the screen telling me how much time has past and where we are. Just tell the story, the audience will figure it out.
  2. The sequences with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) are so heart wrenching to watch. Pawar is so young and so small and I just wanted to gather him up in my arms and protect him. I know this is based on the real man’s recollections, but I really don’t understand how no one tried to help him. I guess this is actually a point in favor of the film – that it got to me so emotionally, but it makes it a little harder to recommend.

Neruda

My first foreign language nominee this year!

Based on this and Jackie I now want to see everything Pablo Larraín has made or will make in the future. Both of these films take on subjects that could have been straightforward awards season fare (JFK’s assassination, Pablo Neruda’s flight to exile from fascist persecution in Chile) and instead present idiosyncratic portraits of these larger than life figures ass humans.

Neruda is a weird film. Walking out of the IFC last night I overheard at least three people admit that they “didn’t get it.” And I’m not sure that I entirely did either, but I’m not sure we’re meant to “get it” completely. Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón have crafted a movie that feels like a Latin American novel filled with rich characterization, beautiful imagery, and a heavy dose of magical realism.

In the end, I don’t think it really matters if Gael García Bernal‘s film noir policeman literally stamped through the Andes after Neruda (played by the perfectly cast Luis Gnecco) because the story isn’t about literal truth. It’s about poetry, and how it can create real feeling without making any literal sense, especially given the right circumstances.

This film makes the argument that art matters, and that fascist regimes know this, its why they persecute artists. This movie manages to convey that without too much preaching, and while holding onto a sense of the absurd in the face of real darkness.

Also, Sing Street got nominated for Best Musical/Comedy! You can read my thoughts here.

 

Songs That Hit Me Harder Now

I started working on this playlist a couple of days after the election. I was an emotional wreck. Like not sure I was capable of pulling myself out of bed levels of despair. I’m still very sad and angry, but I’ve begun to channel that energy in more productive directions. But certain songs have been making me cry that never did before. Some of their lyrics made a new kind of sense, and some I can’t really explain, but they listening to them and letting myself cry has been cathartic for me so I thought I would share them with you all:

Second Nature – Original Broadway Cast of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson 

I understand why people have issues with this show. It definitely can be read as glorifying Jackson, and parts of it are really just dumb. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and how American populism is often such a dangerous, violent thing. I think it’s, unfortunately, worth a revisit in our current climate.

My Shot – Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton 

Just as a corrective.

Truth No. 2– Dixie Chicks

Bread & Roses– Judy Collins
I know I’ve shared the Joan Baez and Mimi Farina version of this before, but literally every version has always made me cry and especially now…

Pompeii – Bastille 

Ghosts That We Knew – Mumford and Sons 

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter 

OK this one doesn’t make me cry, but I don’t think I had listened to it before this weekend since I was like 10. And I really didn’t understand it before. Also, this video is such a find. Look at all of those powerhouses! (And all that 90s hair..)

If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard 
Thanks to Stu-Bot on TBTL for this one.

Make Them Hear You – Brian Stokes Mitchell from Ragtime 

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes

Five Star Book: The First Collection by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper

I know, two 5 Star book posts in as many weeks! But I couldn’t let a book that made me grab a pen and underline things as often as this one did go unrecommended.

I saw Jessica Hopper speak about this book at the Texas Book Festival last year and bought it based on her & (frankly) a sense of feminist obligation. If the title is true, which it seems to be, then we have to buy this one to ensure there will be more.

Reading it didn’t feel at all like a chore though. Hopper is insightful and witty, hard hitting when she needs to be (like in her interview with Jim DeRogatis about R.Kelly’s very disturbing [alleged] obsession with underage girls) and compassionate always (even in the sections titled “Bad Reviews”).

It’s actually sort of intimidating to even write a review of her book, because she has mastered the form. So instead here are 5 of my underlined favorite lines:

“Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused. Out lives, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in.”

From “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t” Punk Planet #56, July 2003

“It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.”

This is from her conversation about R. Kelly, but it also speaks to the book as a whole. One of my favorite writers, Rob Sheffield, wrote a blurb for the back of this book that says, “She concedes nothing to the idea that it is dumb to care so much.”

“lord alive, there is not a more earnest and tenderhearted person in rock n’ roll than Eddie Vedder, in case you doubting just how sensitacho he rolls.”

I’ve always suspected this to be true. from “Vedderan: Notes on Pearl Jam’s 20th Anniversary Concert” TinyLuckyGenius, September 2011

“They stand for hope and big ideas as well as simple ones: have fun, include everyone, be positive, do good work. It’s an active rejection of adult cynicism. You could call it anti-capitalist, but there’s no indication anyone involved has given it that much thought.”

From “Will the Stink of Success Ruin the Smell?” LA Weekly, February 2009

“It’s subtler than patriotism; the abstraction is a nostalgic ruing for that old=-fashioned American freedom (not the 2012 GOP’s hijacked late-stage-capitalism-amok-in-you-uterus version), the sort that might entice a young girl to move up from Georgia with just a lamp, a chair and her guitar.”

From “Cat Power: Sun” SPIN magazine, September 2012 

I’ll probably put together a playlist sometime soon of songs this book introduced me to. But though its about music, its really about not being afraid to give a shit, to care too much about something other people call trivial, which i think you can tell from the name of this blog is a sentiment I can get behind.