Friday, August 18, 2017

Wind River

Last night I went to a Thursday preview of Wind River, a psychological thriller with an ending that I am still thinking about.  Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner, in one of his best performances to date) is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer who is called out to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to track a mountain lion who is killing cattle.  He finds, instead, the body of a young woman.  The cause of death is exposure but, because it is clear that she has been assaulted and raped, the FBI sends rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, also excellent) to investigate.  She is laughably unprepared for the elements and doesn't understand the complex dynamic of the people on the reservation so she asks Lambert to help her.  The story is, on the surface, a typical murder mystery but dig a little deeper and it becomes a powerful commentary about life on a reservation in an environment where people live with silence and snow and little else and either survive or succumb.  It is also a story about grief with an incredibly poignant scene between two fathers who have lost daughters.  The scenery is starkly beautiful but always menacing, the dialogue is sparse, and the tension is almost unbearable.  The mystery unravels in a scene of shocking violence, which caught me by surprise, and the resolution is an interesting exploration of justice that I found to be strangely satisfying (the people at my screening cheered out loud) much like my reaction to another film by Taylor Sheridan.  All of the performances are compelling (I always enjoy Graham Greene) and the score, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is suitably atmospheric.  If you enjoy tense thrillers with something to say about people who live on the margins of society, go see this film!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Step Is Life

My friend saw the documentary Step at Sundance this year and she has been raving about it ever since.  It will hit select theaters nationwide this Friday but my friend invited me to a special screening last night at the Broadway and I'm so glad that she did.  Yesterday was my first day back to school to prepare for the upcoming academic year and I don't think I could have watched a more inspirational film to get me energized to help my students achieve success.  The film is set against the racially charged backdrop of inner-city Baltimore and follows a group of African-American girls selected by lottery in the sixth grade to attend the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women as they become the first graduating class.  The narrative emphasizes the struggles the girls face as they apply to college and find financial aid and the obstacles they overcome as the step team competes at a prestigious competition.  Blessin is the founder and captain of the step team but she struggles academically because of her attendance and lack of focus.  At the beginning of her senior year her GPA is too low for college acceptance but she vows to do whatever it takes to succeed despite her mother's depression and anger issues.  I have to admit that Blessin's story made me quite emotional because so many of my students get to their senior year having made many mistakes and struggle to overcome deficits.  Cori is a stellar student, set to become the valedictorian, who dreams of going to Johns Hopkins University so that she will never have the financial struggle that her blended family faces with six children.  While she has the grades and test scores to attend a prestigious university, she will need a full-ride scholarship to do so.  I also cried when she mentioned that the power was currently turned off at home and vowed that this would not be her life.  Tayla provides a bit of comic relief ("I'm a notch down from Beyonce because I still do mess up") with a helicopter mom who attends every practice and tells her to stay away from boys because they have cooties.  What I loved most about this film is that you cheer just as much as they achieve their academic goals as you do when they give the performance of their lives at the step competition (the audience in this screening literally cheered out loud and applauded at every milestone).  My favorite moment in the whole film is when the team gets new warm-ups and they swagger down the hall in their best Reservoir Dogs impersonation.  It made me laugh through my tears!  I cannot recommend this documentary enough!  Please go see this heart-warming celebration of hard work, dedication, and perseverance!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Sundance

School will be starting for me very soon so I am definitely trying to cross items off my summer bucket list.  Last night I got to cross off seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Sundance Mountain Resort.  As you may remember, I am suffering from a bit of Joseph fatigue because I have seen it so many times but I always love being up in the mountains for some cooler temperatures than in the valley.  Actually, this production turned out to be a lot of fun because it incorporated a Western theme that worked really well.  The setting was the Jacob & Sons Ranch and the brothers and their wives were cowboys and cowgirls.  The Ishmaelites were cattle rustlers and the song "One More Angel in Heaven" featured a hoedown with fabulous choreography, including rope tricks.  Potiphar was a saloon owner which was a lot of fun with Mrs. Potiphar and her saloon girls.  When Joseph sang his signature song "Close Every Door" in jail he was wearing red long johns and the chorus held lanterns around him which was a cool effect.  The song "Go, Go, Go Joseph" featured saloon girls dancing a rousing can-can.  The Pharaoh was a railroad magnate and he made quite the impressive entrance on the engine of a locomotive with real steam.  "Those Canaan Days" featured a flamenco dancer and the brothers sang "The Benjamin Calypso" wearing giant sombreros.  I enjoyed all of the performances and Preston Taylor was an amazing Joseph.  Emily Rose Lyons, as the Narrator, had more of a country and western twang to her voice but it really worked with the theme.  I certainly wasn't expecting to enjoy the show as much as I did but it was a fun night.  I especially loved the fact that I had to put my hoodie on during intermission.  There is only one more performance of Joseph left and, unfortunately, it is completely sold out.  However, I heard a rumor that Sundance will be performing Oklahoma! next summer.  I definitely recommend making plans to see it!

Note:  I sat by some seriously cool people who bought me popcorn!  Here's a shout-out to them!

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Glass Castle

Last night I went to see The Glass Castle, the film adaptation of the best-selling memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls.  It is the story of Jeannette's childhood of extreme poverty with a brilliant but alcoholic father and a self-absorbed mother who cares more about her art than her children as they move from place to place, often just one step ahead of the bill collectors or law enforcement.  We meet Jeannette (Brie Larson) in 1989 sitting in a taxi as she sees her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) digging through a garbage dumpster which embarrasses her.  Then we go back and forth between flashbacks to Jeannette's (played at various ages by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson) childhood experiences and her attempts in 1989 to leave her childhood behind with her job as a gossip columnist and her relationship with a wealthy banker (Max Greenfield), both of which clearly do not bring her any happiness.  Jeannette must ultimately come to terms with her past and make peace with her parents before she can movie forward with her life.  Most of what happens to the children is very difficult to watch but I found the story to be very compelling and authentic, particularly the scenes with Anderson who is brilliant as the young Jeannette.  The performances of Larson, Watts, and, especially, Harrelson are also outstanding.  I was impressed with how Harrelson is able to portray Rex as both dangerous and captivating, someone who is both feared and fiercely loved.  Many alcoholics have incredibly charismatic personalities and know how to manipulate the people around them which makes it difficult to completely abandon them even though they do despicable things and Harrelson nails it.  Some people might have a problem with the content but I didn't because I really loved the themes of resilience and forgiveness.  Just because Jeannette ultimately forgives her father for the horrific things he does to her and her siblings doesn't mean that he is absolved and I don't think the film glorifies his behavior.  Forgiveness is less about the person being forgiven and more about the one doing the forgiving.  Jeannette must reconcile with her father for her own sake rather than his and she can only live an authentic life if she acknowledges her past and the impact that her parents have had, for good or ill, on the person she has become.  However, I had several problems with this adaptation.  It is overly sentimental, in stark contrast to the memoir, with a very manipulative score that tells the audience what it should be feeling and it sometimes feels like a Lifetime original movie as a consequence.  I also didn't like the conclusion because it is too easy and abrupt, almost as if Cretton (who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film) wanted to give us all a happy ending that is not earned.   I think the memoir is better at telling the story objectively but this film is ultimately worth seeing for the dynamic performances.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Incubus at Usana

It was a windy and rainy night at the Usana Amphitheatre last night but it didn't really matter at all because Incubus!  Incubus is a band that is extremely nostalgic for me and I have been anticipating this concert for a long time.  It was my second concert of the week and it was another great show.  Brandon Boyd was as comfortable and relaxed as Billie Joe Armstrong was frenetic, rarely speaking to the crowd, but he sounded great!  Quite honestly, I could watch him all night long no matter what he did!  They got the night started with "Quicksand" and "A Kiss to Send Us Off."  I really like their latest album, 8, and they played quite a few songs from it including the hit "Nimble Bastard," along with "State of the Art," "Love in a Time of Surveillance," "Loneliest," and "Throw Out the Map."  As much as I enjoyed the new songs, I was really happy that they played my very favorites because they brought back so many memories for me.  "Love Hurts" pretty much got me through a very difficult time and I loved their rendition of it last night.  They combined another favorite, "Wish You Were Here," with Pink Floyd's song of the same name and the crowd just about went crazy!  I also enjoyed "Drive" and "Stellar" but I think my favorite moment of the night was an incredibly passionate rendition of "Here in My Room."  I loved the piano!  They rounded out their setlist with "Anna Molly," "Megalomaniac," "Pardon Me," "Dig," "Pantomime," "Sick Sad Little World," "Pistola," and they ended with "Nice to Know You."  For the encore, they came back with a mesmerizing version of "Aqueous Transmission."  It was a great evening, definitely worth sitting through lots of wind and rain!

Note:  The opening acts were Judah and the Lion and Jimmy Eat World.  I only knew one song by Judah and the Lion, "Take It All Back," but they put on an energetic show which included frontman Judah Akers running through the crowd.  Of course Jimmy Eat World played their two biggest hits, "Sweetness" and "The Middle," but I also really liked one of their new songs called "Pass the Baby."
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