Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sundance Film Festival 2017

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is wrapping up tonight and, even though I saw fewer films than I did last year, I certainly enjoyed myself this week.  Last Saturday I saw Their Finest which stars Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin as screenwriters who make a propaganda film about Dunkirk to boost morale at home and to persuade America to enter World War II.  Catrin Cole (Aterton) is hired to write the "slop," or women's perspective, and, at first, Tom Buckley (Claflin) is resentful but eventually the two discover romantic feelings for each other.  It is a predictable period piece but I really enjoyed it, especially the over-the-top performance of Bill Nighy as the aging but pompous actor Ambrose Hilliard and a hilarious cameo by Jeremy Irons.  Sunday night I saw Before I Fall.  Since I am a high school English teacher, I read a lot of young adult fiction and I loved Lauren Oliver's best-selling novel about a young girl who must relive the day of her death over and over until she learns an important lesson about living.  It is incredibly clever and authentic and this film is a great adaptation.  I especially enjoyed how director Ry Russo-Young was able to keep the repetition of the same day fresh and interesting and I enjoyed Zoey Deutch's portrayal of Samantha Kingston's journey.  I'm sure this film will appeal more to a younger crowd that the one at my screening.  On Wednesday I took my students to see Deidra and Laney Rob a Train.  Deidra (Ashleigh Murray), the valedictorian of her high school class, must assume the responsibility for her siblings after her mother is put in prison.  She figures out a way to rob the trains that run behind her house in order to pay the bills, enlisting the help of her sister Laney (Rachel Crow) while eluding her dead-beat Dad (David Sullivan), an over-zealous guidance counselor (Sasheer Zamata), and a bumbling railroad investigator (Tim Blake Nelson).  It is both funny and heart-warming and my students and I loved it!  Thursday night I saw Marjorie Prime, an atmospheric film about the fallibility of memory.  Set in the future, Marjorie (Lois Smith) is an 85-year-old woman struggling with memory loss who has been given a "prime," or hologram, of her dead husband Walter for companionship.  The hologram (Jon Hamm) can only learn about himself through the memories provided by Marjorie, their uptight daughter Tess (Geena Davis), and Tess's husband Jon (Tim Robbins) and each of their memories are colored by their emotions.  Eventually, after everyone has died, the holograms of Walter, Marjorie, and Tess have conversations with completely false memories. Despite the fact that the timeline was sometimes confusing, I found the film to be very powerful and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  Friday night I saw The Hero.  Sam Elliott is Lee Hayden, an aging actor known for the Western roles he played 40 years ago and the voice-over work he now does for a barbecue sauce, who confronts mortality after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He must deal with a resurgence in his popularity after a drug-fueled speech given at an award ceremony goes viral, an estranged ex-wife and daughter (Katharine Ross and Krysten Ritter, respectively), and a romance with a much younger woman (Laura Prepon).  The film has a common theme but it is entertaining, especially Nick Offerman's portrayal of Lee's drug dealer.  Last night I had a double-feature, beginning with A Ghost Story.  This film was a highly coveted ticket; in fact, there were more people wait-listed for this film than any other I have ever seen.  It has gotten quite a bit of buzz at the festival and I thought it was bizarre but brilliant.  Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play C and M, a young couple in love until C is killed in a car accident.  After M identifies his body, C rises from the gurney, still shrouded in a large sheet, and follows M back to the house they shared which he haunts for decades in a series of vignettes until he can leave his life behind.  Affleck literally wears a sheet, complete with eye holes, for most of the film and, after a few snickers from the audience, he somehow becomes one of the most profoundly sympathetic characters I have ever seen.  With minimal dialogue and many of the scenes consisting of long, sustained shots with very little action, it is somehow entirely compelling.  I can't think of anyone I know who would like this film but I loved it.  It is a masterpiece.  The last film I saw, Rebel in the Rye, is easily my favorite of the festival because of the subject.  It is a standard biopic about J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) and how he came to write the classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye.  What made this film so enjoyable for me is that The Catcher in the Rye is one of my very favorite novels and there are many subtle references to it in the narrative, such as having a bartender named Ernie (writer/director Danny Strong called these references "easter eggs for the superfan" in the Q & A).  I liked all of the films I saw, for different reasons, and, as always, I loved the conversations I had with other film lovers while waiting in line.  The Sundance Film Festival is definitely a great way to start the new year!

Note:  There are quite a few films that I really wanted to see but couldn't, such as The Berlin Syndrome, Golden Exits, and The Discovery, but I am sure that my favorite art house theater will eventually screen them!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sundance Student Screening 2017

The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing (a wrap-up of my Sundance experience is coming soon) and one of my favorite aspects of the festival is the opportunity to bring my students to a screening free of charge.  Yesterday I took a group to see the film Deidra and Laney Rob a Train and, despite a severe winter storm which made driving downtown a lot of fun, it was an amazing experience for both me and my students!  This field trip has become something of a tradition at Hunter High (I had kids asking me about it before Christmas break) and this year the response was overwhelming.  I asked for 50 tickets, like I usually do, but I had so many students sign up that I asked the director for more!  Even so, I still turned kids away.  I can't tell you how happy it made me to see my students so excited about independent film!  Even if I teach them nothing else, I want my students to know that there are stories that need to be told and voices that need to be heard (maybe now more than ever)!  The best part of this whole adventure is that my students absolutely loved the film!  I could hear them laughing during the screening and they talked about it all the way back to school on the bus!  Most of the students in my afternoon class were still talking about it which made some of the students who couldn't go really jealous.  I guess I'll have to request even more tickets next year because many of my sophomores asked if me if they can go again even if they are not in my class any more!  Yesterday was a good day!

Note:  Deidra and Laney Rob a Train was filmed in Utah!  I recognized the Heber Valley Railroad and my friend Adia, who came with me to help chaperone, went to Judge Memorial High School which was also featured!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Kinky Boots

I have wanted to see the musical Kinky Boots for so long!  Every time Broadway in Utah (now Broadway at the Eccles) sent out a survey to season ticket holders, I always voted for this show to come to SLC.  I even contemplated getting a ticket during my theatre trip to NYC but, by that time, I knew it was coming!  I finally got to see it last night and I loved it because it is such a fun musical about having the courage to be yourself and having the courage to accept others for who they are.  Charlie (Curt Hansen) wants nothing to do with Price & Son, his father's shoe factory, so he runs away to London.  When his father dies and leaves him the factory, he soon learns that it has been losing money for years and that he must close it and fire the workers he has known all of his life.  When he meets the drag queen Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), he decides to try and save the business by meeting the needs of an under served niche market: high-heeled boots for transvestites!  There are inevitable complications and Charlie and Lola must learn to accept each other in order for their boots to be successful.  I loved all of the music, written by Cyndi Lauper, and Ghee gives an incredible performance, especially in the songs "Not My Father's Son" and "Hold Me in Your Heart."  (Hansen is endearing but I didn't find his singing to be anything special; it hardly matters because Ghee steals the show).  The ensemble is a lot of fun, particularly Lauren (Rose Hemingway), one of the factory workers, and the transvestites who perform with Lola.  The choreography is clever and the audience cheered out loud when the cast danced on moving conveyor belts during the song "Everybody Say Yeah."  I had a lot of fun watching this show and I highly recommend that you get a ticket (go here) to one of the remaining performances through January 22 at the Eccles Theatre.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fences at PTC

Tuesday night I went to Pioneer Theatre's critically acclaimed production of Fences, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson.  As you may remember, I recently saw Denzel Washington's film adaptation and had a somewhat lukewarm reaction to it but that made me even more curious to see it on the stage.  Troy Maxson (Michael Anthony Williams) is a man with so many demons that he torments everyone around him:  his brother Gabriel (Jefferson A. Russell) who was injured in the war, his long-suffering wife Rose (Gayle Samuels), his friend Bono (Jeorge Bennett Watson), and his sons Lyons (Biko Eisen-Martin) and Cory (Jimmie "J.J." Jeter).  I still found the character of Troy to be incredibly flawed but Williams' portrayal was much more sympathetic, in my opinion.  Whereas Washington's version of Troy was always angry, I felt that Williams gave the character a certain vulnerability and his Troy was wounded rather than angry.  I think this story is much better suited to the immediacy and intimacy of the stage and this is especially true of the fence.  All of the action takes place in the yard which makes Troy's environment much more claustrophobic than in the film version.  In the final scenes, the stage is dominated by the fence with Troy inside the yard and all of the other characters on the other side.  It is extremely powerful and serves to highlight Troy's isolation.  I highly recommend this outstanding production which runs at PTC through January 21.  Tickets may be purchased here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sherlock

I absolutely love the PBS series Sherlock.  First of all, I find Benedict Cumberbatch to be strangely appealing.  I don't know what it is but there is just something about him (I've heard him called the thinking woman's sex symbol!) and the "high functioning sociopath" Sherlock Holmes is the perfect character for him.  In addition, I find the premise of the series, a modern-day update of the beloved stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to be incredibly clever.  As a fan of the source material, I love finding elements from the canon.  The obvious ones are the episodes "A Study in Pink," based on the story "A Study in Scarlet,"  "A Scandal in Belgravia," based on the story "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Hounds of Baskerville," based on the story "The Hound of the Barskervilles," and "The Reichenbach Fall" based on the story "The Final Problem."  However, there are lots of other subtle references, as well, and I love it when I figure them out.  My favorite is when they make a passing reference to a past case called "The Speckled Blonde" which comes from the story "The Speckled Band."  I could watch each episode over and over to find more references (yes, I am aware that I am a complete nerd).  I have been a fan since the first episode aired but Marilyn recently discovered Seasons 1-3 on Netflix.  She sent me a text gushing about the series to which I responded that I have been talking about it for years!  We have both been binge watching the first three seasons and texting each other quotes as we watch (see the comment about my nerd status above).  Then we discovered the PBS app on our fire stick (the best Christmas present ever) and binge watched Season 4.  Monday night we took our Mom (who has also become a fan) to see the Season 4 Finale on the big screen.  After the explosive events of Season 4, we were really looking forward to the finale and, oh my goodness, it did not disappoint!  I loved this episode (I don't want to say much, only one word: Redbeard) and, if the rumors are true and this is the end of the series, it is a good conclusion (but there is the possibility for it to continue).  This episode will be screened again in theaters tonight through Fathom Events and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of the series.  It was amazing to see it on the big screen but you can stream it on PBS, too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bowling

Over the long weekend, Sean requested that we have an outing and he suggested bowling because that is the only sport that Marilyn can play (we laughed and laughed over that!).  So yesterday we convinced Tashena to join us and headed over to Orchard Lanes.  We got the two-hour unlimited pass and ended up playing four games!
Bowling is a lot of fun (I'm more noted for my power than my accuracy), especially with Sean and Tashena.  Sean is an absolute riot!  Tashena won the first game, Marilyn inexplicably won the second game, Tashena won the third game, and I won the fourth (I was just getting my mojo).  It was more fun than should be allowed on a Monday morning!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hidden Figures

Last night my parents took me and my sister to see the movie Hidden Figures (we are reinstating movie night in the new year).  I suggested this particular movie because Octavia Spencer is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for her performance and, even though my parents weren't very enthusiastic, they ended up loving it as did I.  It is a feel-good movie that will have you cheering.  It tells the true story of Katherine Johnson (Teraji P. Henson),  Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), three brilliant African-American mathematicians working at NASA during the space race.  Johnson is asked to compute the trajectories for John Glenn's historic orbit around the earth and the crowd cheered out loud when Glenn  (Glen Powell) rejects the numbers computed by the IBM and asks for the "girl" to check the figures before he will agree to the launch.  There is also an extremely powerful moment when the head of the Space Task Force (Kevin Costner) learns that Johnson has been walking to the colored bathroom, in another building quite a distance away, and then destroys the sign outside the colored bathroom declaring that everyone pees the same color at NASA.  Vaughan secretly learns how to program the new IBM (while the employees of IBM are unable to get it running) and eventually becomes the first African-American supervisor at NASA.  Another cheer-out-loud moment came when Vaughan's supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) calls her Mrs. Vaughan rather than Dorothy.  Finally, Jackson is assigned to work with one of NASA's best engineers and, when he suggests that she become an engineer herself, she must fight to be allowed to attend an all-white school.  The crowd cheered again when she won her court case.  All three women give very affecting performances (I actually had tears in my eyes several times) in an incredibly compelling story.  I loved it, my family loved it, and the audience, judging by the incredible applause at the end, loved it, too.  I highly recommend this inspiring movie!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fences

On New Year's Eve I went to see Fences, an adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.  Troy Maxson (Washington) is a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh living with his wife Rose (Davis) and his son Cory (Jovan Adepo).  The fence he is perpetually building with his son becomes a metaphor for how trapped he feels and he lashes out against the people in his life.  Troy is a despicable character who does despicable things such as sabotaging his son's chance for a football scholarship because he is bitter about his own lost opportunity to play baseball, cheating on his wife and forcing her to take in his illegitimate daughter, and swindling his disabled brother (Mykelti Williamson) out of his war pension.  It was very difficult for me to watch Denzel Washington, an actor I have always liked and admired, play such an unsympathetic character but his performance is brilliant.  The same could be said of Viola Davis.  I had difficulty with her character, as well, because, although she confronts her husband about his behavior (in an incredibly powerful scene which, no doubt, secured her the Golden Globe), she becomes his apologist after his death.  In the end it is a movie about a flawed man who ultimately gets redemption for hurting the people in his life because he himself has been hurt.  I didn't like this resolution because, in my opinion, he doesn't deserve redemption.   Despite the lauded performances of Washington and Davis, it's not a movie I would recommend.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is garnering a lot of attention for the outstanding performance of Andrew Garfield and Mel Gibson's direction so, of course, I wanted to see it.  This late in the run, it was only being screened at one theater late at night but it was definitely worth the effort.  It tells the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss (Garfield), a Seventh-Day Adventist who feels compelled to enlist in World War II despite the fact that he refuses to kill or even handle a firearm.  He hopes that, as a conscientious objector, he will be allowed to be a medic.  However, during basic training, he is tormented by the men in his company and his commanding officers, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), try to have him discharged.  Later, his company is sent to the Pacific to relieve the decimated troops in the Battle of Okinawa.  When his company is forced to retreat, Doss goes back to rescue the wounded, ultimately saving 75 men, many of whom called him a coward.  There is also a secondary story involving Desmond's courtship of a nurse named Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) that is very sweet.  This movie is absolutely incredible and the battle scenes are intense and unrelenting (I've heard that veterans who have seen it describe it as very accurate).  Garfield is incredible and the scenes of him being bullied and beaten during basic training are quite affecting and his scenes with Dorothy are adorable.  I was also very impressed by Hugo Weaving's performance as Tom Doss, a man shattered by the events of the First World War who must watch both of his sons enlist in a new war.  This movie is difficult to watch (I liken it to Saving Private Ryan) but the story of one man's courage is definitely compelling and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Collateral Beauty

On Wednesday night during winter break, I went with my sister to see Collateral Beauty (why, yes, that was my third movie of the day!).  This movie has been much maligned by critics but both Marilyn and I enjoyed it.  Howard Inlet (Will Smith) is a New York ad executive who credits three abstractions for his success:  love, because everyone needs it; time, because everyone wants more of it; and death, because everyone fears it.  After the tragic death of his young daughter, he retreats from the world and begins writing letters to these abstractions.  His colleagues Whit Yardsham (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet), and Simon Scott (Michael Pena), worried that his behavior is costing them clients, hire three unemployed actors to personify these abstractions.  Aimee (Keira Knightley), Raffi (Jacob Latimore), and Brigitte (Helen Mirren) portray Love, Time, and Death, respectively, and not only bring peace to Howard, but help Whit, who is struggling with his relationship with his estranged daughter; Claire, who laments the fact that she has spent all of her time focused on her career rather than starting a family; and Simon, who is battling terminal cancer.  One of the reasons I loved Manchester by the Sea, which also deals with the loss of a child, is that the grief is not magically abated at the end of the movie for a happy ending as it is in Collateral Beauty.  However, while the final scenes are contrived, they are also quite affecting and they did bring tears to my eyes (Marilyn was a blubbering mess).  I really enjoyed all of the performances, especially Mirren who was incredibly funny.  I recommend that you see Collateral Beauty for a feel-good movie to lift your spirits (but see Manchester by the Sea for a gritty and honest portrayal of grief).

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

I interrupt my regularly scheduled commentaries on the movies I saw over winter break to tell you about the wonderful concert I saw last night at Abravanel Hall (and suggest that you go here to get a ticket to tonight's performance of the same program).  The Utah Symphony began with Symphony No. 2 by Charles Ives.  Ives is a quintessentially American composer and, just like the European composers who referenced epic myths in their works, he used the folktales and melodies of New England with which his audiences would have been very familiar.  Modern-day audiences enjoy finding all of the references (I was only able to recognize "America the Beautiful").  I really enjoyed this piece, especially the second movement which featured a beautiful theme played by a solo cello.  After the intermission, the orchestra played Variations for Orchestra by Anton Webern.  I was unfamiliar with both this piece and this composer and, on the surface it seemed very discordant, but underneath it there was a sort of beauty in the chaos.   Then came the piece I had been looking forward to all week: Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto.  I really love the Russian composers in general and Tchaikovsky in particular and this piece is brilliant.  I absolutely loved it, especially the second movement because it is so passionate and mournful with a lovely theme played by a solo clarinet.  Violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley performed it magnificently (there was thunderous applause after the first movement).  I find it ironic that the violinist for whom the piece was composed declared it "unplayable" because Bendix-Balgley made it look effortless.  He favored us with an encore by playing a piece by Bach which was lovely.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself last night, despite having a terrible cold.  Ugh!

Note:  My movie commentaries will resume tomorrow.  There are three more!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Nocturnal Animals

The second half of my double-feature was the strangely compelling psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals.  Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, a successful, but profoundly unhappy, Los Angeles gallery owner.  She receives a copy of a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and slowly becomes obsessed with it.  This film has a story-within-a-story as the novel is acted out as Susan reads it.  In the novel, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), along with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber), is hijacked by a gang of thugs, led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), on a remote road in the West Texas desert.  His wife and daughter are forced into the gang's car and are eventually raped and murdered.  Tony works with Lt. Bobby Anders (Michael Shannon) to find the culprits but there is not enough evidence to convict them so they end up meting out their own kind of justice.  Because the novel is dedicated to her, Susan believes that Edward wrote it for revenge because she left him for another man and aborted their unborn child.  She is also strangely attracted to Edward again but, like the character of Tony, Edward ultimately gets his revenge.  This is film-noir at its best with lots of Hitchcockian moments which kept me on the edge of my seat.  To be sure, it is quite strange (the opening alone may be off-putting to many) but I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.  Adams, Gyllenhaal, Shannon, and Taylor-Johnson (who is nominated for a Golden Globe) give outstanding performances and Tom Ford's direction is visually stunning.  I highly recommend it (but it is weird).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Moonlight

Last Wednesday I spent the day at the Tower theater, a small art house theater in the ninth and ninth district of SLC, for another double-feature of films garnering Oscar buzz.  I began with Moonlight, an achingly beautiful coming of age film about a boy searching for his identity in modern-day Miami.  The film explores three pivotal moments in the life of Chiron, beginning when he is a shy and withdrawn child (Alex Hibbert) known as "Little."  His mother (the brilliant Naomie Harris) is a crack addict and he is bullied at school when he is befriended by Juan (Mahershala Ali) who tells him that he gets to decide what kind of life he will have.  Little spends more and more time with Juan, viewing him as a mentor, until he learns that Juan is a drug dealer who supplies his mother.  Next, we see the teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is the target of a particularly cruel bully at school and an increasingly abusive mother.  He becomes friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) and they become intimate.  Kevin betrays Chiron when he is forced to beat him in a hazing incident.  Finally, the adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now known as "Black," is a tough, hardened, and disillusioned drug-dealer.  In an incredibly poignant scene, he makes peace with his mother who is in rehab and reunites with Kevin (Andre Holland).  It is a difficult film to watch but it does end with hope for Chiron.  I was particularly struck by Hibbert's portrayal of Little Chiron, especially the scene where he boils water by himself to take a bath.  It was heartbreaking for me to watch Little Chiron because he reminded me so much of Sean when he was little.  I loved this beautiful film and I highly recommend it.  However, the subject matter might be difficult for some.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Lion

Another film that is getting a lot of Oscar buzz is Lion so I saw it after the screening of Jackie in a double-feature (I love spending the day at the Broadway).  This film tells the incredible true story of one boy's journey to find his home.  Five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) accompanies his older brother to look for work but falls asleep on a bench in a train station.  His brother leaves him there telling him that he will be back for him soon.  Saroo gets on a train hoping for a more comfortable place to sleep but the train begins moving with him trapped inside.  The train stops in Calcutta, thousands of miles from home, where Saroo wanders the streets for months before being adopted by an affluent Australian couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman).  Twenty years later Saroo (Dev Patel) embarks on a course in restaurant management and meets a group of Indian students who spark his meager childhood memories.  He becomes obsessed with finding his family by using Google Earth.  I love the scene where he finally finds his village and, as he uses the satellite to view the streets, there are flashbacks of him as a child running along those same streets.  I also love the very poignant scene between Patel and Kidman when Saroo tells his adopted mother that he has been searching for his birth mother (made even more affecting by the fact that Kidman is an adoptive mother herself).  I did find Rooney Mara's role as Saroo's girlfriend to be rather superfluous.  She breaks up with him when his search becomes obsessive and has a tearful moment with him when he finds his family but she doesn't do much else to advance the plot.  There is the predictable reunion scene between Saroo and his mother followed by actual footage of the real-life Saroo with both his mothers but I found these moments to be very well done and incredibly heart-warming.  I really enjoyed this film and I highly recommend it.

Note:  Throughout the entire film, I kept wondering why it was called Lion.  When the reason was explained in the epilogue, it brought spontaneous tears to my eyes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Jackie

I love this time of year because this is the time when the Broadway screens all of the films generating Oscar buzz.  No one is getting more buzz than Natalie Portman for her performance in Jackie so this film was high on my list to see over winter break.  It follows Jackie Kennedy (Portman) in the days after her husband's assassination through flashbacks during an interview given to Theodore White (Billy Crudup) for Life magazine.  We see Jackie during the immediate aftermath of the shooting in Dallas, witnessing the oath of office administered to Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) aboard Air Force One, telling the children about their father's death, making preparations for the funeral, and leaving the White House after her efforts to restore it.  Through it all, Jackie expresses her profound grief and demands that JFK's legacy be protected.  Portman gives the performance of her career and I literally could not take my eyes off her. She physically resembles Jackie Kennedy but it is the voice which sells the performance, particularly during the filming of the White House tour.  I was also struck by the scene between Jackie and a priest (John Hurt) where she discusses JFK's infidelities and the scene where she drunkenly relives her shining moments in the White House by going to each room in the clothing she wore for those occasions.  The score by Mica Levi is incredibly stirring but it is the use of the music from the Broadway musical Camelot that is especially dramatic.  I highly recommend this film for Portman's brilliant portrayal of the enigmatic former First Lady.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Passengers

I have had the best winter break ever, spending the majority of my time in darkened theaters.  In fact, in between Christmas and New Year's Day I saw ten movies (including La La Land for the third time and Rogue One for the third time).  I will write about them this week and I'll start with Passengers, which all of the girls in my family saw downtown at the Gateway the day after Christmas.  I found this movie to be incredibly entertaining and we all really enjoyed it.  Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is in suspended animation aboard the starship Avalon on a journey to the colony Homestead II when a catastrophic event inadvertently awakens him 90 years too early.  The starship is equipped with every conceivable luxury (for the passengers to enjoy after they awaken three months prior to landing) and, at first, Jim enjoys himself.  He tries to figure out how to put himself back into suspended animation but soon realizes that there is no way.  He does, however, learn how to awaken others.   Distraught at the thought of living out his life alone, he becomes obsessed with passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and makes the agonizing decision to wake her up.  As they grow closer, the ship begins to slowly malfunction.  Will Aurora learn of Jim's duplicity in her awakening?  Will they be able to repair the malfunctioning ship?  This is a sleek and stylized sci-fi thriller with incredible special effects, especially the pool scene when the ship loses gravity, but the romance is also quite affecting due to the chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Michael Sheen's performance as Arthur, a droid bartender (the scenes where Jim talks to Arthur reminded me of similar scenes in The Shining).  My Mom, my sisters, Tashena and I had a great time watching this movie and I recommend it for what it is: escapist entertainment (If you want a more philosophical exploration of space travel, see Arrival).
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