Showing posts with label Salt Lake Film Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salt Lake Film Society. Show all posts

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Call Me By Your Name

Several of my friends saw Call Me By Your Name at Sundance last year and were blown away by it so I have been eagerly anticipating its wide release for what seems like such a long time!  I finally got to see it last night because Salt Lake Film Society brought it to SLC a week earlier than planned.  This film left me an emotional mess and I'm pretty sure that I will be seeing it several more times.  Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) is spending the summer in Northern Italy with his family when Oliver (Armie Hammer), a doctoral student, comes to stay to assist his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is a professor of archaeology.  Elio develops feelings for Oliver and awkwardly tries to gauge his feelings, even beginning a relationship with a girl (Esther Garrel) to make him jealous.  The scenes between Elio and Oliver are long and drawn out but they are fraught with so much tension (Chalamet and Hammer have unbelievable chemistry) until they finally begin a physical relationship.  Eventually, Oliver must go home which leaves Elio brokenhearted but, in what is arguably the best scene in the film, his father tells him that it is better to feel sad than to feel nothing at all and that he should be grateful to have had such a special relationship because they are rare.  In my opinion this is one of the best coming of age films about first love ever made and, if you have ever loved someone that you can't be with, you definitely need to see it.  I started crying when Elio says goodbye to Oliver at the train station and I was a complete mess by the end credits. Timothee Chalamet is absolutely brilliant in this role and, as much as Gary Oldman impressed me as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, I think Chalamet is deserving of the Oscar for the final shot alone.  His quiet restraint as he cries after hearing some devastating news simply shattered me.  The cinematography is beautiful, almost making the lush countryside a character itself, and, while I loved the songs by Sufjan Stevens which are so evocative, the use of "Love My Way" by The Psychedelic Furs pretty much did me in (it is a favorite from my youth and many memories came rushing back to me of high school).  It is an amazing film and I highly recommend it!

Note:  If I had seen this before the end of the year, my Top Ten list would be different.  This film is definitely up there with A Ghost Story and Personal Shopper.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I, Tonya

My first movie of 2018 was I, Tonya and, boy, did I pick a good one to start the year!  It is a dark comedy about the real life Olympic figure skater who rose to notoriety through the actions of the idiots surrounding her.  The narrative is told though present day interviews of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and her estranged mother LaVona (a brilliant Allison Janney) interspersed with flashbacks to events in Tonya's life, including the "incident."  The fact that all three of them are unreliable narrators makes this one wild ride and I loved it when the characters broke the fourth wall to make snarky comments to the audience about the goings-on.  This movie is very funny and over the top but I also found Harding to be an incredibly sympathetic character (which, remembering this incident vividly, I was not expecting).  Tonya went from one horribly abusive relationship with her mother to another one with her husband.  She was an incredibly gifted skater but, because she couldn't afford to maintain the image the U.S. Figure Skating Association wanted to project (she sewed her own costumes), she was often judged unfairly.  Her environment was so unstable that it really is a wonder that she was able to rise above it all to compete at the highest levels of her sport.  I was really struck by the scene of a young Tonya begging her father to take her with him when he leaves her mother and the scene where Tonya begs the judge to let her do jail time rather than ban her from competitive skating for life is very poignant.  However, the scene that resonated with me the most was just before her long program at the Lillehammer Olympics when the lace on her skate breaks and she is forced to begin or be disqualified.  Her panic and despair was difficult for me to watch because I remember thinking that she was such a prima donna when I watched this event live.  It is so easy to judge someone without knowing all of the circumstances.  Robbie gives an amazing performance (she even learned how to skate!) but Janney bats it out of the park by giving a monstrous character just a bit of humanity (the scene where she watches Tonya skate at the U.S. Championships on TV is brilliant).  I highly recommend this movie!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Disaster Artist

There are good movies and bad movies and then there are movies that are so bad they become good and gain a cult following.  For me that movie is Flash Gordon but for many people it is The Room, which still has midnight screenings around the country and audience participation that rivals The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  On New Year's Eve I saw The Disaster Artist which is about the making of The Room and it is absolutely hilarious.  Not only is it an homage to the relentless pursuit of your dream against all odds and despite what everyone tells you, but it is also an affecting story of a friendship.  Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class and they soon become friends after bonding over the movie Rebel Without a Cause.  Tommy is eccentric (to say the least) and of an indeterminate age with mysterious origins (he says he is from Louisiana) and a seemingly limitless source of income but he somehow convinces Greg to move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of acting.  After much rejection Tommy decides to make is own movie as a vehicle for Greg.   He writes the script, buys his own equipment rather than renting it, hires a production team, auditions actors, and begins filming in some highly amusing scenes.  The shoot is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is Tommy's inability to remember his lines (which he wrote), but somehow the movie is completed and given a premiere (paid for by Tommy).  The two friends are estranged at this point but Greg comes to the premiere.  When the movie isn't received as Tommy intended, there is a touching moment when Greg tells him that not many people get to live out a dream and to be proud of what he has created.  I laughed and laughed at this movie (as did everyone in my packed screening) but I also really enjoyed the message of pursuing your dreams.  I loved Josh Hutcherson and Zac Efron is characters in The Room and Seth Rogen (hit or miss with me) as the exasperated script supervisor but James Franco does a brilliant job portraying such a bizarre character without turning him into a caricature.  It was a lot of fun to see side by side shots of scenes from The Room with the same scenes filmed for this movie during the credits.  Last New Year's Eve I saw the film Fences and I can definitely say that seeing The Disaster Artist was an infinitely more enjoyable experience!  I highly recommend it!

Note:  I haven't seen The Room but now that I've seen The Disaster Artist, I really want to.  Fathom Events is sponsoring a special screening tomorrow (go here for info) and I can't wait!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Darkest Hour

Winter break is now over and I am back at school but, like last year, I happily spent much of it in a darkened theater.  In the next few weeks I will review all of the movies that I saw and I will start with Darkest Hour.  As Western Europe is collapsing under the onslaught of German tanks, the narrative begins with Winston Churchill's (Gary Oldman) appointment as Prime Minister of Great Britain and follows his first pivotal months in office as he faces opposition in his own party from politicians who want a negotiated peace with Germany and a King who does not support him to the miraculous evacuation of Dunkirk.  I really liked the stirring speeches given to Parliament (the "We shall fight them on the beaches" speech is absolutely electrifying) and to the public on the radio juxtaposed with moments of private doubt with his fiery wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his long-suffering secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).  It is also interesting to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the decisions that impacted the world were made in underground bunkers and I absolutely loved the scenes where Churchill talks to the ordinary citizens in the underground.  Even though this film involves a lot of back room discussions, it was surprisingly tense and my attention never wavered.  Oldman gives an absolutely brilliant performance in the title role which is worthy of all of the accolades he has won and will, undoubtedly, win.  Many might find the pace to be slow and it does require some intellectual engagement but I highly recommend this film to history aficionados everywhere.

Note:  I find it interesting that the evacuation of Dunkirk was the subject of three films this year (this as well as Dunkirk and Their Finest).

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Shape of Water

Saturday night I took a break from my regularly scheduled viewings of The Last Jedi to see another film I have been anticipating for months.  The trailers for The Shape of Water were absolutely luminous and I couldn't wait to see it!   It is a fantasy set during the height of the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  A humanoid fish captured in the Amazon is brought to a government research lab in Baltimore by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) to be studied for application in space travel because it can breathe both air and water.  Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at the facility, sees the "asset" and befriends it with hard-boiled eggs and Jazz music.  Soon they become close and Elisa decides to help it escape after the government decides to dissect it for study, enlisting the help of her coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), and a scientist at the facility who has misgivings about the project (Michael Stuhlbarg).  It is a beautiful love story and what I loved about it is that the misfits triumph over conformity.  Strikland is the quintessential soldier in mainstream America with a wife and two children in the suburbs and a Cadillac but he is a despicable character and I loved the symbolism of his decaying fingers.  All of the other characters mirror the otherness of the humanoid.  Giles is a closeted gay man who is also an out of work commercial artist struggling with alcoholism.  Zelda is an African-American woman, downtrodden by an abusive husband, who is too lowly even to merit being questioned by Strickland.  Dr. Hoffstetler is a Soviet spy, disillusioned when ordered by his superiors to kill the humanoid to stop the Americans from getting information.  Elisa is, perhaps, my favorite character because her muteness makes her so isolated and I love that she lives above an old movie theater and watches old movies (the sequence where she and the humanoid reenact an old Busby Berkeley type musical made me smile) to escape her tedious routine.  Sally Hawkins is absolutely brilliant in an entirely physical role.  She conveys so much emotion in just a gaze.  I loved that the entire film seems to be suffused in shades of blue-green and the score is beautiful (Alexandre Desplat can do no wrong in my opinion).  This movie may not be for everyone (nudity, sex, and violence) but I loved it and I highly recommend it!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Last Flag Flying

One of the things I really enjoy about Richard Linklater's films is that they are all very character-driven and his latest, Last Flag Flying, is no exception.  This time Linklater gives us a trio Vietnam veterans, each with an interesting and compelling backstory, who reunite after 30 years to escort the son of one of their own home after he is killed in Iraq.  Steve Carell plays Larry Shepherd, a man almost debilitated by grief who enlists the help of his old buddies to get him through his son's burial.  Carell gives a quiet and understated performance which is one of his best to date.  Bryan Cranston is Sal Nealon, a hard drinking and skirt chasing man who is as garrulous and boisterous as Shepherd is subdued.   Cranston gives an over the top performance which provides much of the levity in an otherwise somber narrative.  Rounding out the cast is Laurence Fishburne who plays Richard Mueller, a Baptist minister exasperated by Nealon's antics.  Fishburne gives an incredibly reserved performance as a man who regrets much of his past.  As is the case with most Linklater films, this one is at its best when the three men are sitting around reminiscing and ruminating on grief, friendship, and patriotism.  The action does plod along in the final act (I admit that I was nodding off) but the flag-folding ceremony at the funeral is absolutely beautiful and the ending is incredibly poignant and brought a tear to my eye.  I highly recommend this film for the strong central performances.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Last night I had the chance to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film that is generating a lot of buzz and for good reason.  It is a dark comedy that is literally seething with unresolved anger, resentment, and bad behavior and I loved it.  Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is angry that her daughter's rape and murder hasn't been solved yet and, hoping to keep the case in the spotlight, she hires three billboards which highlight the incompetence of the police force, specifically targeting the revered chief of police Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).  The entire police force takes exception to this, especially Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and this ignites an all-out war in the small community which proves very difficult for Mildred's teenage son Robbie (Lucas Hedges).  All of the characters are deeply flawed and their antics are often completely over the top but I found them to be very compelling.  It was actually quite refreshing to see a character give vent to her emotions because I sometimes find it unrealistic when characters behave nobly in untenable situations.  However, the ambiguous ending is somewhat hopeful because two wounded people are able to find forgiveness and redemption with each other.  The script is outstanding!  I found myself laughing often (especially in the scene between Mildred and her priest) and then holding back tears just a few moments later.  Frances McDormand gives an incredible performance that is sure to be remembered come awards season but I was pretty much blown away by Sam Rockwell in an against type role and I found his character's arc to be incredibly affecting.  Lucas Hedges is accumulating quite the resume (Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird) of solid performances and Woody Harrelson is great, as always.  I enjoyed this film very much and I would highly recommend it with the proviso that there is a lot of profanity.

Note:  I love this time of year!  I want to see everything currently playing at the Broadway!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Lady Bird

Ever since the film Lady Bird got glowing reviews at TIFF I have been eagerly anticipating its release at my favorite art house theater and I finally had the chance to see it yesterday.  I thought that I would probably love it because I am a huge fan of Greta Gerwig's particular brand of humor (go here and here) and I have loved every one of Saoirse Ronan's performances since I saw her in Atonement but I was unprepared for the deep emotional connection that I had to the film.  It perfectly captures the narcissism of youth as it follows Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Ronan) throughout her senior year of high school as she struggles to assert her independence and yearns to leave her hometown and her critical mother behind.  What I loved most about this typical coming-of-age story is that two flawed people, who have an incredibly combative relationship, are finally able to realize how much they love each other.  Ronan is brilliant as is Laurie Metcalf (who plays the mother) and the scene where she drives away from the airport is completely shattering.  I also really enjoyed Lucas Hedges (who is outstanding in Manchester by the Sea) as Danny, her theatre geek boyfriend, and Beanie Feldstein as Julie, her best friend, especially in the scene where Lady Bird and Julie listen to "Crash Into Me" by the Dave Matthews Band as they commiserate over their failed romances.  Everything about this film feels so authentic because the script is incredibly well-written and the ending, especially, made me emotional because it completely mirrored my own experience of going away to college.  I laughed and cried and, when I walked out of the theater, I wanted to call my Mom and thank her for everything she has done for me (even though she always criticized my hair).  I loved this movie so much and I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wonderstruck

Yesterday afternoon I went to see the film Wonderstruck and let me say at the outset that it is not for everyone.  I am quite sure that many people will find it tedious and boring but I, however, found it to be a lovely and often magical meditation on the need for human connection.  The story is about two children, both deaf, who travel to New York City fifty years apart looking for a lost loved one.  In 1927, Rose (Utah native Millicent Simmonds) takes the ferry from New Jersey looking for her mother (Julianne Moore) who abandoned her to be a silent film star.  In 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) travels by bus from Minnesota looking for the father he has never known.  After following a series of clues they both end up at the Museum of Natural History looking for an exhibit known as the Cabinet of Curiosities.  Scenes seem very episodic and there were many times when I wondered what the narrative was leading up to.  There is a connection but it is a little bit understated and, once I knew what it was, I realized that it really didn't matter.  It is more about the process of discovery, of finding out who you are and where you belong before you can find who you are looking for.  There are some achingly beautiful scenes of Rose wandering the city with such a sense of wonder on her face (Simmonds, who is actually deaf, is wonderful) at everything she is seeing and Ben has similar scenes exploring the museum.  The added dynamic of having deaf children as the protagonists made what they were seeing all the more poignant and there are long stretches of this film where there is no dialogue so the audience is forced to focus on the visual as well.  Speaking of which, the cinematography is enchanting.  The scenes in 1927 are in black and white and have the aesthetic of an old silent film while the scenes in 1977 are suffused with a soft golden hue, almost like a Polaroid photo from that era.  This film is like its own Cabinet of Curiosities:  some people are going to love it and marvel at everything there is to see and some people are going to be bored and want to find a more exciting exhibit.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

LBJ

Last night I went to the Broadway once again to see LBJ and I hate to admit it but I was a bit disappointed.   The film begins on that fateful day in November when President Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) is assassinated and Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) assumes the presidency.  Then the film flashes back to when Johnson was the most powerful member of the Democratic Party as Senate Majority Leader only to lose all of his power once he becomes the Vice President.  Despite a fantastic performance by Harrelson, as well as one from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird, my biggest problem with the film is that it really isn't about Johnson.  Rather, it is about the Kennedys.  The script takes great pains to point out that Johnson was thwarted at every turn by the Kennedys, starting with losing the 1960 presidential nomination to John Kennedy then being relegated to a bit player at the White House by Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and finally having the first days of his presidency overshadowed by the nation's grief over President Kennedy's death.  The film ends with President Johnson giving a speech to a joint session of Congress advocating for President Kennedy's Civil Rights Act.  His one shining moment in the film is fighting for President Kennedy's legacy.  Then we see a few seconds of text on the screen outlining everything Johnson was able to accomplish during his presidency such as his Great Society legislation, Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, as well is his disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War.  I wish the filmmakers had focused on that.  I also felt that for being a biopic about such a bombastic character it was rather dull.  There is a lot of talking and many of the characters are difficult to distinguish from each other.  My mind definitely wandered.  The most stirring moment came during Johnson's speech when the film was practically over.   I would recommend giving this one a miss.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most provocative directors currently working.  His film The Lobster definitely generated more conversations with people in line for screenings at Sundance two years ago than any other film I saw.  Honestly, I still think about it and I am certain that I will be thinking about his latest film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, for a long time to come.  Cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) begins spending time with Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of one of his patients who died.  Their relationship is very undefined until Martin insinuates himself into Steven's life which makes him uncomfortable.  Soon his children fall ill with a strange paralysis.  We learn that Steven may have been responsible for the death of Martin's father and, seeking justice, Martin demands that Steven kill a member of his family or all three of them, including his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), will eventually die of their illnesses.  The narrative is deeply disturbing on so many levels and some of the images are absolutely horrifying and yet I could not look away!   Every single shot evokes such a sense of menace and the crescendo of strings at key moments adds to the general unease.  I found myself nervously laughing several times.  Farrell is absolutely brilliant, speaking the oddly stilted dialogue in a monotone voice which serves to highlight his detachment from everyone and everything (he even has his wife pretend to be under anesthesia when he has sex with her).  This makes his emotional undoing all the more powerful.  Kidman gives an incredibly intense and chilling performance as a woman who can't quite accept the fact that her perfect life is crumbling around her and Keoghan gives one of the best performances I've seen this year as a twitchy teenage psychopath.  It is definitely not for everyone (I can't remember when I've felt more uncomfortable watching a film) but it is bold and brilliant.  Whether you love it or hate it, I guarantee that you will have a strong reaction to it and, in my mind, that is what the best films are able to do!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Loving Vincent

After spending Saturday night seeing a blockbuster at the megaplex I went for something totally different on Sunday afternoon.  I saw the independent film Loving Vincent at my favorite art house theater and I was completely captivated by this beautiful and heartbreaking film!  Every one of the frames of this film was hand painted by over 100 artists to mimic the style of Vincent Van Gogh so the images on the screen are absolutely dazzling.  I was spellbound by the beauty of what I was seeing!   I also really enjoyed the narrative about the last weeks of Vincent Van Gogh's life.  Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) is tasked by the Postmaster, his father, to deliver a letter written by Vincent to his brother Theo Van Gogh.  Roulin travels to Paris but when he learns that Theo has also died, he travels to Auvers, where Vincent died, to interview everyone who knew him during his final weeks.  What I loved about this portrayal is that Vincent is not depicted as a madman but as a profoundly lonely man who had a sensitive soul and felt things deeply.  There is a scene between Roulin and Marguerite (Soairse Ronin), the daughter of Vincent's doctor, that had me sobbing.  I also loved this film because it doesn't definitively answer the question of how Vincent died because his life is more important than his death (which is what Marguerite conveys so beautifully in that pivotal scene).  I also loved that this portrait is not from Vincent's point of view (which is how other biopics tend to present his life) because there is no way we can fully understand this enigmatic artist and the story is as much about Roulin's journey as it is Vincent's.  His paintings must speak for themselves and I have always loved his paintings!   I absolutely loved this film, as well, (I suspect that I will be haunted by it for some time to come).  I highly recommend it!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin

I went to see an early matinee of Goodbye Christopher Robin yesterday (there aren't enough hours in the day so I had to fit it in when I could).  It tells the story of how the beloved classic Winnie-the-Pooh came into existence.  After World War I the playwright A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns from battle suffering from shell shock.  He decides to move to the country for some peace despite his wife Dapne's (Margot Robbie) strenuous objections.  When Daphne decides to return to her socialite lifestyle in London and the nanny (Kelly MacDonald) is called away to tend to her mother, Milne is left on his own with his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston).  The two share an enchanted few weeks together roaming through the woods surrounding their house with Christopher Robin's stuffed animals.  These adventures becomes the basis of a story which is eventually published to world-wide acclaim.  The fame and adulation eventually takes a toll on the young boy who cannot escape the pressure of being Christopher Robin.  Milne achieves his greatest success but at what cost?  This is a very conventional biopic but I absolutely loved it and, at one point, I was in tears.  It is a lovely story about the relationship between a father and a son with great performances by Gleeson, Robbie, and an adorable Tilston.  The film is simply gorgeous, especially in the sun-dappled woods, and the scenes where Christopher Robin's stuffed animals come to life are enchanting and whimsical.  I did feel that the events of the older Christopher Robin's (Alex Lawther) life were really rushed but this is exactly the type of movie that I really enjoy and I highly recommend it.

Note:  Gleeson reminded me so much of Julian Sands in this role.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Florida Project

Tangerine, a film about a transgender prostitute who roams the streets of Los Angeles on Christmas Eve looking for the boyfriend (pimp) who cheated on her while she was in prison, is Sean Baker's hilarious and heartbreaking debut.  It is a brilliant portrayal of a subculture rarely shown on the screen and I admired its authenticity (it was shot using an iPhone).  Baker's follow-up, The Florida Project, is no less brilliant.  This time his subject is a group of children who live in the cheap hotels that line the freeway leading to Disney World with the dysfunctional adults in their lives.  Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) knows that she is living in poverty but she chooses to turn every day into an imaginative adventure, whether it is getting customers at an ice cream stand to buy her a cone or wandering into a nearby field to look at cows (otherwise known as going on safari).  Her young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) can't get a job and struggles to pay the weekly rent at the motel by selling perfume to the wealthy tourists on the way to Disney World (as well as other unsavory things).  Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the manager of the motel who clearly has his own demons, takes a proprietary interest in both Halley and Moonee and there is a brilliant scene where he chases away a pedophile who has taken an interest in the children.  Everything in the film is from Moonee's perspective and her life seems magical without ever ignoring the desperation of her situation.  This tonal balancing act is what makes this film so brilliant.  We see Moonee do many things multiple times and yet my attention never wavered.  I found Halley to be an incredibly sympathetic character.  Even though she does some truly reprehensible things I think it is best to reserve judgment to really see how she, like many people living in the margins of society, copes the best she can.  Brooklynn Prince is wonderful and I would say that this is one of Dafoe's best performances yet.  My favorite moment in the film is when Moonee says,"Do you know why this is my favorite tree?  Because it is tipped over and still growing."  That, in a nutshell, is what this amazing film is all about.  It is not for everyone but it is one of my favorite films of the year!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tulip Fever

I really love period dramas and, despite everything I had heard, I still thought I might like Tulip Fever so I went to see it last night.  It looked absolutely beautiful in the previews and it has a stellar cast so how bad could it be?  It is pretty bad.  Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is an orphan essentially sold to Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy merchant, because he is desperate for an heir.  She fails to produce said heir but he treats her kindly.  He hires Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), a struggling artist, to paint their portrait and of course he falls in love with Sophia and they begin an affair.  In an attempt to be with Sophia, Jan begins speculating in the tulip market, where fortunes can be won and lost in an instant, with the help of the Mother Abbess (Judi Dench) who raised Sophia.  Maria (Holliday Grainger), Sophia's maid, is in love with a fishmonger named Willem (Jack O'Connell) who also speculates in the tulip market but when his fortune is stolen by an unscrupulous prostitute (Cara Delivigne) he is conscripted into the navy.  Sophia and Maria's stories converge in a ridiculous plot twist and the ending is anything but satisfying.  This movie is beautiful with gorgeous period costumes and lighting straight out of a Vermeer painting.  However, there are so many things wrong.  The story is convoluted but, even worse, it is also totally implausible, especially one plot element that defies common sense.  I didn't understand any of the characters' motivations.  Christoph Waltz usually plays such a good villain but in this movie his character is almost benign so I didn't understand Sophia's desperation to escape from Cornelis.  Sophia and Jan barely speak five words to each other before they are in bed together so I didn't really buy their relationship.  I also didn't understand Sophia's choice at the end of the movie.  What a letdown after everything the characters have been through!  The tone of this movie is also quite strange.  It is supposed to be a tense and compelling drama but there are some odd comedic elements, especially regarding a "little soldier" in some of the strangest sex scenes I've ever seen.  I also found the scenes where the tulips are bought and sold, which should be fraught with tension because of the consequences for the characters, to be incredibly boring.  It was a bit disappointing and I recommend giving it a miss.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Only Living Boy in New York

I was mildly intrigued by the trailer for The Only Living Boy in New York and, since I had already seen everything else on my list, I decided that it would be the cure for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is a young man at loose ends who aspires to be a writer.  His father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), with whom he has a distant relationship (there is a reason for this which is revealed later), is a hot-shot New York publisher who gives him little encouragement, calling his work "serviceable."  He is incredibly protective of his mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon), an emotional mess (there is a reason for this which is revealed later) who throws pretentious dinner parties as a way of dealing with her unhappiness.  He pines over Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), a girl with whom he has been in love forever but only wants to be friends with him.  One night while at a club with Mimi he sees his father out with another woman (Kate Beckinsale).  He begins following her with the intention of telling her to stop seeing his father but eventually begins an affair with her.  Thomas begins discussing all of the above with his new neighbor, the writer W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), who has aggressively wormed his way into Thomas's life (there is a reason for this which is revealed later).  W.F. eventually turns these conversations into a novel about Thomas titled The Only Living Boy in New York.  The problem with this movie is that it thinks it is an edgy treatise about New York City when it is really just an run-of-the-mill family drama.  There are tons of mind-numbing speeches about how New York has lost its soul, including one by a character who exists only to give a speech at a wedding, which do nothing to advance the plot.  I was so bored that I checked my phone multiple times (the only other person in the theater with me left mid-way through).  By the time the big plot twist, which explains everyone's motivations, is revealed I didn't really care because I just wasn't that interested in any of the characters.  Turner is very handsome and appealing to watch but I didn't really buy his alienation and I thought his response to the big plot twist was way too accepting.  Brosnan is just playing another version of the judgmental father he played in Remember Me.  Bridges speaks as if he has just had major dental work done.  Everyone else is fine but largely unmemorable.  I did like the music but after listening to moody songs from Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Procol Harum, it was a little jarring to hear a peppy song by The Head and the Heart in the final credits.  It is an entirely forgettable movie that should only be viewed on Netflix when you can't sleep.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West is another gem from Sundance that friends of mine have been talking about lately so I put it on my list.  Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is sad, lonely, and desperate for a connection with someone.  When she comes into some money after her mother's death, she decides to move to California in order to befriend Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a social media celebrity who seemingly has the perfect life.  In her pursuit of Taylor, she ironically sabotages the only real and authentic relationship she has with someone (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) who genuinely cares about her for the sake of a fake one.  As Ingrid gets close to Taylor, she ultimately realizes that Taylor's life is just as empty and meaningless as her own.  It is a fascinating commentary on social media and I have to admit that it hit a little bit too close to home (right before the movie I checked my phone and noticed that I had two new followers on Instagram).  It is really easy to compare yourself to the people you follow on Instagram or Facebook and judge your life to be lacking and it can take up all of your time and energy creating a fake persona to make your life as exciting as everyone else's seems.  It can be really easy to determine your self-worth by the number of followers you have or likes you get on a post.  I find it incredibly ironic that Ingrid finds the notoriety that she has been craving for so long after the only real and vulnerable moment she has on social media.  Even though this movie is a cautionary tale I found it to be quite funny (probably because I recognized myself in the characters), especially in a scene where Ingrid tries to decide whether to post "ha ha ha" or "he he he."  I really liked the production design.  I read that the filmmakers used popular Instagram feeds to inform how they decorated Taylor's house and her costumes!  Too funny!  Plaza does a good job at making Ingrid into a sympathetic character, even when she makes one bad decision after another, and Olsen's portrayal of a woman obsessed with her "brand" feels very spot-on.  If you have ever taken a picture of your avocado toast to post to Instagram before eating it, you will probably enjoy this movie (or squirm in your seat).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Good Time

I usually make the decision to see or not see a movie based on the trailer and the one for Good Time really intrigued me so I knew I had to see it.  Constantine "Connie" Nikas (Robert Pattinson) has anything but a good time when an ill-conceived robbery that he pulls with his developmentally challenged brother Nicholas (Ben Safdie) goes awry.  As the two of them attempt to flee, Nicholas is apprehended and sent to Rikers Island.  Connie then spends a frenzied night trying to get the bail money to get him out.  The hand held camera follows Connie's every move as he progresses from one dangerous situation to the next so you feel his ever increasing desperation as if you were right there with him.  It is intense, to say the least.  Connie does some pretty despicable things and I wasn't entirely sure if he was motivated by concern for his brother or guilt for getting his brother in the situation to begin with but I was captivated by his image on the screen.  That is due to the fact that Robert Pattinson gives one of the best performances of his career.  You cannot look away as he digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble.  He portrays so much nervous energy that I was on edge almost from his first scene and I carried that feeling of unease with me for quite a while after I left the theater.  The supporting cast is also excellent and I especially enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie's unstable girlfriend and Buddy Duress as a criminal that Connie inadvertently teams up with.   Good Time is visually stunning with lighting that alternates between dark shadows and psychedelic neon (I loved the scenes at an amusement park).  The pulse-pounding electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never is absolutely incredible, rivaling anything done by Tangerine Dream in the 1980s (this is high praise from me because I love Tangerine Dream; they have a thematic album called Phaedra), and it adds greatly to the overall feeling of tension.  This film is filled with violence, language, sex, and drug use so not everyone is going to enjoy it but I think it is brilliant!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Brigsby Bear

Quite a few of my friends really loved Brigsby Bear when it screened at Sundance this year so I thought I'd check it out now that it is in wide release.  James (Kyle Mooney) was abducted as a baby and has been raised his whole life in an underground bunker by Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams).  His only contact with the outside world is a TV show called Brigsby Bear Adventures which has hundreds of episodes about a life-size bear who triumphs over the evil Sun Catcher and teaches valuable life lessons.  James is obsessed with the show, accumulating memorabilia and participating in an online forum dedicated to it.  One day the police come to the bunker and James is reunited with his real parents Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins).  He has difficulty adjusting to the outside world (in some incredibly amusing scenes), especially when he discovers that his beloved TV show does not really exist and that it was created by Ted just for him.  It is his only frame of reference so, as a way of coping with his new circumstances, James decides to make a movie continuing the adventures of Brigsby.  I loved so many things about this charming and original film.  Mooney is incredibly endearing in this quirky role.  He makes James into an entirely believable character and you find yourself rooting for him.  I also really enjoyed Greg Kinnear's performance as the detective on the case and a scene where he performs in the Brigsby movie made me laugh out loud.  I loved the message that being a fan of something, even something that is ridiculed and not understood by others, can be meaningful.  I definitely recommend this delightful film.

Note:  Brigsby Bear was filmed in SLC and I had a lot of fun recognizing various venues.

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!
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