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

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!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lady Macbeth

Sunday night I went to the Broadway, as I often do on a Sunday night, to see Lady Macbeth.  My friend saw this film at Sundance and gave it a very unfavorable review (even going so far as to call it "indie rubbish" which has become a bit of an inside joke with us) while another friend loved it, hailing it as a masterpiece.  After viewing this film myself, my reaction falls somewhere in between.  Katherine (a mesmerizing Florence Pugh) is forced into an arranged marriage with a much older man, Alexander (Paul Hilton), who shows very little interest in her.  Alexander's father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), continually reminds her of her marital duty which is, namely, to provide them with a legitimate heir, and he also mistreats her.  She is kept to a very rigid schedule and is never allowed outside of the house.  When both Alexander and Boris are called away, she takes advantage of the opportunity and roams the countryside.  She also begins a passionate affair with Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a groomsman on the estate.  When Boris returns, he hears about the affair, which has been conducted very openly, and has Sebastian beaten and locked up.  Katherine poisons Boris so she can be with Sebastian, showing very little remorse.  As is often the case, they are forced to commit several more murders (including a particularly egregious one) in order to keep up pretenses and Sebastian begins to feel more and more guilty.  There are a few things I really liked about this film but there are definitely some aspects that I didn't enjoy.  I was quite impressed by Florence Pugh's performance as a woman who will go to any lengths to keep her newfound freedom and her journey is very compelling, at least in the beginning.  I was on the edge of my seat most of the time and the eerie silence on screen added greatly to my unease.  I also think that William Oldroyd made some very interesting choices; for example, highly composed shots of Katherine sitting on a couch wearing a buttoned up dress and corset with her hair tightly coiled juxtaposed with beautiful shots of her roaming the moor unbound with her hair blowing in the wind are highly effective at establishing her motivation.  However, some of his choices are less effective.  I found the scenes involving a cat to be completely bewildering.  I am sure that these scenes are meant to be artistic but the symbolism was lost on me because the cat disappears after a few early scenes never to be seen again.  Why?  Another problem I had was that, while I sympathized with Katherine in the first half of the film because of her ill-treatment, I found many of her actions in the latter half to be completely reprehensible.  She ends up being more ruthless than her oppressors, particularly to her maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie).  I had to look away during a scene involving a horse and the final murder (which went on for so long) of an innocent child was especially brutal.  The ambiguous ending did not hold her to account for her actions in a way that brought me satisfaction.  Finally, I don't know if it is just me but I thought there was a racist undertone to this film.  There is absolutely no discussion of race but all of the characters portrayed by black actors end up as victims and it left a bad taste in my mouth.  Hmmm.  Have you seen this film?  What did you think?

Note:  This film is not based on William Shakespeare's Scottish play (as I originally thought) but, rather, on the novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a film that just about blew my mind at Sundance this year.  It stayed with me for quite a while and I eagerly anticipated its wide release so I could see it again.  I have to say that I found it to be even more profound upon a second viewing on Friday night and I was not alone in my reaction.  The entire audience stayed seated in absolute silence long after the credits had rolled and the lights had come back on.  The narrative revolves around a man (Casey Affleck) who dies in a car accident and returns, shrouded in a sheet, to the home he shared with his wife (Rooney Mara).  He stays and watches her as she grieves and then eventually moves away.  He continues to haunt the house for decades as it is occupied by various people, is demolished, and is replaced by a high-rise building until he is finally able to let go of his attachment.  There is another ghost haunting the house next door until he is able to leave behind a person he is waiting for.  The ghost is one of the most sympathetic characters I've ever seen on film, even completely shrouded as he is, and the long, sustained shots with very little action are strangely compelling.  The score is very evocative and greatly enhances the otherworldly mood.  As previously mentioned, I found many of the themes to be so moving.  I've always believed that the spiritual aspect of humanity is more important than the physical which is, indeed, impermanent.  We must ultimately leave behind our attachment to people, places, and things to progress on our journey.  It is enchanting to believe that we leave behind a piece of ourselves and that we will be remembered but our time here is temporary and time inevitably and inexorably moves on.  We don't really belong here in this physical plane.  I know I will be thinking about these ideas for a long time to come and I suspect that this beautiful film will provide even more philosophical musings each time I watch it.  I must admit that A Ghost Story might not appeal to everyone.  It is a high-concept film and you must commit to this concept fully in order to appreciate it but, if you can, you will be forever changed by its powerful message.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Maudie

Thursday I spent the afternoon in a darkened theater full of senior citizens (seriously, I was the youngest person there by decades) watching Maudie, the real-life love story between Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins) and her husband Everett (Ethan Hawke).  Maud suffers from a debilitating form of arthritis (although we don't learn the nature of her ailment until almost the end of the film) and her brother and aunt consider her to be a tremendous burden.  One day she answers an advertisement to be a maid for a curmudgeonly and reclusive fishmonger, mostly to get away from her aunt.  Everett lives in a dilapidated one room shack in rural Nova Scotia and he treats Maud very cruelly, even telling her that his dogs are more important than she is.  She begins painting simple flowers, trees, and birds on the walls to brighten her grim existence.  She eventually worms her way into Everett's heart and they marry, although he is still very gruff with her.  She paints cards to deliver to all of Everett's customers and attracts the attention of a wealthy New Yorker on vacation who commissions a painting which brings her national exposure.  She spends the rest of her life selling her paintings outside of her tiny shack and when she dies Everett realizes how much he loved her.  While the film tells the story of Maud's life and career as an artist, the narrative focuses on the relationship between the two lonely outsiders and it is such a poignant story.  My favorite line is when Maud says that they are like two mismatched socks!  Sally Hawkins gives an incredible performance that is sure to be remembered during awards season and this is an Ethan Hawke like you've never seen before.  I feel that I have unjustly pigeon-holed him as the goofy deadbeat dad that he has portrayed lately (see here, here, and here) but he surprised me because he is marvelous in this multi-layered role.  After a while I didn't even notice that I was watching Ethan Hawke.  In addition, there are some stunning shots of the surrounding landscape (Canada is a beautiful country) and I really enjoyed the score by Michael Timmins (of the Cowboy Junkies, a favorite band from my youth).  I highly recommend this lovely film.

Note:  I am not very familiar with Sally Hawkins but she seems to be everywhere at the moment.  This performance captivated me and I am really looking forward her next film, The Shape of Water.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Exception

As a student of history I hadn't really thought much about what happened to Kaiser Wilhelm II when he exited the stage after World War I.  After seeing a preview of The Exception, I was intrigued about his post-war life and very eager to see a film about his involvement, albeit fictionalized, in events at the beginning of World War II.  I am a sucker for films about World War I and World War II!  I saw The Exception last night and I wish that it had focused more on Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer) rather than on the romance between a German officer (Jai Courtney) and a Jewish housemaid who may or may not be a British operative (Lily James).  Captain Stefan Brandt (Courtney) is sent to the Netherlands, presumably as punishment for an incident in Poland (there are lots of flashbacks), to be the head of security for the exiled Wilhelm.  In reality, he is sent there to spy on Wilhelm.  He immediately, if abruptly, begins a passionate affair with the new maid Mieke (James), who reveals to him that she is Jewish.  When Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) visits Wilhelm, who hopes for news that the Nazis want to restore the monarchy, Brandt suspects that Mieke might be a spy.  Will he choose love or duty?  I loved Christopher Plummer in this role as a mercurial king-in-exile who longs for the past (he loves showing guests his collection of military uniforms) yet rails against his generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff for losing the war.  He insists on receiving military briefings from his aide de camp (Ben Daniels) in one moment and in the next he chops wood and feeds the ducks.  I also enjoyed Janet McTier's performance as Wilhelm's wife, Hermine, who works behind the scenes to restore the monarchy so she can order new clothes and refuse her sisters entrance at court.  Their story is incredibly compelling;  Brandt and Mieke's is less so.  Lily James does a good job in the scenes where espionage is the focus but I didn't buy the romance at all.  Why on earth does she get involved with a German soldier when she wants revenge against them for killing her father and brother?  Why does she tell him that she is Jewish when she doesn't know him well enough to trust him?  There is no motivation for their affair at all (beyond lust) and I didn't really care for Courtney's stilted performance as Brandt.  There is no tension at the climax because we already know that Brandt is troubled by the brutality of the Nazis so his decision isn't that surprising.  I found Wilhelm's decision to be much more interesting.  Bottom line:  I liked this movie but it would have been better with more Plummer and less Courtney.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Hero

Last night I went to see The Hero, a film I saw at Sundance and really enjoyed.  To be sure, it is a cliched character study about a man with regrets who must come to term with his own mortality but it has an incredible central performance by Sam Elliott which makes it worth watching, even twice.  Lee Hayden (Elliott) is a former Western film star well past his prime who who spends his days drinking, smoking marijuana, and recording ads for a barbecue sauce when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  At the same time he meets a much younger woman (Laura Prepon) and begins a relationship with her and, after a drug-fueled speech at an awards ceremony goes viral, gets a big movie offer.  In the midst of all of this, he tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) and decide what to do about his diagnosis.  He has recurring dreams about being on the set of his most popular movie, in his current state, where he metaphorically fights his cancer.  Even though Elliott is essentially playing a version of himself, he is absolutely shines in this role (I have heard mention of a possible Academy Award nomination).  He is in almost every shot and I found him to be captivating.  He is able to convey more emotion with just a lift of a bushy eyebrow than most actors working today do with pages of dialogue.  While all of the supporting characters are pretty thinly drawn I found a scene with Nick Offerman, who plays a former cast member who is now Lee's drug dealer, to be hilarious and I enjoyed seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott's real-life wife, as Lee's ex-wife.   This film is a little gem that I recommend, especially if you are a fan of Sam Elliott.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Big Sick

I'm just going to put something out there.  I am not a big fan of romantic comedies (and I despise it when people refer to them as rom-coms).  I rarely see them and I am almost always underwhelmed by the ones I do see.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back.  Blah, blah, blah.  However, I decided to see The Big Sick on Friday night because it generated a lot of buzz at Sundance this year (and receieved one of the biggest distribution deals from the festival) and I saw a preview last week which made me laugh out loud.  It is a true story which adds a bit of a twist to the standard formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl is put into a coma, and boy gets girl back.  Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani playing a fictionalized version of himself) is a Pakistani comic who gets heckled one night by a graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan).  They immediately hit it off but eventually break up because Kumail's traditional parents want an arranged marriage for him.  Emily ends up in the emergency room one night and a friend asks Kumail to check up on her.  Her condition worsens so it is decided that she should be put in a medically induced coma and Kumail must inform her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).  As the days go by, he bonds with her parents and realizes how much he loves Emily.  It is so funny!  I laughed out loud through the whole thing!  I almost couldn't breathe in the scene where Terry and Kumail talk about 9/11 because I was laughing so hard.  All of the scenes with Kumail's potential brides, who just happen to drop by, are also hilarious ("The truth is out there!")  There are also some very heartwarming scenes, especially when Kumail tells his parents that they can't kick him out of the family.  Kumail is so endearing and both he and Kazan have great chemistry.  Both Hunter and Romano are also great together and Kumail's fellow comics (Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler) are a lot of fun.  I should mention that there is quite a bit of profanity but I absolutely loved this hilarious movie and I highly recommend it.

Note:  I saw this at the Broadway Theater and there was not an empty seat in sight.  That has only happened for two other movies that I've seen there:  The Grand Budapest Hotel and La La Land.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Hard Day's Night

I think most of you know by now that I absolutely love the Beatles and I have seen A Hard Day's Night more times than I can count.  However, I have never seen it on the big screen (how I wish that I had been alive in 1964 to see this when it first premiered) until it was screened as part of Salt Lake Film Society's classic musicals series last Tuesday.  To say that I was excited to see it on the big screen would be an understatement and I definitely sang along (I was not alone but I was the youngest person in the audience).  This movie stars the Beatles and it is basically an extended music video featuring their songs with the thinnest of narratives tying them together (they are traveling from Liverpool to London to tape an appearance on a TV show).  But it matters not because it is the Beatles.  The Beatles!  I found it to be quite amusing because it features the witty banter the lads are known for ("Are you a mod or a rocker?" "I'm a mocker.") and there is a running gag with Paul's grandfather getting into trouble and the lads escaping from their managers.  I also thought the cinematography was quite innovative with lots of different angles.  But, of course, what makes this film so much fun is the music including the title track, "I Should Have Known Better," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "All My Loving," "If I Fell," "Can't Buy Me Love," "And I Love Her," "Tell Me Why," and "She Loves You."  I just loved every minute and it is a must see if you are a fan of the Beatles.  Go here for a full schedule of films being screened as part of this series.
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