Category: Movie Reviews


Melissa McCarthy as “Lee Israel” and Richard E. Grant as “Jack Hock” in the film CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Three quick notes about the SAG Award nominated, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

Not all, but most artists, after they establish they can throw fastballs in one genre, want to branch out and prove they do other things. Especially actors. Melissa McCarthy is one of our best working comediennes, of course she wants to prove she can do dramatic stuff. Even the comedic undertones here are toned way down so you have to focus on the acting. McCarthy carries the film without relying on over the top theatrics, can’t take that away from her.

Everyone wants to play the villain, but most people want to play the ‘cool vilain.’ Playing someone a little skeevy, and completely self-centered, and very unlikable: everyone doesn’t have the right ego to play that. So give Richard E. Grant credit for just going all in to play someone, not really evil, but just one of those completely self-centered types who knows how to play on other people’s sympathies to get over.

Finally, this whole film takes place in the NYC literary world. Doesn’t scream cinema, but beyond that as I was watching this, as a film geek, I thought that whole genre of films and TV shows that speak to ‘upper class Manhattan’ that a lot of us grew up on. No need to name names, but how much of that good work can we still just watch without thinking too hard about the people who created them? I say all of this to say, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ isn’t a Hall of Fame movie by any means, but I can just watch it without thinking twice about any conflicting feelings about the author.

For that reason alone, recommend.

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‘A Quiet Place’

Thrillers/Monster movies like this, I don’t consider to be my wheelhouse. But the people (box office) has spoken, this one even has a little Oscars buzz behind it, so I had to see it. A few thoughts…

So, is Emily Blunt having a year, or is Emily Blunt having a year? I’ve always been a fan, but no question this is a career ‘leap year’ for her. A cheap thriller with her husband on one end, and Mary Freaking Poppins on the other. Well played Emily. Well played.

Now, let’s talk craft. Jim Halpert in the director’s chair. Again, I don’t consider this my genre, but for anyone directing their first feature, going low budget (which does mean horror a lot) was a smart choice. I don’t know if I walked away saying ‘Damn he directed the shit out of that,’ but I also didn’t feel like his direction took away from the story he was telling either.

I wasn’t crazy about the monsters. Or rather, the monsters were fine. The plot made sense. But their ‘weakness’… eh, wasn’t feeling it. You know me, I won’t spoil it. But the movie is called ‘A Quiet Place’ and the whole conceit is no one can make noise so… ok then.

Still worth seeing though if you haven’t gotten around to it.

Full disclosure: this was the song I’ve been working on for my singing reel.

Then I saw ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, and, NOPE. My cover isn’t remotely this beautiful.

So our musical start this week comes from my fellow Trojan, Kina Grannis.

And if you haven’t seen ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ yet, trust me, it’s worth it. Just for that wedding scene alone…

Enjoy!

I think all the outside stories (Viggo using the n word, Mahershala apologizing to Don Shirley’s family) have already killed any gold ‘Green Book’ might have been up for. I’ll just pick out a few things I thought about while watching this one.

While this exact true story is new, the formula (black guy and white guy start at odds in ‘the old racist days’ and learn to appreciate each other) is very familiar. That’s not to say the film doesn’t work (I think it does), but I do think, in this exact moment in time, the people just weren’t going to be feeling it. The hostility and distrust and hyper politics are too raw right now for this type of entertainment.

On a lighter note,and I completely blame Eddie Murphy for this, ‘Moulignan’ is still my number one ‘Wow, you despise us so much you can’t even use the go to word. I might be more astonished than offended.’ Calling us shines ranks a distant second in this category.

Finally, and I feel like I say this every award season now: Viggo Mortenson. I feel like a lot of character actors have figured this out (even if the opportunities aren’t the same): do one ‘Lord of the Rings’ to take care of your family financially, then every year find a completely different character to dive into. ‘Eastern Promises’. ‘Captain Fantastic’. ‘A History of Violence.’ This year, ‘Green Book’. Must be nice.

Anyway, ‘Green Book’ isn’t a game changer but it’s not a bad film. Nice two hander for Viggo and Mahershala.

Motivation.

A few weeks back, my Twitter feed went nuts with black film geeks famous and not famous all saying Netflix dropped a series called ‘Pioneers of African-American Cinema’ that is mandatory viewing if you’re a student of the history or the artform or the culture.

And they were all right.

Streaming on Netflix, twenty episodes total.  A few shorts in there, but mostly features, none over 100 minutes I believe.  Most everyone who knows their history has heard the name Oscar Micheaux; off the top of my head there are four of his films here.  Paul Robeson makes an appearance in one of the features.  If you’re any type of black film geek, it’s the best kind of homework.

Now, a few notes from me as an observer:

It’s to be expected I guess when you know how historically expensive filmmaking is as an art form, but as far as the stories here: it’s almost exclusively from a ‘Talented Tenth’ point of view.  If you’re hoping to see some pre-cursor to ‘Menace II Society’ or ‘Boyz N Da Hood’… nope, this ain’t the place.  I believe it was in one of the Micheaux films that a fast light skinned woman was repeatedly referred to as ‘that yellow hussy’.  That tickled me good, but be ready for a lot of that.

In terms of things off the beaten track, there’s a black Western(!) in the later episodes.  That’s the good.  The bad?  Shockingly, there was a blackface preacher who showed up in one of the more musically inclined films (in front of a black choir, which made it extra jarring.)  There was also a yellowface character who briefly showed up as a minor character in one film.  I’m not even going to psycho analyze that, I’m just telling you it was there.

But this is still mandatory viewing as a historical document if nothing else.  (I want to say the National Film Archive and the Library of Congress were the two DC groups most responsible for preserving these films, but don’t quote me on that.)  

Streaming on Netflix.

I don’t know if this particular film needed the help, but first off let me say Netflix is getting better at playing to the eyes and ears of the film geek community.  I got to see ‘Roma’ at the Directors Guild over Thanksgiving weekend, on the big screen the way I’m sure Alfonso Cuaron (and traditionalists in the nominating committees for awards season) prefer to see films.

I had no preconceptions on what this would be, or really, what it was about. (So I’ll try to be deliberately a little more vague than normal here.)  But here’s the setting: a year in the life of an upper middle class Mexican family, and their maid/nanny, set in the not too distant past.  Language, setting and political dynamics of the country are very specific.  Shifting family relationships, sibling rivalries, falling in and out of love – universal.  We all can relate to that.   

The narrative doesn’t point the audience to pass judgment on this family, one way or the other.  For some people, that will translate as the film being ‘slow’ (for not telling you what to think).  The artistic crowd I saw it with took well to it though.  Best Foreign Film nomination seems like a lock next year.  Maybe more depending on what else rises and falls over the next month.

A recommend here for when it starts streaming.

So here’s my disclaimer: I have more vivid memories of the Simpsons’ ‘Sherry Bobbins’ episode than I do if the original ‘Mary Poppins’.  In my mind now, the original film is more certain iconic songs and clips than remembering the plot of the actual movie.

So, I doubt the new film will become as iconic as the original.  But, I also feel like, they didn’t mess it up (if that makes sense).  As others will surely say, to have a fun, completely non-cynical, old school Disney film in 2018 is kind of nice.  That’s one.

Two, I don’t know who else was on the short list, but Emily Blunt was the right choice to play this part right now.  She can sing, she has natural comedic timing, she carries the part as her own.  

Lin-Manuel: I almost feel like HE was born for this movie more than Emily was.  He fits naturally in the classical musical form (because of course he does), and thankfully, they give him a number that lets him do his modern, hip hop flavored style.

The movie doesn’t go wide for another month, so I won’t ruin some of the winks to the audience that are thrown in.  But I can definitely the adults got a kick out of a few things that went over the heads of the kids in the audience I was in.

Fun.  This was fun.

Does ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ reinvent the wheel for musical biopics? No.  

Could it have gone further in detailing why Freddie Mercury is an icon, to multiple communities?  Definitely.

But is it fun?  Does Rami Malek excel in the ‘every reason to fail’ role of making the audience believe he’s Freddie Mercury?  Absolutely.

The end of Mercury’s life coinciding with the beginning of mine, but I’m enough of a pop culture nerd to know that’s one of those parts, that, man, how do you recreate Freddie Mercury? But credit Rami (who credits the real and fictional band of people who made this film) for letting us suspend our disbelief for a couple hours.  

A few more notes I have to add in:

It’s been said but it’s true: the Mike Myers cameo is perfect, in its role and its tribute to one of his own signature roles.

I completely forgot ‘Bismillah’ was in the lyrics of the song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but if you think I didn’t make sure I had that song in my digital library before the movie was over, then you don’t know me.

Along those lines, I had some Queen jams in the library (because how could you not?) But the film does a good job of reminding you how many classics they had over the years.  Strictly in terms of getting people to say ‘Oh yeah, do I have that one?’ this movie is already a massive success.

Recommend.

 

jinn-sxsw

So, a film about a young convert finding her place (and herself) as a Muslim while also coming into her own as a young adult.  You would not be wrong to deduce that I’m cheering for this film to succeed on several levels, whether it’s a good film or not.

But the debut film of Nijla Mumin IS a good film.   Better than I was expecting.  That’s not a knock on Nijla, that’s me as a heavily experienced film geek knowing that ‘first films’… you just instinctively lower your expectations after a while.  You look for potential more than you look for anything too promising in what’s in front of you.

So, the story of Jinn, which starts off as a tale of a young black mother (Luke Cage’s Simone Missick) finding herself in Islam, gradually shifts its focus to the point of view of the daughter (Zoe Renee, who is a revelation).  On top of the stresses of being a high school senior trying to get into art school, now add in your mother adopting a new religion and trying to fit into a completely new community that you may not want to be a part of.  Now THAT’S some organic, ready made conflicts.

A perfect film, no.  But a film that left me wanting to see what comes next from its leading actress and director? Absolutely.

High recommend.