Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

FreeSolo

In 2016, Rock climber Alex Honnold has set a goal for himself that no other climber has accomplished.  He wants to climb the El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park, without ropes, known as the free solo method.  He’s got a support team made up of a climber, Tommy Caldwell, and the whole camera crew is climbers.  His mother worries about him, but wants him to be happy pursuing his goal.  Alex’s girlfriend, Sanni McCandless is not a climber and does not like the idea of Alex risking his life to do what he loves.  Alex is not at all sure that he should be involved with Sanni or any other girl right now, he feels his focus should be on climbing El Capitan.

Further complicating matters, Alex suffers compression fractures and a sprained ankle while training for this climb.  When he finally tries the Freerider route up El Capitan, he suddenly calls it off, he is suddenly freaked by the idea of the climb being filmed.  Will Alex try the free solo climb again?  Will his relationship with Sanni last?

Free Solo is a good movie overall, if there is a flaw, and this is a flawed movie, it is that the filmmakers concentrate too much on Alex, not enough on the training and his potential accomplishment.  The film seems to focus on Alex’s upbringing, his girlfriend, the filmmakers even do a brain scan to see what makes him tick.  Free Solo plays like a reality show sometimes, with the melodrama on 11, and too many attempts at amateur psychoanalysis.

Director Jimmy Chin is a rock climber himself, as such he gets some spectacular shots of El Capitan and Alex climbing El Capitan, from really interesting angles, but Chin’s concentration on Alex’s personal story overshadows the spectacular visuals and wreaks havoc with the pacing of the film.  Telling that much of Alex’s backstory slows the film to a crawl, and hurts what makes this movie special.

Free Solo:  The visuals rock!

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On_the_Basis_of_Sex

Ruth Bader Ginsberg  (Felicity Jones) was an extraordinary law school student at Harvard.  She met and married fellow law student Martin Ginsberg (Armie Hammer) before law school.  When Martin is diagnosed with testicular cancer during law school, Ruth takes on Martin’s coursework as well as her own and transcribes Martin’s work as well as her own.  When Martin gets a job as a tax attorney in New York, Ruth asks Dean Griswald (Sam Watterston) to transfer her Harvard degree to NY, but he refuses, and so she transfers to Columbia University to be closer to Martin and her daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny)

Ruth is frustrated by not being able to find a job in New York, so she becomes a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, teaching a course called “Sex Discrimination and The Law” and she is content, but she still wants to be a practicing lawyer.  At a party, Martin regales partygoers with stories of how important tax law is, and in 1970, Martin finds a tax case that changes his and Ruth’s life, Moritz vs. Commissioner.   In the case, Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey) is denied a tax credit for taking care of his mother, because the law explicitly states that caregivers should be women.  Both Ruth and Martin are interested in the case.  Ruth tries to enlist ACLU lawyer Mel Wulff (Justin Theroux) but he is initially uninterested.  Eventually, the ACLU joins the case and it’s set to be argued to a 3 man appeals court.  Ruth convenes a moot court, but because of her lack of courtroom experience, Mel suggests that Martin argue the tax portion of the case, and Ruth argue the discrimination part of the case.  On the eve of the case, the Solicitor General of the Nixon administration, former Harvard dean Griswald offers to settle the case?  Does Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the ACLU settle the case?

I like this film, forget your politics, forget her politics, this is a compelling story about a woman’s struggle to pursue the occupation of her choosing.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg gets sidetracked, first by her husband’s  illness then by sexism, and she has to settle for being a college professor.  Even after she finds a case, the  irony  of the facts of the case and who argues the case, should not be  lost on the viewer, and that’s what makes the story so compelling.  Unfortunately, the rest of the characters lack any depth or dimension.   Martin only seems to give Ruth pep talks, Dean turned Solicitor General Griswald is portrayed as an enemy of progress, even Mel Wulff is portrayed as a sexist jerk, unable to change with the times.

The acting only features one good performance, which is by Felicity Jones, she embodies the tenacity, grit and intelligence of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a woman who had to fight to be heard above the din of male voices. Armie Hammer is relegated to a cheerleader role, which is partially the writing, and his limitations as an actor, he hasn’t given a performance that can be taken seriously, so he will continue to be a pretty boy.  Justin Theroux was annoying in this movie, the 70’s mustache, the tone of his voice, he sound like a caricature from the 1950’s.  Sam Watterson doesn’t fit the role of a bad guy, and Griswald is a bad guy in this film, and he doesn’t seem to relish the role. Veteran actress Kathy Bates is wasted in little more than a cameo.

Director Mimi Leder tells a straightforward story with very little embellishment, the pacing is good, and there’s at least one good performance from Felicity Jones.

On The Basis of Sex:  Judge for yourself.

spiderman spiderverse

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a typical teen from Brooklyn, he likes his tunes, he hates the magnet school he goes to, and he has an artistic streak, which he likes to express by painting murals in the subway. One day, while finding a spot for his latest mural with his Uncle Aaron, (Mahershala Ali) Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, but he convinces himself that it’s a regular spider, after all Peter Parker (Chris Pine) is  patrolling the city, so why would there be a need for another Spiderman?  But then, Miles feels his hands getting sticky and all of a sudden, he can climb walls, but he’s clumsy, which ruins any chance he thought he had with the new girl at the magnet school, Gwen. (Hailee Steinfeld)

Just as suddenly as he got his powers, Miles finds himself in a warehouse fighting Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) with Spiderman.  Peter/Spdey tells Miles that Kingpin has a supercollider, and he is trying to open up different dimensions to bring back Kingpin’s wife and kid.  Peter gives Miles a key and tells him to use it to destroy the supercollider if he doesn’t make it out of this battle alive.  Kingpin has already succeeded in opening up five dimensions.  What else has Kingpin succeeded in doing?  Does Miles get to use the key to blow up the collider?

Spiderman Into The Spiderverse is an interesting take on Spiderman, but as hard as the writers try to make Miles a laid-back cool guy, they fail.  Miles uses spray paint to create art, lives in the cool borough, Brooklyn, wearing  the ever-present ear buds, leaves his shoes untied , it’s all meant to make him relatable to teens everywhere.  Having said that, it’s important to have an Afro-Latino superhero on screen, just for the message that it sends to all kids, that they could be heroes regardless of their race, ethnicity, or the neighborhood they grow up in.

Undoubtedly, the really cool character is Gwen Stacy, but she takes a backseat to Miles, despite having the vastly more interesting backstory.  And the other character like Penni Parker, are woefully underdeveloped, and are only in the movie to bring in a certain demographic, in the cynical way movies are made these days.  There’s a twist to the story, but the ending is as expected, and I suspect there will be sequels aplenty.

The acting is good, voice acting is difficult.  Shameik Moore does  a good job as the gangly clumsy Miles, trying to fit in and find a way to use his new powers.  Mehershala Ali does his usual fine job, as Uncle Aaron, the cool uncle, he really does bring all his skills to any role he plays.  Hailee Steinfeld does a good job as Gwe, she does a good job of keeping her mysterious and distant, the unattainable girl.  Brian Tyree Henry does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Miles’ supportive overprotective dad.  The father son bond is evident in Henry’s performance.

There are three directors in this movie.  The animation is great, eye-popping comic book animation, which is probably why it won an Oscar, but the pacing is awfully slow for an action flick.  The performances are good, but the actors deserve more credit than the directors for that.

Spiderman Into The Spiderverse:  A web of intertwined characters.

if Beale Street Could Talk

Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephen James) are in love in Harlem in the 1970’s.  Their love story is complicated by several factors, however.  Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis) is a judgmental Christian, who expects Forry to marry a woman other than Tish.  Mrs. Hunt is further dismayed when she finds out that Tish is pregnant with Fonny’s child.  Further complicating matters is the fact that Fonny has been accused of rape by Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) who later escapes to Puerto Rico, delaying the rape trial, all while Fonny continues to languish in jail.  Tish’s father Joseph Rivers (Colman Domingo) and mother, Sharon (Regina King) and Vonny’s father, Frank (Michael Beach) band together to  try to help Vonny.  Does Vonny’s trial ever take place?  Does Tish have her child?

This is a character study and a very good one.  Superimposed on the character study is social commentary as relevant today as when it was written in the 1970’s.  Every character plays a role in advancing the story or embellishing a theme.   There are no throwaway characters or lines here, every line in the movie is an impactful line, that’s what makes this movie compelling to watch. It is so closely drawn from reality that viewers will think this could easily be someone’s life, if not their own. The love story is similarly realistic, the young couple is in love, but it’s not pie in the sky, they still have to face many problems, but they do it together.  So many movies don’t capture love properly, this movie captures love and all its frustrations and joys perfectly.  Barry Jenkins did a marvelous job of adapting James Baldwin’s story.  If Beale Street Could Talk should have won Best Picture it wasn’t even nominated, and Barry Jenkins should have won Best Adapted Screenplay, not Spike Lee.  This is a powerhouse of a movie, with not a single false note.

The acting is superb. Kiki Layne is astonishing in the range of emotions she conveys.  She is happy, sad, angry, and she takes the viewers along for the ride.  Kiki Lane carries this movie.   She wasn’t even nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, she should have been.  Her performance is so complex, easily better than Lady Gaga, who was the trendy nominee.  Regina King won the Oscar for Best Supporting actress, and she was good, but she wasn’t in much of the movie, still it was a very good performance for the scenes she was in.  Stephen James was a little too laid back for my taste, I wish he had brought a little more intensity to the role.  A really good ensemble cast makes every character in the film come to life and that adds a lot to this film.

For such a low key film, it’s a visually gorgeous film, the first shot is a crane shot, and it’s just Fonny walking but the shot shows how much Barry Jenkins thought about each shot in the film.  There’s a shot of the sculpture that Fonny is working on, and it’s a glorious shot, the camera rotates around the sculpture, and makes Fonny’s work of art look wondrous.  The pacing is perfect, slow enough for exposition, but quick enough to move the story along.  Jenkins gets great performances from a largely unknown cast.  Jenkins does everything a good director does to make his film better.

If Beale Street Could Talk:  This movie spoke volumes.

the favourite

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) ruled England in the early 1700’s.  Anne presided over a war with France, the second of the French and Indian wars, and there were two factions, Robert Harley, (Nicholas Hoult) leader of the opposition Tory party, wants to sue for peace.  Lord Marlborough’s wife, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is in favor of continuing the war with France, and Queen Anne is closer to Lady Sarah than anyone else so the war continues.  But Queen Anne is quite sick and obese, so a new chambermaid is sent for, Abigail Hill, (Emma Stone) who was left destitute by her father’s financial speculation, seems to want to return to her former high station, so she begins a charm offensive to win the confidence of Queen, does the Queen let Abigail into her inner circle, or continue to be influenced by Lady Sarah?

The Favourite is pretty historically accurate, but it strays from historical accuracy when it illustrates the more salacious aspects of the film.  There was a war with France, there were two women bidding for Queen Anne’s attention, they were rivals, both looking to increase their own power and influence, but that’s where the similarities and movie ends.  The salacious parts of the movie are obviously written to add spice to the film, and generate a buzz.  It works to an extent, as does the addition of humor, but this is a period piece, after all, and if the viewer has no interest in this period of history, no amount of humor or sensationalism of events will pique the interest of a social media crazed populace. And whether one of the favourites actually influenced Queen Anne to the extent that this movie implies is an open question.

The acting is good, very good in some instances.  Olivia Colman won the Best Actress Academy Award for Best Actress, and deservedly so.  She handled both comedy and drama adroitly, and the way she could switch from comedy to drama effortlessly and at a moment’s notice was an incredible thing to watch.  She was also very good as one of the detectives on the BBC television show Broadchurch. Rachel Weisz was also very good as the caustic, catty, ambitious Lady Sarah.  Weisz brings a sense of entitlement to the performance, and it fits thee character perfectly. Emma Stone is less convincing as Abagail, she does a pretty good British accent, but she didn’t seem to bring enough gravitas to the role when acting with the likes of Colman and Weisz.  Nicholas Hoult didn’t seem like the best choice either, he seemed to be more play acting at a role that should have been played by someone older and more seasoned.  It seems like some of the casting was based on appealing to a younger demographic.

The director tries to bring some visual flair to the film, using some kind of fish-eye lens in some of the scenes, which definitely makes things more interesting, but the pacing is awfully slow, and that makes the viewer think why he/she is watching this slow ponderously paced film, the answer is the acting, but  the viewer might not last past the first hour.  The performances are good, how much credit does an unknown director get for good performances?  That is another open question.

The Favourite.  Do yourself a fovour and watch it.

 

A Star Is Born

One night Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) goes into a bar, and sees a singer named Ally, (Lady Gaga) and he is blown away by her voice.  Jackson also sees her jotting lyrics in her notebook and thinks she can be a heck of a songwriter.  Ally works as a waitress and confides to Jack that she doesn’t sing her songs in public.  Nevertheless, Jack invites Ally to his next show and invites her to sing on stage with him, she does, and they go on tour together.

While on tour, Ally meets record producer Raz Gavron, (Rafi Gavron) Raz is  also amazed by Ally’s talent, and offers her a contract on the spot.  Meanwhile Jack’s life is rapidly falling apart, he has a drinking and drug problem, and his relationship with his half-brother, Bobby (Sam Elliot), is strained at best .  But Jackson sees Ally as the one last hope in his life, and proposes marriage to her.  Does she accept the marriage proposal?  Does she sign the producer’s record contract?

This is the fourth version of this movie, it’s more like the 1976 version than the others, but it’s basically the same story, except the writers try to update the story in ways that only makes the storytelling clumsy and embarrassing.  It’s not even a convincing portrayal of stardom, Jack is never mobbed by his adoring fans, there’s no pressure from the record company to make a new album, nothing.  Jack’s problems seem like nothing more than rock clichés, not real-life problems.  The love affair seems stilted and forced, not romantic at all, and since the lead characters are paper thin, the ending, which is supposed to pack an emotional punch, falls flat as a flapjack.  The songs are good, save yourself two hours, and buy the soundtrack.

The acting is one again, putrid.  Bradley Cooper does his best Sam Elliot impression, and then Sam Elliot actually appears, and the movie turns into Dueling Elliots.  I honestly thought Elliot’s character was Cooper’s character’s father, but no, they are brothers, despite Elliot being 75 years old. Sam That;s a little Hollywood egoism at play.  Elliot has the same dull monotone delivery in every movie he’s in, this one is no different.  Lady Gaga can’t act, neither could her role model Madonna, so their careers seem to be dovetailing again.  Paraphrasing an Eddie Murphy joke about Elvis, maybe the movie would have been better is Gaga sung all her lines.  As if Gaga’s acting wasn’t bad enough, Andrew Dice Clay shows up, and he’s playing Gaga’s father.  For those too young to remember who Andrew Dice Clay is, he was a 1980’s shock jock comedian, whose jokes were punctuated by phrases like ay, oh.  Not to be left out Dave Chappelle plays one of Jackson’s friends.  It’s not that comedians can’t play serious roles, just not in a badly written musical romance.

The direction is inconsequential, Bradley Cooper also wrote and directed this film the pacing is slow, there are several songs staged, in big and small settings, nothing really dramatic, visually, and the performances are poor.  Stay in front of the camera, Bradley.

A Star Is Born:  Shallow, at best

the shape of water

In 1962, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaning woman, taking care of her neighbor, a “starving artist” Giles (Richard Jenkins) who was forced into retirement and is trying to make his way back into the workforce, by drawing an ad for instant gelatin.  Elisa works in a government lab where scientists are analyzing an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) from the Amazon jungle. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) head of security, thinks he can extract the creature’s secrets by force.  Scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michel Stuhlberg) thinks the creature could yield great scientific benefits, but he is conflicted.  After one of Strickland’s attacks on the creature, Elisa feels badly for the creature, and takes him a hard-boiled egg for lunch.  The creature snaps at her, and then takes the egg.  Depite the rocky beginning, the lunches become more frequent, and Elisa realizes that she’s falling in love with the creature, but Strickland and Hoffstetler may have other ideas for the Amphibian Man, can Elisa save him from further torture or worse?

At first glance, The Shape of Water is simply a science fiction movie with a monster and a damsel in distress, except this movie flips the script, and the damsel is the one doing the saving, and the monster is not the amphibian.  If the viewer digs a little deeper there are all kinds of themes in this movie.  Outcasts looking for happiness, the heartbreak of loneliness, the haves and have nots, the subjugation of women, the power of love, sometimes returned, sometimes unrequited, ageism, a celebration of classic film, all overlaid in a cold war settling where everyone spies on each other. The love story doesn’t work so well, because to be in love, there has to be communication, and other than a few words in sign language, Elisa doesn’t really communicate with the amphibian, and by making Elisa a mute, the film accidentally promotes a theme it’s trying to speak out against, the submissive female.  The ending is a cop out, but there are so many themes covered in the script that it’s hard to say it’s a let-down.

The acting is superb, it made the story much better.  Sally Hawkins was incredible, as Elisa, what made the role harder for her is she had to emote while having no dialogue.  Somehow, she accomplished this with her eyes and very expressive face, and the urgency of her sign language. Richard Jenkins is also fantastic as Giles, he complains about getting older in public, but is hiding part of his identity in private, which makes the character complex and makes the performance nuanced. Michael Stuhlberg is also hiding part of his identity, and that makes his role more complex.  Where do his loyalties lie?  Stuhlberg keep the audience guessing. Octavia Spencer is also very good as Elisa’s co-worker, Zelda.  She is especially intense when confronting her husband at a critical point in the film. Michael Shannon undoubtedly gives the best performance in the film, as Richard Strickland someone who has power, prestige and position, and uses all three to degrade and humiliate those below him, and aggrandize himself.  He sees himself as a modern day Samson, on a mission from God to save society from the Philistines or bring down the temple. More like Ahab in the Bible or Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Strickland’s obsession with the creature made him oblivious to everything else.  Strickland’s black, moldering fingers, which are unsuccessfully reattached after a run in with the creature, are reflective of his black soul.  Shannon plays Strickland as devoid of a shred of decency or humanity, yet he thinks of himself as a decent man.  And Michael Shannon understood the contradiction, and played both sides, decent to those who mattered to him, reprehensible to those that didn’t.  Shannon should have won the Oscar for Bes Supporting Actor, I saw Sam Rockwell in 3 Billboards, Shannon was better.

Guillermo Del Toro once again infuses this film with color, mostly green.  The creature is green, the water he swims in is green, the bathroom walls are green, even the gelatin Giles puts in his ad is green.  There are big, bold shots of an old movie theater where there The Story of Ruth is playing.  There is one scene where Del Toro’s fondness for classic film gets the best of him, but The Shape of Water, like all his films is a visual treat.  He gets excellent performances from his actors, and the pacing is good.  Del Toro deserved the best director Oscar.

The Shape of Water:  Dive in.