Aunt Viv (Film Thoughts: Westwood: Punk.Icon.Activist)

0215908Sometime during the early 90s, I was going on a trip to London and my friend asked me to buy him several pieces from Vivienne Westwood. This was pre-internet days, of course and all I had to go by were sketches of the pieces from the fashion show. I remember going to this glamorous store in Conduit Street, and showing the sketches to the sales associates, and they took one look at each other as if to say, “this guy means business,” and before I knew it I was being ushered to the basement (champagne glass in hand) as they started to show me the show pieces from that season’s collection, and the sketches I brought me came alive in front of my eyes.

That was my first real introduction to Vivienne Westwood, and over the years her presence has been constant in my life because of my friend who only wears her clothes. I know she has an irreverent style and is great with clothing architecture. She is also a character of sorts – weird as only highly artistic people can be. Laura Taylor’s documentary, ‘Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist,’  barely skims that surface. Westwood here seems cooperative yet unwilling, displaying all the contradictions that make her more interesting. When asked about her involvement with The Sex Pistols, she rolls her eyes and says ‘That’s so boring.’  She is reticent even about Malcom McLaren, her once-partner and as her relationship turned sour, all she can say is “he bored me intellectually.’ (Her sons Joe and Ben are a little more forthcoming) It was fascinating to see her in action – ripping associates over garter bands – and exclaiming ‘this is all shit’ while looking at her collections. I am sure she is a tough woman to work with and for, and we have to give her credit for always sticking to her guns – her house is one of the few who have not been gobbled by a conglomerate, though she says with exasperation that it has grown too big for her britches.  In the end, we don’t really see the woman behind the woman, but we understand more because of it. We may never know what makes her an icon, and perhaps we are better off that way.

How Deep Is The Ocean (Movie Thoughts: Ocean’s 8)

o8This isn’t really my kind of movie. I never saw the previous ones, and I am probably the only one in the world who hasn’t. But sure, this all-female cast is alluring, and surely anything with Cate Blanchett in it is worth my time, so, yeah I went ahead and played and saw ‘Ocean’s 8.’   And I didn’t die from watching it. Ultimately, I was underwhelmed. I expected glitz, glamour, over-the-top production. It didn’t deliver that.

What I got was a mild action film, with a snazzy performance from Anne Hathaway – she steals the film from all her co-stars. Sandra Bullock was competent, and her assured subdued confidence is certainly appealing, but too low-key at times. Cate Blanchette just showed up and did what she did – she wasn’t given that much to do, and she did it well. Rhianna was just there – she really did not make any splashy impression, showing as much ‘star power’ as Awkwafina (What the eff is that name, by the way)

yrThis could have been much better. I think it would have benefitted from a female or gay point of view. For example, I think it would have been great if the ladies’ wardrobes reflected their characters more – I am imagining Rhianna’s Island wardrobe, for example. And the screenplay could have used some tightening. I was expecting non-stop action instead of the press and play pace we have here. All in all, it wasn’t a total disappointment, but ultimately unmemorable.

Out Softly (Movie Thoughts: Hearts Beat Loud)

MV5BMTYzNDY0NzY3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTk1ODgyNTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is a cute little movie that’s great for a summer afternoon. It’s light, breezy, and has a great soundtrack that will make you smile, and that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the crazy world we live in right now. It also stars Nick Offerman, who is pretty terrific. I know I should know more about his work, but honestly, it embarrasses me that I only know him as Megan Mulally’s husband, and he is certainly more than that. He plays a father here who owns a record shop that’s closing. Plus, his daughter, played by Kiersey Clemons, is spending her last summer home before she goes off to college. Offerman strikes that balance between funny, self-deprecating, earnest, depressed. There is something darker going on here, but the movie is not interested in exploring that, even his daughter’s orientation is treated as an afterthought, but then again, maybe it should always be treated that way. I don’t think the movie aspires to be anything more than what it is – a small indie that will touch you a little bit and entertain you a lot.

Letting Jake Be (Movie Thoughts: A Kid Like Jake)

kljSince June is Pride Month, I guess I should open it by writing about a film somewhat about the LGBTQIA experience. (In this ever-evolving world, I myself had to google what the QIA meant in this new acronym)

‘A Kid Like Jake’ is about a Park Slope couple who has a son who is described by his teachers as ‘gender expansive.’ Really – it’s a little boy who likes to dress up in princess costumes. Jim Parsons and Claire Danes play a couple who are presumably liberal, but is faced with this dilemma when the situation falls in their own backyard. Danes’ character thinks it’s some sort of phase (perhaps she is in denial?) while Parson’s character, a therapist, muses that perhaps Jake needs to seek professional advise.

The film is on the chatty side, perhaps because writer Daniel Pearle adapted it from his play.  And it took me a while to get into it, but once I did, I enjoyed if for anything the performances, especially Dane’s. Even though Jake has the title role, we know really not much about him (on the play, he is not seen at all, just talked about) and I wish there were more of him, so we could understand his character better. But this is a very interesting topic, and the film will make you ponder how you stand in this issue.

I Was Only Posing (Television Thoughts: Pilot, Pose S01 E01)

POSE-key-art-2With Pride Month starting, I guess it’s just fitting that I write about ‘Pose,’ the newest and gayest show this season. It’s from Ryan Murphy, so you know at least it will ahve a very good start, and this is also his swan song show for F/X as he will be producing shows for Netflix after this.

I love this show. It starts off with a bang – the ball festivities in Harlem of the late 80s. I have a great kinship to this era as this was also the start of my New York Years: i.e. that time when I was starting to go out in the city and experiencing life. This is a splashy production, but the story telling is pretty straightforward – it’s about how a new house starts under a new mother, and how she brings her family together. This show is about trans people, and Murphy has cast it with a trans cast. And while the idea is fantastic and welcome, you can sometimes see the greenness of the cast. But the best of the lot is Indya Moore as Angel, a transgendered prostitute who finds home with new mother Blanca. There is even a sweet storyline of her meeting a ‘straight’ white family man (Evan Peters) who works for a Donald Trump-like character (played deliciously by James Van Der Beek)  Not everything worked for me – towards the end of the first episode. a Flashdance style audition underwhelmed me. But already I am hooked. This will probably, no make that surely, my go-to show this summer, and I will relish writing about it weekly.

On Any Given Sunday (Film Thoughts: First Reformed)

First-Reformed-Poster‘First Reformed’ is one of those tough films to describe. It was described by Fandango as a thriller, and I went in with that frame of mind It incites thrill, alright, but in a whole different manner. It’s not a plot driven movie, as it is mostly a character study of Ernst Toller, a pastor of First Reformed Church somewhere in Upstate New York. he presides over one of those small churches that is only alive because of its historical significance. On any given Sunday, there are only a handful of parishioners who go there – most folks go to the mega church down the road. In fact, the same mega church funds First Reformed. I am not going to go over the rest of the plot, as I think it;’s mostly irrelevant. We see Toller spiral out of control because of a set of setbacks, among which he is urinating blood because of cancer, and has gotten involved in the life of two parishioners – a married couple with issues, and bo have they got issues.

The film is best seen through the eyes of observance – of how religion affects and influences people’s lives, of how humans deal with its significance. I have always thought that Ethan Hawke (who plays Toller) a fantastic actor, and he is great here, grunting and cursing and parishioning. It’s his career-best performance. Towards the end, the film turns fantastical and metaphysical, and it feels like you have stumbled upon a whole different movie, but I kept thinking about it, and its not making sense makes all the sense in the world. This film assaults you, and I bet you’ll welcome it.

Long Rocky Beach (Film Thoughts: On Chesil Beach)

326280-on-chesil-beach-0-230-0-345-cropFor most of ‘On Chesil Beach,’ I was underwhelmed. I guess my mind is too much into what I have known – a child of the 80s –  that I thought a lot of what is in the movie ‘much ado about nothing.’  Do people really break up over sex incompatibility (or lack of trying?) Do people really have no premarital sex? But this is 1962, and I admit I don’t know much about 1962. But then towards the end of the movie, a certain sentimentality was tagged in the movie, and hopeful romantic me just lapped that up. Curiously, here I am days after seeing the film and I am still thinking about the characters.

That’s where the irony lies. A lot of write ups about the movie say that that tacked-on sentimental ending does a great disservice to Ian McEewan’s brilliant book. But can we really say that, knowing McEwan was also involved int he screenplay? I hear that a lot of what is touching in the book rests on the ambiguity on the ending – something that is ‘answered’ on the film version. Of course this would just implore me to just read the damn thing, and curse myself for going by life this far without doing so.

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are perfectly cast as this couple. Ronan is truly a great thinking actress – we see her give us surprises on a character we thought we understood. And where did Howle come from? He expresses anger and confusion and charm all in one gaze, matching Ronan’s complexity.

The film makes us wonder about decisions we make, and maybe that’s why ultimately, it made me think about all the “what might have beens” in my life. In my old age, there have been a lot of those, and though I am a lot better now with them, something triggers sometimes. ‘On Chesil Beach’ did that, and here I am wondering is that is a good or bad thing.