The Power Of Hate (Film Thoughts: BlaKKKlansman)

bkAt first, I did not really want to watch ‘BlacKKKlansman.’ I asked myself, do I really need to watch this film? Don’t we get enough of hate and racism in our daily lives, with Trump supporters emboldened by their leader to be racists, xenophobes and anti-gay? But I kept on hearing from people that not only is this film great, but it is Spike Lee’s best. I wish I could say that I have followed Lee’s oeuvre, but a film being touted as such deserves my attention, at the very least.

And I am glad went to see it. No wonder this won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. This is quite an important film – it says a lot of how what has happened in the past is still happening. And, as important, this is a very entertaining film. Based on Ron Stalworth’s memoir, the film is set in 1972 when Stalwarth (John David Washington) tries to infiltrate the KKK and because of his efforts, thwarts a hate attack. He does this by communicating with the organization by phone and by having Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) be the ‘face’ of Stalwarth. What happens next is entertaining, akin to a thriller, but of course there is more here. The film also deals with police brutality, how blacks are targeted, and how flames are fanned by hate. Sound familiar? As if this weren’t obvious enough, the film ends by inserting footage from last year’s KKK rally from Charlottesville, and how Trump has commended them by saying they are ‘good people.’  Lee has always been a provocateur, but here he seems to be just presenting how things are. The performances here are top-notch, headed by Washington (I just read that he is Denzel’s son) and Driver. I was even impressed by Topher Grace, playing David Duke.

But above all, I really hope people get to open their eyes after seeing this film. I wonder if trump supporters will see how they are faces of hate, that they are on the wrong side of history. Or will they just declare this as just fake news?

The Change In Me (Film Thoughts: The Miseducation of Cameron Post)

MV5BNGI5ZDlkN2EtNTY5NC00ZDdjLTkzODktNzkwOGMwODcxZTI4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_I was looking forward to seeing ‘The Miseducation Of Cameron Post’ because I know it won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance. And of course, it covers an important topic: gay conversion therapy. Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Cameron, a young lady who in the beginning of the movie is caught by her ‘boyfriend’ having sex with another young lady. To ‘fix’ her, she is sent to fay conversion therapy camp by her grandmother and the film follows her as she deals with what goes on there.

Desiree Akhavan’s film is well-intentioned, but I found it claustrophobic. Maybe that is the point – to show how a place like that constricts you – but it made me feel uncomfortable and I just wanted to get out of there and leave the theater. I also found most of it slow and dragging – there was really no big surprise for me. I do admire some great performances here, though. Moretz shows that she can give depth to a real character, and I thought Jennifer Ehle as the icy therapist arresting to look at and certainly scary to deal with. But all in all, the movie felt like an unpleasant experience, not unlike sitting through a horror flick. I don’t know if that was Akhavan’s intention, but I didn’t think it was enjoyable at all.

Stir Crazy (Movie Thoughts: Crazy Rich Asians)

largeposterWhen I got offered a chance to attend an advanced screening of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ I grabbed it right away. I had been looking forward to this film since it was announced for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the first all-Asian cast since ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ and I had also read (and enjoyed) Kevin Kwan’s book. But most importantly, it is a romantic comedy,  and we have not been getting as much of those in recent years.

And ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ deliver in every sense. This is the kind of escapist summer movie that I love – filled with beautiful people and beautiful things, and beautiful emotions. It may not make you fall in love, but it will at least make you feel like you have. It is fun, and the movie has fun with having fun. And the aforementioned cast is close to perfection. Henry Golding makes a perfect ‘Prince Charming,’ and Constance Wu a lovely Cinderella (I had to warm up to her, though) But the best parts are scenes with Awkwafina (who steals every scene she is in) and Michelle Yeoh, who single-handedly manages to make a three-dimensional role a fully-realized human. And Singapore has never looked lovelier – from the scenery to the food to its lush greenery.  So maybe the soap-y plot is familiar, and just like the book, there are too many characters (Kwan even put a glossary for the characters to keep them all straight)  You won’t really notice that, though, because director John Chu frames the film like this was one of his ‘Mission Impossibles:’ it’s fast and furious, and  fabulous. This for me has been the most enjoyable film this summer, and it made me laugh and cry. (The wedding scene made me cry buckets of tears) And it made me feel that brief euphoric feeling of falling in love, (even for me, the ‘generic’ kind) and that, like a Mastercard experience, is priceless.

My Fault, I Fear (Stage Thoughts: Side By Side By Sondheim, The Odyssey Theater Ensemble)

side-by-side-by-sondheimI would be the first to admit I am a theater snob. I am a big theater fan, of course, and since I used to be in new York I would see the best of the bests. I still have no time for touring companies (I always say these are the people not good enough to be on the boards) and there were times I would scoff at local productions. But fate has landed me in Los Angeles, and it’s Tinseltown here all day all night that there isn’t much of a theater scene. Still, there are some small gems to be found if you look hard enough. The Odyssey Theater Ensemble in West Los Angeles is doing a production of ‘Side By Side by Sondheim’ and it has piqued my interest. This is a piece that is not touched frequently, and the only thing I know of it is from an Original London Cast Recording. It’s a mostly chamber piece, and to be honest, it has been ages – decades – since I last listened to that cast recording. So my interest was certainly piqued, though of course I wasn’t expecting too much. I told myself, at the very least, I will be hearing Sondheim songs being sung, and that’s much better than Netflix and Chill (theoretically, of course)

That’s my fault, I fear. This is a small diamond production. It is not of the highest grade, but it does well with what it has got, and the production serves the brilliant material well. The cast of four (Rachel McLaughlan, Chris Kerrigan, Sarah Busic, and Mark Kaufman) sing on pitch, and on some numbers even shine on their interpretations. But I sense some greenness – Busic has a little tendency to oversell a song (such as in ‘Losing My Mind’) and McLaughlan has minor tics that distract (she winks at wrong moments) Kerrigan fares better mostly, and has a vocal range that can navigate the intricacy of Sondheim’s music. Kaufman has a lot less to do, essaying the narrator part, and is mostly unmemorable. All in all, they are competent, though, frankly, not top notch.

But that’s me being a showqueen bitch. This is a small production, and it provides enough joys for an evening, It’s better than an episode of ‘Queer Eye’ on Netflix on a random Saturday night, and in my book, that is good.

In Search Of Melancholy (Film Thoughts: Christopher Robin)

MV5BMjAzOTM2OTAyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTg5ODg1NTM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_I don’t know why, but something compelled me to watch Disney’s ‘Christopher Robin,’  and I didn’t know why. I am not really a fan of Winnie the Pooh, and I was mostly lukewarm about an earlier film about the author (I wrote about it here ) but perhaps the Universe was steering me towards it for a reason, and it is perhaps to address a wave of melancholy I have been feeling lately. In this film, directed by Marc Forster some a screenplay by Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson, has Christopher Robin as an adult with a young daughter. Christopher is overworked, toiling for a luggage company, and far far away from his old friends from Hundred Acre Mile. But then Winnie the Pooh wake up one morning, disoriented and weak, ad looking for his ragtag group of friends. He enlists Christopher’s help and of course, Christopher has no time for him – he has to give a proposal to the board of his company on how to crunch numbers for more profit. So a lesson must be learned in all this, and it’s something we all know. But something her hits me hard – on how our lost friendships can come back, on how some of them can never come back, and how in our old age, we have to rely on things and folks familiar, and hope they will be there to help us. I couldn’t help but shed a tear – thinking of myself, of my mortality, of being alone, and lonely, and will someone be there for me when things start to get tough. Just writing about this now is piercing my heart. This is what makes the movie special to me. For the most part, I am not the target market for this film, but the slice of wistfulness got to me, and it helped get in touch more with my emotions. Maybe the Universe needed for me to get in touch with them, and perhaps that is why I got drawn to it. I am still trying to figure out the end-game lesson, but it shouldn’t matter. I should just enjoy the here and now.

 

Unnecessarily (Movie Thoughts: The Spy Who Dumped Me)

large_spy-dumpedIf a movie doesn’t interest me at all, I avoid it at all costs, even if crowds of people like it. But sometimes, I do get into movies and ask myself why am I here? Ten minutes into ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me,’  I asked that question, and even after I left, I am still asking why I wasted my time and energy on it.  This movie is nothing more than an unnecessary everything. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon play friends who get caught into some kind of espionage situation that’s never really fully explained – some mishmash about a data file. But then again, both actresses play cardboard characters. We know zilch about them so why should we care? Plus, one wonders why it is so violent – another unnecessary aspect – when it is supposed to be a comedy. But whatevs. This movie has already wasted two hours of my time, and I am not spending a minute more on it.

Where Is The Wild? (Music Thoughts: Wild And Free, Jessica Vosk)

51RfjVOLtQLPost ‘Wicked,’ female Broadway singers now usually fall under two categories: the brassy belters (the Elphaba type) or the sassy sopranos (the Galindas)  I am of course generalizing, but I guess this has been true for a while (see Ethel Merman vs Mary Martin)  Jessica Vosk falls under the former, for sure. I mean, she is the current Elphaba on Broadway. ‘Wild and Free’ is her debut album, funded through crowd-sourcing.

The album is *exactly* what I thought it would sound. It’s not really totally show tunes, because she is probably influenced by pop music. But there’s a fair number of show songs there, and they are not bad. I am glad she sang ‘Nobody’s Side,’ from Chess, for example, although in my opinion, her version is good but nothing I haven’t heard before. Her ‘Music That Makes Me Dance’ is competent, but I still hear Idina doing Barbra in her version. I paid attention a little bit more on her medlette of ‘Help/Sondheim’ (The Beatles and Sondheim do not make a bad combination) and ‘It All Fades Away,’ from The Bridges of Madison County might make into one of those I can take out of context but you know, the typical Jason Robert Brown tuneless mess. (Sutton Foster does it too on her new album)  Elsewhere in the album, I found some uninspired moments: a predictable song from ‘the Greatest Showman’ (A Million Dreams) and an all-too-familiar belter choice (Sia’s “Chandelier, always a yawn-inducer from me)  So there are some mixed reactions from me here.