If You Believed They Put A Man On The Moon (Film Thoughts: First Man)

first_man_posterDamien Chazelle, in ‘First Man,’ delivers a film that is opposite of what everyone expects it to be.  I think I know what he is trying to do here – the film is very simple, and a lot of it is internal and subtle. That style is very discordant with its subject – Neil Armstrong walking in the moon – that it feels like a step back. All in all, I am confused by what the film is trying to say. As far as biopics go, it’s not as fully formed, and only represented a particular part of Armstrong’s life. Is the film supposed to represent the mood of those times? Or perhaps it’s a low-key action movie, as it is effective in making you feel like you are in there inside the space ship with Armstrong (the sound direction here should be a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination) All in all, it’s not nearly enough of any of those things, resulting to a competent but ultimately meh of a movie. A friend of mine, describing it, called it ‘unremarkable’ and I agree. There’s this big movie here that doesn’t deliver in a lot of ways.

Ryan Gosling, as Neil Armstrong, gives a real understated – and effective – performance. He fills the character well despite it being written with starkness. I always say it’s harder to convey something subtly because an actor would limited talent would easily go over than under. There is an intelligence in how Gosling gives a glance or a stare to convey emotion. In a lot of ways, this is very similar to his performance in ‘Drive’ so there’s a precedent to how he tackled this role.

A film like this should have excited me about something – science, patriotism – but my biggest takeaway from it is that Gosling’s performance deserved a better movie.

A Bad Sad Time (Movie Thoughts: Bad Times At The El Royale)

bad_times_at_the_el_royale‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ could have been good, but it lives up to its title. Written and Directed by Drew Goodard, it is a lot of style with some substance with a whole lot more self-indulgence along the way.

It boasts of a strong cast – Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm – so it did not suffer from lack of execution. When it first starts, you wonder what the eff am I watching,’ and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. However, when it all came together, and it kind of made sense, you say ‘that was it?’  The payoff just isn’t there to justify what you just went through. The film is painfully slow – does this film really need to be almost two and a half hours? – and I have to admit that there were more than enough moments when I felt utterly bored by it. Cynthia Errivo is the MVP from the cast, her acting (and singing) trying desperately to make sense in the midst of all the confusion. I was excited going into the film, and leaving the theater I just felt sad. And I already have enough sadness in my life.

Life After Ro (Television Thoughts: The Conners, ABC)

p15661264_b_v12_aaWill ‘Roseanne’ survive without Roseanne? That has been the burning question since ABC fired Barr from her eponymous sitcom. And if you go back and read what I wrote earlier this year about the reboot, she was the one that turned me off most about the show. As a matter of fact, I stopped watching at some point. So of course, now that she isn’t there anymore, I am more than happy to give the new show a chance. And after watching the first episode of ‘The Conners,’ I can say that I have hope. This episode isn’t as full of laughs as previous episodes, but I guess I have to give it a little bit of air. There is a bittersweet feeling in the household, and I am sure the energy is the same. Just like them, we are kind of mourning Roseanne the character, who in the series has dies of an opiod overdose. The family deals with it the best they know how, with their acerbic dark humor.  Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has seemingly taken over being the female lead of the series, but I think the best actors in there are still Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman (the latter lost so much weight)  Even though I didn’t really care for that story line of Jackie rearranging things in the kitchen to deal with her sister’s death, but for sure Metcalf sold it with all her might, and by Golly, darn if it didn’t end up as one of the best things from the pilot episode. And it was a nice surprise to have a nice ‘coming out’ sub story line with Darlene’s son finally acknowledging the fact that he is attracted to the same sex, and Dan reluctantly helping him out with it. All in all, a nice sobering start, and hopefully it lightens up as the season progresses.

Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? (Movie Thoughts: Beautiful Boy)

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u1After going to a screening of ‘Beautiful Boy,’ a friend texted me wanting to get drinks. I demurred, because the movie made me emotionally exhausted. Director Felix Van Groenigen has adapted David and Nic Sheff’s twin set memoirs of the latter’s battle with addiction and the movie vividly portrays what happens to someone with the disease, and at times it feels like an endless cycle – of vicious highs and lows, of benders and recoveries, and after almost two hours of this, I just felt my heart so heavy. Perhaps it is the ‘caretaker’ in me, a role I have played for most people most of my life – though not lately and not now. There is a part of me that wants to scoop up poor Timothee Chalamet and shake him, or hug him, or both. Chalamet’s portrayal felt at times too real, a testament to how good he is. He literally transforms before our eyes, from a surf-loving teenager to a bonafide methhead. It is one of the most crushing performances I have seen in recent memory, and yes there were tears, and lots.

But I am not blind to the film’s other flaws. The story is mostly told from the father, Davis’s point of view, and in the beginning of the film he asks why could something like this happen to his beautiful boy of a son. We never get an answer to that question. Steve Carrell plays David with a lot of warmth, but also with a touch of indifference. We sense his love for his son, and we get the sacrifices he did for him, but the character is much too heroic, and i never got a sense of its full texture, unlike Chalamet who goes all-out for Nic.

So as a film, we get short strawed, but Chalamet’s performance more than makes up for it. Above everything else, we see a still fearless actor with still no guards whatsoever. I hope he never loses that rawness, as it is what gives him the edge to be one of the finest young actors around.

The End Smell (Perfume Thoughts: Eleventh Hour, Byredo)

375x500.50934Seconds after spritzing Byredo’s ‘Eleventh Hour’ and I am already impressed – what is this note, I asked. It’s dark, and dank and peppery, and this morning it was nice and cold, and this just fits perfectly as I wake up and it is still kind of dark outside. Turns out the note is called Ban Timmur, and it is a Nepalese plant related to Szechuan pepper. It has a moody kind of spice, and I am addicted to it. And then some cloves come in, and in its heart a fig – the juicy kind, not the just-off-stem that is in Philosykos.  But there’s also a creaminess to this, and I get some cashmere kinds of woods that feel like the scent is enveloping you and keeping you warm. I imagine in my mind a burnt orange hue, and this makes the perfume just perfect for the late fall.

Eleventh Hour is inspired by the end of the world. Well, if this is what the end smells like, then I gather it will not be as dreaded. I know that L’Artisan had a similarly themed one in 1999, but their interpretation was more altar-incense themed, asking you to pray. Byredo’s point of view at the end feels more settled-in. Byredo’s recent releases have been nice, but this one has excited me just a little more.

Everyone Was Beautiful At The Studio (Film Thoughts: Studio 54, The Documentary)

fullYears ago there were competing films about Studio 54 and you think that would have been enough for this topic but here we are forty years later and we are still talking about the famed iconic club. This time, Matt Tyrnauer has directed a documentary that is so vivid that it will probably the definitive documentation of not only that club, but of that carefree era – someone described it as the hedonistic era between the birth control pill and AIDS.  I don’t know how Tyrnauer compiled all his material, but he has a knack for choosing footage that best showcase how it was during that time. Plus, what adds value here is the presence of Ian Schrager, the ‘silent partner’ during those times. Steve Rubbell was obviously the more gregarious face of the club, and he thrived int he presence of all the major celebrities of the time (We see a young Michael Jackson being interviewed praising him to high heavens)  I loved seeing all the pictures and videos of Liza, and Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol, and all the icons of the time. And the fashion – still very relevant, if you ask my opinion. I really can’t say that I learned a lot from this movie –  except maybe that President Obama pardoned Ian Schrager before leaving office in January 2017 – but that is only because I have been fascinated by this topic for a while. I was born a little too late for its heyday, but I remember going to the space for a private party there in the late 80s and I could swear you could still feel the energy of the club. Rubell succumbed to AIDS in 1989, but there are most other names and faces who perished after that era. In some small way, this film keeps them alive.

Wish Upon A Star (Film Thoughts: A Star Is Born)

asibI had a curious combination of being mortified/excited/curious about ‘A Star Is Born’ since I saw its trailer a couple of months ago. Full Disclosure: I have never really been a fan of Lady Gaga (I would say I am on the opposite side of that spectrum) so  that might explain my indifference. (As a matter of fact, I got an invitation to an advanced screening and I declined) I think I wanted to see the film with friends who will be more enthusiastic about it, as I don’t really want to be in a ‘cynical’ mood, and if I were alone I definitely would be not as objective.

And the first half an hour of it is thrilling. And whatever I felt previously about Gaga, I thought she was fantastic in the beginning parts of the film, and I confess to weeping as she, as Ally,  sings ‘La Vie En Rose,’ and that will remain my favorite part of the film – not only because it’s a great musical number, but because I love the context of its scene: as Bradley Cooper’s character Jackson lays eyes on her, he (and we) know that a certain magic is starting to happen here, and we all see it unfolding before our eyes. The next couple of scenes are as great, as they get to know each other, and the intimacy between them is revealed. We see how two souls connect, and very few movies get to capture that moment. And of course, that scene where Jackson pulls Ally to sing with him ‘Shallow,’ in the middle of the concert, is cinematic heaven – the high of that is the emotional highlight of the movie, when you tell yourself, ‘Wow this is so great, and I can’t wait to see what happens next…’

And then the movie starts to fall flat. The narrative just isn’t there. In previous iterations of this story, we see the woman’s star ascend, making her mentor/lover antagonistic, jealous as his ego is bruised. Here, Jackson’s alcoholism is a ‘disease’ and nothing emotional really causes it (or at least we don’t get that impression) so we look for conflict that is really not there. And the film limps more, meandering and unfocused, before it tries to recover in the finale, the destination we all know it was headed for. At that point, I had been emotionally disconnected.

Yes, I was disappointed, as I wanted to love this film, and now just love it’s first part. Cooper’s direction is strong: the film has a distinctive point of view, but it seems to not know what to say: perhaps it meant to only essay a strong love story, and we are looking for more?  And just like all actor-directors, Cooper is able to extract fantastic performances from his cast. Yes, Gaga is fantastic and proves to me she is a great actress, and I truly believe there will be greater performances coming from her in the future. (There are now talks of her doing ‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway) Most times, too, she displays that inimitable ‘star quality’ that very few have – there are scenes here you cannot stop looking at her.  I leave my highest marks, though,  to Cooper as Jackson Mane – he exposes his heart here without putting it on his sleeve. How many times the could have crossed over to hysterical and  overwrought, but he knows how to pull it in. I won’t be mad if he wins accolades.

And I wish I liked the music, but then again country-rock is not really my genre. I was careful not to listen to the soundtrack before seeing the film, and had high hopes with the ‘eleven o clock’ number, ‘I’ll Never Love Again,’ but that song sounds like a Mariah Carey ballad from the early aughts (Gaga curiously even sings it in the vein)

All in all, there’s a better movie in here somewhere, though I think a lot of people think it’s already there.  For me, it’s imperfectness in the middle section muddles its excellent first third, but you know what, the perfectness of that first part is worth the price of admission.