Set To Destroy (Film Thoughts: Destroyer)

destroyerNicole Kidman is one of my favorite actresses because I think she is so fearless – nothing stops her from making any of her characters authentic. She does whatever she needs to do, she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to get the job done. On Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer,’ a lot of people have commented on how she altered her looks to make herself look unattractive – mousy brown wig, unclear skin. But that is just the beginning of how she transformed into the character of Erin Bell. Ever the thinking actress, there’s a lot more to the character – the low voice, the ticks and mannerisms. And Kidman is tough and convincing, both badass and vulnerable, and is fascinating to watch.Erin Bell is never a non-three dimensional character – it lives and breathes right before our eyes. As a detective who was burned years ago in an operation, Bell struggles to find her way when shady characters from the past come back into her life.

The story is pretty simple, but Kusama gives the film a specific feel that it never feels stale. We are transported in a  world of sun-drenched and lived-in Los Angeles, and for me it feels familiar and foreign at the same time.  That said, I wish I was into it more – this just isn’t my kind of story, and the film did not engage me as much as it should have. And while I commend Kidman and her performance (probably one of the best in her career) I just wasn’t in love with the film.

The Up and Up (Movie Thoughts: The Upside)

large_epvl4k2dxqogffbegit49rsqu3cI really had no plans of seeing ‘The Upside’ because of Kevin Hart and his homophobic comments. But there were very slim pickings, and I had read that audiences are loving it. I saw its original version, the French movie ‘The Intouchables,’ and I remember liking it, but thought it was a very American kind of movie, so I guess it is inevitable that there is an American remake of it.

Well, what do you know. I hate to admit it, but I will be honest – I loved this film. John Hartmere is credit with the American screenplay and I thought it did a pretty good job of Americanizing the story, and making it something we can relate to instantly. And it had great performances. Bryan Cranstone is wonderful as Philip, the millionaire paraplegic who employs Del (Kevin Hart) to take care of him. Philip wanted something different, and Del is as different – and rough – as they come. They forge a friendship, and they learn from each other. It’s all trope, mind you, but you believe because the characters are believable. And I hate to say this, but I was charmed by Hart’s performance. I don’t think I have ever seen one of his films before, and he sure can fill a screen. (But then again, he plays a homophobe here, so…)  And I had wondered why Nicole Kidman would take a supporting role here, but after seeing the movie I get it – she makes her own mark in the film and is wonderful as well.  This is an entertaining commercial film, probably a bit more mainstream for my tastes, but I had an enjoyable time watching it. And as long as you keep it a secret, i can even confess I was touched by it.

Bless The Beats and the Children (Movie Thoughts: The Children Act)

large_children-act-posterA friend of mine was telling me that his best friend’s ten year old son was in a skiing accident and is now in life support.  The parents now have to make a decision on whether to ‘pull the plug.’ That made me think. I think I have always been a practical person (I am a Virgo) and even though I believe in God and very spiritual, I myself would not have any problems making a decision like that if told that we are at the end of a road.

That also made me think of a movie I saw recently, Richard Eyre’s ‘The Children Act,’ which more or less touches the same issue. Fiona Maye is a judge, played by Emma Thompson, who has to rule on a case of a teenager who needs blood transfusion. But he and his parents are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their religion forbids that. Before she rules on the case though, she visits the teenager in the hospital, and in his eyes, a special bond forms between them. But perhaps in her eyes as well? She is int he middle of a crumbling marriage, and perhaps she sees in him the answer to that. While the story about the case was interesting, I thought what happens after was even more riveting – we see the relationship between the two laid out, and we see both of them changing. And Thompson gives a fantastic internal performance. It’s her film, really, and she shows here why is one of the best living actresses, expressing emotions with a glance or a finger flutter. Fionn Whitehead plays Adam, and he is great as well (apparently he was in ‘Dunkirk,’ but i don’t remember which part he played) providing complexity as a troubled teen whose eyes were opened, only to be closed again. This movie is thought provoking, but it will also touch your heart.

Starting from Barbra’s Start (Music Thoughts: Starting Here Starting Now, Cornelia Luna)

cornelia-luna-starting-here-starting-now-cd-cover-tmr-december-2018What a way to start the New Year but with an album titled ‘Starting Here Starting Now.’ It is by Cornelia Luna, who I remember being one of the Kims in the Original Broadway Cast of Miss Saigon. Initially, I thought that the album would be Broadway songs but I read up and saw that the inspiration of the album is Barbra Streisand. These are songs that are associated with Barbra, and she culls from the earlier albums, when Streisand was singing arrangements by Peter Matz.  Backed by the Bill King Trio, Luna sings with jazzy inflections. I don’t dislike her interpretations, but I probably have to get used to these arrangements of her songs. I don’t know if her stylings, for example, work on a song like ‘Will Someone Ever Look At me That Way?’ a song so personal that this version seems cold and impersonal. But on ‘Gotta Move,’ you can tell that Luna knows how to interpret and sing songs her way. And on the title track, there’s a high reached there that tells the full story of the lyric. It is interesting to me that she chose to sing songs from Barbra’s last duet album, ‘Any Moment Now,’ and ‘Loving You,’ (the former she duets with Gavin Hope) because stylistically they are very different from Barbra’s early material and they really don’t gel well together, but that is forgiven by her tender ‘I Had Myself A True Love,’ my favorite track from the album.

A Boy In Beirut (Film Thoughts: Capernaum)

1537344409image300x450capharnaumNadine Labaki’s ‘Capernaum’ looks at a life of a twelve year old boy in modern day Beirut. When we first see him, he is handcuffed and in court, for he has sued his parents. For what? For bringing him into the world. And then through the course of the film, we see the heartbreak of the life that he is living – in extreme poverty. He initially took care of his sister, who we see has been sold, at eleven years old, to be the bride of a man. (We learn later that she perishes in the hands of same man)  Zain, (played by Zain Al Rafeea) escapes and starts to live with a woman, Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her infant, and he becomes the caretaker of the child while she is at work. That is, until she gets apprehended for being an illegal worker. Labaki creates this chaotic world for Zain wherein the pain gets escalated at each turn, but the boy is resilient, is street smart, and as played magnificently by Al Rafeea, is a wounded strong heart that keeps on beating even after repeated lashings. You cannot help but be caught in his plight, and I found myself wincing and closing my eyes a couple of times. I don’t know if I could take what he has to go through. The film is hyper, always moving, and involving.

But as an experience, I hated it. I don’t know if I could bear films like these anymore, with poverty porn front and center. In my older age, I have become more idealistic, and there are times I would like to think stories like these don’t exist anymore, but obviously, they do, and there are probably more and more each day. It’s an imperfect world we live in, and films like these show realism. The characters here do get some light and redemption in the end, but as for me, I am scarred.

Mrs. Tide (Television Thoughts:Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, Netflix)

5efebe354f34a6ad07efd254d77ebdb1d8a56bf6It’s the New Year and people are joining health clubs and cleaning up their houses.  And of course, what better for Netflix to roll out their new series, ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.’  Kondo sparked interest a couple of years ago when she released a book wherein she tells people to get rid of things in their lives that do not ‘spark joy’ in them. And of course, that made me roll my eyes. I wouldn’t have anything in my life that doesn’t spark joy, I thought. Obviously, I have way too much clothes (don’t even pretend you don’t) but more or less, they give me happiness.

I have only seen the first episode, and the show is much more engaging than I thought it would be. It’s your typical HGTV style show, of transforming space from clutter to clean, with a bit of psychological cleansing involved – think Queer Eye where there’s crying and hugging. Kondo’s style is really simple, and seems to be effective. The new-agey part still makes me roll my eyes a bit – in the beginning she makes everyone say a prayer of thanks for their house. As for the ‘spark joy’ part, she has a thing wherein you kiss your clothes and say thank you to it if you want to discard it, but I ask: what if you never wore the clothes and it never served a purpose for you – do you still thank it, and if so, for what? But I am just being cynical, though, really if you have clutter (and I raise my hand) maybe it’s best to start tackling it instead of watching this show.

Formidably Ruth (Film Thoughts: On The Basis of Sex)

on_the_basis_of_sex_poster‘On The Basis Of Sex’  present Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg at a very specific time of her life – from her early Harvard days (only the sixth year it has accepted women) to her successful case outlawing discrimination ‘on the basis of sex,’ a watershed moment in gender equality. It is very sympathetic to her, and the film is mostly about her. i have no problems with that, as Ginsberg is surely a formidable figure in modern history. She is resilient, and most importantly, she is on my side of the issues. I think even the most hardened Republican would acknowledge her brilliance. Directed by Mimi Leder, the film is pretty straightforward, with a head-strong performance by Felicity Jones as Ginsberg. She captures her tenacity, her stubborn streak, her humanity. We see a three-dimensional character here, and in the end we love her more. I am not going to say I knew every bit of this case, so I was ‘in’ on its suspense, and silly me even cried at the outcome. It’s all very satisfying. Everything else in the movie is just an accessory to her character. Armie Hammer – delicious looking as always  – plays her husband and merely serves as foil for Ruth to be more human, though there are more colorful turns, like Kathy Bates playing Dorothy Kenyon (she give a memorable small performance here)  It can sometimes feel very by-the-book, but it’s a meaningful book, so no complaints.