Beauty Books (Film Thoughts: The Book Club)

54530There is a lot of joy seeing four great actresses interacting on screen, and that is the joy you will get in seeing ‘The Book Club.’  I don’t think anyone will go this movie expecting great filmmaking or deep social commentary of the times. The jokes here are more on the shallow and salty side and more often than not, I rolled my eyes at them (There are two ladies sitting beside me who lapped all of them up, though)  But somehow this movie felt very satisfying. And it all boils down to the performances, stupid. Jane Fonda, Candace Bergen, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen can create real-life characters even if those same characters are written as caricatures. You believe them, you treasure them, there is no doubt in your mind that these women here have been friends for north of 40 years. You believe their shared history, even if they aren’t spelled vividly in front of your eyes. You follow the stupid paths their characters are facing right now, even if at the same time they all have flimsy and unbelievable story lines. No matter – you got to spend time with these four great actresses, and that’s maybe just more than enough to make you happy.

 

Heart Loves (Film Thoughts: Anything)

anyth‘Anything’ is about a Early Landry (played by John Carroll Lynch)  who had a recent tragedy in his life and because of this has to move to Los Angeles. The film, written and directed by Timothy McNeill, is also based on his play ‘Anything,’ and at times the film does feel stage-y. But it’s well-meaning, and I really liked this film, even though I have some reservations with it. First of all, I think I had some problem with its pacing, with it starting slow, and just as when things started to pick up, it was already ending. I also know that there was a lot of disappointment when Matt Bomer was cast in the role of Freda von Rhenburg. A lot of people said that the role should have gone to a trans woman. there are very few roles available for transgendered people as it is, should Bomer take one away from them? My response to that after seeing the film? This role is thankless, and really, it could have been played by anyone and I don’t think it would have mattered. Bomer does well here, and though the role is showy,  it’s written thinly, and there’s only so much one actor can do to make it meatier. All in all this film is about Early Landry – he is the heart and soul of the piece.

Have I said I liked it? I surely can identify with Landry’s character as a resent transport to the Los Angeles area. And I am in love with the love story here. ‘Isn’t it just love?’ one character says and the film shows how gender, orientation, and everything else can be bypassed all in the name of what one feels for another. There is a scene when where everything blows up courtesy of Maura Tierney’s character (she play’s Early’s well-meaning but pushy sister) and I found myself weeping after – there was something really special and meaningful there and I think the Universe sent that to me. I needed to hear that message right now. There are a lot of ordinary things here, but the film’s heart is extraordinary.

Stephie From The Block (Television/Stage Thoughts: Stephanie J Block Live From Lincoln Center)

 

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I love theater. I love theater music, I love theater performers – the belters, the Ethel Mermans. So it’s no surprise that I loved ‘Stephanie J Block Live at Lincoln Center.’ This episode, taped last Dec 22, showcases one of the best voices on Broadway these days (she will be playing Cher in ‘The Cher Show’ opening soon on the boards) and this shows off her wonderful belting voice. I once saw her on a touring production of ‘Anything Goes,’ on the same production where Sutton Foster won a Tony, and the great thing about Block in that production was that I forgot about Foster’s performance, because Block made the role her own. Here, in this concert, she sings ‘Defying Gravity, and gosh darn you will ask ‘Idina who’ after hearing her version. I am not saying her version is better than Idina’s but you will definitely her version is different – and works just as well. And the thing I really appreciate in this show is how I saw a different side of Block – she has a sparkling sassy personality that you will want to just embrace. No wonder she is such a beloved figure in the theater community. For me, my two favorite numbers of hers here are the most personal ones for her  – when she sings about her husband in a medlette of ‘My Man/The Music That Makes me Dance,’ and when her husband, Sebastian Arcelus, duets with her with the gender-bending version of ‘Move On.’  This show made me miss New York.

Mommy Dearest (Film Thoughts: Tully)

tulllI am obviously not a mother, so I had doubts as to whether I could relate to ‘Tully.’  And I was kind of right, since I was watching the film with a bit of indifference. For me, it felt just a little too ordinary, although I admit the situation probably feels extraordinary to someone who is experiencing it. I was going to write the film off as just one of those women movies – no offense, but just not for me. Then there comes that twist at the end – it’s sly and will catch you by surprise, like a train that just knocks you over and you think, ‘did that just happen,’ and you realize it just did.

That’s the brilliance of this film – it catches you by surprise. It had that element of tender shock and I left the theater thinking about it, trying to explain it to myself, asking myself what the whole thing really meant. And I am even more in awe of Charlize Theron as an actress – this woman is fearless and I curiously have not really seen her in a lot of things. I know I saw ‘Young Adult’ but for the life of me don’t remember anything about it. But she is unforgettable here, as Marlo, who goes down and dirty as a mother of two as she goes through giving birth to her third. Marlo is stressed, frustrated, but her character never really feels entitled or unsympathetic, and Theron injects Marlo with a down-to-earth sense of humor that further grounds the character. You may not truly love her, but you understand her. When Marlo gets a night nanny (Mackenzie Davis) you do kind of wonder, is there such a thing? But then the situation just sucks you into it instantly, and well, I won’t want to put any more spoilers but suffice it to say, teh nanny becomes an important part of the film, and Marlo’s life.

I recommend this, and sad to see it really hasn’t done very well at the box-office. I guess this kind of film really is difficult to market. I bet, though, that it will find its audience. You just have to give it a chance.

Echoes Of Long Ago (Music Thoughts: I Honestly Love You, Delta Goodrem)

245595-l-loWhen I saw Delta Goodrem’s new album, ‘I Honestly love You,’ on Spotify, I got excited, as I see that it is a tribute to one of my beloveds, Olivia Newton John. And it even has a kitschy cover of her ‘being’ Olivia. But I then realized that these were scenes from a  biopic for Australian television (I wanna see that!)  And essentially, this album is the television soundtrack. I was going to gripe about the sameness of the arrangements here but then realize Goodrem didn’t really have much room for that here. Still, she sings these songs with gusto, and I am just glad she included my favorite ONJ song ‘Magic.”  I also liked that they dug deep into the ‘Baby Olivia’ country-tinged discography, and love the ‘bonus’ of the two tracks, ‘Love Is A Gift,’ and ‘Let Me Be There’ where Olivia herself duets with Goodrem. And you gotta give Goodrem credit for a flawless rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You.’ All in all, more a souvenir piece, so good to have.

I Obey (Film Thoughts: Disobedience)

Disobedience-poster-600x890Someone described ‘Disobedience’ to me as ‘Call Me By Your Name’ for lesbians, and it really is not an apt comparison. There’s an inherent huge conflict in ‘Disobedience,’ which is religion, that towers over the whole film, and that is quite different from the mostly internal struggles of Oliver and Elio.

And as a film, ‘Disobedience’ is not as fully realized. This film was directed by Sebastian Lelio, who directed ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ who won the Academy Award last year for Best Foreign Language, and also one of my favorite films of 2017/. But something ‘Disobedience’ feels hollow. It is about Ronit (Rachel Weisz) who goes back to London for her father’s funeral. The father is a renowned rabbi in the Orthodox Jewish community, and his obituary they mentioned that he did not have any children – Ronit is an modern woman, long real hair, leather skirt. She goes to live with the man his father has been mentoring to take over the synagogue, and she finds out he has married her old friend Esti (Rachel McAdams)  but wait…there’s more… Esti and Ronit used to be lovers. So sure, the plot is soap opera, but Lelio’s treatment is quiet and classy, and the film feels filmed under an Instagram filter. All that serves as smoke to distract from the story, and that’s all fine. But I wish we got a little more – this was based on Naomi Alderman’s novel and I bet there’s a lot that didn’t make it to screen.

Still, the film isn’t a total loss, we get fantastic performances from both actresses, and it’s always a treat to see these kinds of stories on the big screen.

When The Sun Comes Out (Film Thoughts: Un Beau Soleil Interior/Let the Sunshine In)

frenI think Juliette Binoche is one of those under-appreciated actresses, although I think she does more in Europe than America, where she is mostly known for ‘The English Patient.’ Her charm is on perfect display on her film ‘Un Beau Soleil Interior,’ which has the English title of ‘Let The Sunshine In’ as it is released here in the States.

Set in Paris, Binoche is Isabelle, one of those chic ladies who is looking for love. She is in a couple of relationships, but nothing is hitting. We can all relate. Binoche gives this role her all – I an watch her just looking at paintings at a museum and I can feel a sense of what the character is, what it is feeling, what motivates it.

I wished I like the movie more. The character is written as whiny, even though Binoche obviously humanizes it more – and the men she gets herself involves with seem like the same exact characters. There’s a ‘surprise’ at the end that will leave you walking out on a high note, but it felt like a chore getting there. Still, I recommend this for Niinoche’s performance – where you will see a living breathing actress on top of her game.

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