Almost Precious (Film Thoughts: Joe Bell)

So here’s the conundrum. There are so many good things going for ‘Joe Bell’ that I can’t help but root for it – it has a screenplay by the tandem of Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (they did this little thing called ‘Brokeback Mountain’) and film is expertly directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. And I have to admit, I weeped a couple of times during the film, and I was especially moved by Reid Miller’s performance as Jadin, the gay teenager who took his life because he was bullied by his classmates. And the message, of course, resonates, and will always be timely and important. I mean, all these elements should add up to something special.

But… the stench of Mark Wahlberg permeates. This is a star vehicle for him, designed to elicit sympathy, a redemption vehicle seemingly from his racist past. And I may have been able to get past that if he were good, but he isn’t. He tries subtlety but I did not see any depth there. As a matter of fact, I did not feel anything from him, and I found it such a waste of effort. This could have been any actor’s piece, and it would have worked infinitely better.

So – did I like the film? Yes, in a lot of ways I did. I am begrudgingly recommending it despite its bad central performance, and just wish for what might have been.

Love Letters Straight From The Heart (Film Thooughts: The Last Letter From Your Lover)

I will always be in the mood for soapy melodramatic romance pieces, and on a Summer Saturday night, Augustine Frizell’s ‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ is exactly what I am looking for. It has everything I want: glamorous period piece sets, fashionable wardrobe, fab women and cute guys, and a swoony love story that will make you fall in love It will make you yearn for something while munching on pop corn. It’s a modern day Douglas Sirk extravaganza, and you don’t have to think too much about it. And it is very well acted, so even if things are a little on the ‘can you believe it’ side – there’s an abundance of issues here, like amnesia, car accidents, missed messages – you can just shrug and believe. And Callum Turner’s smoldering turn makes me warm on the collar, if I have to be honest. So what are you waiting for ? This is the perfect Netflix and Chill flick.

Row Two Rivers (Series Thoughts: never Have I Ever, S02 E01)

I am so happy that the second season of ‘Never Have I Ever’ is here, as I binge-watched the first season quickly. This time around, I will savour the series slowly, and I won’t be as greedy consuming it. I just watched the first episode and love it – the zing is still there, and the it hasn’t lost any of its wit and intelligence. The action starts literally where it ended the last time: Devi is kissing Ben after she has scattered her father’s ashes, and it looks…promising. But that’s just the beginning of her dilemma – he asks her to be his girlfriend, and she is receptive.

But everything isn’t as easy, though. Paxton is also now showing interest in her and now she…has two boyfriends? Devi has decided that she will row two rivers, as they say. And thats where teh fun begins – this Indian who was once a nerd now has two hottie love interests. But wait, isn’t her family moving to India? At least, her mother is threatening that, even selling her patient list to a rival dermatologist, played by Common.

It is kind of pissing me off – should I be rooting for Devi and her American dream? All I will know is that it will be a lot of fun finding out.

Where’s The Bacon (Film Thoughts: Pig)

I can say with extreme confidence that Michael Sarnoski’s ‘Pig’ isn’t the movie that you thought it would be – whatever it is that movie in your mind. I had misgivings about it before I knew anything about it, because I thought it was one of those action revenge films (akin to ‘John Wick,’ which I never saw by the way) but what we have here is a unique drama of loss, of rumination of life, and what might have been. It’s a film that is difficult to describe, and how you react to it will probably vary as well. But I bet it will move you in ways you will mot realize. It is one of those films that I frankly did not know how to fully comprehend, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated its many layers. There’s a lot of subtlety here – in fact, there is too much subtlety and that is where its beauty lies, and in the center is a nuanced performance by Nicolas Cage. He will break your heart.

Musical of Musicals (Series Thoughts: Schmigadoon S01 E01 E02, Apple TV+)

Apple TV’s ‘Schmigadoon’ was made for someone like me. I mean, where do I start? It’s a show about a musical, and it is itself a musical. It has musical numbers, with references to famous musicals in almost every frame. Sure, it pokes fun of them, too, but in a cute ribbing way – and you have to get the references anyway to feel any kind of sting. It’s truly wonderful.

I have seen the first two episodes and I am in love with it (I had to rewatch them right away) It is about a married couple, both doctors, who go on some kind of couples retreat to add some spice to their relationship. And wonder of all wonders, they get stuck in a place called Schmigadoon, a town stuck in the musical wonders of the 40s and 50s. Think an amalgamation of ‘Oklahoma!,’ ‘Carousel,’ and ‘The Music Man.’ It’s the kind of place where people burst into song and just burst into full-blown production numbers instantly, and you will either love it or hate it (I say you love)

The highlight for me, in the first episode anyway, is a scene reminiscent of the Carousel bench scene, with Aaron Tveit starring as Danny (think Billy Bigelow) falling madly in love with Melanie, one of the doctor visitors. It’s corny, it’s cute, and Tveit is just pure perfection. The musical numbers are all great, Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is spot on. And spotting all the references will be such a good ‘game’ to spot for a musicals nerd like me.

I am so in love with this show that this is probably never going to be renewed.

The Problem With Harvey (Series Thoughts: Catch and Kill, S01 E01 E02, HBO)

HBO’s ‘Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes’ is based on Ronan Farrow’s podcast, which is an offshoot from his book which is an offshoot from the NewYorker article that he did exposing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault cases. I know that the whole premise sounds like it is beating an already dead horse, but there’s something about this case that is still quite interesting for me. Maybe because it has very famous personalities in it, and seeing the case in a new medium (this time, a television series) makes it even more animated. I have only watched the first two episodes of the series, and it has captivated me.

On the first episode, we get Ambra Battilana, the Filipina/American actress who finally broke the big case. The star of the episode is her audiotape. When she went to report Weinstein assaulting her, the police asked her to wire tape their next interaction. She did, only to find her case being thrown out for lack of evidence. Through her resourcefulness, she found that she has saved a copy of the tape and we get to hear parts of it on the episode. It’s fascinating.

On the second episode, Farrow interviews Rowena Chiu, a young British woman who was a junior assistant to Weinstein. She was then assaulted while attending Venice Film Festival with him. In both cases, he goes and tries every trick in the book to hide all evidence and silence the accusers by paying them and having them sign NDAs. The shows go through the process he takes to get these done.

The Visits (Film Thoughts: The Woman Who Ran)

Happy Fourth. So on this very American holiday, I am choosing to write about.. a Korean film, specifically Hong Sang-soo’s ‘The Woman Who Ran.’ This is a very interesting film, a scant one with a running time of 77 minutes. It’s a document fo a woman and her three visits to different friends. We are left to piece together something from the three episodes. What happens could be something – is she running away from a relationship? But it could also mean nothing – these can be just random scenes of a a slice of a woman’s life. What one gets from it depends on how one views life, but then again, this can be jst one pretentious masturbatory fantasy.

Inducing Fever (Perfume Thoughts: Fever, Jimmy Choo)

My first big mistake was sampling Jimmy C hoo ‘Fever’ on a hot summer day. On a scorching July morning, this is the last thing you need: it’s a heavy, jammy, amberr-y dark fragrance, and it is probably more suited on colder weather days. The plum here is dense, and it instantly gave me a headache. And the vanilla base was relentless. I hated it immensely, and wanted to throw up as soon as I sniffed it. A scrubber!

The Tweets Are Alive (Film Thoughts: Zola)

A good story is a good story, and most of the time it’s the best foundation for a good movie. The story of Janicza Bravo’s ‘Zola’ comes from a tweet, and that is also its biggest gimmick, and I have to admit I was intrigued as I am not really a big Twitterer and have no idea what it is (was) A series of tweets was posted in October 27, 2015 by A’Ziah King and she sold the rights to her tweets. (She later said she embellished parts of the story) I do think the story is pretty basic and unimpressive, but teh film is more interesting, and entertaining.

It’s because of the screenplay, written by Bravo with Jeremy O Harris (who wrote Broadway’s ‘Slave Play’) The tale comes to life vividly, and the words and dialogues have a distinct style. The story moves at a brisk place but never feels rushed, and even though there is a familiarity to the plot, you can never tell what is going to happen next. Add to the mix fantastic performances, especially by Riley Keough and Taylor Paige and what we have is a great summer road trip movie that’s edgy and sexy (if a bit too male gaze centric for my taste)

So far, this is my favorite summer movie for 2021.

The Laws Against Us (Film Thoughts: The Legend of The Underground()

For the month of June, since it is Pride month, every film I wrote about has been a gay film, or a film with some kind of gay sensibility. So I think it is just fitting that i close out the month with a film that evokes the spirit of why we should celebrate Pride. Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah’s ‘The Legend Of The Underground’ is about gay men in Nigeria. Nigera is still one of those countries with serious anti-gay laws. If you get caught ‘being gay’ there, you could be subject to fourteen years in jail. But, really, what does ‘being gay; constitute? In the documentary, we see, among others, stories of men who were arrested after being accused of being in a ‘gay party.’ There was a viral video with one of the accused saying, ‘what did I do? I did not get caught (sic).’ The grammatical error may have been pronounced, but the oppression is as clear. The trials of the men arrested was delayed – obviously, the prosecutors have a flimsy case – and it shows the corruption that permeates in the country,

It’s a very involving watch, and makes you realize that in some parts of the world, lives are stake just because peopel want to be themselves. You realize no one is free until everyone is free.