City Rocks (Film Thoughts: On The Rocks)

I only recently watched ‘Lost In Translation- – it was one of those movies that eluded me all these years for whatever reason, and I loved it – it still translated well after all these years, and I like its take on the symphony of solitude and loneliness. Maybe I should have waited before seeing Sofia Coppolla’s latest, ‘On The Rocks.’ I was underwhelmed by it, and now wonder if I should have waited for it to be marinated a bit. In a lot of ways, the film also wallows in melancholy and longing, but felt a little more unsuccessfully this time around.

For sure, I get that Coppolla employed a style that’s on the minimal side. But it took me a while to get in the groove of things, and I do appreciate its form, but a little more ‘story’ would have been nice. The film is of the ‘slice of life’ variety, but I felt the slice is on the thin side, and with a big hollow middle. Visually, the film is marvelous – a New York City you could dream of with a jazz score that’s right up my alley – Chet Baker, Bemelmann’s Bar, the city lit with night lights – it’s a world you will want to live in.  

The performances, though. Bill Murray is great here, and in most of the scenes he is on, steals the movie. He brings the energy to the film when it needs it the most, and his presence is never overbearing (where it sometimes can be)  I heard the filmmakers are making a play for him n ‘Supporting,’ but in my opinion his role here is more Lead. Rashida Jones shows her limitations here, and in some scenes where I want to see depth, I just see blank space.

I wish I liked it more. As I wrote earlier, maybe it need to simmer more for me to enjoy.

Broken Romance (Film Thoughts: The Broken Hearts Gallery)

It’s exciting to see a talented young actress get her due, and especially one who isn’t your white cookie cutter type. Geraldine Viswanatahn stole ‘Blockers’ and it’s good to see her front and center on ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery.’ And she is fantastic here – charming and funny and you just know you are seeing a big star in the making.

Too bad, the movie around her is just so-so, as it is saddled by a lifeless screenplay, even if the set up of the film is somewhat interesting. I didn’t think any of the bits were funny, and Viswanathan tried to sell everything a little too broadly at times.

And since this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, I found that part of the film lackluster as well. I never believed her with Dacre Montgomery’s character – they had little no chemistry, and the relationship of the characters was shallow. All in all, this was just sad because it had so much potential.

Bookings (Movie Thoughts: Sublet)

I have to say, I was quite taken by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s new film ‘Sublet.’ I found myself tearing up from it, really touched by it.

Part of it may be my sense of wanderlust. I used to do one big trip a year and obviously couldn’t do this year. The film is a great ‘trip,’ in a sense. John Benjamin Hickey plays a NYT travel journalist (‘The Intrepid Traveler’) who goes on a trip to Tel Aviv. And in the film, we get a real sense of Tel Aviv, and in that sense the film is such a traveler’s experience. You do feel like a tourist who finds a little more about yourself after a trip – and this is what most good travels do to you. I have been to Tel Aviv, and learned more about it from this film than my (admittedly brief) stay.

Hickey also plays someone more or less my age, and I can identify with a lot of the things he is going through, emotionally. He comes in coming from a little bit of heartbreak, and is a little lost. He finds an unlikely friendship with Tomer, who is renting the apartment he booked. They connect, and teh film sort of becomes a two-ships-in-the-night kind of thing. I was a little less impressed with this part of the film – I never got a real clear sense in what they connected at, for example. But Hickey and Niv Nissim (who plays Tomer) are quite good actors, and they have great chemistry together that you can’t help but get swept by them. And of course, the characters in the end learn a little bit more about themselves from each other. As I said, it was great to see a middle-aged gay man as the emotional core of the film. This film made me feel ‘seen,’ as the kids would say nowadays. And it made me long for those days when I can travel again, and maybe peel a layer of emotions within me.

The Summer They Fell In Love (Film Thoughts: Été 85/Summer of 85)

A lot of people have compared Francois Ozon’s ‘Summer of 85’ to ‘Call Me by Your Name’ so of course I would be in for that. This film is a young love story set in Northern France, with the sea as the background, so you would think it’s a sun-filled Summer romance kind of film, I mean, even the title suggests it. But we see from the start there is something darker there, as we find out something already has happened to one of the lovers, David, played by Benjamin Voisin and his lover, Alex, is being blamed for it.

As a love story, the film is very sweet but devastating. It I sweet and tender in it core, and you are swept away by David and Alex as they meet, and fall in love with each other. The actors have great chemistry, and look great together, and you fall in love with them too. But on film, the characters aren’t rally fleshed out well enough to give them depth, and the sudden shifts in tone (noir, thriller, comedy, drama) from one scene to the next felt jarring.

Still, I recommend it – all in all you will feel the passion of the actors as they fall in love, and everything and everyone looks beautiful here. 

The Brodway Corner (Music Thoughts: The Corner of Broadway and Main Street Vol 2, Voctave)

I am not on the up and up with vocal acapella groups so I had no idea who Voctave was. Apparently they are a very popular group based in Florida and they had a successful album from 2017 of Broadway songs.

Liz Callaway brought my attention to their new album, which is a sequel to that album. Well, she brought me to the album because she sings a track with them, and of course anything Liz does, I follow.

I have to say I am mighty impressed with the album. Liz does sing a beautiful ‘When She Loved me with them’ and it is a highlight of a solid album. The arrangements sound fresh, and you know they love singing this kind of music. The selection is sublime, if a bit all over the place. On one corner is s solemn ‘Children Will Listen’ which sits along a ‘Disney parks Medley.’ But they spirit is definitely there. I don’t know how much of this I will listen to over and over, but what I am hearing right now is fine.

Seven For Sure (Film Thoughts: The Trial of The Chicago 7)

Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is perfect for those who love Sorkin’s work. If you liked his ‘The West Wing’ on television, or his ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on Broadway, then I am sure you will be salivating over this movie. It is based on the infamous trials of 1969 wherein a group of young men were charged with starting the riots during the Democratic convention in Chicago. It has all the elements of a great Sorkin piece: all-star cast, zippy dialogues, and his trademark theatrics.

Indeed, I myself was caught up with it. To say that the film isn’t entertaining would be a big lie. The movie moves zippily along, and the acting – all these actors seem to be aiming for something. All the performances are eye-catching, with each character being given their ‘moment,’ spotlight on. I especially liked Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, who plays an already cartoon character with humanity, resisting the urge to make it more outrageous. I grew hot and cold with Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne, playing Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden respectively. I especially thought the latter was a little unconvincing, and I am usually a Redmayne fan.

And just like Sorkin’s ‘A Few Good Men,’ the courtroom scenes are the film’s meat and potatoes, and they are done exactly how you think Sorkin would do it: that is, mesmerizing and over-the-top. I know he probably took a lot of artistic liberties in some of the dialogue, but I also know that a lot of what transpired were probably unbelievable already. The final scene in the courtroom made me tear up, but honestly I felt played after. I looked it up, and it didn’t really happened that way. But I’ll be darned if it wasn’t so effective people will always think it happened that way.

Call Me When You’re A Rockstar (Series Thoughts: We Are Who We Are, S01 E 06, Right Here Right Now VI)

I know part of writing about ‘We Are Who We Are’ is looking for scenes that liken it to ‘Call Me By Your Name.’ But here we are on Episode 6, where the part of the episode feels like the movie itself. Fraser and Jonathan, finally. We see him picking up a book to give him, and he even writes a dedication with a wink-wink private joke between them. And then Sarah takes note of it and encourages Jonathan to spend more time with Fraser. So when Jonathan commands Fraser to go out, we don’t know. I mean, is Jonathan sincere, or just trying to get on the good side of his boss? Fraser, understandably is besotted. I am so familiar with what he is going through – playing Jonathan’s voice mail to him, for example. I mean, haven’t we done that ourselves. He even slips and tells Jonathan something about the outing as their ‘first date,’ and Jonathan just smiles. And of course, we also see Fraser’s crestfallen face when he realizes Jonathan also invites a young woman to dinner. Sure, I’ve been there as well. I can sense the euphoria when Fraser gets home, but also in the pit of my stomach, the dread. This will not end well, this infatuation. Most teen infatuations don’t.

I will add a layer to my comparisons, though, and say that I wonder if it was a conscious thing to have Fraser and Jonathan’s outing as a homage to ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ I mean, there’s so much subtext here.

Elsewhere, we see Caitlin trying to bond with her dad, as she slowly realizes who she really is. It’s really rewarding for the story line to see that journey, as we have been with her from the beginning as well.

Young Brasilia (Movie Thoughts: Alice Junior)

I saw the Brazilian film ‘Alice Junior’ as part of Newfest, which is The New York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, as part of the festival’s streaming choices. Directed by Gil Baroni, it’s a fun and hip movie about a young trans woman in a fish-out-of-water kind of film.

It stars Anna Clestino Mota, a real-life vlogger, as the titular character, who plays more or less a character same as her real life persona. Alice was a finalist in Brasil’s Next teen Top Model, and has a slew of followers online.

But when Alice’s father makes a decision to move them to a rural small town, her world is turned upside down. Imagine a city girl being moved to a farm in middle America, and you can kind of get the film’s set-up. You also probably won’t come to this film expecting deep narrative, but the wild ride it takes you is enjoyable enough. Mota is appealing and can hold your interest, even if the situations feel overly familiar. This is fun and sweet and mindless, and you need that sometimes.

Scammers (Film Thoughts: Kajillionaire)

To be honest, I haven’t really connected with any of Miranda July’s work. I think they are just a bit pretentious, or maybe I just don’t connect with them emotionally. I don’t even know if I understand them, and I blame that deficiency on me. So I went into ‘Kajillionaire’ with some trepidation (maybe even dread) even though I have heard from a couple of different people that it’s good. I have heard that the film is similar to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘Shoplifters,’ a film I liked a lot so I was curious about that.

And sure, I liked this film, and for me it’s the most accessible of all I have seen from July. It’s about a family of scammers – played by Richard Kind, Debra Winger, and Rachel Evan Wood. I am very fond of the performances here and perhaps that’s why I warmed up to the film more, because to be honest there were some parts of the film I didn’t know if I understood – for example, what is up with the bubble forming in the walls of their place? And why does their place look like an office? And, why are the parents just scamming, like did they ever do anything else? Have they been doing it since they were younger?

I was able to understand more of the emotions because of the performances – Wood is excellent as the daughter caught in all the scams, and when she has all her realizations in the end, I found myself affected by her. And the ending, where we see that she may have finally found love (from anything) is pure joy. So, yes, I am willing to forgive some of the misgivings about the film I have.

Mothers and Child (Film Thoughts: True Mothers/Asa ga kuru)

Namo Kawase’s ‘True Mothers’ (Asa ga kuru) runs at almost two and a half hours, and yes, the story runs at a very slow pace. But it is such a powerful personal story that every minute savors. Kawase is a photographer spo each frame is beautifully set up (Hiroshima looks serenely perfect in here) and the story slowly cuts through your heart, and deep.

Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) cannot have a child because of her husband’s sperm is blocked, so they go through a non profit called Baby Baton to adopt a child through young mothers who cannot raise their babies.

Hikaru (Aju Makita) plays the fourteen year old teenager who gives birth to the child they adopt, and she is the heart of the piece. Hikaru goes throughg heartbreak after heartbreak and one day she shows up at the couple’s door step threatening to blackmail them about the child if they don’t pay her money. “Who are you,’ they reply. They met her when the baby was born and they can’t believe that tender young woman is the same one before their eyes.

There’ more to the story, of course, which is told through non-linear flashbacks. You get to know these characters fully, and they are certainly not one-dimensional. And you care for them, you want them to succeed, to capture their dreams. This is one of those films that caught me by surprise. It is such a simple story, but the emotions tied to it are complex. And all of it feels real.