AIDS decimated a generation of great artists, and Howard Ashman is one of its biggest casualties. He died at age 40, and what he accomplished – which is a lot – is just the tip of the iceberg of what he is capable of, artistically. I think he is probably the best of the modern day lyricists – there is wit and charm in his words and they sound always sophisticated and erudite. This fine documentary by Don Hahn shows us just that.
My first introduction to Ashman’s work, ironically, is his 1986 flop musical ‘Smile.’ I remember seeing ti and loving it, but at that time I was young and I loved everything I saw. I remember what attracted me to the show was Marvin Hamlisch – he wrote the music and of course, I knew every word and breath of ‘A Chorus Line.’ I didn’t see ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ until later, and while I admire that show, if is not really my cup of tea. Years later, and even though I am not a Disney cartoon fan, I loved the ‘musicals’ aspect of ‘The Beauty and teh Beast,’ and ‘Alladin,’ of course.
The documentary takes us chronologically through his life and work. Hahn uses mostly voice overs from interviews, and we get a lot of archival footage and cassette recordings of Ashman working. I obviously love the ‘musicals’ section, the segment with Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury recording ‘Be Our Guest’ made my spine tingle. It was harrowing to see how AIDS was teated at that time – Ashman had concerns that Disney would fire him if they found out he had the disease so he had to hide it. His legacy is safe and sound and solid – the three movies he worked on at Disney are modern classics, and we see the studio regurgitating the material in different ways, and they all work. I personally think Alan Menken’s later work with different collaborators pale in comparison to hi work with Ashman. For lovers of musicals, and Disney musicals, this film is a treat.
Oy. Brandon Trost’s ‘An American Pickle’ started out pretty well. I was starting tp get on-board with the time travel idea and I had to admit Seth Rogan was pretty charming in his dual role, as Herschel, who get transported to modern times after being stuck in pickle brine for one hundred years; and as Ben, the mobile app developer millennial who meets his great grandfather. Then the movie turns into a movie with sophomoric trick trying to get cheap laughs, and I started to dislike both characters. Bu then the film kind of lost my interest, and I started to scroll my Instagram feed. It’s a shame, too, because it held such promise, and all of what happens after just bored me – the only thing that perked me up after was the post credit scene between the two men watching Barbra Streisand’s film ‘Yentl.’ To me this was a wasted opportunity.
Once upon a time, I fancied myself a book collector. Well, once upon a time, I fancied myself a voracious reader, and when I was young, I would go to second hand book shops and buy books – the ones they were selling for a dollar. I liked the fact that the books have already been used, and for some reason has been discarded. I used to wonder why – did they hate the book? Was it a gift they had no use for? A friend of mine used to say, “when you go to someone’s house, and they do not have any books, don’t trust them.’ It’s somethinG i will always associate with my time in New York City, because when I left, it was all about the Kindle for me. In the process of all my moving, I had to throw away so many books that putting all of my collection in a small device just seemed…practical.
I got off-course on that, but that was one of my thoughts while watching D W Young’s documentary ‘The Booksellers,’ about that group of book collectors always in the hunt for rare and antique books. I found myself in a lot of the talking heads because we share that rare gene – the collecting gene. You either have it or can’t understand it. These kinds of stores used to be everywhere in New York City, nowadays even the big book chains are being obliterated, so you have to wonder how they are surviving (Barely, it seems) The film also looks at how the book market has changed since the dawn of the internet – some for the worse, but there are silver linings: manuscripts and annotated editions have garnered more interest.
I found the film mostly fascinating, but is niche of all niches. I suspect if you don’t have the gene to appreciate it, you will be bored to tears.
The subtext is there, and it will hit you – Liam Neeson and his real-life son Micheal Richardson plays a father and son who has to face grieving for their dead wife/mother. I am sure it was a harrowing and probably cathartic experience for them. And I admit, I carried that with me while watching James D’arcy’s ‘Made In Italy.’ That aspect brings humanity and honesty to the film, even if D’arcy’s screenplay feels artificial and full of tropes. But, I liked the film – a lot. Neeson is fantastic as Robert, who repairs a broken relationship with his son as they try to repair their Italian house before selling. In fact, Neeson is so good that you can see Richardson’s greenness right away, but it hardly matters because you get sucked in the film right away, with help of the beautiful scenery of Montalcino, Italy, where it is shot. As soon as you see the Italian village, you know you (or the characters) will never be able to leave it. It’s a great escape in these Covid times – the scenery and the film – that you will be able to overcome the triteness of the storytelling.
Brasil, under the leadership of Jair Balsonaro, is less kind of the LGBTQIA community. Perhaps that is why there is a new wave of Brasilian queer cinema – they say art gets better with strife. From 2019 comes Greta, directed by Armando Praca, and it is a quiet, contemplative piece of filmmaking. The film centers around Pedro (Marco Nanini) who is an aging gay nurse. He takes care of his friend Daniela, a trans woman suffering from end stage renal disease. But one day, he helps a fugitive from the hospital escape to his house, and they develop a tender relation ship, At times, the film can be a challenging watch – you cringe at Pedro’s decisions, but I felt its overpowering take on loneliness, how sometimes when you are alone in life, you just cling to whatever that is that you gives you a sense of intimacy. The slow pace is deliberate and it took time to get into its groove, but by the end you will be all in. The film feels like a melancholy fado song, tinged with sadness and pain. It’s heartbreaking.
Say what? I saw a horror film? Let me explain. First, I have heard very good things about Dave Franco’s ‘The Rental.’ And Dave is my preferred Franco brother so there’s that. Plus, this has Dan Stevens and Alison Brie, so those are added points. I figured I could watch the film during the day so I wouldn’t be scared. Well, I need not worry, because I wasn’t really scared, even if it did have a well-done soundtrack that gives chills. The film is half-relationship drama, and I really liked that part – about halfway through that part was quite engrossing, and I was asking myself, when will the ‘horror’ part kick in? When it did, it felt a little anti-climactic. But for me, it didn’t matter, the relationship drama part was well done, and was enough to make the film satisfying for me. Franco has a great ear for characters and Brie was particularly wonderful in an underwritten role. Some people said that this film will kill the air bnb business, but the pandemic already did that job.
Bernadette Peters sings a song titled ‘Making Love Alone,’ which is, as you probably guessed, a song about masturbation. I think that song would be a perfect theme song for Karen Maine’s ‘Yes God Yes,’ which is a coming-of-age film about a young woman named Alice, who discovers a lot of things in this quirky and satisfying indie. Alice goes to a very strict Catholic school – one where they teach that masturbation is a sin. But her hormones are raging, and she finds herself rewinding to ‘that foggy scene’ in Titanic. So what’s a girl to do? She goes on a weekend religious retreat to sort things out on how to evade these ‘temptations.’
Natalia Dyer plays Alice, and she is great here. Maine’s touch is very light, and treats the Catholicism in a very satirical vein. I know these retreats only too well, it reminds me of the one I went to when I was in High School: ‘Days With The Lord.’ The hypocrisy is rampant in these things, where everyone acts holier-than-thou, only for them to engage in things far worse than the ones they are judging. I think more or less, kids who grew up in this environment get some kind of realization on what’s true, and what’s not, and take the positive things they can get from being a Catholic. This film captures that moment perfectly. My favorite moment from the film is when Alice meets a lesbian and gets taught a lot of practical things about life in a span of a short encounter, and she learns more than she has ever learned in Catholic school. The pandemic has brought us very few joys – this film is a bright spot in it.
I’ve been burned too many times now with these Netflix teen films that I was ready to write off ‘The Kissing Booth 2’ right away. Besides, I cannot remember a lick about the first movie, only that I kind of liked it? And anyway, the sequel, directed by Vince Marcelo, clocks in at two hours and twelve minutes. I mean, who does it think it is, Titanic? About a couple of minutes into in, I was already sold. Joey King is really great, and she can make you believe in anything here, and she enjoys a breezy chemistry with Joel Courtney that you can kind of forgive the silly plot, and the sillier circumstances that their characters get into. And I did not need a lot of convincing in the story, even if some of it is far fetched. They even give the gays a throw-around minor storyline (every representation helps!) Before I knew it, I was swooning, I was crying and laughing along with the characters. I am sorry I doubted you, kissing booth, I eagerly await the third installment.