When You’re Going Through Hell (Film Thoughts: Kathy Griffin: A Hell Of A Story)

MV5BYTVkOTE4NjYtYWU0YS00ODIxLWEwMzQtZjAwZTBjMmJmNDZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ0NzE0MQ@@._V1_Closing out 2019 by writing about Kathy Griffin’s ‘concert film,’ titled ‘A Hell Of A Story.’ I thought it would be fitting considering the times we are in. I remember a couple of New Year’s Eves with her, watching her on CNN with Anderson Cooper. I thought they were effective ‘counter programming’ with the slick but bland shows of the major networks – her show felt like she was just ‘winging out,’ though I am pretty sure she wasn’t.

‘A Hell Of A Story’ starts out with a short ‘documentary’ of what happened after her infamous viral photo that changed her life and career. I thought that part was very interesting, and I wish it had been longer. The film is really a concert film of her (now) stand up act wherein she basically discusses the fall out after her incident. She talks about being on FBI’s watch list, then the Interpol list. She talks about being detained at airports all over the world, she names who supported her, and friends she felt betrayed by her. It’s a lot, but never too much. And Griffin being Griffin, she never holds back. It’s very funny to me, and a tad sad as well, because it shows woman exercising her First Amendment rights, and being penalized for it. She is unapologetic about it all now and whether you agree with her or not, you have to admire her for having balls to say so. In a lot of ways, this is a very important film, because as she says in the film, “what happens to her can happen to anyone.”

Women Remixed (Film Thoughts: Little Women)

Little-Women-Characters-Posters-Movie-Preview-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-1Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ is the perfect Christmas movie. It bristles, it makes you wonder, it makes you think, it entertains.  But then again, i feel like the ultimate target market for the film, as it seems like I have been seeing its trailer from all the movies I have sen since September. I was a bit skeptical at first – do we need another film adaptation of this? – but the only way I can describe this film is that Gerwig has ‘remixed’ the material. It’s still the same great story by Louis May Alcott, but it somehow feel urgent, current, and modern.

Maybe it’s the performances. Saoirse Ronan is at the core of this, and she gives us a great Jo March – relatable, strong willed, a woman of today set in the 1800s – who values her art in her own tomboyish feminine way. She broke my heart towards the end when she sees the consequence of turning away Laurie. On paper, I could say that I am not too fond of Amy, but Florence Pugh here gives us depth that for maybe the first time I understood the character much more. The rest of the cast is great – Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Lara Dern – and Meryl Streep steals the scene in every that she is on. I also think we should give Timothee Chalamet props – he holds his own here as Laurie against all the girls, and he is swoon worthy with his high cheekbones. As Amy Pascal noted, ‘he has the most beautiful face on screen since Elizabeth Taylor.’  This film made me feel good, and I can’t think of a better Christmas present.

A Mother In Aleppo (Film Thoughts: For Sama)

for-sama-french-movie-posterWar is never easy to look at, and war is front and center in Waad al-Kateab’s documentary ‘For Sama.’  This is simply one of the most harrowing watches for me, and there were times I wanted to up and leave in the middle of watching it. This is centered in the city of Aleppo in Syria, under the corrupt Assad regime, who continually bombed the rebellious forces in the city with the aid of the Russians. Using that as a backdrop, the documentary documents the filmmaker as she struggles with everyday life with the resistance. It’s a wonder of all wonders that in the middle of all this chaos and strife, she falls in love with a young doctor, and has a child, Sama. This film is a love letter to her child, a sort-of explanation for her on why she stayed in Aleppo. As I said, it’s a tough watch, and the middle part can be exhausting as we get to see over and over and over the ravages of this war. But for me, this is an eye-opener. I will not pretend to know a lot about what is happening in that region, and this film made me want to do more to educate myself.

Hello Kitty (Movie Thoughts: Cats)

MV5BNjRlNTY3MTAtOTViMS00ZjE5LTkwZGItMGYwNGQwMjg2NTEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_Before I start writing what I thought about ‘Cats,’ let me quote a verse from T.S. Elliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’

“Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste —
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his name.”

I am sure there will be a lot of people who will hate on Tom Hooper’s film version of the Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show. And I could be inclined in joining them. After all, it isn’t my favorite show in the world, and probably the one I like the least in the Lloyd Weber’s canon. The original Broadway show is a plotless mess, and I still wonder how it became a hit. But I can also list a list of things that’s good about it – it ushered in a whole new style of big bombastic theater that permeated in the 80s, and it has a slew of great songs, and one that is very memorable. So I don’t think the film deserves the hate. But does it?

12Hooper probably didn’t know where to start. well, how about an A-list cast? The one assembled here worked very hard, and with some mixed results. I particularly marveled at Ian McKellan’s ‘Gus The Cat.’  Just look at him licking and gnawing and you know he took this role seriously and with a little wink. Dame Judi Dench need only ti give a glance as Old Deuteronomy and there is so much depth in it – that’s a real actress in there, effortless. However, the heart and soul of the show is Grizabella, and I truly disliked Jennifer Hudson’s take – she spends the whole movie in one emotion – forlorn – and her singing of the iconic song is so warbled and overwrought that all feeling is drained from it. Rebel Wilson felt like a young woman thrust into this with no idea what she is doing. And Taylor Swift? I kind of like her Bombalurina, and her ten or so minutes of screen time is worth it.

But what to make of the film as a whole? People who are calling it strange probably never saw it on stage. The premise is strange, but I think its strangeness is part of its original charm.  Hooper adds a new character here, a cat named Victoria, to kind of organize the narrative mess, but I think that’s where it went wrong. He should have embraced the absurdity of the piece. Hell, he should have celebrated it and amped up its weirdness. By trying to make the show ‘conform,’ he ruined it. As a film, I it’s just a mess, but the beautiful mess it could have been.

 

A Date To Remember (Short Film Thoughts: The One You Never Forget)

1MV5BMmU4OGY4NjMtYzMyNC00Zjg4LWE4ZTctNDJiZDExMTFiZmY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTIwNjU1NjU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,679,1000_AL_Sometimes all it takes is eight minutes for an ugly cry.  For some odd reason, this short film showed up on my Facebook page (targeted marketing?) and all the comments were glowing and positive. So I thought to myself, eight minutes watching it will probably not kill me. Well, it kid of did. It killed my heart right that very second and it ripped it to shreds and before I knew it, there I am in the middle of mu living room in tears. Basically, it’s about a young boy going to the prom, and his parents are all excited for him. The mom wants some info and has been pestering the young boy but he is tight-lipped. When the date arrives later on, it is only his father who is there, but the boy rushes to go to the car as he didn’t want to have his date come in. When the father looks out, he sees his son is with another boy. What happens next is heartwarming and so very cute. I am heartened to find these kinds of movies exist, as durign my days the thought of this would send everyone reeling. But, progress can still make good art, and this one I will cherish…

The Portrait Of My Love (Film Thoughts: Portrait Of A Lady On Fire)

portrait-de-la-jeune-fille-en-feu-1556885127I come from the old school where I want my love stories to be lush, wistful, even sentimental. Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of A Lady on Fire’ has been described as such, as it tells a story of a forbidden love affair between Marianne (Noemie Merlant) who has been commissioned to paint Heloise. The catch – she won’t pose, so Marianne has to pretend to be a friend and memorize her face, to paint later. The portrait is to be sent to the man Heloise has been promised to, and Heloise doesn’t seem to be very keen on the idea. Sciamma’s style here is very subtle, and very slow-paced. I appreciated it because of the time and place setting – France in the 1770s. But I have to say that a lot of times it was much too subtle. Plus, I don’t know if I really got into the story line about the servant who got pregnant and had to get an abortion – I felt that that part of the film distracted from the main love story, which I wanted to immerse myself into. But the romance part was very effective – intense without being too sweet. There’s a quiet dignity to it all.  The film is very poetic in words and also visually – everything looks very beautiful, as if you were being sucked into the painting. I liked the film a lot, but to be honest I did not love it – there is a coldness to the film that I did not like. But I thought that for the most part it was very successful. I know a lot of people have been comparing it to ‘Call me By Your Name,’ but this did not have the electricity of Elio and Oliver. The undercurrent here is quieter, though the spirit of love – given and unrequited – is apparent.

Let It Thaw (Movie Thoughts: Frozen 2)

large_frozen-2-posterEven though I am not a cartoon fan (or a Disney fan for that matter) I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Frozen’ because it had all the traits of a good musical.  But I am very very wary of sequels, because I have this notion that most of them just try to just take advantage of the locked-in audience. So I begrudgingly watch ‘Frozen 2,’ and lo and behold, I really disliked it. But I am mostly looking at this film from the point of view of it being a musical.

First of all, the Lopezes have assembled a group of songs that are a lot less interesting. The songs  here now feel pre-meditated. Since ‘Let It go’ was such a big hit,  why don’t we give Elsa not one but two generic-sounding power ballads? Gone are the character pieces from the first film – no ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ which emulated a feeling.

Sure, the animation is still first rate, and the colors are still vibrant. Still, much of this did not really hold my interest much, and yes, that is a fault of mine.