Set To Destroy (Film Thoughts: Destroyer)

destroyerNicole Kidman is one of my favorite actresses because I think she is so fearless – nothing stops her from making any of her characters authentic. She does whatever she needs to do, she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to get the job done. On Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer,’ a lot of people have commented on how she altered her looks to make herself look unattractive – mousy brown wig, unclear skin. But that is just the beginning of how she transformed into the character of Erin Bell. Ever the thinking actress, there’s a lot more to the character – the low voice, the ticks and mannerisms. And Kidman is tough and convincing, both badass and vulnerable, and is fascinating to watch.Erin Bell is never a non-three dimensional character – it lives and breathes right before our eyes. As a detective who was burned years ago in an operation, Bell struggles to find her way when shady characters from the past come back into her life.

The story is pretty simple, but Kusama gives the film a specific feel that it never feels stale. We are transported in a  world of sun-drenched and lived-in Los Angeles, and for me it feels familiar and foreign at the same time.  That said, I wish I was into it more – this just isn’t my kind of story, and the film did not engage me as much as it should have. And while I commend Kidman and her performance (probably one of the best in her career) I just wasn’t in love with the film.

Bless The Beats and the Children (Movie Thoughts: The Children Act)

large_children-act-posterA friend of mine was telling me that his best friend’s ten year old son was in a skiing accident and is now in life support.  The parents now have to make a decision on whether to ‘pull the plug.’ That made me think. I think I have always been a practical person (I am a Virgo) and even though I believe in God and very spiritual, I myself would not have any problems making a decision like that if told that we are at the end of a road.

That also made me think of a movie I saw recently, Richard Eyre’s ‘The Children Act,’ which more or less touches the same issue. Fiona Maye is a judge, played by Emma Thompson, who has to rule on a case of a teenager who needs blood transfusion. But he and his parents are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their religion forbids that. Before she rules on the case though, she visits the teenager in the hospital, and in his eyes, a special bond forms between them. But perhaps in her eyes as well? She is int he middle of a crumbling marriage, and perhaps she sees in him the answer to that. While the story about the case was interesting, I thought what happens after was even more riveting – we see the relationship between the two laid out, and we see both of them changing. And Thompson gives a fantastic internal performance. It’s her film, really, and she shows here why is one of the best living actresses, expressing emotions with a glance or a finger flutter. Fionn Whitehead plays Adam, and he is great as well (apparently he was in ‘Dunkirk,’ but i don’t remember which part he played) providing complexity as a troubled teen whose eyes were opened, only to be closed again. This movie is thought provoking, but it will also touch your heart.

A Boy In Beirut (Film Thoughts: Capernaum)

1537344409image300x450capharnaumNadine Labaki’s ‘Capernaum’ looks at a life of a twelve year old boy in modern day Beirut. When we first see him, he is handcuffed and in court, for he has sued his parents. For what? For bringing him into the world. And then through the course of the film, we see the heartbreak of the life that he is living – in extreme poverty. He initially took care of his sister, who we see has been sold, at eleven years old, to be the bride of a man. (We learn later that she perishes in the hands of same man)  Zain, (played by Zain Al Rafeea) escapes and starts to live with a woman, Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her infant, and he becomes the caretaker of the child while she is at work. That is, until she gets apprehended for being an illegal worker. Labaki creates this chaotic world for Zain wherein the pain gets escalated at each turn, but the boy is resilient, is street smart, and as played magnificently by Al Rafeea, is a wounded strong heart that keeps on beating even after repeated lashings. You cannot help but be caught in his plight, and I found myself wincing and closing my eyes a couple of times. I don’t know if I could take what he has to go through. The film is hyper, always moving, and involving.

But as an experience, I hated it. I don’t know if I could bear films like these anymore, with poverty porn front and center. In my older age, I have become more idealistic, and there are times I would like to think stories like these don’t exist anymore, but obviously, they do, and there are probably more and more each day. It’s an imperfect world we live in, and films like these show realism. The characters here do get some light and redemption in the end, but as for me, I am scarred.

Formidably Ruth (Film Thoughts: On The Basis of Sex)

on_the_basis_of_sex_poster‘On The Basis Of Sex’  present Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg at a very specific time of her life – from her early Harvard days (only the sixth year it has accepted women) to her successful case outlawing discrimination ‘on the basis of sex,’ a watershed moment in gender equality. It is very sympathetic to her, and the film is mostly about her. i have no problems with that, as Ginsberg is surely a formidable figure in modern history. She is resilient, and most importantly, she is on my side of the issues. I think even the most hardened Republican would acknowledge her brilliance. Directed by Mimi Leder, the film is pretty straightforward, with a head-strong performance by Felicity Jones as Ginsberg. She captures her tenacity, her stubborn streak, her humanity. We see a three-dimensional character here, and in the end we love her more. I am not going to say I knew every bit of this case, so I was ‘in’ on its suspense, and silly me even cried at the outcome. It’s all very satisfying. Everything else in the movie is just an accessory to her character. Armie Hammer – delicious looking as always  – plays her husband and merely serves as foil for Ruth to be more human, though there are more colorful turns, like Kathy Bates playing Dorothy Kenyon (she give a memorable small performance here)  It can sometimes feel very by-the-book, but it’s a meaningful book, so no complaints.


Political Ad-Vice (Film Thoughts: Vice)

vice_ver3‘Vice’ had all the elements of a movie I would like – it’s liberal hate bait, it stars Christian Bale, probably the best actor of his generation, and it is directed by Adam McKay, whose previous movie I liked. But ‘Vice’ felt very exhausting for me. It pummels the idea that DIck Cheney is a bad person and is manipulative, and is shrewd. And anyone with any intelligence really knows that – so what. You want to ask, “and then.’ And he does provide the answers – we invade Iraq because of 9/11 when we shouldn’t have – but after a while I just did not want to be in the company of these people. I mean, I can barely stand these people sound-biting on the news, now I will spend two hours with them?  Bale does give a performance of near perfection – he does the Cheney smile/sneer cannily – but that was not enough to keep my interest. And looking back, these issues have been done and dealt with. and we have much bigger problems in politics right now.  I thought it was kind of sweet that Cheney loved his daughter a lot that he was almost for marriage equality. until we get to this calculations in the end while his daughter was campaigning when they just throw their lesbian daughter under the bus. Amy Adams is fine as well as the slimy Lynn Cheney, sure, but still all in all, I just didn’t really like any of these people and I wanted to leave the theater pronto.

Do Over (Movie Thoughts: Second Act)

71EcNySPs7L._SY679_I didn’t think ‘Second Act’ was going to be ‘Citizen Kane’ but I thought it would at least be fun. But the movie is kind of dour, and it’s bad, like, really bad. First of all, it wants to be two kinds of films: a workplace comedy wherein Maya (Jennifer Lopez) gets thrust into a corporate role by one of those impossible-but-it-happened situations. But it also tries to be a mother-daughter drama, of mother who finds the daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen years old. And the film ends up not succeeding on either point.

Lopez id game, and I actually do think she is a more than competent actress, but it makes me kind of wonder why she would choose to do this project. At this point, she needs to do projects that would showcase her talents well, and this ain’t it. You actually have to hand her dedication to the character as surely she realizes that the film she is doing here is crap. Leah Remini, who plays her friend/sidekick gets a lot of one-liners, but otherwise a thankless part of the movie. For Broadway geeks like me, it was nice to see Annaleigh Ashford here, too. And Vanessa Hudgens also holds her own against Lopez – she matches her in outfits, glamour, and even in acting ability.

And while I do lament my lukewarmness towards the film, I guess I must acknowledge that the crowd I went with seemed like they were having a good time.

Love is Cold (Film Thoughts: Cold War)

Cold_War-793668067-largeIt’s Christmas Day, so what better to celebrate than write about a film about doomed love? ‘Cold War’ is Poland’s entry for Best Foreign Film this year, and because its closest rival, ‘Roma’ (from Mexico) is being elevated, this film has been garnering a lot of attention.

And of course I loved this film – a love story that is big, bold, not necessarily unrequited but nevertheless doomed. It’s a hot mess situation from the very beginning, and it only gets to be a bigger mess as it perseveres through decades. It’s unruly, undisciplined, but at the same time, that makes it more seeped in passion – this big ‘thing’ that never quite makes it, until it flames out in a way that it does, and then it doesn’t.

Written and directed by Pawel Pawiloski, the film is inspired by his parent’s love story, and he even names his characters after them – Zula Lichon (Joana Kulig, smoldering in the best possible way) and Wiktor Warski (Thomas Kot, slow burn simmering)  – lovers who first meet in post-war Poland. They start a clandestine love affair and for years and ears after, they just can’t quit each other. While I was watching it, there was a part of me that became exasperated with the two characters – how much is enough, really – but as I thought about it more, I realized that it was intentional as the story wanted us to experience how it felt being in the middle of that relationship. And there’s a great jazz vocal element in the film – Zula records one while she is living in Paris, and the songs and her performance of them are swoon-worthy. Shot in glorious black in white, the film feels like old-fashioned romance, and it feels it. Once upon a time, when I was a full-pledged hopeless romantic, I probably would have lapped this film whole. Now that I am older and bitter, I can still see the beauty in it, but with a lot of reservations.