Change is hard to swallow most times, and with what’s happening now, we have to sometimes be accustomed to changes big (or small) in our everyday lives. There is a lot of pain going around nowadays, and there are different ways to escape it. Some people goto what is farthest from what they are experiencing, but fir me, I find more solace in seeing things that mirror what I am feeling. I recently was touched with two deaths from Covid 19 – one from someone who was very close to me years ago – so I have been feelign a little aimless. And then I see Andrew Ahn’s ‘Driveways’ and somehow it made me feel a little better -introspective still, but it gave me a warm feeling that I am not alone in this, even if right this very minute I do feel alone.
The film revolves a mother and son – Kathy and Cody played by Hong Chao and Lucas Jaye – who arrive at a house to pack up belongings. It is owned by Kathy’s sister – April – who just passed away. Kathy discovers that she was a rat pack of some sort – the house is overflowing with ‘stuff’ – and as they prepare the house to be sold, they are befriended by the next door neighbor – an elderly man named Del (played by Brian Dennehey, who also just recently passed away) Story wise, not much really happens, but the film says so much about everything – death, survival, sensitiveness. We hear bits and pieces of these people’s stories, and we understand them through these, and somehow Ahn has a knack for capturing moments. Chao and Jaye are both wonderful, and Dennehey is memorable as Del – he has a wistful monologue at the end that hot me hard. Don’t we all wish we could sometimes change how we lived our lives, how we could have stopped and smelled the roses one last time before leaving them behind? This film will make you feel – sometimes we go through life guarded we forget how to do that.
As much as a jazz vocals fan I am, I am not as well-versed with instrumental jazz artists. Of course, I know some of Miles Davis’ work, and love his early output, when he was doing more lyrical interpretations of jazz standards. His later, more ‘improvisational’ work allude to satisfy me, but that’s just more taste. So I was coming into the documentary ‘Miles Davis: Birth Of the Cool’ with a little bit of excitement, and the thirst for knowledge about him and his artistry. Directed by Stanley Nelson, the film feels very informative – it’s a chronological telling of his life and work, and indeed it is quite educational, as we learn more about the person through interviews from people he knew and worked with, underscored by his musical work (although most of it is abridged, encouraging viewers to take notes and check it out for themselves) I found a lot of the anecdotes fresh – most of what I saw I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t know, for example, that he had an affair with Juliette greco when he was in Paris right after the end of the second world war. Like most real artists, Davis had a lot of personal demons – he used drugs heavily in episodes of his life, and his wife suffered from domestic violence. A lot of the personal stuff seemed a tad glossed-over – this is not the kind of juicy gossipy unworthy of its subject. Over and over everyone says that Davis defined and is the epitome of cool – salacious information would probably sully that. In that end, the film is truly suited for PBS, so it’s straight-laced and informative.
From South Africa comes Olivr Harmanus’ ‘Moffie.’ (the title is a derogatory slang word in Afrikaan for gay) Based on a true story, the film is about a teenager, Nicholas, who gets drafted in 80s South Africa, during the time that the times of Apartheid. Nicholas, played by Kai Luke Brummer, is gay, and he has to hide in the closet as he goes through a brutal training process. And brutal might be an understatement, because they are forced to do inhumane activities to toughen them up for battle. And he has to witness when some other soldiers are busted for homosexual activities. Hermanus films these scenes with deep homoeroticism, as Nicholas falls for a fellow soldier, Stassewn. But the love story is only used as a backdrop to the story of a young man in battle, not the other way around. I found the film very difficult to watch most of the time, but I felt rewarded by the power of the storytelling.
When I read the synopsis of Netflix’s ‘The Half of It,’ I uttered to myself, “ugh, another insipid variation of Cyranno de Bergerac,’ and I have to admit I went into the film with that bias. I find that these teen Netflix projects can be hit or miss. But I should have known that Alice Wu, the director would give us something unique. The film stars Leah Lewis as Ellen Chou (does Netflix only cast Asian actresses with Western names?) an intelligent teenager living in a small town in Middle America. She is so smart that her gig economy side job is to make term papers for her classmates. Enter Paul (Daniel Diemer) who hires Ellen to write letters for him, as he is enamoured with Aster (Alexxis Lemire) Upon the course of this, Ellen gets a realization, that she is falling for Aster herself. Things get convoluted quite quickly – Paul starts to fall for Ellen, as Ellen gets deeper with Alexis, and is Alexis really responding back to Ellen? This is the kind of film you probably have to rewatch to get the small details you may have missed the first time around, but I thought Lewis and Diemer had fantastic chemistry and was kind of rooting for that. Aster is religious so I thought it would have been kind of impossible for her to respond to Ellen, but all this headiness i exhilarating. Not that this is the kind of movie that ties everything in the end properly, but the ending is satisfying and, above all things, realistic. If, like me, you had doubts going into this film, get over it and enjoy.
We all know Hugh Jackman as the ultimate Australian Showman (to me he was most memorable on Broadway as Peter Allen in ‘The Boy from Oz’) so wqe sometimes forget what. great actor he can be. On ‘Bad Education,’ he plays Dr. Fran Tassone, who was instrumental in making Roslyn High School in Long Island the fourth-ranked educational district in the country. But, Tassone was also involved in an embezzlement scheme worth millions. Jackman as Tassone is so charming and charismatic that we as an audience felt like we were taken along with the scheme as well. As a matter of fact, I found myself kind of rooting for him, the anti-hero in the scenario. This film, directed by Cory Finley, takes us to the crime story in a pretty straightforward manner – we see Tassone and his main cohort Pamela Gluckin (Allison Janney also great here) was able to cheat the system, and how when she got caught, how the schools system ‘covered up’ the severity of the case. I was riveted by the story, and I wonder why I never paid attention to this tsory since I still lived in New York when all this was happening.
Ryan Murphy, again, produced the new documentary ‘A Secret Love’ on Netflix and just like the earlier ‘Circus of Books,’ it is wonderful and a testament to power of gay love, and well, any kind of love. The film, directed by Chris Bolan was supposed to debut at SXSW Film festival in Texas, but that shuttered after the pandemic. It is about a couple, Pat and Terry, who meet in the 40s, and, at the start of the film, had been together for almost 66 years. They tell their love story, with Pat being on of the first female baseball players in the All American Teams, which was the basis for the Penny Marshall Movie ‘A League Of Their Own.’ For decades, they have made their home in the Chicago area, and now have to face obstacles from aging – Pat has been experiencing tremors, and their home has started to be an unsafe place for both of them. Terry is resistant at first, unable to let go of the life they have shared together there. This seems like a simple story, and it is, as we see their struggle as they grow old together – and finally able to marry. The last fifteen minutes of the film is heartbreaking, as we see them finally move to an assisted facility, and then get married. ‘Love is love’ is not just a saying, this film is the embodiment of it. Don’t proceed to watch without tissues.
It has been a very long time since I last saw ‘Funny Girl.’ I remember when I first saw it – I was a youngling and was voraciously devouring ‘old’ Streisand – I was spending time at the New York City Public Library and reading everything in their archives about her. I was a high school student in the 80s and I was trying to ‘catch up’ on things I have missed (I wasn’t even a year old when the film originally came out) I remember being awed by the film, and by her – but curiously, only viewed film then only once – I was trying to cram in as much as I can, listening to Original Cast Recordings, watching movie musicals. I do remember seeing this on the big screen, at the Film Forum in New York around the mid 90s at some kind of retrospective, and I think I went because I wanted to experience the movie at an actual movie theater. So here I am, around 25 years after that. Much has happened to my life since then, and I would also like to think my taste has evolved. Will I still love the film as much?
And the answer is yes, I do. There’s something about the material that still gets to me, after all of these years – the ugly duckling getting her prince, the way you can love someone so much you lose yourself in it, in him – these themes could be stories of my past life. As a middle aged man, I don’t know if I could still relate whole-heartedly. I would like to think I am much wiser now, and can look at Fanny Brice with some objectivity. I get you girl, but move on, he’s never gonna change. Or perhaps the harsher message: he’s really just not into you as much as you are, and he will probably never.
Streisand still commands the role, and maybe in our lifetime we will never see anyone else play Fanny Brice as effectively. This time around, I confess to embracing the film’s limitations: the second act can never match the brilliance of the first, and the film is totally bloated – I wonder if it could have worked as well (if not better) if the whole piece was more intimate. And there’s that part of me now that maybe would have wanted the retention of “The Music That Makes Me Dance.” Still, I can count in one hand films I have a total emotional connection, with, and this is one of them. Maybe in ten years I will watch it again and see if I feel differently. I suspect not.
Happy Birthday Barbra.