Run Gary Run (Film Thoughts: The Front Runner)

1536108324_poster-largeI had been looking forward to seeing ‘The Front Runner’ but also there was also something about it that I was dreading. Maybe it’s the same reason I refuse to read some of the quarterback things written about Hillary Clinton’s campaign – these things still sting. I remember the subject of the story here well, although watching the film, I realize my memory of it isn’t as vivid: I learned a lot from the film.

But I really did not enjoy the film, and it stems from the performance of Hugh Jackman, who plays Gafy Hart. I never felt the character as a whole, there is something very awkward and stilted in his performance. He didn’t embody the man’s charisma, and even his flaws seem shallow. I never saw in Jackman the brilliance of Gary Hart, and I cared less about the character than the human being.

That being said, isn’t it weird that this film is coming in right now? With all the unpresidential things that are happening, it is so dated to see a candidate derail his campaign because of an extramarital affair. But those were he times then. Director Jason Reitman isn’t very subtle about which side he is on – he paints the press as concerned more about entertainment than hard news. In this day and age, this is certainly a given, and I guess the difference is that nowadays everyone knows it – the audience is far more sophisticated nowadays, and the ‘lecture’ feels pointless.

I think i would have liked it better if Hugh Jackman had made a movie of Patricia Nell Warren’s ‘The Front Runner.’ (Yes, I know there is a tv movie out there somewhere)

Sucks And The City (Movie Thoughts: Here And Now)

hnI have one question after seeing ‘Here and Now.’  Is Sarah Jessica Parker really such a bad actress? Because she is really awful here – mannered acting, really doing the ‘hard sell’ in most of her emotions. To express sadness, she goes all out with a frown, and her dialogue so labored and plastic it’s jarring to listen to. I don’t remember if she was this bad when she was in ‘Sex and the City’ but was she? And to think this is the type of movie which really requires a charismatic performance. As Vivienne, a world-renowned jazz singer who just finds out she has cancer, the character *is* the whole film, and in this case, Parker eviscerates the movie. Written by Laura Eason, the film is supposedly inspired by Agnes Varda’s ‘Cleo from 5 to 7.’ Director Fabien Constant infuses the film with a lot of style, but there are a lot of stumbles. First, Vivienne is supposed to be a famous singer yet she freely walks around New York City, emoting full blast, without anyone noticing her. And in an almost laughable scene, she attends a jazz set, and she goes up to sing wearing the exact street clothes that she has been wearing all day.  This just lowers how much you buy whatever this film is selling.  When Renee Zellwegger shows up in a scene as Vivienne’s long-lost friend, you can see the difference in how a real actress tackles a role. There is just so much wrong in this here and now that’s unforgivable.

I Hear A Rhapsody (Movie Thoughts: Bohemian Rhapsody)

downloadbh‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a serviceable, by-the-numbers biography of Freddie Mercury. It doesn’t set out to conquer the world, it just exists to exist. Credited as directed by Bryan Singer, who was fired before the film was finished, the movie feels very corporate, as if put together by a team of scientists in a factory. It tells a story of a life, but never goes deep enough in that life. I will have to say that while it is watchable and engrossing for what it is, it was missing heart, and definitely soulless.

I did not know much about Freddie Mercury going in the film – I didn’t even know he was Pakistani – and I didn’t feel like I knew more about him after seeing the film. I learned of how he got into forming the band Queen, and we get a glimpse of how they became famous. But I never saw what ignited the spark between him. He seems to have been a very complex person – most artists are – but here complexity means two buck toothed prosthetic dentures and a pleated jacket. I know a lot of people feel the character has been whitewashed of its gayness, but that only felt like the beginning of the character’s deficiencies. Relationships are presented but never explored – what was the real core of his relationship with Mary Austin, for example, besides a mutual love of flouncy blouses?  This is the kind of film wherein to signify that Mercury has contracted AIDS, we see him sneezing droplets of blood into a Kleenex. Rami Malek, as Mercury gives a dedicated performance, but I was ultimately unmoved by it – even with that performance, the character never came alive for me. And must they really re enact his whole Live Aid performance when the real thing can easily be seen on YouTube? The whole film, to me, felt like a theme park version of a vibrant story and I hope one day we get to see a better retelling of it.

Isn’t It Funny? (Movie/Stage Thoughts: Funny Girl, The Orpheum Theater, Manchester)

onesheetI have never seen a production of ‘Funny Girl.’  I saw a concert version a couple of years back with different Fannys, but I don’t think that counts. Of course, I have seen the film, but I haven’t in the last decade. I had heard accolades of the London production which originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory directed by Michael Mayer, and I know it moved to great success on West End. I had wanted to see that, but when I was at London last year, it had already left to tour.

So when I found out that the production was filmed and to be presented at cinemas nationwide, I knew I wanted to see it. Of course, ‘Funny Girl’ is the kind of show wherein you have to have someone in the title role who is not only triple threat, but has to be vulnerable, and funny. And by God, do we have that and more in Sheridan Smith. I was astounded by how good she is. Streisand will always be the gold standard in which you measure anyone doing this role, but for a brief second there, I forgot her. Her ghost still mostly haunts, but when Smith is on stage, it seems like it is only hers. In a way she is almost the anti-Streisand, her singing more in the vein of  “an actress who sings,” eschewing the usual ‘stand and belt’ style that most actresses would use for this role. And her physical look fits the character better – a lot less self-aware, and it makes the ‘ugly duckling falls in love with the prince’  story line more believable and even more heartbreaking.  The dependent/victim role has never looked more appealing in Sheridan Smith’s hands.

Harvey Fierstein, in his rewriting of the book, has made the show feel a lot more like a book musical. Funny Girl, as it stood, felt more like a concert (I heard David Merrick wanted to cut all scenes without Fanny in them. ) but in this version, the story flows better, making the songs mean more. ‘People,’ here is more casual, not an aria but more akin to Carousel’s bench scene, essaying that exact moment Fanny realizes how it feels to finally fall for someone. For me, it is the best song and scene of the show, sort of like that moment you realize that she is doomed and destined for a real heartbreak as you tell yourself, ‘this will end in tears.’  Mayer’s direction is spare, and he gives his actors a lot of room to breathe.  Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein feels less one -note, beneath his dashing gambler persona, you can sense an insecurity, at times even a longing – he is given a point of view like never before – they made ‘Who Are You Now’ a duet to give him a voice, for example.  Styne’s score is really a mixed bag – but the highs are up there. At this point, the familiar songs can be overly familiar, t it’s always good to see and hear them in their natural habitat, which is musical theater.  Also, the show’s creaks are more evident, too: without a great star performance, there’s not much there in the show – it’s really Gypsy-lite.

The film was shot well, with enough closeups so we can feel the characters more. I certainly feel fortunate to have seen this production, as it made me realizes how much I needed to see Smith’s performance, and well, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

What We Erase, We Find (Film Thoughts: Boy Erased)

bera‘Boy Erased’ is one of those movies that you know, even before going in, will break your heart. And it will. Joel Edgerton directed this film based on the memoir of Gerald Conley, which is based on his experience enrolled in gay conversion therapy sessions. The film chooses all the right buttons to provoke your feelings, rip your heart apart. And it helps that the cast is all good, from Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the parents to Lucas Hedges as Jared, the boy whose sexual orientation is being erased. I went along for the ride, expecting what I will get, and got it.

But I wanted something more. I wish the characters were better developed. Even Jared’s character, the center of the piece, felt a little hollow, his sexual awakening unconvincing. Hedges tries to fill in the gaps and ultimately we understand, but still I wanted a little more texture. Kidman and Crowe serve as opposite sides of the point, and only in Kidman’s performance do we see some three-dimension in her role. And the film is a little too white-bred, for sure.

There are similarites to a movie earlier this year that dealt with the same topic – ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ – and I liked this one slightly better. Still, the film wasn’t an enjoyable experience. It still hits close – in a similar world, the same experience could have happened to me. Still, I think people who will see the film will like it a lot, and obviously the message needs to go out to people who needs it most.

Into The Wild (Film Thoughts: Wildlife)

p15750243_p_v8_aa‘Wild Life’ is one of those movies that are a lot of things, but never feels crowded.  It’s a story about a marriage and its disintegration. It’s a coming-of-age film. It’s a snapshot of life in a particular time (1960) in rural America. It’s all beautifully woven anchored by great performances, directed with grace by Paul Dano, sensitively written by hom and his girlfriend Zoe Kazan.

Jeannette and Jerry Brinson (Carey Mulligan and Jake Gylenhaal) are just like any other American family. They have a fourteen year old son Joe, (Ed Oxenbould) and he plays football. It’s your typical American family, but it’s all for show. Joe isn’t really interested in the sport, and Jerry just lost his job at the golf course because his boss thinks that he’s too friendly with the clientele. When he volunteers to help with fighting the brush fires, Jeanette goes on a transformation. Or is she just finally finding herself? This all happens before Joe’s eyes and he matures before he even realizes it. The film is at times painful to endure, but it’s real. Mulligan moves with ease in showing the change in her character, but I just have this weird thing in me that I see Katie Holms in her – or the other way around perhaps? Gylenhaal gives a solid performance as always, and there is wisdom in Oxnbould’s youth – his is my favorite performance here. This is the kind of film that may seem slight, but as you think about it more, the more you will realize its layers.

What We Feel (Film Thoughts: What They Had)

large_what-had-2018I will see other movies for the rest of the year, and I will get impressed more, awed more, but I don’t think there will be any other film that will touch me more than Elizabeth Chomko’s ‘What We Had.’  I made a lot of sacrifices in my life, and while I do not regret any of my choices, I cannot help but sometimes wonder about ‘what might have been.’ But once in a while, I get a message from the universe that tells me that it doesn’t matter, that we are always exactly where we need to be, and we always end up exactly where we need to end up. This film was one such reminder, and my heart is suddenly overflowing.

The film centers around a family. Ruth’s Alzheimer’s is already progressing, and int he beginning of the film, we see her leaving the house in a snowstorm. This triggers an emergence with her husband Burt (Robert Forster) and their son Nicky (Michael Shannon) who calls his sister Bridget (Hillary Swank) to come help find their mother. She turns out to be fine, this time, but the incident also triggers some lingering questions to be answered. Should they start living in an assisted facility type of domain, as obviously it is getting difficult for them to just be by themselves. Their son is overwhelmed, as he is obviously trying his best to help, being the local one, and he tries to balance this as he runs his own business.

Swank is fantastic. I never really warmed up to her, and at times have exclaimed that she is overrated, but she is great here, balancing the melancholy with humor when needed. You cannot feel but feel for her, and Swank draws you into the emotion. Shannon is drawn less but is even better. You can sense Nicky’s exasperation instantly, and you don’t dislike him even as the character does some self-sabotage. Danner is tenderness and vulnerability and Forster is understandably stubborn. All the actors lend the characters authenticity – you will recognize each and every one of them as people in your own family. When they need to make difficult choices at the end of the film, you cry with them.

And I can certainly identify. This film validates every single feeling I have ever felt when I have been in similar situations – it captures every single one of those emotions perfectly. Maybe some of of you have already felt these things, but if you haven;t, I assure you that you will.