Do You Hear What I Hear (Film Thoughts: The Sound of Metal)

One of my fears (God knows I have many ) is losing my sense of hearing. Music is very important to me, and I started listening on my Walkman with headphones blaring during my teens. And when I lived in New York, I had my headphones with me everywhere, and wonder if all that has done damage to my hearing.

Maybe that’s why I found Darius Marder’s ‘Sound Of Metal’ difficult to watch. I am nto a big fan of ‘disease movies’ in general – it gives me anxiety, and ZI have enough in my life of that. Every time I see scenes of visits to doctor’s offices with grave faces, it just brings me back to when I was taking care of my parents.

This film is a little different, though. The treatment is mostly internal, guided by a very restrained and effective performance by Riz Ahmed, who plays Ruben, a drummer who loses most of his hearing. In the hands of a less imaginative actor, I can just imagine the histrionics one could have used for this role, but Ahmed’s sensitive portrayal cuts deeper. Plus, the film’s imaginative sound design takes you immediately to what he is going through – how sound is suddenly muffled to how surgery enables him to hear again, albeit on a very different scale than what he (and all of us) are used to. I wish the characters were not as underwritten, but Ahmed’s performance makes this film worth watching.

Grand Dames At Sea (Film Thoughts: Let Them All Talk)

Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest all in one movie? Heaven. Put them all in a cruise ship? Ideal (and in these pandemic times, even more so) Gemma Chan is just cherry on top of the icing in Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Let Them All Talk.’ I am sure that this film will polarize people, but count me among those who loved this film. ‘Dames At Sea’ was a 1969 musical, this film can be aptly called Grand Dames at Sea, and we should all jump aboard.

Getting on a ship changes someone’s psyche. You are ‘stuck’ there with seemingly no escape, and there’s something magical that happens there. But at the same time, the situation kind of toys with your head. In every cruise that I have taken (about a dozen or so by now) I have learned something new about myself.

But excuse me, the characters here are in a Crossing. Streep plays Alice, an author who is to receive a prestigious award in London, but she cannot fly so she takes the Queen Mary 2, and tags along her friends Roberta (Bergen) and Susan (Wiest) She also takes her nephew Tyler (Lucas Hedges) with her. Once in the boat, we find out her literary agent Karen (Gemma Chan) is also on board to spy on Alice to make sure she is working on her manuscript. Much if what happens is supposedly half-improvised by the actors themselves, and it doesn’t show, to be honest. While the format is loose, the dialogue is pretty tight, and you can see the actors in their A game. Streep is calculatingly precise as Alice, and this is a classic Streep performance, tics and all (You will either love it or hate it) but the standout for me is Bergen, who plays a woman boiling underneath from a friend’s betrayal. I liked Hedges here, but I felt I didn’t really know his character, and was just used to move the plot forward (same with Chan’s character) I ultimately got swept in the characters and how they interacted with each other, and seeing fine actresses work flawlessly. Soderbergh gave them room to breathe and show their flares, and we are all the lucky to be in their presence.

Love of the Irish (Film Thoughts: Wild Mountain Thyme)

Let’s get this out of the way – John Patrick Shanley’s ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is corny, goofy, and weird. But God help me, I was utterly charmed by it. It’s old-fashioned in the best way, it will charm you, and it is one of the more romantic films I have seen this year – a rarity this year. And it stars Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt, two actors worthy of being called movie stars. They both look smashing on screen (nice to see Dornan’s face without a lot of facial hair)  and have sizzling chemistry that will overcome anything negative that can be said of the film.

And there are some negatives: the accents are thick and all over the place that it took a while for me to get into the ‘rhythm’ of what is being said. The story is familiar and you just know how things will turn out in the end. And yes, sometimes Shanley tries too hard – you just want to tell him sometimes to relax and just tell the story. But I think these things add to the charm. The film feels like a fairy tale but not cartoonish. There’s even a charismatic third party (played by Jon Hamm) that you almost welcome because you know it will make the two lovers realize their love for each other. And there’s a most amazing ‘big reveal’ at the end that will make you swoon for the lovers. I have to admit, I had a very big smile on my face after watching the film. Call me foolish, call me stupid, but this film warmed my heart. Put down your guard and enjoy it for yourself. 

Poke The Bear (Film Thoughts: Black Bear)

Aubrey Plaza has proven again that she is the Queen. In ‘Happiest Season’ she had such a magnetic impression that I along with everyone else wanted her character to end up with Kristin Stewart’s. And now, in Laurence Michael Levine’s ‘Black Bear’ she proves to be such a formidable actress that she makes the movie. I don’t know if it would have been as successful without her.

The film feels like a tricky puzzle. In the first half, we see a straightforward narrative about an actress/director who hires a cabin int he woods, a share-type situation with a young couple. Then things go awry. The second half turns totally meta, and for me to say anything else will ruin everything. Trust me – the less you know about the movie going in, the better.

It’s all a bit tricky, and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I fully understood everything that went on in the film. But maybe we weren’t meant to. The film is anchored by Plaza’s performance as Allison – she is sly and slithering but also vulnerable and needy. Again to say more would ruin it. I am now more than wager to follow Plaza’s next acting choices.

Treat Kristen Like Crap (Movie Thoughts: The Happiest Season)

Can I be a Kristin Stewart fan even though I am not a big fan of the Twilight films? Or maybe I should say that I am a fan of hers despite the fact that I a not a fan of Twilight. Seriously, I think I have loved her in every movie I have ever seen her in – including her latest, Clea DuVall’s ‘Happiest Season.’ This year, there is a slew of Christmas movies with queer content from Netflix to Lifetime and this, which is streaming on Hulu, brought there after the pandemic. The film sounds right by my alley – a lesbian rom-com with all the bells and whistles.

I only like it, unfortunately. There was something about the energy of it that was a little bit more low-key than I wanted, and I thought Stewart didn’t have much chemistry with Mackenzie Davis, who plays Harper. Stewart plays Abby, who gets ;invited’ to Harper’s family’s Christmas celebration. The hitch, of course, is that en route there, Harper confesses that not only is she not out to her family, Abby now has to pretend to be her roommate. The situation gets worse when they arrive, and Abby becomes the doormat of all doormats with Harper and her family treating her like crap. First of all, the whole set up feels like it’s 2010, and isn’t Pittsburgh progressive? Didn’t Biden win the state by 180,000 votes? Thank God there’s Aubrey plaza’s Riley, a lesbian ex of Harper who becomes Abby’s ally. There is more chemistry between Aubrey Plaza , who plays Riley and Stewart that you wish Abby ditches Harper for her.I found the film mostly enjoyable, or maybe tolerable. Stewart is obviously the star for me, but I have to say that the whole cast each gets moments – Alison Brie as Harper’s elder sister is a delight in all her scenes. And Dan levy is underused as Abby’s best friend. I wish I connected to it more, or believed more in Abby and Harper’s romance to make the film matter more to me.

Pop Goes The Shawn (Movie Thoughts: Shawn Mendes: In Wonder)

I wasn’t really expecting a lot of depth watching the documentary ‘Shawn Mendes: In Wonder,’ because, to be honest, this is about a twenty two year old Canadian pop star, so how deep can it go? The film is a breezy look at a young man who got famous for his peppy pop love songs.

Cue in adoring tween girl fans from all over the world – cue in Shawn’s changing hair lengths, and ‘inside look’ at his romance with fellow pop star Camilla Cabello (‘All my songs are about her’)

Listen, I won’t knock the film – I went and saw it the minute it went live on Netflix. But I am not going to pretend that this film will change anyone’s lives – it’s a ninety minute advertisement for Shawn and her new album.

Caught In Middle America (Film Thoughts: Hillbilly Elegy)

When I started hearing that ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ was bad, I did not know how to react. J.D. Vance, the author of its source book, is a big Trump supporter and there’s a part of me that wants to sock it to him. but I also feel for the cast, most of whom I really like, especially Glenn Close and Amy Adams, two actors who have both been ignored by The Academy. But I know I still wanted to see the film and gather my own thoughts about it. I think Netflix is the perfect avenue for this film, too, as it will reach a much wider audience than it probably would have.

Well, the film isn’t the worst thing in the world, to be honest. But it also isn’t good. I have not read the book, but from what I gather, it spews out a lot of Republican talking points. The screenplay by Vanessa Taylor has no time for the politics so she whittled the story down to a family drama, and I can’t say I blame here. What we get is prime melodrama about a family and its struggled with drug addiction, poverty, infidelity – you know, the usual. Close and Adams do sometimes chew the scenery, but what else are they going to do here? Close fares just a tad better especially when you see how successfully they transformed her to Mamaw, the family matriarch. Sure, I got caught in a bit of the story, but then at the same time, I forgot the film as soon as I finished watching it.

Love Is Rocky (Film Thoughts: Ammonite)

Sometimes all you need in a movie for it to be good is a great performance. In Francis E Lee’s ‘Ammonite,’ you get to: Kate Winslet’s and Saoirse Ronan’s. Without them, I really don’t know how the film would have held up. But with them in it, they make the whole thing soar.

Franci E Lee’s second feature has similarities to his first: there’s the love that dare not speak its name, there’s that love in an idyllic setting. ‘Ammonite’ is a lot of atmosphere as it is set in 1840s Lyme Regis in Southern England. And Lee knows how to do atmosphere well. In here, it really enhances – defines – Winslet’s character, Mary Anning, a paleontologist who spends her days looking for rocks, and fossilizing what she finds. When she meets Charlotte (Ronan) her life changes.

There isn’t much narrative, to be honest. But both actresses make up for it. They start off cold, but bring enough passion in their performances that ultimately you believe in their love. You may not necessarily be swept away by it, though – this film is subtle with sentimentality – but there isn’t a doubt in your head by its existence. Winslet is truly fantastic here, a woman who never wallows in her existence. On the other hand, Ronan as Charlotte rises from the wallowing, and that’s when you can see the fires in their. love.

Isn’t It Romance? (Film Thoughts: S**t House)

I thought Cooper Raiff’s  ‘Shitshow’ was going to be one of college-age party movies and that’s really not one of my favorite genres, but guess what, it’s one of the most romantic films of the year. In the film, Alex (Raiff) goes to a common area at his dorm after his roommate has an ‘accident,’ and from there his RA sees him and they have one of those nights where they start one place and ends up at another and what happens is akin to a Gen Z version of ‘Before Sunrise.’   They go on and have sex, dig up and rebury her pet turtle, and ends up back at her bed. What happens afterwards is awkward, but real. Raiff has a good ear for dialogue and the encounter never feels forced. It is quite romantic, but at the same time anti as they both try  as kids are wont – to reconcile their feelings. It’s a heartfelt film, and you won’t even realize it touching you until it does.One complaint though – I think I would have liked the film if it were more open-ended, instead of Raiff tagging it with that ‘epilogue.’

Time and Tide (Film Thoughts: Time/I Am Greta)

TIME AND TIDE

Now that we have Joe Biden as our President-elect, maybe finally our leader can address certain issues that have been neglected by the current administration. I recently saw two documentaries about two big issues that are country is facing.

Garrett Bradley’s ‘Time’ addresses systematic racism. It centers upon the story of Fox Rich, a woman whose husband has been incarcerated. It shows her plight in raising her six sons because of an error in judgement. As a young couple in desperation, she and her husband robbed a credit union, and they got caught. She accepted a plea deal and served three and a half years in prison, while her husband did not, and was judged to serve sixty years without parole. She highlight the systemic racism for black and brown people – white counterparts would probably get a slap in the wrist for a similar crime.   The film is told from black and white videos that Fox has recorded over the years. This is a most touching film, and will open your eyes to the fact that behind these crimes and prisoners are human beings.

And human beings are affected by other issues, and one of the biggest ones is climate change. On the forefront of this is Greta Thunberg. This fifteen-year-old made waves with her September 2019 United Nations speech where she addressed this issue in front of world leaders, and her voice and message reverberated everywhere. This film gives us a lingering glimpse of the young person here, starting from when she started a strike in the Swedish Parliament House as her name gets more widely known. It shows her meeting French President Macron and the Pope. It shows the movement that she started, and how young people are inspired to engage int his issue because of her. It made me cringe how right wingers have demonized her – she is such a confident unapologetic figure that in some ways she is an easy target. I bet you will get out of the film admiring her more than you already have.