T & T (Film Thoughts: Truman & Tennessee)

It seemed like a great idea. Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland was working on a documentary on Truman Capote when she added Tennessee Williams’ story in the mix. Both writers have parallelisms in their lives and this made for s perfect match. Zachary Quinto (as Williams) and Jim Parsons (as Capote) narrate words credit to the authors in voice overs and interspersed with clips from both their interviews with David Frost, I could see a glimpse on what made these two tick. But we never really get a. full picture of each, and int he end, I felt short sighted.Though I understand that wasn’t probably the point of the film, someone not too familiar with both subjects may be lost in the mix.

Renta Cubana (Film Thoughts” Revolution Rent, HBO Max)

Over the years, I have been very vocal about my dislike of the musical ‘Rent.’ I don’t think it’s the worst musical in the world, but I am immune to its charms – I only like ‘Seasons of Love’ from its score, and that song is too popular for me to really champion. But I get why people like i t- its subversively inclusive message can be infectious. But of course, anything musical related I watch, and HBO’s ‘Revolution Rent’ documentary was just begging for me.

I totally loved this film. Directed by Andy Senor and Patrick Alvarez, it shows Senor’s journey of bringing the show to Cuba – the first musical to be staged there in a long while. Senor was a replacement Angel in the original production of Rent on Broadway so obviously he has strong affinity for the material (it’s akin to Baayork Lee directing a production of ‘A Chorus Line’)

I found myself rooting for him and the production. We see him mount the production from scratch, compiling a cast fo Cuban locals who had to be molded into actors and singers effectively essaying the spirit of the musical. I thought the process was poignantly presented, and by the time they take the final bows on opening night Christmas Eve in Havana, I was in tears.

This Is My Life (Film Thoughts: Swan Song)

Todd Stephen has made one of my favorite films thus far this year: ‘Swan Song.’ It’s a wonderful November-of-my-year type of film that touched me deeply. It stars Udo Kier as Pat Pitsenbarger, an aging hairdresser living in a facility. He gets a visit from a lawyer who asks him to fix the hair of his old client Rita parker Sloan (Linda Evans) who left specific instructions on her will that she be done by him. Reticent at first (she had left him as a client) but he reconsiders when he gets offered $25,000 to do the job. He then does a walk back to Sandusky, Ohio (where he used to live) not only to do this but to tie up all the loose ends of his life.

I always say this, but maybe my older age has made me appreciate more these films of the ‘this is my life’ genre. Some of the situations here may be forced (the screenplay can be awkward) but I felt a lot of familiarity with the story. He first visits the cemetery where his ex-lover is buried (he dies of AIDS) and then finds out that the house where they used to live has been demolished. He also confronts his assistant, played by Jennifer Coolidge, who opened a shop across from him and tole all his clients. There’s a whole of bitterness and humor there, and it’s very sassy and campy, all served with delicious joy by Kier. His flamboyance never crosses to caricature, and there’s a certain sort of familiarity with his characterization that makes him relatable to everyone. It’s my favorite male actor performance so far this year.

I always gravitate towards films that touch me. I know this film has imperfections, but I had an emotional reaction to it, and for me, the heart is always stronger when touched. 

Her Name Is Rita (Film Thoughts: Rita Moreno Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It)

I thought I already knew a lot about Rita Moreno, but after seeing the documentary ‘Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It,’ turns out I knew diddly squat. I have to be honest that at times I look at her as a poor man’s Chita Rivera, but of course she isn’t. She is a trailblazer and broke a lot of barriers for Latina women. This film shows us all of that, and more. First of all, much has been said about her love affair with Marlon Brando, but I did not know that he used to abuse her physically. How she survived that is already a monumental achievement. And of course, she is the first Latina woman to win an Academy acting award. But if I have to be totally honest, I first knew of her from ‘The Electric Company,’ which I used to watch every day when I was a kid (‘hey you guuuyyysss’) But above all, she seems to be a wonderful person and deserves all the accolades she could get.

All Hail The Queens (Movie Thoughts: Queen Bees)

There’s nothing groundbreaking or unique in Michael Lembeck’s ‘Queen Bees.’ In fact, most everything in it feels familiar – you have seen all of this before. But there is something oddly satisfying about it. It’s the masterclass in acting being displayed by the cast that makes it not only watchable but immensely enjoyable. Most times, everyone – Ellen Burstyn, Ann Margaret, Jane Curtin and Loretta Devine – feels like they aren’t acting – they act so natural and comfortable in their roles. While the film won’t end up in the pantheon of the greatest songs of all time, it’s a nice enjoyable time at the movies.

Momma Drag (Movie Thoughts: Stage Mother)

Jacki Weaver is fantastic in Thom Fitzgerald’s ‘Stage Mother. This indie film has a great cast – it also has Lucy Liu and Adrian Grenier in the cast, and Weaver plays a conservative Southern mother who ‘inherits’ a San Francisco drag bar after his son dies of a drug overdose. That set up is a little on the unbelievable side, and sure, a lot of the story follows more or less a fantastical path, but I found myself enjoying this film. The sights are funny enough and the cast is across the board good, so you will have no problem believing. It’s a fun frothy kind of film for Pride month, and as far as gay movies, I have seen far worse. And Weaver is an absolute delight, so what’s the problem?

After All These Years (Movie Thoughts: See You Then)

I am starting off my Pride Month with Mari walker’s ‘See You Then,’ an intimate film between two ex-lovers seeing each other. The twist? One has transitioned. In a course of an evening, we see them reconnect, try to hash out unresolved issues, and get some kind of closure. Or not?

The screenplay, co written by Walker and Kristin Uno is a little awkward, a little insightful, and all heart. You feel like they are asking questions that you want to ask yourself, which can sometimes be uncomfortable, but necessary. Even though the film takes place in one evening, it feels cinematic enough, and never feels claustrophobic (the cinematographer gives it a specific feel) Lynn Chen and Pooya Mohseni play the ex-lovers, and you can sense the familiarity between the two characters. the film can be a little eye-opening experience to those unfamiliar with trans people. I hope the right eyes get to see this.

The Heights Of It (Film Thoughts: In The Heights)

A couple of weeks back, I was invited to an advanced screening of the movie version of ‘In The Heights,’ and I was overjoyed. I had been so looking forward to its release even before the pandemic. It held such promise – Tony award winner, Lin Manuel, directed by john Chu – and I wanted it to be a five star musical. It was going to be my first trip back to the cinemas after more than a year and I wanted it to be monumental. Sadly, I was disappointed. It’s nowhere near a train wreck. As a matter of fact, there are great things in it, and some elements amazed me. It has fantastic performances, and Anthony Ramos will probably be a huge star because of it. But I felt it was too long, and I couldn’t help but edit some parts of it in my mind.

But let’s start with the good. The film is a visual delight, and it starts of magnificently – the opening number sets the mood effectively, and it’s so great to look at you don’t know where to start staring. The cinematography is bursting with colors, and each explosion is a treat for the eye. The score – even though it is not my cup of tea – is orchestrated beautifully, and it sure sounds full-bodied. And yes, I would say most of the performances are great, starting with Ramos’ star-making Usnavi. Melissa Barrera, who I know from Vida, is a striking presence here (I didn’t know she could sing!) and for the most part, everyone gave justice to their roles (even Lin Manuel in a role specifically made for him)

Yet, there is a hollowness in there I could not shake. Some of the songs just don’t work for me, and I felt like it’s the same song over and over. Its plot was never its strongest, and the additions and subtractions in the screenplay did not help. And I do think some judicious cuts would have been welcome. I mean, if I got a little bored, can you imagine the average moviegoer?

I didn’t like that I felt that way, so I wanted to watch it a second time before writing my thoughts. And yes, for the most part I felt the same, though I do think that I enjoyed it maybe a tad more the second time around. Maybe I was more relaxed – I had a little bit of anxious energy when I was at the movie theater. And I must also add …what do I know? The crowd I saw it that night gave the film thunderous applause that night. And sure, while I wanted the film to be truly fantastic, it being good is still an achievement. 

Lovely Ladies (Movie Thoughts: Our Ladies)

‘Our Ladies’ came out during lockdown but apparently it was still a hit, so it must be good, right? It is getting raves at Letterboxd so I was looking forward to enjoying it. But I felt it was a little bit off in tone. It seems…. dated is the first word that comes to mind. Sure, I know that it is set in the 90s but the ideas should feel timeless. This story of four randy Catholic girls feels false, probably because it seems to be taken from the point of view of a male gaze. Maybe that’s also the reason why I did not enjoy it as much as I would have?

Sad Girls (Film Thoughts: Asia)

Ruth Pribar’s ‘Asia’ was a big winner at Israel’s Orphi Awards (their Oscars equivalent) ,and is that country’s entry this year for the Academy Awards. It’s a relation ship about a young mother and her daughter. Alena Yiv plays Asia, a Russian immigrant in Jerusalem raising a teenager, and is running against time – her daughter Vika (Sira Haas) has a degenerative disease. It’s a depressing film – you just know situations will just get worse and yes, it does. I don’t know if I was in the right mood when I saw this, and the film just made me reallys ad and depressed afterwards. It has great performances from the two female leads, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.