‘American Animals’ is the first distribution venture for MoviePass, and I feel like I must support it because the company has added a lot of value to my movie-making experience. (For the most part, I am very happy with their service) But who am I kidding – I probably got attracted to this because of its attractive young all-male cast: Evan Peters and Blake Jenner, specifically (Can I have Mr. Jenner for dinner, please?)
The film is about a heist from 2003 wherein a group of four guys from Kentucky tried to steal a rare book. It is stemmed from a Vanity Fair article and would have made a good story. But the screenplay took a bit to rev up, and you really don’t know what motivated these men to concoct this deal. You don’t know who to root for, either, though I found myself rooting for them to succeed, partly maybe because of the good acting from the cast. I found myself conflicted about that, to be honest. You kind of felt that these kids were just misguided, or probably gave them room because essentially they were just that – kids. Peters as Warren, the would-be ringleader has great presence, and Barry Keoghan as Spencer showed vulnerability, and they are actors to watch out for. All in all, I kind of enjoyed the movie more than I didn’t, and really, if you have MoviePass, not a bad way to ‘give back’ to the company.
‘First Reformed’ is one of those tough films to describe. It was described by Fandango as a thriller, and I went in with that frame of mind It incites thrill, alright, but in a whole different manner. It’s not a plot driven movie, as it is mostly a character study of Ernst Toller, a pastor of First Reformed Church somewhere in Upstate New York. he presides over one of those small churches that is only alive because of its historical significance. On any given Sunday, there are only a handful of parishioners who go there – most folks go to the mega church down the road. In fact, the same mega church funds First Reformed. I am not going to go over the rest of the plot, as I think it;’s mostly irrelevant. We see Toller spiral out of control because of a set of setbacks, among which he is urinating blood because of cancer, and has gotten involved in the life of two parishioners – a married couple with issues, and bo have they got issues.
The film is best seen through the eyes of observance – of how religion affects and influences people’s lives, of how humans deal with its significance. I have always thought that Ethan Hawke (who plays Toller) a fantastic actor, and he is great here, grunting and cursing and parishioning. It’s his career-best performance. Towards the end, the film turns fantastical and metaphysical, and it feels like you have stumbled upon a whole different movie, but I kept thinking about it, and its not making sense makes all the sense in the world. This film assaults you, and I bet you’ll welcome it.
For most of ‘On Chesil Beach,’ I was underwhelmed. I guess my mind is too much into what I have known – a child of the 80s – that I thought a lot of what is in the movie ‘much ado about nothing.’ Do people really break up over sex incompatibility (or lack of trying?) Do people really have no premarital sex? But this is 1962, and I admit I don’t know much about 1962. But then towards the end of the movie, a certain sentimentality was tagged in the movie, and hopeful romantic me just lapped that up. Curiously, here I am days after seeing the film and I am still thinking about the characters.
That’s where the irony lies. A lot of write ups about the movie say that that tacked-on sentimental ending does a great disservice to Ian McEewan’s brilliant book. But can we really say that, knowing McEwan was also involved int he screenplay? I hear that a lot of what is touching in the book rests on the ambiguity on the ending – something that is ‘answered’ on the film version. Of course this would just implore me to just read the damn thing, and curse myself for going by life this far without doing so.
Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are perfectly cast as this couple. Ronan is truly a great thinking actress – we see her give us surprises on a character we thought we understood. And where did Howle come from? He expresses anger and confusion and charm all in one gaze, matching Ronan’s complexity.
The film makes us wonder about decisions we make, and maybe that’s why ultimately, it made me think about all the “what might have beens” in my life. In my old age, there have been a lot of those, and though I am a lot better now with them, something triggers sometimes. ‘On Chesil Beach’ did that, and here I am wondering is that is a good or bad thing.
There is a lot of joy seeing four great actresses interacting on screen, and that is the joy you will get in seeing ‘The Book Club.’ I don’t think anyone will go this movie expecting great filmmaking or deep social commentary of the times. The jokes here are more on the shallow and salty side and more often than not, I rolled my eyes at them (There are two ladies sitting beside me who lapped all of them up, though) But somehow this movie felt very satisfying. And it all boils down to the performances, stupid. Jane Fonda, Candace Bergen, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen can create real-life characters even if those same characters are written as caricatures. You believe them, you treasure them, there is no doubt in your mind that these women here have been friends for north of 40 years. You believe their shared history, even if they aren’t spelled vividly in front of your eyes. You follow the stupid paths their characters are facing right now, even if at the same time they all have flimsy and unbelievable story lines. No matter – you got to spend time with these four great actresses, and that’s maybe just more than enough to make you happy.
When I watched the Miss Universe pageant a couple of years ago – the controversial night when Steve Harvey announced the wrong contestant – one of the performers that evening was Charlie Puth. That was my first ‘exposure’ to this singer, and I remember distinctly that I thought he had style, wearing a summer Hawaiian shirt, and was cute in a odd-Jewish sort of way. He sang a song where he used Marvin Gaye as a verb, and was a hit with the young crowd. After, I knew he enjoyed some kind of success when his song was used in one of those Fast and Furious movies, the one wherein there is an emotional tribute to Paul Walker.
Cut to recently, when I heard his song ‘How Long?’ and I thought it was catchy and instantly LSS-worthy. And I started to pay attention, reading about tabloid headlines about a thing with Bella Thorne (she gets all the cute guys) and a cheating incident involving Tyler something or other – one of the Teen Wolf guys. That incident peppers a lot of his music in ‘Voicenotes.’ The Genius feature in Spotify states that ‘How Long’ is supposedly about Thorne, and ‘Attention’ about his supposed fling with Selena Gomez. Are we supposed to be invested in the shallow pursuits of this young man? never mind that, I think most of the songs in the album are catchy, fun, and perfect for breezy summer days. I like most ‘La Girls’ where he catches himself caught up in the vapid Los Angeles singles scene, and ‘Slow It Down,’ wherein he tries to (unsuccessfully) ignore the advances of a girl (you can practically feel the testosterone in that track) The songs here are insanely fine, if even I am a bit detached from them.
Recently, though, I read that Puth is secretly a homophobic Trump supporter. It makes sense, because I really liked his music. Now I don’t know if my enjoyment will be tainted by that information. Yikes.
‘Anything’ is about a Early Landry (played by John Carroll Lynch) who had a recent tragedy in his life and because of this has to move to Los Angeles. The film, written and directed by Timothy McNeill, is also based on his play ‘Anything,’ and at times the film does feel stage-y. But it’s well-meaning, and I really liked this film, even though I have some reservations with it. First of all, I think I had some problem with its pacing, with it starting slow, and just as when things started to pick up, it was already ending. I also know that there was a lot of disappointment when Matt Bomer was cast in the role of Freda von Rhenburg. A lot of people said that the role should have gone to a trans woman. there are very few roles available for transgendered people as it is, should Bomer take one away from them? My response to that after seeing the film? This role is thankless, and really, it could have been played by anyone and I don’t think it would have mattered. Bomer does well here, and though the role is showy, it’s written thinly, and there’s only so much one actor can do to make it meatier. All in all this film is about Early Landry – he is the heart and soul of the piece.
Have I said I liked it? I surely can identify with Landry’s character as a resent transport to the Los Angeles area. And I am in love with the love story here. ‘Isn’t it just love?’ one character says and the film shows how gender, orientation, and everything else can be bypassed all in the name of what one feels for another. There is a scene when where everything blows up courtesy of Maura Tierney’s character (she play’s Early’s well-meaning but pushy sister) and I found myself weeping after – there was something really special and meaningful there and I think the Universe sent that to me. I needed to hear that message right now. There are a lot of ordinary things here, but the film’s heart is extraordinary.
I loved Ben Baur in ‘Hunting Season’ and I think he has great charm as an actor so I promised to support his projects. He was great in the movie version of ‘Something Like Summer’ and I know he has been traveling the gay film festival circuit with his short ‘Something New.’ Directed by TH Marchbank, Baur here plays a gay man stuck with his ex. He has been replaced by a pretentious twat, and he has been hooking up with a FWB he met through Grindr. When that friend asks him for a date, he freezes and doesn’t know how to answer. We all know they are good for each other. Baur is great here, showing great comedic (and physical) timing and he really is a someone who lights up the screen whenever he is on. This short is funny, and will make you want more.