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.

Walking In Broken Glass (Film Thoughts: The Glass Castle)

gcaFor the life of me, I can’t remember if I read Jeanette Walls’ memoir ‘The Glass Castle.’ (This was pre-Goodreads)  But I must have read parts of it because parts of the film sound very familiar to me. Walls was a gossip columnist for New York Magazine, and I do remember reading her then In the book, and here in this film, she tells the story of her childhood, mostly of her carefree parents who spent a lot of their time moving from city to city when they were kids, and during the time she was starting to thrive as a writer in new York, they were were squatting at a building on the lower East Side.

The story is halved between the latter day Walls, and her childhood, and there doesn’t seem to be enough of each to satisfy. I thought that some part were disjointed, as if chunks were missing in between. And I didn’t really much care for Brie Larson as the latter Jeanette. I always thought her to be a flat performer anyway, and this is more me and my taste talking. the whole film was just one big blah for me.

The Back Bones (Film Thoughts: My Friend Dahmer)

DFMD0s5VYAAvupeEven when it was in the headlines, I never really followed the story of Jeffrey Dahmer. I know he was a serial killer, and killed and chopped his victims, but, that was it. Going into Marc Meyer’s ‘My Friend Dahmer,’ I thought I was going to get the full picture, but then I realize now this film covers only his teenage years, as it is based on the graphic comic/novel written by his high school friend John Beckderf. What we get here is kind of the root of what happens next, and literally so, as the film ends as Dahmer meets his very first victim.

What we do see is a humanized Dahmer, one that is presented without any judgement, and we as an audience are left to ponder what the man is to become. So it seems he is a sort-of outsider in High School, prone to attention seeking antics by mimicking someone having epileptic seizures for fun. He gets in the group with three other young men. And from then on we see signs of his eccentricities – his obsession with carcasses, bones, ‘things that are inside.’  He comes from a dysfunctional family – his mother, played by Anne Heche, is kind of on the crazy side – she also favored his younger brother.

The performances here are uniformally good. Ross Lynch is fine as Dahmer, and I did not know that he is one of those wholesome Disney actors, so people are saying this is a great ‘stretch.’  Heche and Dallas Roberts play the parents, and they bring their own kind of eerieness in their performances.

I wish the film did more. I wish it was scarier, or more dramatic. To be honest, I thought it was on the bland side because surely a colorful character like Dahmer would make a more bombastic film.

The Words Are Over Say Goodbye (Film Thoughts: Goodbye Christopher Robin)

Goodbye-Christopher-Robin-movie-posterPerhaps I had a wicked childhood, perhaps I had a miserable youth. Why, you ask? Because I never read any of the Winnie the Pooh children’s literary series. I am more familiar with its merchandise, those cutesy bear things. I remember as a child I had a pencil case with the imagery.  So I went into Simon Curtis’ ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ quite blindly. I didn’t even know the name of its author: A A Milsne (here played by Domhnall Gleeson)

Milsne had been a famous playwright before he was shipped to fight the first World War, and he came back with PTSD-like symptoms – the buzzing of bees affect him. While at war, his wife bore a son, Billie . At first, he has trouble connecting with the kid, until a circumstance had them spending time with each other alone, and from their exploits he has the idea of the Winnie the Pooh stories, based on his son’s stuffed toys. He writes the books and voila they are hits. The poor kid (Will Tiltson, a child star find) has trouble with this sudden fame – he becomes treated as a product, mostly from the prodding of his mother (Margot Robbie) The mother is written like a cardboard – is she just a gold digger? One never knows.

Then we get the musical strings and the film becomes manipulatively emotional. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t feel the change of gears, but it felt really dirty afterwards, because you know you have been manipulated into feeling a certain something. I appreciated the story, to be honest, and I feel better knowing I now know the story of the man (and child) behind the Winnie the Pooh books, but one has to ask the question – do you have to be played to do so?

Liberty & Privacy (Movie Thoughts: Snowden)

snowdenWho needs horror films when you have ‘Snowden,’ which is a film that terrified me. I have to be honest. I never really followed this news story when it was happening, and I have not seen the Oscar winning documentary ‘Citizenfour,’ which is sort of the base for this film. So in a sense, a lot of the information here is new to me. It just scares me that in this day and age, everything we do on line can easily be searched and documented by the government. I know in times of distress, you have to forego some civil liberties, but does our privacy have to really suffer from it?

Directed by Oliver Stone, I was expecting a showy and bombastic film, but I found ‘Snowden’ to be very subdued. That is not to say that it is less effective, but at times it doesn’t feel like an Oliver Stone movie. I liked this film a lot, and I was instantly engrossed in the life of Edward Snowden, how he grew ranks in the government agencies. And then, how he used his conscience to expose the fact that everything we did (do?) was recorded, how all this information was used carelessly. I trust the information here is all true, and it gave me chills. I have to admit that I am guilty of giving information too freely at times, and this film made me want to be more cautious.

Joseph Gordon Leavitt gives a nice understated performance as Edward Snowden. I knwo some people have said he veered more towards mimicry, but I thought he was able to convey a very credible character, and I understood all his decisions and actions based on his performance.  I think a different actor would have given a showier performance – and that may have worked as well – but I am fine with what we did here.

So Is Snowden guilty?  He is still in Moscow, unable to come home and face his crimes. Should all his charges be dismissed, when it has been proven that his revelations changed policies? The film doesn’t really make a stand, but I bet you will.

A Complicated Woman (Movie Thoughts: Jackie)

jackieHalfway through ‘Jackie,’ I couldn’t help but already think that Natalie Portman is giving the performance of the year. I always thought Portman a very mannered actress, and those mannerisms worked in favor here. because Jackie, even in her own words here, has difficulty discerning what is real, and what is part of her manufactured “image” and the learned cautiousness in Portman’s performance perfectly captures that. Portman makes this film immensely watchable, even when it isn’t.

Directed by Chilean Director Pablo Larrain,  ‘Jackie’ shows Kennedy mostly during the time of JFK’s assassination, shortly before, and after. While mostly fictionalized, I thought it was very interesting. I would like to believe a lot of what’s shown here is true, as it appears to ring true. I love a lot of the details here from Jackie’s refusal to take off her pink Chanel suit by Johnson is being sworn in as President, to the way she chose the exact spot where the President is to be buried in Arlington. The show queen in me loved the references to Camelot, with her playing Richard Harris’ title track from the cast recording. The perfumista in me loved how they showed her collection of Guerlain perfumes (She wore Vol de Nuit, I find)  In fact, I liek the flashback scenes the best, as it gave me a real glimpse of the Kennedys when they were at the White House – even their unhappy marriage is referenced here.

The film is framed by the interview she gave to the Theodore White interview she gave to Life Magazine shortly after his death, (The reporter is played by Billy Crudup) and those were the parts I liked the least – the scenes seemed stilted and stopped the flow of the movie. But otherwise, I found the film more than fine, as it gave me a peek into the soul of a woman I was a little apathetic about before. I know a lot of people idolized her, but I didn’t feel anything about her either way, mostly because she was mostly not on my radar. That changed after seeing this movie. Is she the manipulator as some have said, or just a complicated woman? This film wisely doesn’t take sides, and lets the audience decide.


The Voice Of An Angel (Movie Thoughts: Marguerite)

margueriteposter-1‘Margeurite, is about legendary singer Marguerite Dumont. I say legendary because Ms. Dumont is from that line of singers who do not sing in tune. This film is from 2015, and I am amazed how similar it is from that Meryl Streep film ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ from this summer. These are two different singers, but eerily their stories are almost identical.

Just like Foster, Dumont is a wealth woman who used her money to satisfy  her desire to sing, and started at ‘music clubs’ who benefited from her donations. And both stories culminate in a big solo concert/recital. ‘Marguerite’ has a last quarter epilogue that tries to explain how she was not able to discern her bad singing, and it is its most unsuccessful part, but for the most part I preferred this movie from Foster’s. What sealed the deal for me  – Catherine Frot’s subtle, and realistic performance. I wrote my thoughts here  about how I didn’t like Meryl Streep’s over the top and caricature-ish performance, and Frot just does the opposite – her Marguerite seems more real, more sympathetic, and totally believable. As a character, I get the impression that Marguerite is a worse singer than Foster – the latter is almost okay, while Marguerite, based on her singing here – as a singer, is just disastrous. (Somewhere in my music collection, I have recordings of both and should do and compare-and-contrast)

As a film, I enjoyed ‘Marguerite’ a lot. It’s a very elegant movie, and is successful in presenting a life story.

Let Me Sing And I Am Happy (Film Thoughts: Florence Foster Jenkins)

florence-foster-jenkins-posterMy old friend Richard collects albums of bad singers. You go to his house, and he has a section of vocalists who are out of tune, out of sync, and recorded. Needless to say, he has prized possessions of the two albums that Florence Foster Jenkins (privately) recorded. I remember one of our favorite things to do then was to go to Tower Records in Lincoln Center and go through the jazz vocals section, judging discs by the covers and hoping against hope that one of these singers would be worthy enough to join his ‘awful singers’ shelf. I guess my point here is that although I am not an expert on her, I have heard a lot about La Florence from my friend, which made me more eager to see ‘Florence Foster Jenkins,’ which is the film about her.

It’s not exactly her life story, more a dramatization of the events leading up to her infamous Carnegie Hall concert. Meryl Streep plays her, in one of her larger than life performances, and she goes all out – tics, screams, arms flailing. I know she has been getting left and right raves here, but to me it rang false. From what I have heard about Jenkins, she was mostly quiet and subtle, if a lot cognizant of her deficiencies. Even though we get that on paper in the screenplay, I thought Streep played her in the opposite direction, though of course Streep is a intuitive enough actress that she knows when to to reign it in so the character isn’t a caricature. Hugh Grant, playing her companion, shows the subtlety here, and in my opinion gives the better performance even if his part is written just to react to Jenkins and her pianist Cosme Mcmoon (played with camp tendencies by Simon Helberg)

Over all, despite its oversize, Jenkins is still a small film,. It would be incorrect to call it inflated, but somehow that word also fits. Still, in this summer of frozen delight treats, this is satisfying sorbet, a tribute to anyone following her dreams as misguided some of those may be.

In Michael’s Time (Book Thoughts: Remember The Time, Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard with Tanner Colby)

18467745After reading “Remember The Time: Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days,”  by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard with Tanner Colby, I went and looked at Goodreads to see what the consensus was of this book. What I saw first were his diehard fans’ comments saying both Whitfield and Beard betrayed Jackson by writing this book. I think that is misguided. I honestly felt their sincerity and loyalty to Jackson in the book, which tells of their time providing security for the pop star towards the end of his life.

And what a fascinating tale they tell. You get a big glimpse of how life was with Jackson, and how sometimes times were turbulent. This book is a page-turner, as I found himself devouring its 350+ pages in less than a day. Jackson’s image is, of course, larger than life, but their accounts here humanize him. This is not a tell-all nor a hatchet job, or at least it did not feel like one to me. What we do see is a multi-layered complex personality not unlike some other larer-than-life figures who preceded him. I even felt that Jackson was in so much pain towards the end of his life – mentally, psychologically – that it opened my eyes about him, thus making me more sympathetic. This was a fabulous read that’s dishy but not malicious.