Friend Indeed (Movie Thoughts: Our Friend)

Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s ‘Our Friend’ is a cancer movie weepie – destined to wring out tears in you. We’ve seen this story before, we’ve seen this movie before, but for me, because I am sometimes a masochist, I still watch, hoping for something new.

I am happy to report that the film got some tears out of me (but then again maybe that’s from my pandemic low-key depression) even though the story was familiar – I mean we all know how this will end – the main ace for the film here is the good acting by the principals. Dakota Johnson is really a good actress, and she shines through the scattershot script here, giving dignity to the dying Nicole, who gets diagnosed with cancer. Casey Affleck also gives complex to a cardboard character, but it is Jason Segal who is the top here – funny and vulnerable as the selfless friend who glues the family together.

There are some holes in the story, and for what it is I felt the film was a little bloated . but this film is exactly what you need if you want to release some sadness out of you.

Hit Me With A High Note (Film Thoughts: The High Note)

the-high-note-DigFIN01_285_T2455_THN_2764x4096_w1_rgb-1-691x1024If we were still living in a ‘normal’ world and ‘The High Note’ was shown in a movie theater, there would have been no doubt I would have showed up. This is my kind of movie – films that have personal stories. I consider this film a romantic comedy,  perhaps not of the ‘traditional’ kind. The ‘romance’ is between Maggie (Dakota Johnson) and her boss Grace Davies (Tracee Ellis Ross)  If this were a different film, it would have been like ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ but screenwriter Flora Greeson gives Grace a little more depth, not making her a cliched diva monster. But really, this is Johnson’s film, and in my opinion, her most charismatic performance. The story may have a string of tropes, and her character may be a tad inconsistent, but her Grace never wavers. Her screen presence, along with a soft thoughtful performance, makes us care for her character. And Ross is a formidable partner. Those expecting a character like her real-life mom would be a little disappointed as her Grace Davies is a lot more modern and human. She lights the screen when she is on, and the two of them together, sparring, is movie magic. Sure, the story is a bit unbelievable, but who cares? This is a great quarantine film – it will take you out of whatever world you are in and take you to a dreamy Los Angeles where dreams can be realized.

Southern Nice (Film Thoughts: The Peanut Butter Falcon)

pbfTyler Nilson and Mark Schwartz’s ‘the Peanut Butter Falcon’ is earning raves from critics. At the screening I attended, the audience burst out in applause when the credits started to roll. But I hate to say this, but all I felt saying was “it was nice.” It’s earnest, it means well, and it is certainly a crowd pleaser, but I found myself not connecting deeply with the film or any of its characters. Its genteel Southern charm is a tad too sleepy for my taste, and I found myself getting bored a couple of times. Plus,  it is not lacking from good performances. The center character, Zak, is played by Zack Gottsagen, and I bet the real life actor has a lot of similarities with the character (I read that the filmmakers wrote the script specifically for him) Plus, I had forgotten how Shia LaBeouf is such a natural and charismatic actor (Dakota Johnson, too, for that matter)  To be honest, I kind of feel bad that I don’t love this as much as everyone else, but really, the heart loves what it loves.

A Bad Sad Time (Movie Thoughts: Bad Times At The El Royale)

bad_times_at_the_el_royale‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ could have been good, but it lives up to its title. Written and Directed by Drew Goodard, it is a lot of style with some substance with a whole lot more self-indulgence along the way.

It boasts of a strong cast – Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm – so it did not suffer from lack of execution. When it first starts, you wonder what the eff am I watching,’ and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. However, when it all came together, and it kind of made sense, you say ‘that was it?’  The payoff just isn’t there to justify what you just went through. The film is painfully slow – does this film really need to be almost two and a half hours? – and I have to admit that there were more than enough moments when I felt utterly bored by it. Cynthia Errivo is the MVP from the cast, her acting (and singing) trying desperately to make sense in the midst of all the confusion. I was excited going into the film, and leaving the theater I just felt sad. And I already have enough sadness in my life.

Set Me Free (Movie Thoughts: Fifty Shades Freed)

7fiftyshadesfreed00_450Whenever I try to explain to people why I completed watching all three Fifty Shades movies, I answer with two words: Jamie Dornan. I mean, I am on Moviepass so the movie is basically free, so I don’t think it is such a major waste of time to spend two hours with Jamie Dornan almost completely naked. Right? Right? I mean, I can justify that, right?

Because I really feel like I need to. This third installment, ‘Fifty Shades Freed,’ isn’t the worst of the lost (that would be ‘Fifty Shades Darker,’ which was dull and boring) I still contend that the first one was surprisingly entertaining. This third one is just fine, as long as you do not take it too seriously. There is no plot here, so don’t even search for one. The film opens with Christian and Anastasia getting married, and then we get some nebulous things like stalkers and imaginary danger. And the two engage in a lot of sex. They are still mostly tame, and maybe that’s from me being very jaded, although there is a butt plug involved in one of them (off-camera) so there’s some deviation.

But other than that, the only thing for me here is Dornan, who is cute. He seems to be bored and rolling his eyes while acting, but then again most probably in the cast, and the audience are in on the same joke at this point. Hopefully next Valentine’s Day the world gets a movie release that’s a real love story.

Splashed Around (Movie Thoughts: A Bigger Splash)

index‘A Bigger Splash’ fits the definition of ‘art film’ in every sense of the word. It is loosely based on the 1969 movie ‘La Piscine,’ and also on David Hickney’s piece which shares teh same title of the movie. Tilda Swinton plays Marianne Lane, an androgynous-looking rock star (a la David Bowie) who undergoes a surgical procedure for her vocal chords and is spending her time healing and resting in the Italian island of Pantelleria, near Sicily. She is with her companin Paul, a documentary filmmaker played by Matthias Schoeneartes, Their quiet existence is disrupted when Lane’s producer and ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his daughter, Penelope, played by Dakota Johnson, and sexier here than she ever will be in that Grey movie. All this seems to be just a simple story, right? But no, director Luca Guadignino isn’t interested in somethign simple. Here, he creates a world so vivid, so languid that you feel the heat of the Italian sun, and you feel the simmer of all the desires – culinary, sexual, emotional – of these characters.

When I grow up, I want to be Tilda Swinton. She is probably one of the bravest actresses in the world – and she has such a unique vision in what her art should be. I read that she felt that as an actress, she had nothing to say when she was filming this movie, so she requested that her character not be able to talk. In the process, she says more with a stare, a flicker of an eye, a thump if her foot. This is such a unique performance, almost indescribably, assuredly effective. And Ralph Fiennes is fantastic here – a manic, frenetic performance that is supposed to annoy you but will kill you with its charm. And Dakota Johnson proves why she is tops among her generational peers – here she gives a layered sexy performance – coquettish, vulnerable, sly. You could probably watch these performances over and over and uncover layers with each viewing.

The last quarter of the film changes tone, as if from another movie. But by that time you are already so invested in the film, and these characters that you go along, and I felt like taking an anxiety pill with all the twists and turns at the end. I saw this film a day or so ago, and I am still thinking about it – and really, I still cant really figure out how I feel. The film felt like I was awoken from a sleep.