Unglorious (Movie Thoughts: The Glorias)

A lot of ‘The Glorias’ seem like a good idea – Julie Taymor directing, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander sharing roles as adult Gloria Steinem, an all star supporting cast – but how come the movie falls flat? The film has a feel of a Wikipedia page, and Moore looks bored in the role. It’s a shame because Steinem is certainly an important figure in modern history, and surely there has to be more to her than this lifeless biopic?

The first half tracks better – we see her childhood and her relationship with her father, played by Timothy Hutton. Vikander is helped by a more interesting plot line, but when Moore comes in, the script goes nowhere, as Steinem just goes from one rally to another, without any interesting narrative to go with it. Taymor tries to keep things busy, with whimsical fantasy sequences that seem to come out of nowhere (and feels a bit out of context, top be honest) Bette Midler and Janelle Monae are both breaths of fresh air, having fun in their roles as Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Bella Abzug (Doesn’t Abzug remind you of AOC?) but their presence are brief to be truly meaningful. When you see the real Steinem towards the end in a 2017 rally appearance, you get a glimpse of the energy of what the film could have been.

Uproot (Film Thoughts: After The Wedding)

large_wedding-posterI know that ‘After The Wedding’ is an American adaptation of Susanne Bier’s film, and some people do ask – is there a need to Americanize these films? But I racked my brain and realized I have never seen the original, so in this particular case, and for purely selfish reasons, I welcome this. And anything with Juliane Moore and Michele Williams will catch my attention. And to start, they are both great here – when they are in a scene together, just the two of their characters in front of each other already creates so much tension – you really do feel you are in a showcase of two of the greatest actresses working today.

But what is it with Julianne Moore – her last film was also a remake (Gloria) and she even has almost an exact same scene her of her character singing along to a pop song while driving.  But no mistake, though her Theresa here is a force, a woman who is driven to see thing as she plans, even as she rearranges people’s paths. Williams comes off the better here with her subdued passive performance, her Isabel is uprooted from an orphanage in India to the wild streets of New York City, only to be confronted by her past. I must say that I really appreciated the twists and turns here, as manipulated as they may have been. I got into these characters and their situations, and I ate up everything they were serving. I liked this movie a lot, and I enjoyed it, especially the performances. I don’t know if I would have liked it more or less if I had seen the original, but what this is really is just fine.

A Little More Love (Film Thoughts: Gloria Bell)

GloriaBell_1080When I first saw the trailer for ‘Gloria Bell’ a couple of months ago, I told myself, this is my kind of movie. I mean, a middle-aged woman singing along to ONJ’s ‘A Little More Love? ‘  I may or may not have done the exact same thing in real life. So in some way, this movie has already already spoke to me.  In most ways. I am Gloria Bell.

Sebastion Lello remakes his 2013 movie, but he calls  this a ‘cover version.’ Well, I will look at this as I do most cover versions of songs – did this new version dd anything to the original? To be honest, I don’t much remember a lot of the original, only that I remember liking it. Some bits and pieces came back while I watching this, but for all intent and purposes, this film feels new to me.

The film is anchored by a great performance by Julianne Moore, who gives the role all the gusto she can. It is nice to see Moore kind of loosen up, as I always look at her as a schooled, controlled actress. I think a lot of her performance here is still intelligently calculated, but it still mostly works for me. She could still be cold at times – can you imagine the earthiness that Michelle Pfeiffer would bring to the role – but she makes it work for her character, a Gloria that hides behind a still steel state.  And when we see her dancing at the end of the film, we sense the journey that Gloria has gone through.

And Lello’s film is more relaxed in Los Angeles, without the political undertones of the original – it’s California after all. There’s an authenticity to Gloria being there, and her friends did not feel like curated accessories. John Turturro is great as Arnold, showing quiet crazy as only he can. The story here has some holes, and the pacing could be sometimes picked up a bit, but all in all, this is an entertaining film, and for someone like me, a better choice this weekend than the bloated superhero movie it is up against.

Cold Canto (Film Thoughts: Bel Canto)

d7141476-1239-4fb3-a49a-9d42c8728c32Sometimes when bad movies happen to good actors, they give bad performances. Julianne Moore’s performance is ‘Bel Canto’ isn’t good, and at times it felt like it was given by an amateur. She seems disconnected and uninspired, which may or may not have been the case, but to me, it certainly felt so. (Even her miming to Renee Fleming’s voice seemed out of synch) I am mostly baffled that she could give such a bad performance, to be honest.

The film, directed by Paul Weitz, is an adaptation of Ann Patchett’s novel. I remember it was a very popular book, the kind everyone seems to be reading on the subways on their way to work. The film couldn’t settle on a theme – it’s part thriller hostage drama, it’s part romantic entanglements, with the tone shifting quickly.  I know of that syndrome wherein captors develop feelings for their kidnappers, but the transitions here are not only not believable, they are laughable. I know this is probably because the screenplay is heavily truncated from the book, but for sure, it could have been written (and acted) better. The crowd I saw it with laughed at all the wrong moments. This will probably fall into my list of worst movies of the year.

No Wonder (Film Thoughts: Wonderstruck)

wsThe concept and plot of ‘Wonderstruck,’ isn’t normally something I would be interested at, but I went because it is directed by Todd Haynes, whose work I really do admire. In this movie, we have two parallel stories of a child in search of something. It is based on Brian Selznick’s novel of the same name. One part is set in 1927, about Rose (Millicent Simmonds) who takes the ferry from Hoboken, New Jersey to New York City in search of an actress, Lillian Mayhew, played by Julian Moore. The second part of the story is set in 1977, where a boy Ben (Oakes Fegley) takes a bus from Minnesota to Manhattan in search for his father. The first part is shot in black white, like a silent movie (Mayhew is a silent film actress) while the latter is in glorious seventies color. I thought the production values here were excellent, especially the scenes from the 70s, which really made you feel like you were there at that particular time.

ws1However, neither of the stories moved me. They just weren’t interesting enough for me and I have to admit that some parts made me literally doze off. It was quite slow, and the payoff, especially the big reveal in Ben’s storyline, not worth the whole effort. I thought it extremely long, and pointless.  I really wanted to like this film, but ended up thoroughly disappointed and frustrated with it. And perhaps because of this, I find I can never remember the title, mistaking it for Wanderlust, or Wonderscene. It’s Wonderstruck, and I just wasn’t.

Miserably It’s Maggie (Movie Thoughts; Maggie’s Plan)

Maggies-Plan_poster_goldposter_com_2I really wanted to love Rebecca Miller’s new movie ‘Maggie’s Plan,’ and halfway through the movie, as I am realizing I don’t even like it, I started to question myself why. Maybe it stems from my irrational dislike of the actress Greta Gerwig – there’s something about her that annoys me and thus I never could get into – much less believe – any of her characters.I tried giving her the slack so many times here, but with her as the heroine of the film, I just couldn’t go on-board. I was banking on the idea that Julianne Moore will steal the film from her, but her character her seems to be a SNL parody, though she tries very hard to give it vulnerability, and nearly succeeds. I read a comment about the movie that it is a “New Yorker short story,’ and I think that’s an apt description, but I even think the magazine would reject this. There’s just so much good things here that did not account to a great whole that I couldn’t help but feel so disappointed. I wanted to feel characters that are New Yorkers – neurotic, sophisticated, pedantic in the most appropriate way – but here we get neurosis and no backing behind them. I just imagine how this film would have fared in the hands of Noah Baumbach, or Woody Allen (though the latter doesn’t seem to be doing New York movies anymore) and think there could have been real gold in here.

New York City Stories (Film Thoughts: Love Is Strange/Still Alice)

Earlier this week, a news story affected me: Ess A Bagel, which a lot of people – including me – consider as the best bagel shop in New York City announced it was closing its doors, a victim of a greedy landlord demanding higher rent. To me it mars an end of an era. Then I finally saw Ira Sach’s “Love Is Strange,” a movie I have been wanting to see since it first came out, but for some reason or another has eluded me. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow (both excellent here) play a married couple who, after thirty nine years of being together, gets married (yay for marriage equality) The marriage affects Molina’s character, though, since he works for a Catholic school, and of course we know where the Catholic church stands on that. As a result, he loses his job, and they have to leave their apartment and temporarily live with relatives and friends. While this premise is a little bit over-the-top (I can think of different ways of circumnavigating the situation they nevertheless get thrust into households, and well you can probably guess what happens next. But Sachs is smarter than that, dealing hands that are very subtle but ass effective. We get to see meanings in ordinary circumstances, and extra ordinary circumstances pushes characters to see, feel, and express love. Strange dear, but true, dear. The last act simmers quietly, and i surprise myself by no even aware that I have been sobbing. The best scenes here come from still moments. Maybe this resonated to me more because I suffered a loss recently, and maybe that is part of the reason why I am just seeing this movie now. Maybe it was designed to heal a certain part of my pain.  I consider this one of the best movies of the last year, with probably the best ensemble cast of the year. Marisa Tomei is particularly effective, and Darren Burrows, in a scene towards the end of the movie, epitomized the pain felt by all of the characters in the movie. Moving beyond belief.

Meanwhile, we move from the West Village to the  Upper West Side where we see Alice, played with subdued perfection by Julianne Moore, diagnosed with early on set Alzheimer’s disease.  This come almost as an irony to her, for she is a Columbia University professor specializing in the study of how people communicate with each other. Based on the book of the same title, written by neuroscientist Lisa Genova. Moore is such an intelligent actress, as she never chooses the most obvious ways for her character to deal with the deterioration of the disease. No histrionics here, no cliched disease of teh week tv movie grabs. She gives an intuitive, nuanced performance that shows that she prepared for the role in the most prepared way. But her preparedness sometimes becomes too obvious at times. But no matter, if this is the vehicle that would finally give her an Academy award, then so be it. Sometimes her acting is more intelligent than the movie, and for that she should be rewarded.

These two movies represent, for me, quintessential New York stories. These are two distinct, and individual tales that show how people live, survive, perish in the city. I will not lie when I say that it made me miss the city that made me th eperson I am today. But is today’s New York City still my New York?