Love, Simon captures the essence of what it means (meant?) to be a teen today (or 5 years ago?) by focusing on the core of male and female “best friends forever” who pal around together, stick up for each other against bullies, and casually undercut each other’s confidence with sarcasm and misdirected wit. Simon is a closeted gay male having a secret e-mail relationship with another closeted guy in the same school, and like Becky Albertalli’s book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the film uses a high school production of the musical Oliver as the glue that holds a group of old and new friends together. Cross-dressing characters (Oliver is played by a girl onstage), mistaken identities, threats to reveal the secret e-mails, helicopter parents, and the ubiquitous “who am I anyway?” question suggest more than a trace of a classic Shakespearean farce—but one with a positive message.
Based upon Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 novel, A Wrinkle In Time, this was a film labelled “impossible to make.” Underneath all the glitter, glamour and sci-fi, special effects, it is a simple story of a girl’s search for her missing father, and the archetype story line works well. However the numerous time-transitions still need quite a bit or ironing to get the wrinkles out. The “fairy-godmothers” AKA “three witches” are called “Missus” here, and the actors cast to play them seem to be having a heck-of-a-lotta fun. Much has been written about how this $100 million+ film is created, directed, and stars larger-than-life women, so it is ironic that it is the guys (most noticeably Chris Pine as the father and Deric McCabe as the quirky little brother) who steal the movie.
“Modernizing” the La Femme Nikita trope by adding scenes of porno/voyeuristic kinky sex and torture, Red Sparow's filmmakers have the gall to advertise this as a “female empowerment film.” In a nutshell, it is the calculated debasement of Dominika, a beautiful and talented Bolshoi Ballet dancer who loses everything after a graphic onstage injury. Faced with the prospect of she and her invalid mother being thrown into the streets, she agrees to help her leering uncle with “an assignment.” It turns out to be a Secret Service assassination, and the only witnesses allowed to stay alive are members of “The Agency.” Faced with the choice of “sign-up or die,” she chooses life and ends up in a torture school run by a sadistic headmistress who tells Dominika “your body belongs to the state.” After way to many scenes of gratuitous, voyeuristic sex and violence, Dominika is sent to Budapest to seduce an American spy who may (or may not) know the identity of a Russian double agent. This last bit never works, and just seems tacked on to the BDSM-themed torture-fest.
It would be easy to pigeonhole Chile’s Foreign-Language, Oscar Nominee, A Fantastic Woman, as a tale of a transgendered woman coping with societal prejudice after her lover dies. However, doing so, limits appreciation of the the intelligence, creativity, and artfulness of the film. Daniella Vega shines in the starring role as Marina, who first acquiesces to authority figures who talk to her using masculine pronouns. But when others infringe on Marina’s self identity and sense of worth—barring her from the funeral, evicting her from her apartment, and even taking her dog, she (and the magical realism projected on the movie screen itself) react with determination, fire and raw emotion.
Outsiders consider the African nation of Wakanda to be a Third World, s*** hole of a country—but they are very, very wrong. The land is the only-place-on-Earth depository for a rare-earth, meteorite called vibranium, and decades of wise leadership has invested in a technological infrastructure so advanced, it makes other cities seem like antiques. Prince TChalla (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his homeland to assume the throne of his recently deceased father, but, as is often the case with generational transfers of power, things do not go smoothly. Five different tribes call Wakanda thome, and their leaders have different visions for the future. The new king is supported by a trio of powerful women: the all-female Special Forces leader Okoye (Danai Guirira); warrior-woman Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o); and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright). In addition, King TChalla has a secret identity. When he dons his vibranium super-suit (more powerful than anything worn by Ironman), he becomes the Black Panther. Director/co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler has created something very special with this film. Female and male Africans are portrayed as intelligent, brave, wise, thoughtful, and politically savvy human beings, in a film that is just as intelligent—and delightfully fun to watch!
Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast New Releases For the Week of 2/09/18 Peter Rabbit (PG) Starring: Rose Byrne, Domihnall Gleason and the voices of: James Cordon, Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie Directed by: Will Gluck Beatrice Potter’s Peter Rabbit and his animal neighbors have become furry CG characters in this animated tale [...]
Let’s say you had a great story about a woman haunted by the countless deaths caused by her family’s Winchester repeating rifles who believes that the only way to stay alive is to tirelessly keep building additions to her San Jose house. Then let’s say the house, with it’s stairways and doors to nowhere, exists as a museum. Then, you cast triple crown (Oscar, Emmy and Tony) winner Dame Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester. What would you do. In all probability it would be the exact opposite of the choices the filmmakers did on Winchester. The film may not steal the “worst ever” label from Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space—but it’s a close call.
Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is the perfect example of the “Hollywood just doesn’t get it” mind-set. At the exact same time that exploited women and under-represented ethnic groups take center-stage at awards ceremonies, this movie opens with “up-close-and-personal” scenes of rape and murder. Then the plot shifts to a bigoted, “injun-hating” cavalry officer escorting a dying Cheyenne war chief to his burial grounds. The natives are portrayed as “noble, thoughtful survivors” of the calculated extermination of their people, but are only allowed minimal amounts of screen time. For underneath everything, is the amorality projected in the TV show Westworld with its over-the-top, blood splattered violence. Here too, secondary characters (natives and settlers alike) are simply disposable props playing their scripted roles as agents of redemption for the uniform-wearing representative of all that is the United States.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson is famous for his portrayals of decidedly American heroes (a porn star in Boogie Nights, California oil prospector in There Will Be Blood, and charismatic Scientologist-style leader in The Master), yet his latest film, Phantom Thread, focuses on a London fashion designer from what may have been Britain’s dowdiest era—the 1950s. Day-Lewis has announced that since he immerses himself so deeply into the characters he plays, that this is his last starring role, and the entire film is a set-up to make sure Daniel Day-Lewis is an Oscar nominee for his performance. Reynolds Woodcock is a fastidiously self-centered individual who designs dresses for “the Royals.” When he adopts a plain, young, working-class girl named Alma (Vicky Krieps) to be the centerpiece model for his latest collection, he assuage any fears of impropriety by telling her (in a soft voice), that he is “an incurable bachelor.” If you recall Henry Higgins saying almost the exact same thing to the flower-girl Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady, you might assume that this will be a Pygmalion tale of the designer falling in love with the girl he creates. You would be wrong. Phantom Thread is more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, where the “afraid of change” male becomes obsessed with the ideal woman he creates using hairstyle, makeup, perfume and dresses. If you doubt the similarities, note the names of the designer and his model (Alma was Mrs. Hitchcock’s name). To top things off, the McGuffin is straight out of Hitchcock’s Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine film, Suspicion.
Way back in the pre-fake-news time of 1971, the New York Times began publishing excerpts from the classified “Pentagon Papers,” stolen by government researcher Daniel Ellsberg. The damning revelations about America’s real reasons for the Vietnam War rattled National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger so much, he convinced President Nixon that they needed to stop publication to prevent dissemination of any future secrets. Attorney General John Mitchell invoked the Espionage Act and a judge ordered the Times to “cease and desist.” In reaction, The Washington Post began running excerpts from the documents, and this film artfully presents the results of that historic decision. In the same time-frame, Post editor Ben Bradlee is focused on his front-page scoop about the White House’s involvement with the Watergate burglary. Behind the scenes, Post publisher Katherine Graham is planning on saving the paper’s future by floating a public stock offering. The fast-paced conflict between what is right for the business and what is right for Freedom of the Press in the United States become the crucible that forges both heroes and villains. Steven Spielberg has created a great movie, right up there with an earlier film featuring some of the same players—1977’s eight-Oscar-nominee All the Presidents Men.