Friday, September 30, 2022

Film Reviews: The Only Thing Scary in “Don’t Worry Darling” and “Goodnight Mommy” Is the Missing Comma, but It Inspires Lena Dunham’s “Catherine Called Birdy”

Don't Worry Darling (c) Warner Bros Pictures

Film: Don’t Worry Darling 
In Cinemas 

One of the craziest promotions of a film in 2022 has to be Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” with all the backstage shenanigans starting with divorce papers-gate and continuing with LeBeouf-gate and spit-gate (google it, it’s amazing). So, it’s almost an afterthought to wonder if the movie is actually any good. Alice (Florence Pugh) is the perfect housewife in this late 1950s milieu in what looks like an ever-sunny Southern California city of Victory. Her husband Jack (Harry Styles, who fits the suit) works for a cult-like leader of the Victory Project named Frank (Chris Pine), but it’s unclear what they actually do, except that it’s revolutionary. During the day, the wives shop, clean, take dance lessons, gossip and just wait for their husbands to come home. But Alice is starting to doubt this utopia, which soon puts her marriage and their status in the community in jeopardy. There’s a lot to like in the film, including the wonderful production designs by Katie Byron and the beautiful cinematography of Matthew Libatique, but its biggest asset is Pugh, especially as she questions her sanity and what her life is amounting to. But once we get the twist, the audience is left with a lot of questions (like why the earthquakes and what’s the meaning of the plane (as seen in the poster)?). The movie feels like rip-offs of many better movies, including “The Stepford Wives,” “The Village,” “The Truman Show,” “Mulholland Drive” and even “Susperia” (there’s a lot of crazy dancing going on, including one involving Harry Styles that you wish he would just drop character and sing). If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve more or less seen all the creepy “Twilight Zone” moments. The movie isn’t scary at all, with its only disturbing moments involving Alice’s neighbor, Margaret (played effectively by Kiki Layne in what is essentially a cameo). Like the many iterations on Bravo, “The Real Housewives of Victory” ironically feels unreal and frustratingly unsatisfying. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Film Reviews: How Women Artists Are Treated Is the Subject of Both “Blonde” and “The African Desperate”

Blonde (c) Netflix

In Cinemas (Paris Theater in NYC) 
To stream on Netflix on Friday, September 30 

Unlike the celebrities and Instagram influencers of today, actress Marilyn Monroe had almost no control over her own image since it was mostly controlled by the movie studio and the paparazzi/gossip columns of the time. Unfortunately, Monroe is still being exploited, this time in “Blonde” in which director Andrew Dominik’s idea for the film, loosely based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, is to use the many iconic images of her life and delve into the story leading up to or the aftermath of each photo being taken. I haven’t read the book, but some of the most shocking moments on screen are Oates’ creation, including a rather nasty encounter with John F. Kennedy that probably gives the movie its NC-17 rating. A lot of Monroe’s behavior may stem from her obsession with who her biological father is, since she gets a lot of conflicting stories from her mentally unstable mother (Julianne Nicholson).

Friday, September 16, 2022

Film Review: “The Woman King” Finally Provides Viola Davis With a Leading Role Worthy of Her Talents

The Woman King (c) Sony Pictures

Film Review: The Woman King 
In Cinemas 

Premise: In the mid-1800s, at the height of the slave trade in Africa, the West African kingdom of Dahomey, now ruled by new King Ghezo (John Boyega), must decide if Dahomey should still be part of the problem as the custom is to give their war prisoners to the Europeans or Americans traders in exchange for wealth and partnership. Dahomey is the target of bigger, neighboring tribes, but their battle troops are fortified by the Agojie, an all-female warrior unit headed by General Nanisca (Viola Davis). Enter Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a young woman of the village who wants to join the Agojie after her adopted parents realize she’s too strong-headed to ever get married. She is taken under the wing of Izogie (Lashana Lynch), but Nanisca also thinks Nawi may be too independent-minded and impulsive to be a successful warrior. Shante (Jayme Lawson), a young Brazilian man who has come to Africa to fulfill his promise to his mother to see her former homeland before she was sold as a slave, arrives in Dahomey and is instantly smitten with Nawi. Clouding all this is an imminent attack from the Oyo tribe lead by Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya), withwhom Nanisca had a violent encounter in the past. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Oscars Outlook 2022: September 2022

The Fabelsman (c) Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Yes, it’s super premature to even talk about the Oscars, but with last night's Emmy Awards now behind us – congrats to Sheryl Lee Ralph from "Abbott Elementary" for singing her speech and Jennifer Coolidge for "The White Lotus" for dancing her speech  – it’s now a clear runway to the movie awards season. And with a lot of the movies already premiered at the usual film festivals (like Toronto, Venice, Sundance, Cannes) and the only unknowns are the late breaking films that will not make it into theaters until December. But, based on past results of the talent involved, here are my ridiculously early thoughts on Oscars. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Film Re-View: Late Summer Doldrums? Re-watch “Amateur” (Hal Hartley), “Chungking Express” (Wong Kar-Wai) and "Maurice" (James Ivory) With Me

Chungking Express (c) Criterion / Maurice (c) Cohen Media Group / Amateur (c) Possible Films

As summer ends (on Labor Day in Hollywood terms – it doesn’t officially end until September 22), the films in theaters are rather bleak, so I decided to look back on three films by master filmmakers, who made me love the art of cinemas, at various points in their careers. I’ve seen these films many times since their premieres but not much in the past ten years. Each has returned either on streaming or physical media. My fear? One or more of these influential films haven’t aged well. Let’s see. 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Film Review: François Ozon’s Latest, “Peter von Kant,” is a Shaky Remake of the Fassbinder Classic “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.”

Peter Von Kant (c) Carole Bethuel

Film Review: Peter von Kant 
In Cinemas tomorrow 

Premise: It’s 1972 in Paris and a film director named Peter (Denis Ménochet, looking very similar to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who wrote the original play and directed the subsequent film in the 1970s) is writing a new film with help from Karl (Stéfan Crépon), his…umm, servant? Partner? Slave? Peter is visited by his ex-lover and muse Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), who introduces him to her young new friend, Amir (Khalil Gharbia). Peter is immediately smitten by the beautiful lad about twenty years his junior and promises to make him a star. It doesn’t take long for this relationship’s power dynamics to switch after Amir makes his film debut and starts getting a taste of fame, which makes the neurotic and insecure Peter a mess. He lashes out to his circle, including his mother (Hanna Schygulla) and his teen daughter Gabrielle (Aminthe Audiard), who arrive for Peter’s birthday. The big question is will Amir show up.