Don’t Look Up, Movie Review

I miss many pre-pandemic things, especially going to the movies. The big screen, the popcorn, the Raisinets, the Twizzlers, the not-doing-ten-other-things-at-the-same-time…

Theaters have re-opened but Hubby and I have not yet take advantage of that fact, mainly because our small, local movie theaters shut down for good. Sad. Our family room is now where we determine if a film passes the “watch test.” Not familiar with term? It’s Hubby’s way of asking, “Was the movie engaging or did I look at my watch to see when it ends?”

We hadn’t heard much about Don’t Look Up and thought it sounded interesting. We were in for an enormous surprise! Not only did it pass the watch test, Don’t Look Up was in turns alarming, hilarious, disturbing, outrageous, scathing and sad. We were glued to the screen! Later I learned it had received mixed reviews and, by mixed reviews, I mean scathing reviews. Why?

Hon, have you seen Don’t Look Up? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Here’s the opinion of The Arts Fuse’s Daniel Gewertz. (review has been edited)

Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett. On Netflix

Don’t Look Up is a clever, unapologetically brash satire about a future America so consumed with celebrity worship, brain-numbing infotainment, social media popularity, and political gamesmanship that it refuses to take the impending destruction of planet Earth seriously. We’re not talking climate change here, though the parallel is obvious. Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) has irrefutable evidence that an unprecedentedly gigantic comet will wipe out Earth in precisely six months, 14 days. The chances of “planet extinction” are set at 99.78%.

“Call it 70% and let’s just move on,” says President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), who’s more bothered by the upcoming midterms and the unearthing of nude pics of her sexy boyfriend, a Supreme Court nominee.

Are you an unabashed pessimist about 21st-century America? Do you believe that we’ve reached a point that — to quote W.B. Yeats — “the center cannot hold”? And, most of all, are you in the apparent minority who understands that true satire is a purposeful exaggeration of reality? If so, I say just give this liberating, appropriately cynical, fitfully hilarious film a look.

Despite an abundance of cinematic virtues, Don’t Look Up has been met with more negative reviews than raves, and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 55%. Critics from all political segments of the mainstream media have joined the surprisingly ferocious attack on this expertly made comedy. TheWall Street Journal and Britain’s Guardian exhibited outright loathing; The Guardian‘s Charles Bramesco went so far as to complain that the movie might “drive away any [anti-science] partisans who still need to be won over,” as if the film were some sadly tone-deaf BBC News Hour segment.

The newspapers and websites most joined at the hip to the movie industry — from Variety to the Hollywood Reporter — were so venomous, it’s as if they believe this film is a danger to the American dynasty and their own jobs. The word smug crops up in nearly every pan. Is it a mere matter of blaming the messenger? And yet, this movie is hardest on political elites, tech billionaires, and mass and social media — not your average American. Perhaps the underlying belief is that rich movie actors have no right to rock their gravy boat.

The National Board of Review, meanwhile, named Don’t Look Up one of the top movies of 2021. The Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Movie Awards gave it best picture nominations.

Don’t Look Up‘s bitterly satiric stance threatens a middle-of-the road political complacency. It intimidates the reviewers’ apparent bedrock belief that our centrist, big-business establishment — be it left-leaning or right — will solve our real-life apocalypse movie: the global-warming disaster. That “profits over planet” mindset is a smugness that is killing us.

Admittedly, the satiric volume here — to use a Spinal Tap reference — is set at 11. But despite this volume, and a slightly excessive 2-1/4 hour length, Don’t Look Up is one of the best-executed comic movies in years. Its script bristles with witty, incisive details; its dramatic arc is effective.

The first few scenes — depicting the discovery of the comet’s size and destructive course — are not played for laughs. Dr. Randall Mindy, a Michigan State University astronomy professor (DiCaprio), and his assistant, doctoral candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discover a comet of mind-blowing size that, according to repeated calculations, is headed straight for Earth. Their certainty and shock are well dramatized. The two scientists are soon whisked off to DC, and by the time we see them waiting outside the Oval Office, anxious to see the president of the United States, the film has set up a tension that is palpable.

And then, the satire hits. We’ve seen Streep portray quiet, dignified power before. This isn’t it. She plays this future POTUS as a shallow monster of self-satisfaction, surrounded by photos of herself arm-in-arm with Hollywood celebrities. In the Oval Office, her smug smile is ever ready to turn to bored irritation. What she pulls off here is a letter-perfect encapsulation of the rotting soul of America. But still, she’s funny. Her own son is her chief-of-staff, Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill).

As Dr. Mindy tries to tell the world of its impending destruction, DiCaprio portrays, at first, a collapse of composure — something that is seemingly the most deplorable sin in a media-ready society where a confident outer shell has vanquished our deeper understandings.

Dr. Mindy: “It will have the power of a billion Hiroshima bombs.”

Jason: “You’re breathing weird. It’s making me uncomfortable.”

DiCaprio’s character travels a plausible arc here: first, he devolves into panic; then, with media coaching, transforms into a smooth, fatherly TV science-guy while simultaneously entering the sexy highlife as the adulterous lover of America’s most watched news-magazine host (an astonishing Cate Blanchett.) And then, by film’s end, he has believably revivified his humanity. Lawrence’s Kate Dibiasky’s reactions to her plight — from tense to tumultuous to totally checked out — make similar sense. Despite the bigger-than-life satiric thrust, one is emotionally tied to the two main characters.

Blanchett’s part isn’t huge, but she’s still able to dig beneath the shell of a shallow media star. Brie is the sex-hungry host of The Daily Rip, a meretricious Good Morning, America–type show that has either replaced newscasts, or just murdered them in the ratings. She’s a slick, sinuous over-achiever, highly educated, utterly amoral. When faced with a potentially emotional situation Brie simply looks bored and asks if it is really necessary to “do” this part of the routine. Yet Blanchett is so alive to the moment she can perceptively mine a hidden ore of humanity, a long buried nugget. When Dr. Mindy and Brie part ways — and the doctor tells her he’d been close to feeling love for her — Blanchett’s Brie is visibly startled by the word “love”: a look of shocked wistfulness flits over her glossy countenance, as if she’d just remembered love as a concept hidden away in a childhood memory. And then her eyes dismiss the idea as sadly irrelevant, and she’s gone. It is the kind of subtlety that humanizes a wicked satire, but doesn’t defang it.

The character of Sir Peter Isherwell, the billionaire tech guru and essentially the world’s most powerful man, is also a gem. Mark Rylance plays him as a robotic Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg type. His god-like algorhythmic control is so great that he knows more about every human than they do about themselves — and also can predict the exact date and cause of each human’s eventual death. (That tidbit is used to hilarious effect in the closing scene featuring President Orlean.) When Dr. Mindy criticizes Isherwell’s plan to monetize the looming catastrophe — calling it the thinking of “a businessman” — the mogul goes berserk at the perceived mega-insult.

Ariana Grande, Timothée Chalamet, Rob Morgan, and Melanie Lynskey are all excellent in this beautifully cast comedy.

In the end, the knee-jerk, hateful reviews of Don’t Look Up possess comments so outsized, and so beside the point, that they bear a resemblance to the oblivious thinking of the movie’s anti-science ostriches.

True satire is often deadly at the box office. Hollywood’s most common version — satire lite (a lightly scathing comedy with a happy ending) — is a far easier sell. It suggests to the viewer that heaven exists. But if the characters aren’t likable, the details not standard movie realism, the ending not cheery, the charges are often: How smug! How unrealistic! Don’t Look Up is intended as an active spin on reality, and not a charitable one. True satire is anti-romantic. It should come with a warning: cynicism, in the service of truth, is no sin. Is it possible, in 2022, to be cheered up by a good film about the bad end of the world? The thought that society sucks and then you die isn’t uplifting, true, but a smart film such as Don’t Look Up proves to the pessimists that we have company! We are not alone! We are not crazy! There are others like us on this Earth.

Daniel Gewertz for The Arts Fuse

The Vast of Night, Movie Review

Images source: imdb.com

Noises and Night and Unexplained Lights, Oh My!

Humans are eternally fascinated by the possibility of life on other planets. I never tire of movies about venturing into space (The Martian), encountering creatures we never imagined (Arrival), or contemplating a fourth dimension (Interstellar). Enter into this genre “The Vast of Night, a PG-13, 1 1/2 hour “micro-budget sci-fi indi” movie made in only 17 days on a tight budget of $700,000. Available on Amazon Prime Video, the movie starts as if it’s an episode of “Paradox Theatre Hour” (a play on “The Twilight Zone”) and follows high schoolers Everett and Faye as they enter their high school’s basketball game and then leave for their jobs as a radio show host and switchboard operator, respectively. Everett and Faye talk fast and walk quickly, and it isn’t until they leave the high school that you get to know them on a more personal level. Stick with them and you’ll be in for a ride. I was all in and can’t stop thinking about this movie–it was that good!

To get a full synopsis and review, check out Sheila O’Malley’s write-up for RogerEbert.com, in full, below.

‘There’s something in the sky.’

It’s a testament to what director Andrew Patterson has pulled off in his micro-budget sci-fi indie “The Vast of Night” that when that line comes, it feels like it’s the first time those words have ever been said, even though there’s a line just like it in every movie of its kind. Something about Patterson’s approach—precise and inventive—makes a moment that could have been a cliche into something fresh, vivid, filled with the strangeness of what it would really be like. The line is whispered into an eerie nighttime silence, and the mood is one of awe, terror, excitement. What is out there in the vast of night? There’s something in the sky. How on earth Patterson made a movie about a UFO hovering over a small town in the late 1950s without falling back on every cliche in the book is the fun and wonder of “The Vast of Night.” You already know the plot. You’ve seen it all before. But the way the story is told is new. With “The Vast of Night,” it really is about the how, not just the “what happens.”

The film opens at a high school basketball game. The entire town is in the stands. Lanky players lope around the court. Cheerleaders do cartwheels on the sidelines. Two high school kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), leave the game and walk across the deserted town to their nighttime jobs. He hosts a nightly radio show, and she mans the town switchboard. Once ensconced at their jobs, they realize something strange is going on. There’s interference in the radio signals. She notices calls are cutting out. A weird sound comes through the line, a sound Fay doesn’t recognize. She calls Everett and plays it for him. He doesn’t know what it is either. A woman calls the switchboard, screaming through the static about something weird going on on the outskirts of town. But Fay can’t hear her through the fuzz. Fay and Everett are both technology nerds. They decide to figure out what is going on.

All of this is familiar territory to anyone who has seen “The Blob,” “The X-Files,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Twilight Zone,” you name it. The trappings of the genre are present, and writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger don’t shy away from any of it. They even place the entire film within a framing device of a black-and-white TV showing an episode of the “Paradox Theatre Hour.” This is just one of the distancing techniques in operation. The audience is kept at a slight remove. You notice it right away in the opening sequence, a long meandering take, following Everett and Fay as they walk through the gym and then outside into the parking lot, talking the whole time. The most obvious thing right off the bat is that there are no close-ups, nothing to familiarize us with the characters. Their dialogue is fast and overlapped, ridden with slang (“Razzle my berries.” “Cut the gas, cube”), and it takes some time to figure out what they’re talking about. This continues during their walk across the empty town, the camera stalking them from behind, gliding along creepily at street level.

But a funny thing happens during this opening sequence. In a way, the whole thing is alienating. It refuses to let you in. “The Vast of Night” doesn’t come to you. You must go to it. You must submit to its rules, and once you do, it yields tremendous rewards. Patterson’s style, in partnership with cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz, infuses these well-worn plot points with urgency, creating an overriding mood of strangeness and mystery. By the time Patterson finally gives us close-ups of his two young leads, we already have gotten to know them, just from following them around. It’s old-fashioned in a beautiful way: once upon a time, a close-up really meant something, and close-ups really mean something in “The Vast of Night.”

The moments of technical virtuosity are amazing when you consider the budget and that Patterson basically funded the movie himself. There’s a tracking shot through what appears to be the entire town, down the main drag, around a corner, over some grass, past the power station, through the gym parking lot, into the crowded gym, and then out again. Another standout scene is a ten-minute single take where Fay, at the switchboard, takes calls, makes calls, plugging wires in, pulling wires out, each call with a different agenda, ignited by Fay’s increasing sense of alarm that something is very wrong “out there” in the vast night. It’s a complicated sequence, and McCormick handles it all with aplomb and skill. Patterson’s style is flexible and patient enough to allow for shadings, nuances, even complexities in not just Everett and Fay, but the people they meet along the way.

“The Vast of Night” is not just a stylistic exercise. It is not ironic in tone, and it doesn’t have quotation marks around the genre. The tail-finned cars, the saddle shoes, the cat-eye glasses, the Sputnik references, place us in time, but the period is not belabored and/or condescended to. Instead, what we get is a thickness of atmosphere and texture, a strange and eerie mood, and affection for the characters we meet. The distancing choices made at the beginning just increase the feelings of intimacy and warmth by the end.

This is an astonishing first feature. It works like gangbusters, start to finish.

Sheila O’Malley for RogerEbert.com

 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Movie Review

Have you heard of the movie "Portrait of a Lady on Fire?" I hadn't either until one of my daughters recommended it. This French movie with English subtitles is stunning visually, thought-provoking in its examination of themes, fascinating in its setting and time period, and unforgettable in emotions explored. 

The most striking thing about Céline Sciamma’s fourth feature—in French with English subtitles—is its sumptuousness. Close your eyes, listen to the spare dialogue and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Open them and you’re confronted by colors of a purity and subtlety that not only befit a story of art and portraiture (among other things) but carry much of the drama’s emotional content. Cinematographers used to be called lighting cameramen. This production’s lighting camerawoman, Claire Mathon, conjures with light as if it were palpable, and as spreadable as pigment on canvas. Many scenes evoke the creaminess of Vermeer, although the action is set not in 17th-century Holland but on an island off the Brittany coast at the end of the 18th century.

Before taking us there, Ms. Sciamma introduces us to her heroine, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a portrait painter and teacher who is doing double duty in her art class by serving as a model for her students, all of them young women. (Men figure only as incidental, unnamed characters.) “Take time to look at me,” she tells them.

This could be the film’s motto. It’s about looking long and carefully enough at a subject to see, then seeing deeply enough to feel. That’s what Marianne does on the island. She has been commissioned to paint a wedding portrait. The bride-to-be, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), is as lovely a subject as a portraitist could ask for, but melancholy and withdrawn, with good reason. Caught up in an arranged marriage, Héloïse has been promised to a man she has never met. She doesn’t want to pose for the portrait, which will symbolize her loss of freedom, so Marianne, representing herself as a walking companion, must observe Héloïse surreptitiously and paint her from memory, using her brush as a kind of candid camera.

The writer-director, Ms. Sciamma, uses her film to cast a slow-release spell; it’s a daring approach that doesn’t seem like a strategy, let alone a choice. At first the pace is lulling. Our involvement depends on our willingness to watch and wait, and we’re ever more willing. We watch the artist watching her subject closely. We wait to see if Marianne, who has set up a small, secret studio in her living quarters, gets caught at what amounts to a betrayal of trust. (My only quarrel with the film is why Héloïse can’t smell Marianne’s solvents or paints.) That’s the first source of tension in the plot, but the prime mover is sexual tension, which grows inexorably as the women learn the contours of each other’s lives. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”—the fire is figurative, but also real—goes beyond painterly beauty. It sees into souls.

Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

Trailer

Images c/o Slant Magazine and IMDB

[Good for the] Soul, Pixar Movie

Even if we weren’t in a global pandemic combined with a toxic and scary political climate, Soul, available on Disney+ and rated PG, would have been a wonderful movie. Given that we are stuck in an historic chapter that everyone would like to rip out of the book, Soul means even more. The movie’s messages combined with the color of the cast are significant. The music, humor and animation are amazing. And there’s imagination in spades.

Hon, have you seen it? What did you think?

The best Disney/Pixar animated movies historically straddle the line between delighting children and adults. “Soul,” a Pixar title diverted to Disney+, tilts heavily toward the latter, beautifully exploring ambitious themes about the meaning of life that should resonate more with adults than the younger souls in your streaming orbit.

That warning aside, credit Pixar veteran Pete Docter (“Up” and “Inside Out”) and co-director Kemp Powers (the writer of the play and upcoming movie “One Night in Miami”) with an addition to Pixar’s library worthy of its classics. While the movie might not have been a commercial slam dunk, it’s hard not to admire a premise that dares to tackle such lofty ideas as life after death and what makes living worthwhile, as filtered through the hopes and dreams of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx).

A middle-school music teacher, Joe has spent his life yearning to make it as a musician, pursuing gigs at the expense of his career. When the opportunity suddenly presents itself to live out those dreams, his distracted glee leads to his untimely demise — a real bummer, considering that he had just said he “could die a happy man” if he got to play with the musician that had offered him the chance.

Awakening on the escalator to the hereafter, Joe makes a desperate break to go back, leading to a fairly amusing tour of what the great beyond might resemble. While that animation is customarily lush, the actual character design of the “souls” is rounded and simple — a bit like the Poppin’ Fresh doughboy, only a slightly eerie shade of blue.

In the process, Joe encounters a young soul in what’s known as The Great Before, 22 (Tina Fey), who has long resisted embarking upon the journey to Earth, despite a hilarious roster of mentors that includes a who’s who of historical figures.

It’s around here where “Soul” really begins to leave small fry behind, unless your preteen is apt to get jokes about George Orwell and Mother Teresa.

Ultimately, Joe and 22 do find their way to Earth, but not in the way (or form) he expected, leading to a madcap series of encounters as he seeks to achieve what he sees as his life’s purpose.


That section of the movie unfolds cleverly enough, but it’s the resolution that really brings the whole idea home. The emotional nature of that experience recalls the opening sequence in “Up,” which silently chronicled a lifetime of love and ultimately loss, leaving many adults in the theater (ah, theaters) sobbing while their kids waited to get to the talking dog and airborne house.

“Soul” also features a wonderful score, since music is fundamental to the story, provided by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with jazz compositions courtesy of Jon Batiste — again, not something likely to be fully appreciated by the tykes on the couch.

Aside from Foxx and Fey, the voice cast includes Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett and Graham Norton and Daveed Diggs.

Of course, the idea of animation tackling big, existential themes is welcome, and the “Soul” creative team deserves enormous credit for the effort. Yet one suspects translating that into the sort of box-office stampede Pixar has enjoyed with movies like the “Toy Story” and “Incredibles” franchises would have been challenging, making the direct-to-streaming gambit less of a financial sacrifice.

Either way, “Soul” is highly recommended — especially to adults who might not be otherwise inclined — and a return to form for Pixar after the less-satisfying “Onward.” Parents wanting to really enjoy it, however, might want to watch at least once without their kids, who, understandably, will be less cognizant of choices made, roads not taken and where their own escalators might lead them.

CNN Entertainment review by Brian Lowry, Thursday, December 24, 2020

Surge, A Documentary

Bmore Energy is a politics-free zone, but no matter what side of the fence people are on, I think there’s one thing they can agree on–voting is essential! Care of the Downtown Nasty Women Social Group, I watched SURGE, an interesting, informative, and emotional 90-minute feature documentary, about the record number of first-time female candidates who ran, won and upended politics in the historic, barrier-breaking 2018 midterm elections. Directors Hannah Rosenzweig and Wendy Sachs were on hand (on Zoom) to discuss their inspiration, process, and goals.

While SURGE follows three candidates in Texas, Indiana and Illinois who each run in uphill battles to flip their districts, one of the film’s themes is how hard candidates work to earn votes. In other words, each vote matters!

Surge follows campaigns by Liz Watson — Indiana US House District 9, Jana Lynne Sanchez — Texas US House District 6, and Lauren Underwood — Illinois US House District 14, who became the youngest Black woman to ever be elected to Congress. 

Want to learn more about Surge? Click here to find out where to view the film (Showtime and soon, Amazon and ITunes.) and click here for a review on RogertEbert.com. 

Shout out to my college friend Kim Beck, a member of the Downtown Nasty Women’s Giving Circle’s steering committee and an elected Manhattan County Committee member.   

Troop Zero, Quirky, Endearing and Uplifting!

Hon, I’m smitten! Troop Zero,  rated PG “adventure, comedy, drama, family,” is one of the most endearing, quirky, heartfelt, funny, emotional and uplifting movies I’ve ever seen! I was fully immersed in the story, aided by costume design that embodies 1977 and music that highlights moods, sensibilities and drama. The cast features Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Shotwell, and Mike Epps .

If you watch it, please let me know what you think!

In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts. Led by spunky outcast Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), they infiltrate the Birdie Scout youth group in order to win a talent show. The winning Birdies will earn the right to have their voices included on the Voyager Golden Record, which Christmas believes will be heard by life in outer space, a connection her deceased mother nurtured. When they form the troop, the only number left unassigned in the state is zero; while the Birdie Troop leader Krystal Massey (Allison Janney) intends to assign “Troop Zero” to them as a slight, the girls, and one boy, take it as a good sign as it’s the number representing infinity. Troop Zero requires a troop mother, and they find one in Christmas’s father’s secretary Rayleen (Viola Davis), who also has history with Mrs. Massey.

Ghosted, Emotional Live Action & Animated Short Film, Part 2

2020 Maryland International Film Festival – Official Selection
Live action and animation blend fluidly to illustrate heartbreak in an emotional and beautiful work of art.

Morgan discussed the inspiration behind her newest short film GHOSTED, which premiered online as a Vimeo Staff Pick, a featured video on Film Shortage, and is a 2020 Maryland International Film Festival Official Selection.  “A Broken Leg & a Broken Heart Challenges a Woman’s Sanity in Morgan Gruer’s Beautifully Crafted Short ‘GHOSTED’,” is an insightful interview conducted by Serafima Serafimova for Directors Notes. The full interview and a link to watch the video are below.

Thanks for reading and watching, hon!

Ghosted is a story about a girl in love, but it’s not a love story. It’s a story about the pain of fluctuating between early hope and ultimate despair, the intoxicating revelation of love and the slow, crushing realisation that it’s not reciprocated. Based on her personal experience, Morgan Gruer’s Ghosted follows Grace, a twenty-something who has to deal with a broken leg and a broken heart. Perfectly performed, simultaneously serious and light, the short mixes live action and animation to find just the right scale and tone, never trivialising nor overstating the delicate feelings it explores. The result is a compelling and nuanced work of art. We were delighted to chat with Morgan about her inspiration, process and plenty more.

Was there a specific story or experience that sparked the idea for the film?

Ghosted was quite personal! After an unfortunate cliff diving accident (a story for another time…), I found myself on bed rest at my parents’ house recovering from hip surgery. Within the first week of recovery, I was ghosted by the man I loved. His sudden and uncharacteristic disappearance led me down a path of overthinking that escalated as the months dragged slowly on. Ghosted expands on this, as Grace’s circumstances slowly test her sanity and her well-being.

The animation brings the story to life by adding fun flourishes throughout, and that rotoscoped scene at the end is superb! Why did you decide to blend live action and animation, and how did you land on that particular style and design?

Animation has the ability to express a story in a way that is not possible with film, as it can show the way our minds ‘think’ and ‘feel’. Actions can be hyperbolized without the plausibility being questioned. As the film progresses, Grace’s isolation drives her to the deepest, darkest corners of her mind. We wanted to visually show this retreat as a place that felt far from reality, and animation felt like the perfect way to do this.

The animated phone language was actually decided just a few days before the shoot. While our Cinematographer Dustin Supenchek and I were drafting a shot list, we concluded that there was simply no artful way to film an iPhone. Dustin came up with the idea to execute the texts in hand-drawn animation, which ended up being the perfect precursor to the animated scene.

Animation has the ability to express a story in a way that is not possible with film.

Memory sequences are often too cheesy and overdone (a rather off-putting combo!), but you’ve cut together a dreamy montage which feels fresh, sensual and authentic. How did you go about shooting and editing these scenes?

The goal was to visually dissect the accumulation of different memories when our brains overthink. When describing the tone of this scene to our Editor Chad Sarahina I referenced the childhood game of “broken telephone”. If you’re not familiar with the game, you gather a group of people around in a circle and try to whisper the same sentence from ear to ear. The first person may start with “my ear hurts”, but the second person hears “my beer spurts”. The next person hears something different, and by the end, the final sentence is so unrecognizable that you’re not sure how you got there. This seemed like the perfect analogy to over-thinking.

Memories have the ability to bend toward our preferences, unconsciously but selectively choosing what we want to hear or believe. When diving into my memories, I realized that all of the signs of the situation were, in fact, there – I had just chosen to ignore the parts I did not want to hear. The goal with the montage was to peel away the layers of Grace’s selective consciousness and explore what lay underneath.

Grace could be seen as weak and even anti-feminist, yet her vulnerability makes her disarmingly charming and compelling. How did you shape her character to achieve that balance?

We didn’t want to portray Grace as a saint and Nick as a villain. Despite Grace’s affliction over being ignored, she subsequently does the same thing to the people in her life who care about her. After all, life is not black and white; people are not just good or bad. I am more interested in exploring the in-between moments, the grey zone that makes us human.

Our culture often tells us that “strong women don’t need a man”. While capable women don’t necessarily ‘need’ a man, is it anti-feminist for a woman to simply ‘want’ a man? One can be strong and independent but still crave companionship and connection. I don’t think it should be perceived as weak to admit that.

Grace deals with the physical pain of her broken leg as well as the psychological pain of being broken up with, and there are common threads tying the two (feeling trapped, angry, frustrated) into the ultimate parcel of misery. Why did you want to explore this?

During my recovery, I learned that the longer my body was sedentary, the more hyperactive my mind became. It’s ironic, almost – with a physical injury, one is prescribed clean plans of action for recovery. However, when the pain is psychological, there are no doctor’s orders of how to heal; there are no heartbreak pills or routine check-ups. It is harder to admit when you’re hurting, and even harder to learn how to move past it.

I am more interested in exploring the in-between moments, the grey zone that makes us human.

I wanted to explore the relationship between physical and psychological pain as I found it fascinating that their correlation has the ability to work both directly and inversely. I think this relationship is something to keep in mind during our self-isolation amidst the pandemic and remind ourselves that we need to treat our mental wounds the same way we tend to physical ones.

What’s next for you?

I recently completed another short film called Da Sola, that I plan to release in the coming months (a fully animated one!). In the meantime, I’m keeping busy with freelance work, building out my creative studio, and enjoying quarantine with my current man, who has previewed the film and wouldn’t dare ghost me 😉.Thanks for watching, hon!   Serafima Serafimova for Directors Notes. 4/28/20

Little Women, Lovely and Moving

One of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen.

The newest movie version of Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel featuring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen as the four March sisters, left me weeping. So beautiful! So emotional! It wasn’t just the costumes, setting and lighting that made this version lovely; the character development and story ensured I root for each sister.

Jo March’s need to put words to paper touched me deeply, and witnessing the creation of her book mirrored my own desire to bring my stories to life. I wept as the pages were printed, paper folded, spine sewn, cover glued, and title embossed. Though the time period is different, her dream is my dream and, in wanting to be more than what society expects, a wish for the ages.

Hon, have you seen it? What did you think?

Alcott’s novel was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, with the first volume following the March sisters—Jo, Mary, Beth, and Amy—throughout their childhood growing up in Massachusetts and the second volume picking up with the characters in adulthood. Instead of presenting the story in two halves, [Greta] Gerwig’s film layers the past and the present throughout the entire movie, flashing back and forth in an attempt to compare and contrast the characters in these two different periods of their lives.

The result is a wildly emotional and deeply impactful piece of storytelling, as the naiveté and endless possibilities of childhood stand in stark contrast to the harsh realities of navigating the world as an adult—and as an adult woman in the 1860s at that. by  for Collider.com

Spies and Intrigue, Red Joan, Movie Review

You know when a story sits with you? I saw the movie Red Joan, starring Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson, and can’t stop thinking about the central dilemma, which revolves around allies and enemies, intelligence and ignorance, and war and peace. “Red Joan is based on a novel of the same name written by Jennie Rooney, which was itself inspired by the life of Melita Norwood.”

Guess what, hon? Now I want to read the book! 

Excerpts of the movie’s review on Roger Ebert.com:

A based-on-a-true-story spy thriller, Trevor Nunn’s conventional yet sneakily absorbing “Red Joan” toggles between two separate eras. Nunn’s period piece frames its story by introducing us to the 80-something Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) first. She lives a quiet life in a British suburb and tends to the cookie-cutter demands of her uneventful days in the early 2000s. Except, this simple old woman (whose story is based on the real-life case of Southeast London’s Melita Norwood) doesn’t seem to be all that ordinary—soon enough, the British Secret Service pulls her out of her quiet retirement and arrests her on the grounds of treason. But did she really commit those crimes and give away Britain’s secrets to the Russians as a KGB spy in the 1930s?

As the old Joan settles into an interrogation session in a drab room (and repeatedly denies every accusation), the film’s lengthy flashbacks chart Joan’s opinionated past in thoughtful increments. Nunn swiftly takes us back in time to 1938, when Joan (Sophie Cookson) was a green but genius physics student at Cambridge, grabbing onto new inspirations and expanding her political horizon while growing into her sexuality.

Allured by friends’ Sonia and Leo’s world of ideas around societal justice—and equally swept away by the noisemaker Leo—Joan joins in their meetings and rallies against Hitler. The advancing timeline gently pushes Leo out of the picture and introduces a new partner-in-crime/love-interest for Joan, the gentlemanly professor Max Davis. Working out of a government laboratory and eventually becoming lovers during a perilous cross-Atlantic trip, the duo shares a joint view of the world but differs in their respective implementations. 

We halfway understand the basis of Joan’s unlawful actions when she finally admits them to both her son and the stone-faced interrogators. Turns out, Joan didn’t just pass on her country’s nuclear secrets in the innocent name of devotion—in reality, she took up an ideological agenda entirely of her own after seeing the catastrophic atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She had thought it was only with access to equal information could the superpowers be on balance with each other, and stopped from such disastrous actions in the future. While this reasoning doesn’t seem to hold much historical accuracy, it makes sense within the context of a film that leaves a lasting impression mostly with its flashback scenes and emanates a memorable essence.  Tomris Laffly for Roger Ebert.com

Have you seen Red Joan? What did you think?

If Beale Street Could Talk, Movie Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes a movie is so beautiful that it stays with me for a very long time. If Beale Street Could Talk , based on the novel by James Baldwin, will be right behind my eyes where I’ll be re-playing the magnetic love story, gorgeous lighting, flashback scenery, devastating accusation, life-long struggles, and incredible inner strength of the characters. See it. Soak it in. Remember it.

Want to watch the trailer? Find out more about the cast? Watch an interview with director Barry Jenkins?

Have you seen the movie, hon? What did you think?

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful, expressive film, at times feeling like a tone poem or lyrical plaint. It’s set in the 1970s, but thanks to the way it confronts how sexual assault allegations, policing, and racism can interlock for communities of color, it feels incredibly contemporary, too. It’s hard not to fall under its beautiful, somber, lustrous spell, and as a story about black American life framed as a love story, its images are indelible.   Alissa Wilkinson for Vox

I left the movie wanting to know more about the characters. Next book I read will be this.

In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.  Goodreads