"Sincerely, your favorite fan", actors, Are You Not Entertained?, Dear..., directors, Film Spotlight, movies

Dear Jane Campion,

Benedict Cumberbatch has an excellent shot at an Oscar nomination/win.

I wanted to thank you for adapting Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel and directing The Power of the Dog (2021). Your films feel like good books that beg to be analyzed. Take The Piano (1993), for instance, your signature film for the past thirty years.

I taught it in English Composition class as a visual text twenty years ago. We discussed how the piano was a character in the film. Was it not the voice of the mute protagonist Ada? Was it not a metaphor for the treatment of women in a patriarchal world in 19th century New Zealand? That is, the piano was a burden to men. It was carried, abandoned, tattooed, mutilated, and drowned at the bottom of the sea.

We compared and contrasted the spiritual connection of Ada and George Baines while the clueless colonizer Alisdair Stewart (one of Sam Neill’s best roles) attempted to control his environment, the Maori people, and his wife with disastrous results. The best character was the eight-year-old daughter, Ada. Flora was a precocious, mischievous “angel” who becomes a little demon, manipulating Christianity to punish her mother for choosing to distance their bond for another man.

You embraced the wild scenery with a passion. It was necessary for the piano to have a complex voice. Michael Nyman‘s score is still breathtaking.

Today, I’m awestruck with my favorite film of 2021. I feel compelled to write you and extend my gratitude for your adapted screenplay and direction of The Power of the Dog (2021). The emotional wrestling between the characters makes it worth many discussions. Set in Montana in the 1920s, you embraced the topography and shared to the audience the beauty and harsh realities of the cowboy culture and the ambitions of a ranching family.

Kirsten Dunst plays Rose, a fragile mother who is intimidated and close to ruin by the bossy, jealous Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch). Photos courtesy of Netflix.
Kodi Smit-McPhee, smoldering, complex, and exciting to watch.

Jane, your characters are never one-dimensional. Their motivations are hidden. Their feelings are hidden. Their narrative arcs are complete. Through the camera’s lens via close-ups, staging, and the stark lines of the setting, you flush out their feelings. To some, the characters may seem too hidden, but I’ve always been a fan of inference and subtlety. That disturbing score heightens psychological warfare. You have created a beautiful film and given me hope that the art of filmmaking has returned.

Sincerely,

Your Favorite Fan

P.S. What did Phil Burbank see in the hills? What was he staring at? Ah, the lines of the hills are hips, torsos, legs of a lover’s embrace. Perfect.

Are You Not Entertained?, crime drama, culture, television series

Are you not entertained? Series

During 2020, I seem to have spent more time watching different series on Netflix or Amazon than watching movies. Some started out strong but fizzled. Some grabbed my attention all the way through. Have you seen any of these?

Bosch. (3/5 stars) Starring Titus Welliver. Six seasons beginning 2014. Amazon Prime Video. As a lover of film noir, there’s an echo from previous novels and films about decadent Los Angeles. LA murder detective Harry Bosch sits in his glass home hanging over the valley perched like a lone eagle high above the lights of LA as an aloof, brooding anti-hero. The first season was interesting. Harry’s love for jazz. His fatherly instincts for teenage daughter Maddie. His motley crew station colleagues. The shenanigans by the mayor and chief police. The psychotic killer and child molester. There are plenty of plot twists.  I love the clever, award-winning introduction score. Based on Michael Connelly‘s popular crime novels, it was easy to get hooked. Something happened in Season 2. I grew bored. Bosch seemed too aloof. The plot and the twists didn’t excite me. I found it hard to keep going. Now, I can’t imagine continuing. I preferred Luther, (4.5 out of 5) the London homicidal detective played by Idris Elba. Did you like Bosch or Luther?

The Witcher. Can I rate this as a guilty pleasure? It was fun to see Henry Cavill with white hair as Geralt of Rivia. The 2019 fantasy was a ridiculous romp but still entertaining. Season 2 is promised but no dates are set by Netflix. It reminded me of those fantasy books I read in high school like The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I’ll watch season two not because it’s great stuff. It tapped into my past on some emotional level like a spell cast by one of the witches. Just don’t ask me what the plot was about. It doesn’t matter. It’s the hero plot. You’ve seen it before.

Britannia (4/5). Set in A.D. 43, the Romans invaded Britain led by General Aulus Plautius (David Morrissey), who is determined to succeed where Julius Caesar failed and conquer this mythical land on the very end of the Roman Empire. Kerra (Kelly Reilly), daughter of the King of the Cantii, is forced to put her differences with archrival Queen Antedia aside in order to unite the tribes. If you saw the series Outlander (4/5), the Druids were pretty women in white gowns dancing in circles and harmonizing. In Britannia, they are a scary, pagan group of weirdos  Looking like John Malkovich with a hangover, the leader of the Druids, Veran (Mackenzie Crook) is sinister and compelling. The outcast, a trickster, and comedic relief is the character Divas played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas who bonds with the charming young heroine, Cait (Elinore Worthington). The series copies the success of Game of Thrones by pairing characters together as they move from A to B thereby giving them deeper characterizations and a chance to root or boo them. I gobbled down season one and look forward to the second season. Stylish, smart, and dark. Amazon Prime Video. 

Fosse/Verdon. (4/5) On FX. Or rent this if you can to learn about a dynamic duo featuring the symbiotic relationship between Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams)  Spanning five decades, Bob is a visionary filmmaker and one of the theater’s most influential choreographers and directors. Gwen is a leading Broadway dancer. Only Bob can create the groundbreaking musicals that allow Gwen to showcase her greatness. Only Gwen can realize the unique vision in Bob’s head. Together, they will change the face of American entertainment — at a perilous cost. If you can maneuver around the choppy back and forth narrative without getting lost, the backstory and details are informative and entertaining. I wanted to rewatch All that Jazz and Cabaret over again.

Unorthodox. 5/5  Directed by Maria Schrader. This Netflix series has only four episodes. It’s all that is needed. What a unique story and excellent acting job by Shira Haas who portrays Ester Shapiro, a Hasidic Jew in Brooklyn. She runs away from her marriage and her orthodoxy. It’s the best coming-of-age story I’ve seen in years. It’s a refreshing story regarding a culture rarely seen or experienced. Marvelous drama.

What’s the best series you’ve seen in ages this year? 

"Sincerely, your favorite fan", actors, Are You Not Entertained?, Dear..., directors, Film Spotlight, In My Opinion, movies, Science Fiction

Dear Christopher Nolan,

My daughter and I recently saw Tenet, and we talked about you for the rest of the day. Vanessa’s initial reaction was that your film was more of an experience than watching a story unfold. I was doing my best to listen carefully because I knew I was in for a cerebral experience that demanded my concentration. I wish key clues of the narrative weren’t given when the characters wore various kinds of face masks. It happened a few times. That was one way in which I had no idea what just happened or what was said. I started to panic because I kept scratching my head. I mentally checked, “Okay, I’ll have to watch that again to find out what was said.” To my daughter, I asked, “Maybe I’m too old or stupid to get it?” She replied, “If the whole movie is like that, isn’t ironic you get bored? You love smart movies, Mom. Maybe this was too smart for its own good?” Hmm.

This was the first time since the pandemic that we were back in the movie theaters. We went to a 1pm showing and there were ten people in the whole theater spread about wearing masks. I crunched on my popcorn with enthusiasm. Yes! Back at the movies. Focused and ready to love it. Why did I leave the movie two-and-a-half hours later feeling confused and unsure if I could even say I liked it? I told Vanessa, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to watch it again to find out what I missed the first time.” She replied, “Shouldn’t you want to see it again instead of having to see it again?”

Tenet

Mr. Nolan, let me take a moment to commend you for your efforts. I love mind-benders. I was your biggest fan while watching Inception (2010). You had the perfect balance of outstanding graphics, edge-of-your-seat thrilling cat and mouse scenes. You had an ensemble cast who all did their part to make the narrative interesting to watch. What worked? Your film had heart. I watched Inception many times because I wanted to. Each viewing brought me pleasure and another detail I’d missed before that raised my esteem for you. Tech + heart + thrilling = An A+ movie. May I suggest, sir, that you remember that formula?

Mr. Nolan, I enjoyed your Dark Knight trilogy. You do have a gift for bringing great talent into the ensemble cast. That’s a strength of yours. Heath Ledger was at his best. I loved Sir Michael Caine as Alfred (I didn’t know he was knighted!) I never tire seeing the faces of Gary Oldman or Tom Hardy or Christian Bale. Marion Cotillard is always mesmerizing. Congratulations.

With regards to Tenet, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh acted best. Nice Russian accent, Ken. Their relationship was more interesting than the physics involved in the narrative. I suppose that was the “heart” element to focus on when not wondering what the hell was going on with the backward/forward interplay of time. However, I feel John David Washington‘s character was a wasted character. Heck, he didn’t even have a name. Just a secret agent known as “the Protagonist”. I never had a chance to care about him. This would be my biggest complaint with Tenet. Pattison did okay. Sometimes the actor acts; sometimes he’s a bore. I can’t decide how I feel about Robert Pattinson. Now I hear he’ll be the next Batman. Hmm.

In Tenet, the chase scenes involving the time sequences were thrilling and complicated and gorgeous to watch. You are unique and clever. I don’t see how anyone would object to your thrilling scenes. I won’t.

If I ranked Tenet, I’d give it a 7/10.

Mr. Nolan, I think your contribution to cinema is important. I certainly like your work more than I dislike it. After all, you gave us Memento (2000). Guy Pierce was outstanding and the mysterious thriller worked for me. Can you make more of those?

I’ll watch whatever you make,

Cindy Bruchman

P.S. Interstellar was fantastic. Heart–your protagonist had heart! Please don’t get lost in the cold abyss of technology that you forget to give your characters a heart. After all, that’s what makes movies worth watching.