actors, Film Spotlight, History in Films, movies

Are You Not Entertained? A trio of good films

If you need a bolt of violence and suspense to combat your ennui, this trio will wake you up. 

Midsommar (2019)  A couple travels to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled midsummer festival, but what begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. (Wikipedia) Writer/director Ari Aster (Hereditary), continues his trend for psychological suspense with bits of in-your-face disturbing surprises. Midsommar is like a pot of water set for a slow boil. Perhaps viewers think the pace is too slow? I like the punishing pace. 4/5

The white imagery is not for purity and goodness, this time around. It’s a part of what makes the story chilling.

The storyline of Midsommar is plausible enough in the first third by establishing the motive of visiting the rural community in Sweden. The male anthropologist/historian Ph.D. students fight over the pagan society as they try to claim it as their dissertation topic. Dummies. White guys trying to “own” another culture is a sure sign they’re gonna go down. However, their tagalong, the anxious, fragile female will become the winner. Even though you can predict generally what’s going to happen, there are enough details and twists to make it an arresting film of the senses. Nothing like a beautiful setting to tell a horror story. It’s a contrast I appreciate. 

Once the guests arrive at the enchanting location, the pace picks up and the charming quirkiness of the village turns into run-for-the-hills horror. Three cheers to Florence Pugh for an electrifying performance. She gives sophistication to her complex character much the same way Toni Collette did in Hereditary. Beware of blind tradition; it’s as though author Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”) whispered beyond the grave into Aster’s ears and he ran with the concept. 

The Nightingale (2018) Clare, a young Irish convict, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness and is bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence the man committed against her family. On the way, she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past (Wikipedia). Director Jennifer Kent creates a stunning period film from the perspective of a determined, female protagonist. Actress Aisling Franciosi (Lyanna Stark, GoT) is convincing as Clare Carroll, a singing beauty who is a servant in 1825. She lives a harsh existence but is able to withstand the beasts of the British penal colony which will eventually become Tasmania. Kent holds nothing back as the violence in the story is filmed in a raw fashion as harsh as the Tasmanian setting. 4/5

Jo Jo Rabbit (2019)  Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler — Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on. (Wikipedia). If you want to read an excellent review regarding what’s wrong with Jo Jo Rabbit, I recommend Owen Gleiberman‘s review in Variety found here:

https://variety.com/2019/film/reviews/jojo-rabbit-review-taiki-waititi-1203328083/

Mr. Gleiberman makes a compelling argument. I loved it anyway. I thought it daring, fun and sad like all good coming-of-age stories. Is it Moonrise Kingdom with sass? Okay. I agree with that. Is it “a feel-good movie, but one that uses the fake danger of defanged black comedy to leave us feeling good about the fact that we’re above a feel-good movie,” says the critic? I love feel-good movies without the Hallmark cheese. The acting of the entire cast was entertaining. Roman Griffin Davis (Jo Jo). Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa the hidden Jew). Taika Waititi (Hitler). Rebel Wilson (youth camp assistant) Sam Rockwell (perfect as the youth camp leader). Scarlett Johansson (Rosie, the mom with the cool shoes). In German class, my high schoolers loved it. Maybe that’s why I did, too, for it is pitched to the kid at heart. I’ll be watching this film annually for years to come. 4.5/5 

crime drama, culture, directors, Film Spotlight, History in Films, In My Opinion, movies

The Irishman vs. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

DID YOU NOTICE THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THESE HYPED, EPIC STORIES?

*They are both too long. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood runs at 2 hours and 40 minutes whereas The Irishman runs even longer at three and a half hours. Both stories could have shaved at least a half an hour and retained the essence of the story.

*They both feature iconic directors at the ends of their career doing their respective genres with all their signature marks. Cashing in on what made them famous? Give the audience what they want? Both directors are passionate about making violent films with antiheroes who gain our sympathy. Both directors have fans who worship them. Scorsese and Tarantino are boys who never stopped playing Cowboys and Indians and G.I. Joe. Their films are about who has the power, and how does he hold on to it? Nothing new in that storyline. There’s a testosterone need to see power executed on the screen with blood splatters and firebombs and Kung Fu fighting. A raucous way to combat the boredom of ordinary life. Scorsese and Tarantino fill an escapist need. How did you feel they handled their stories behind the camera? I liked Scorsese’s break to the long shot to show the environment of his characters. I liked Tarantino’s shot behind the driver’s head so you felt like you were along for the ride in the back seat of the car.

Both films rely heavily upon conversation scenes that show how normal the players are when the characters are anything but typical guys; mobsters and movie stars are real people, too. Whatever it is they are bitching about, when their gripe resonates with us, we become empathetic. Which conversation scene worked for you? Mine was Al Pacino as Hoffa when he went to Florida to meet Joe Gallo who shows up fifteen minutes late in shorts.

Both films rely heavily upon cameos of people in the industry that come and go without much importance. The reasoning behind this is they are the pepper flakes in the pot of soup that defines the culture. I wish that Harvey Keitel had had more lines, too.

These are Dick Flicks. Both films are about male interactions. Women are virtually non-existent, and when they do appear, they pose. They are there to amplify the historical climate with their costumes and hairstyles; they are subservient dolls and sexual objects. The wives and daughters in The Irishman and Precious Pussy and Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood come to mind. In The Irishman, there’s a scene when a remorseful Frank tries to understand what when wrong with the relationship between his four daughters. Peggy, his favorite, has disowned him. The other daughter says, “You don’t understand how hard it was for us, do you?” Nope. We have no idea how hard it was because they never had screen time, only glaring looks from Peggy as a girl when Frank breaks the hand of a grocer who nudged her in the store. Anna Paquin‘s role was a waste.

As a woman, I’m not offended. It’s a story about men and their observations from a historical era of the past. It’s perfect, really. It does show how women were viewed. That’s precisely why the “Me, too” movement” came about. To ask Tarantino and Scorsese to give a chick a meaty role defeats their intention. Which is —

Both directors wanted to show a male culture, the relationships between males in their historical era. This is a story about Frank and Cliff who are cleaner fish, who depend and defend their masters. Women weren’t essential to their beings. Their jobs as a stuntman and hitman necessitated a symbiotic relationship with other men to validate their appeal and power. I accept that. It is similar to the movie The Help. That story was about the relationship between females in the 1950-60s. The class struggle between white women and their black hired help who raise the babies but their livelihood depends upon the tight-rope walk between the chemistry of women. The men in the film were weak and virtually non-existent. I accept that. Women and men had definite boundaries in history. Gender spheres have always been the norm until recently. Now it’s a blended, androgynous society. I’m not convinced it’s better.

Both stories don’t have a plot. Characters are placed in situations and asked to problem solve. The solution is murder.

Both directors infuse music to establish the time and mood; music becomes a bit character in the movie. There’s rarely a scene in both films where the music doesn’t play, such as an accompaniment to a murder, a live performance at Frank’s retirement party,  or Cliff Booth’s car radio. The auditory image triggers the past of those who lived during the time. Popular music helps younger audiences associate the era with the characters. Music binds the multi-generations in a way that a set design can’t penetrate. Both directors are keenly aware of this and use it to the point of distraction.

Both films contain the dream cast of icons with the star power of three generations. I had a sugar rush from so much eye candy. The emotional love between the audience and the star fills the audience with the notion that “this is the movie of the year.” Haven’t you predicted these two films and their stars will be nominated for top awards? Wasn’t Al Pacino great as Hoffa? Who would have expected Joe Pesci to be outstanding, ascending past the acting of Robert DeNiro? You love to hate Leonardo DiCaprio, but his portrayal of the insecure Rick Dalton was brilliant.

Brad and Bobbie similarity:  The story follows the characters of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro). These are the two principal characters who support and are defined by the Alpha Dog they protect. Yet, Pitt and DeNiro’s acting was surpassed by others.

Both films are obsessed with paying attention to the details that recreate a time in history with mastery and great love. For both directors, their highest achievement was their attention to the details that created the historical climate. For Tarantino, the nostalgic drive around L.A. was authentic, and we time-traveled back to the streets of 1969. For Scorsese, his epic spanned decades; his sets and film locations were real places, too, and his recreation of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were perfect. Congratulations to both. It made me hang in there as the hours went by.

Which epic was better? Which one would you watch more than once? 

2000s, 2010s, actors, directors, Film Spotlight, History in Films, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies, oscars

L13FC: WWII from 2000 to the Present

It’s Friday the 13th and my lucky day. We get to share thoughts about a topic in the movie industry. Never has there been an event in the twentieth century that has instigated a global outpouring of stories documenting the best and worst in humanity than World War II. The movie industry has had a love affair with making World War II films. According to Wikipedia, over 400 films have been devoted to the event. In timing with anniversary dates, one has come to expect new narrations muscling for a chance to share their perspective. Outside of battles and key events, the Holocaust is a genre of its own. We have a macabre sense of duty to understand the atrocities and mindset of a time where everyday common people were thrust in the way of world domination. Today, let us discuss the cinematic touches that made recent World War II films compelling and effective. 

A smattering of films since 2000. What should be added to the list? Before you criticize me, I think a lot of Hollywood films about WWII are too romantic and silly. For instance, I don’t think Pearl Harbor is a good film overall, but I do think the filming of the attack on Pearl Harbor to be outstanding. So, what SCENE or PERFORMANCE has stuck with you over the last two decades? For me, World War II movies that moved me the most in the last twenty years were the ones involving children.