Late to the Party

Recently, I’ve seen three really great movies directed by women, movies that everyone said were great and which I really wanted to see, but it took me a while to catch up to them — seven years in the case of one . . .

The-Farewell-Movie-1280x720The Farewell
Writer & Director: Lulu Wang

It’s heartening to see how well this one has done in the theaters. It was released mid-July and it’s still playing in many New York theaters. It is Wang’s second feature, a family drama about a young Chinese-American woman, Billi, who feels conflicted when she learns that her extended family living in China have decided to lie to her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai, about her health. Nai Nai is very ill and according to her doctor, dying of lung cancer, but Nai Nai’s sister tells her that she’s fine and will have a full recovery. Meanwhile, the rest of the family is told the truth. Nai Nai’s children are far-flung, having emigrated to the U.S. and Japan and so a plan is made to allow them to come back and say goodbye to Nai Nai: they pressure a younger member of the family to get married immediately so that there will be a wedding to bring everyone together. This makes for a very awkward family reunion. Everyone is sad but must pretend to be happy; meanwhile, there are long simmering tensions between the family members who have left China and the ones who remain.

I loved how attentive this movie was to family dynamics and how each family member  gets a moment and is allowed to reveal their perspective. There’s a low-key humor in every scene, and Akwafina is surprisingly, the perfect anchor. I’m used to her as a zany character but here she is observant and melancholy. The ending was stunning, and reminded me of the final scenes of Lady Bird, when Lady Bird returns to New York City and, without a quick series of images, you realize she has come to the end of a certain period of her life.

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Revisiting Frances Ha

Frances-Ha-6

I re-watched Frances Ha the other night and it’s as fresh as a daisy despite being made seven years ago. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t hold up because I remembered its plot as being somewhat slight, focused on the travails of Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig) a late-blooming twenty-something who hasn’t quite figured out her path in life — or as she puts it, “I’m not a real person yet.” In our exhausting, post-Trump world, where we seem constantly to be in the midst of environmental and human rights catastrophes, I wasn’t sure the story would feel urgent enough. But I forgot how funny and self-aware this movie is.

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Movie Diary: May – July

I’ve been working on a novel so I haven’t had as much time for reviewing, but I have been watching. Here’s a quick round up of what I’ve seen over the past few months . . .

knock down

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
Director: Rachel Lears

I decided to watch this on Monday night in solidarity for AOC, who had deal with Trump tweeting racist comments at her all weekend. When it was over I felt like Trump’s tweets can’t even touch her, she’s too powerful, too gifted. She just doesn’t take the bait. I believe her response to Trump was something like, “he’s attacking me personally because he can’t defend his policies.” It’s incredible to see such clarity in someone so young. In this documentary, you meet AOC when she is just beginning her campaign, and even then, she has the ability to communicate in an authentic way very quickly and off the cuff.

I feel bad because I’m not mentioning the other women in this film, who also ran for Congress: Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, and Amy Vilela. They were all in equally difficult races, and unfortunately, they did not win, but seemed poised to unseat someone if they try again. I highly recommend this one for when you’re feeling discouraged by the Trump administration or if you just need to have a good cry.

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Is She Really Going Out With Him?

the souvenir

The Souvenir, British director Joanna Hogg’s fourth feature film, is the first part of a two-part memory piece that focuses on a love affair that took place in Hogg’s early twenties, when she was in film school in London. Though not quite a memoir, the film is unabashedly autobiographical, and similar to Alfonso Cuaron’s recent Roma in how it seeks to reconstruct a particular period in the director’s life. To play a version of herself, a young woman called Julie, Hogg has cast Honor Swinton Byrne, a newcomer who at this point in her life is best known as Tilda Swinton’s daughter—though her performance in The Souvenir and next year’s sequel will likely change that. Swinton herself plays Julie’s mother, Rosalind, tamping down her usual charisma to embody a meek matron who rarely exerts her influence or reveals her knowledge of the world. It’s startling to see Swinton this way, especially with Byrne nearby, exuding youth and curiosity. With her height and her red hair, Byrne looks enough like Swinton to bring to mind her mother’s glamour, but also has a calm dreaminess that it is all her own.

Read the rest over at The Common . . . 

Long Shot

long shot

I saw Long Shot last weekend, when it opened, and really enjoyed it, but I’ve been struggling since then to write a review. On the one hand, it was the easygoing, funny, romantic comedy I’ve been waiting for. Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron are both charming and fun to watch. I laughed a lot and never felt bored. On the other hand, there was something amiss about the world they occupied, an alternate version of D.C. that was sometimes depicted realistically, sometimes satirically, and sometimes seemed to be a part of a TV-D.C. whose qualities I hadn’t yet learned. I wasn’t there for the sharp political satire, so I mostly didn’t mind, but some of the nonsensical aspects of the setting did make the characters less believable–and that made their romance a little less believable too.

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Wine Country

wine country

This movie was a like canned rosé wine: light, great for a picnic, and not very complex. You could do something else while you watch this movie — like get play cards and gossip with friends — and not miss much of anything. I really enjoyed it even as I can’t vouch for its quality.

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Movies I Watched in Florida: Part 2

debbie.0

Writing to you from lovely but chilly Brooklyn. It feels good to be home. We went to the playground and I made two little videos of my daughter. I’m experimenting with my home videos, trying to make them with some thoughtfulness and a sense of narrative or at least framing them in some way. I’ve only been doing it for a few days but I feel like it’s already helping me to understand better how story is conveyed through film. I was going to post the video here because it’s pretty low-key in terms of showing my daughter–you can’t see her face clearly–but apparently that would require giving WordPress access to all my photos on Google. So, I’ll put the video sharing on hold for now, until I figure out how to address all the privacy issues.

Anyway, back to the movies I saw in Florida, which, surprisingly, included Singin’ in the Rain. It was showing on Sunday night, our second night in Florida, as part of Epic Theatre’s “Flashback Cinema.” Epic Theatre seems to be a cineplex chain in the south, and our screening  was introduced, via video, by one of its executives, who shared some interesting facts about the movie. For instance: did you know that Gene Kelly has a 103 degree fever when he shot the title number, “Singin’ in the Rain?” Did you know the entire movie was written around that song? I did not. Nor did I know that Debbie Reynolds was not Gene Kelly’s first, second, third, or fourth choice and that she had to prove herself. To prepare, she took dance classes for eight hours a day for six months. Which is incredible. I feel like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling did not put that much effort in for La La Land. Their dancing style was sort of “whatever works.” Whereas Debbie Reynolds’s was “I’m gonna make this work/prove myself to Gene Kelly.” Can you imagine the pressure? Only someone as young and hungry as Reynolds was then would have been able to stomach it.

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