Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

portraitPortrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) ★★★★1/2
Writer & Director: Céline Sciamma

In 1770, Brittany, France, a young female painter, Marianne, is hired to paint a wedding portrait of a noblewoman. But the assignment is unusual: she must make the painting in secret because the bride, Héloïse, is reluctant to marry. Héloïse and her mother live in an isolated seaside estate, and her mother explains to the young painter that the portrait is necessary to entice the bridegroom, who lives in Milan. Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is arrestingly beautiful, and I can imagine many movies that might begin with the groom’s approving gaze upon receiving Héloïse’s portrait, kicking off a storyline that would take viewers into Milanese high society. But Portrait of a Lady on Fire instead focuses on the two weeks that Héloïse and Marianne spend together in a nearly empty house by the sea (the bridegroom in question never appears on screen). Written and directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, and with a nearly all-female cast, Portrait is both a romantic story of two people falling in love, and a sensitive depiction of a female painter’s life and artistic practice in the eighteenth century.

(Read the rest over at The Common. . .)

Retrowatch: A League of Their Own

Film and TelevisionA League Of Their Own (1992) ★★★★
Director: Penny Marshall
Writers: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel

I had my sister over for Thanksgiving and she wanted to know when I was going to write about A League of Their Own, which we saw together last week at Alamo Drafthouse for a special “champagne screening.” She said, “I saw you making notes . . .”

It’s true, I made notes—and then I lost them, which my sister will tell is typical of me. I wrote them on the back of the paper advertising the drink special: “There’s No Crying in Cocktails,” which is a mix of Maker’s Mark, lemon, sugar, and cava, and which I ordered. It was actually my second cocktail of the night, because my sister and I met before the movie to get a drink at the bar outside of the theater. We sat down next to a group of four women who were clearly going to the same screening as us, because they were all wearing the pink skirted baseball uniforms from the movie. As it happened, we were seated next to them in the theater. My sister asked the woman closest to us when she had last seen the movie, and she said, ‘Oh, a couple of months ago? I watch it all the time.’ The other women had also seen the movie many, many times. It was their comfort watch.

Meanwhile, my sister and I had not seen the movie since 1992, when it was in the theaters. Continue reading “Retrowatch: A League of Their Own”

Frozen II with a Two-Year-Old

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Frozen II
Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc Smith, Kristin Anderson-Lopez, and Robert Lopez

Over the weekend, our entire family went to 9:15 a.m. screening packed with Frozen devotees. It was an all-ages show, which probably sounds like hell to many but there was actually a childless couple behind us in line, so I guess it’s not too noisy – or else they really, really wanted to see the sequel to Frozen and couldn’t fit it in at any other time. I have grown to like the all-ages screening, in part because they turn the sound down, but mainly because it’s sweet to hear kids responding to what is on screen, especially a movie like this one, which was For The Fans.

If you want my two-second review, Frozen II was a lot of fun but not a great sequel, on par with Toy Story 2 or even, um, let me see here, I realize I haven’t actually seen a lot of sequels to kids’ movies. My relationship to kids movies is, generally: something to put on while I clean and I need my children to stay in one place. However, I have a soft spot for Frozen. Continue reading “Frozen II with a Two-Year-Old”

Watching Harriet Made Me Long for an Adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred

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While watching Kasi Lemmons’s new biopic about Harriet Tubman, I found myself thinking of the 1979 novel Kindred by Octavia Butler. Kindred is a time-travel story, set in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles. The protagonist, Dana, an African-American writer in her twenties, has fainting spells that cause her travel back in time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets her enslaved ancestors. The first time she is thrown back in time, she finds herself in a situation where a white boy, Rufus, is about to die, and it’s up to her to save him. She does, only to discover that he’s both a distant relative of hers, and the son of a slaveholder. Luckily, she figures out how to get back to present-day L.A. But then, just as suddenly, she’s back in nineteenth-century Maryland.

Every time Dana falls back in time, Rufus is older, while she stays the same age. And every time Dana falls back in time, Rufus is in trouble and Dana always saves him. To Rufus, Dana is his magical property who appears just when he needs her. To Dana, Rufus is a foolish, cruel man that she takes care of only to ensure the survival of her ancestors. All the while she feels psychically caught between worlds; she’s free in her time, but enslaved in Rufus’s. The novel ends when she is finally able to break free of Rufus.

Continue reading “Watching Harriet Made Me Long for an Adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred”

Review: Honey Boy

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Honey Boy
Director: Alma Ha’rel
Writer: Shia LeBeouf

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie more steeped in therapeutic concepts than Honey Boy. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of actor Shia LaBeouf’s abusive upbringing as a child performer in thrall to his alcoholic father; his subsequent struggles with addiction; and his recovery in rehab. To a certain degree, it’s also a movie that reflects on its own making. LaBeouf wrote the script, or at least started it, while undergoing exposure therapy for PTSD, and he stars in the film playing a character based on his own father.

Continue reading “Review: Honey Boy”

Review: Little Woods

little woods

Little Woods
Writer & Director: Nia DaCosta

Little Woods has been on my list of movies to see since April, when it was briefly in theaters. It’s a small, independent film with a first-time female director, Nia DaCosta, who also wrote the screenplay. I heard good things about it coming out of film festivals, and it also stars Tessa Thompson, who I really liked in Sorry To Bother You. This is all to say that I was primed to like this movie, but halfway through I was ready to turn it off. It was boring, despite having a relatively distinctive story with high stakes. The screenplay felt overwritten and conventional, especially in the second act as complications arose to force the protagonist to make a particular choice. I knew, intellectually, that I was supposed to feel that the main character was backed into a corner, but instead it felt like a narrative slog I had to wade through to get to the third act. And I wasn’t holding out hope that it would even be worth it.

Continue reading “Review: Little Woods”

Retro Watch: 1994’s Little Women

Little-Women-1994

I decided to catch up with 1994’s Little Women as a way of preparing for Greta Gerwig’s forthcoming version. I saw it in the theaters when I was a teenager, but I’m sorry to say that it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The only reason I know I saw it is that my older sister, who remembers everything, tells me we went to see it in the theater with our mother.

I was 16 in 1994, which my mother probably saw as just the right age for a period romance. But it had to compete with the other movies burning into my adolescent cortex, a list that includes Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Reality Bites, The Mask, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall. 

Poor Little Women didn’t stand a chance.

Continue reading “Retro Watch: 1994’s Little Women”