Review: Lance

lanceLance (2020) ★★★ 1/2
Director: Marina Zenovich
Streaming on ESPN

I think I miss sports. I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d have this reaction to quarantine life, because I never deliberately watched sports or followed any particular team. But I guess I picked up on the ambient noise of sports, the dramas unfolding in the background. Armstrong’s story, for example, was one I knew, even though I don’t think I ever read an article about him or followed the Tour de France. In fact, I don’t think I understood how grueling an endurance event the Tour de France is until I watched this documentary. Now I’m in the weird position of feeling newly in awe of Armstrong’s athletic abilities while also understanding the full extent of his doping, lying, and bullying.

Continue reading “Review: Lance”

Review: Becoming

MO-Signing-Books-01_R
Becoming (2020) ★★★
Director: Nadia Hallgren
Streaming on Netflix 

Last year, along with ten million other people, I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. I picked it up expecting to get the inside story on what it’s like to live in the White House as First Lady, but Mrs. Obama doesn’t spend a lot of time on her years in Washington. Instead, she focuses on what grounds her: her family, her upbringing on the south side of Chicago, her education, and the early years of her marriage before Barack Obama was elected president. This turns out to be much more interesting and illuminating than anything she could have written about living in the White House.

One of the refreshing things about Becoming (both the memoir and documentary) is how open Michelle Obama is about the challenges she faced in her career and marriage, as well as on the campaign trail. It’s not only that she talks about her struggles, it’s that she describes what she did to address each difficulty. She gets specific about the little, day-to-day things, like how she found time to go to the gym or feed her children healthy meals. The truth, she explains, is that she often had help, and she gives a lot of credit to her mother, as well as her staff and assistants. The book had a self-help aspect that felt generous to her reader, a way of saying: look, it took a lot of work to become the person I am today, I’m not naturally this calm, cool, and collected.

Still, it’s clear that Michelle Obama has a lot more discipline and grit than most mortals.

Continue reading “Review: Becoming”

Review: How To Build A Girl

How-to-Build-a-GirlHow To Build A Girl (2020) ★★1/2
Director: Coky Giedroyc
Writer: Caitlin Moran (based on Moran’s novel)

I know many people believe it’s always best to read the book before the movie, but I’m on the fence. Very often, the book outshines the movie by a long shot — especially if you read the book shortly before seeing the movie, as I did with How To Build A Girl, which is based on Caitlin Moran’s 2014 novel by the same title. I loved the book, loved its early 1990s setting and its teenage heroine, Johanna Morrigan, a working-class girl who is obsessed with sex and books and writing. She’s a girl so sure of her literary talent that she auditions to be a rock critic without knowing a thing about rock music. She gets CDs from the library to catch up and invents a rock critic persona, “Dolly Wilde.” Soon, she has a full-time magazine job, and is going to concerts, meeting rock stars and having lots of sex. It’s very, very fun reading. And then at the end, you cry!

So, look: the movie had a lot to live up to . . . Continue reading “Review: How To Build A Girl”

Review: Blow the Man Down

Blow-the-Man-DownBlow the Man Down (2020) ★★★1/2
Writer-Directors: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Streaming on Amazon

Easter Cove, Maine seems like a picture perfect postcard of New England, complete with fishermen singing traditional sea shanties like “Blow the Man Down” and kindly old ladies who take fitness walks together every morning. But look a little closer and you’ll see the quaint old inns and weathered docks hide murder, prostitution, and money laundering. And those old ladies out walking? They’re patrolling, not exercising. Don’t cross them!

I don’t want to give too much away about this extremely entertaining noir, which was thrilling enough to keep me watching, but witty enough to quell any anxieties. Directed and written by a debut team, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, it’s stylized just enough to wink at the viewer and create visual interest, but not so much that the world seems fake or glib. I noticed that early reviews compared it to the Coen Brothers, but I kept thinking of writers like Alice Munro and Elena Ferrante, authors who bring you into the unseen and ignored realm of women to show you the covert ways girls and women learn to deal with criminality and abuse. As one character says, “A lot of people underestimate young women. That’s why they get away with a lot.”

The cast is marvelous, and makes excellent use of veteran actors like June Squibb and Margo MartindaleI also enjoyed the performances of his younger leads, Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor. If you’re looking for something to take your mind off the news, this is a great weekend watch. I’m eager to see what these filmmakers do next.

My Quarantine Binge-watch: Hillary

hillaryHillary (2020) ★★★1/2
Director: Nanette Burstein
Streaming on Hulu

Ever since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with her, reading interviews and post-mortems, as well as Clinton’s own memoir about the 2016 campaign, What Happened? I also read Amy Chozick’s memoir, Chasing Hillary, about covering both of Clinton’s presidential runs for the New York Times. When I heard that Nanette Burstein had made a 4-hour documentary about Clinton’s life, I didn’t think I’d be interested in revisiting material that I already knew so well. At the beginning of the quarantine, I gave the first episode a try, but it didn’t grab me, especially when I saw how reliant it was on first-person interviews with Clinton, as well as Amy Chozick. I felt like I’d already heard from both of them and I wanted a new perspective.

But then quarantine started to wear on me. I kept thinking about what this period would be like if Clinton were president. . . Continue reading “My Quarantine Binge-watch: Hillary”

Review: Crip Camp

crip campCrip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020) ★★★1/2
Directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham
Streaming on Netflix 

Crip Camp is a Netflix film, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, but I had the unusual experience of seeing it on the big screen a few weeks ago for a press screening. I say unusual not only because this is a documentary that most people will watch at home but because I ventured out to see it when people were just starting to feel nervous about Coronavirus. I wasn’t even sure I should go, but at that time, my kids were still in school, my husband was still going into to work and out to evening events and except for everyone washing their hands a lot, things were relatively normal. It’s eerie how quickly things have changed.

Anyway, I went into the screening feeling anxious and scatterbrained but left feeling centered and full of hope. Crip Camp tells the story of the disability rights movement, which was seeded at a teen summer camp called Camp Jened. The camp itself, located in upstate New York near Woodstock, was ordinary and in terms of its offerings. There was a pool, arts and crafts, sports, and music. The usual. What made it extraordinary was that every kid who went was disabled, which meant that a bunch of teenagers who were used to being pushed to the side were suddenly front and center. For the first time in their lives, the kids experienced what it was like to be among people who were not put off or scared by their disabilities, and who saw them in terms of their personalities, interests, and dreams. It was so freeing that for many of the campers, it was a political awakening. As one camper puts it, there was a realization that “the problem with the disabled isn’t with the disabled, it’s with the outside world.”

Continue reading “Review: Crip Camp”

Review: First Cow

first cowFirst Cow (2020) ★★★★1/2
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond

The plain title of Kelly Reichardt’s eighth feature film belies a richlydetailed period piece set in 1820s Oregon Territory. But before immersing you in the past, Reichart opens in the present, with a shot of alarge industrial ship making its way down the Willamette RiverAlong a piece of undeveloped shoreline, a woman and her dog are walking when the dog’s playful digging uncovers a human skull. Curious, thewoman continues digging to reveal two full skeletons lying next to each anotherAs is typical of a Reichardt movie, this action unfolds wordlessly but with attention to the sounds of the natural world: the chirping of nearby birds, the dog’s panting and scuffling paws, and the river flowing byThis quiet, observational approach makes the discovery of two skeletons feel interesting, rather than ominous. However, I must admit that what I found most arresting about this scene was a lightweight pink scarf that the woman was wearing tied around her neck in a loose bow. It was the only warm color in a scene dominated by grays, blues, and greens, and as the woman’s scarf fluttered in breeze, I felt that it, as well as the skeletons, had a secret meaning. . . 

Read the rest over at The Common

Review: Emma.

emma 2020Emma (2020) ★★★1/2
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Written by Eleanor Catton, based on the novel by Jane Austen

I saw this a couple of nights ago and it was pure delight. My only regret is that I went to see it by myself and not with my husband or with a friend. I left it in a cheery mood, buoyed by the playful costumes, bucolic scenery, intelligent dialogue, and of course, the romantic ending when everyone is happily paired up — except, maybe, for Jane Fairfax. I felt bad for her, and I don’t remember her character from previous versions of Emma, though I must confess that I have never read Emma, so I don’t know if she is from the book or not.

Continue reading “Review: Emma.”

Review: The Assistant

the assistantThe Assistant (2019) ★★★★
Written & Directed by Kitty Green

When I wrote the heading for this review I thought to myself wow, am I really giving this movie four stars? It’s the unusual instance when using a star rating system is clarifying rather than frustrating, because my reasons for rating it as less than four stars were entirely superficial. In terms of its production, The Assistant it is a “small” movie, but in terms of its themes and emotional impact, it’s huge. It takes place over a short time period — one day — and involves only a handful of people in a few rooms, with its focus on Jane (Julia Garner), a junior assistant to a film producer. Very little happens and there is hardly any dialogue; there’s only one passage in the film in which two characters engage in extended back-and-forth discussion. All other verbal communication is limited to short or one-sided phone conversations, emails, and eavesdropping.

Continue reading “Review: The Assistant”

Review: To All The Boys P.S. I Still Love You

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love YouTo All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020) ★★
Directed by Michael Fimognari
Written by Sofia Alvarez and J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Jenny Han

It’s not a good sign when, watching a sequel, you begin to wonder what it was you liked about the original material. I went back to my review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before  and saw that I compared it to the Great British Baking Show — high praise, indeed! I was new to the world of Lara Jean and thought there was something sweet and unpretentious about her character. I also really liked Lana Condor, the actor who plays Lara Jean. She’s just as delightful in this sequel, but she can’t rescue the material, which gets bogged down in a lot of high school logistics and relationship drama. Also — and it pains me to say this, because he’s like a Mark Ruffalo Jr. —  but I think this second installment reveals the limits of Noah Centineo’s acting abilities. He’s perfectly cast as the unattainable love object in the original, but as a real person in a relationship, he comes off as a shallow performer. He just can’t convey the complexity and vulnerability that is needed.

Continue reading “Review: To All The Boys P.S. I Still Love You”