Three Movie Reviews, or: Two Love Stories and a Mr. Rogers Episode

Wow, this month has gone by quickly. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks catching up on movies in order to vote for the OAFFC awards and also to compile my own list of year-end favorites. I’m holding off on sharing that because I haven’t yet seen Little Women, and from all the advance raves, I have a feeling it might make my list. We’ll see. In the meantime, here are some brief reviews of three movies I saw recently . . .

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Atlantics (2019) ★★★1/2
Director: Mati Diop
Writer: Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel
Streaming on Netflix

I heard someone describe Atlantics as a zombie movie, but it’s more like a ghost story. Really, it’s a love story, with a classic structure that follows two clandestine lovers who are briefly together only to be torn apart. They spend the rest of the movie trying to find their way back to each other. The story is set in an unnamed port city in Senegal, where a giant, futuristic glass-and-steel tower is under construction. The film opens upon a group of angry construction workers, who have stormed their foreman’s office to complain about three months’ of wages still owed to them. They set off to Spain in search of paying work, only to drown in the Atlantic Ocean. One of the lost sailors is Souleiman, the secret boyfriend of a young woman, Ada, who is engaged to marry a wealthy businessman, Omar. When Souleiman reappears on Ada’s wedding night, a series of strange, supernatural events are set into motion.

Continue reading “Three Movie Reviews, or: Two Love Stories and a Mr. Rogers Episode”

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: Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Ben Burtt and Richard AndersonBen Burtt and Richard Anderson recording the voice of Chewbacca.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Director: Midge Costin
Writer: Bobette Buster

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is the perfect for someone (like me) who wants to learn more about the process of filmmaking. It’s also for anyone who has ever paused while filling out their Oscar ballot to wonder: what is the difference between “sound editing” and “sound mixing”? (In a nutshell: sound editing is the process of adding or subtracting sound, including voice, music, and effects into a movie after it has been filmed; sound mixing is about synthesizing everything into one soundtrack, sort of like the conductor of an orchestra.)

Producer/Director Midge Costin, a sound editor who is also a professor at USC’s film school, gives this documentary an academic bent. It often felt like a distillation of a semester’s worth of lectures, with special guest appearances from legendary sound editors like Walter Murch and Ben Burtt. Making Waves covers a lot of ground, including the history of film’s transition from the silent era to sound, the studio system approach to sound effects, the use of music in film, the process of making particular sound effects, and technological innovations in sound design such as stereo and surround sound. With behind-the-scenes interviews, photographs, and footage of sound designers at work, Costin makes visible a process that most filmgoers don’t give much thought to, but which must be executed with precision in order for a movie to cast its narrative spell. Even silence must be engineered by sound editors, who subtract ambient noises to create an artificial — but psychologically powerful — sense of quiet.

Continue reading “Review: Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”