Review: Honey Boy

honey-boy

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—a choice that seems, in addition to writing the script, its own kind of therapy.

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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.

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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.

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Catching Up: Extended Summer Edition

I’ve been neglectful of this blog because I finished a very rough draft of a novel and that took all my time for a few weeks. (Also, I’ve been freaking out about the climate crisis but that’s a post for another day–btw yesterday we set a heat record in NYC when it was 93 DEGREES.)  Amidst the artistic and existential meltdowns, I did manage to watch three new woman-directed movies:

hustlers

Hustlers
Writer and Director: Lorene Scafaria

To celebrate finishing a draft, Mike and I went out to see Hustlers at the Alamo Draft House. Although I’ve been aware of this movie since earlier this year, it wasn’t at the top of my list. After seeing The Big Short and Wolf of Wall Street, I felt like I was done with movies about Wall Street guys, even if this time it was from the perspective of the exotic dancers they socialized with. But then it got such great reviews and everyone was going nuts about J. Lo, saying that she was as good as she was in Out of Sight. So I went, I ordered a margarita, and . . . 

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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 . . . 

The Two Movies That Got Me Through January

tuscan_sun

We’re well into 2019 and I’ve barely watched any movies because my kids have been so sick. January was a festival of viruses, a nasty cold that just never left and then, last week, when the last of the phlegm departed, my baby brought home a novel stomach flu that incubated for about 36 hours before hitting me, my husband, and my first-grader in six-hour intervals.

I feel like this is the third or fourth time I have written about illnesses, so at this point it is a leitmotif of this blog and probably warrants its own tag.

Anyway.

When Under The Tuscan Sun came out in 2003, I was 25, and I remember kind of wanting to see it, but feeling that it was for older women. That feeling didn’t always stop me from seeing movies I wanted to see–for instance, I sat in a theater of seventy-somethings watching the 2004 Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely–but in this case, I think a part of me thought I should save this movie for a time in my life when I needed it.

Well, my two readers, that time has come. I’m 40, and I spent the past six weeks cooped up in a virus-ridden apartment with two small children and an unfinished novel manuscript. (The second unfinished novel to take up residence in my laptop in the past few years.) One night, I was perusing HBO’s offerings and I saw beautiful Diane Lane and a bouquet of yellow sunflowers. I thought, that is exactly what I need: Diane, flower gardens, Tuscany, and a serious real estate makeover.  Continue reading “The Two Movies That Got Me Through January”