Sunday, December 2, 2018

Blindspotting (2018)

Jack and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a man, days from the end of probation, who witnesses a heinous police shooting and is tempted in other ways to jeopardize his freedom. Like Green Book, it's a drama about a serious subject with plenty of humor. We need a new term because dramedy is too light for this content.

Daveed Diggs (original cast of Hamilton, ten episodes of The Get Down, three of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, ten of Black-ish, and a rap song in Zootopia) and his lifelong friend Rafael Casal (new to me) wrote the script and star as Collin the felon and Miles his lifelong friend and loose cannon. The cast includes Janina Gavankar (her face is familiar because we saw all 38 episodes of The Mysteries of Laura) as Collin's ex-girlfriend and employer Val and Jasmine Cephas Jones (real life girlfriend of Anthony Ramos, Diggs' Hamilton castmate, and daughter of Ron Cephas Jones who plays Randall's father on This Is Us) as Miles' wife Ashley.

This is the second feature for director Carlos López Estrada. The movie was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Diggs is nominated for Best Male Lead at the Spirit Awards.

Diggs and Casal are proud Oakland natives and the location shots are spectacular.

The movie has many many songs (here's a list) in addition to a score by Michael Yezerski (he's worked on over a hundred projects, none of which I've seen). There are clips of his work on his website. I think I liked the music but it's been two weeks since we saw it.

We streamed this on iTunes, in part because of Diggs' Spirit award nomination and more because of his interview on WTF with Marc Maron. Rotten Tomatoes' critics' average of 93% and its audiences' of 86 should lead you to watch it as well.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Green Book (2018)

We loved this story of an Italian Bronx bouncer chauffeuring a cultured African-American jazz pianist on a 1962 tour of the deep south. Based on a true story, it's already racking up nominations and awards (here's my selected list, sorted by title).

Viggo Mortensen (last blogged for Captain Fantastic) is wonderful as the nonstop talking, nonstop eating Tony Lip AKA Tony Vallelonga; Mahershala Ali (most recently in these pages for Hidden Figures after winning an Oscar for Moonlight) is transcendent as the classically trained Don Shirley PhD; and Linda Cardellini (last blogged for The Founder) is delightful as Tony's warm, loving, and practical wife Dolores.

Director/co-writer Peter Farrelly has taken a sharp turn away from his slapstick history (e.g. the Dumb and Dumber series (1994 and 2014), There's Something About Mary (1998), several segments of Movie 43, more) with this thoughtful dramatic piece titled for the actual book used by black people to find safe places to visit in Jim Crow south. Tony Lip's actual son Nick Vallelonga is a co-writer and he and other members of the Vallelonga family appear on screen, though we didn't know it at the time. We also did not know that the real Tony Lip was on The Sopranos, playing Carmine Lupertazzi, and other roles (here's a photo). Nick has been behind and in front of the camera for 25 years. The third co-writer Brian Hayes Currie has had a couple dozen small acting parts (and makes a cameo as a Maryland State Trooper near the end of this one) and makes his screenwriting debut here. There are lots of truly funny bits sprinkled into the drama.

The set design, especially that Carnegie Hall apartment, is terrific and today I told a fiber artist that she should see the beaded robe that Dr. Shirley wears in that scene. And, oh, that Cadillac!

My regular readers know how much the music in any movie means to me and this one is wonderfully music driven. Both the trailer and the movie begin with Dave Brubeck's Unsquare Dance (I also mentioned its appearance in Baby Driver) a jaunty tune in a tempo of seven, which makes this musician happy. For more Brubeck, here's a YouTube playlist.

Kris Bowers (last scored Little Boxes) trained Ali and was his piano double on camera. The soundtrack album is available at the usual outlets and can be streamed on spotify from this link.

There are lots and lots of songs, many with vocals, and here are two playlists (one, two). And, to delve deeper into the music of the Don Shirley Trio, you can listen to this playlistthat one, or the "Best of Don Shirley" on YouTube

Many people can't identify this movie by its title. But when I say, "Driving Mr. Daisy," they know immediately. Rotten Tomatoes' critics, averaging 82%, are slightly less enthusiastic than its audiences at 94. We say see it.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Sammy Davis Jr.; I’ve Gotta Be Me (2017)

I loved this documentary about the entertainer (1925-1990) who broke ground in so many ways. Here's a short trailer and a longer one.

Director Samuel D. Pollard has a long list of credits and the work here is exemplary. I was lucky enough to see it in a big festival crowd where Pollard made an appearance.

You can't see it in theatres but in February 2019 it will be on the American Masters series on PBS. Passport Level PBS donors will be able to stream it after that. Donate (contact your local station--it needs your support) and then watch it!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Widows (2018)

Jack and I liked this thriller about women who complete their late husbands' botched heist. The enormous cast is headed by Viola Davis and Liam Neeson (last blogged for Fences and Silence, respectively). The other women thieves are Michelle Rodriguez (she was in 26 episodes of Lost, Battle in Seattle, and plenty more that I haven't seen), Elizabeth Debicki (most recently in The Great Gatsby), and Cynthia Erivo (her babetteflix debut was for Bad Times at the El Royale).

The rest of the starring men are played by Colin Farrell (last in Roman J. Israel, Esq.), Robert Duvall (in The Judge four years ago), Brian Tyree Henry (best known to me as Paper Boi in 17 episodes of Atlanta), and Daniel Kaluuya (Oscar-nominated for Get Out and last blogged for Black Panther). All seven of the above are on the poster.

Director/co-writer Steve McQueen (Oscar-nominated for directing 12 Years a Slave, which won Best Picture in 2014) is featured in a cute little short before the feature, thanking us for coming out to the movies in person. He and co-writer Gillian Flynn (who adapted her own novel into the screenplay for Gone Girl) based the script on the 1983 British TV series written by Lynda La Plante. There are plenty of twists and turns in this version, and, although Jack found it a little contrived, we both thought it quite entertaining, though violent.

Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (last blogged for Queen of Katwe), does marvelous work with contrast, especially Davis' chocolate complexion with her snow white apartment, wardrobe, and matching dog Olivia (here's an article about this adorable bitch).

Hans Zimmer (last in these pages for scoring The Boss Baby) provides exciting music, 22 minutes of which you can stream on youtube.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics, averaging 91%, are much more enthusiastic than its audiences at a lukewarm 65. It's very likely to rack up a nomination or two. I have begun my yearly summary of nominations sorted by title. The link is to the right if you're on a computer. Otherwise, go here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Jack and I enjoyed this bio-pic about Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, leading up to its 1985 Live Aid performance. The movie should have been shorter, and there are some glaring mistakes in the chronology--not that I would have known. What I did learn from watching the movie is that I'm a fan of the band Queen despite never having bought any of their albums—their songs are so good!

Rami Malek (I haven't seen any of his starring roles, but he had small parts in Night at the Museum movies in 2006, 2009, and 2014, Larry Crowne, The Master, and Ain't Them Bodies Saints) is pretty great as Mercury. Malek is of Egyptian background, and Mercury (birth name Farrokh Bulsara) was from Zanzibar, an island off the coast of what's now known as Tanzania. Almost all the music is pure Queen, though, at times, Malek's voice is mixed with Mercury's and that of singer Marc Martel (credited for additional vocals). Malek also had to learn to talk with the buck teeth prosthetic. I'm not familiar with the actors who play the other three members of Queen, though none is a novice: Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon. Mazzello looked familiar to me, and research turned up his appearance as a kid in Jurassic Park (1993) (here's a photo) and as a young adult in The Social Network (another photo).

Supporting cast includes Lucy Boynton (after I called her luminous in Sing Street, she was in the ensemble of Murder on the Orient Express) as Mercury's friend Mary, Allen Leech (last blogged for The Imitation Game) as groupie Paul, and Mike Myers (most recently in these pages for a cameo in Inglourious Basterds, plus several listings for Razzie Awards) as the permed record producer with sunglasses. In Myers' Wayne's World movies, the Wayne and Garth characters banged their heads to Bohemian Rhapsody--Myers threatened to quit if the song wasn't included--and it helped reestablish Queen's popularity after Mercury's death in 1991. Now that you know about this cameo, pay attention to the dialogue in his scene.

Director Bryan Singer (last blogged for X-Men: Days of Future Passed) was fired two weeks before the end of production. Various reasons have been given: absences from the set? Health problems? Ill parents? He threw something at Malek? Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher (his fourth feature) but Singer has the Directors Guild credit for this movie. The screenplay is by Anthony McCarten (most recently wrote Darkest Hour) with the story by McCarten and Peter Morgan (last penned Hereafter).

Surviving Queen bandmates May and Taylor were creative consultants and former Queen manager Jim Beach was a producer. Perhaps their control had something to do with why Mercury's drug use, his promiscuity, and even his homosexuality were glossed over.

Mercury's flamboyant costumes are great fun and I suppose they're accurate. The wigs, however, are distracting. We're so used to the fabulous wig work in Saturday Night Live that anything less stands out.

The movie opens and closes with Queen's appearance at Live Aid. The 20 minute set was shot in its entirety, before everything else. There's a rumor that it will be released separately. Here's video of the original 1985 performance and an article about the re-creation. Imdb has pages and pages of trivia, some items of which are above. One of my favorites is that the filmmakers requested recordings of people singing along with Queen. They got thousands and mixed them all into the movie. There are goofs and spoilers on that site, too. Just follow the links.

As expected, there is no soundtrack composer. The soundtrack album is available to stream from this link and there are other songs listed on this page.

Though Rotten Tomatoes' critics are not rhapsodic, averaging 62%, its audiences are, coming in at 93, #2 at the box office its second weekend of release. We saw it in IMAX. The bad news is there were no closed captions available in that format. The good news is that the sound was great.



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

We loved this true story of a woman who forged and stole letters by literary icons and sold them when she had rough times in 1990s New York.

Melissa McCarthy (last blogged for Ghostbusters) is a triumph in a departure from her usual slapstick roles. I would say she "played it straight," but her character Lee Israel is an alcoholic lesbian, wearing ill-fitting men's jackets on her curvy frame. As Israel's friend Jack Hock, Richard E. Grant (most recently in Their Finest) is a delightful foil to her witty petulance. Dolly Wells (her actual friendship with actress Emily Mortimer was parodied in twelve episodes of Doll & Em (2013-15), among Wells' many credits) is sweet as one of the buyers duped by Israel, and Jane Curtin (last in The Spy Who Dumped Me) is terrific as Israel's socialite agent.

Director Marielle Heller (most recently helmed The Diary of a Teenage Girl) works from a screenplay, adapted from Israel's 2008 memoir, by Nicole Holofcener (last wrote (and directed) Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty (his screenwriting debut -- he wrote the book for the Broadway musical Avenue Q, and more). Not having read the book, I can't tell you how many witticisms were written by Israel and how many by Holofcener and Whitty, but the script sparkles.

The New Yorker magazine's review (as always, filled with spoilers) mentions the various Manhattan locations reflecting the time and place, including bookstores (Argosy, Westsider, the Housing Works Bookstore Café, and Logos) and a gay bar (Julius').

There are lots of songs (listed here) as well as original music by the director's brother Nate Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). The 15 track album is available at all the expected outlets and can be streamed on spotify.

You don't need Jack and me to recommend this Oscar bait when Rotten Tomatoes' critics are averaging 98% and its audiences 86.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Beautiful Boy (2018)

Not for the faint of heart, this story of a meth addict's effect on his family is based on memoirs by the addict and his father. Jack and I liked it. Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet are terrific (last blogged for Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show and Call Me by Your Name, respectively) as the father David Sheff and son Nic Sheff, especially the latter, going through all the mood swings of drug use. Maura Tierney (some of her best work was in White Sands (1992), 97 episodes of NewsRadio (1995-99), 189 of ER (1999-2009), Scotland, Pa. (2001), nine episodes of Rescue Me (2009-11), and seven of The Good Wife (2012-13)--I haven't watched any of her 43 of The Affair) and Amy Ryan (most recently in these pages for Bridge of Spies) are in the background as David's second wife Karen and first wife Vicki. Coincidentally, Tierney was in one episode of The Office with Carell, and Ryan was in 17 earlier ones, with her character Holly dating Carell's Michael in many of them.

Director/co-writer Felix van Groeningen did the same on the moving The Broken Circle Breakdown though I failed to say so in the blog. Van Groeningen and Luke Davies (Davies adapted the book that became Lion) adapted David Sheff's Beautiful Boy and Nic Sheff's Tweak, both published in 2008.

Trivia: the crazed drawings of Nic's in the movie were actually drawn by Jasper Sheff, David and Karen's now 24 year old son, whose birth and young life are depicted in the movie.

The title comes from the John Lennon tune of the same name, written for his second son, Sean Ono Lennon. I can't help but remember that his firstborn, Julian Lennon, got little, if anything.

There's no composer on this movie. I counted about thirty songs in the credits when we saw it Friday. Fourteen are on this spotify playlist and 25 on the imdb list, including Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof, sung by Perry Como.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics are lukewarm on this, averaging 69%, and, apparently, not enough viewers have weighed in to give an audience average. Instead, 95% of viewers who voted clicked "want to see." You should probably see it too.