If Beale Street could talk (2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk

Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James)

There is so much rarity that oozes out of If Beale Street could talk that at times it is hard to describe. Here is a romantic drama that does not rely on fantasies or hopes but on the pluses and minuses of reality. No other tag line has rung more true for a 2018 film: “Trust love all the way”.

Based off the book (which I am hoping to read soon) by James Baldwin and written for the screen by director Barry Jenkins (whose last film, Moonlight, won the Oscar for Best Picture), we meet the young lovers Tish (Kiki Layne) and Alfonso (Stephan James), or “Fonny”. She is 19. He is 22. They have known each other since they could take their first bath together as kids. Their lives in  New York are marred with troubles, but they remain faithful, even when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Things get a little more complicated when we find out that Tish is pregnant. While her family is supportive, his family is…well, to say they are against it is putting it very mildly. The scene between the two families sets the absolute mood of the film.

The movie is told sometimes in flashback (as told by Tish), showing her relationship with Fonny before his arrest. The rest shows their attempts to get Fonny out of jail, but certain complications arise (and they don’t come cheap). Thankfully, Tish has very supporting parents. While her  dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) is there for his daughter, it is clearly the mother, Sharon (Regina King) who is the should Tish leans on the most. Every scene King is in explodes with talent, proving she is a strong contender for best supporting actress in the next few months. That would not be the films only nomination, as it also has possibly the best musical score I have heard in 2018.

The film also supplies other strong performances, but the crystal clear heart of the film is the chemistry between the two young leads. Layne plays Tish as soft-spoken, but not one who will let you step on her toes. James allows us to see Fonny (as Tish hopes all call him) as a young man who knows the hardships of life, but still is kind-hearted.

Parents, the movie is rated R, and should be. While there is a lot of swearing (including racial slurs), there is not much violence. There is, however, one of the more longer sex scenes (nearly five to seven minutes) that occurs and has nudity. Mature High Schoolers and up.

There are some parts of the movie that seem a little off (I am not sure yet how I feel about the trip that Tish’s mother makes, despite how undoubtably heartfelt it is), and the outcome of the movie may not be for everyone. I was fine with it. The message was simple: Even in the worst of circumstances, you must, in all honesty, trust love. All the way.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

The Great Dictator (1940)

The Great Dictator

The classic image of Hynkel (Chaplin) playing with the world in his hands.

Before the release of The Great Dictator, Hitler was a fan of Chaplin’s, so much so that it is rumored he modeled his mustache from the comedian. This makes me wonder why Hitler never shaved after the movie came out. After the release, it was unsurprisingly banned in Germany even after the war ended.

After years of his immortal tramp character had become one of the world’s most recognizable images, Chaplin finally decided to make a talkie (12 years after talking pictures were born). In The Great Dictator, he is not known as the tramp, but a jewish barber (though he is still nameless). After serving in the first World War (then called the great war), the barber survives a plane crash with a soldier he saved named Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). The barber is in a hospital for years suffering from memory loss before he returns to his home country of Tomania, only to discover it is ruled by a new dictator, Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin). A local neighborhood girl Hannah (Paulette Goddard, one of Chaplin’s wives in real life) supports the barber as he fights the higher power, even if the new appointed Schultz fails to get his soldiers to lay off of the barber.

As in all Chaplin films, there are a plethora of scenes that are classic comedic gags. The airplane ride at the beginning, the wacky slapstick on the street as the barber tries to stand up to the storm troopers, Hynkel playing with the world in his hands, and more to discover. We also get Jack Oakie as Napaloni (basically Benito Mussolini), the dictator of Bacteria. Their scenes together are ripe with comedic energy.

Oddly, the most popular scene in the film is the last five-minute speech given by the barber. In a way, it is out-of-place, because it makes the comedy automatically stand still and makes way for what is arguably Chaplin talking to the audience, not the barber. I am not saying I agree or disagree with what he says, only that the whole speech is a little superfluous to the story.

Parents, kids would be fine with this movie (no swearing or any sexual stuff), but I would at least think they should be old enough to know who Hitler was.

This would be the last time that Chaplin had played a man with a mustache on-screen. The film is not his best (that is always City Lights, with Modern Times a close second), but it is nice to see how Chaplin managed to fight back against the real life ruthless dictator of the 20th century with all the weapons he could muster. In his biography, he did mention that he would not have made the film if he knew ahead of time the horror that was going on for those under Hitler’s thumb at the time.

Thankfully, Chaplin pursued the film’s completion, one year before the United States went to war.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Eighth Grade (2018)

Eighth Grade

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) tries to power through her last week of middle school.

I think it was around February of 2002 when my 8th grade English Teacher Miss Pearson told us of our main end of the year project: writing our autobiography. It wasn’t until a few years ago I found a surviving copy of it, and just took a glance at it not long after seeing Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. It brought back memories for me, from being the lead in the musical to not knowing my crush would show up at my graduation party (we won’t go there). It is clear the world and technology have changed since my days in middle school, but the feelings, insecurities, thoughts, and emotions are all still shared, which is what makes the film great.

With one week left to go, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is determined to push through despite her introverted nature. Even though she insists she is a talkative person, she still wins the award from her peers for being the “Quietest”. Like all teenagers, she is glued to her phone, posting on instagram and snapchat (one of her peers mentions how Facebook is not a thing anymore). Kayla is vulnerable, but still manages courage to post a new video, go to a pool party she knows no one wanted her at, and even talk to her crush Aiden (Luke Prael). All this is credit to the young actress Fisher who is nothing short of remarkable.

Her one source of constant empathy that she (mostly) refuses is her dad Mark (Josh Hamilton). It is clear from the get go that, although she does love her dad, he is nothing short of a dork in her eyes. His heart is in the right place, but his brain needs some catching up (especially in the scene where Kayla is asked to hang out with some nice high school students). It isn’t until a later scene in the film where father and daughter have a truly touching, heart to heart talk.

My concern with the movie is the time frame. A lot happens to Kayla in the time span of just one week. While most of these things have happened to all of us at that age in one way or another, did it really happen in just seven days? Had the movie made the time longer (say a month, semester, or even the whole school year), my praise would be higher still.

Parents, this is another example of why I am not a fan of the MPAA. I am not doubting that the subject matter in the film is for mature audiences. After all, Kayla does look up a video on oral sex (nothing too graphic is shown) and there is one uncomfortable scene in the back seat of a car that thankfully does not go too far (a guy takes off his shirt). Still, kids are exposed to this type of talk (and, sadly, sometimes the situations) nearly every day at school (unless homeschooled). The film is R, but it is not anything that a High Schooler (or even a Middle Schooler) may not have witnessed before.

While there were no kids in the viewing of the film I attended, part of me wished there were. I would want to ask them how accurate of a film this was. My guess would be in the near perfect range.

 

Gucchi!

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

Irreplaceable You (2018)

Irreplaceable You

Abbie(Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman)

” I enjoy hanging with you. It’s interesting. You’re like a slow-moving car crash” – Myron (Christopher Walken) to Abbie.

No, this dialogue from Irreplaceable You is not between the main couple of Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman), which is all that can be said positive about the dialogue. It was at this point in the 1 hour and 36 minute film that I realized it was the best way I could describe this tear-jerker (a Netflix original) that does not generate any tears it so badly wishes we in the audience will supply them.

For the record, the movie does tell us what will happen at the end of the film in the first few minutes (even before the credits role). Therefore, a SPOILER WARNING  as we find out right away that Abbie will have died by the end of the film. END SPOILER.

The film is narrated by Abbie, who has been dating Sam since she sunk her teeth into him on a field trip to the aquarium when they were about 8 years old. So….love at first bite? We learn off the bat that Sam and Abbie plan to be married, since they are about to get the final word from the doctor of what is almost assuredly Abbie being pregnant. Turns out, it is not a pregnancy, but a cancerous tumor.

Ok, I understand that people can face cancer in many different ways (I have seen my share of this with friends and family in my life). I say this because Abbie tries to take it with a smile, still trying desperately to be optimistic. What confuses me is how almost everyone else in the movie is doing the same thing. One such person is the nurse (Timothy Simons)  Abbie talks to while getting chemotherapy. The support group (where she meets Myron) is not much better, as leader Mitch (Steve Coogan) is trying to make all seem relaxed yet allowing members to speak their minds (and a lot of crocheting.)

The movie really goes downhill, though, when we learn what Abbie’s coping mechanism is: Try to find a right girl for Sam to be with after Abbie has died. Again, I understand that a lot of people have their own ways of dealing with tragedy like this, but I could not help thinking that this just seems too wrong and out-of-place. While I felt bad for most of the talented cast, none got more sympathy from me than Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She is truly a talented actor, in dire need of better material than this.

Parents, there is not anything too terrible here for kids middle school and up (besides the obvious melodrama). No real sexual content (aside from kissing in bed, but the characters are clothed). There is a good amount of swearing, however, including a few F bombs.

It is always refreshing to have great movies about romance sooth the hopeless romantic in me. That being said, I am confident I can think of a dozen films off the top of my head that make Irreplaceable You completely replaceable.

 

Overall: One and a Half Stars 1 1/2 *

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Cinema Paradiso

Young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) blooming into his love for film.

Recently, a good friend (and film critic) mentioned how every film goer has blind spots. In other words, certain movies just escape us and we miss them one way or another, unless we seek them out. That being said, I am still furious with my past self for not having seen the masterpiece Cinema Paradiso sooner. I can’t fathom how anyone would call themselves a movie lover and not want to see this film.

Set in present day (the movie came out in 1988, winning the Oscar for Foreign film), we meet Salvatore (Jacques Perrin), who has just been informed that a man he knows, Alfredo, has died. The funeral is tomorrow in his hometown, where he has not been for thirty years. In a series of flashbacks, the movie shows his life up to his decision to leave his home town and pursue his true passion: film.

As a child during World War two, young Salvatore (“Toto”) has one escape in his life of school: the local cinema. He soon befriends Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the protectionist, thought it is not easy. Toto learns the ins and outs, and then some.

Ok, you can get mad at me if you want, but I don’t want to give anything else away. All I knew about the movie (directed by Giuseppe Tornatore) going in was that it was about movies and was in subtitles. Sure, I felt I would get a lot of references, see some romance, and maybe even laugh a little. What I did not know was how moved I would be. Those who know me best know that it takes something special to make me cry (not just during movies). There was nothing to prepare me for the emotional impact that I was going to have at the end of this film, and what an impact! After spending so much time with Salvatore, seeing him grow up, learning life lessons, I guess the tears were inevitable. (It also does help when you have a majestic sweeping score by the hugely talented Ennio Morricone).

Parents, the version I saw was the PG version (a later, more mature version was released, unseen by me). The PG one had some swearing, thematic material, and sexual material (one movie being shown shows a woman’s bare back, and boys in the audience are clearly masturbating, though nothing is shown). I would say High School and above.

Like Singin’ in the Rain, Cinema Paradiso is one of the very best movies about movies. It shows one of the key elements of magic that movies have always possessed: the element of escapism.

Molto bello.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

“Whatever you do”, Alma (Vicky Krieps) says to Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), “do it carefully”.

 

About twenty minutes or so into Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Phantom Thread, I was remembering what Hitchcock said about the audience needing to be played “like a piano”. Of course, the fact that the musical score is nearly all piano helps, but this movie about a dress-maker is made with such care and precision that there is no better way to describe it.

Taking place in the post war era of 1950s London, we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dress-maker. He is beyond passionate to his work, showing artistry skills with dresses like Van Gogh did with colors. He runs his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) with a very firm but gentle hand, though it is clear he does better with dresses than he does those who wear them.

One day he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is smitten by more than just the dresses he makes her. She is a waitress, but is perfect at being a muse for Reynolds (“no one can stand still longer than I can”, she claims). When she moves in with him, it is clear that routine is essential to his daily life (even breakfast becomes a hassle).

I will not go on more with the story for fear of giving it away. I will say that (though this should not shock anyone) this is yet another film that reminds us how precious it is to have an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. His performances are not many (and has said this would be his last), but what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. We know how dedicated (which does not seem like a strong enough word) he gets into character. Even though his normal voice is english, his voice here seems so in character that it does not seem like his own. Props also should be given to Krieps, Manville, and the rest of the cast. To hold your own against DDL is something one should be proud of.

Like clothing, Anderson (who also did the cinematography) directs in such a delicate matter you feel bad if one stitch were to come undone. The beauty of the whole film also cannot be overstated. Every frame uses the lighting and shadow so well it is almost like an Edward Hopper painting.

Parents, the movie is a rather minor R rating. There is very minor nudity (seen through dresses), but none of it is sexual. There is swearing (mainly F bombs), but that is it. If your kids were to be interested, I would say mature middle schooler and above.

While I am holding against all hope that this is not the last time I will see him on the big screen, Daniel Day-Lewis does truly give a wonderful swan song. So great is his performance that I did wait till the end credits, just to see if he was also the costume designer.

While it was Mark Bridges who did the costumes, I still feel like DDL helped in some way.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

All the Money in the World (2017)

All the Money in the World

Gail (Michelle Williams), won’t let family troubles stop her from getting her son back.

It is impossible to talk about All the Money in the World without mentioning how the movie almost never happened. While the movie is far from perfect, I find all who made the film (mainly director Ridley Scott and star Christopher Plummer) deserve a load of respect.

The film tells the true story of how a teenager named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was kidnapped and held for ransom until his family paid a vast sum of money. He still lives with is divorced mom Gail (Michelle Williams), but it is on his father’s (Andrew Buchan) where the money is. The teen’s grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, who is not related to the younger Plummer in real life), is an oil magnate, and is one of the richest in the world (if not the richest). He refuses to pay the ransom, basically giving off a vibe that would make the Grinch look like Gandhi. Gail is helped out with a co-worker of her father in law, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg).

 

Of course, it is the making of this movie that has been the stuff of fascination. The original actor who was to play the elder Getty was Kevin Spacey. However, after reports surfaced of his many past acts of sexual misconduct, Ridley Scott cut out all of his scenes, and replaced him with Plummer (not to mention bringing back Wahlberg and Williams for reshoots), and finished in a week (with a few weeks before the film was to be released). This is not the first time Ridley Scott has had to do something of this magnitude: 2000’s Gladiator was in trouble when a few scenes were still needed after the death of star Oliver Reed.

 

The original trailer with Spacey is still online, though Scott has said he does not plan on releasing the Spacey version. It was said that Spacey’s portrayal was more dark and sinister than Plummer’s, but I for one thought it was better the less evil Plummer appeared. Of course, we cannot root for this sinister man with all his cash, yet the veteran Plummer still gives him plenty of charm that makes us realize how he got rich in the first place. It is great acting.

 

Parents, the movie is R, mainly for swearing and violence (particularly one graphic scene). There is no real sex or nudity, so I would say High School and above.

 

Had the movie not been stained with the Spacey reports, perhaps we could have watched the movie for what it is, and not for what happened off camera. I personally would like to see the Spacey version, only to compare what might have been. Of course, no amount of money will allow me to see that.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing

The smaller the person, the bigger the life….

How great is the concept of Downsizing. If only the film makers had taken it to a better destination…

The movie starts with scientists in Norway finding out how to successfully shrink organic matter. Flash forward ten years or so (I admit I lost track because the movie has way too much flash forwards), and we meet Paul Safranek (Matt Damon). He and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) are having money issues galore. After having a talk with a former classmate (Jason Sudeikis), they decide to downsize, both literally and financially (all of their money would translate to much bigger figures).

During the process, Paul wakes up five inches short, but Audrey has backed out at the last-minute, meaning it will truly be a new life for Paul. A year later passes (again, too much flash forwarding), and we see Paul has met some new people in his life, like his upstairs neighbor (Christoph Waltz), who is a party animal. One day after the party, he meets a popular celebrity named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who shows him how much more is happening in Paul’s new world.

The movie does have amazing visuals, and great story elements about how we are able to change our lives, but the movie goes far into left field during the third act when they travel to Norway. I won’t give anything away, except to say that you will seriously find yourself scratching your head.

Still, the movie does have its good parts. All of the cast (including some cameos) have their share of fun. The main stand out though is Hong Chau, who goes far beyond playing a stereotypical asian women. She is simply playing a strong-willed (understatement) women who fights for what is right, regardless of her situation. Yet there is still fear beneath her tough exterior. It is ravishing work for her as an actor.

Parents, the movie is rated R for two main reasons: Swearing and Nudity. While the nudity is not sexual (it is shown mainly during the shrinking process), the swearing does creep in (especially toward the end, in a monologue that brought me to unexpected laughter). I would say High School and above (maybe very mature middle schoolers).

Alexander Payne (who directed and helped write the film) no doubt had a script that could have been far better, and I admit I am disappointed a bit with the film. It does add it a little too much stuff (it does clock in at two and a half hours).

Ironically, maybe the script should have downsized.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call me by your name

A “truce” is made between Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer)

It is truly risky to make a movie like Call Me by Your Name, especially in a year of talks of sexual misconduct coming out of Hollywood (as well as politics). Yet for the most part, the movie still seems to work.

If you have not heard of the movie, it tells the story of a seventeen year old boy named Elio (Timothee Chalamet) as he spends one summer in 1983 in his family’s villa in northern Italy. An only child, he spends most of his summer writing his own music, hanging with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), swimming, and going out at night. He also will help his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of ancient roman history (I believe), on occasion. All this changes when a college graduate comes in to assist his father. He is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a kind-hearted young man who eventually forms a relationship with young Elio.

It is clear the film will not be for everyone, as Elio and Oliver do have more than one times where they are intimate. It should be noted that the story (based off of a book by Andre Aciman, who also has a cameo) does take place in Italy, where the age of consent is lower than in America.

One thing no one will find controversial is the acting. After a memorable role in this year’s Lady Bird, it is safe to say that Chalamet is clearly making a name for himself, and shows range, poise, and vunerability unseen by most young actors. Hammer of course is affective as Oliver, but the one perhaps most perfectly cast is Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father. His is the type of Professor you would want to have in college, and even some attributes you would want in a father (he was also in this year’s The Shape of Water).]

My issue with the film is how it was presented. Though the director, Luca Guadagnino, does a fine job overall, the audience seems to be thrown into this situation, without exactly having a character we can see a point of view from. I would argue if we had seen this more from Elio’s perspective, the movie would have been a whole lot better.

Parents, you should not be surprised: this is not a movie for kids at all. There is strong sexual material, nudity (including female), and some swearing. The R rating is more than appropriate.

Another thing the movie gets right is the landscape of Italy, a country I have always wanted to visit at least once. If you add in the stellar acting and emotion to the immaculate imagery of the scenes, it is clear why Call Me by Your Name is getting all the praise it deserves.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Florida Project (2017)

The Florida Project

Bobby (Willem Dafoe) trying to have a talk with Monee (Brooklynn Prince).

There was a time in my childhood where there was a five year stretch (give or take) that I was blessed to be able to go to Disney World (the last time was a Marching Band trip in my freshman year of High School back in 2003). It has been some time, though I now have a different reason to revisit the theme parks besides new rides and additions.

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project explores the world outside of the walls of the Disney attractions of the state, a world I for one never had an inkling existed. The film shows this universe through the eyes of a six year old girl named Monee (Brooklynn Price, a stunning young actor). She lives in poverty with her mom Halley (an equally impressive Bria Vinaite). There is no explanation as to how they got into their current situation, nor a need to. The film’s plot is rather loose, but that is what is great about it: It seems like a total slice of life.

Indeed, I would have thought the film was a documentary if it wasn’t for one familiar face: veteran actor Willem Dafoe. He plays Bobby, the manager of the hotel that they mom and daughter stay at. He is all business, making sure all follow the rules, but he is also down to earth. The type of guy you know you can talk to when he is in a good mood, and even okay with occasionally letting the kids eat ice cream inside (provided it does not spill) and letting his desk be available for hide and seek. It also helps that he does look out for kids, especially in one scene where he fends off a certain suspicious character. You can sense Bobby is doing it not because of business, but because he does have a good heart. Certainly a turn from darker characters we have seen Dafoe play in the past. Expect to see him in the Oscar nominees this year for Supporting Actor (he may even win).

Parents, the movie is R for swearing and some sexual material (the only real nudity occurs when Bobby is telling a patron that she cannot tan in the nude). There is a lot of swearing (many from the kids) and thematic elements. Definitely High School and above.

Originally, I was going to say the film’s main flaw is that it doesn’t have much of a plot, but the more I think of it, the more that is not a flaw at all. Like 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Florida Project is about life in a place that we never see mentioned in daily life, and is both easy to miss yet still easy to access. I won’t give away the ending of the film, except that it is perfect, mainly for the characters we see in the last shot. Truly one of the year’s best films.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2