Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Strong Female Characters

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the conversation by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

What a topic! And since it was planned a year (or so) ago, there was no telling then just how timely it would be, so kudos to Wanderer for her foresight! But it begs the question: What IS a "strong female character"? Is it a well-rounded, real-feeling character, as opposed to a one-dimensional caricature or one-note "supportive" wife/mother/girlfriend - someone who has their own agency and makes their own decisions? Or is it more literal, a female character who displays strength of character, whether mental or physical? For me, it's the former moreso than the latter. And since we are in such a timely place with this topic, I've decided to go full-on current. Thursday Movie Picks: 2017 Edition.

Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, 2017) Florence Pugh gives a magnificent, star-is-born performance as the title character in this austere tale of a woman scorned. Katherine is married off to an unfeeling, uncaring husband who would rather jerk off looking at her backside against a wall than make love to her, and insists that she stay indoors despite her love of the moors. But though she was bought/sold like property, Katherine is a person with needs and desires, and one day she ventures out and happens upon the farmhands abusing her maid Anna. She feels an instant attraction to the newest farmhand, Sebastian, and before you know it, the two of them are having a full-blown affair. I won't give away any of what happens after that, but suffice it to say this gives Katherine a form of strength and autonomy that makes her resent her lot in life even more, and takes steps to live a life of her own making. The film grapples with what it means to be strong woman, and asks an interesting question: At what point in asserting oneself does a person become a danger to those around them? It's the tensest movie of the year, keeping me on the edge of my seat for the entire back half - and occasionally eliciting laughter that it then made me regret not so much as a minute later. Lady Macbeth is brilliant.

Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, 2017) A strong woman in every sense of the word, Lorraine Broughton is the best spy MI-6 has to offer. And her latest assignment in Berlin just before the fall of the wall will put her to the test. Charlize Theron literally kicks ALL THE ASS in the biggest and best shoulda-been blockbuster of the year. The moment New Order's "Blue Monday" kicked in on the soundtrack in the opening scene, I was sold. Atomic Blonde is smart, stylish, and super sexy... a total blast that I can't wait to watch again. Read more in my full review here.

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017) If we had to wait this long for a Wonder Woman movie just to get Gal Gadot as the lead, then the wait was well worth it - Gadot is a PERFECT Wonder Woman, and she's perfectly matched with Chris Pine as the male romantic lead. And the film gains so much from its World War I setting (that no man's land scene is undeniably, impossibly righteous). So it's a shame about the last act, when it becomes an utterly average, disappointingly standard superhero movie. While I admire that the film ends up making the Big Bad (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) a pragmatic politician, I don't think that decision ultimately works as well as it could have. But none of that matters so much in the face of the woman at this movie's center. Diana "Prince" is a strong woman, no doubt about it, but it isn't until she's able to embrace potential weakness (in both herself and others) that she becomes her best self. And that's kind of beautiful.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Adaptations You'd Most Like To See

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can participate - the more the merrier! - by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're talking about adaptations we'd most like to see. I decided to stick with novels for the time being, because if I expanded to plays and musicals, we'd be here for WEEKS. To be honest, there aren't many pre-existing properties that I'm dying to see film adaptations of, mostly because the ones I do seem to inevitably get film versions. Just like...

Ready Player One (novel, Ernest Cline) Despite the slightly dodgy looking trailer, I CAN. NOT. WAIT. for this. The Dungeons & Dragons-meets-Willy Wonka by way of The Matrix storyline is a near-perfect fit for director Steven Spielberg, and Cline's world is so thrilling that when I finished the last page of this, I immediately turned it over and started again.

The Thursday Next Series (novels, Jasper Fforde) Almost too literary to ever be attempted as a film series, Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair follows intrepid Literary Detective Thursday Next into the pages of Jane Eyre (quite literally) to find Jane herself, who has been (quite literally) stolen from the pages of her own novel. Deliriously dizzy with love of the written word and full of boundless imagination, there are so many clever, fun touches in these books that would be pure joy to see on the screen. And the twist to classic novels would be a delight as well.

House of Leaves (novel, Mark Z. Danielewski) Nearly impossible to describe, this Russian nesting doll of a novel involves at least three narratives running both concurrently and on completely separate timelines. The bulk of it - and the part I would most kill to see filmed - is a scholarly dissertation on a possibly non-existent documentary by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson, that documents what happens after Navidson moves his family into a beautiful new house in Virginia only to one day find an extra door that leads to hallway where previously there was none, and subsequently discovers that the house measures one-quarter of an inch longer on the inside than it does on the outside. While the novel as a whole is decidedly unfilmable, going off on tangents within tangents (and footnotes within footnotes) and adopting many techniques to make the reading of the book itself feel more cinematic, I would LOVE to see some intrepid filmmaker attempt to film "The Navidson Record" as described in the text, especially if they could effectively build it up as a Blair Witch Project-style "this really happened" narrative... which I admit is practically impossible.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - A Stranger

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme, and writing a bit about them.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Thursday programming.

October was a crazy month for me. I'm glad it's all over and that my life and schedule is back to normal. I look forward to talking more movies with everybody!

SO. To the matter at hand! Strangers can be mysterious or friendly, but generally speaking, in movies they're bad news. Whether as harbingers of things to come or an interloper who completely upends everything around them, you pretty much don't want to run into anyone unknown if you're in a movie.

Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968) Terence Stamp is the living embodiment of desire as a character known only as "The Visitor", who comes to a bourgeois Italian household and disrupts their lives. Mostly by having sex with them, and then leaving. But even that description doesn't really do a good job of describing this movie, which is much stranger and more alienating than it sounds. It's a completely singular experience.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016) A young woman has broken up with her fiancée on the eve of a massive, near-extinction-level event. While driving away, she gets into a car accident, and when she wakes up, she finds herself chained up in an underground bunker. The man who has chained her up, Howard, insists that he's saved her from whatever happened outside, but she's not so sure. Who's the real bad guy here? Why can't we all just get along? Billed as a "spiritual sequel" to the "found footage" monster flick Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane starts out as a great littler thriller/character study, but the last act throws that all out the window in favor of positioning itself as the second film in a franchise. It ALMOST completely ruins the movie, but thanks to the terrific performances of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, this is still plenty of fun. BUT SERIOUSLY, if you didn't see that ending coming from the second you saw the trailer for this, I don't even know what to do with you.

Cléo de 5 à 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962) Pop singer Cléo has had a cancer scare, and is waiting for the results of a test to tell her whether or not she has it. That's it. That's the whole movie. But, oh, what a movie Agnes Varda spins from such a simple premise! It's a beautiful, lyrical piece on how to appreciate every little thing around you. But why do I include it here, you may ask? Well, that would be because Cléo isn't truly able to process her feelings about her pending diagnosis until she meets a stranger, a soldier on leave from the Algerian War. It is only in meeting this man that she is able to appreciate life for what it truly is. Sometimes, a stranger comes along right when we need them - an impartial observer who can force us to see ourselves from a different, life-changing perspective.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Horror

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Halloween is drawing ever closer, and it's FINALLY starting to feel like Autumn here in NYC. Autumn is my favorite season, so this makes me sigh a great sigh of relief. Summer weather has just lasted WAY too long this year. There's now a slight breeze and chill in the air that I just love. It also means that every TV show is now trying to be a little bit spooky. Which is fine by me. Horror is easier to take in smaller doses, so I generally like horror TV shows a bit more than I do horror movies. The three below are two of my all-time favorites and one show that, frankly, should be so much better than it is, but is often still pretty good anyway.

The X-Files (1993-2002) It's true, classifying The X-Files as horror does it a bit of a disservice. After all, in its heyday, it could be just about anything from week to week. But there was usually an element of the scary, or at the very least the creepy, and the creepy-crawlies made multiple appearances. The basic premise is simple: Two FBI agents comprise in the bureau's "weird cases" division, one of whom is a true believer in aliens and the supernatural and one of whom is a scientist who is naturally skeptical of such things. But creator Chris Carter did so much more with it than that, creating a longer-term story arc deemed "the mythology" that had more influence on the state of TV programs today than most will admit. It's taken for granted now that the best episodes of the show were the "monster of the week"-style episodes, and the episodes focused on the "mythology" arc were lesser, but at the time, this was ALL truly thrilling stuff. On a personal level, The X-Files was basically my introduction to the horror genre. It was my mom's favorite show (next to ER), and when my sister and I reached the age when we were allowed to stay up late on Sundays to watch it, we were excited - we finally felt like grown-ups!
Favorite Episodes: "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man", "The Post-Modern Prometheus", "Triangle", "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) Yet another show that it feels like a disservice to reduce to being a "horror" show, as well as another show that had more influence on today's TV shows than most are willing to admit, Buffy was basically my favorite show in high school. The story of a teenager who is the latest in a long line of Vampire Slayers - "chosen" ones who have been called by fate to fight the undead (and other monsters), her friends (and a frenemy or two), and her "Watcher" (her high school librarian, natch)... and the hunky vampire with a soul Angel. Creator Joss Whedon's stroke of brilliance to have Sunnydale High School literally sitting on top of a Hell Mouth (exactly what it sounds like) and use the demons as metaphors for the vagaries of teenage life is what allows the show to endure, but the show's whip-smart, ultra-quotable dialogue is what made it a huge hit among the teens of the '90s.
Favorite Episodes: "Doppelgangland", "Hush", "Restless", "The Body", "Once More With Feeling"

American Horror Story (2011-Present) Ryan Murphy's grand guignol anthology series is SO hit-or-miss, but at its best (unquestionably the second season, Asylum), it has a truly terrifying anything-could-happen brazenness that makes it required viewing. Given that each season is its own complete story, you an skip the seasons that don't seem like your thing. In addition to the aforementioned Asylum (in which Sarah Paulson's lesbian journalist commits herself to Jessica Lange's Catholic nun-run asylum for a career-making scoop), the best seasons are the first (Murder House, in which Dylan McDermott's psychiatrist and his wife Connie Britton move to the titular house in LA after a bout of infidelity on his part, only to find out it's haunted - by busybody next-door neighbor Jessica Lange as well as by ghosts both friendly and malevolent), and probably the absolutely demented sixth season, Roanoke (a "true crime"-style show within the show about a couple who move to a renovated home in the backwoods of North Carolina, supposedly on the spot where the infamous Roanoke Colony moved after its sudden disappearance). The third season, Coven, is wildly uneven and terribly scripted despite some entertaining performances; the fourth, Freak Show, is a wasted opportunity; and the fifth, Hotel is a gorgeous slog. American Horror Story is not a show that very much cares for silly things like logic and consistency, but in its best moments, that doesn't matter.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Halloween Edition: Body Horror

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Come play with us! All you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them.

Yes, it's true! At long last I have returned to the land of the living, having finally recovered from the big apartment move. I was so exhausted the past couple of weeks that I don't know how i managed to stay awake most days, but I'm finally all moved in and unpacked in my new place (save for some books that need a place to go - I have so much more space I don't know what to do with it!), and it feels GREAT! I love my new apartment something fierce and I'm so glad to be getting back to "regular life" stuff like my blog.

And speaking of moving into a new place and taking up residence there: BODY HORROR. This week's Thursday Movie Picks theme. I'll be honest. Body horror isn't really my thing. I don't do well with creepy crawlies and gore. That being said, there are some movies that I LOVE that do kinda fall into this horror subgenre. Bear with me, as you consider....

Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014) If you've seen this, you know exactly why it's here. If not, you may be confused as to how a movie about an alien with Scarlett Johansson's body seducing men for unknown nefarious purposes fits into body horror. Well, except for one scene, it's mostly subtext. What plot there is in Under The Skin concerns itself with, more than anything, this alien creature coming to grips with her outer shell of a body and what it means to be human. But this is NOT a movie that is very concerned with such silly things as "plot" - Glazer is more concerned with images and what they can do, how they can tell a story with only the barest bones of dialogue. Make no mistake: This is a slow burn of a slow burn movie, but it is so utterly hypnotizing that it remains one of my favorite theater-going experiences. If the gorgeous, frame-worthy images don't draw you in, then Mica Levi's haunting experimental score will. Under the Skin, especially that score, burrowed its way deep into my subconscious on first viewing, and has yet to make its way out. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007) You know all those stories about how mothers find superhuman strength when their babies are in danger? Well, what if a teenage Christian abstinence group spokesperson did something similar when a man tried to get near her lady parts? Well, that's what happens to Dawn (a star-making performance from Jess Weixler) - after a friend tries to rape her, her vagina sprouts teeth and... well... you can guess what happens from there. This black-as-pitch comedy follows Dawn's journey to owning her womanhood in a new, exciting way. It's kinda gross, kinda scary, and pretty damn funny - a true underseen gem.

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) If you don't think this falls under body horror, then you've never been a dancer. By now, I'm sure you know the plot: Technically proficient but emotionally stunted dancer Nina (Natalie Portman in an Oscar-winning performance) wins the coveted lead role in her ballet company's production of Swan Lake. She perfectly embodies the virginal white swan, but has trouble with the more aggressive, sexual black swan, and her anxiety manifests in increasingly baroque, scary ways, especially after free-spirited company member Lily (Mila Kunis, perfectly cast) is made her alternate. A psychosexual thriller set in the ballet world starring Natalie Portman and directed by Darren Aronofsky... and with Barbara Hershey as Nina's terrifying stage mother? Yes, this movie was clearly made in a lab just for me, and this is one of very few movies that surpassed my impossible-to-keep-down expectations. The entire thing is ingeniously shot, edited, and scored, with tremendous performances from everyone. Yes, my friends, Black Swan is, in a word, "perfect."

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Family

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our lovely little blogging family by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

Well, it's that time of year again, the High Holidays, busy times spent with family celebrating and eating and singing and eating and fasting and eating... and on top of that, I'M MOVING! So to say I've been busy as all hell this past month would be an understatement.

All of which is to say, this will be a bit of a double week here, because last week, I would have picked the following Just Not Funny Comedies:

Old School (Todd Phillips, 2003)

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)

Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008)

Sorry, guys. I could barely do Will Ferrell on SNL.

And now that that's out of the way and I feel all caught up, let's get to the task at hand: TV Families. I'm going back in time a bit for my first pick, but if you haven't seen any of this classic sitcom, you owe it to yourself to watch. As for the others, if you're not watching... why the heck not?

All in the Family (1971-1979) The Bunkers are the most well-drawn sitcom family in TV history. everyone can see themselves and their family members in them, which is one of the reasons why the show was able to tackle so many social issues so effectively. Personally, my grandparents are practically dead ringers for Archie and Edith - he a loud-mouthed casual bigot of the working class, she a doting, slightly dotty near-martyr who just wants everyone to be happy. Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton brilliantly make both characters so much more than stereotypes, and Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner match them perfectly as their modern daughter and her "meathead" of a husband. Nearly every episode is a perfect one-act play, but none is better, or more famous, than the one where Sammy Davis, Jr. drops in and plants one on Archie.

Jane the Virgin (2014-Present) The Villanueva women are my favorite current TV family, for how grounded they are despite all the crazy going on around them. What crazy, you ask? Well, for starters, young Jane - the virgin of the title - gets accidentally artificially inseminated with her doctor's brother's sperm, and decides to have the baby. And things only get more telenovelistic from there, with ruthless crime lords, mistaken identities, secret twins, forced comas, love triangles, baby snatching, fantasy sequences, and marriages both fake and real becoming plot points. But through it all, Jane, her mother Xiomara, and abuela Alba (and her biological father, telenovela superstar and perfect comic creation Rogelio de la Vega) are always there for each other, to provide support and remind of what is truly important in life. Jane the Virgin balances wildly divergent tones better than any show currently on the air, with wacky comedy, soapy plot developments, and heartfelt tear-jerking all living side by side in perfect harmony. Gina Rodriguez is absolutely luminous as Jane, and deservedly won the Golden Globe for her performance in the first season, giving a beautifully memorable speech in the process.

One Day at a Time (2017-Present) I just started watching this VERY loose remake of the classic Norman Lear sitcom on Netflix, and totally fell in love with the Alvarez family. Nurse and Army vet Penelope is newly divorced and raising her two teenage children with her very Catholic Cuban mother (Rita Moreno, proving that Betty White isn't the only octogenarian legend who's still got it) while dealing with a little bit of PTSD (and other timely issues). While the situation only bears the slightest resemblance to the show on which it's based, the scripts all feel like they are from that era of socially-conscious Norman Lear megahits (like All in the Family), equal parts humor and heart.

BONUS

My other favorite TV family, but I couldn't pick the show because it was really just a recurring sketch on the Carol Burnett Show (yes, there was Mama's Family, but that was NOT the same).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Financial World


Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can participate too - just pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them!

Drive by, quick-and-dirty style this week.

Something tells me the financial sector would approve.

Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) Don't let the magical nanny and Dick Van Dyke's broader than broad cockney accent fool you. This movie is really about one banker's slow realization that there are more important things than money and business. Watch it again and tell me I'm wrong.

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000) One of the decade's defining movies, so of course it's a psychological thriller about the '80s starring Christian Bale and directed by a woman who puts most men to shame for how far she's willing to go and for sheer filmmaking prowess.

The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015) Zippy, quippy, star-studded jaunt through the 2008 financial meltdown that is probably more fun than it has any right to be. But afterwards, I remember the flashy sequences for their flashiness more than the information they were actually trying to impart.