Mary Don’t You Weep

With the litany of production credits that trails at the end of the “new” Aretha Franklin film Amazing Grace, it is an astonishing miracle that the film exists as it does, completely unadulterated. There is a brief text crawl that introduces the film, explaining why this rare and exceptional performance occurred, and then you are allowed to simply watch. There are no self-aggrandizing interviews, such as in The Last Waltz, for example. Nobody talks about what’s happening or attempts to shine light on the events. You just get to watch. And that is wonderful.

Franklin is brilliant as expected, but you’re also treated to one of the finest call-and-response partners there is, James Cleveland; not to mention the Southern California Community Choir. As Mr. Cleveland points out to the audience at one point, the project could have just been another studio effort by Franklin, but that the point of recording at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church is to get audience reaction on the record, as well.

And hey. Mick Jagger and his friend Charlie Watts are in the audience as well. Because of course they are.

The film, captured on 16 mm film by filmmaker Sydney Pollack, could not originally be released because of a technical screw-up that prevented audio synchronization. Later techniques fixed this problem, but, I was sad to learn, Franklin sued to keep it from being screened. That’s a shame because it’s a film that shows her as a mighty powerful presence.

Amazing Grace is a joy for a music nerd like me. The only problems I had with it are that it made me want so badly to be in the room and that made this non-believer want to find a black Baptist church and sign up. Have you ever been to one of those services? I have. One of those might make Bob Ingersoll a believer.

Seriously, though: Amazing Grace is one of those things you will regret not having seen in the theater. It is a beautiful document, treated carefully and honorably by its caretakers. What a wonderful thing to get to experience.

On The Basis of Sects

“Well, if that’s how you think you want to spend your time.” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s initial response to her nephew Daniel Stiepleman when he pitched her the idea of making a movie based on the first case she ever argued with her late husband Marty)

So, Sunday my Uncle Hat and I saw a movie. He is here for family business and also for a bit of fun here in Rochester New York. And there are some movies he ain’t seen. So we have been going to some movies.

Today we saw On The Basis Of Sex, the new biopic of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Enjoyed it well. I am glad to note that RBG herself finds the portrayal to be mostly accurate, largely because she was profoundly involved in the project. And it is a fine film, though I did find myself going over the laundry list that most biopics seem obligated to tick off. This film does everything you anticipate it to do. Here’s her first day at Harvard, where the professor calls on two men before being placed into a force to call on Ginsburg, whose answer is far superior. Here’s her fighting with the chauvinistic dean. Here’s how she found her landmark case. Blah blah blah. Check, check, check.

Fortunately, this movie does it well. Really well. No Oscar love for this thing–not even Original Screenplay, Academy? Really? Oh, well. Perhaps there’s too much RBG power in the nominations with the two nominations of the documentary of that particular honorific. But it is a fine film. A little rote, but well done.

Anyways, since I’m writing movies today, let’s for my own reference most of all list all the Oscar-nominated films I’ve seen…and, go: A Star Is Born, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Vice.

Wow. I’ve really got some work to do.

Solo and The Favourite

I finally watched Solo: A Star Wars Story last night, and I’m utterly annoyed that I didn’t go see it in the theater. I had avoided it because

  1. General disappointment in the direction taken in The Last Jedi
  2. Not really feeling the need to have Han Solo’s background story fed to me with a spoon

That it was somewhat acclaimed critically but considered a failure at the box office didn’t help lure me, either. However, I watched the thing this past weekend, and it’s good! It hits your fan service bone just enough, it offers a fine story with familiar elements, and it manages to be a groovy heist pic as well. It’s so enjoyable, I’ve already made plans to watch it with Dear Old Dad this weekend. Yes, I shall watch it again.

We also managed to trek out to see The Favourite. This is a period piece in the court of Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702 to 1714. Here. I cribbed this bit of history from the Vox review (cuz Dad and I were wondering…):

Anne was queen when the Acts of Union were signed and England and Scotland were united to form Great Britain. She also ruled during the War of the Spanish Succession, and waged war with France in North America for control of the continent, in what would become known as Queen Anne’s War.

Not that this is what the film is about. No, The Favourite is a power struggle, and it is, above all, Breaking Bad set to Bach. Mr. Chips to Scarface. It incorporates ribald and often dark comedy and employs it effectively.

It also has a final scene that might be offputting. I’ve seen commented that the ending felt incomplete. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The symbolism used here isn’t hinting anything, and I’d like to take a moment to perhaps clarify.

Spoiler ahead. You’ve been warned. Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know how The Favourite ends.


Abigail in one moment feels buoyed, triumphant, powerful, and, sadly, cruel. She sets her foot upon one of the Queen’s rabbits, threatening its suffocation.

In a few moments, she finds herself kneeling beneath Queen Anne, providing her relief while the Queen is fully leaning upon Abigail. This is the last scene of the film. This is how it ends.

Many might find this ending unsettlingly murky. However, this ending offers a meaning I found to be crystal clear: Abigail is trapped. She is as trapped as one of the Queen’s rabbits and will similarly spend the rest of her life caged. Just as she held that bunny under her foot, she is to be held underfoot of the Queen. The power and the freedom she felt she’d achieved were illusory.

It’s bleak, but it’s all there.


Hope that helps.

Widows

Steve McQueen does not think his audience is stupid. 

In fact, the dude gives his audience great credit. He does not invest much in exposition. He trusts that you will do some of the lifting in his attempt to deliver a story, and he does this like few directors can. 

For instance: There is a scene in McQueen’s heist caper movie Widows that is so smart and so laden with story detail and, simultaneously, social commentary that it has more potency per tablespoon than cinnamon. And it just involves this car driving while two people sit inside the car and argue. 

When the scene begins, it’s weird because the camera is kept outside of the car the whole time, mainly shooting the landscape of some city blocks over the driver’s part of the windshield. The shot lasts long enough that you become conscious of it and begin to wonder why the director is doing it. 

And then you realize why, and it is an astonishing realization. Because it tells you everything you need to know about the politician inside the car, of his likely expected entitlement, of his legacy, of the distance he can set between him and his constituency and still expect to be elected. That scene delivers the essence of Jack Mulligan’s character, and in fact explains the larger political context generally, and it does not draw a diagram for you to get there. 

And while a heist film like Ocean’s Eight earlier this year was marketed as “hey this is like the Ocean’s movies, but with broads, isn’t that great and progressive and shit?” all that movie did was make a heist movie that was about the heist and replaced the dudes with women. Widows is not about the heist. It’s about the characters, specifically, Veronica, Linda, Alice, and, later, Belle. Their motivations are more urgent than those of Deb Ocean’s petty little revenge quest:  As widows of thieves, they are being pinched by some bad hambres for the money. And these characters, and these actors who play them, they rise to that challenge. 

McQueen’s pacing is dangerous, but effective, as it was in 12 Years a Slave. His story (or perhaps the story of Jayhawk and co-writer here Gillian Flynn) forges the most unlikely of alliances or, perhaps, friendships. And this heist film is not about the heist–in fact, were it not for a few twists at the end there, the heist itself would seem anticlimactic. This is, in my opinion, a feature, not a bug, in the movie Widows

So this ain’t your normal heist flick. What it is, kids, is what an artist does. Happy little clouds. All struck up on the canvas that moves. What a perfect movie. 

In Other News

  • Aaron found the “drop cap” button.

Bohemian Masterpiece

If you like joy, you should go see the film Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie theater. Likewise, if you like masterful acting. Or music. Or Queen. Or if you remember what you were doing when you witnessed Live Aid. Or, if you’d just like to see a really great movie.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the film, will satisfy all of these checkboxes, and more. It is, certainly, the best film I have seen this year and the best I expect to see. It is my favorite cinema experience since the brilliant Dunkirk.

I ain’t the only one. While the thing currently has a score of 64 on Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 94 audience score there. Critics are enjoying dissecting this movie, but audiences are simply * enjoying * this movie.

Yeah, but they got stuff wrong, critics are saying. Freddie didn’t have the studly mustache look until 198x, they says. They didn’t have to coax Geldhoff into them doing Live Aid, he had to coax them, and it wasn’t because of that, it was because of this, they says. And how about that stuff where Princess Leia floats through space like Mary Poppins, they says.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Rami Malek is reason enough to see this thing. It’s like he invites Freddy Mercury to live in him for a while. If he isn’t holding at least one tall bald trophy sometime next year for this, I’ll be more surprised than I was on Nov. 8, 2016.

The best of this movie is its ending, which is essentially a strut-by-strut re-enactment of the band’s Live Aid performance. This is some of the best faux rock performance footage since Purple Rain. Val Kilmer was a good Jim Morrison, but this kid from Mr. Robot is a great Freddy Mercury, accurate down to the hair on his forearms.

Holy crap I may just have to start watching Mr. Robot.

Among pop-music-group-bipopics, this is the best I have ever seen. Does it contain ever dull pop-music-group-biopic trope? Oh, yes. But it does ever single one better than any other. I say they might as well stop making pop-music-group-biopics now. (Sorry, Michael Hutchence.)

It doesn’t hurt that the source material is Freddy Mercury, one of the most powerful presences ever in rock-n-roll, and Queen generally, one of the most bodacious bands in rock-n-roll. I remember the first time I heard “We Will Rock You.”

Do you?

If you do, it was probably one of those moments, like the first time a girl blows in your ear, or your first gyro, but like, louder and with harmony. I mean, all it is is a powerful stomping percussion with a choir and a fantastic guitar solo. This was a less-is-more first I think that was later extrapolated buy guys like Prince (see “Kiss”).

For me, Queen was one of those musical revelations that kneaded my brain at a formative age. One of the first. One of many to follow.

And many reviews have somehow taken exception with how the film handles Freddy’s (homo)sexuality. How would they like the movie to portray this? Freddy was out and FABULOUS? He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. He lived under the same oppressive nonsense that made millions of others just as isolated as he was, an isolation that ended up drowning him to death via AIDS, a public health epidemic treated by our powers that be at the time as a modern-day leprosy rather than as a health crisis that required recognition and action.

Or did you forget all that?

Anyways. Of all things, this film is a fine, suitable tribute to one of the most powerful performers in rock. It is a joy, a sustainable, uncontainable joy.

Do you like joy?

A Star Is Boring

A relative unknown female vocalist whose physical image is not exactly “typical” but whose sheer talent has lately garnered her more attention. She then appears on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and boosts her profile considerably. Soon, she earns several Grammy nominations. She takes home “Best New Artist.”

If you have recently seen Bradley Cooper’s reboot of the cinema classic A Star Is Born, you probably think I have just summarized the film, leaving some bits out, of course.

Also, I have just summarized Adele’s actual career.

I think that’s one place where this film struck me as feeling awkward. Adele’s actual story would have been more interesting. Because “Ally” in Star sadly shorts her own talent and chooses a song for her SNL debut that marvels at how a person’s jeans make they ass look. As I recall, and, I’m sorry, the comparison for me anyway is inevitable, Adele’s performances of “Chasing Pavements” and “Cold Shoulder” were a revelation in their very quality. Real music on SNL for a change. That was interesting, and I felt that seeing Ally fight for her artistic relevance would have been interesting, too. Not this one. This one’s only objection to selling out was that she didn’t want to dye her hair blonde.

(SPOILER: She settles on light auburn.)

[WEIRD: Was this choice a hat-tip to Adele?]

I think though the trouble I had with this film is the same problem I have with Gaga. I like her. I’m probably a bit in love with her, because, who isn’t? And I’ve seen and heard performances by her that have blown me away, such as, for example, when she went toe to toe with James Hetfield at the 59th Grammys, and again, for example, in her first performance in Star, which sadly indicates they should have been remaking Cabaret instead. Seriously, I’d go see this film again just to watch her do that one more time, then I’d leave. It’s that astonishing a performance.

That’s how good she can be. But the essential problem is that I like her as a performer and as a personality generally.

I just really hate her music.

That’s a problem in a musical.

I have trouble believing the same artist(s) who performed “Shallow” later debuts on national television with “Why Did You Do That?” (Lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? | Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? | You’re making all my thoughts obscene | This is not, not like me) Call me naive, but I cannot reconcile those two artists nor those performances, nor those with the typical Gaga piano-belters later in the film, generally performances I find so self-absorbed they have certainly been composed of half water and half paper towel.

(That’s a Dennis Miller joke.)

[I recognize that that the callipygian tribute was probably a “statement” of some kind regarding the current state of the music “industry.” I just don’t agree that it worked.]

I have never seen previous iterations of this for-some-reason Hollywood perennial, so I cannot compare it to them. I can compare it to one of the best movie musicals I have ever seen: Once. The film itself is worth seeing, but its greatest strength as a musical is that the music never fails.

I didn’t think the music in Star A) was good or B) made sense.

I am probably a rare one, though, because the theater was packed, and the young lady sitting next to me was bawling her eyes out.

Some September Movies…

Amazon Prime Video
Bandits (2001) (Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis star in this underrated heist flick.)
Chinatown (1974)
Ghostbusters (1984) Also, Ghostbusters II.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Sony Crackle
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1997)

Neflix
The Breakfast Club (1985)

Source: TV Guide

Thoroubreds
American Animals
Tully
Director’s Cut
Please Stand By
First Man
White Boy Rick

Red Sparrow

~ Gloomy landscape shots!
~ Joe Thiseman level leg-breaking shot!
~ Brutal beating of two people who are banging in a schvitz!
~ See Jennifer Lawrence offer her goodies to a dude! Also boobies!
~ Bloody torture scene! Creative use of skin grafting scraper thingie.
~ Lots of gratuitious banging and rape! Also murders!
~ Is that the dude from The Simpsons? No, it’s Jeremy Irons. ::sadtrombone::
~ See Mary Louise-Parker get hit by a bus!
~ Russia is gloomy!

Jenny’s Wedding

So I want to write about a movie called Jenny’s Wedding.

I put it on the other night because Katherine Heigl liking girls. Bonus: Alexis Biedel liking girls. Also, Grace Gummer as an annoying little sister! What could be horrible about that?

It turns out this thing has a 14 percent on Rotten Tomatoes! And it deserves every point! It is a horrible, horrible film! Yay!

So, here’s the plot: Jenny (Heigl) lives with Kitty (Biedel), and they aren’t just roommates! And everybody knows! Except her parents, her brother, and her annoying little sister (Gummer)!

What’s wrong with this movie? Let’s see.

Heigl and Biedel have the chemistry of a tumor! I don’t believe for a minute they’ve ever touched ass! I only believe Jenny likes girls when she says “I like girls.” I don’t believe she likes girls when she’s in the room with the girl she likes. Biedel doesn’t help as her best-formed character was Rory Gilmore, and you know how robust of a performance that was!

Heigl first came to most folks’ awareness as the affable but flawed Isobel Stevens in the famous Grey’s Anatomy, a gig she walked away from after five years. She may have been right to ghost that job in that what more can a character do after stealing a heart for a patient she’s in love with then building a clinic named for him with his dough? However, she was utterly wrong for leaving that job in that she’s had a really awful run ever since. I mean, I didn’t mind her run as Stephanie Plum, but I think that’s just me and her mother. Everyone else really hated it.

The sheer wasted talent in Jenny’s Wedding, though. Gummer is show-biz royalty, the daughter of friggin’ Meryl Streep, and she has really great hair. Tom Wilkinson is a huge British actor, plucked here to play the butt-hurt, stubborn old man father. Linda Emond, whose off-Broadway CV is as long as your left leg, sort of flails around in this as Jenny’s mom, who finally comes around with an oddly-played freak-out thanks to her nosey idiot neighbors. This is the sort of movie experience that makes you think, how in the world did these people agree to do this?

The best thing about this film is how it mangles montages. There are at least two montages, and they are boring. Montages cannot be boring. They are meant to swiftly move the story along. The montages in Jenny’s Wedding do not achieve this. They seem to be randomly patched together shots of our characters accompanied by horrible music.

The second montage includes footage of the annoying younger sister watering grass, an action that, through the logic of this film, presents her with an epiphanic breakthrough. I am not making this up. This character in this film is literally inspired to action by watching grass grow.

Now. Spoiler alert: Everyone comes around, even Dear Old Dad (who is, get this, a fireman), who refuses through most of the movie to be involved, suits up and shows up at the last minute to walk his little girl down the nave (it’s not an “aisle,” people; the “aisles” are on either side). So suddenly we are having a happy wedding and the congo line forms, and the camera pans far back, and the whole crowd parts to allow the newlyweds to dance, and I imagine that Biedel just felt as awkward as a left-handed bowler. End scene.

This is a bad movie. It’s so bad it’s fun to watch just so you can tell people how bad it is.

But it’s better than Birdman.