Thursday, September 28, 2017

La Femme Recommends....American Honey


 
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a sprawling, ugly, joyous epic that is about fleeting youth, the American recession, foolish love and everything in between.  I saw this film a couple months ago and I liked it.   When I started writing this piece, I decided to turn it on in the background to refresh my memory (and it’s on Amazon Prime!), and I found myself completely sucked in.  In fact, I love this movie so much, I am having a hard time expressing it. If nothing else, what American Honey is, is magical.

But it might not sound that way:  Star (Sasha Lane, in a stunning debut) is a teenager with no hope; she dumpster dives for groceries, takes care of her two younger siblings, and is sexually abused by her step father.  Star’s life changes when she meets Jake (Shia LaBeouf) in an incredibly depressing grocery store, when they lock eyes while Rhianna’s “We Found Love” blasts on the speakers.  It’s a hopeless place, indeed.  Star joins Jake on a mag crew (a group of aimless teens on an endless road trip selling magazines door to door), a job that seems to garner them little profits and even less prospects.

In fact, the film has all the trimmings of an exploitative-filled mess a la Harmony Korine or Larry Clarke. The mag crew is filled with grimy, young, white lower class looking (non)actors, with bad teeth and blotchy skin.  They love hip hop and don’t for a second hesitate to sing along (including using the N word). They marvel at the tall buildings in Kansas City like they are the Empire State Building.  They fight, they love, and they are a motley crew with absolutely no direction.  And they are Star’s new family. 

Arnold and her cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, make the film astonishingly beautiful even in this depressed and sometimes ugly part of America. The crew travels around the Midwest, from Oklahoma to Kansas and then up into North Dakota and everywhere (which seems like no where) in between.  Arnold uses her roving camera to capture moments of exquisite beauty, such as the way the light looks in the afternoon, a bonfire at night, and blades of grass with insects on them.  The film is a travelogue, episodic in nature but, even at 162 minutes the film, never drags.  It can be dreamlike one moment, then deliberate the next, each episode flowing into one another. Arnold uses setting and details like costume so well; everything feels very real but also cinematic, which is an incredibly difficult balance. It doesn’t veer into documentary or cinema veritĂ©, but American Honey and its characters nevertheless feel incredibly real.

Sasha Lane as Star is the open heart of the movie, and she is an amazing find.  She is so natural and without pretense but so confident at the same time, like a seasoned actor would be.  Star is constantly observing those around her, learning and adapting to whatever situation she is in. In Lane’s face, you know exactly what she is feeling and thinking.  Star is naive but also street smart. She is fearless and strong and above all. She is never a victim.  In so many films about young girls like Star, you are dreading what is going to happen to them, expecting them to be raped or murdered or just generally abused.  This isn’t to say Star doesn’t get in some dangerous situations (multiple times she meets older men and finds herself in situations that are incredibly tense).  But each time, Star (mostly) comes out on top.  It’s a nice change from the victimization of young women you often see in indie films.  


American Honey is also a highly dysfunctional but searingly sweet love story. I have never really responded to Shia  LaBeouf, perhaps more for his public persona than his performances, but he is incredible in the film.  Jake is a scumbag with a heart of gold: he is the number one seller on the mag crew and trains the recruits for Crystal (Riley Keough, so delightfully trashy and icy), who runs the crew.  You get the feeling that Jake, with his suspenders and rat tail,  has done the routine with all the girls in the van, trained them, probably slept with them, but you also get the feeling that Star is different.  She is in awe of him at first, but immediately sees his bullshit, and calls him on the dishonest nature of selling these magazines, which are mostly done through deceit and lies made up by the mag crew to garner sympathy. 


Lane and LaBeouf have a white hot chemistry that feels very dangerous and very real. As a viewer, you are torn because the relationship seems doomed from the start. At the same time, though, I also couldn’t help but root for them.  I think Arnold puts you so much in Star’s mind that you become infatuated with Jake and can’t wait to see him again (for us, on screen).  One scene, in particular, in which they drive together in a convertible in the country and the radio blasts “Fade into You” by Mazzy Star (a 90s song you might not know the name of but you have probably heard) is one of the most romantic moments I have ever seen in cinema: it perfectly captures the kind of moment you want to last forever, the moments of falling in love, moments of pure joy.  It’s simply magical and something I could watch on a loop. Like so many of the moments in American Honey, however fleeting, as a viewer, you wish they could last forever.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

La Femme...from Las Vegas to Alexandria

Nevada/Arizona Border
After K and I left Las Vegas, we both felt that the fun part of our trip was over.  We had already covered approximately 1,500 miles but we had done it relatively leisurely, and had taken three days to relax in Palm Springs and another in two in Las Vegas.  Now, Monday morning we had to cover approximately 2,500 miles in six days.  Our first stop was in Flagstaff, Arizona. We chose it because it was on the way, nothing more.  K and I both wanted to stop at the Grand Canyon, but we were already feeling fatigue.  One thing when you drive all day, is all you want to do is get there.  We had plans to stop at fun restaurants on the side of the road (we also had our two pups in the car, so that makes things way more complicated), but lots of days, we ended up just eating fast food in the car.  We wanted to be able to enjoy and explore the destinations on our route as much as we could in the short time we had.  I guess we’ll leave the grand canyon for when we eventually return home to the West Coast!  The drive from Las Vegas to Flagstaff was a beautiful one though, we passed the Hoover Dam and saw the wide open dessert of Arizona.  We also made a fun stop on Route 66 for lunch in the town of Seligman Arizona at West Side Lilo’s, a delicious diner.  It was nice to sit down and relax and check out the atmosphere, there were taxidermied animals on the wall, and friendly waitresses and huge never ending refills of soda.  The food was hearty and amazingly delicious, plus there was a tourist trap across the street of a fake western town and you know i had to check it out for Instagram and to get a picture of Rufus in the “town” jail.

Downtown Flagstaff, AZ
Wigwam Motel
When we arrived in Flagstaff, tiny snowflakes were falling on our car, for the first (and last time) we found the our room wasn’t ready.  After driving seven hours, that isn’t what you want to hear, especially when you have arrived after check in!  Nevertheless, we took the dogs to town to explore and used it as an opportunity to find a bar to return to pre dinner.  Flagstaff is a railroad town, it didn’t look anything like what I thought Arizona would.  Of course, I learned that it is actually very high up compared to other parts of the state and so the landscape is much different.  The town reminded me of what I think Alaska would be like, a little rough, all wood buildings, like a gold rush town.  A very grizzled homeless man saw us walking up the street with our dog, Snooker, who was nearing the end of her life (she died in November last year) and was undergoing cancer treatment, she was old, but she looked ancient.  Snooker was a happy, happy girl though and loved the trip so much.  She loved getting out of the car and sniffing around and exploring all the different places.  As we walked by the man exclaimed, “Look at that old timer!  She must have had lots of adventures and she still has a spring in her step.”  Of course, Snooker being the aloof dog she was, she trotted past him as he reached out to touch her. Later, K and I went to a dive bar, that had a fantastic neon sign in a hotel.  I was really into Manhattan’s and they had Michter’s whiskey, so I ordered one.  K had a Martini.  I think everyone else was drinking beer and to be honest the only scary moment we had the whole trip was when the other patrons in the bar, who were quite rough and tumble types, I mean I guess they were Flagstaff’s version of hipsters, only a lot dirtier and meaner, were like, why is that guy drinking that, he comes here and gets a martini!  In fact, they tried to come up to K, but luckily he is pretty oblivious and so when they said something to him, he didn't respond.  We finished up our “fancy” drinks and picked up a pizza for dinner in order to relax before our next day.

Santa Fe, NM

The next morning after a pit stop at the famed Wigwam hotel, where I totally would have stayed if I could.  I mean, how cute are those rooms, we arrived in Santa Fe. Santa Fe, was a place I have always wanted to visit.  I’ll admit, it probably came from one of my favorite movies as a child, Newsies (to say favorite is maybe a slight understatement, obsession is more apt).  Christian Bale’s Jack “Cowboy” Kelly, an orphan newsboy in New York City, dreams of moving  to the high desert to start a new life, and sings a beautiful and poignant song about it.  As an adult, I knew it more as a sophisticated get away for the artsy set.  And it didn’t disappoint.  If I had done one thing different on this trip, I would have spent one more night here.  We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore!  K and I seen the afternoon wandering around the adorable downtown area with the cutest adobe buildings looking for some native pottery.  The native sellers at the Palace of the Governor’s market, a central plaza in downtown, was just shutting down as we got there and I didn’t spot any, maybe a week day in March isn’t the best time.  So we wandered around and I eventually settled on a couple fun souvenirs.  We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking margaritas and chilling in an adorable hotel bar (La Fonda on the Plaza) before heading to the best dinner the whole trip at Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen.  I had been really excited to try Tex Mex in Santa Fe and I loved the food and drinks, the atmosphere was fun and lively and the sopapillas are amazing.  I wished we had more time to explore this fun town, and I definitely plan to return. 


Somewhere in the Texas panhandle


 Frankly the rest of our trip was pretty uneventful, we wanted to get to Alexandria, Virginia and we wanted to get there quick.  And after leaving Santa Fe, the landscape got much less interesting at least through the Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.  The next day was a long driving day to Oklahoma City, where a dear friend of mine lives.  K and I left early and only stopped to have barbecue in Amarillo, Texas at Spicy Mike’s BBQ Haven.  It was amazing, I hadn’t really Texas barbecue before and it was so delicious!  I had pulled pork, K had brisket, and the baked beans were amazing, smoky and delicious.  That evening, we had a lovely visit with friends before heading out on the last leg of our journey.



When I think of the last two days of our journey, I can’t help but think of the line in Book of Mormon, “And here’s the part of our story that gets a little bit sad”. K and I had originally planned to stop in Memphis one night, Nashville and next (a relatively short drive) and then push it all the way to Alexandria in an epic 10 hour final day.  But at this point, we were exhausted.  We had two dogs in the car, we were getting up super early and trying to not stop so that we could enjoy the cities and towns we arrived in.  We were done.  And the drive to Memphis was another seven hours.  I wanted to see Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum, but I also wanted the trip to be over.  So we made the decision to go straight to Nashville, making the day a grueling ten hours.  When you drive that long, you both want to get out of the car and stop and you don’t, because you just want to get there.  I have never wanted to drive across the country and I will probably do it twice in my life.  The drive was the only day that was miserable, it rained all through Arkansas, a driving, heavy rain.  We stopped for gas in probably the grossest little town ever and drove straight through Little Rock.  We got off the freeway to go to a Sonic, a place we had never tried and the sign indicated it was five miles away.  No thank you, too much of a diversion.   So back on the freeway we went.  Within a few miles, there was a sudden slow down.  An accident had happened moments earlier.  As we approached a semi on the right side, we saw a pick up truck, completely ruined and people standing around.  And then I saw it, a man lying in the road, thrown from the truck.  It was horrible, he was clearly dead.  We made it through even before the cops which I was thankful for because the road was actually closed overnight.  Wear your seatbelt each and every time you get in a car, it can save your life. That man didn’t wake up that morning thinking today was the day he died and if he worn his seatbelt, perhaps it wouldn’t have been.

We were so wiped out that we just went to a quick dinner by our hotel and spent the next morning exploring Nashville, which wasn't nearly enough time. Nashville is cute!  It really reminded me of the Portland of the South, lots of cute shops in East Nashville, with adorable craftsmen homes.  We really only sent the morning walking around but I definitely hope to return to Nashville soon.  As we crossed from Tennessee into Virginia (well, right before the border thank you very much) we saw a huge confederate flag on a hill.  We definitely weren’t in Seattle anymore!  We spent our last night in a town in southern Virginia in Wytheville, a cute, if definitely podunk town. The contrast between Northern and Southern Virginia is pretty stark.  It is definitely the south down there! We managed to find an adorable old hotel (The Boling Wilson Hotel, a gorgeous building) with a decent bar to snack in and eventually just got pizza for dinner.  On our final day, we drove the five hours up to Alexandria and arrived in our new home.



Overall, our trip, which we dubbed #kandjacrosstheusa was so memorable.  I’m so glad we drove even though some parts of the trip were boring, tiring, and even terribly sad.  We got to see the incredible beauty of America and spend that time with Rufus and Snooker, our two wonderful pups. I got to spend two weeks alone with my husband.  I thought that I would cross a bunch of places off my list to visit, but in fact, I added a ton instead.

From Alexandria,

Julie

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

2016 Best Picture Nominees...Part 2


Manchester By the Sea: (2016, Kenneth Lonergan): Before I saw Manchester by the Sea, I knew it would be devastating and expected it to be dour.  All the reviews alluded to a terrible tragedy at the center of the film.  I managed not to spoil myself so I won’t spoil you either but I will tell you that what Lee (Casey Affleck), a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts has gone through is actually worse than what I had guessed (and I am usually a very accurate guesser when it comes to movies, it’s one of my talents).  He works and he lives in a tiny, incredibly depressing  basement apartment, speaking to no one and for fun he goes to bars to pick fights.  When he finds out that his brother Joe, (Kyle Chandler) has finally died of his ongoing heart condition, Lee must return to his hometown, the Manchester of the title to care for Joe’s seventeen year old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  

Casey Affleck is stunning as a character who wants to do the right thing, maybe even wants to move on, but literally can’t.  At first sight his performance is almost plain, as Lee in the present, he is numb, unemotive, he speaks with almost no cadence in his voice and barely moves his face. It’s as if there is not one moment where he isn’t caught in guilt, in mourning, in regret.  And we also see the contrast of Lee when was living in Manchester with his wife (Michelle Williams).  In the present, he wants to help his nephew, and part of him wants to stay in Manchester and restart a real life, but the weight of a mistake he made years earlier can’t allow him to.  I loved the relationship between Patrick and Lee, it was very natural and stilted at the same time, because these two people don’t know each other since Lee moved away.  Lonergan is always so wonderful at creating such human characters, that he makes it so easy to understand their motivations, to empathize with them completely.  Affleck uses his whole body to portray a man that is dead on the inside, but who still feels an obligation and love for his family, you feel his sadness in every single moment. 


Michelle Williams may be the most expressive and vulnerable actress working today and in both flashback and present day, her brief scenes with Affleck are wonderful.  All of the supporting roles, everyone from Kyle Chandler to Tate Donovan to C.J. Wilson as Joe’s business partner and friend are wonderful and just add such a layer of truthfulness to the film. It sounds weird with the description I just gave but the movie is actually laugh at loud funny at times.  Like life, there are moments of extreme levity, so even though its completely a story about grief and how it can be unrelenting and overwhelming, the movie doesn’t feel excessively bleak.  In fact, I put it on when I wrote this review and I was struck again at the perfect balance between extreme grief and humor.  The movie can seamlessly go from tragedy to comedy in moments and that is a really hard balance to strike.   If I had voted for Best Picture, this would have been my choice. 



La La Land: (2016, Damien Chazelle):  When I walked out of La La Land, I turned to K and said “I loved it”, I think I may have even had tears in my eyes.  And I did.  I loved the story of Mia, (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress and Seb (Ryan Gosling) an aspiring jazz musician.  They meet cute and fall in love. Mia has talent but she doesn’t have confidence.  Seb has talent but he can’t compromise his artistic visions. I loved Damien Chazelle’s confident direction and glossy presentation, just as much in love with Los Angeles as with the story he is telling.  The songs, especially “City of Stars” and “Audition” are charming and I thought that even though Stone and Gosling are not great singers, their charisma and real chemistry made it even more delightful.  

And I loved watching them fall in love, and its glorious and transporting.  I was entranced. La La Land manages to capture in an entirely artificial way the real feeling of falling in love, the magic moments when even though you are surrounded by the city you are all alone.    They meet and they hate each other, but really they love each other, and the viewer falls in love too.   And  I loved how Seb helps Mia gain confidence encouraging her to write a one woman show and quit her barista job. And Mia encourages Seb too, helping him hold onto his dream of opening a jazz club even as he joins a band that he has artistic reservations about.   

I was as enchanted with the film as they are with each other even when (here are the spoilers!) Mia lands her dream role and they say goodbye overlooking the Hollywood sign.  They tell each other poignantly that they will always love each other.  We skip forward five years and Chazelle presents us with both of our main characters, happy living their professional dreams but apart.  He then gives us a beautifully conceived dream ballet meets alternate reality sequence where Seb and Mia imagine their lives together.  It is filmed both as a fantasy musical number with beautiful homages to An American In Paris and Singing in the Rain and as a more realistic scene with home movie images of Mia and Seb living out their lives (a la The 25th Hour, which does it a million times better).

And in the moment, I was caught up, I had tears in my eyes and I was deeply moved.  But a few hours later even, I felt uneasy and I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I felt manipulated.  I felt like the entire premise of La La Land was something that I just couldn’t stand behind in the end.  Chazellle, was trying to have it both ways, give us the happy ending but deny the couple being together.  And thats fine, some of the great screen romances end with couples apart.  Casablanca, Brief Encounter, the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, even my beloved Before Sunrise ends with the characters parting and not knowing if they will ever see each other. But in the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which La La Land owes a lot to, the character’s choose not be together because of terrible circumstances (war, unplanned pregnancy), not just professional ambition.  If Mia are Set are supposed to be the great romance that La La Land presents, shouldn’t one of them or both of them compromise just a little to try and make it work?  And if they aren’t meant to be together and their relationship is just meant to teach them a lesson or helps them, why the heartbreaking sequence at the end?  In a movie like La La Land that doesn’t feel right.  It’s a musical, its a fantasy, it seemed counterintuitive to everything we’d seen.  At the end of Singin’ in the Rain, Don and Cathy don’t have to choose between success and love, they get both because it’s a movie, maybe? But La La Land is first and foremost a movie with a capital M.  And if Chazelle wanted to portray a more realistic version of a “Hollywood Romance”, he could have executed it less as an homage to classic musicals to the point of imitation. Weeks after watching a movie I thought I loved, I couldn’t help a nagging feeling that was creeping up on me, La La Land was all homage, all style: it felt false.


In the end La La Land left me with the narrative that professional ambition is more important than personal contentment.  That following your dream is number one, above everything and everyone. That you can’t have everything, but if you have to choose, career is over love. Mia and Seb chose the idea of the “dream” over the reality of their happiness.  But I wanted Mia and Seb to find something more important than the idea of their “dream”. I wanted to tell them that you can be still be an artist, and a success even if you compromise your “dream”.  You can be an actor without being a movie star, you can be a musician without owning a club.  That maybe the “dream” is each other, finding someone you can share your life with, that’s the thing you can’t ever give up. 

Julie

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

La Femme on....2016 Best Picture Nominees (Part 1)

I have seen five of the nine best picture nominees and so I figured it was time for a round up!  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Hidden Figures, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, and Lion. I still definitely want to catch Hidden Figures and possibly Fences but I can leave Hacksaw Ridge and probably Lion (that hair on Dev Patel though, omg).




Moonlight:  (Barry Jenkins, 2016) Barry Jenkins Moonlight is a stunning film to win Best Picture. And I don’t mean the mix up, I mean the fact that a 1.5 million dollar film with a 100% African American cast about a young boy growing up in Florida, struggling with his sexuality.   Chiron grows up with a mother descending into addiction and his only parental figure is Juan, the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, the very one who sells to his mother.  His only friend is Kevin, who has more in common with Chrion than he knows.  Taking place in three parts, Chiron seems not like the three actors that portray him, but as one, seamless character which is a very hard thing to pull off.  Mahershala Ali may have won best supporting actor for his subtle take on Juan but I think that the ensemble as a whole is extremely strong and I honestly can’t pick out a favorite performance.  I love when movies show you a world that you don’t know.  Chiron’s life is tough but unlike many films showing poverty and hardship, Moonlight doesn’t wallow in misery, in fact it is hopeful.  I thought the final scenes with a grown up Chiron were stunning, particularly his reunion with Kevin.   



Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie 2016):  Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two brothers whose mother has recently died.  Her farm is on oil but is in foreclosure to the bank because of a reverse mortgage she had taken out with a local bank.  With no way of saving the farm, the brothers decide to rob the very bank that they owe money to.  Toby does it because he wants to give his sons a better life and sees no other choice.  Tanner, an ex-con,  does it for thrills.  Jeff Bridges is the affably offensive/racist Texas Ranger trying to track them down. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has wonderful character development and a real flair for plainspoken dialogue but there are a few too many on the nose lines directly related to the financial housing crisis that made me groan  What makes Hell or High Water more than your average heist film is its sense of place, you really feel like you are in West Texas, the relationship seem genuine, even the tiny supporting rolls are pitch perfect.  Jeff Bridges is his typical gruff self and Chris Pine is more than passable as the conflicted Toby.  Ben Foster is menacing and charismatic as the off psychopathic Tanner.  The film may be predictable but the solid elements make it one enjoyable ride.



Arrival: (Denis Villenueuve, 2016)  I hate to say it but I kind of hated this movie.  I found it compelling for nearly the whole film but the last twenty minutes completely lost me.  Alien pods appear at twelve sites around the globe.  Amy Adams is Louise, a linguist, who is called in to help decipher the Heptapods (that's the aliens) language.  She meets scientist, Ian (Jeremy 
Renner, who I actually find repulsive so maybe that was part of my problem with the film, I take responsibility for that) and together they work to try and communicate with the slightly creepy aliens.  The scenes that show Louise doing her job, meeting the aliens, trying to figure out if she should she be afraid or emboldened are wonderful and eerie. The connection she makes with them is magical for most of the film. The film is beautifully shot, eerie and otherworldly by Bradford Young.  Amy Adams is affecting and determined, her competence and passion for language is wonderfully expressed.    The problem for me with arrival is a reveal in the last twenty minutes about the timeline of the film.  It was supposed to be incredibly moving and heartbreaking.  I found it manipulative and a little cheap, frankly.  I can’t reveal too much without spoiling the film, but let me just say, I find the dead child cliche to be an easy way to manipulate the audience into extreme emotions and I didn’t care for it in this film.  I am definitely in the minority here, but I just the film too sterile and honestly, a little silly.  



Next up, part two with my two favorite of the nominees, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea

Julie

Thursday, February 9, 2017

La Femme Recommends....The Unknown


A favorite topic of cinephiles is blindspots, i.e. what haven't you seen that will enrage, surprise or flummox another movie lover.  I have a lot.   Maybe the biggest, embarrassing, gaping hole in my cinematic education is my lack of knowledge (and interest?) in the silent film era.  Thanks to my dear husband, K, I have seen a handful of silent films (he is quite the connoisseur, well, also he had a goal to watch 365 feature films in a year and there comes a point where a sixty minute silent film makes reaching that goal a lot easier.).  I've seen one Buster Keaton movie (Sherlock Jr.), some Charlie Chaplin shorts and Modern Times, and that’s about it unless you count The Artist.  So let's just say that K was shocked when I recorded Todd Browning's 1927 The Unknown around Halloween.

I had become interested in The Unknown because of a fantastic podcast, You Must Remember This. What intrigued me about this film?  Well, host Karina Longworth, described the young Joan Crawford in a way that surprised me, instead of the harsh Mildred Pierce (and lets be honest Mommie Dearest) Joan I knew and loved, young Joan was in fact, an ingenue yet still a tough as nails chick.  And so I saw it on TCM and it was only sixty minutes, what did I have to lose?

Lon Chaney is Alonzo the Armless, a circus freak in a traveling show who throws knives with his feet.  He is traveling with a gypsy circus and obsessed with the beautiful daughter of the circus' owner, Nanon (that's Joan, in case you didn't guess).  Nanon likes Alonzo because she is terrified of men and their "arms" that can possess her and assault her.  Although she has another suitor, the good natured Malabar (Norman Kerry, dashing AF), she rejects him time and time again because of those pesky arms.

I was hesitant about writing this next part because I was worried it was a spoiler.  But I had been thinking about the difference between a plot twist / spoiler and a reveal.  A spoiler would be a twist ending or something that if you know could ruin the surprise of the film.  A reveal is more a plot point, something that you have to know for the story to make sense. I think a reveal can also be something the characters don’t know but we as viewers do and have to know in order to understand what is happening onscreen.  Early in the film it is revealed that Alonzo the Armless isn’t so armless after all.  I went into The Unknown ignorant of the plot so I was shocked after the introduction of Alonzo, to see that he was hiding his arms because he is a murderer on the run and he has two thumbs on one hand so in order to hide himself from the authorities, he masquerades as a circus freak.  

As far as plot, I think you can guess where where this is going, but it doesn’t mean that Browning doesn’t do a marvelous job getting there.  Much like his best known film Freaks, Browning is the master of creepy atmosphere but showing the humanity of people on the outskirts of society.  Crawford is luminous and at once innocent and shrewd as Nanon.  Unlike many female characters of the silent era, Nanon is not just a passive vehicle for the desires of the male characters.  Instead, in so many ways, she uses her own agency to make her choices.  Lon Chaney is astounding as Alonzo, he is ostensibly the the villain of the film but is incredibly sympathetic.  He is terrifying but also kind, he is nothing but sweet to Nanon, never trying to harm her or intimidate her, even when she is beginning to reject him.  And the fact that neither of them speaks makes the deep character development even more amazing. 


Sometimes as a movie lover, I think our prejudices can stop us from enjoying great films. I am so glad I gave The Unknown a chance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

July 2016 Movie Round Up

Life got in the way majorly this year and so I am very behind on my reviews.  But lets catch up with some movies I saw way back in July!


We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson, 2013):  We Are the Best! is one of the most purely joyful movies about being a young teen that I have ever seen.  Klara and Bobo are best friends and wannabe punks in the Stockholm suburbs in 1982.  Bobo may have a single mother who is slightly unstable and Klara’s parents might fight too much, but ultimately they are two happy girls who decide to start a punk band mostly to spite some older boys at the community center who annoy them. There is just one problem, neither girl can play an instrument or read music.  They recruit Hedvig, a Christian girl who is something of a guitar prodigy and they begin preparing for their upcoming gig, a talent show of some kind.  

The details of the plot are unimportant, in fact there isn’t much plot other than that, We Are the Best!  just enjoys hanging out in the presence of the girls and delights in their love of punk, or what they think punk is.  The girls meet a teenage punk band of boys, Hedvig cuts her hair short and they write their one song “Hate the Sport”.  All three girls are wonderful characters and they have a natural glee that is infectious. Mira Barkhammar is particularly wonderful as Bobo, the smallest and most awkward of the three girls.  In the wrong hands Bobo could have been almost a tragic character, her aforementioned mother is a mess, she “cheats” with Klara’s “boyfriend” (by cheats, I mean goes to his house and talks with him) and is unhappy with her role as drummer.  Instead, Bobo is the movie’s heart, she is clever, sweet and endearing.  We Are the Best! is a lark of the best kind.  And you won’t stop singing “Hate the Sport” for weeks.  

Hail, Caesar! (2016, Joel and Ethan Coen): I watched this movie on a plane, and it was the perfect plane movie for a fairly bumpy flight.  I am not the worst flyer but having this ridiculous and entertaining ode to Hollywood made the anxiety of turbulence melt away.  Eddie Manix (Josh Brolin) is an executive at a movie studio in 1951, he loves his job but is contemplating taking a new, less demanding position with an aerospace company. 

In the course of a few days, we see Eddie help DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannsen) deal with an unplanned pregnancy, set up two young starlets and most of all, try to solve the mystery of the missing Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).  Alden Ehrenreich is utterly adorable and captivating as Hobie Doyle, a cowboy actor moving into an upper class romantic comedy, his fish out of water sweetness and unfailing desire to please director Laurence Laurent (Ralph Fiennes, pitch perfect) is a wonderful combination and his set up with Hispanic actress Veronica Osorio has a undeniable romantic spark.  

Anyone with familiarity with the Coen Brothers may miss some of the biting darkness of  many of their films, Hail, Caesar!, shows the seedy underbelly of Hollywood but it is just so damn charming that I was enchanted.  Channing Tatum’s dance number that becomes increasingly and ridiculously homoerotic had me giggling and I loved Tilda Swinton in duel roles as twin sister gossip columnists.  Hail, Caesar! isn’t going to go down as one of the Coen’s best films, but it is a great way to spend a couple hours.  If you can, make it a double feature with Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, its spiritual predecessor. 


10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Dan Trachtenberg): To be honest, 10 Cloverfield Lane kind of went exactly where I thought it would (I am a canny movie predictor) but although predictable, I enjoyed this nifty little thriller until it becomes a “Cloverfield” movie in the last ten minutes.  Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is running away from her fiancĂ© and is involved in a car accident in the middle of nowhere.  She wakes up chained to a bed but also with her wounds tended to. Her captor is Howard (John Goodman), who claims to be her saviour, telling her he saved her from the car after she was in an accident and that the world has been taken over by some kind of catastrophic event.  She’s lucky, really, that he will let her stay there with him and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who knew about the underground shelter and begged Howard to let him in.  From there, the story goes exactly where you think it will, flipping from suspecting Howard to trusting him and back again.  The idea of taking a small story in the face of the apocalypse is clever, the tension builds appropriately and the shit hits in the fan in the end satisfyingly.  Winstead and Gallagher have good chemistry and are strong enough but Goodman is great, playing someone clearly with social problems, perhaps with much deeper ones. I wish the movie had ended about ten minutes earlier and continued as a chamber piece and character study.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

It's Noon Somewhere...Blackberry Whiskey Smash


First off, is it whisky or whiskey and what is the difference?  I never know! According to Wikipedia it is a spelling difference between Scotts (whisky) and the Irish (whiskey).  And apparently,  American whiskey also uses the “e”.  So since we use good old bourbon in this cocktail, I guess Blackberry Whiskey Smash it is!  

 Anyway, as readers may recall, I have graduated from only drinking vodka and rum to drinking the brown stuff.  But Manhattan’s aren’t exactly what I want to drink when it is a million degrees and so humid you will sweat the moment you walk outside here in Northern Virginia (I am so sorry for every time I complained about it being to hot in Seattle, I had no idea).  When K and I were in New Orleans in May, we had a drink at the gorgeous Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel and I had a delicious drink with Whiskey and blackberries.  There it was called the Southern Gentleman and it was lovely.  So when we were looking for a lighter whiskey drink we decided to recreate something similar. 

Enter the Whiskey Smash, a delicious and refreshing cocktail that does require a bit of special equipment.  While the drink only has one spirit and only simple syrup as a mixer, it is a little more complicated than I prefer for an every day drink.  It requires crushed ice, there is just no way around it.  You can either use your ice maker if you have one that crushes ice (and I hate you) or your blender or a hand crank.  Or you could probably use a ziplock bag and a meat mallet but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you are very confident. The crushed ice is integral to watering down the otherwise super strong drink, but in a pinch you could serve it on the rocks.  It may not be as light and refreshing as it would be with crushed ice, but you have been warned!  

This drink could easily be made with any spirit, vodka, gin, or rum if whiskey isn’t your thing.  Start by muddling some mint leaves (the recipe we started with said seven and so I usually use seven but that is weirdly specific), so I would say between six and eight depending on the size, half a lemon quartered, a couple blackberries and half and ounce simple syrup in a cocktail shaker.  If you didn’t have a muddler you could use the handle of a wooden spoon.    Add two ounces of whiskey and transfer to a double old fashioned glass with lots of crushed ice. We use Maker’s Mark but any bourbon would work perfectly in this cocktail.  Garnish the crap out of this baby with mint sprigs and a couple blackberries.  This is a great, light tasting cocktail, perfect for summer drinking outside.  That is unless you live in the Commonwealth of Virginia where you drink it in your air conditioned home!  

Blackberry Whiskey Smash

Handful of mint leaves
1/2 lemon, quartered
3 to 4 blackberries
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 oz whiskey

Muddle all ingredients except whiskey in a cocktail shaker.  Add whiskey and pour stirred cocktail over crushed ice.  Garnish.  Enjoy. 


Julie