Thursday, July 2, 2020
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Unlike poor Parker, Hamilton has not wanted for media attention. It has been reviewed with its original cast, with performers who have taken over for the originators and with companies that have staged touring productions. Now, Disney has made a filmed version of the original cast available for streaming.
Jasmine Cephas Jones brings seductive allure to Maria Reynolds, a married woman with whom Hamilton had an adulterous affair.
On the other hand, the presence of an audience helps overcome any distance viewers may feel as Hamilton unfolds. From the show's opening moments, audience excitement spills off the screen. The movie is two hours and 41 minutes long with a brief intermission. It should be watched straight through.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Prior to that, you’ll find a satire that dulls its edge with unexpected timidity and a big dose of conventional comedy.
Here's the story: Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a hotshot political operative whose attention perks up when an aide informs him that a rural town in Wisconsin can be flipped to the Democratic side of the ledger. Why? Because a straight-talking farmer and former Marine (Chris Cooper) addressed the town’s city council with a speech so sincere it might have made Gary Cooper blush. He's exactly the kind of person who might lure wary independents to the Dems.
The plan: Persuade Cooper’s character to run for mayor, upset the political balance, and prove that a Democrat can capture the hearts of middle-Americans.
Gary heads for the town of Deerlarken, Wisc., where he’s a fish-out-of-water, a sophisticate who finds himself at a remove from Washington’s “civilized” ways: high-speed internet connections, fancy restaurants, and room service.
Of course, things can’t go smoothly or there’s no movie. Enter Rose Byrne's Faith Brewster, the GOP's answer to Gary. Savvy and ruthless, Faith represents powerful interests that don’t want to see the town turn Blue.
Carell and Byrne banter as they create some chemistry, the attraction of opposites who can’t resist trying to outdo each other when it comes to political maneuvering. The movie also hints at a possible relationship between Gary and Jack's grown daughter (Mackenzie Davis).
In one of the more predictable scenes, Gary takes Jack to New York City to meet a group of liberal elitists with whom he has nothing in common. He’s supposed to ask for money to finance a campaign they’ve been told might be the beginning of a national transformation. Of course, they can't get enough of Jack's homespun honesty.
All of this builds toward a twist that reveals Stewart’s real purpose, a kind of backhanded celebration of all-American wisdom that raises the question: If politics is a cynical game, why can’t more people play?
Look, I laughed some, I enjoyed watching the cast — particularly the comically gifted Byrne — and I never tuned the movie out. But in the end, I felt letdown.
In a moment of political volatility, I expected a comedy with a little more grit in its craw — not one that ends with a lecture, even one that's on-point about desperately need campaign-finance reform. Where’s the anger? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the feeling that things are so out-of-control that no fix may be possible? Where’s the recognition that even if we had campaign finance reform, there would still be voter suppression and a host of other seemingly intractable problems?
Enough. I don’t want to write a total slam, but it's difficult to see Irresistible as too much more than a movie of squandered promise.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Henrietta (Kimberley Datnow) moves from London to Los Angeles when she's summoned to join the board of her late father's firm. It seems that Henrietta -- who aspires to be a stand-up comic -- once lived with her dad and attended school in LA. That’s convenient because Henrietta has friends from back in the day, which means the movie has a supporting cast. Alice (Alice Carroll Johnson), one of Henrietta’s old pals, tries to convince a small group of reunited friends that she's a successful talent agent. In reality, she's a gay woman trying to make ends meet by providing non-sexual companionship for a benevolent Sugar Daddy who misses his late wife and only seems to want someone with whom he can watch TV. When Henrietta moves into her father's LA house, she learns that Nolan (Tanner Rittenhouse) also lives there. He works for dad's company and developed a relationship in which Dad became a kind of mentor. Henrietta's attempt to reunite with an old boyfriend goes nowhere. Director Laura Holliday never convinced me to care about any of this or to believe that Henrietta had real comedy chops. That would have been fine had Daddy Issues been a movie about the difference between wanting to do stand-up and actually pulling it off. Somewhere, there’s a movie here, but no one seems to have found it.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
My Darling Vivian tells the heartbreaking story of Johnny Cash's first wife, Vivian Liberto. You won't see much of Cash in director Matt Riddlehoover's documentary because the movie focuses the woman left behind as Cash's career began to soar.
Riddlehoover weaves a sometimes mournful tale of celebrity, love, and neglect, making apt use of family photos, letters Cash wrote to Vivian in the early days of their relationship, and interviews with the couple's four daughters: Rosanne Cash, Kathy Cash Tittle, Cindy Cash, and Tara Cash.
The movie also serves as an antidote to the popular 2005 film Walk the Line, which starred Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. In that movie, Liberto (Ginnifer Goodwin) played the role of ball-and-chain to the artistically adventurous Cash. June Carter (Witherspoon), Cash's second wife, helped pull the singer from a drug-ridden swamp of self-destruction.
My Darling Vivian doesn't flatter Carter, showing her in a TV interview claiming credit for raising her kids and Cash's four daughters, who -- in reality -- always lived with their mother.
In many ways, My Darling Vivian adds another chapter to a long series of movies that chronicle the unraveling of isolated housewives. With Cash touring and indulging the perks of celebrity, Vivian was left to hold down the fort at a home Cash built north of Los Angeles.
Cash moved the family to California to try his hand at movies but didn't get much further than a role in the audaciously titled and deservedly obscure Door-to-door Maniac.
Riddlehoover fleshes out the story with a reference to one of the stranger moments in a story that began when Cash met Vivian at a Roller Rink in San Antonio. The movie recalls a 1965 incident in which a white supremacist newspaper in Alabama speculated that Vivian might be black. (She was a dark-complected woman of Sicilian descent).
Cash became a hate group target and Vivian received death threats, not exactly a development conducive to marital bliss. Vivian, by the way, eventually remarried but her daughters think she never fell out of love with Cash.
Sustained love or not, what began as romance produced its share of collateral damage. But when you listen to some of the letters that Cash wrote to Vivian before they were married and while he was stationed in Germany during his time in the Air Force, his ardor seems genuine and deep.
Of course, young love -- like some wines -- doesn't always mature well, which -- come to think of it -- might be the basis for a song. Too bad Cash isn't around to sing it.
On the other hand, maybe he did sing that song. Check out Cash's rendition of Hurt, a tune written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, or just consider this lyric from the song:
"And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt."
Cash died in 2003. Vivian died two years later.
Upon arriving in Moscow, Jones sought help from New York Times journalist Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter who showed no interest in exposing the truth about Stalin’s treatment of farmers in Ukraine. As depicted here, an imperious Durante seems too immersed in his dissolute life to challenge the official line.
Vanessa Kirby impresses as a writer who tries to warn Jones that he's treading on dangerous ground by insisting on traveling to Ukraine.
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Spike Lee, like his movies, operates on many levels. He’s a social commentator, a director and a storyteller. He's one of the few filmmakers who can be credited for creating a one-person genre. When you hear the words “a Spike Lee Joint,” you know that you’re probably entering terrain that’s part drama, part provocation, part corrective of the US historical record and part entertainment.
These ingredients can become seamless when Lee is at his best and can sometimes trip over one another when he’s not hitting his stride.
But it’s important to remember that Lee has created an aesthetic approach that practically constitutes a brand. He can poke an angry finger in your chest or flood a moment with tenderness.
So now comes Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a movie about Vietnam, black contributions to the US military, black bitterness about the lack of recognition for those contributions and, if that weren't enough, a story about a search for buried treasure — in this case, gold bullion — that sometimes intentionally evokes memories of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Using news footage to set the tone, Lee opens with a montage that surveys the boiling racial landscape that defined America during the war. Among the clips: protests, Muhammad Ali’s resistance, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at Manhattan's Riverside Church in which he turned his full attention to the war.
All of this is framed by a story with a rather straightforward plot. Four former infantrymen reunite in Ho Chi Minh city. Initially, their reunion is full of bonhomie and joy. Gradually, it becomes clear that the men, known as “The Bloods,” have more in mind than renewing old friendships.
They want to retrieve gold they buried during a harrowing mission and they want to recover the body of a fallen brother known as Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman). The movie paints Norman as a kind of warrior saint who held the soldiers in his squad together and tired to direct them toward higher purposes, perhaps using the gold to help black folks at home.
Of the four Bloods, as the soldiers referred to themselves, two stand out: Clarke Peters’ Otis, a down-to-earth steadying influence who learns that he has a greater connection to Vietnam than the others. A wartime relationship resulted in a daughter, now grown, who Otis meets for the first time.
Delroy Lindo gives the movie’s most vivid, conflict-riddled performance. An anti-immigration guy who wears a MAGA hat, Lindo's Paul easily taps into his anger. He's joined by his son David (Jonathan Majors), a young man who followed his dad to Vietnam because he knows that his father occupies a PTSD-world of trouble.
Norm Lewis’ Eddie and Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Melvin fill out the foursome of veterans.
Working with three additional writers, Lee isn’t entirely successful at fusing all the issues that crop up and some of the dialogue carries the burden of exposition or of establishing -- or at least making reference to -- political dynamics embedded in the way the US fought the Vietnam War.
Flashback scenes to the war feature Boseman, who's powerful even in a small role. The other soldiers aren’t played by younger actors in these flashbacks but by the older cast. Lee does his best to keep the camera away from their faces, but the juxtaposition of a young Boseman and the older guys can be distracting.
The story also brings in a trio of NGO do-gooders (Melanie Theirry, Paul Walter Hauser, and Jasper Paakkonen) who have taken up residence in Vietnam to defuse bombs and dig up landmines. Jean Reno turns up as a shady figure who’s supposed to help the men smuggle the gold out of the country.
As the men move deeper into the Vietnamese jungle, they begin to squabble about the size of their respective shares. Mistrust develops and before all is done, Lee gives Lindo a wild soliloquy in the jungle as he battles with thick growth, his own demons, a venomous snake, and the historical weight of 400 yeas of American racism. In a way, this single speech does more to embody the damage these men have suffered than anything else in the film. Amazingly, Lindo pulls it off.
Will the men escape with the gold? Will they be double-crossed? Will others try to kill them?
I’ll answer only one of these questions. Others will try to kill them, resulting in gunfights and explosions of violence that reprise the war-time violence the men once experienced.
Those who expect every Lee film to speak its mind won’t be disappointed and those who are put off by the same trait will find much with which to quibble. Lee even manages to work Black Lives Matter into the film’s closing moments, giving the movie an even more topical boost — as if it needed one in this moment of intensely focused discussions of race.
No matter what the subject, Lee’s voice will be heard — and that may be why Da 5 Bloods is least interesting when it’s telling its story and most compelling when Lee does what he does best — shake things up.