Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bob's Cinema Diary: 12/31/'20 -- "Sylvie's Love," "I'm Your Woman," and "Hunter Hunter"

Sylvie's Love
 Almost everyone who has written about Sylvie's Love has mentioned director Douglas Sirk. Sirk's career has become synonymous with lush 1950s melodramas such as All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life, and Magnificent Obsession. The luscious colors of those melodramatic movies tended to ease the pain  experienced by characters who sometimes found themselves shackled by  convention. Those familiar with Hollywood of the 1950s will have no trouble understanding the references to Sirk when they watch Sylvie's Love. If Sirk had been black and if Hollywood were a more equitable place during the 1950s, he might have made Sylvie's Love, the story of star-crossed lovers played by Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha with direction by Eugene Ashe. Thompson portrays Sylvie, a young woman who works at her father's Harlem record store. There, she meets jazz saxophonist Robert (Asomugha). The two obviously are meant for each other, which, in the world of this and so many other movies, means they can't be together -- at least for most of the movie. Social pressures arise. Sylvie's mother operates a finishing school for young Black women. She believes her daughter should fulfill her promise and marry Lacy Parker (Alano Miller), her fiancee who's on military duty in Korea. Lacy guarantees a life of bourgeois comfort; Robert may be the next Coltrane, but he offers the instability of a musician's life. It's hardly surprising that it takes a full 115 minutes to iron out the complications, including the fact that Sylvie does marry Lacy, even while pregnant with Robert's child. Cinematographer Declan Quinn, production designer Mayne Berke, and costume designer Phoenix Mellow make substantial contributions and Thompson makes a glamorous yet plausible romantic lead with Asomugha bringing cool reserve to the role of Robert. Bottom line: Ashe and his team have made a movie about passion, love and the binding stricture of convention that's ... well .... notable for making the style of  yesterday feel fresh.

I'm Your Woman
Rachel Brosnahan, of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel fame, stars in I'm Your Woman, a convoluted neo-noir from director Julia Hart, who wrote the screenplay with her husband Jordan Horowitz. Brosnahan plays Jean, a woman who's married to a thief (Bill Heck). Tired of playing the bored housewife, Jean's life receives a jolt when her husband Eddie shows up with a baby, supposed compensation for the fact that Jean hasn't been able to have a child of her own. It takes a while to learn how Eddie obtained this baby, an infant who Jean names Harry.  The movie takes its time offering an explanation for baby Harry's arrival and just about every other question it raises, putting Jean in the center of a dangerous drama that she doesn't understand. When Eddie fails to return from a job, Cal (Arinze Kene) shows up and takes her to a supposed safe house. She asks questions but gets no answers.  Patience is required if you're going to follow I'm Your Woman to its conclusion as Jean makes the transition from a helpless wife and clueless mother to a woman who attempts to control her own fate. I imagine that some viewers will simply give up, having decided that Jean's journey isn't worth all the uncertainty. Supporting performances by Marsha Stephanie Blake and Frankie Faison add weight, though, and, by the end, everything has been explained and nothing makes total sense. Still, I stuck with I'm Your Woman which offers surprising twists as its story unfolds around a character who seems to know less about what's going on than anyone in the movie -- other than the audience. That’s not always a bad place to be.

Hunter Hunter
At some point, nearly everyone has entertained a fantasy about living off the grid in an isolated cabin in the woods. For me, that's a 30-second fantasy. I know myself well enough to know that it wouldn't take more than a couple of hours for me to get  sick of the natural world and for it to tire of me. But the family in Hunter Hunter is living their wilderness dream, supporting themselves with the little money they're able to earn by selling the furs of animals they trap. A survivalist dad (Devon Sawa)  takes his daughter (Summer H. Howell) on instructional hunts and Mom (Camille Sullivan) cooks the meager fare that keeps the family alive. She wouldn't mind a move back to town. One day, Dad discovers something grisly in one of his traps. A killer wolf may be on the prowl. You can bet that not everyone will make it out of the woods alive. Director Shawn Linden introduces a wounded man (Nick Stahl) into the story, someone we presume will threaten the already teetering lives of these woodsy folks. I was up for a movie that shared my wariness about immersion in the natural world, but Hunter Hunter eventually turns into a helping of horror with an ending that sears itself into memory. No fair saying more, but know this: Linden creates a credible backwoods drama and he  delivers a message about who might be the forest's most dangerous predator. I can't say I endorse the movie's ending, which lands a punch that's gory and wince-inducing enough to put you off your feed for several hours after viewing.

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