This week's theme is New to the City.
Friday, December 17, 2021
Thursday Movie Picks: New to the City
Thursday, December 9, 2021
Thursday Movie Picks: Rags to Riches
This week's theme is Rags to Riches.
Thursday, December 2, 2021
tick, tick,....BOOM (2021)
Even though I'm a musical nerd, I've never been an avid Rent fan. #blasphemy However, I am Lin-Manuel Miranda trash, so the two was easily a mixed bag to convince me to watch. Like it or not, he's doing things with musicals across every medium that just isn't being achieved by one person. And that is both a good and bad thing.
The level of creativity in lyricism and storytelling explodes from his mind at a frenetic unmatched pace, but that doesn't always spell 'accessible' to most audiences especially when it comes to musicals (an already divisive genre). For his directorial debut, the story of Jonathan Larson's (Andrew Garfield) life is right up his alley. He filters the composer's creativity as he tortures himself to produce his breakthrough Broadway show (a couple of years before Rent) and the sacrifice of never giving up on his dream even if it means paying a significant price to make it come true.
As a musical first, it works. Miranda provides a wealth of inner-genre homages and styles that helps Andrew Garfield go balls-to-the-walls in a performance that...nobody probably expected to pour out of him. For Miranda's first step behind the camera, it doesn't surprise me that he wants to maximize his experience from the stage. Throughout most of the film, I was awed by his sheer imagination to transform songs in a multitude of ways most would never dream to string together.
But as a film told part flashback, part-prophecy of the now-recognized genius, the plot plods along from one musical sequence to another that makes Larson range from a destitute artist to insufferable know-it-all as the world and his friends struggle as much, if not more than him. The story holds the promise of what it means for creative types to never give up because one day that dedication above all else will be worth it, but other than that, it's tough to see the forest from the trees several pivotal moments of his personal arc. Garfield commands the role effortlessly, balancing a breakdown of his character's own journey and the journey itself - it might be one of his best yet. Somehow, he doesn't let Miranda's complex vision drown him out and instead leads the parade to make Larson's workaholism as heart-racking as possible.
However, couple a character that's not the most likable with occasional confusing, occasional brilliant staging and editing choices that simply needs more restraint, tick, tick...BOOM!'s build-up to the spark of inspiration for Rent doesn't feel as contextually layered as the film leads on. Some elements that work on stage might not work on film and vice versa - it's still a lesson that most adaptations or musicals need to accept. Of Miranda's works so far, that also split audiences between musicals versus their subjects, tick, tick...BOOM! will primarily pack a punch for the theatre kids crowd. Even this one.
Rest in peace, Stephen Sondheim. Thank you for way too many 3 am nights where I should've been studying but was listening to your work and pretending I was on stage in my bedroom instead.
Monday, November 29, 2021
The world knows everything there is to know about Princess Diana. Hollywood has certainly exhibited its fair share of arthouse films and hot-gossip biopics of her life to have all of the bases covered. Where could another movie delve into that hasn't been explored before? Enter: Pablo Larrain, who does not settle for a paint-by-numbers biopic and goes all out with a psychological mindfuck.
Set during the weekend of December 1991, the British Royal family is spending the Christmas holidays at the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Instead of bucking to the traditions of showing up on time, weighing-in on arrival, and hunting escapades, Diana becomes consumed with the image of herself - in the mirror, all the ways the house hears and sees her every move, what the world will think of her in the future - and trying to break free from it.
Where his former biopic Jackie is a spiritual monument to American royalty, here Diana eats her giants pearls for dinner, convinced Anne Boleyn is sending her messages from the beyond, and breaks into her dilapidated childhood home to say goodbye for good. This is far from a dysfunctional-family drama, even a royal one; it's a gothic-esque horror with Johnny Greenwood's haunting score, and Claire Mathon's claustrophobic cinematography. Rarely is there a moment where any interaction Diana has doesn't pivot close to Kristen Stewart like you're climbing the walls with her or towards the house staff conversing with the ghostly bartenders in The Shining - eery one-on-one probing interrogations and endless heresy. There isn't a second that this movie doesn't let up with Diana's tribulations and what she needs to shed before the weekend is over - her royal responsibilities, the ghosts of her past, any vague prophecies she thinks the world will have of her.
All of this certainly feels like a hefty subject matter, and for bigger Diana fans, they will automatically try to carry the burden that she had to. However, as much as the film is a visceral cinematic treat, I also found it lacking in its effectiveness to make me lose myself in the story. With Jackie, Larrain was both bold and subtle in its symbolism; there was a drive for Jackie Onassis to enshrine John F. Kennedy's legacy into his funeral, to not leave the White House quietly in the night like the Johnson administration wanted her to - but with a bang. And, her decisions to do so, losing Jack and their hot' n cold marriage played into that all-consuming grief. For Spencer, the plot is very much static - almost too much. There's symbolism, there's intense isolation and paranoia, there are plays on imagery and what is reality vs Diana's imagination. The film opens as a "fable based on a true tragedy" and drops the audience into her nervousness right off the bat. As the running time goes on though, it doesn't necessarily capitalize more on fictionalizing the facts to create tension or drive a palpable unease in the script. Maybe because Diana has had more than her fair share of B-list drama and lies surrounding her name, the film veered away from that. But I kept wanting "more" I can't put my finger on - more stakes placed on Diana and her breakdown/breakthrough, tension with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles or the new Equerry Major, less of a carousel of symbolism to carry me to the end. Something to give me more than Stewart's performance to go on.
Understandably, Stewart is one of - if not the - front runner for the upcoming Oscars season, and for good reason. The film leans on her to bring us into the surrealist fold of Diana's life and that specific weekend. And, she does so by achieving what so many in biopics who have won Oscars has achieved - capturing the likeness to a tee that it makes you forget and at times remember this isn't the real person - it's an actor. But, it's also not enough for me to confidently say she carries the film on her own. Around the half-way mark, the story and performance trying not to to summarize her life as the tragic princess by fictionalizing a lot of the tragedy...just felt like her portrayal was going around in circles. (Sean Harris's stern yet tender performance as the royal head chef and Sally Hawkins as her dresser stood out to me portraying the commonfolk rooting for Diana to survive the royal circus. But the supporting cast isn't featured enough to be an ensemble).
When Diana's liberation to reclaim her name arrives, the ending is an earned wish-fulfillment of a future she struggled to achieve. I understood everything that was conveyed, but that catharsis didn't burrow itself as deeply for me as it has with many critics and admirers. I'll revisit this in the upcoming months and years to see if another viewing will change my mind - I'm open to it. Vague familiarity with the real events is suitable for anyone who wants to see this, but fans with advanced degrees in all things Diana will walk away the most satisfied with this refreshing arthouse take.
Rating: ★1/2 to ★☆
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Thursday Movie Picks - TMP Television Edition: Mystery
This week's theme is TMP Television Edition: Mystery.
Friday, November 19, 2021
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Do throwbacks make the movie? is a question that has been on my mind with the current string of beloved franchises - specifically ever since Avengers: Endgame . Since the 22nd Marvel film and the end of an era delivered a soul-satisfying ending for me as a Captain America fan, I shouldn't complain. But it's lack of a tight script and loose threads back down memory lane simply doesn't compare to the leaner, meaner and more tension-driven conflict of Avengers: Infinity War that always leads me to question 'what if sequels didn't focus so much on fanservice'. And, it's something that came up repeatedly with Ghostbusters: Afterlife.With director and writer Jason Reitman's personal attachment to the original 1984 film, it's obvious that this version would try to be a family affair both in production and plot - the grandkids and daughter of Egon Spengler are drawn into an old conspiracy that drove him to the middle of nowhere and face-off against another ancient 'inevitable' ploy towards the end of the world. Any personal connection between characters is a dead giveaway to build a foundation for the second reboot, but the script doesn't feel as confident in its choices.
It's not that this movie isn't a good time at the cinemas. It is. And, after the year-plus we've had with COVID, we shouldn't not feel good about having more harmless fun. There are plenty of laughs and fitting homages, and the beating heart of a disconnected family rehabilitating their legacy is wonderful (again, McKenna Grace embodies a heroine I love now as an adult and makes me sad that 15 year old me didn't have growing up). But eventually, the easter eggs mainly add up to satisfying hardcore fans who are divisive about Ghostbusters 2 and want to completely erase the 2016 reboot as if it never existed. Outside of that, there aren't many risks or originality that makes it stand out from the string of sequels-reboots struggling to follow the footsteps of their iconic predecessors. For a film that remains unmatched by the newer reiterations, when will we accept that the originals are free to be revered without something shiny trying to live up to its memory.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Thursday Movie Picks - Book Adaptations
This week's theme is Book Adaptations.