Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Reviews Page 1 of 57

“Suncoast” Screens at Sundance 2024

 

“Suncoast’s” writer/director, Laura Chinn, had a brother, Max, who suffered from cancer. He ended up in the same hospice facility as Terri Schiavo, who died in 2005, and Ms. Chinn, in her directorial debut, dedicated the film to her late brother.

“Suncoast” was the first of the eight Sundance films I watched. It held particular significance for me, because I had also used the Terri Schiavo case as a plot background for the third novel in my series “The Color of Evil.” As such, I had to look up all the particulars of this “right to life” case that stretched from 1998 to 2005. Terri, who cardiac arrested at age 26, ended up in the hospice facility in Pinellas Park, Florida and the entire drama played out on the national scene with 14 different court cases and judgments involved, going all the way up to the President of the United States (George W. Bush).

THE GOOD

Woody Harrelson, Laura Linney, and Nico Parker in Suncoast (2024)

Suncoast

The best thing about the largely autobiographical story was the acting. Laura Linney portrays Kristine, the mother of Nico Parker. Woody Harrelson has a role as an activist who is protesting attempts to remove the feeding tube of the brain dead Schiavo. There were 14 different court actions and many protests in the streets outside the facility.

The acting by all concerned is excellent. Nico Parker, who portrayed Pedro Pascal’s daughter Sarah in “the Last of Us,” won the film  the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance. She was extraordinary amongst an outstanding cast.

In addition to the euthanasia/right to die theme, the film does a good job of portraying the difficulties that beset lead Nico Parker as Doris, when she attempt to live the life of a normal teenager. Her mother (Laura Linney) seems to expect more from the teenager  in terms of caring for her invalid brother.  Doris (Nico Parker) is simply trying hard to have a more balanced, normal teenage experience in the midst of terrible tragedy. The film is a real tear-jerker.

THE BAD

Laura Linney

Laura Linney.

The character portrayed by Laura Linney comes off as very authoritarian and somewhat manipulative, especially when she tells her daughter that her brother is dying that very night at a time when the young girl is at a party that resembles Prom. Of course this brings out the sister’s guilt and she rushes to the hospice, only to learn that her mother overstated the situation. Later, her mother apologizes, but it is a really insensitive and unloving thing for her mother (Kristine) to have done. Only a truly great actress could have made this character halfway human, as her behavior in regards to her healthy daughter seemed extremely destructive at times.

Woody Harrelson’s character of Paul Warren was similarly negative at times. His entire character seemed extraneous, to me, added simply to beef up a plot theme. Most of us who have daughters in this age range would warn our teenaged daughters about associating with a strange guy who shows up at a hospice as a  protester. It’s the old “danger/stranger” thing. It didn’t make much sense that, when Kristine (Laura Linney) learns about the random friendship that has sprung up between her underage daughter and this stranger from out of town, she doesn’t inquire further and warn Doris about being too trusting of the stranger. I  found the brief scene in the restaurant where Doris introduces her mother to Paul to be strange and unrealistic (and wanted the two to interact).

Other reviews have bemoaned the opportunity to put two such fine actors onscreen at the same time. Having met Laura Linney in Chicago the year (2007) she and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-starred in “The Savages” I agree that finding a way to have these two talents share the screen and exchange dialogue would have been a welcome addition to the plot (and probably would have improved the dialogue). On the bright side, there is a great scene where the police insist that Kristine must move along in her car. Linney was great during this exchange, but the writing elsewhere was not as good as the actors saying the lines. The cast really saved the film at many points.

The thing that detracts from the film, of course, is the entire downer theme. It’s  a solemn, serious topic, sensitively treated and could serve as a good lesson in what not to do for a parent who finds himself or herself in this extremely difficult situation (while raising one healthy teenaged child while caring for a terminally ill teenager.) It is precisely this horrible predicament that keeps us from totally turning on the Laura Linney character of Kristine. Without an outstanding actress like Laura Linney in the part, the characterization of the mother could have come off much more poorly.

CONCLUSION

It was an impressive Sundance debut directorial debut for the fledgling director and newcomer Nico Parker, daughter of Thandie Newton, did a fine job as the lead actress, with able support from Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson. There are several excellent supporting performances from the young actors/actresses portraying her school friends as well. “Suncoast” begins streaming on Hulu on February 9th, Friday. It’s a tear-jerker but a well-done one.

“Porcelain War” Is Documentary Grand Jury Winner at Sundance, 2024

  • “Porcelain War” won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2024 and added to the ever-proliferating number of documentaries that are coming out of the horrific Russia/Ukraine War. The front-runner for an Oscar in the upcoming Academy Awards is “20 Days in Mariupol” from Ukrainian journalist Mstyslav Chernov. The “Porcelain War” is a joint project from Brendan Bellomo of the United States and Slava Leontyev, shooting inside Ukraine. Close friend Andrey Stefanov served as cameraman for the sequences within Ukraine and he and Slava deserve great admiration for their courage and resolve under pressure.

Having just seen “20 Days at Mariupol,” comparisons, for me, were inescapable. Plus, I am currently mid-way through a course at the University of Texas that traces Putin’s rise to power, leading to today’s invasion of Ukraine and the war that has dragged on since February 2022.

Both films show the “before” and “after” of a beautiful country now reduced to rubble. In the case of Mariupol (available on most major platforms and a “must see”) we see the city of Mariupol before it is totally ravaged by the Russians. The Writer/Director of “20 Days at Mariupol,” a Ukrainian AP reporter, chose to stay on with the troops and depict the true horrors of those left behind, including the young boy who was shooting baskets outdoors when a missile blew off his legs, ultimately killing him. The blood and grief mirror the scenes in Gaza that are horrifying in their brutality.

“Porcelain War” uses the metaphor of porcelain, which, as the film drives home relentlessly is this:

“Ukraine is like porcelain — easy to break, but impossible to destroy.” 

This is because the Ukrainian participants we become acquainted with are artists who work in porcelain.

The United States director, Brendan Bellomo, won a student Academy Award when he was a student at NYU and his expertise is quite evident here.

THE BAD

Cast of “Porcelain War,” including co-directors (front) and Frodo, the dog..

For me, it is the very slickness of the porcelain metaphor and the well-done visual effects in “Porcelain War” that detract when compared with the effect that the raw footage of “20 Days in Mariupol” evokes. There is somewhat a looking away from the horrors of war a bit more in “Porcelain War” than in the shorter “20 Days in Mariupol” film. In “Porcelain War” we see idyllic footage of  Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey coping with life in a war zone but also surrounded by great beauty. As “Variety” said in its review, “An accomplished visual effects supervisor whose credits include the 2012 Sundance smash ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ Bellomo is attuned to the jolting sensations of combat both on the ground and above it.” It is precisely the excellence of Bellomo’s visual work in depicting the porcelain figures that takes away slightly from the less polished, but more visceral power of the shorter film (“20 Days in Mariupol.”) The porcelain work is beautiful and delicate. I, for one, wanted more of the brutal truth of war in Ukraine, to help me understand and process this latest aggression.

We do learn about the history of Russia’s land grab of Crimea in 2014. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises of non-aggression from Russia, but those promises were bogus. Russia has a long history of not living up to its word. Putin seized Crimea in 2014 and collaborating director Slava Leontyev lived in Crimea at the time. He moved to Ukraine and he and others began re-establishing the military that they had abandoned when they believed Russia’s promises. So, for the past 10 years there has been an attempt to re-establish some kind of defense system for Ukraine, and Slava—who was present at Sundance along with Frodo, the dog in the film— has been instrumental in that effort, as we see.

A recent “New York Times” article speculated on the outcome of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. It said the Russian defense of parts of Ukraine it now occupies currently seems impenetrable. The war, it said, is beginning to resemble the WWI stalemate during which neither side seemed able to advance and the human toll inexorably rose. The article stated that Ukraine has lost 20% of its area and wants ALL of its country back. The odds of that happening (on Russia’s part) don’t seem good. With the Republican support for Ukraine seemingly mired in political gamesmanship that might re-install a leader who seems to think emulating Putin is a good thing, can we assume that our technical support and weaponry, that allowed Ukraine early in the fight to score some impressive wins, will continue after the November election if Trump were to win?

United States financial aid and expertise is necessary for Ukraine to move forward; there was a mention in the article of the potential firing of the Ukrainian Minister of Defense by Zelenskyy. If he IS fired, he was said to be the chief rival who might run against Zelenskyy. If Russia is feeling the crunch and would agree to settlement talks, said the article, it would almost certainly be predicated on Ukraine not joining NATO or other such groups. Meanwhile, Russia recruits from prison and will march those men forward to certain death simply to find out where their adversaries are concealed. The brutality of the Russian troops is legendary. The firsthand accounts of what has occurred are absolutely sickening; that, too, is not likely to improve over time.

Nobody trusts Putin to honor agreements he makes. The general feeling that would come from such a “settlement” would be anger that so many Ukrainians have given so much only to potentially be given back only a portion of their native land with conditions on how they might best defend themselves against future Russian aggression. The odds for the West and for democracy and for Europe are very large if you accept the premise that Putin will never stop his characteristic aggressive behavior and his dream of re-establishing the USSR as a Super Power. And, although Putin is 71, is a successor likely to be a change for the better? (Unlikely).

Ukraine’s largest military aid partner since the start of the war, the United States, has committed a total of €71.4 billion in aid to Ukraine when also considering financial and humanitarian support. Martin Armstrong on “Statista” (Dec. 13,2023) had these figures of support for Ukraine:

“Thanks chiefly to the €77.1 billion in pledged financial aid, European Union institutions are the largest aid donors to Ukraine. This is based on data from the IfW Kiel Ukraine Support Tracker which currently covers the period January 24, 2022 to October 31, 2023.

But will U.S. aid continue if Donald J. Trump is elected? And if Biden remains president, can he successfully negotiate continued support with the current GOP House and with the Senate’s current iteration?

All of these considerations enter into election year 2024. The analogy of porcelain (“Easy to break, but impossible to destroy”) may weaken in its appropriateness with the conflagration dragging on.

THE GOOD

Slava Leonytev is shown holding Frodo, the dog, with the cast of "Porcelain War."

Entire cast of “Porcelain War,” many of them direct from Ukraine.

Slava Leontyev became a weapons expert and has been training other civilians in how to load and fire weapons, in preparation for the war that Ukraine feared was coming. As one of the characters says, alluding to Russia’s history of aggression against the nations that broke away, “After 400 years we’re going to finally take care of it.” From watching Slava at work as a Ukrainian defense officer we get a better understanding of the reality of the current war.

The action in “Porcelain War” is centered in Kharkiv, which is 25 miles from the Russian border. In “Porcelain War,” we get to see the nuts-and-bolts of fighting the war in Ukraine. The emphasis on drone use is shown. We see “ordinary people in extraordinary situations” learning to fire weapons. We don’t see as much of the blood and guts and heartbreaking grief as in “20 Days in Mariupol,” but the horror of war is ubiquitous, emphasizing the message.

One line in the film is “Because of the invasion, we lost the substance of our lives.” Another analogy is that refugees are like snails without their shells. As Anya and Sonya are sent to Lithuania for their safety, their parents describe what an ordeal it was to get the girls out of the country by way of Poland. It reminded me of London residents, during the Blitz, sending their children to the countryside to protect them.  As the family says, “What is absolutely predictable is death.” We see face-time chats between the family members. The Ukraine residents feel that, “We’re fighting against evil. This is a historic opportunity to destroy aggressors.” The script adds, “It will keep pushing until it reaches you.”

The music is particularly effective. It is a fevered, clattering score from DakhaBrakha, a self-described “ethnic chaos” band based in Kyiv. The musical refrain is “A time to laugh, a time to cry. A time to live. A time to die.”

This film gives us a focused look at how the local populace, with aid from the United States and the European Union, is responding to Russian aggression. As Slava says, “Crimea ended in the blink of an eye, and we retreated to Ukraine.” At another point, as the struggle drags on, the line is “Armageddon is happening in Bakhmut.”

The drone group, decorated by the local artists, is dubbed “Saigon.” The reference to that Vietnamese city seems to be a nod to the effective guerilla fighting that the local populace employed against a super power.

CONCLUSION:

This is a film that is well worth watching. I would suggest viewing “20 Days in Mariupol” at the same time. One will give a very polished look at the Ukraine/Russia war; the other is more visceral, but both are terrific.

 

“Little Death” Screens at Sundance, 2024

“Little Death” won the NEXT innovator award at Sundance, 2024. I was attracted to this film by the fact that Protozoa Pictures was involved (Darren Aranofsky) and that it had David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffman, Jenna Malone and Seth Green among the cast members. The director was Jack Begert, who co-wrote it with Dani Goffstein. Another executive producer was Andy Cohen.

The synopsis described the film this way: “A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home.”

That description of the film’s plot didn’t pin down the story much,  and the actual unfolding of the plot was only minimally helpful. There is a young girl who has had her car hijacked and must seek help. There is David Schwimmer (the frustrated filmmaker) who is trying hard to get a green light for his film project. It’s not a particularly tight, well-written, or thoughtful script.

In a conference, the Powers-That-Be at the studio tell screenwriter Martin (David Schwimmer) that he should consider changing the gender of his lead character, [who, it should be noted, is largely autobiographical.] Martin is understandably reluctant to change the sex of his lead character from male to female, but, in a meeting with the studio Big Whigs, he becomes convinced that it will be easy to simply change “Dan” to “Danielle. It’s a deal-breaker. So, he complies.

This means that, halfway through the film, the audience loses David Schwimmer as the lead actor because he is replaced by Gaby Hoffman, who started her film career in 1989’s “Field of Dreams” as the young Karen Kinsella. There is no explanation of this sudden loss, other than Gaby’s appearance.

I found it interesting to see the male character morph into a female lead without so much as a word of explanation, and I was not put off by the visual effects that bothered one other critic, who said this: “The performances were messy and their characters are really unlikeable and aggravating in the worst way. Each character comes close to wanting to pull your hair out of your head levels.
Begert approach on the humor is poor, the editing and musical choices are annoying, and the dialogue is forced, unfunny, and poorly constructed. There are some really awful visual presentations and animations throughout. To top it off, the animations were AI-generated which honestly is a major slap on the face for independent filmmakers and artists. It’s insulting that Sundance allowed this movie to come into the festival.”

Well. That certainly is one point of view.

I do agree that the film seems, overall, poorly organized. The plot is random and doesn’t tie together well. The “visual effects” that this anonymous critic mentions (no name is attached on the IMDB.com page) were primitive when one considers that Protozoa was behind the film.

Cinematography was by Christopher Ripley.

Overall, I was sad to see Schwimmer go, as the lead, to be replaced by Gaby Hoffman. It wasn’t my favorite film of the eight I am reviewing, and it had problems, but I’m more accepting of it than Mr. Anonymous Reviewer.

“Kneecap” Is Irish Docu-Drama at 2024 Sundance

The Audience Award Winner at Sundance was a docu-drama about an Irish band, “Kneecap,” that is working to preserve the Irish language (Gaelic) and enjoys sticking it to the British. The members of the real-life band “Kneecap” played themselves. To appreciate the film, it is best to know this history of the band (from Wikipedia);  “Kneecap are a BelfastNorthern Ireland-based hip hop trio with the stage-names Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí.[1][2] They sing in Irish and English and often reference their support for republicanism. They first began releasing music in 2017 with their single “C.E.A.R.T.A.” (Irish for “RIGHTS” as in human rights). They released their first album, 3CAG, in 2018,[3] and continued to release various singles such as “Get Your Brits Out”.

The three members of the Irish rap group — Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, and JJ Ó Dochartaigh — play themselves in this liberally fictionalized reimagining of their origin story set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The plot goes back to “the Troubles” and the operating philosophy “Every word of Irish spoken is a bullet fired for Irish freedom.” Michael Fassbender plays the father of lead band member  Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh and drifts in and out of the narrative as an escaped Irish prisoner who may (or may not) be dead. Writer/Director Rich Peppiatt said he “endorsed his inner low-life scumbag” to make the film, shot in 7 weeks in 2023.

The Wikipedia entry about the band adds a lot of background  for viewers of the film, especially if you’ve never heard of them before. The romance with a Protestant girl is another sub-plot of the mosaic that is the band rapping in a language that most of the audience neither understands nor has ever heard before. (Sub-titles for the lyrics would be helpful) Kneecap, the band, has an infectious enthusiasm and youth on their side,. The members are supposedly the offspring of legendary Irish Republican Army fighters, with a distinct enthuiasm for anarchy, rebellion and fighting for the underdog—all those things that youth is associated with. The band has also weighed in on the Israeli/Gaza conflict with sympathy for the Palestine cause. Of course, the original impetus for the film (as portrayed in the docu/drama/comedy), occurred when a member of the band refused to speak English while being interrogated in connection with a crime and insisted on speaking Gaelic. That is faithfully rendered—although, as with all films, there is a fair amount of embellishment for the sake of the narrative.

This Wikipedia insight also comes in handy: “In 2021 Kneecap released their single “MAM” as a tribute to their mothers, the song was acknowledged as a shift away from their usual style saying that they wanted to do something more ‘real’. Mo Chara stated in an interview that they wanted to show that “we can ’roundhouse’ you off the stage but we can also give you a hug afterwards. We wanted to do something a bit sentimental, we don’t wanna just box ourselves in with masculinity all the time.”] The trio also revealed on Instagram that Móglaí Bap’s mother had died of suicide before it could be released and that all proceeds from the song would be going to the Samaritans.”  

In regards to sentimental, one review took a broad swipe at Kenneth Branagh’s film “Belfast,” based on his own childhood memory of living in Belfast during the Troubles, calling it “sentimental” and “overly saccharine.” Belfast was one of the nominees for Best Picture of the Year that year.

During the Q&A following the film one of the band members was dressed in a leather outfit that looked like it was straight out of the latest iteration of “American Horror Story,” complete with Baliclava mask, as worn by the older D.J. in the film. It is a weird look. One  band member came onstage swilling from a bottle of booze, which seemed appropriate for the rabble-rousing drug-dealing rebels.

The music is infectiously high-voltage and the docu-drama has already secured a distribution deal at Sundance with Sony Classics films.  Those involved in the film were:

  • . Crew:Director, writer: Rich Peppiatt. Camera: Ryan Kernaghan. Editors: Chris Gill, Julian Ulrichs. Music: Michael ‘Mikey’ J Asante.
  • With:Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby.

I’m Irish (maiden surname “Corcoran”) but I had no idea what any of the rapping lyrics meant, and would have appreciated knowing. They might as well have been singing in Vietnamese, given the lack of sub-titles to explain the message to those of us who are (a) out of our twenties and (b) not conversant in the Irish language. (And, if you think about it, that is a rather large number of the proposed audience.) On the bright side, as IMDB reported, domestic box office from all Sundance 2023 films was the best for any year since Covid. At around $100 million, it quadrupled the take from 2022 Festival titles, which was around $25 million. All told, about two thirds of the 2023 films have some sort of domestic distribution, including streaming outlets.

I enjoyed the convincing  acting by the band members. The stereotype of drunken Irish wife-beaters is alive and well in this one, personified by the band members, who did their best to perpetuate that old familiar stereotype. Perhaps Sony Classics will put a translation of the Gaelic lyrics onscreen before launching the film nationwide and worldwide, which would help add to our understanding of the mindset of the group

 

 

“In the Summers” Wins 2024 Sundance Grand Prize for Drama

“In the Summers” won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Its theme is summarized this way on IMDB.com:

“On a journey that spans the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico.”

The film is the directorial debut of Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio, who also wrote the roughly autobiographical story of her summers spent with her divorced father. The film follows two sisters, Violeta and Eva, as they visit their father in Las Cruces, New Mexico, four times over a span of approximately 15 years.

THE GOOD

Residente

Residente

Three sets of sisters play the girls as they grow up, and that, alone, would be a difficult thing to handle as a first-time director. The young Eva is portrayed  by Sasha Calle and the young Violeta was Dreya Cad.  The lead, who plays their father, Vicente, is Residente. Residente is a member of the rap group “Calle 13” and has won 4 Latin American Grammys. The 46-year-old was born on February 23, 1978 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He was exceptional portraying a father who seems more scumbag than superhero. As an actor and director, he is known for Old Dogs (2009)Miss Bala (2019) and Residente Feat. Ibeyi: This is Not America (2022).

“In the Summers” won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance, 2025. Handling the three sets of actors who portrayed Eva and Violeta from young to older as a first-time director was quite an achievement. Young Eva is portrayed (well) by Luciana Elisa Quinonez and young Violeta is portrayed by Dreya Castillo. Middle Eva is played by Allison Salinas and middle Violeta by Kimaya Thais. Teen-aged Eva is Sasha Calle and teen-aged Violeta is portrayed by Lio Mehiel. All did a great job.

The cinematography by Alexandre Mejia is top-notch and the music, as handled by Eduardo Cabra is also good.

THE BAD

One fan praised how the film was able to show how complex people can be without using a lot of expository dialogue. Agreed. This viewer went on to say, “I want to see more films like this that represent Latinx folks! And queer Latinx folks!”

I don’t want to see 1,000,000 more such films that represent constant insertions of queer/gay/transgender folk of any ethnic identity. It’s getting as predictable as the  horror movie trope that tells the teenagers not to go into the attic or the basement. It permeates every film, it seems.

I have nothing against films with lesbian, gay or transgender themes and nothing against lesbians, transgender, or queer folk. I applaud their struggle for acceptance and “equal” treatment. But shouldn’t the presence of these themes more-or-less reflect reality? Everyone should have the right to love whomever they want to love. The rest of us don’t have to gather round and watch them coupling, however,no matter whether they are shown with a person of the same gender  or a mate of the opposite sex. Pretending that there aren’t both homosexual and/or heterosexual individuals present in society or ignoring those themes is wrong. But over-emphasizing those themes is just as tiresome. Every other romantic film doesn’t need to (continue to) spoonfeed us a steady diet of gay/queer/transgender romance. Can’t the films simply represent the approximate reality of such relationships in the real world?

A recent Pew Research study said: “At a time when transgender and nonbinary Americans are gaining visibility in the media and among the public, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – that is, their gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.” The article goes on to say that younger people are more likely to identify as transgender or non-binary and the % rises to 5% in adults younger than 30, while the % of 30 to 49-year-olds drops to 1.6% and the % of those over 50 identifying is .3%.

This means that 95% of the U.S. population (roughly) is not transgender. Yet 100% of movies today seem to have the “obligatory” gay/ lesbian or transgender romance. Movies today routinely and persistently depict trans, lesbian or gay love scenes/themes.  This is the demand for “equal time” between the sheets, since heterosexual romances were forced down everyone’s throats for so many years. Frankly, it gets old.  The % of films exploring this topic in such graphic detail should more accurately reflect reality, and the reality is as noted above by the Pew Research study.

I am not offended by non-mainstream romantic couplings. I’m just weary of watching so many of them, inserted in nearly every film at every opportunity. I won’t say “Enough, already!” because I understand that this cause is important to the generation under 30 who represent the future, but, again, 95% of that generation is not transgender, according to the latest Pew survey, so why is this theme everywhere all the time seemingly, especially at indie film festivals? Yes, it’s a young crowd at film festivals, but isn’t the goal of film to depict the real world with skill and honesty? These themes deserve a place, but dominating every festival simply to appeal to young filmmakers seems somewhat disingenuous and dishonest.

Residente, who plays Vincente in “In the Summers.”

In this case, the filmmaker has been recounting  experiences growing up as a transgender youth with a father who seems anything but exemplary. Since it is the writer /director’s own personal story, (and one that was so well executed), I’m just going to say this briefly and move on. I applaud the young daughter who stands up to her father when he is attempting to drive drunk. I/we loathe the drunken father’s macho man reaction to his realization of his daughter’s sexual orientation. The film portrayed the situation in a way that was real and honest and representative of the way the United States reacted to trans, gay and queer folk over the centuries. It was well done by this first-time writer/director on so many levels, and the actors deserve much praise. I did think that the mother of these young girls deserved more time, but I understand that it is difficult to fit everything into a 1 hour and 35 minute movie.

I remember when watching Jim Brown and Raquel Welch pose together for “100 Rifles”  in 1969 was a huge scandal because she was white and he was Black. Now, nobody thinks twice about an inter-racial romance. That was a good thing. I applaud the acceptance of inter-racial romances that now exists in society. I started reviewing the very next year (1970); I’ve been at it ever since, accepting of films that depict inter-racial romance and, now, accepting of films that portray the romantic entanglements that once were kept under wraps and hidden from society’s view.

It will be a good thing when there isn’t a need for every single film to climb up on a soapbox and subject viewers to the familiar story of how prejudiced we, as a nation (and a world) have been for so long. In the meantime—like the explosion of horror movies that launched the splatter craze (that still exists), or the Marvel Universe (that Director William Friedkin called “spandex movies”)  we are going to have to applaud this repetitive theme, graphic or subliminal, in film after film after film until the formerly unacceptable or aberrant is unremarkable in its ordinariness.

(Stepping down off soapbox.)

 

 

“Daughters:” Documentary at Sundance, 2024

A still from the documentary Daughters, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae

David Ehrlich of “Indiewire” wrote of “Daughters,” that it was “An enormously moving documentary” and that it had “as much ugly-cry potential as anything in recent memory.” The film, directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae, gives us the background on a unique father-daughter dance for D.C.-area Black girls whose fathers are in jail. Ehrlich called it “A damning portrait of America’s prison-industrial complex.” The information that single mothers struggling to make it on their own while their significant others are incarcerated for years makes the point that the relatives are charged to visit their loved ones. This seems like adding insult to injury, although the inmates obviously committed crimes that led to their incarceration, which is downplayed in this documentary.

In order to be allowed to participate in the daddy/daughter dance the prisoners must take a course in parenting. Some of the participants admit that, initially, they only signed up for the daddy/daughter instruction in order to get an extra in-person opportunity. Later, they say  that participating has been beneficial to them as people. Indeed, the recidivism of the men who take part seems to be much better than the average prisoner. The testimony of the prisoners is very interesting, but the leader of the class is pedantic and not very interesting, for the most part. It is far more engrossing to listen to the prisoners, the children and the women waiting on the outside. For me, the sequences that involved the instructor teaching the class were only interesting when the prisoners were allowed to talk and tell their stories. This film could have dispensed with the pedantic prison employee and simply cut from prisoner’s story to prisoner’s story with better results.

Little Aubrey at age 5 is enchanting. The film goes back 8 years later, and the bright little girl has become a jaded teenager who says she never wants to be a mother and expresses her broken spirit in so many other ways. Mark (a prisoner) who is the father of Santana reveals that Santana was born when her mother (Diamond) was only 14 and he was 16. The personal details are enlightening, but the segment goes on too long. The entire film needed a good editor.

Music supervisors Sunny Kapoor and Connie Edwards did a fine job, and the film provides enough food for thought to keep us pondering for weeks. It won a Festival Favorite Award at Sundance (2024) for the directors’ first feature documentary.

But, in terms of the story this film is telling,  the prison system beat goes on, and it is heart-wrenching.

Jesse Eisenberg’s “A Real Pain” Wins Screenwriting Award at 2024 Sundance

All of the introductory pictures on the Sundance page featured this Jesse Eisenberg film, which he wrote, directed and starred in. The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance (some choice lines from the script to follow.)

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Kaplan and Kieran Culkin is his cousin, Benjy. Following the death of their Grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, the two travel to Poland with money she left them for the trip, and ultimately end up joining a tour of concentration camps. Jennifer Grey portrays Marcia, a divorced woman who is on the tour with the cousins.

Benjy is in crisis. We learn this as the trip progresses. As cousin David (Jesse Eisenberg) says of Benjy, “You’re like an all-encompassing individual.” He also says of Benjy, “I love him and I hate him and I want to kill him and I want to BE him.” Benjy is well-played by Kieran Culkin who steals most of the scenes. The reasons for his depression are not totally explained to us. His fascination with airports, while interesting, is another oddity.

Here are some of the good lines from the honored script:

“There but for the grace of no God go I.”

“You have the most effed-up sense of proprieties.”

“You light up a room and then you shit on everything inside of it.”

Jesse Eisenberg’s first directorial effort was 2022’s “When You Finish Saving the World.” Both films were produced by Emma Stone’s production company, Fruit Tree.

This outing was much more professional. The ending left something to be desired, but it was a very enjoyable film.

 

“A New Kind of Wilderness” Is 2024 Sundance World Cinema Grand Prize Winner

Sundance Film Festival is ending its 40th run on January 28th. I’ve been streaming many of the award winners, including these, in  alphabetical order:

  • “A New Kind of Wilderness”
  • “A Real Pain”
  • “Daughters”
  • “In the Summers”
  • “Kneecap”
  • “Little Death”
  • “Porcelain War”
  • “Suncoast”

[I’ll be telling you about the above films in installments over the next few days, so tune in.]

Although “A New Kind of Wilderness” is first on the list because it is alphabetically first, I think it may be my favorite of the 8 listed, which are award winners. “A New Kind of Wilderness” won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize.

The beautiful part of “A New Kind of Wilderness” is that it is a documentary, but also contains a wonderful story of how a couple in Norway (he is British; she is Norwegian) chose to drop off the grid and raise their children on a farm in Norway. As Nik, the father of Freja, Falk, Ulv and step-father of Ronja tells us, “We want to be independent, free, and full of love.” He added, “We govern our own lives…When you choose a life that is so dependent on yourself, you have a certain authenticity.”

The children have no television, no electronic devices, are home schooled, and learn about growing their own food and hunting and butchering animals for food. The father, Nik, warns the children that traditional schooling teaches, “You can be yourself, but only if you fit in and follow the rules.”

But then the children’s mother, Maria Gros Daine, dies and the group is forced to sell the farm and move to the city. They also spend 4 months in England visiting Nik’s parents, but the kids obviously do not want to move to England, although he temporarily considers it, because, as he said, “It’s a lot harder being alone.”

George MacKay in Captain Fantastic (2016)

The entire story was basically the 2016 film “Captain Fantastic” starring Viggo Mortensen and written and directed by Matt Ross. The director was Silje Evensme Jacobsen and she got the idea of the film from Maria’s blog wildandfree.no and worked on developing the gorgeous images from it (Maria was a professional photographer) into this film. It was very well done and the plot mimicked Matt Ross’ plot line as the children are gradually introduced to the electronic world and school and they begin to enjoy learning and socializing, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because living off the grid is also an isolating experience, but it is also bittersweet to hear Frija tell her father she would rather go to school than play hooky and go camping with him.

It was a beautiful film and all of the issues in the “Captain Fantastic” film were addressed using real-life participants in the adventure of dropping out of normal life to live an exceptional life, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

Reflections on Barbra Streisand’s Autobiography “My Name Is Barbra”

James Brolin & Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand & Husband James Brolin.

  • Has unresolved issues about her mother.
  • Has issues regarding a “father figure.”
  • Somewhat downplays the gift her voice has been to her life path.
  • Seems to have OCD tendencies, even as to placement of flowers.
  • Naturally curious.
  • Seems to have built a “family” from those she found more supportive of her.
  • Takes a few swipes at good old “Marty” (her manager),and at Mandy Patimken and others. Seems to want to portray herself as someone who others were constantly seeking for intimacy, yet she doesn’t share much about her “lovers.” In fact, she seems to be rather coy about whether or not a certain famous individual was or was not someone with whom she shared physical intimacy.
  • James Newton Howard seems to re-surface as someone who had a crush on her.
  • The Jon Peters guy sounds like a real shyster and opportunist, and that seems to have been how he was viewed by the Hollywood community, as well.
  • Loyalty to Prince—now King—Charles and to Pierre Trudeau. Probably explains her views on Meghan Markle, recently articulated.
  • Doesn’t say much about Elliott Gould, with whom she shares her son, Jason. Kind of implies that they just drifted apart, he wasn’t good-looking enough, and he had a gambling problem and possibly a drug problem later in life. Discusses Jason’s homosexuality in passing and claims he has a phenomenal voice. Jason is now 58 years old and, while he did release an album some years ago and sang with his mother on one of her tours, he doesn’t seem to have done much creating, musically speaking.
  • Seems to have found a man in James Brolin who can take her independent attitude in stride.
  • Starred or appeared in 19 films, but sounds like she is done.
  • Music seems to be the thing that she might continue doing to the bitter end, a la Tony Bennett, especially if it doesn’t involve touring or appearing in person.
  • Very detail oriented, to the point that would drive many people insane. (Lighting, rewriting lyrics, etc.). She actually requested that famous songwriters like Stephen Sondheim rewrite song lyrics for various reasons and other “pushy” things.
  • Tells some interesting stories about her famous friends (Donna Karan is one, Prince Charles, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, the Clintons) but doesn’t really dish much new dirt. Before I read the book, the Big Story seemed to be her rejecting Mandy Patimkin as a potential fling, saying she did not find him attractive. The truth hurts, but good for you, Barbara. [Nobody finds Mandy Patimkin attractive.]

    Mandy Patimken.

*Barbra’s father, Emmanuel Streisand, died at 35 and she was told by her cold mother that she kept waiting for him to return for days, sitting by the window. In her own words, “In some ways, I’m still waiting.”

*Her book is dedicated this way:  “This book is dedicated to the father I never knew, and the mother I did…” She, basically, says she loved her mother but she didn’t “like” her. Her mother seems to have had serious jealousy issues about Barbra’s phenomenal success and hurt her many times, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fortunately, Babs bonded with many women who were older than she is and they served as “surrogate” mothers. One of the more famous was Bill Clinton’s mother.

*She talks about how she doesn’t really take care of her voice and doesn’t like to warm up, etc. She also has crippling stage fright, brought on by having forgotten the words to a song while performing at a free concert in Central Park.

*Outspoken – Recently, Babs came out swinging against Megan Markle. She criticized everything about the woman, from her acting prowess to her relationship with the Royal Family. It has made all the tabloids and seems to be a throwback to her great friendship with King Charles and loyalty to him. Barbara doesn’t say that she and Charles had “a fling,” but she tells a semi-racy story about his dog coming in to get in bed with her one morning when she is visiting England.

Barbra Streisand with her only child, Jason Gould (age 58).

Jason Gould and Mom Barbra Streisand.

*The Jon Peters romance (he was her hairdresser) was one of the chapters in her life that she attributes to her “hippy” phase. He sounds like a real piece of work! He is portrayed in the movie “Licorice Pizza” and it isn’t pretty. He did rise to become the head of a studio, but he sounds like a real insecure opportunist. One thing that attracted her to him was that they both had sons about the same age.

*Barbra seems to have a fairly ruthless way of dealing with disloyalty. In her own words, “When I’m done with something, I’m done!” She describes cutting Agent Sue Mengers out of her life when she suspected that the woman had leaked some things to the media.

*She reveals that she has heard weird noises in her head since childhood.

*Several times in the book Barbra repeats this line from George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan:” “It is an old saying that he who tells too much truth is sure to be hanged.” She also says, “I’ve always believed in telling the truth, but it has gotten me in trouble over the years.” We saw Barbra in concert in Chicago right before a presidential election and her remarks to the audience supportive of the Democratic candidate caused the couple next to us to yell (loudly), “Just shut up and sing.” I happen to agree with most of her political opinions, so I’m not one of the MAGA crowd who would be this rude. It was an “okay” concert, but it was not the Experience of a Lifetime I had hoped it might be, as I had been a fan for years.

*The book goes down easy and is a good read, but she goes into detail after detail after detail about every outfit she ever wore in her life, which reminded me of my own dear mother, who resembled Barbra’s mom in that she was not one to praise or express warm, fuzzy things, but I have tried to understand her chilly treatment of me in light of her own career and its demands. Barbra has had years of therapy and she tries to be even-handed about her mother’s indifference or jealousy towards her.

There is no question that Barbra Streisand is a formidable talent. She is a lot. I love her singing; I like most of her movies, so I enjoyed reading the behind-the-scenes stuff but I felt she put entirely too much time describing every outfit she ever wore in her life and casting herself in the most positive light possible, with all kinds of effusive notes of praise and uber-flattering photos.

 

“The Boys in the Boat” Brought Home the Gold in 1936

George Clooney

George Clooney

I just watched George Clooney’s film (he directed) “The Boys in the Boat.”

My spouse did not want to watch it, declaring it to be “too predictable.”

THE GOOD

I wanted to see Joel Edgerton in action as the coach, and the lead actor playing Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) was a new star, for me. He’s British and the Brits have been saying he is “the star of tomorrow” since 2014, which is 10 years ago. He’s 34 now (born in 1990) so perhaps a better title would be “the men in the boat.”

I did notice that the pictures at the end of the movie featuring the real Washington crew were all very handsome young men. They had great teeth, The love story between Joe  Rantz (Callum Turner) and Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson) was nicely done.

The cinematography was also wonderful, although all of the close-ups on the oar locks made me think that one of them was going to give way at a crucial moment.

The “boys in the boat” were the crew members who journeyed to Hitler’s Germany for the 1936 Olympics. I have watched another documentary about how piqued Hitler was when Jesse Owens performed so brilliantly, defeating his Aryan athletes.

THE BAD

We know how this movie comes out before it even starts. In that regard it reminds of the movie about space launches where we know whether the launch went well or poorly.

My husband was right that it was “too predictable,” but it was still worth a look.

It cost $19.99 to rent “The Boys in the Boat.”

Maybe wait till it comes down in price.

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