The Spotlight

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Upcoming Queen movie won’t just focus on Freddie Mercury.

Attack of the (Killer) Rotten Tomatoes.

Marvel and Star Wars movies will no longer be with Netflix.

Salon’s list of the scariest movie clowns.

Hollywood and 1980s nostalgia.

Florida movie theaters close as Hurricane Irma gets reach the coast.

Little known indie movies you should see.

The history and consequences of flipping gender film style.

Christian Bale’s physical transformation in the celluloid version of Dick Cheney.

Milwaukee Film Fest starts September 28th!!!!!!

 

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Rivers Edge (1986)

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River’s Edge begins with Samson (Daniel Roebuck) sitting next to the lifeless body of his girlfriend, Jamie (Danyi Deats). He strangled her. Betraying no emotion, Samson later tells his friends, and brings them out to the edge of the river to show her corpse. Most of them are not moved. Hey, shit happens. But some of them, Matt (Keanu Reeves), Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) are hugely bothered by seeing their dead friend. They think the police should be notified.

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But others want to cover it up. Yea, it sucks that Jamie is dead, but John is their buddy, and they should protect him. This definitely comes into play when the group’s de facto leader, wild-eyed speed freak Layne (Crispin Glover) compels the group to keep the murder a secret, and thinks they should smuggle Samson out of the state before the cops figure out who did the horrible crime.

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Matt, Maggie and Clarissa go along for a while. But tensions begin to escalate, and these three are confused on what they should do. Should they go along with Layne and the gang? Or should they tell the police what Samson did? And if they do, what will be the repercussions? Soon they find out that Matt’s younger brother Tim (Joshua John Miller) not only knows about the crime, but also knows one of the friends has gone behind everyone’s backs to report Samson to the police.

Meanwhile, Layne and Samson become more and more at loose ends, and they take refuge at the home of Feck (the late Dennis Hopper), a one-legged, dope dealing biker. Incidentally, Feck killed his own girlfriend years ago. Now he lives with an inflatable sex doll . Oddly enough, Feck acts as a mentor and counsel to Layne and Samson.

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River’s Edge does not end things tidily. Black and white morals have become hazy grays of ambivalence, nihilism and detachment. One teacher admonishes a student on how the values of his youth have been destroyed. Ah, yes. the old boomer telling the X-ers about the good old days. Even Feck thinks killing his girlfriend was okay because, hey, it was the ‘60s maaan.

Most chilling about River’s Edge, is it was based on a true story. Also chilling is how these kids assume they have no future so they numb their feelings with drugs and alcohol. The teens in River’s Edge are 180 degrees away from the lovable, wacky suburban cherubs of John Hughes films. In those films, a kid’s biggest problem is a Saturday detention or having your family forgeting your 16th birthday. In River’s Edge, life is a detention, and parents pretty much forget they have kids unless it’s to accuse one of them of stealing her marijuana.

Written by Neil Jiminez and directed by Tim Hunter, River’s Edge boasts of some incredibly honest and brutal performances. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of a generation that when it wasn’t ignored was maligned. As one character states, “You know it’s gonna be like this all day, man. Teachers lecturing us about what kind of monsters we are.” These kids know they are considered losers, so why not act accordingly? River’s Edge is not a comfortable movie to watch, especially if you’re a Generation X-er. “Hey, I was never like that,” you might want to shout at the screen. Yet, if you’re honest you might think, “But of course, some people were like that.” And that’s what makes River’s Edge such a potent of a film.

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Last Days of Disco (1998)

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Written and directed by Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980s during the waning days of disco’s glittery glory days.

The Last Days of Disco focuses on two recent college grads, Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte Pingress (Kate Beckinsale). They now live in Manhattan and work at a publishing house. Classmates at a prestigious east coast college, Alice and Charlotte seem to be friends more out of convenience, not actual affection. If Sex and the City had been around at the time you would call Alice and Charlotte “frenemies.”

After work, Alice and Charlotte spend their nights at Manhattan nightclubs socializing with the upper-crust elite and looking for fun and romance. Alice is quiet, soft spoken and intelligent. Charlotte is outgoing and spirited, but quite conceited. And she never fails to give Alice advice on men and dating. Desperate, Alice takes this advice even though it screws her up.

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Alice and Charlotte strike up a friendship with Des (Chris Eigeman) an employee of one of their favorite clubs. Des is quite the ladies’ man but claims to be gay once a relationship sours. Alice and Charlotte also find romance at the club, often with men who turn out to not be Mr. Right. Charlotte dates a man named Josh (Matt Keeslar) even though he really wants to be with Alice. And Alice has a one night stand with a lawyer named Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), who leaves her with a venereal disease.

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Despite their “frenemy” relationship, Alice and Charlotte decide to move in together. Realizing their parents’ generosity can only go so far, they take in another roommate, Holly (Tara Subkoff). Holly may be Alice and Charlotte’s roommate, but she never quite becomes their friend. Alice and Charlotte often question Holly’s intelligence and choices in men.

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All this closeness proves to be too much for Alice and Charlotte, and they soon part ways after a bitter conflict. Charlotte commiserates with Des, claiming her personality is just too much for mousy girls like Alice. But things look up for Alice once she starts dating Josh.

The Last Days of Disco isn’t so much about action and plot as it is about relationships, feelings and catching a singular moment of time. Remember it was the early 1980s. The glamorous and glittery debauchery of the 1970s was starting to look cheap, tawdry and despondent. Soon AIDS would haunt our sexual consciousness, and before long school children everywhere would claim, “Just say no” when it came to drugs.

Like many other coming of age films and TV shows like Girls, The Last Days of Disco examines the idea of young people “finding themselves.” Characters, who at turns seem so sure of themselves, question their choices in love, careers and friendship. And the social dynamic between Alice and Charlotte is quite familiar to anyone who found themselves hanging out with people they didn’t really like but felt they needed them as some kind of life raft during uncertain times.

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The Last Days of Disco is considered the final chapter of Whit Stillman’s self-proclaimed “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love-Series,” which also included Metropolitan and Barcelona. All the performances ring true, and Chloe Sevigny is especially affective as the self-effacing Alice.

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Some people might be put off by a movie focusing well-to-do elites, but these are no Kardashians or younger versions of the Real Housewives. Alice and Charlotte’s difficulty in navigating a confusing world ring true whether you grew up with a silver spoon or on a steady diet of cheap mac n’ cheese.

Coco Before Chanel (2009)

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Before Chanel no. 5 and the interlocking Cs, and before the iconic quilted bag and the classic Chanel suit there was Gabrielle Chanel, an orphan whose unorthodox fashion sense revolutionized the way we dress. And in the French film (with English subtitles) Coco Before Chanel we learn of Coco Chanel’s early years.

Gabrielle Chanel’s life began quite humbly. As the film commences, young Gabrielle Chanel, along with her sister, are left at a Catholic orphanage by their father. Though Gabrielle’s childhood seemed bleak, she did learn how to sew, and the simple austerity of the nun’s habits influences her design aesthetic. Years, later and now played by Audrey Tatou, Gabrielle is working as a seamstress at a dress shop and singing at a cabaret with her sister.

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While singing in the cabaret, Gabrielle meets Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), a man of considerable wealth. They strike up a friendship and he bestows her with the nickname, Coco, the name of a song she and her sister often sing. Before long Coco becomes his erstwhile mistress. She thinks his wealth may be beneficial in improving her life. Before long she is living with Balsan at his country estate.

Coco isn’t in love with Balsan, yet she bristles when he calls her his “geisha” and doesn’t appreciate when he tries to keep her hidden in the kitchen when he’s entertaining guests. Coco is not the type of femme to be ignored, and she finally asserts herself and introduces herself to Balsan’s friends.

One of Balsan’s friends is an actress and former lover Emilienne (Emmanuelle Devos). Emilienne grows fond of Coco, and is quite intrigued by her odd dress sense. At a time where women wore elaborate dresses and hats, overdone with lace, ribbons, plumes, flowers and other accessories, Coco’s simple, menswear-inspired designs were truly avant garde. But Emilienne grows to love Coco’s look, and begins to support Coco’s fashion endeavors.

At this time Coco also meets and falls in love with one of Balsan’s friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola), a wealthy English man. Boy adores Coco but he won’t marry her. He is betrothed to another. Not surprisingly, Coco is not happy with this news, and she makes sure Capel provides with enough money to set up her own dress shop. Coco may never share his last name, but she’ll be damned if she gets nothing out of the love affair.

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Throughout the film, we get brief flashes on Coco’s fashion influences. She cuts up Balsan’s ties, suits and shirts to fit her petite figure. She lounges around in men’s pajamas. While at the sea, she notices the fishermen’s striped jerseys, and soon they become part of her look. In another pivotal scene, we see Coco at a dress shop, administering instructions to the shopkeeper on the kind of dress she wants, black, and no corset underneath. Voila, the little black dress, the mainstay of every woman’s wardrobe, is created.

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It is these moments I wish Coco Before Chanel would have focused on. Only rarely do we get to see Coco become the Coco Chanel in scenes where she is draping and cutting of fabric, making hats and finding inspiration for her designs. I do wish the film focused more on the emerging designer, and not the romantic melodramatics among Coco, Balsan and Boy Capel. The romantic melodramatics stunted the film, and made it come across like another costume drama you might find on PBS. This narrative isn’t exactly original, and if Coco Chanel was anything it was original.

Though I’m sure Coco’s personal life was interesting, I wanted it in smaller doses. It was Coco’s ascent as a fashion designer and laser-focused work ethic on creating her clothing and her brand that I wanted to see. We do get a brief glimpse of this at the end when Coco presents one of her collections at her atelier in Paris. But these scenes are all too fleeting. Perhaps what is needed is a sequel, Coco After Chanel. Mais oui?

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The Spotlight

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Wonder Woman has made over $400 Million domestically.

Laura Dern could be the first woman president of the Motion Picture Academy.

From the “Who Knew?” files Princess Leia earned her Ph.D when she was 19.

Billie Lourd on life after losing her mother, Carrie Fisher, and her grandmother, Debbie Reynolds.

Horror movie Get Out is the most profitable film of 2017 (so far).

According to Judd Apatow, conservatives can’t make good entertainment.

Eight of today’s most influential female action heroes.

Milwaukee Film Fest is adding Purple Rain to its 2017 fest.

SAG-AFTRA renews contract with studios.

Chloe Grace Moretz on being body shamed by male co-stars.

 

 

 

 

No Impact Man (2009)

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We recycle. We carry our groceries in cloth bags. We shop local farmers’ markets. And we’ve even traded our traditional light bulbs for long-lasting, energy efficient spiral fluorescent bulbs. We do the best to reduce our carbon footprint and be more ecologically-sound. Still, we know we’re making an impact on our planet. Could we possibly make no impact?

Colin Beavan, a Manhattan-based writer, decided to become more “green” and lessen his family’s impact on the planet. In fact, he wanted to make no impact at all, thus becoming “No Impact Man.” Beavan began his experiment in 2006 and blogged about it soon gaining media attention from both the New York Times and Good Morning America. And his (and his very patient family) journey is captured in the Justin Schein and Laura Gabbert documentary No Impact Man.

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Beavan’s experiment went a bit further than most of us would be willing in the pursuit of making no impact. He and his family lived without electricity, public transportation, driving, television, toilet paper (yes, toilet paper) and new clothing other than the bare necessities. Beavan rode his bike everywhere, bought local produce at the farmers’ market, walked up countless stairs instead of taking the elevator and composted food scraps.

Along for the ride is Beavan’s wife, Michelle Conlin, and their adorable toddler, Isabella. Not surprisingly, Michelle is less than thrilled with her husband’s grand scheme. She’s a writer for Business Week, and is a girl with a yen for Starbucks and retail therapy. But she loves her husband, and figures she can do this experiment for a year even as she goes through serious caffeine withdrawal, and expresses her desire for another child.

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Not quite sure what he’s getting into, Beavan embraces his experiment with giddy zeal. Using no toilet paper? How exciting! And it’s not long before his blog gets media attention. Though some people find his experiment intriguing and inspiring, many write him off as an affront to capitalism, abusive towards his family and a smug, humorless yuppie. Or as Michelle plainly puts it, “They’re calling us bourgeois fucks.”

Beyond the media attention, things don’t always run smoothly. Beavan and his wife bicker about having another child. Milk gets spoiled when the family relies on using two clay pots for refrigeration. And remember, no toilet paper, which makes them subjects for ridicule.

But still, the family soldiers on in their quest to lessen their impact on the environment. It’s not long before they find out that some things about their experiment are pretty cool. They enjoy spending time at the park and riding their bikes together. Even an old-school games of charades turns out to be more fun than a night in front of the boob tube watching reality TV.

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No Impact Man can at times be exasperating (no toilet paper), but you can’t help but come away with some more awareness. It helps that Beavan (and his family) is rather likable, frustrating, yet likable. Sure, Beavan can be a bit rigid, but he’s no finger-wagging scold. He knows what he’s doing is experimental. Sure, Michelle whines at times (that must be the caffeine withdrawal), but she’s no bitchy shrew. In the end, you see a family that truly loves and appreciates each other, and you also learn a few things. Shop at local farmers’ markets? Why yes. Stop using toilet paper? You’ll get my Charmin Double-Ply when you take it from my cold, dead hands.

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The Spotlight

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Toronto Film Festival to focus on the Trump era in film making and the Hollywood gender gap.

John Carpenter remembers George Romero.

The New York Times story on the late Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau.

Felicity Jones is replacing Natalie Portman in Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic.

Why Girl Trip and black sisterhood matters.

The power of Jane Austen 200 years after her death and the potency of 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.

Star Wars actor John Boyega on the lack of diversity in film.

Is Hollywood focusing to much on the male audience?

Film executive Shari Lansing reflects on her legendary career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blame It On Fidel (2006)

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It’s 1970s France, and little nine year old Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey) lives a charmed life. She resides in Paris with her journalist mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), lawyer father, Fernando (Stefano Accorsi) and little brother, Francois (Benjamin Feuillet). She is adored by her grandparents who make their home in a grand estate in the French countryside. As Blame It On Fidel begins, we see Nina at a family wedding, outfitted in an immaculate frock, and schooling her lesser cousins on the proper way to cut a piece of fruit with a knife and fork.

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However, Nina’s life is about to get topsy-turvy. Her father, originally from Spain, takes in his sister and her daughter after his brother-in-law disappears under Franco’s fascist regime. Doing this alters Nina’s parents’ priorities. Fernando begins to focus his new radicalized politics on his law practice. Marie, stops writing superficial articles for Marie Claire, and begins to write articles about serious women’s issues, including the thorny topic of abortion.

Nina doesn’t care about any of these things. She just knows her life has been changed completely. And she doesn’t like it. Her beloved nanny, Filomena, is let go only to be replaced by a string of different nannies (including one who provides the title of the film). Her family moves from their huge home to a cramped apartment. Bearded, smoking radicals are always around taking up her parents’ time. And Nina is removed from her beloved religion class at school.

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The movie is seen mostly through Nina’s nine-year-old eyes. She doesn’t care about what’s going on in the world. She just wants things to go back to the way they were. Sure, she’s self-absorbed, but so are most children. They want security and stability. They don’t care about “sticking it to the Man.”

And what makes Blame It On Fidel most effective is how it is shot at a child’s eye level. This is most evident when little Nina is dragged along with her parents to take part in a political demonstration. All Nina can see are legs, arms and feet. She is too small to see the faces of the protesting adults. And when things get out of hand, and tear gas fills the streets, you feel Nina’s fear and confusion.

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Blame It On Fidel is superbly directed by Julie Gravras, herself the daughter of lefty movie director Costas-Gravras. This is a film that could easily be grim and one-dimensional  but a has wry humor and a bittersweet sentiment. Nina’s parents may want to change the world, but their love for her will never waver. And perhaps once Nina gets older, she will realize this.

All the performances are wonderfully acted. But Miss Kervel-Bey is astounding as young Nina, her serious face and intense eyes conveying so much. With a lesser talent, Nina might come across as bratty and spoiled, but Kervel-Bey gives this young character a heart and soul the movie so richly deserves.

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Blame It On Fidel is not rated, and is in French with English subtitles.