You may not be transported to outer space, but Rocketman is sure to make your spirit soar. It’s such a pleasure to see a film with a killer soundtrack, amazing performances and costumes that make you want to dig out your platform shoes and join the fun. Yes, there are some dark moments in this Elton John biopic and there’s no sugar-coating depression and suicide–but it’s a tale of triumph that leaves you tapping your toes.
The trajectory of shy music prodigy to gay icon who’s an AIDS activist that has raised millions for HIV research with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, starts amusingly-enough, in an Al-Anon meeting. There’s a dimly-lit circle of folding chairs that can’t contain this out-size personality…let alone his sequined costume. Welsh actor, Taron Egerton, gives an incredible performance as Elton John. We open with the star having hit the skids and looking to save his life. Taron Egerton does all his own singing and it’s a transformation that Elton himself has applauded.
Director Dexter Fletcher who picked up the reins on Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was fired, doesn’t shy away from the homophobia of the time. The young British boy, Reggie, is shown living a typical schoolboy life. He seems repressed and gets little support or attention. There’s an implication that his lack of physical affection and parental neglect lead to his constant search for a loving relationship.
The relationships that do bolster our aspiring musician; his grandmother, who was an early supporter of his music and then his writing partner, Bernie Taupin (played with charm and serenity by Jamie Bell), seem to be enough to sustain him till the crushing pressure of performance, drugs, alcohol and a manipulative manager/lover take their toll. There’s a great montage of Elton at the piano in his crazy costumes rotating thru concerts around the world. It’s fun to see the actual costumes at the end to see what a smashing job the costume department did on this film.
What didn’t work for me was the casting of Elton John’s mother. Bryce Dallas Howard is lovely but she’s too kind to portray this unfeeling, selfish character…it feels like too much of a stretch and came off false. Her aging make-up adds another layer of falseness in a film that seems to be aiming for a true representation of Elton’s life. Her portrayal seems a caricature.
There was a horrific attack on a British couple in the news recently: lesbians, beaten when they wouldn’t kiss for the pleasure of bunch of brutes on public transit. Watching this film, with it’s celebration of a Rock Star who has made his life a crusade to end homophobia, feels like a way to fight that darkness. Rocketman embraces the belief that you can live your life—gay, straight, bi, trans–and be fabulous. What a hero Elton John has been! Photos of Elton John and husband with their two darling boys living a happy life is a triumph over all of those brutish bullies.
It’s a rainy Saturday night and you’re in the mood to go to a movie. If you live in a major city, you have many choices of where to see a film and what to see. Do you rely on word of mouth? Is there a newspaper with a reviewer you trust? Or, like many Americans, do you simply pull up Rotten Tomatoes? If that’s the case–you’d likely miss out on this fine film, The Aftermath.
Keira Knightley has made a career of emotionally-riveting performances in period pieces. How you feel about this film will depend on your affinity for her, for foreign films set during war time, and complicated storylines featuring fraught romances. Will you trust me that this trio of well-regarded actors create nuanced characters, that the screenplay based on the book by Rhidian Brook presents a side of World War II that’s a different perspective than Americans are used to, and that the costumes and production design are phenomenal? Or will you believe the reviews on Rotten Tomato?
Director James Kent introduces this story of a British Colonel and his distraught wife with falling bombs. After an awkward train station greeting that reveals their discomfort, we see the devastation of Hamberg as they travel to their new home. The contrast between the visiting British military–the Victors, and the citizens–the war victims, still digging thru the rubble in the streets is starkly drawn. The couple, played by Keira Knightly and Jason Clarke spy a mother combing her daughter’s hair thru a bombed out apartment wall. Cut to the view of a beautiful mansion in the snow. The door opens to their new home–the luxurious manor home of a German architect (Alexander Skarsgård) filled with art and modern furniture.
Instead of the typical American film where the backstory is feed to us upfront, in The Aftermath, we discover each person’s tragedy as the story unfolds. The movie trailer reveals the steamy romance at the center of the story but it’s the Hitler youth and the tragedy of the young men lost on both sides of the war that is the central narrative. The daughter of the architect, Freda, played by a remarkable Flora Thiemann suffers the lose of her mother, then must see her home stolen from her family as she’s forced to live in the attic. How can she trust that her father will take of her?
The film wants us to think about how the British Military was sent to start Reconstruction when the city was full of starving, grieving displaced families that didn’t want them there and viewed them as the enemy. Would you trust the people who bombed your city to help you? How does a family grieve? How does a city grieve?
Alexander Skarsgård is the handsome star that will draw an audience. It’s Jason Clarke, who’s performance as the Colonel who’s had to bury his humanity to survive the evils of war, that deserves the attention. I left this film feeling like I’d had a history lesson but also experienced how war and tragedy changes us all. Trust me, it’s worth a watch.
Drinks with Films Review: 4 glasses of purloined German wine
(out of 5)
Yet another Blockbuster featuring a Woman in the Central Role and what a surprise–it’s making headlines! Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson had Opening Weekend Box Office of $455 Million worldwide. $153 million domestic is the second biggest solo superhero debut in history, behind Black Panther ($202 million). The real WIN in my book is that Rotten Tomatoes changed it’s review policy. Due to the advance bad reviews that punsters tried to post to the site BEFORE Captain Marvel was released, Rotten Tomatoes took a stand. It may seem logical to have prevented this in advance but the review-aggregating site was responding to public criticism that women-lead movies were being singled out for negative criticism (see Ghostbusters).
Films with women in lead roles and/or directed by women have been few and far between but it feels like the tide is turning. Look at our current slate of films in theaters: Jordan Peele’s horror film Us features another remarkable performance by Lupita Nyong’o, Sebastián Lelio remade his own film, Gloria Bell, featuring the luminous Julianne Moore, and if you’re lucky to be in a major film market, Diane, The Chaperone, Sunset or Ash is Purest White might be playing. Women are front and center; and not just White Young Starlets, there are a few older women and other nationalities sneaking thru the cracks in the Hollywood Wall created by #MeToo and #TimesUp.
🍺🍺🍺1/2 beers out of 5 for @captainmarvelofficial I really enjoyed the origin story and @brielarson performance. I liked the humor and the girl power. It could’ve used a little more fun and character development.
I like to compare film reviews to discussions about wine. Your enjoyment of either is often determined by far more that what’s in your glass or on the screen. To appreciate a fine wine or have a great cinematic experience, you must take into account your present state of mind, your affinity for certain things (notes of cherry say or affection for pratfalls), what you’re pairing it with (salmon, a matinee with your ex-boyfriend) and your previous experiences (extensive wine tasting, several cinema appreciation classes). I can’t tell you what’s going to make your heart go pitter patter…but I can give you an idea about what might be in store for you.
My film blog (and Instagram Feed), Drinks With Films gives a one to five rating for a film based on what drinks seem appropriate for the characters in the film. One shot of tequila for a bad Western for instance, five glasses of Champagne for an excellent Romance. I believe that the best way to give someone a recommendation on a film, is to understand their taste in films!
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 (PG • 104 mins.)
How to Train Your Dragon 3 –The Hidden World, directed by Dean DeBlois: rare is the series that maintains this high of entertainment value. Not only is the story fresh and the animation charming, the message of being true to yourself and the importance of family remain strong across all three films. Funny characters, dragons both scary and sweet, and the final resolution that if you love someone or something–sometimes you have to let it go. It’s all packaged in an action-packed tale that stays true to the characters. A great film for the whole family, though a few scary moments for the very young or easily frightened.
4 mugs of glog (out of 5)
WHAT MEN WANT (R • 1 h 57 mins.)
Men Want, directed by Adam Shankman and starring Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Richard Roundtree, and Tracy Morgan. A loose remake of the 2000 film What Women Want, the plot follows a woman who,
after drinking a potent concoction offered by a psychic, hilariously portrayed
by Erykah Badu, gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts. Ali is a
successful sports agent who can’t seem to make partner in her male-dominated
field. Will she use her new power to hear the random, mostly crass thoughts of
her colleagues to advance her career? Will it ruin her friendships and her new
love interest? This over-long adaptation features a few chuckles and lots of
reinforced stereotypes. Taraji P Henson has some great outfits and brings a
warmth and wit to this portrayal of Ali, yet the only interesting character is
the assistant played by Josh Brener.
1 cup of disgusting tea out of 5
The Lego Movie 2:
The Second Part, directed by Mike Mitchell featuring the vocal talents of Chris
Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Tiffany Haddish is the fourth Lego film
and predictably, not the best in the series. The kids at the screening I
attended were laughing and seemed to enjoy the animation but the soundtrack is
not as catchy, the plot–not as inventive, and the animation isn’t anything
new. Instead of the Father and Son, this edition features Maya Rudolph as the
Mom threatening to put the Legos in a storage bin. An amusing, if modest effort
for the franchise.
2 super sweet Slurpies out of 5
Isn’t It Romantic,directed byTodd Strauss-Schulson. A delightful parody of Hollywood Romantic Fillms. Rebel Wilson is hilarious and real.Liam Hemsworth and Adam Devine have fun parodying the romantic lead and the guy stuck in the “friend zone”. Just like the actress, the film pretends to be all snarky till you get to the soft gooey, lovable ending. A fun date movie.
3 fruity, overly sweet drinks out of 5
Captain Marvel, directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. I really enjoyed the origin story and Brie Larson gives a refreshing performance as the Super Hero. There was wit and humor and girl power. It could’ve used some more character development and more fun…why so dark? A few odd bits, like why is her nose bleeding green in the flashback? Overall, a good time at the movies.
UPCOMING 22ND ANNUAL SONOMA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Festival to Open with LADIES IN BLACK; SIR is Closing Night Film
Wednesday, March 27 – Sunday, March 31
Sonoma, CA (March 11, 2019) – The 2019 Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) is celebrating 22 years of film, food, wine, and spiritsWednesday, March 27 to Sunday, March 31, 2019. All films are shown at intimate venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza. In total, 123 films from around the world, from over 28 countries and 200 filmmakers, will be showcased as all eyes turn to Sonoma for a Festival that consistently attracts the most prominent names in the film industry and has become a marquee destination for film lovers, as well as lovers of world class food and wine!
The film festival guide has all films and events by day, times, venues, and includes film trailers when available. Some of the films highlighted this year include MIKE WALLACE IS HERE, ART PAUL OF PLAYBOY: THE MAN BEHIND THE BUNNY, FIRE ON THE HILL, GIRL ON WAVE, CHARGED, and the Oscar® winning animated short BAO.
The Opening Night Gala is Wednesday, March 27 from 5pm to 7pm in the Diageo Backlot Tent and features music from The Rich Little Band. The Opening Night Film, LADIES IN BLACK to follow at Sebastiani Theater (7:15pm) and Meyer Sound & Dolby Hall at Vets 1 (7:45pm). From Academy Award nominated director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Mao’s Last Dancer), LADIES IN BLACKis set in the summer of 1959 when the impact of European migration and the rise of women’s liberation is about to change Australia forever. Sixteen-year-old Lisa takes a holiday job at the prestigious Sydney department store, Goode’s. There she meets the “ladies in black.” Beguiled and influenced by Magda, the vivacious manager and assisting sales ladies Patty and Fay, Lisa is awakened to a world of possibilities. As she grows from a bookish schoolgirl into a glamorous and positive young woman, the impact they have on each other will change all their lives. Julia Ormond (Actor),Rachael Taylor (Actor) and Allanah Zitserman (Producer) will all be on hand to walk the red carpet in support of the film, which is the largest grossing film in Australia’s history. Jennifer Brown of Flagstar Bank and Tina DeMartini of DeMartini Electric, Inc., are the presenting sponsors of the Opening Night Film.
The sellout SIFF/Devour! Chefs & Shorts is back! This year’s event features highly regarded culinary luminaries who will each prepare a dish inspired by short food-focused films from around the world. Michael Howell and Lia Rinaldo, founders of DEVOUR!—the world’s largest food and film festival in Nova Scotia, Canada—curate the chefs and the films. Each course, paired with a select wine, creates a multi-sensory dining experience. This unique event will appeal to all foodie, film and wine buffs. The evening starts with a reception of passed appetizers, Gloria Ferrer bubbles and a SIFF signature cocktail from Ketel One Botanical. The wine pairings feature Huge Bear Wines, Deerfield Ranch Winery, Bee Hunter Wine, and Landmark Vineyards. The featured chefs include Michael Howell (Founder and Executive Director of Devour!), Chef Marcellus Coleman (Executive Chef at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa), Chef Cole Dickinson (Executive Chef at MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa), Pastry Chef Michelle Gayer (Owner Salty Tart bakery), Chef Della Gossett (Pastry Chef at Spago) and Chef Eduardo Garcia (Co-founder Montana Mex). Adding to the night’s experience Chef Tyler Florence will screen his trailer for UNCRUSHABLE, showing twice at SIFF22. The event takes place on Thursday, March 28 at 6pm at host Ramekins Culinary School, Events & Inn located at 450 W. Spain Street, Sonoma. Tickets are $250 with Soirée, $275 with Cinema Pass, $300 General Public, $500 for seat at Tyler Florence’s hosted table (only five seats available) and are available at http://www.sonomafilmfest.org/page464.html.
The list of accomplished jury members for this year’s festival includes casting director Ferne Cassel (DIE HARD, COMING TO AMERICA, ROADHOUSE, DICK TRACY), Courtney Sexton (Vice President of CNN Films), powerhouse film distributor Adeline Monzier, Michele Maheux (Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Toronto International Film Festival), Bart Walker (partner at ICM Partners), cinematographer John Bailey (GROUNDHOG DAY, AS GOOD AS IT GETS, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, MUST LOVE DOGS), Bill Keith (Deputy Editor of Entertainment Weekly), award winning producer Tom Davia (ARE WE NOT CATS, LA GRANJA), and actress Angela Sarafyan (THE INFORMERS, A BEAUTIFUL LIFE, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN – PART 2, WESTWORLD).
New to SIFF this year is The UNCRUSHABLE Dinner with Tyler Florence. On Friday, March 29 join celebrated Chef Tyler Florence for a one-of-a-kind “Dinner and a Movie” event. View Tyler’s documentary, UNCRUSHABLE, and after the film, savor a four-course dinner paired with wines from SIMI, Ravenswood, Robert Mondavi and The Prisoner Wine Company. The dinner begins at 5pm at Ramekins Culinary School, Events & Inn located at 450 W. Spain Street, Sonoma. Tickets are $250 with Soirée Pass, $275 with Cinema Pass, $300 General Public and $500 for a seat at Tyler Florence’s hosted table (only five seats available) and are available for purchase at http://www.sonomafilmfest.org/page464.html.
Saturday, March 30 SIFF will host two Industry Panel Discussions in the Diageo Backlot Tent. Panel #1 at 9:30am “Representation: A Look Into The Business of Agents and Managers” will feature Bill Keith, Deputy Editor of Entertainment Weekly), Bart Walker (ICM), Beth Holden Garland (Talent Manager), and Melissa Hirschenson (Agent at Innovative Artists). Panel #2 at 10am “Destination Filming: The Practicalities of Filming Outside the ‘Hollywood Zone’” will feature Mark Walker (Cinelease Director of Studio Development and General Manager, Film Mare Island).
Sunday, March 31 is the Closing Night Film and Wrap Party, presented by Daniel Casabonne of Sotheby’s International Realty. The Closing Night Film is SIR directed by Rohena Gera, starring Ahmareen Anjum, Vivek Gomber, and Geetanjali Kulkarni, will show at 7:15pm at the Sebastiani Theatre and at 7:30pm at Meyer Sound & Dolby Hall at Vets 1. SIR is the story of worlds and classes colliding – of human connection across the invisible, oppressive barriers of society. A live-in domestic worker, Ratna is an impoverished but determined woman dedicated to her dreams. While working, she meets affluent Ashwin who, despite his riches, seems to have given up on his dreams and lost himself in the process. As the connection between them grows and their disparate worlds are irreparably intertwined, the social barriers that seek to separate them only appear to grow more insurmountable.
The 22nd Annual Sonoma International Film Festival runs from Wednesday, March 27 through Sunday, March 31. The best way to experience the festival and have access to all films is by getting a SIFF pass. SIFF can be enjoyed at different levels. Currently Cinema Passes are $325, $950 for Soirée, and $2,500 for Patron. All Cinema pass holders will have day access to the Diageo Backlot Tent. Soirée pass holders will have day VIP area and evening parties access. For information about tickets, festival passes, prices, and benefits visit www.sonomafilmfest.org.
About the Sonoma International Film Festival
The Sonoma International Film Festival, an entirely walkable festival, is a 501(c)3 corporation dedicated to promoting independent film and filmmakers from around the world, inspiring film lovers, and introducing the power of film to student filmmakers. SIFF’s signature initiative—the Media Arts Program started at Sonoma Valley High School in 2002—introduces students to the process of storytelling and provides the resources for them to create films, many of which are shown annually at The Student Showcase. This “only in SONOMAWOOD” five-day event features screening venues in and around Sonoma Plaza, offers world-class cuisine from local artisans and exceptional wines from Wine Country vintners. Renowned filmmakers, industry leaders and celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, John Lasseter, Danny Glover, Demián Bichir, Mary-Louise Parker, Ray Liotta, Michael Keaton, and Meg Ryan have walked the SIFF red carpet and enjoyed its intimate ambiance.
Over the past 22 years, the Sonoma International Film Festival continues to promote independent film and filmmakers from around the world with the support of incredible sponsors who include but are not limited to: Manitou Fund, Diageo, Sonoma Magazine, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Arrowood, Bank of Marin, Dolby, Sonoma Market, Sophienwald, Stor-It-All, WildFire Web, Spritz, Don Julio, Johnnie Walker, Ketel One Botanical, San Francisco Chronicle, Landmark Vineyards, Brew Dr., Huge Bear Wines, OHM Coffee Roasters, Farm Fresh To You, Rodney Strong, Gloria Ferrer, and Lake Sonoma Winery.
From the get-go, the 91st Academy Awards courted controversy by announcing Kevin Hart as this year’s Host. The Academy should’ve done it’s homework. People remember when you’ve said homophobic slurs; especially when posted on Twitter. To make matters worse, the Producers thought to make the show shorter by awarding a few categories featuring less glamorous nominees, i.e., cinematography, editing, make-up and hairstyling, and live-action shorts, off-camera.
After significant uproar from the film community, the Academy President reversed that decision and the Show went on, without a Host.
This year’s program was one of the most diverse–both in Oscar Winners and the rainbow of Presenters. There was Serena Williams, Senator John Lewis, actors and musicians, both young and old. Black Panther was the first Super-Hero film to be nominated for Best Picture, and was awarded Oscars for Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler). The two women made history as African American women winning awards in non-acting roles. Regina King’s win for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk and Mahershala Ali, Green Book added to that celebration of diversity.
Billy Porter, star of the TV series Pose, broke gender norms with his tuxedo-inspired ball gown. Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, Amy Poehler, and Elsie Fisher walked the red carpet in pantsuits. The cast of Crazy Rich Asians was featured in many red carpet interviews. There were moments of triumph for Egyptian Americans (Rami Malek winning Best Actor), Iranian Americans (Rayka Zehtabchi for Best Documentary Short), a record number of LGBTQ-inspired films nominated, and Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón applauding “…the Academy for recognizing a film centered around an indigenous woman. One of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without workers’ rights.”
There was some disappointment that Glenn Close
didn’t win and silly gossip about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s music
performance and whether it signified an affair.
The show went along at a nice pace with some great acceptance speeches. Then the envelope for Best Picture was opened and Green Book was the Oscar winner! This film that landed one of it’s stars, (Viggo Mortensen, nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Frank Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga) in hot water for use of the “N” word. Green Book was also boycotted by the family of the real Don Shirley. Was this another film about a White Savior–did it create drama with altercations that never happened so that the white character could come to the rescue? Spike Lee, after his triumphant win for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlackKKlansman, turned his back on the stage and later said, “the ref made a bad call” and “every time someone’s driving someone, I lose” — referring to Driving Miss Daisy.
Did Roma, the Best Picture film favored to win,not garner enough votes because it was produced by Netflix? Was the Old Guard Hollywood voting with it’s pocketbook and trying to protect theaterical screening? Alfonso Cuarón had a great response. “For me the conversation about theatrical is super important… I’m a filmmaker. I believe in the theatrical experience. But there has to be diversity. The multiplex theatrical experience is a very gentrified experience. You have one kind of product with few variations. It’s hard to see art-house films. It’s hard to see foreign films. Most theaters play big Hollywood movies.”
As Cuarón told IndieWire
before the Roma premiere at the Venice Film Festival last August, the
main reason he went to Netflix in the first place was because no other platform
that would globally release a black-and-white, Spanish-language drama featuring
a cast of mostly unknown actors.
The 2019 Oscar’s may have escaped the #OscarsSoWhite label this year, but we still have some work to do to change hearts and minds. Diversity and inclusion are important, but the Academy needs to continue to welcome younger voters who’ll embrace the changing dynamic of today’s film culture.
This was a wonderful year for movies. No matter how you consumed them: via Netflix, at your local cineplex or at a starry Festival premiere, there was a broad array of offerings. A few of the sequels were as good, if not BETTER than the original films (Paddington 2, Incredibles 2, Bumblebee), our comic book films celebrated diversity and empowerment (Wonder Woman, Black Panther) and it was a banner year for documentaries (RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Free Solo).
My favorite movies this year were two beautiful black and white films that transported me to another time and place with amazing cinematography and rich storytelling. Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s tragic love story tracked lovers thru a decade of Polish folk music to jazz in Paris. It was in the small moments when a stillness seemed to freeze frame the characters so we could study their emotions. The lush cinematography and the amazing, luminous performances of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot really drew me in. The film had a documentary feel and was almost as moving as my favorite films from 2013, Ida, by the same director.
Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s personal film about life in an upper middle-class Mexican family home is also shot in black and white (by Cuaron). Told thru the eyes of the caring family helper (both maid and nanny), Roma reveals how the personal and the political impact and influence everyone’s lives. The casualness of how a normal day can be shattered by violence, transformed by a brush with death or unite a family to battle a brush fire; while the family tries to maintain security and stability. We may not suffer as much trauma but it’s a universal struggle to protect those we love that everyone can understand.
There were some astounding films this year. I was so moved by A Beautiful Boy (Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet), and Ben is Back also explored the drug crisis with searing performances (Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts). Welcome to Marwen and Annilahation were visually stunning as was the sweet Paddington 2. Into the Spiderverse was a zany Pop Culture Spiderman that we didn’t know we needed.
There were some great explorations of race and gender this year in film. My favorite was Blindspotting. I had to see Black Panther and Wonder Woman twice! And cheered for RBG AND On the Basis of Sex. One of my favorite moments at the movies this year was Edna Mode in The Incredibles 2 transforming into Aunt Edna and hustling the exhausted Dad (Bob, trying to be a Super Dad) back home. I felt that this year, the movies gave us some heroes that were flawed and all the more likable for it. Our society is changing. How we perceive ourselves and others is changing. Our films should too.
There may well have been other films I would’ve ranked in my Top 10 if I’d made one, but I know I missed seeing some great films this year: Madeline’s Madeline, Happy as Lazzaro, Private Life, The Rider, Support the Girls, Let The Sunshine In, Capernaum, Never Look Away, Burning, and Shoplifters. A few I’ll be able to see on Netflix or Hulu, and a few that may still screen at an arthouse cinema somewhere.
Follow me on Instagram for snapshots of films as I see them.