How to take advantage of a festival if you’re a procrastinator!

The 42nd Denver Film Festival is halfway over. What if you’re just realizing it’s happening? You put it on your calendar and didn’t manage to purchase any tickets yet. Is it too late? Of course not! The Festival is on till Sunday, November 10th. You can still take advantage of some excellent programming even TODAY!

An exciting documentary series

Here’s where to start: head on down to the Festival Annex at the McNichols Building. Yes, yes, parking can be tough in the Civic Center area but there are garages nearby or take an Uber/Lift. Once you walk through the doors, head to the ticketing counter and ask what special $5 tickets might be available. Yes, that’s right, $5! Weekdays between 11am and 5pm there are a selection of tickets available and even prizes and giveaways!

Now grab a program and enjoy a libation in the cafe. Look at all the exciting activities available right there at the Annex. There’s more to this festival than films! You could check out some of the Free Virtual Reality in the Arcade. There are conversations and panels, art exhibits and parties. Ask other festival goers for their recommendations on films or experiences at the Festival. Escape from Godot is an exciting escape room experience based on “Waiting for Godot” or maybe you’d prefer “Star Wars Shakespeare”?

If you want to check out some of the excellent film programming, there’s still time. It’s a very diverse slate of comedies, dramas, animation, shorts and everything in between. There’s been a lot of buzz about The Conductor, Zumriki and the CO feature, 3 Days, 2 Nights. I can recommend the feminist adventure The Aeronauts and the wonderful documentary on Agnès Varda, Varda by Agnès.

There’s a steamy romance that’s beautiful and has a gorgeous lush soundtrack, Show Me What You Got. My favorite documentary 17 Blocks, has one more screening. If you’re interested in film making, there’s a comprehensive 14-hour documentary series called Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Now don’t worry, you don’t have to see ALL 5 parts! Nor do you have to see them in order. Tonight is Part Two and it’s a 3-hour look at different aspects of film making using women’s films as examples. Prepare for some enlightening cinema and expose yourself to directors you may have never heard of, and images you’ve likely never seen.

Don’t let the fun pass you by…come join the party at the Denver Film Festival!

Escaping to Downton Abbey

To the Manor born…

War. Climate Catastrophes. Strikes and Bombs and War and Refugees. There’s a real End of Times feeling to the collected crises our world is facing. It’s enough to make you want to run and hide. For me, that means running away to the movies or reading a good book.

It doesn’t matter how many critics laud Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Joker or how many new films are about war, I’m boycotting them all to give my psyche a reprieve. Stately manner, lovely costumes, a gently told tale of class warfare of the British gentry…yes, thank you ma’am.

Having not been a follower of the BBC series, I do read reviews and have a working knowledge of Julian Fellowes’ saga. The film, Downton Abbey opens with a sweeping vista of the grand home that gives the film it’s name. It’s a pleasure to walk through those doors and bask in the company of charming people who’s problems seem slight in comparison to the world outside the theater. Who wouldn’t want to pull up an antique Edwardian chair by the fireplace and enjoy a spot of tea?

Perhaps if I’d had a deeper connection to the characters, both upstairs and down, I’d have felt more invested in the main drama. It’s hard to get worked up about staff not getting to do their jobs when it seems they all work so tirelessly anyway. The one moment of real conflict is when one of the characters decides to step outside his role and winds up in jail for being himself. It’s good to see the film tackle a serious issue. I know that the television program did this as well. It’s not all visits from the King and Queen after all; this is also an estate that must be managed and run with the need for considerable funds.

There is some good action scenes with an assassination scheme foiled and a clever conspiracy to keep the royal staff locked away. As usual it’s Maggie Smith in her role as the Grand Dame who gets the sharpest lines and has the most rigid sense of class rules. Yet in this film, we see her warm to the idea of an interloper and she becomes the focus of the films sentimentality. Downton Abbey may not be a roaring good time, but it’s a lovely interlude in our busy, stressful lives and I highly recommend it. So grab some friends and head to the local tea shop and linger over a Queen’s tea. Or plan to discuss the film over scotch and whiskeys at a local pub. You deserve the break!

Drinks With Films Rating: 3 glasses of port sipped delicately from crystal glasses (out of 5)

Smash, Crash, Zoom — “Hobbs and Shaw” is a fun action film

Burdened with a long title and high expectations from fans of the franchise, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is surprisingly entertaining. If you haven’t watched any of the films in the series, you can still enjoy this one. There isn’t a lot of backstory from the other films you need to know and if you didn’t know that there was a rivalry between the two main characters, it’s set-up for you right away. I love what writer @tensecondsfromnow wrote in his review: Fast and Furious is largely about the toys, but there need to be men to drive them, and with Paul Walker’s demise, these men must be bald and middle aged.

Once it’s established that our two leads, played by The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) as a lovable muscled giant and the suave Jason Statham, who’s lovely British accent made me forget that yes, he IS indeed bald…are different but can both get the job done–the movie kicks into gear and doesn’t stop. If you’re expecting the trademark action set pieces of one person jumping from a speeding vehicle into another one, a motorcycle vs car chase, and a bunch of ridiculously large trucks fighting helicopters and other vehicles…this films got it.

What I liked about this film and the series, is the focus on the importance of family. Both leads have discussions with their Moms and their opinions influence the arc of the story. It’s refreshing to see an action movie where all the women are given power and allowed the agency to control the action. The women don’t follow the men nor are they playing the damsel-in-distress. Vanessa Kirby is Hattie, an action hero in her own right and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) tells Shaw (Jason Stratham) that she’s “bad ass”. She even gets her own catch phrase, “how long have you worked here?” that has amusing consequences.

Dame Helen Mirren has a small role as Shaw and Hattie’s mum and even in prison, she appears in control of the situation. She playfully gets out of her chains and drops them in the guard’s hands. Mexican actress and singer, Eiza González, in a small role as an arms dealer, may be a love interest for Shaw but she’s the boss of a full crew of talented women. She’s the one who has both the intel and specialized equipment to deploy on their mission.

Idris Elba is a wonderful conflicted baddie…rebuilt by an evil corporation; his character believes he’s the future of mankind. The moral conflict behind his eyes tells the audience that it’s dawning on him that he might be on the side of evil but he’s beyond committed to his path. The fighting is mostly bloodless–a ballet of bullets and flying bodies, but the battle fought without guns is ironically, the most brutal. It’s also the low-tech solutions that save the good guys in the final battle and they’re medieval and imaginative. I could’ve done without the intrusion of the smirky Ryan Reynolds’ character who seemed to be in another movie. If you’re looking for a high-speed action film that has a heart and some laughs, I think you’ll be pleased with Hobbs and Shaw.

Drinks with Films rating: 3 1/2 glasses of good bourbon served in cut glass tumblers (out of 5)

Summer Films with a Great British Actor

Summer time. BBQs, watermelon, family reunions and hot summer nights. The perfect time to escape to the movies! This is not a time for a Czech drama or a brooding intellectual film about politics. This is a time for fun, for explosions, for comedy.

For Emma Thompson?!

British actress, Dame Emma Thompson is a two-time Oscar Winner. Thompson Is the only person to have won Academy awards for both acting and writing. She won Best Actress for Howards End (1992), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995).

In the past, Thompson was known for her work with Kenneth Branagh. In the 90’s, they were the “It Couple” for brilliant Shakespeare films and intellectual relationship dramas. As Sir Kenneth’s star rose, he stepped out on Thompson and their marriage, and their films together ended. Emma Thompson went on to write the adaption of Sense and Sensibilities and starred in it with Kate Winslet. She also stars in two of my favorite films, Stranger Than Fiction and Howard’s End.

Recently she’s starred in two Nanny McPhee films and has written the TV adaptation of Margaret Edson‘s acclaimed play Wit (2001). She also starred in the movie and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Her awards page on IMDB takes an entire page!

So how did this acclaimed actress noted in Wikipedia as “often portrays enigmatic and matronly characters with a sense of wit, frequently in period dramas and literary adaptations” wind up featured in both the films opening this weekend at the Nugget Theater in Telluride, Colorado…kicking off the summer movie season?

Her role in MIB International is a bit part but a crucial role. She’s the much-admired Agent O, leader of the Men in Black London Division. She’s portrayed as a smart leader in a smart suit and Tessa Thompson (no relation), is the new agent that tells her, she wants IN. They both allude to how The Men in Black needs an update–Men and Women in Black? Sadly this franchise seems to have run out of steam. There are some fun moments but the banter between our two leads, Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth was better in Thor Ragnarok.

Mindy Kaling wrote the starring role in Late Night specifically for Emma Thompson. We get to see two comedic actors/writers at the top of their game have fun in a summer dramedy. Mindy Kaling gets top billing but without the gravitas that Emma Thompson brings to the role, the comedy wouldn’t elicit the chuckles that it does. They make a great duo and film comes alive when they share the screen. Late Night could lose one of the subplots and been improved by a shorter run time. It’s witty and political and takes on sexism, ageism, nepotism and wraps it in a summer comedy package. That it stars two women, one of color and one of a “certain age” proves yet again…people will pay to see quality entertainment. We need more women starring (and writing and producing and directing) films!

Drinks with Films Rating:

2 Super Size Soft Drinks (out of 5), MIB International is bright and fast-paced and lacking any depth…but there are a few roles for women! Tessa Thompson and Rebecca Ferguson are nice additions. Emma Thompson’s wardrobe is brilliant.

3 glasses of fine wine (out of 5), Late Night runs a little long and tries to tackle one too many “isms”. The writing crackles and Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson give performances that seem like heightened versions of themselves. Real and nuanced.

Be Uplifted by “Rocketman”

Rocketman Taron Egerton as Elton John Photo Credit: David Appleby

Be uplifted with Rocketman

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. 

Go see Rocketman for a much-needed lift!

Fun films to finish off the Winter Blahs

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.)

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/KhMlZeKx0BKhW00aT7R16zJv5dBJdnMFRBTC-0NOYHrpffZkNHq5vSQo-spbTpGAaJnM49gxd4eDRKdzfol-ZUz_A3Y9c9ignQhptsgGnD-fY466CC9Rf7ZNuQnPmPxxegUwXPcM

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.)

What Men Want, directed by Adam Shankman and starring Taraji P. HensonAldis HodgeRichard 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 BodenRyan 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.

3 1/2 All American Beers out of 5

Inspired Cinema in 2018: Innovative, Universal and showcasing flawed human beings as Heroes!

72 film tickets which doesn’t include films screened for festivals, shorts watched on my computer or any of the 15 films watched on Netflix, rented from Redbox or DVDS!

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.

See you at the movies my friends!