Summer is for Sequels

MIB 4 to Toy Story 4…summer sequels abound at the movie theaters right now. If it’s not a sequel; it’s a remake. Was anyone dying to see a new Aladdin? Or breathlessly awaiting the live action remake of The Lion King? Yes, perhaps there are families that are glad to have new versions of these films so they can stop watching the originals play non-stop at home…or any age-appropriate film to take the little ones to on a hot summer day.

Reviews of such films are not really necessary. If your family loved the first one, they’ll likely all go see the next three or four with diminishing interest and often, with lackluster stories. The joy of the Toy Story films was that Pixar Studios seemed to invest more time and care with each sequel to make it fresh and awarded the audience films that contained some of the wonder of the first film and new characters that everyone loved. So it is with sad heart that I report that this final of the series, Toy Story 4, bucks that narrative.

In trying to reinvent the story to provide us with new dimensions to a few of the characters, the animators send the toys on a road trip. If you’re going to create a film that features a spork, we needed an empowering story or ground-breaking animation…something riveting to justify this journey of an eating utensil and the girl who loves him. Most of the film centers on the interactions between Forky and Woody…and later, Woody and Bo Peep. While I applaud the feminist take on Bo Peep’s character, it also crossed my mind that she’s not really a “toy”. She’s part of a lamp. How did she become the love interest? But my mind wandered. I blame the lackluster writing in the film.

The animation to show Bo Peep’s shiny porcelain surface and the well-drawn interior of the Thrift Shop with it’s antique toys show the Pixar attention to detail. There’s a wonderful villain in the lovely damaged Gabby Gabby doll with her army of mechanical Dummies that move in a herky-jerky motion to make them more scary. It was fun to have Keanu Reeves show up as the Canadian Daredevil, Duke Caboom, but why have an actor who grew up in Canada not give the toy a Canadian accent? Odd choice.

As the action sequences roll along creating little tension, there’s less time for character development and the toys become less interesting. The story grows more preposterous as the Dad is forced to drive the RV back to the rescue at the small town carnival. In this Pixar film, the “real characters” are the ones with the blandest personalities. The only human with any dimension is the carny that has a few funny scenes with the toys.

When Woody makes a choice for love over becoming a forgotten toy, the other toys seem to easily accept the change. There’s little fanfare and off the other toys ride into the night. No tears, no tug at the heartstrings…just a sigh that that the studio let these beloved characters have a swan song that wasn’t deserving of them.

Stay for the credit sequence if you want more of the same poor writing and character development…or flee the theater and find some ice cream to comfort your inner child.

Drinks with Films Rating: 1 old fashioned phosphate drink (out of 5) and I’m sorely disappointed in the lack of an animated Short to go with the film. Often one of the best animated Shorts of the year, this lackluster production didn’t include one.

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.

Is it a Marvel? Women on the Big Screen

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.

drinkswithfilms —Captain Marvel Review

🍺🍺🍺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.

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

2019 Oscars: Diverse and Divisive

Women won in record numbers this year! Hurrah for Regina King, Rayka Zehtabchi, Hannah Beachler and RuthE. Carter

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.

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!

Boy, Oh Boy, which film about a young man in crisis should you see?

As we head into Awards Season, there’s one sure bet. At least one film about a young man facing a crisis will be garnering nominations…and possibly all three. Beautiful BoyBoy Erased, and Ben is Back not only love the letter “B” — they all explore families struggling with addiction or homosexuality as they try to find a way to love their son while his actions threaten to destroy their family life. All three films showcase heart-felt performances by two talented young actors.
Lucas Hedges (Academy Award nominee for Manchester by the Sea) in both Boy Erased, as a Christian teen in conversion therapy and Ben is Back, as a drug addict determined to spend Christmas with family.
Timothée Chalamet (Golden Globe nominee) in Beautiful Boy is the affluent teen who spirals out of control with a meth addiction.

Having seen The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring the talented
Chloë Grace Moretz, it‘s hard not to compare Lucas Hedge’s performance to hers and find it less-assured. Boy Erased is also about conversion therapy but it’s also a moving look at the relationship between this traumatized young man and his parents. Nicole Kidman gives another nuanced performance as a woman who loves her husband (Russell Crowe) and their religious life, but knows her son is hurting and damaged by the church dogma and this awful practice of forcing him to be someone he’s not.

Ben is Back features another mom/son relationship. Julia Roberts is receiving lots of critical acclaim for her performance as a woman determined to save her son even as she realizes she’s let a demon back into her home. Lucas Hedges is convincing as the young man who knows the truth about his addiction.

When a movie is set in an area you’re familiar with, like Marin County was for me in Beautiful Boy, I think it tends to draw you in even deeper into the story. The juxtaposition of gorgeous settings with depraved behavior made it even more unsettling. For me, the interactions between Steve Carell’s devasted dad and Timothee Chalamet’s helpless lying boy left me weeping and wanting to read both books based on this real struggle: Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.

If you’re only going to see one film of the three, my recommendation would be Beautiful Boy. Heart-breaking but hopeful, and the performances are Award-Worthy. This film is beautiful, mesmerizing and reveals the difficult truth that letting go when all you want to do is hold on, is sometimes the only way to save the one you love.