Over the River and Through the Woods…Is It Worth the Trip?

Would you make the drive to Montrose (an hour and 15 min on mountain roads) on Christmas Day to see a movie? What if you didn’t have a way to pre-purchase tickets and you knew there was a good chance your film was going to sell out? What if there was snow in the forecast? If you’re crazy about the movies like I am…the answer is YES!

Arriving 30 minutes prior to show time, the line snakes out the door at the San Juan movie theater. There are two small theaters in Montrose, Colorado. The Fox Cinema has three screens and was playing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, and Spies in Disguise (an animated film voiced by Will Smith & Tom Holland). The San Juan Cinema was screening Jumanji: The Next Level and Little Women. As I approached the 20-deep line full of families and older couples, I heard a Mom say, “I can’t believe it’s sold out! And so is Star Wars!” My heart sank. Was it MY screening that was Sold Out? No, it was Jumanji. Turns out, if you only have two screening times on Christmas, both in the evening, there’s a good chance that you’re going to disappoint some people.

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters

On the plus side, even some of the families with kids decided to forgo Jumanji to see Little Women. Good choice. Skip the sequel and see the film that may very well become the new Classic. THIS Little Women will now be the definitive version of the Louisa May Alcott novel. Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), referred back to an older version of the novel to create the two plot streams following the sisters from adults back to their impoverished but loving upbringing as young girls. Shooting the childhood scenes in golden tones with the talented young actresses in long tresses and colorful dresses, then cooler tones and more muted costume choices for the young women helps the audience navigate the time shifts. Already a feminist manifesto, subtle changes to the dialogue have allowed Greta Gerwig to align the film to reflect what Alcott could not change in her time. As Jo March (the luminous Saoirse Ronan) is told by her editor (played by Tracy Letts), “if you write anything with a young woman, have her married by the end…or dead” and “If insist on ending your delightful novel with a spinster, it will never sell”. There wasn’t an audience for entertainment that featured single successful women.

Little Women begs for multiple viewings. I love this discussion of one scene, “Notes on a Scene” by Vanity Fair. The scenes are staged with overlapping dialogue as the girls act like typical siblings. They roll about on the floor, squabble and act like tomboys; racing around each other with the camera following to capture every poignant moment. The casting is brilliant. Laura Dern as Marmee, the mother of this brood of very different young ladies, is warm and wise but the camera follows her to show her sadness and anger that she hides from her girls. Meryl Streep is the perfect fussy older Aunt, lording her influence over the family but also trying in her way to bring financial stability to a family of women who keep falling in love with impoverished men.

The casting of Timothee Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan as Laurie and Jo is perfect as they already have such a comfort level with each other from their previous film (Lady Bird) and they’re both well-suited to their roles. All the Marsh women are well-cast. It’s great to see Emma Watson as the sister who marries for love. She gives Meg’s journey from giddy debutante to mother and wife an honesty and believability. Florence Pugh as the spoiled outspoken Amy is a standout as she realizes that her beauty is her only true talent but knows she must utilize it to land a wealthy husband. I hope this film introduces her to audiences who don’t know her other outstanding work (Midsommar, Lady Macbeth). It was also wonderful to see Chris Cooper in a wonderful role as Mr Laurence.

I’m not the only one swooning over this film. NYTimes’ AO Scott gave it a rave review and there’s a great critical look at Gerwig’s adaption that I love by Alissa Wilkinson of Vox. One of my favorite exchanges in the film is between Amy (Pugh) and Jo (Ronan) and reflects a continuing struggle today to get men to value stories that feature women. Jo is trivializing her little stories of “domestic struggles and triumphs” saying that writing about it doesn’t elevate it.

“Writing doesn’t confer importance,” Jo says. “It reflects it.”

But Amy disagrees. “Writing things,” she says, “is what makes them important.”

I would say that is the same with regards to filming that story. So bring your whole family, and especially the men folk. This is not just a story of domestic struggles. This is a great family film about finding and trusting your voice…and telling your story.

Drinks With Films rating: 5 glasses of Civil War Era wine (out of 5)

Denver Film Festival 40 — Day One, “Lady Bird”

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Opening Night is an exciting, exhilirating time at a Film Festival. The program has launched, guests are arriving, everyone’s getting on their party shoes…and the scene is set. SThere may still be a hundred thousand details for the staff to check and double check, but there’s a feeling of pride…and relief…once the first feature is one the screen.

Opening Night Video of the Fun

One terrific thing that Denver Film Festival does is to give filmmakers and talent from the entire program the chance to walk the Red Carpet on this big night…and many others. Whether you’ve made a short film, a student work or it’s your masterpiece documentary, everyone can share this moment to strut their stuff for the cameras.

I was fortunate to see Ladybird at the Telluride Film Festival with both the director, Greta Gerwig and her talented stars, Laurie Metcalf and Tracie Letts in attendance. The question and answer session was warm and lively.  The three of them seemed relaxed and enjoyed teasing each other.  All of them praised Saoirse Ronan.  She is so natural in the role and gives another intriguing, nuanced performance as the main character.  This journey from adolescent angst to eager college freshman feels distinctly personal.  Based on Greta Gerwigs’s own upbringing in Sacramento, there are so many moments that ring true and make you cringe or cry.

Each character is infuriating real.  I loved that the Mom is so emotionally distant and the Dad is helpless to heal the fractured relationship between the daughter and mother. The costumes, settings and language brought me right back to high school.  I identified with this stubborn, ballsy gal with a yearning for a future that seems so out of her reach. A wonderful directorial debut by Greta Gerwig, Ladybird  is a film I highly recommend.

Drinks With Films Rating: 4 glasses of pretentious wine while trying to act sophisticated out of 5

#DFF40 #feminist #comingofage

UPDATE: November 16, 2017 (DENVER) – The Denver Film Society (DFS) is excited to announce a collection of films from the 40th Denver Film Festival (DFF40) to open for special engagements at the Sie FilmCenter. Among those slated to open is the recently wrapped DFF’s Opening Night Red Carpet Premiere
title, LADY BIRD.

“Lady Bird – a film for the ages – explores all that is weird and wonderful about growing up,” says Festival Director, Britta Erickson. “Greta Gerwig, who we have long admired for her acting and writing, proves she’s a triple threat with a directorial debut as sure-handed and genuine as any we’ve come across. Featuring stellar performances from Saoirse Ronan, as the feisty angst-ridden eponymous teen, and Laurie Metcalf as her loving but opinionated mother, Lady Bird earns its awards buzz. For only the second time in history, Denver Film Festival was proud to open the Festival with a film helmed by a female director. We believe it is important to continue to showcase voices underrepresented in cinema, not only at the Festival, but at our year-round home, the Sie FilmCenter.”

LADY BIRD opens at the Sie FilmCenter on November 22, with an early preview on November 21.

Click to purchase LADY BIRD tickets

 

How I Live Now~another young woman on a hero’s journey

Saoirse Ronan gives another amazing performance as a  young woman, Daisy, rebelling against society but trapped by her own rules.  Directed by Kevin MacdonaldHow I Live Now, is photographed beautifully in rural England and Wales.  This is a tale of adolescents left to raise themselves in the beautiful countryside.  The theme of military oppression and impending war is a little heavily enforced but the children and young adults give realistic performances and the change from bitter goth girl to young lady in love, is handled nicely.  Her romantic interest, her cousin, played by George MacKay, is presented as the strong, silent type and given a hawk and a handsome sweater to set off his good looks–again, a tad over-the-top, but it’s nice to have a little romance before the world starts unraveling.

The film runs a little long and the hazardous journey the two girls undertake is the least convincing part of the film.  Are all the men is this film either rule-abiding and enforcing citizens with no love of children or rampaging, murderous rapists?  There are no examples of any rational adults save Daisy’s aunt, who still abandons the children to fly to Geneva.

How I Live Now is scary and has moments of violence but is worth seeing for Saoirse Ronan and George MacKay‘s performances and the lovely cinematography.   The young actress playing the much-abused little sister, Piper, has a few nice moments and the soundtrack is outstanding!  How I Live Now is a good warm-up to another film about a totalitarian society featuring a young heroine….I believe it’s part of a trilogy…

Bechdel Rating: though the conversation with her Aunt is brief, it doesn’t concern her male cousin but her deceased mother and Daisy does finally come around to nurturing Piper.  A-

Rating: Clean water is scarce in the film so 3 glasses of pure water

“Cops vs Capital (Destruction), Bling vs Boys”

Ahhh, Summer-time!  As summer hits The City, with San Francisco in the 80’s this weekend, June slides into July with a big bang, and there is much to celebrate!  In case you aren’t sitting in Dolores Park with a cool beverage, marching or watching a parade or just enjoying the sun and fun…here’s my recommendation for this weekend’s films:

Save White House Down for the July Fourth weekend, when you can show your patriotism with some fun action and big screen destruction.  Instead, get your funny on, and see Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the cop comedy, The Heat.  We need to turn out in big numbers on this opening weekend to show the studios that Americans want more movies featuring women!  Sure, there are moments of crass humor, but nothing to rival the antics of the “boys” of This is the End.  Perhaps you could rent the men-behaving-like-boys film or wait a week instead?  Everyone should have the freedom of choose…just choose wisely!  Big Brother, the almighty studio, is counting every film dollar!

You could also bring your favorite teenager to The Bling Ring, the latest Sofia Coppola film.  Spending some time with the shallow, bland teens onscreen as they act out their sense of entitlement should give you much to discuss!  The lovely Fill The Void is also directed by a woman and a good film to catch before it leaves theaters.  Or to search out if you don’t live in the Bay Area.

This is the final weekend to see some wonderful queer films at Frameline!  The programming at Frameline 37 is very strong, plus, there’s a wealth of short films (over 50!) and a wide variety of queer Asian films.  Many of these films feature strong female roles and some films were even made with an entire female  film crew!  Huzzah!

I also highly recommend Byzantium (reviewed in an earlier post) with the fabulous Gemma Arterton and soulful Saoirse Ronan playing vampire witches traveling through the centuries.  Directed by Neil Jordan, this atmospheric thriller “isn’t a movie about male appetites. It’s about women who, with blood, power, wit and will, ably satisfy an entirely different hunger.” (http://movies.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/movies/byzantium-draws-on-caribbean-vampire-folklore.html?_r=0), Manohla Dargis

So get out there and enjoy the weekend!  If you seek the cool hush of the cinema, do so to quench the hunger for strong storytelling featuring females!

Also still playing in Bay Area Theaters and featuring women in strong roles (in front of and behind the cameras): The East, Frances Ha, 20 Feet From Stardom and Before Midnight 

San Francisco International Film Festival 56: Four Fun Features!

Staff BadgeA film festivals is like a river.  Where you “ford” the river; where you step into the stream, is unique.  Your experience of the same events will often differ drastically from everyone around you.

Are you anticipating a film because you’re familiar with the director’s previous work?  Do you adore the lead actor and are you excited to spend some quality time in their presence?  Did you have to stand in the cold in a long line before you were admitted into the theater or was it nearly impossible to find parking? All of these personal concerns and anticipations will color your view.

For me, having worked in this field for so long, film festivals are almost like coming home.  I know the staff, I’ve worked the venues, and I love the thrill of seeing a film with filmmakers present!  My film-going experience is bound to be a positive one.  This year at SFIFF 56, I worked more than usual, both at the theaters and away from them.  So I had very limited opportunities to actually watch films.  Fortunately, the four features I did manage to see, were all very good.

“What Maisie Knew” — Divorce, Hollywood-style

SFIFF opened with this tale of self-centered parents battling for their child’s affections.  Based on a short story by Henry James penned 100 years ago, the damage inflicted by neglect is brought to life by the marvelous performance of the young lead, Onata Aprile.  As the pawn fought over by Julianne Moore’s aging rock star mother and the traveling philandering father, played by Steve Coogan, Onata is refreshingly open in her natural reactions.  Her joy at spending time with the actors who play her surrogate parents is a delight.  Alexander Skarsgard elevates every scene he’s in as the party boy who becomes the affectionate companion.  The story stretches credability and reason at points, (even wealthy people can’t get away with this level of neglect) and the ending is pure fairytale but there’s a level of charm here that’s hard to deny.  Rating: 3 glasses of expensive red wine

“Cutie and the Boxer” — Eccentric and Wonderful

Zachary Heinzerling’s directorial debut is the winning documentary about an eccentric painter and sculptor, Ushio Shinohara and his supportive wife and fellow artist, Noriko Shinohara.  This intimate portrait of two talented Japanese artists struggling to find an audience (and buyers!) for their creations: towering papier mache motorcycles, paintings created by “boxing” the canvas and graphic novels depicting their own troubled relationship, is both tender and finely-crafted.  Rating: 3 shots of sake

“Byzantium”–Irish Goth with some serious teeth

In one week, I found myself viewing two vampire films!  Both closer in spirit to “The Hunger” or “Let The Right One In” than “Buffy” or “Twilight”; “Kiss of the Damned” is a campy affair by a first-time filmmaker but “Byzantium” is a classy, Gothic drama helmed by Neil Jordan.  Outstanding performances by the female leads, the beautiful and very sexy, Gemma Arterton and the other-worldly, wiser-than-her-years, Saoirse Ronan bring this British Turn of the Century vampire tale to life.

Period costumes, a unique creation story and the always excellent, Sam Riley, add to this dark story of teen angst.  What to do when your mother turns your home into a house of ill repute  to support you?  When your boyfriend already looks like a vampire (Caleb Landry Jones) but your writing teacher suspects that your creative writing assignment might cut too close to the truth?  Rating: 4 glasses of red, red wine

“Ernest et Celestine”–Can a Bear and a Mouse be friends?

This delightful French 2-D animation has lovely water-color painted backdrops and a sweet story of two unlikely friends trying to survive in a world where creatures  keep to their own kind.  A small misstep in an over-long central bit spent in the mouse dental office but the drawings are so charming that it’s easily forgiven.  One of my favorite films of the festival, “Ernest et Celestine” is a charming film suited for all ages.

Rating: 4 cups of cocoa