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)

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.

Four Days, Four Films. And the Winner is…Movie Pass!

Movie Pass

FREE FILMS!

 

What a wonderful gift. My sweet sister gave me 3-months of Movie Pass. Are you a fan? Or have you been hearing about it and wondered if it was a good deal? Yes, yes, it IS!

There are drawbacks: not all theaters accept Movie Pass. If you’re a big fan of art-house cinemas (Hello, Lyric Cinema Cafe in Fort Collins), you’ll still need to support them. And you can’t book in advance for most theaters; though the app notes that there are some theaters for which that’s available (both E-tickets and Advanced Booking haven’t been available at any local theater in my area–the Front Range of Colorado). Which means fewer screenings at the smaller lounge-type theaters.

Here’s how it works: you receive your “credit card” in the mail, download the app to your phone, go to the theater (you need to be within 100 ft), select your theater in the app, then select your film screening. You have 30 min to purchase your ticket at the box office or kiosk. Bingo, a free movie every day. How often you use Movie Pass will depend on you and your location. Even a film fanatic like myself…well, I’ve only used my Movie Pass five times in the last 3 weeks. Still, 5 FREE films out of the eight I’ve seen in a theater is awesome!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2 Cosmic Kool-Aids out of 5): Big fan of all the women characters kicking butt, making decisions and ruling the Universe…now if only the story had been compelling. Did we need a bunch of silly CGI characters to populate the different planets? The film does have some visually stunning vistas: I loved how the rebel planes’ flight paths scratched blood-red tracks through the white sands on Caint and the escape on the fathiers (those loping horse/camel/dog/cat creatures) revealed amusing scenes of destruction on the gambling planet Canto Bite. As much as I enjoyed seeing Luke and Leia reunited, discovering that one of them had mastered The Force enough to project a solid, touchable (and impervious) body left me questioning other aspects of the story. Once I left the fantasy, I was no longer involved in the film.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (3 ½ island margaritas out of 5): Now this is a fun ride! Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan are delightful as they portray teenagers that have been morphed into video game characters. The story is fun, the acting, stunts (and dance fighting!) and the way the production portrays the interactions of being in a game are inspired. The camaraderie that develops between the characters will have you laughing and there’s even a few touching moments. Jumanji is a great family film and if you’re looking for silly and heart-warming, this is your film.

The Greatest Showman (4 bar room shots, consumed while dancing, out of 5): Hugh Jackman is a wonder. Singing, dancing and sweeping us off our feet in this simplified story of PT Barnum’s life. The story sprinkles star dust and aims to convince us that showbiz can be a haven from the cruel world. The sets have an Old World Hollywood feel and suit this behind-the-scenes look at carnival life. Michelle Williams is luminous as the supportive wife who doesn’t need the glitz and glamour to be happy. Zac Efron is particularly charming as the High Society boy who must choose between his standing and class and his heart. He has two great duets; exciting song & dance numbers with Hugh Jackman and later, Zendaya. The choreography in those scenes and the timing; WOW. Rebecca Ferguson’s gorgeous opera star wins your sympathy and her song, dubbed by Loren Alfred, “Never Enough” is a show stopper. The cast of “freaks” lead by the bearded woman, Keale Settle, give exuberant performances and are the heart of the film and a modern nod to diversity and acceptance.

Call Me By Your Name (3 1/2 glasses of expensive Italian wine out of 5): Having missed two film festival screenings, I was excited to finally see this film. I find Luca Guadagnino‘s films to be lush, lyrical and a little over-the-top. Spending a summer in rural Italy in the company of Armie Hammer is a pleasure for the audience as much as for the young Timothée Chalamet. Who doesn’t enjoy watching young people explore their sexuality in gorgeous settings (and what an innovative use for a ripe peach)! There were some eyebrows raised due to the age discrepancy between the two young men but I think it’s more to do with Armie Hammer, a handsome American scholar who comes across as confident and assured and looks like a man.  Where Timothée Chalamet’s character seems so much younger and in his hapless romance with a young woman, shows the audience his inexperience.

For me, the real standout is Michael Stuhlbarg. He plays such a warm, non-judgmental father and the relationships within the family are loving and supportive of each other. It’s a treat to see a family on screen that’s not played for laughs or full of dysfunction. The story was well-told but I would’ve enjoyed a little prudent editing. The entire last scene set in winter with Timothy’s character mourning as he stared (and stared…and stared) into the fire didn’t seem necessary.