When Death Is Zany (Movie Thoughts: The Hollars)

movieposterI think I have seen so many of these family crisis dramedies that i thought a lot of things in ‘The Hollars’ seem like something I have seen before. Directed and starring John Krasinski, everything here seems very familiar, culled from other better movies. But somehow, it is not as bad as it sounds, due to the winning cast. I particularly loved Margo Martindale as the family matriarch who in the beginning of the film finds out she has a brain tumor. And of course, Anna Kendrick is always a joy to watch. The tone of the film is light for its subject matter treating death as some kind of zany plot point. Inserting my own experience here, things are not as fun as it seems, but I do get what they are trying to do – though I think they are a little unsuccessful at it. The comedy isn’t funny enough, and the drama isn’t weighty enough. Despite good performances that will make you believe these characters, they are set up blandly that they didn’t stand a chance. When this first came out, I was so looking forward to seeing this film. It somehow got lost in the Fall shuffle and I just chanced upon this now. I am glad I waited.

Sweet Sweet Fantasy (Television Thoughts: Mariah’s World, Sundays on E!)

e9f99151cf672de9378d294c7a5f1765Mariah Carey’s new “documentary show”  is quite possibly my new favorite show for the Winter season.  It’s on E! and is in reality show format, but she refuses to call ti as such, and in a lot of sense she is right. Because this is not reality  that’s similar to the Krdashian shows – this is an alternative reality of sorts, because this is Mariah Carey playing on the persona of Mariah Carey, and what’s the most fun about it? She is in on the joke. Why else would the show open with ‘Bianca,’ who is Carey’s ‘evil’ alter ego cum nemesis, who sports a bad British accent. And then we see Carey herself, resplendent with plunging necklines, diamond jewels jumping in the Mediterranean wearing such?  yes, in a sense, Carey is the great divas. She is one to aspire to, without the modern earthiness of a Katy Perry or a Beyonce.

And truth be told, I found more respect for her as an artist, as she is one of those rarer breeds who do everything: she composes, she arranges, and goes into every detail of her music, as well as her image. Some people look at this show as a desperate attempt of a crumbling pop star, but I don’t even think it’s even that way – this is Mariah giving us all facets of Mariah, the sweet sweet fantasy. I love it – it’s winkingly campy, and self-referential and fabulous at the same time. And I will be tuning in to see what’s next of her diva adventures!

Western Girls (Movie Thoughts: Certain Women)

large_certain_womenIn the middle of watching ‘Certain Women,” i became a little frustrated. I thought it was very slow, and I felt that more often than not, it seemed to be going nowhere. But what challenges sometimes brings large rewards, and now, hours after finishing the movie, I am still thinking about the film and its characters. Written and Directed by Kelly Reinhardt the movie is based upon three (thinly interrelated) short stories by Maile Meloy, and the film reads so much like short stories you can practically see the pages unfold you on screen.

The first part is about Laura Wells (Laura Dern) a lawyer with a troublesome client. He is embroiled on a workers compensation case but the case itself is as troublesome, and the story has specific consequences. It explores her relationship with her client, and touches upon prejudice against female lawyers. I thought this was the weakest of the episodes – the characters just didn’t interest me enough.

The middle part centers around Gina Lewis, played by Michele Williams, and this is the most subtle episode. Gina is not getting along with both husband and daughter, and the camping trip they are on is showing these strains. On the way home, they chance upon a pile of rocks that sh thinks would be perfect for the house she will be building. So, with her husband, they speak to the owner of the house and try to buy these rocks. The owner seems hesitant at first, but acquiesces. There are a couple of things at play here – is Gina a bitch who always wants to have his way (her husband is having an affair) and does she take advantage of the man, who had old plans for these rocks. WIlliams is great here, ad is able to fill the spaces between lines.

The last part is the best. Kristen Stewart plays Beth, a teacher who travels a long way to teach a class, and one of her students (Lily Gladstone) gets infatuated with her. Gladstone is perfection (and just won a Best Supporting Actress nod from the Los Angeles Critics Association for this performance) as she shows the quiet desperation of someone in love, and the ‘pretty follies’ a woman in love does. Stewart is terrific as well – befuddled, flattered – and even her ever present perma-scowl doesn’t show as much here. It’s Gladstone’s character that resonated with me most, because she represents a true honest face of unrequited love, something we all have experienced in some parts of our lives. (And I bet this film becomes an instant cult classic)

I am seeing this film show up in a lot of critics’ best of lists, and I think it deserves to be.

Alone On Christmas (Music Thoughts: A Hollens Family Christmas, Peter Hollens)

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailIn this day and age, you can use You Tube as a springboard for your career and apparently Peter Hollens has done just that – he is one of those ‘You Tube Sensations’ who made it big. His specialty is acapella, and he does mostly that in his Holiday album, “A Hollens Family Christmas.” I don’t know if he is considered a Christian singer but a lot of Christian based websites feature him, so ew, a point less for him if that is the case. The album, honestly, is fine enough, even if I am not the biggest fan of acapella. I wish it excited me more, for surely you can sense Hollens’ commitment to the piece. It has a great line up, including ‘December Song,’ which is the most ubiquitous song for 2016 as far as Christmas albums are concerned. This is one of these albums I will just file and may never listen to again, though that really isn’t Hollens’ fault.

Of Things And Things (Movie Review: Things To Come)

310026-things-to-come-0-230-0-345-cropIt was one of those nights – nothing is sticking to me. I started and stopped three films already, and nothing is sticking to me. Until I told myself – just pick one and let it play, commit to it, and chose ‘Things To Come’ (L’avenir), directed by Mia Hanson-Love, and starring Isabelle Huppert. (And yes, it was a film I started and stopped a couple of nights ago) It’s a French film, and the one thing I know about French film is how it sometimes challenges me, or baffles me, or entertain me, but more often than not, I am never bored by it. This film is no exception – the story of Nathalie (Huppert) a philosophy professor who goes through some kind of middle-age crisis. Her husband has suddenly left her, her young adult children are starting lives of her own, and her health-problematic mother passes, leaving her with a freedom she never asked for. I can certainly relate to that scenario.  What to do, indeed, when you wake up and realize all you have is a ten year old cat named Pandora. Hansen-Love also wrote the screenplay, is wise enough to not fall into every trap she sets up, and we get a bittersweet and honest story, with a richly textured performance by Huppert – who is all warm, cynical, funny, acerbic all in scene after scene. As Fleetwood Mac sings ‘Unchained Melody’ at the end, you feel like you know Nathalie inside and out and have been in the journey with her, and want to spend more time with her.  Sure, there are things that made me scratch my head – the extended Philosophy talk didn’t really help the narrative, and it could use a ten minute cut – but this is a great film for introspection, and I bet we will all learn a little but about ourselves after seeing this film.

Leah’s War (Television Thoughts: Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath, Tuesday Nights on A & E)

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You have got to hand it to Leah Remini – when she starts fighting, she keeps on and on. Since she left the Church of Scientology, she has been on a crusade in revealing all he horrible experiences she had when she was a member, and now she has a new series on A & E, ‘Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath,’ wherein she goes on exposing a lot of the cult’s hidden secrets. I just saw the first episode, ‘Disconnection,’ and it’s a very compelling watch. To be honest, there isn’t much new in this episode if you read her book ‘Troublemaker,’ (my thoughts here ) but for the more casual viewer, it is very interesting to see her narration of how she and her family got lured into the cult. The accusations here are pretty explosive  and they include allegations that the leader, David Miscavige allegedly physically assaulted some of its members, and one of its major defectors, Amy Scobee, was also allegedly sexually assaulted and then the church turned a blind eye on it. I have this fear of organized religion, and these reveals are just affirming my doubts. To be fair, though, the church has categorically denied all these, and A & E is repeatedly showing this disclaimer. Who do I believe? I guess I tend to believe the side of the victims more, but then again I always did. This is the first part of the series, and believe you me, I will be tuning in for more.

Rooms At The Gay Inn (Movie Thoughts: Shared Rooms)

s-aolcdn-comI am still in a festive mood, so I went and watched a gay holiday romantic comedy titled ‘Shared Rooms,’ which is written and directed by Rob Williams, who previously did ‘Make The Yuletide Gay.’ (I think I saw that film but do not remember anything about it, so that seemed to be a bad omen)  This film centers around three interrelated stories of gay men celebrating Christmas in modern day Los Angeles. So obviously, it looks like the critique will write itself.

But it wasn’t that bad, actually. It’s pretty low-budget and the writing and direction is mostly dry, but there were some very good touches. For example, it explored that idea of couple friendships being affected by other couples having babies. (A half of a couple says, “We are the only ones in the group not having kids!”)  This definitely a film for the times – it references a lot of ‘today’ things like gay air BNB, gay hookup apps, and even Donald Trump. I wouldn’t say I was thoroughly entertained by it, but at the same time the 75 minutes that passed never really felt wasted. Surely, the ending is a little too corny but I don’t know if the film had any pretenses that it was anything but. Share this with some friends this season.