Category Archives: Jay

I Saw The Light

This movie meant to be Hank Williams’ Walk The Line, but it fails in every way imaginable.

Tom Hiddleston, as the country-western crooner, is no Joaquin Phoenix, and I do mean that in the nastiest way possible. I’m never a fan of Hiddleston, but in this he’s charmless and unforgivably bland, though it’s at least as much the fault as writer-director Marc Abraham who apparently thinks Hank Williams is the most boring man on earth but decided to make a movie about him anyway.

It doesn’t help that Hank Williams just isn’t that interesting a subject. Oh, he drinks, you say? Cheats on his wife? Squabbles with his bandmates? As if we have seen MV5BMTg3MDcxNzc3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMxNDA1MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_exactly those issues in better movies than this a hundred times before. And Williams just doesn’t have the allure of Johnny Cash or the talent of Ray Charles or the magnetism of James Brown. He’s just an entitled white dude who made life rough for himself. He made some music and then he died. Hank Williams may be a legend, but you’d never know it from this movie. It makes him seem banal and tiresome. And that’s gotta be hard to do to a man known as the King of Country Music, influencer of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, prolific song writer, winner of a posthumous Pulitzer for craftsmanship.

Of course, the film itself is unstructured and just sort of plods along, dragging its feet through the obligatory musician-biopic tropes like womanizing and shenanigans on tour. Abraham seems to be a pretty dull fellow and he’s fully committed to bathing everyone else in that same flat light. The only thing consistent about I Saw The Light is how relentlessly lifeless it is. Neither Hiddleston nor Elizabeth Olsen can do a single thing about it, and you’d kind of expect more from a Loki-Scarlett Witch combo. There should be sparks at the very least. Instead, Olsen’s Audrey Williams (Hank’s first wife) has a heart full of self-interest and their turbulent marriage seems always to be two paths rapidly diverging. Only Hank’s semi-weird relationship with his mother (Cherry Jones) provides the slightest kindling, but that’s neglected and the smoke dissipates before there’s fire. Pity.

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Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit, a singing competition not unlike The Voice or American Idol, comes to the Isle of Wight for the first time. Violet (Elle Fanning) is the first in line to audition, though she’s shy, and her strict Polish mother forbids it. Popstardom seems a far cry from the austere life she leads on a small farm with her single mother, who believes singing for god in the church choir should be more than enough. But for Violet, it’s not.

She auditions, and she recruits a strange old man named Vlad (Zlatko Buric) to pose as her guardian as she is not yet 18. In fact, Vlad has a mysterious past as an opera singer, so he might have some valuable insight into this whole singing thing, if only his fondness for the bottle doesn’t get too much in the way.

MV5BMWVjZTYxZTgtMWUwMS00YTAyLWFjYjktOGE0YjE3MDJhYzE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Teen Spirit is a singing competition, but for Violet, it’ll test much more than her voice. It’ll test the bonds of friendship and family. It will test her integrity and her ambition. Her mettle and her tenacity. And honestly, what teenager could stand up to such a battery of glittering tests? It’s a box full of sin and temptation, just as her mother feared, but Violet can’t wait to rip it wide open.

Max Minghella writes and directs Teen Spirit, though to be honest, he could have both written and directed more. It’s short on story, and what story is there is very familiar. The underdog’s story has been told a million ways and it doesn’t feel like Minghella is particularly interested in adding to it. But he does have a knack for the music breaks. Invariably set to a monster pop song, those scenes are slick and spiffy, candy for the eyes and ears. They contrast well with Violet’s otherwise shabby life back home. Elle Fanning sells it. She is the candy, and she’s very sweet; Minghella is smart to have stocked up on her. The movie is worth watching just to see her break out of that shell and if it inspires your singing-and-dancing-in-the-shower routine, you’ll know who to thank.

Someone Great

Jenny has just suffered a soul-crushing breakup with forever boyfriend, Nate. After 9 years together, things end right before she’s about to move cross-country for a new job. Thank goodness for best friends Erin and Blair who are prepared to drop everything to grieve with her while celebrating one last night together, out in NYC.

A series of glowy flash backs convince us that yes, Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (Lakeith Stanfield) were indeed great but the truth is, in mourning a boyfriend, this movie really celebrates girlfriends. Jenny, Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow) have a bond that’s outlasted all the other relationships in their lives.

Rodriguez, Wise, and Snow have terrific chemistry. Writer/director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson keeps things loose; it feels like the women spent time getting to actually know and like each other, rather than rehearsing. It feels real. It feels familiar, like they’re MV5BOWUyZTQ0MjEtNDRmMy00NDJiLWE4YjktNDk3MDBiYzQ2ZGEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_tapping into the weird naturalness and closeness of our friendships from early adulthood. Things will change for them, I bet, and soon. I want to tell them to treasure the fuck out of these moments. In fact, these women are on the cusp. They’re nearing 30: careers are taking off, relationships are getting serious. Kids, suburbs, and neglecting our female friendships tend to come next. That sounds sadder than I mean it to because this movie is surprisingly upbeat and fun. So maybe time won’t get away on them, and maybe phone calls won’t go unreturned for months at a time, and maybe they won’t find themselves saying ‘We should get together soon’ and never quite making it happen. Maybe.

But that hasn’t happened to them yet! They’re still the most important people in each other’s lives, and on this night in particular, they are super duper there for each other and it’s marvelous.

Also: it has a pretty great soundtrack.

Who Would YOU Take To A Deserted Island?

Four friends have shared a flat in Madrid for 8 freaking years and have managed not to go insane or kill each other. Now, near the end of the summer, they are celebrating their last day together in the home they’ve shared since they were kids. Life is about to change.

Celeste and Eze are friends who share a passion: Eze’s about to go off to London on a scholarship to study film while Celeste grapples with the fact that nothing is really happening with her life; she’s an actress considering working fast food to get by.

Marta and Marcos seem more solid, relationship-wise if not sex-wise. Marcos is off to med school, and Marta’s planning on following him, to teach ballet rather than dance herself.

Their aim for the night is to get drunk and act out their old tradition of singing loudly from their rooftop.

This is a Spanish movie, and Netflix offers a dubbed version, which has all the pitfalls of a dubbed version. The dialogue often feels a bit stilted and forced. Maybe that’s why the characters never felt accessible to me. I had trouble connecting to any of them.

Anyway, the movie is fully half way over before it gets to the point, ie, the title. Drunk, the 4 friends play a dicey game of Who Would You Take To A Deserted Island? Each of them gets to pick 2 friends, which is just another way of saying NOT choosing one, so the friend who gets left out feels like a piece of shit. Which sounds like a fun party game, no?

Not content to have things just be unbearably tense, they up the ante by making the game even funner. Now you can only choose one friend to take to the deserted island.

I think the premise is kind of interesting but the characters were just too annoying for anything to matter. Secrets are spilled, resentments become painfully clear, sure. Sure. But I just didn’t give a shit. I would 110% rather die alone on a deserted island than spend 10 minutes in the company of any of these people.

 

 

Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce

Another sleepless night, Sean snoring beside me. Suddenly, around 5:30am, all the usual racing thoughts preventing sleep start to congeal into just the once: today is Beyonce day.

Beyonce has been Queen for a long damn time. She’s more Queen than the Queen of England, because that lady is a figure head and Beyonce is for real. Beyonce is not just a pop star, she is a cultural icon, more than her voice, more than her marriage, more than MV5BNWYwMTExOTAtNjVmYi00MWVjLTgzZWUtZTI0OTE3YTgwMjM3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_her style and her fame and her talent. She was a successful, powerful black woman, her success and power being so seemingly limitless that they transcended gender and race. And at the height of that power, Beyonce claimed both her blackness and her womanhood in a way that was political, artistic, and impossible to ignore. Now we need a word that is somehow more than Queen, and maybe the only name worthy is Beyonce itself.

Homecoming is a documentary detailing Beyonce’s brilliant performance at last year’s (2018) Coachella. But just as that show was more than a concert, the documentary ends up being much more than a recording. It’s a testament. This is Beyonce clearly comfortable in her strength, and the evidence is written in her lyrics, in her stage presence, and all over the damn screen. We witness Beyonce the businesswoman, Beyonce the workhorse, Beyonce the mother and wife, the artist and creator.

After a 22 year career, Beyonce has a whole lotta laurels upon which to rest her world-famous booty. Her name alone is enough to have Coachella gagging. Which is to say: she does not have to work this hard. She’s working like she’s NOT the most famous woman in the world. But Beyonce wasn’t going to just bring her music to the festival – she brought her culture, and she gave it to the people. She worked for 8 months to deliver a powerhouse 2 hour performance.

Fan or not, it’s completely impossibly to tear your eyes away from this woman so fully owning her power. A woman who – dare I say it? – is feeling herself, and not apologizing for it. Not one bit.

Guava Island

Donald Glover dropped a 55 minute short film this weekend – it streamed on Amazon Prime, and at Coachella. Music, TV, movies: there seems to be nothing he can’t do, and do extremely well, at that. His multi-facetedness might be annoying if he wasn’t so actually talented.

MV5BYWVhMGViNzEtMjRiZC00ZmRlLWEzZTUtYTVlYjAwYzBlMDYxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAxMTcwMTEz._V1_The film, Guava Island, is hard to describe. It’s really more a parable than a traditional narrative, so don’t get hung up on that. And all praise to Childish Gambino: do not be surprised when a LOT of his music inevitably pops up.

He plays Deni, just a dude on this fictional island who is about to bring his music to an all-night music festival that’s super frowned upon by the island’s big boss, Red Cargo. Red can’t tolerate a music festival that might mean the island’s factory workers call in sick for the work the next day, a Sunday, including Deni’s girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) and friend Yara (Letitia Wright).

It’s the perfect setting to talk about corruption, and the influence of art, its ability to unite a people. But it’s not the perfect medium. It’s not that the film is too short, it’s that the idea is both half-baked and heavy-handed. It made me wish it was less of a movie and more of a visual album, like Beyonce’s Lemonade, because that’s when the movie truly came live for me, when Glover lets his music take over and the reasons we love him and frequent collaborator/director Hiro Murai are allowed to shine down upon the island.

Rihanna and Wright are criminally underused; their main purpose is to smile admiringly at Glover. Rightly so, perhaps, but to have both of these women on hand and not give them something to do seems wasteful, and a tease. Maybe this concept works better for a Coachella audience. Few are likely to have stood in place to watch the film straight through, but maybe just standing under its shadow is enough.

The Perfect Date

Like 90% of teen movies, the general conceit is that the protagonist is reflecting upon his short life via the old college application essay.

Brooks Rattigan (the dreamy Noah Centineo) hopes to be Harvard bound, but his guidance counselor counsels him that he’s really quite bland and uninteresting, so he’s got to “find himself” in order to inject zing and zeal into his application.

A chance opportunity to be paid to escort the lovely if anti-social Celia (Laura Marano) to her high school formal births two very important plot points: Brooks falls for the MV5BZTJkZDZjYTMtNTNiYy00MGFlLWIzZmUtZjEzM2ZlMDY4NTI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_terminally popular and super-rich Shelby (Camila Mendes), and he gets an idea for a business opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of money to pay for Harvard (and to woo Celia), so why not rent himself as a date for hire? It worked well enough the first time, with Shelby, so why not with other girls? He recruits best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to set up a dating app, one where girls can choose what date he’ll take them on, what outfit he’ll wear, what topics he’ll discuss, even what personality he’ll embody.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Every single thing that happens is boldly predictable and unimaginative. But you didn’t come innovative story-telling or artistic film making. You came to lose yourself in the deep chocolate pools of Noah Centineo’s soulful eyes. Which is a good thing because Noah Centineo has not one but two eyes, and the movie has otherwize a grand total of 0 reasons to watch. The characters are extremely rough drafts of real people and they have no motivation, no arc, nothing.

You know those cardboard cutouts of movie stars that used to dot your local Blockbuster? Well you could use those life-sized cardboard cutouts to reenact this movie and it would be fairly indistinguishable. I don’t think the quality would suffer at all. But then you’d miss out on Noah Centineo’s wavy hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. Of course, if you are not a 12 year old girl, you may find yourself impervious to his Millennial charms, and therefore you should stay the heck away from this movie because it just isn’t any good.