Tag Archives: female directors

Sword of Trust

Cynthia’s a little disappointed to learn that she won’t inherit her dead grandfather’s house. In fact, the only inheritance Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) will receive is an old civil war-era sword that they can’t wait to dump at a pawn shop.

Mel (Marc Maron) owns just such a pawn shop. He isn’t overly impressed with the sword, or with Cynthia’s story about her GrandPappy, but when he learns that this sword may be of value to a certain kind of collector, his assistant Nathaniel (Jon Bass) puts him in touch with a man crazy enough to shell out big bucks. So now these four people are going to partner up and travel down to the deep south where a “proofer item,” ie, a sword that purports to prove that the south won the civil war, is high in demand.

You can imagine what kind of idiocy you invite into your life when you start hanging out with someone who vehemently believes in a southern victory. What other conspiracy theories are you likely to wind up in?

Sword of Trust is slow in the good way – it takes its time getting to know folks, and really probing the dirty corners of people’s wildest speculations. This is the kind of movie where the players just get in a room and hang out. Even when they’re locked in the back of a U-Haul they’re pithy and quippy and full of spunk.

We got to see Marc Maron at Just For Laughs this summer, and while I expected to be entertained, I wasn’t prepared to see a truly energizing and exciting set. This film gives him the space to act and react. Writer-director Lynn Shelton crafts the perfect opportunity for him, and then casts people around him with similar improvisational aplomb, especially Jillian Bell who has really blossomed in her last few roles. By the time Dan Bakkedahl makes his appearance, we’re already sold, and the rest is just icing on a confederate cake.

Little Women

Writer-director Greta Gerwig has a clear feminist point of view when retelling the classic tale Little Women. She doesn’t deviate much from the novel penned by Louisa May Alcott (two novels in fact – more on that later) and doesn’t need to. Alcott was surprisingly modern unconventional for her time (1832-1888), writing about domesticity and women’s work but making it clear that they all had minds and passions and ambitions of their own, even if society was set up to constrain their use.

The novels are largely classified as autobiographical or semi-autobiographical fiction, with Jo March standing in for Alcott herself as she pulls stories from her own life to illustrate herself and her sisters transitioning from childhood to womanhood. The first novel was such a success that Alcott quickly wrote a follow up which she titled Good Wives, telling more about her characters are their lives as grown women. An avalanche of fan mail had poured in, much of it demanding a happy ending for Jo, happy meaning married of course, so Alcott wove that into her own story, but bucked against the traditional and created a second option for Jo, one she hoped would appease readers (she was, after all, needing to support her family on the earnings from her work) but would still honour the true spirit of the character she and so many others had come to love. But 150 years later, Gerwig restores Alcott’s true intentions, bending the ending just a bit, leaving it not a little ambiguous so that we may choose which of the paths was truly more important to Jo.

As a writer with 3 sisters myself, who often put on plays together in the basement (we had no attic) of our home, you can probably guess why I loved this novel from a young age. It wasn’t its radical (for the time) point of view, it was the wonderful bond of sisterhood so deeply felt within its pages. Even as the sisters fight (sometimes physically, as illustrated in the film), their attachments are secure, their love never wavering. Modern sisterhood is often portrayed as catty and competitive but we too were a home of Little Women with big personalities and are close to this day, as our Snapchat can attest.

Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is the writer, not just of their childhood productions but also evidently of this retelling. Big sister Meg (Emma Watson) is the actress, Amy (Florence Pugh) the dreamer and youngest Beth (Eliza Scanlen) the sweet, shy musician. Marmee (Laura Dern) presides over her family with unending patience and affection even as she spreads the family’s resources thin taking care of others in the community. The next door neighbours are almost as rich as they are irresistible; Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper) cuts a sad figure from the window of his large but empty house, and young Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) clearly feels stifled as its only other occupant. Both men will get folded into the March family home in their own ways. Mr. Laurence is fond of young Beth, who reminds him of his own departed daughter, while Laurie and Jo get on like a house on fire, often to the exclusion of Amy who feels on so spurned.

The brilliance of Alcott is that even as some of these sisters settled into marriage and domesticity, the work never seems to judge them. Their paths are held in equal esteem to that of Jo’s. Alcott, who remained unmarried herself, was revolutionary in her thinking, in painting love and career in equal measure and equal worth. 151 years later, we still haven’t truly caught up, still trying to balance those wants and needs in a way that feels satisfying and right. Although I loved the spirit of this adaptation, I suppose I thought Gerwig might have a little more to say on the matter. I imagined that she might have stamped just a bit more of herself into the proceedings.

Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are the stand-outs among the cast; as this is the seventh movie adaptation I suppose by now we know these are the plum roles (Jo having been played by the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Winona Ryder, and Amy by Elizabeth Taylor and Kirsten Dunst). All great directors have their muses and it seems Ronan may be that for Gerwig, playing her leading lady twice now, and likely to secure an Oscar nomination. Pugh has already had a dizzyingly successful 2019, and she certainly makes the most of her scenes in this. As Gerwig must, she trims many of the novel’s excesses, choosing scenes for plot and character development and losing many of the fun and funny anecdotal ones that make the novel feel so lively and warm. But Gerwig’s adaptation is both faithful and wise. It’s only that I admire her unique voice so much that I wish she had respected her source material a little less and allowed her own perspective to shine through a little more. If it is possible to love something while being just the tiniest bit disappointed, then that’s my verdict. Gerwig gives Little Women 100% but I unfairly hoped for 110%. Still, it’s a pleasure to see a female story be so lovingly preserved through the years, in timeless and timely ways.

The Sky Is Pink

When Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) and Niren (Farhan Akhtar) Chaudhary find themselves pregnant for the third time, it’s not exactly a happy occasion for everyone. They have a son, Ishaan, but lost a daughter and are afraid of it happening again. Niren doesn’t want to risk it but Aditi, once a Muslim now a Christian, won’t abort. But Aditi and Niren both carry a tricky gene that runs a 25% chance of passing SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) on to their child, which means the baby would have such a compromised immune system that he or she would be prone to severe infections with no ability to fight them off. Such babies rarely live to see their first birthday. Their baby, a daughter, is born, and they name her Aisha, which means life. But a trip to London confirms that Aisha does in fact have SCID and without very expensive bone marrow and stem cell transplants, she will die.

Despite all this drama, Aisha (Zaira Wasim, who is narrating this from some point in the future) insists this is a romantic film, about her parents. Married 8 years at this point, they are suddenly in a long distance relationship, with Aditi in London with Aisha, and Niren back home in India with Ishaan. They had married out of caste, a true love marriage. But having a sick kid and being away from everyone you love is a real test on any relationship. But a worse test is coming: Aisha the narrator has already told us she is dead. What will losing a(nother) child do to Aditi and Niren?

Priyanka Chopra is stunning, even in late 90s mom jeans. More than that, she’s really good in this, even as she shifts between mother caring for her daughter’s health to caring more for her happiness. And as one half of a complicated couple, She’s got great chemistry with Akhtar, who brings his best to the film as well. This film is based on a true story, and it feels very much like the actors respect their real-life counterparts while also making the characters very much their own.

At the end of Aisha’s life, Aditi and Niren are faced with impossible choices and they don’t agree. The strain is of course further complicated by the loss of their first baby, who Niren has tried to forget. The death of a child is…unfathomable. Many couples separate in their grief. What will become of Aisha’s mom and dad, who never stop being exactly that? Writer-director Shonali Bose makes great use of flash backs and flash forwards to lighten the mood or break up the bleakness. The movie is overlong but keep going, it’s worth it. It’s emotional and trying but ultimately rewarding.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

I don’t mind stretches and poses but I’ve never bought into yoga culture. I don’t like the body shaming or the forced spirituality or the merchandising juggernaut it has become. Some yogic schools of thought actually believe that yoga should be a gift to the people; teaching yoga is a seva, a blessed service, so teachers shouldn’t charge. And yet yoga studios pop up in every gentrified corner of the world ready to take hundreds of dollars from their affluent customers, with a LuluLemon around the corner ready to charge exorbitant rates for a see-through pair of pants.

Bikram Choudhury arrived in Beverly Hills (where else?) and immediately set the yoga world on fire – and some would say, created the yoga world, at least in America. He claims clients in Elvis, Nixon, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and more. He built an empire, franchising some 600 studios and embracing the nickname McYoga as some kind of distinction of honour.

Bikram was a celebrity and loved his Hollywood lifestyle. Sure his acolytes saw “red flags” and signs of “megalomania” and acknowledge that humiliation was part of the training. People were fat-shamed routinely. “The best food is no food” was a popular mantra. All part of the fun. Yoga was a cult and his followers were clearly brain-washed – some of them still today, scrambling over all kinds of logical fallacies to excuse away his transgressions, one lady basically saying they won’t say anything negative about him because thanks to him, her back bends were deeper. The man referred to himself as a blood sucker and literally told women “put a cork in your pussy, you’re not allowed to pee” and still people cover for him, “he has his own truth.” Yes, he certainly does.

This documentary covers all manner of sin in the Bikram Yoga Studio. “Separate the man from the teacher,” they said, but you’ll notice nobody says “separate Jim Jones from Peoples Temples”; I’m pretty sure we’ve agreed that everything that comes from an evil cult leader is also evil.

Were you surprised to learn that Bikram Choudhury is a sexual predator? That his yoga studios were basically an excuse to have a constant rotation of sweaty women in bikinis parade their flexibility in front of him so he could pick who to rape next. Bikram yoga was a conveyor belt feeding a hungry rapist.

And let e tell you: if anyone refers to themselves as your family who is not actually your family? Run. RUN. Normally this happens at work, and it’s almost always done to cover up some kind of abuse. They’re about to make you work weekends. Or not pay you for overtime. Do it because “we’re family” though it never EVER works both ways.

And another little hint from your friendly neighbourhood Jay: a man who shows up dressed only in a Speedo and a Rolex? Not a good guy.

It breaks my heart to see so many of his followers turn a blind eye to some really awful stuff. Bikram the man is a monster, but how many of his followers are complicit? Hundreds. Thousands. More? He has fled the country but he’s still doing teacher training and studios are still sending girls to him in Spain and Mexico. Shame on them. The only effective inoculation is information, and this documentary is a powerful dose.

Frozen II

Reviews for Frozen 2 were a bit mixed and I confess I didn’t exactly love the first one (was I the only one on the entire planet not to?). I didn’t hate it, but it was just okay for me. I didn’t even love the song. On our recent trip to Disney World, we met pretty much the whole Frozen crew but needed to attend a sing-along (where people definitely, enthusiastically sang along) to even remember some pretty big plot points from the movie, which came out in 2013 (for example, not one of us remembered trolls). Still, we dutifully brought back an Elsa dress for our 3 year old niece, who has caught Elsa fever (not the kind that produces snow boogies) like pretty much every little girl under 10 has at one time or another.

So of course we went to the see the film. The trailers looked…well, astonishing, frankly, real marvels of computer animation, if a little light on story. We tempered our expectations and emptied our bladders (it’s not really that long, just long for kids – nearly 2 hours with previews) and took our seats in a theatre packed with kids.

And you know what? I can’t speak for the kids, but I freaking loved it. Yes, the animation is, well, staggering. There was more than one moment when I had to convince my eyes that they were looking at cartoons, not real life. The cinematography is top-tier; the light design is dazzling. But, okay, throw all that aside: what about the story? You may have heard that it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor, that it lacks drama because it doesn’t have a distinct villain. That the songs are a bit on the forgettable side. I think that’s all a bunch of hogwash.

Frozen II is more interesting, more complex, and more satisfying than the first one, perhaps because its themes are more mature, perhaps because instead of battling a bad guy, it turns inward, introspective. An enchanted forest is calling to Elsa, and though everyone fears what will happen if she opens Pandora’s box, she opens it anyway, exuberantly, after obsessing over it. Though she and Anna vow to go forth together, as a team, they inevitably part ways and both will be tested.

I laughed. I cried. I was surprised on several occasions by its bold and curious choices. There’s a musical number performed by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) that inserts what I can only describe as a 1980s-style power ballad into the proceedings for no apparent reason. The number is done as if it’s an early MTV music video, all hokey and cheesy and wonderful because of it – clearly not aimed at children who will never know that the M in MTV once stood for music.

I felt that the first film espoused a fake kind of feminism – people applauded it while apparently failing to note that lots of male characters were still propping up the sisters. But in this film they simply do, and they do well, all by themselves, without anyone needing to point it out. You can tell the ladies are genuinely getting down to business because Elsa’s beautiful dress, already being marketed to little girls in stores, comes with slacks, making it easier for her to kick butt. Elsa seemed moody and bratty in the first, but here she’s a woman full of confidence, full of competence. And Anna knows her worth, magical powers or no.

Do any of the songs rival the powerhouse Let It Go? from the first film? How could they, really? Let It Go was an anomaly, one in a million. And then horribly overplayed and quite tedious. Still, several of the songs were quite good, if not quite as memorable, and performed by Broadway’s best, well, it’s nothing to sneeze at.

I don’t know what kids think of it (yet – my 5 year old nephew and 3 year old niece will see it tomorrow – and in 2 weeks, when that 3 year old niece turns 4, her aunt Jay will bring an Elsa cake to her birthday party) but I do know that I was impressed by it, entertained by it, moved by it. I said previously that the first Frozen felt more like a merchandising tool than a movie, destined to spawn straight-to-video sequels, so this is a rare occasion when I admit my mistake, and am humbled by it. Just a bit. 😉

This is my nephew Jack, who’s providing the kid perspective.

And my other nephew Ben.

It’s okay. You can tell me their reviews are better than mine. I know it. And I’m the proudest aunt.

Ben also has something to add to my Detective Pikachu review.

The Knight Before Christmas

We know Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) doesn’t believe in fairy-tales because that’s what she flat-out tells a student at the very top of the movie. Making such bold and inflammatory statements practically invites the supernatural, so when a knight from 700 years ago suddenly turns up in her life, it’s pretty much her own fault.

Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse), the transplanted knight, was just going about his 1300s life when he meets an “old crone” (not my words, believe me, and not exactly an accurate description either, even, I suspect, by 1300s relativity) in the forest who gives him a quest to be completed before midnight on Christmas Eve. Next thing he knows he’s in Ohio. In the winter. He pops up in the middle of a Christmas village where his armour seems like it might just be another merry costume, and the fair Brooke doesn’t think much of her run in with him….until she later hits him with her metal steed car and has to take him to a hospital, where his ye olde claims of identity are mistaken for head trauma.

Brooke does what any intelligent young woman would do when she meets a crazy homeless person: she invites him into her home, to stay. You have to be quite a handsome crazy homeless person to merit such an invitation, I’d imagine, armour or no armour. Only her trusty best friend (and possibly her sister?) Madison (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is the voice of reason here, but she is too easily hung up upon, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, Sir Cole (as he insists on being called) gets his 21st century lesson from – where else? – the magic picture box, ie, Netflix itself, which continues to astound me with its ability to be, um, self-referential (by my count he watches Holiday In The Wild and The Holiday Calendar…had he kept scrolling he might have run into last year’s Vanessa Hudgens holiday offering, The Princess Switch; watch for its sequel, The Princess Switch: Switched again, a real honest to goodness thing, I kid you not, in 2020).

What will happen, then, when they inevitably fall in love? I mean, these two are kneading bread together in a way that makes me blush. Guys, I must be slipping. It is WAY too early in the Christmas season (in fact, I’d argue that it isn’t even the Christmas season yet) for me to feel this benevolent toward a holiday romance. Have I gone soft as the marshmallows in my hot chocolate?

The answer may be yes: I am an ooey-gooey puddle of movie-watching goodwill and kindness. I may have lost some self-respect, I may have lost your faith, I may have to change the title of this site, but the truth of the matter is: I didn’t fully hate this movie.

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplated a “pause” that we just never came back to.