Loving Vincent on DVD

Lovely, fascinating, mesmerizing are all excellent ways to describe the short film Loving Vincent. Unique also works – it is unlikely you’ve ever watched anything quite like this movie.

Loving Vincent takes place one year after the apparent suicide of Vincent Van Gogh in the French town of Arles. A postmaster insists that his son deliver Vincent’s last letter to Theo Van Gogh, his brother. The son is reluctant but soon becomes invested in discovering more about Vincent’s last days. Vincent was a social misfit and suffered from mental illness, but the mounting evidence indicates that he had been feeling much better and was not suicidal (in fact, he had just ordered more paint and canvases the day before he was shot) The people of Arles are divided on how they feel about the situation – some hated Vincent, some tolerated him and others truly appreciated him. Was it suicide? An accident? Or was it murder?

As intriguing as the story is, it is its presentation that will really grab your attention. More than 100 artists hand painted each scene, bringing Van Gogh’s paintings to life. Created in Van Gogh’s distinctive style and color palette, it is mesmerizing to watch one famous painting after another become animated. The story flows naturally, the paintings serving the story and adding depth and emotion to Van Gogh’s world. It is a journey well worth taking.

The Paris Opera on DVD

I love taking a peek behind the scenes of anything creative – movies, fashion, art, crafts. I love to see how the magic is made, the skill and passion and focus that goes into creating something special. If you feel the same be sure to check out The Paris Opera on DVD.

The Paris Opera follows new director Stephane Lissner as he navigates through his first season at the world famous art institution. The Paris Opera actually comprises two major venues, the opulent Palais Garnier and the more modern Opera Bastille as well as schools and training centers for both opera and ballet plus extensive craft workshops. Ballets, operas and concerts are regular events at both locations and require intense coordination on multiple levels. Amidst this controlled chaos, Lissner must negotiate politics, strike threats, wage disputes, replacing key personnel at critical times and, after a massive bull is hired to appear in an opera, calm the fears of the chorus who will be on stage with him.

The film focuses on what goes on backstage, long before and after a show is presented. The rigorous training the ballet dancers undergo, the auditioning of a new, young opera singer, the hammering out of new choreography, the building of sets and sewing of costumes. The Paris Opera relies heavily on new technology – lights run by computers, for instance, but also the more traditional skills – wig making, costumes, makeup. You see very little of any performances, just glimpses and usually from the wings of the stage – the utter exhaustion of a ballet dancer after she has finished her solo, the opera singer soaked with perspiration trying to make herself presentable before taking her bows, the lighting director singing along with the singers on stage, the maids who clean, the chorus practicing just before going on stage, the cleaning and ironing of the costumes. It is an endless cycle of creation and recreation and while talent plays a part, it is mostly possible through hard work and dedication.

Darkest Hour on DVD

Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill’s early days as England’s Prime Minister, as he battles doubts (his own, those of the politicians and even the King) and leads England into it’s great trial yet.

Europe has fallen to the Nazi invasion, nearly the entirety of the British Army is trapped at Dunkirk and America remains neutral. England stands alone. Should Churchill sue for peace and try to come to terms with Hitler, or fight what seems an impossible war? The politicians around him want to negotiate, feeling that they are in a better position now than if England falls. To fight German will come at great cost – is Churchill willing to shoulder that burden?

Gary Oldman, as Churchill, is masterful. He delivers some of Churchill’s best lines (“We will fight on the beaches. We will fight on the landing grounds….We shall never surrender.” and “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”) with assurance and drama that matches the serious situations. Physically, Oldman does not particularly look like Churchilll, but he captures his quirks, gestures, mannerisms and voice unerringly.

The film does take a few liberties, and fudges a couple of dates, but the overall atmosphere – of England united against a great evil – feels very real. A great choice for fans of World War II history.

Phantom Thread on DVD

Set in 1954 London, Phantom Thread   is about the couture fashion of the House of Woodcock. Led by master dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, they dress royalty, movie stars and heiresses and rub shoulders with glittering high society.

I’m not sure what to say about this movie – after a promising start, it left me confused and a bit uncomfortable. There’s a abrupt change of focus about halfway through that completely altered the tone of the movie.

The start is lovely – exquisite dresses, beautiful music, a very 1950s vibe set in a fine London townhouse. It’s a fascinating peek behind the scenes of a fashion house – the draping of fabric, the sewing with antique lace and luscious satin, the fittings with wealthy women. It’s quickly obvious that Reynolds (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is both talented and a tyrant whose fussy demands are met by his sister and his employees without question. All that changes when Woodcock brings home Alma, a young waitress and the woman that becomes his muse and his lover.

This is when the movie starts to veer into strange. Alma appears to be quiet and docile but this calm exterior hides an iron will. She begins to clash with Reynolds and when she realizes her place in the house may not be secure, she takes things into her own hands.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this movie. As I said before, the first half is lovely and interesting and Daniel Day-Lewis (which he claims is his last movie and is now retired) is as riveting as always, but the second half of the movie mostly left me puzzled. Have you seen this movie? And if so, what did you think?

The Glass Castle on DVD

Guest post by Laura

I was hesitant about watching yet another depressing movie about a dysfunctional family but the preview I saw while watching another Lionsgate film was enticing so I gave it a shot.

The Glass Castle is a 2017 movie based on the 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls. Brie Larson plays the author, Woody Harrelson plays her alcoholic father, Rex, and Naomi Watts is her passive, artist mother, Rose Mary. The family moves constantly due to Rex’s debts and run-ins with the law until they end up in Rex’s home town where a family secret is revealed. Rex and Rose Mary are both highly intelligent so the children end up faring well despite their lack of formal education.

Jennifer Lawrence originally signed on as the lead before becoming too busy. Larson was wonderful in this role so it worked out well. I thought all of the acting was great, including the child actors playing the Walls children at various stages.

It was amazing that young Jeannette Walls had the ability to perceive her household situation with the accuracy of someone far beyond her years. She seemed to be the pillar of the family. Despite all of the turmoil, she was able to finally find the shining moments in an otherwise turbulent family.

The Big Sick on DVD

Guest blog by Laura

The Big Sick is based on the true story of the early relationship between comedian Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani and Gordon fall in love, which is a problem because Nanjiani’s religion dictates that he must marry a woman of his faith in an arranged marriage. Gordon becomes seriously ill and falls into a coma shortly after they break up and Nanjiani and her parents are thrust into a tenuous exchange while they watch Gordon’s condition deteriorate.

I’ve had Muslim friends for decades so I am familiar with traditional customs and the cultural schisms that arise on occasion among Muslim children raised in American culture. This movie accurately captured the essence of such a divide.

Nanjiani portrays himself and actress Zoe Kazan portrays Gordon. They have a great onscreen rapport and quickly develop into amiable characters. Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher play the role of Nanjiani’s parents. Shroff humorously captures the zeal of an overeager Pakastani/Muslim mother who is persistent in her efforts to play matchmaker. Shroff and Kher deliver one of my favorite scenes in the movie when Nanjiani is leaving for New York.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Gordon’s parents. Hunter is natural in her role of a woman who displays both her ferocity and tenderness as a mother. Romano’s understated, dry humor plays off of Nanjian’s quick and sarcastic wit.

A Ghost Story on DVD

Guest post by Laura

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play the main characters in this movie that is unlike any other I’ve seen. The music, lighting, and nonverbal actions are almost characters in and of themselves because of the scarcity of dialog. In stark contrast to the last several years of blockbuster films I’ve seen, (I live with action and adventure fans), this was so slow and subtle I can imagine many viewers, such as the one who sat next to me on the couch, and critics alike panning it.

It’s difficult to discuss A Ghost Story without spoilers so I’ll tread carefully in this paragraph but don’t read the last paragraph if you don’t want the ending to be spoiled. What begins quietly and ordinarily voyages into questions of the afterlife, the concept of time, and the human desire to leave a vestige of existence in order to not be forgotten. Affleck, as the main character would seem at first to have an easy job as the actor wearing the sheet, but as I watched, I thought it would likely be very difficult to convey emotion without the usual facial or hand gestures. He did well, showing surprise, sadness, and anger.

The final scene leaves us not knowing something I had assumed we would eventually learn. Open-ended conclusions frustrate many viewers and a Google search about this scene finds many viewers seeking the answer. I have my own thoughts about what happened but like this enigmatic movie, I’m not telling.

Girls Trip

Guest post by Laura

After several thought-provoking independent films, I wanted some entertainment that was sheer fun. Girls Trip was just the flick. Regina Hall, Queen Latifa, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish play lifelong friends who attend the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Truths are revealed, a blowout ensues, bonds are reestablished, and much drinking and mayhem ensue throughout. The movie might have been set in Las Vegas, as one popular male-friend-escapade movie was placed, but New Orleans was a fine choice for the backdrop of architectural eye-candy and no-holds-barred atmosphere of the French Quarter at night.

In the vein of Bridesmaids, the ladies at times abandon all decorum and end up in some hilarious and one super-disgusting situation. The women are all good actors but I adored Tiffany Haddish’s performance. Her character was quite dysfunctional but was so loveable, funny, and brutally honest, that I could see why the others would continue to be friends with her anyway despite her foibles.

There were some lessons about being true to one’s self and about the importance of female friendships but those were just backstory for me. The ladies just having a great time in each other’s company was what I enjoyed most.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-in

Hello Online Reading Challengers!

How is your March reading going? Are you still scrunching up your nose at the idea of science fiction? Try a movie! They’re like an adventure story, only with lots more makeup! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Mad Max: Fury Road starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy is a non-stop action, can’t-catch-your-breath, edge-of-your-seat survival story. But beyond all that sand and all those crazy people, there’s a lot of humanity.

Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner”, stalking genetically replicated criminal replicants in a chaotic society that is nearly impossible to tell what’s real. The new film takes place 30 years further into the future and a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling) and his search for the former blade runner.

Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Is it possible to fall in love with an Artificial Intelligence? What happens when the AI believes it has outgrown you and wants to “break up”? It’s a question that hits closer to home in this age of Alexa. Quirky, touching and cautionary.

Tired of all the scarey, dystopian visions of the future? Then go for Star Trek, which presents a future that, while we’re still not perfect, at least we haven’t blown up the Earth (yet) and have managed to live among the stars. You have lots to choose from – television series, movies, original, spinoffs, alternate universes.

The Trip to Spain on DVD

Guest post by Laura

I wish I had known there were two previous “Trip” movies because I would have watched those first. I feel I was watching the twilight of what was probably a great run for actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. My aspiration to visit Spain someday was the impetus behind my selection of The Trip to Spain. I certainly got what I was hoping to see in breathtaking scenic views and Spanish cuisine.

There were times I laughed so hard at the banter and celebrity impressions I couldn’t stop but about two-thirds of the way in it began to wear thin. I think this was by design since I could see that happening in real life to people with strong personalities after spending that much time together.

This film is a commentary about the fickle nature of success in Hollywood and coming to terms with becoming middle-aged men, all while lodging at gorgeous hotels and running for fitness on narrow cobblestone streets. Each man is in a different stage of life, Rob has an up-and-coming career, a wife and young children and Steve is facing a stalling career, has a twenty-year old son, and a complicated long-distance relationship with an American woman. I think there are enough issues between them for both to be relatable to many viewers.

Since our libraries have the previous two movies, The Trip, and The Trip to Italy available, I plan to watch them as well. I’ll view them as travelogues with a side of drama and humor.