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.

Beatriz at Dinner on DVD

Guest post by Laura

Salma Hayek plays the lead in this thought-provoking “comedy.” Although I laughed at times throughout the film, it would be more accurate to categorize Beatriz at Dinner as a drama. Hayek is finally given a break from the stereotypical sexy Latina spitfire role in which she in normally cast. She doesn’t disappoint in her portrayal of a spiritual, non-materialistic healer with a strong desire for fairness and justice. Although this character could easily have been a blonde hippie, Beatriz’s backstory as an immigrant from Mexico deepens the storyline.

The movie takes place in the grand Southern California home overlooking the ocean of one of her massage clients. Her car breaks down and her client, who also considers Beatriz a friend, convinces her husband to let her stay for his dinner with his business partners. The evening enfolds with much drama spurred on by far too much liquor and the uncomfortable pairing of people from opposite ends of the socio-political and economic spectrum in this country. Jon Lithgow matches Hayek in his performance as a Trump-era capitalist and verbal sparring ensues.

The ending has become a Google search phrase, as evidenced by my starting to type it and it popped up. I was satisfied with the movie until the end, which disappointed me at first. I read an interview with the director, Miguel Arteta, who explained, “we have gotten really used to having our ending be predigested for us.” He goes on to say he wanted an open-ended conclusion to make people start thinking for themselves. After reading the interview, I have created my own justification for the end in my mind. It worked! He got me to think for myself and not accept a neat and tidy ending fed to me by Hollywood.

Like a complex novel that merits re-reading, I might have to view Beatriz at Dinner again to dissect all of the layers and nuances. While it’s not a movie to invite your friends to watch for a lighthearted good time, it is worth watching as a Latino director and a Latina actress’ take on our current political climate.

 

Victoria and Abdul on DVD

This is the Queen Victoria that most of us are probably familiar with – elderly, dour, overweight, always dressed in black. She is mostly a figurehead now with the ruling of the country handled by the Prime Minister and her councilors. She has outlived most of her contemporaries, despises her children (especially Edward, the heir apparent), is in poor health and has few interests. And then, into this dull and tedious existence steps an unexpected bright spot – Abdul.

Victoria and Abdul is the story of the unusual (but true) friendship between the Queen of the most powerful country in the world, and a commoner from India. Sent to England to present the Queen with a coin created in honor of her Golden Jubilee (he was chosen because he was tall), Abdul looks past the trappings of the Crown and sees the person. He is optimistic, cheerful and respectful and, when she asks questions about his country and his life, he answers her easily, weaving colorful, poetic pictures of a life very different from her own. Victoria emerges from her shell, delighting in new interests.

However, not everyone is happy about the friendship between Victoria and Abdul. There is a lot of racism against Indians in England (there is a great deal of unrest in colonial India resulting in several battles during this time; India did not become independent from England until 1947) and there is a concerted effort to remove Abdul from Victoria’s circle, testing the bonds of loyalty.

This is a lovely movie, beautifully acted by Judy Dench and Ali Fazal with gorgeous imagery and costumes. It is also somewhat melancholy; Victoria doesn’t have much to live for at this point in her life – she still misses Albert, who died nearly 40 years before, and everyone around her is basically waiting for her to die. That the one bright spot in her life, Abdul, is discouraged and kept away is very sad. If you’ve been watching Victoria on PBS (which is excellent), it’s also a bit of a shock, the contrast between the young, vibrant and very active young Victoria and the elderly woman she becomes.

Halfway Home – Online Reading Challenge

Hello Readers!

In the midst of all the festivities and bustle of the holidays, have you been able to find some time for yourself to read? Have you found something set in New York City? We’d all love to hear what about what you’re reading!

If you just don’t have the time (or energy!) to read right now, how about a movie? Take a break from the holiday madness and watch a movie (or two). There are lots set in the Big Apple. Bonus! These have a Christmas backdrop as well!

You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks is that rare rom-com that is funny and sweet without being mushy. The Christmas scenes will make you nostalgic for the past and who doesn’t love Meg Ryan’s apartment?

Elf with Will Ferrell doesn’t really need an introduction. It’s become a family tradition for many and for good (hilarious) reason.

Home Alone 2 with Macaulay Caulkin uses New York City as it’s playground with iconic scenes in the toy store and Central Park. Christmas in New York never look prettier.

Miracle on 34th Street. And of course you can’t forget about this classic. It hits all the iconic New York City Christmas moments (and probably was responsible for how many of us imagine New York City to be at Christmas)

But what if you’d had enough of Christmas madness for the moment and just want to escape for a bit? Try some television shows – Friends will never get stale (in my opinion) and Sex and the City still pushes the envelope. Then there are cop shows – several billion seasons of Law and Order and it’s many offshoots, Blue Bloods, NYPD Blue. And there’s no shortage if comedy is what you crave – Seinfeld, Will and Grace, 30 Rock. No excuses – there’s plenty of New York City for everyone!