REVIEW: “JUDY” (2019) Roadside Attractions

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While the focus of this movie is of course Judy Garland and primarily the last year of her life,  “JUDY” opens with a behind the scenes look of with a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) being berated by her publicist/handler and MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. Not allowed to eat, not allowed to have friends, working 18 hour days and most notably, the start of her pill addiction that would eventually take her life.  While watching, you can’t help but wonder why these things were even allowed and social norms for the time. The studio system was set up as such, to where the only people in control of all the lives underneath them, were the studio heads themselves. A selfish group of old men whose true stories would only be revealed years later as their power was lost.

That being said “Judy” might well be one of the saddest movies of the year, while Rene Zellweger’s performance of this icon, might just be the best of the year.  This is a sparkling, yet honest look at the last year of Garland’s life, giving us a closer look at the legendary 1968 “Talk of the Town” London engagement, the promising effort for a physically and emotionally exhausted Judy Garland to reignite her fading career.  For her to capture one last moment on the ‘yellow brick road’ before her accidental overdose on drugs, which is depicted here with a surgeon’s accuracy.  The days are counted in despair over her addictions and most of all the separation from her children. Nothing much is pretty about her life, and most of it seems desperate.

There are a few notable problems with the film that while you understand not every single thing can be depicted, they could at least have given us, say a bit more of her already famous daughter Liza Minnelli, whom at the time depicted in this movie, was 23, making movies, and on a career trajectory that would result in an Oscar three years later. But here she only exists in a moment, at a random party Judy attends when she comes back from a short gig with her younger children and doesn’t have a home or hotel that will let her in. Only Garland’s two later children Lorna and Joey, fathered by Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) are primarily shown to us. It’s also at this same party that Judy meets her last and youngest husband, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).  He shows up in London and before you can say Toto! they are married.  It seems Judy was always stuck with some type of handler whether it be a stage manager or a husband, there was always someone wanting to dictate her life’s moves to her. To push and pull her in all directions.

As noted, kids aren’t the only thing missing. There is a huge gap of nothing past her early days with Mickey Rooney and the 60’s, which actually included two Oscar nominations and a Grammy award for Album of the Year. Also a short-lived television show where she did a memorable duet with a then almost unknown, 21-year-old Barbara Streisand. Considering the range of celebrities she worked with, the opportunities for quality namedropping are limitless – but aside from Mickey Rooney, there’s a pronounced lack of showing us anything.  Well thank goodness for a subplot involving two gay fans and their evening with her. It’s endearing and the best way to show how she impacted those on the margins of society. The final scene when she sings Rainbow involves the gay duo and is hokey but effectively sentimental and lyrical like the song itself.

But don’t get me completely wrong, the film has heart, in matter of speaking it has in fact loads of it. The script, costumes and sets take the audience on a virtual trip back into the last days of the ultimate performer’s life. We meet a different Judy – and older one who has been dealt all of life’s blows, only to keep coming back again and again – because no matter what, she still had that voice. The drama is punctuated by songs, sung well by Zellweger, and by her Oscar-worthy performance which is remarkable as she captures every single nuance of Garland’s mannerisms and body movements, even the “hunchback” part that Louis B. Mayer used against her as a child when calling her his ‘little hunchback.  But, of course, her voice is not Garland’s.  That voice is what we will always remember and the little girl who made us so happy by clicking her heels twice and taking us somewhere over that rainbow.

What is made clear in this film is that Judy Garland is the definition of a tortured soul.  It is thoughtful and provocative in it’s telling of this trip portraying a life that was not lead down “The Yellow Brick Road” as we were once lead to believe. This movie is a very worthwhile look at the life of Judy Garland. See it for Judy, or see it for Renee, or see it for both … just see it.

Grade: B

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, September 25, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

“JUDY” is out in theaters nationwide this Friday, September 27, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING

 

 

REVIEW: “HALSTON” (2019) CNN Pictures

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Halston.  The name is synonymous with iconic fashions of the Seventies. Think Halston and what do you see: Studio 54, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli – the fashion excesses of the rich and famous of the time period.

Flamboyant dress dictator Roy Halston Frowick was indeed larger than life, and his dirt poor farm boy rise to fashion mogul of the stars story is definitely a fantastic and messy one.  But Documentarian Frederic Tcheng‘s film takes on an odd tone with making a mixed bag of riveting stories, grainy VHS tapestry and a narration done by a ‘fictional character’ i.e., somebody working in the archives, giving the feel of an ‘America’s Most Wanted’ type storytelling.  It seems to be a stretch in an attempt to make a more artistic film, but honestly, any attempts to add interest to Halston’s story were unnecessary as Halston didn’t need it.

So what do we know about Halston exactly that we didn’t – well I for one, didn’t know anything about his early days.  Jackie O’s pillbox hat? Halston. The “hot pants” revolution in the 60’s? you got it..Halston. He started his career at Bergdorf Goodman, the iconic luxury department store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. And from there he received financial backing for his own House of Fashion and viola’, the Halston private studio was born and plans to take over the fashion world began.  He literally put American fashion on the map – thanks in large part to his splash at the Versailles Fashion Show, something which an American fashion designer had never been invited to, let alone taken the show by storm.

Following all this, we get the interviews – ranging from movie director Joel Schumacher, whom partied hard with Halston since the beginning showing us how they were not accepted by some in their fun, freedom living lifestyles in 19060’s gay Fire Island; to model and actress Marisa Berenson, who was one of the first to walk his runway in his clothes and became a movie star; to Elsa Peretti, who created Halston fragrances and worked with him for years. There is also Liza Minelli who has worn Halston exclusively for decades. And lest we forget, Elizabeth Taylor and Bianca Jagger to name a few,  who take us all in for a glimpse at some of the Studio 54 parties, the Andy Warhol years, and Halston’s lavish lifestyle.

Much of the later years center around the impact of business dealings. The 1973 deal where Norton-Simon acquired Halston and his brand, which is what drove his expansion into fragrances, shoes, furniture and more. We see his historic 1980 trip to China, and learn about his record-breaking $1 billion deal with JC Penney, a transaction outsiders described as he “moved from class to mass.” and made Bergdorf-Goldman pull everything of his out of their stores with many high-end’s following suit with theirs as well. We hear stories of his controlling nature and almost sadly watch as Esmark (Playtex) purchases the brand and discovers that once they owned the Halston name,  Halston the man, could be and was, booted from the company with John David Ridge taking over as the ‘designer’ of all things Halston in 1984.

Halston is the true story of this man who designed for the world’s most fashion-conscious people, and for such diverse causes as The Olympics, the Girl Scouts, and Avis company uniforms. Having Esmark erase the Halston history was a downright tragedy.  Having the designer die of AIDS in 1989 at age 57, was an even bigger one.  By that time at least, he had disappeared from public life as his purpose and name were no longer his.

Halston wanted to take over the entire world with his fashion. He almost succeeded.  Now if they could only erase that ridiculous narration – this would be an award winning documentary.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, September 17, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Deadline Documentary

 

REVIEW: “HUSTLERS” (2019) STX FILMS

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Dear Jennifer Lopez aka JLo aka Jenny from the Block,

Please forgive me my past trespasses of maybe thinking you could not possibly foray from a “Fly Girl’ into a music career, into a film career – minus ‘Selena’ of course.  Forgive me for ever doubting that “HUSTLERS” would be my favourite movie that I’ve seen in 2019 so far.  Forgive me for almost just wanting to skip out on my media screening and thinking, ‘nah this can’t be good’. Forgive me for having a little scoff when I read on the day of my screening a TIFF headline that stated this might be a Oscar nominating performance from you.  And please, most of all, forgive me for EVER thinking you might not possibly be able to pull this off with the cast you helped enlist.

“HUSTLERS” starts us off in 2007 where newcomer stripper Destiny (Constance Wu) is taken under the wing of veteran stripper/popular attraction Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Ramona teaches Destiny several pole dancing and erotic dancing, along with introducing her to fellow strippers and how to get the most out of the Wall Street types who frequent the club. Destiny not only starts to rake in a lot of money, but she uses her new fortunes to care for her grandmother (Wai Chin Ho) and newborn daughter.  We have some major fun times here in the first half with Diamond (Cardi B) and Liz (Lizzo) giving us some backstage stripper dressing room fun. But dramatically overnight, things come to an abrupt halt at the start of the recession.

Years of the recession cause fewer people coming to the club and puts Destiny out of work. It doesn’t help that her background gives her little chance for other work. She eventually comes across Ramona again where they blame the recession on the same Wall Street guys. To retaliate and to generate an income, they agree to bring in other strippers including Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer) to take advantage of them and lure them into the clubs, drug them ever so slightly and take everything on their credit cards. All of this becomes chronicled by writer/reporter Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) as yes, this is a true story.

It may be easy to see Hustlers as something as exploitative as Showgirls. But to tell you the truth, I see it more like a cross of Boogie Nights and The Sting, and I ended up loving the movie so much more then I anticipated. I can call it one of the best of 2019, and as of right this moment, my favourite movie of the year so far, as it has so many elements that are phenomenal. Speaking of which, I’ll start by saying that Jennifer Lopez not only shines, but also gives what may be her best performance in a years. She paints a reflection of her eternal youth within a character who’s the prime example of “looks can be deceiving”.  To put it best, Jenny from the Block is kicking ass and taking names.  She is up there with 20 & 30 year old women, and you would not be able to tell the difference in their ages standing side by side.  She is flawless here.

Constance Wu has two goals in this movie; to be the innocent on whose life we are filled in on the and gives us the stories narrative movie’s and to someone the audience can imagine themselves as being in the same position. Hustlers uses this narrative to make their characters interestingly sympathetic, especially the lengths they go to accomplish their goals. Of course like a lot of crime stories, it all has to topple at some point and the movie has that…though it takes some time to get there, you are held in by not only a good story line, but a soundtrack that is phenomenal as well.

The first half might be more fun and exciting than the second.. but it’s in the second half where we see the true story coming to fruition and the con that’s set up, while a good one, the pacing of it causes things to slow down some. A lot of it is because much of the scenes repeat the con over and over. I know it’s to show how much it works, but the movie also has a lot of slow motion edits which heighten moments at the strip club, but can come off as unnecessary during the con. If anything, the best moments from the second half are when the girls get together laugh about what happened and thus, seeing them connect.

I’ll give this nine stripper poles out of ten. Hustlers is a movie that will not only make you laugh more than you thought, but it’s well acted and well written – and is probably going to do some good box-office business and have its eye on certain awards. It’s too early to determine any guarantees, but I’ll remember this; especially for Jennifer Lopez. I do highly recommend it in general as it’s a tantalizing a good watch.

Grade: A-

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Media Screening: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 ~ Courtesy of STX Films

‘HUSTLERS’ IS OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE & U.K ON FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING.

REVIEW: “THE GOLDFINCH” (2019) Warner Bros.

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Having been a huge fan of the book  “THE GOLDFINCH”, I was excited to see what they could do with the film as how does one adapt an almost 800 page Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
The short story is they don’t..and while I will acknowledge the effort made..they just don’t get it right.

We start with the beginning as a young Theo (Oakes Fegley) , is recovering in the art museum in the aftermath of the bombing that kills his mom. We are suddenly flipped to adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) in a hotel in Amsterdam, scrubbing blood out of his clothes.

And so continues the story of Theo and the magical painting of The Goldfinch that he took after being told by a dying old man Welty (Robert Joy)  and his young granddaughter Pippa played by (Aimee Lawrence) as a child, and (Ashleigh Cummings) as an adult, in the museum. He followed her into this room because of a fleeting crush moment, that will change his life forever.

And on we go, back n forth between adult Theo’s life and young Theo’s life..following what happens to him and the painting along the way. He is taken in by the Barbour family who don’t really know him or what to do with him. Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Barbour, is good later in the film when she ages..In between we meet his dad Larry (Luke Wilson) a compulsive gambler and drunk, and his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) and his new best friend Boris, a Russian kid (Finn Wolfhard) is young Boris,  (Aneurin Barnard) is older Boris) who is seemingly his only friend after his dad drags him to Vegas.

The films is disjointed and all over the place. The book was a page-turner that kept you in suspense every step of the way. The film completely misses the mark on this. It’s blah, boring and terribly mis-cast in almost every role but young Theo. The accents they try to pull off are horrible and draw attention to the bad acting done by the two actors portraying Boris.  And while it is visually beautiful to look at, it’s mish-mash of story never comes together or makes sense enough for you to truly figure out what & why this is all happening.  The elements were all there as again, as the book keeps you on the edge of suspense to where you don’t want to put it down, whereas I just wanted this film to end as it was exceedingly long.

In the end, the film just could not deliver what the book could and did.

Grade: C-

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Media review screening: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

‘THE GOLDFINCH” IS OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE THIS FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING.