Category Archives: 1960’s

REVIEW: “HAPPENING” (2022) IFC FILMS

The past dictates our future in so many ways. So being somewhat traumatized by a film isn’t always a bad thing when that film is so important to whom you are as a person. And nothing could be more prevalent at this moment than Director Audrey Diwan’s film “HAPPENING” based on the semi-autobiographical novel from French novelist Annie Ernaux (originally entitled “L’Événement“). It’s speaks up from the past, not just telling us – but showing us all as well – the true brutality and horrors of what exists when women across the world lose their freedom of choice over their own body.

HAPPENING

The film takes us back in time to France in 1963, Abortion is illegal. Birth control is illegal. Told from the point of view of the main character Anne Duchesne (Anamaria Vartolomei), in close up and close quarters, we embark on this vivid, often hard to watch, journey with her.

Anne, Hélène (Luàna Bajrami), and Brigitte (Louise Orry-Diquéro), are college dorm-mates studying literature, and they are all getting ready to go to a dance. When they arrive, the room is full with men and women dancing though because of the times they are in, there is an undercurrent of having too much fun means you are loose or easy. In the weeks after the dance, we see Anne continually check if she has gotten her period and write “rien” meaning nothing, repeatedly in her diary. When her pregnancy is confirmed by the local doctor, she asks him to do something, but he declines and urges her not to speak about it. Later, as things are progressing and Anne is clearly slipping, she visits another doctor, who is supposedly sympathetic to her condition and prescribes a drug that will guarantee a miscarriage. She learns, however, much later, that the doctor lied to her and the drug is designed to actually strengthen the not yet formed fetus inside her.

HAPPENING

Anne’s friends through all of this present an array of reactions with Bridgette, the supposed more sexually liberated one, keeping her distance and instead it’s the usually quiet and shy Hélène who seems to be the more accepting and understanding of the two. Most surprisingly is Olivia (Louise Chevillotte), once Anne’s nemesis, steps up to the plate and proves to be vital ally when everything starts to spin out of control. The two become unexpectedly connected during a pivotal – and unforgettable scene that had me gripping my seat and squirming wanting to cover my eyes – but you can’t – because while traumatic, it is all to very real. 

While “Happening” depicts the very real story of a young girl who’s forced to make a very tough decision in a time where you didn’t have the freedom to choose, it’s director Audrey Diwan, whose choices here are so effective in making us live every single moment with Anne. She does a great job of depicting the social stigma and incredible secrecy Anne is forced to suffer through, just because she doesn’t want to let a baby dictate her life. You feel not just sad for her situation, but angry for what she is put through, and most of all, you root for her to find a way out before it’s too late, hopefully without any serious repercussions. The disillusionment she receives from her doctor and friends is upsetting to watch, not to mention she can’t even tell her family for fear of the shame it will bring.

The more weeks that pass by, the more stressed Anne gets and we the audience get as there is a sense of urgency throughout due to the spectacular performance of Anamaria Vartolomei. She conveys every single moment for you in such realism that there is almost a sense of relief when she finally gets to the back-alley abortion clinic after raising the money by selling her personal items – even though you clench your teeth, and squirm every which way in your seat, watching the painful procedure take place.

‘Happening‘ is a wake up call to us all as the film doesn’t lecture it’s non-believers. It simply, and effectively discredits them. What changed is that thousands of desperate women no longer died as the result of botched backstreet abortions and simply put – we can never go back there again.

Grade: B+

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Review Screening Friday, April 22, 2022 ~ Courtesy of Accolade PR

“HAPPENING” IS NOW IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE AND COMING TO VOD JUNE 21, 2022.

DAY 6 ~ COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ BEST ACTRESS

Here we are at Day 6 of my “Countdown to the Oscars” ~ probably for me at least, the hardest category to judge this year. The category here is just filled to the brim of fantastic performances and I wish they could all win..well..minus one. ha!
Reminder: I’m giving who I think the winner will be and what would be my pick – because they aren’t always necessarily the same!! And the nominees are:

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

NOMINEES

JESSICA CHASTAINThe Eyes of Tammy Faye WINNER

Jessica Chastain is brilliant here – she encaptures Tammy Faye like no other. While the film as a whole was not great, you can pluck out this performance for the brilliance that it is. Jessica has long deserved this award, let’s see if the Academy thinks so as well.

OLIVIA COLMANThe Lost Daughter

Oliva Colman is such a wonderful actress and has deservedly won this award in the past – this however, is not her finest performance, nor is it truly and Oscar-winning one. I don’t doubt that Olivia will be nominated in this category again in the future though.

PENÉLOPE CRUZParallel Mothers MY PICK

Penelope Cruz is undeniable in this performance. She’s an actress who not only gets better and better with age, but she is undeniably better when directed in her native language and of course, when directed by Pedro Almodóvar. He know how to bring out the best in her as she brings her entire life to this performance. I can’t say I see her winning, but yes, she is hands down my pick.

NICOLE KIDMANBeing the Ricardos

Surprising us all this year was Nicole Kidman pulling off a good Lucille Ball. Something that must have been a daunting task to undertake. While they only focused on one week in her life, Nicole gave that one week her all. I just don’t see her taking it here with the kind of competition she is up against.

KRISTEN STEWARTSpencer

Yes, I know the hype, yes, I know she has a huge fan base. I came into this film hoping Stewart would change my mind as going in a lot of people were raving about it, but I just didn’t love ‘Spencer.’ And she didn’t change my mind. I could list the many reasons, but I won’t, be her fanbase is rabid and they come for you, and I don’t feel like dealing with that. I do hope that sometime in the future she can change my mind and I will leave it at that.  

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DAY 5 ~ COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ BEST ACTOR

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Here we are – Day Five of my ‘SEVEN DAYS OF OSCARS’ countdown and we are at ‘Best Actor”. Once again I give who I think will win – and what my pick would be – as those two choices sometimes differ. The only thing I can add here is it is a crying shame that Jude Hill was not nominated in this category as that young man deserved to be here. But alas here we are – Will Smith might just be the winner here as he is so good in “King Richard.” But hot on his heels will be Andrew Garfield.

NOMINEES

JAVIER BARDEMBeing the Ricardos

As much as I love Javier – this isn’t his movie to win this award on.

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCHThe Power of the Dog

I remember a few weeks before this movie came out, one of those ‘know it all’ movie people told me they already knew who was going to win the Oscar and it was going to be Benedict. While I find him a good actor, I never find him able to pull off accents and that was again, my issue here – along with the fact being I never once believed he was a cowboy.

ANDREW GARFIELDtick, tick…BOOM! VERY POSSIBLE WINNER

Andrew is honestly in a tie with Will here – I know many that hope, wish and will lose sleep if he doesn’t. What he does do is manages to make this whole film work, as I honestly didn’t know much about Jonathan Larson before this film. Go for it Andrew – give us an upset.  

WILL SMITHKing Richard WINNER/MY PICK

The minute I saw Will Smith as Richard Williams, I couldn’t believe how he picked up the nuances of the man so well. Being an avid tennis fan for YEARS now, I’ve seen the man be exactly who is was in the film, in person. And they left a lot on the sidewalk as well. Granted Smith should’ve won for Ali – but this, this is his Oscar to win.

DENZEL WASHINGTONThe Tragedy of Macbeth

How do you ignore Denzel in anything? Answer is: you don’t. Though Macbeth in and of itself, is not an exciting play to watch – Denzel does give it his take. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough to walk away with the statue this year.

Thanks all for taking the time to give my countdown a read. Let me know your thoughts on if you agree or disagree with my picks. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or on twitter as well https://twitter.com/pegsatthemovies IG: https://www.instagram.com/peggyatthemovies/

DAY 4 ~ COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ “BEST DIRECTOR”

DAY 4 of my “Countdown to the Oscars” and it’s BEST DIRECTOR time. So here we are with my reminder: I’m giving who I think the winner will be and my pick for whom I might like it to be. As it stands, it looks like Jane Campion will win and I don’t think anybody is going to be mad about that. And the nominees are:

NOMINEES

BELFASTKenneth Branagh

Belfast was so beautifully shot by Branagh that it makes me think – okay, yes, then maybe. It was as well a lovely story, but will the Oscars offers any upsets this year?…

DRIVE MY CARRyusuke Hamaguchi

Ah, yes – the underdog for sure here in this race – again, such a beautifully directed film it’s hard not to want a little upset in this category and if not that, at least the hope the Hamaguchi will give us another magical masterpiece soon.

LICORICE PIZZAPaul Thomas Anderson

I gotta give this one a flat no. Paul Thomas Anderson is definitely an acquired taste, and while I’ve loved some of this films, this one he just made one too many faux pauxs for me.

THE POWER OF THE DOGJane Campion WINNER

Jane’s done amazing work over the years. Is it my fave film? No, but I won’t be annoyed as directorial wise it’s done very well.

WEST SIDE STORYSteven Spielberg MY PICK

Honestly, it’s hard not to have a part of me want Spielberg here as he was firing on all cylinders in a visual sense. It was very reminiscent of the young Spielberg and most of all, it was exciting to watch.

Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts on if you agree or disagree with my picks. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies/IG: peggyatthemovies

Cheers!

REVIEW: “WEST SIDE STORY”(2021 aka the Steven Spielberg revelation) 20th Century Studios

Who would have thought we would see the day where Steven Spielberg makes a musical – and not just any musical, but a remake of the very famous classic “WEST SIDE STORY”. The original which was nominated for 11 Oscars, going on to winning 10 including Best Picture. It was a film that at the time, that defined the acting careers of Natalie Wood and the wonderful Rita Moreno, as well, it further established musical theater phenoms Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (RIP) as bona fide household names. This movie, based on the 1957 Broadway musical, of which I actually have an original poster of that I acquired in the late 1990’s from an agent I worked for as a parting gift – right after I had finally seen the 1961 original, which is of course based loosely on the classic Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet story. Could there really be a bigger challenge for Spielberg after his long and industrious career? Probably not. The question is: Does he succeed?

Original Broadway poster on my wall

Even in our remake/reboot/sequel/MCU clogged movie world, doing a film like this is still a massive undertaking and also a bit fun for some to complain or discuss the “why’s” of any and all big screen reboots, even if they’re brought to life by oh, just one of the greatest directors of the past 4 decades, Steven Spielberg. Having had the filming pushed back for more than a year due to various pandemic-related issues, the last few months have only further primed audiences to wonder exactly this. Why?

Giving a few early answers: Spielberg and his team wanted to cast differently than the original version, he looked into a variety of Latinx stars in the Shark parts i.e., more roles tailormade for actual Puerto Rican actors versus the 60’s where makeup was used to make them ‘look’ as though from Puerto Rico. Also seemingly wanted to lean into the sense of the actual division between people as it were, and the from my understanding, shifting the arrangements of the musical numbers to better reflect the original musical stage production from 1957.

Moving on as all that sounds well and good, adding touchups and all, but something like “West Side Story” stands tall all on its own, so did it really need those touchups? Turns out, yes it did, as Spielberg’s first musical is not only vibrant, rich with colour, somewhat wild, and a satisfying show of an updated version of the classic. While fans might initially take exception at if and how faithful it seems to its predecessor, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner take and use those familiar beats to find some new ones as well, in this classically loved story which is pretty much the same, and the one thing I couldn’t help thinking is it might not actually be the greatest story ever told. Girl meeting boy from wrong side of the tracks, and falling in love in what seems like minutes, then to run away together to avoid family strife and a street gang fight. Which is of course not successful as the fight between the Jets (white immigrants) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) is one of the major plot points and highlights of the film.

Early on, we get our first conflict between the rival gangs, which introduces us to Riff played by one of the Broadway play breakouts, and truly wonderful in this role is Mike Faist – who as the quick-tempered Jets leader so desperate to protect the neighborhood. Then we have Ansel Elgort as Tony, the former leader of the Jets attempting to find a new path for his life after spending a year in prison for nearly killing an Egyptian immigrant in a rumble, with all the singing skills and charisma of a wet blanket. Rounding out the men’s side is David Alvarez as Bernardo, Maria’s older brother and proud leader of the Sharks – whose goal is to carve out a place in the new land as equal citizens. And then there is Chino, Maria’s ‘date’ to the dance who is clearly enamored with her, played by Josh Andres Rivera. And the dance is also the first run-in with local cops, Officer Krupke (Brian d’Arcy James) and Lt. Schrank (Corey Stoll), neither of whom care what happens to whom, just as long as it doesn’t happen on their watch. But make no mistake here who rules this movie as I’m getting to that. I covered the men and again, Faist as Riff is wonderful and a force to be reckoned with throughout the movie, but the characters of Tony (Elgort), who is dry and listless, and Bernardo (Alvarez), who while he can dance and sing well, there just was something missing from his portrayal and maybe I just had to much 1961 Bernardo (George Chakiris) imagery in my head, but he just didn’t do it for me. In a way most things related to The Jets a bit on the insufferable side, and to be honest, most of The Sharks are as well. And you ask why.. well it should come as no surprise that the ladies here do all the heavy-lifting.

Which leads me into getting into the nitty gritty of this film and that my friends is hands down the three amigas all giving such strong performances. This is Zegler, DeBose, and Moreno’s movie without a doubt. This film is by far ruled in every way possible by first-time star Rachel Zegler as Maria, whose voice is a massive revelation that I don’t think too many saw coming, but it’s also the the other straight-from-the- Broadway production, actress Ariana DeBose as Anita, who is so fierce when she takes the lead on “America”, making one of the most inspiring and fun musical numbers ever on screen. In addition to her singing and beyond terrific dancing skills, DeBose delivers a superb performance in the role that won an historic Oscar for none other than the original herself, Rita Moreno in the 1961 film. Speaking of the one and only Rita Moreno, who is still wonderful and beautiful at 89 years old – she also appears as Valentina, the widow of Doc as she now runs Doc’s Drug Store and is somewhat of a surrogate mother-figure to Tony. It’s certainly no cameo, and though there is no dance number, she does get to sing “Somewhere”, and breaks your heart with her version and this time she is on the valiant end of the rape scene. She is the connect to the original film gives the film a presence where needed.

And while this is the update Spielberg version, you have to give kudos to Justin Peck for some truly masterful work that builds on the brilliance of what Jerome Robbins originally created. It’s not perfect by any means, but the casting of a more actual ethnic cast – as in no makeup to make anyone ‘look’ like something they are not, to the role ‘Anybodys’, a non-binary, always watching things, character played by Iris Menas, to the Spanish dialogue without subtitles where the strong acting and situations make clear what the scenes are whether you do or don’t speak the language. But for my mind, if you’re going to do a re-make and make positive changes, then why keep the slurs of character words still in there – why make a scene completely of Jets where they gain sympathy in the police station. But again, these overlooked parts is what made it not perfect for me – still highly enjoyable, with just beautiful dance scenes where you see such colour and grit.

At the end, you realize it’s a nostalgic, yet contemporary version that may not have you completely charmed in one way or another, but it WILL have you in awe with the story, dancing, music, acting, and story.

Grade: B+

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Review Screening ~ Monday, November 29, 2021 Courtesy of @RosasReviews as her guest.

“WEST SIDE STORY” from 20th Century Studios is in theaters beginning on December 10, 2021

REVIEW: “LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” (2021) Focus Features

Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing and “LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” takes us back to the Swinging 60’s of the scene in the famous entertainment district in London’s stylish West End in way I was completely not prepared for. The film however is also meant to be in the present tense and it’s the vivid intersecting of these two periods, that definitely take you on a ride that you just might not be ready for. What started out completely amazing for its first 2 acts-only switched gears to a different tone in the final act. Not necessarily a bad one, just maybe a gear or two off from what you expected or wanted.

As we see Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), open the film in present day by dancing around her 60’s styled room, in a self-designed dress made of all things – newspaper. We soon learn she’s an orphan raised by her supportive grandmother (Rita Tushingham) and dreams of being a fashion designer. So she is thrilled when her acceptance letter arrives from the London School of Fashion. But it’s here we find out that Ellie also has visions of sorts and this should be kept in mind as she moves herself to London to carry out these dreams.

Once Ellie arrives in London, she is overwhelmed with the big city so to speak, and she immediately becomes the target of ‘mean girls’ and fellow student Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen). Rather than subject herself to the abuse, Ellie sublets an attic room from an kindly elderly landlord named Mrs. Collins (Diana Rigg). Ellie loves the room and her independence, but her dreams act as a portal back to those swinging 60’s of which she’s so fond. But that’s only the beginning. It’s here where she follows/becomes Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), and the mirror effects are truly other-worldly. Sandie is everything that Ellie wishes she was herself – confident, radiant, ambitious, and beautiful. This dream state allows Ellie to live vicariously through Sandie. At least initially.

Her dreams quickly become reality, as Eloise keeps magically getting transported back to 60s London, where she is mysteriously linked to the life of Sandie. These nighttime adventures allow Eloise to live the life she’s always wanted. But the honeymoon period doesn’t last for long, as these dreams gradually devolve into nightmares. The question of what is reality and what is dream begins to get muddled, as the glamorous white lights begin to fade and run into other worldly areas that take the movie out of the context it was in. It’s almost as it in three different parts, with parts one and two being the most creative and stylishly fun, and the third coming in to take it over as a different type of film altogether, and while not making it bad, there was a moment in between those parts where I thought I might be seeing what could’ve been my favourite film of the year had it not changed gears so completely.


With there being no true central villain to this story, as Sandie’s pimp and abuser, Jack (Matt Smith), is one of them, and plays his role with relish but the idea is truly that there are hundreds of villains and for a while, the villains are the ghoulish spirits of controlling men. But the main high points of this film is how it is loaded with so many great hits from the 60s, the score was haunting, beautiful, eerie, and pair that with the cinematography and you have a nice chef’s kiss of fun. And not to be remiss, but the costuming and designing here along with hair is absolute perfection when it comes to what they are trying to tell you with the story. Put all of it together and you will be apt to agree the film just looks phenomenal, from the way it’s filmed to the use of colors, it nails that aesthetic of 60s London, and makes you feel like you’re on the most mesmerizing trip.

Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy were very good as honestly, Taylor-Joy lights up any screen she is on and gave the perfect amount of seductiveness needed in her time traveling role. McKenzie gives an equally good performance in the lead role as she brings that sweet sense of naivety and adorable cuteness, and lighthearted feel amongst the very dark and disturbing nature of many of the film’s elements, and moments where the film slowed down to focus on her character was never boring because she had such an energetic vibe to her and was quite entertaining to watch. Ellie’s admirer John (Michael Ajao), is a fellow student that also hasn’t seemed to fit in and seems to be the only genuine person at this university, offering friendship to Ellie, which nobody else there offers her, but their relationship almost seems more clumsy than real.

The finale twists up somewhat as just where you though you knew where the plot was headed once everything started to wrap up (or so it seemed), then make way as you’re hit with something game-changing for the story and while again, it totally veered into left field from what the beginning of the film started off – it still is a stylish mystery-type horror thriller that has it’s highlights and is worth the Halloween watch.

Grade: B-

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Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Film Independent

“LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” IS OUT IN THEATERS NOW

REVIEW: “CRUELLA” (2021) Disney Studios/Disney+

Estella or Cruella… This new offering of the old traditional story from Disney, definitely delves into a completely different outlook on this once cute story of a villainess and her adorable Dalmatian puppies. This prequel from director Craig Gillespie, is quite possibly the “CRUELLA” we didn’t know we needed, until we actually did.

To begin with, this version is a bit darker than any previous interpretation, animated or live action, and it is fun to watch Emma Stone take a deep dive into this character and come out sparkling. The story told here starts with young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), on their way to start a new life in London in the 1960s. She aspires to be a fashion designer as like her mother, she is quite talented with a needle and thread. Young Estella struggles with her identity with her strictly parted down the middle, half black/half white hair, as Catherine tries to teach her how to lay low, and to fend off teasing and bullies, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have the best self control over. Tragedy ensues and with that past defining her, we get to see how she eventually becomes Cruella De Vil.

After said traumatic events, we find Estrella alone on the streets of London, where she is befriended by a pair of young street thieves, Jasper and Horace, and ends up with them. She ensues in working a life of crime and grift with the two, who come to appreciate her street wise sensibilities and they become a family of sorts. Flash forward to the 1970s and Estella (Emma Stone), is plodding away in a store as a cleaner versus her dream job in the world of fashion. When fate accompli happens and places Estella in the path of self-centered fashion magnate, The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), takes her under her wing and uses her talent for her own benefit. The Baroness treats those around her terribly and with this vile treatment, intimidates Estella. But her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser); see this as an opportunity to rob from the Baroness (per Horace: there is ALWAYS an angle) and as Estrella’s designs start to gain attention, this places them at odds with one another – that is – until Cruella shows up. Cruella soon takes the fashion world by storm with her penchant for the theatrical. Her bold designs and innovative looks, give her the power to upstage the Baroness at every turn, placing her front and center for the camera at major events, but also putting her in the crosshairs of The Baroness’ narcissistic tendencies of revenge.

Emma Thompson delivers one her best performances in recent years. She takes the extremely over-the-top character of the cartoonish Baroness and makes her strangely realistic and relatable. Almost sort of like an exaggeration of a stereotype, but still resembling actual people from the real world (I might actually know a few of these). The other Emma – Stone – gives Estella heart, to where you care about her and want the best for her, even if the Cruella side of her character doesn’t always make the best choices, Stone lets you enjoy both. Fry as Jasper and Walter-Hauser as Horace, have some of the best comedic moments in Cruella, and are truly hilarious together as the famous street wise duo of thieves who like nothing more to “Pick a pocket or two.” John McCrea as Artie is a hoot as the second-hand storekeeper and could’ve been more of a voice within the film, as his fun-loving character seems a bit underutilized. I wish that there was more to his and the other supporting cast’s roles, as it feels like Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is an afterthought given the ‘darling’ nature of her childhood friendship with Estella, and then having a hand in making Cruella famous. John (Mark Strong), Roger (Kayvan Novak), and Gerald (Jamie Demetriou) play characters of henchmen/housemen variety as well, and all kind of shuffle on screen just to be shuffled right back off. One could question why some of their characters were even put forth, but in the long run, it does serve the story.

The biggest stand out that doesn’t involve the acting ensemble is of course, the stunning costume design giving us true works of art featuring cool retro, edgy storytelling from costume designer Jenny Beavan, as well as the gorgeous makeup and hair lead by Nancy Stacey. Not to be outdone, is the wonderful production design from Fiona Crombie, and perhaps my favourite of all, the soundtrack from music supervisor Susan Jacobs. There doesn’t seem to be many talking about it, but this soundtrack is packed with wonderful song choices from Blondie, The Rolling Stones, Queen and The Clash – to name a few. For me, it was a lovely highlight I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t stop myself from singing along and yes, grooving out!

Perhaps one of the few downfalls is the length of the film. At two hours and fourteen minutes – it did run a bit long, but don’t get up out of your seat just yet, as make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, as it hints at what’s to come.

B

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Review Screening: Courtesy of Disney Studios and Disney+

CRUELLA” AIRS ON DISNEY+ AND OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

REVIEW: “WOMEN IS LOSERS”(2021) SXSW FILM FESTIVAL

It’s the early 1960’s in San Francisco, California and the social rules of the time, laws, cultural norms and obstacles are set in place to keep women ‘in their place’ which as the old saying goes, is essentially barefoot and pregnant. It’s worth pointing out that at this time period in America a woman could not open a bank account on her own, get a credit card in her own name, let alone get birth control unless married. All this sums into an old Janis Joplin song released around the same time period, even titled the same, and you realize there couldn’t be more fitting way to put meaning and a story to lyrics than Lissette Feliciano’s film “WOMEN IS LOSERS”. Pulling out a story from an old Joplin song might seem odd, but when you hear and listen to the words, you understand exactly what direction Feliciano’s film is taking you.

Celina (Lorenza Isso) is 17-year-old Latina Catholic schoolgirl living in a household with an abusive alcoholic father Don Juan (Steven Bauer), and sadly, compliant to the violence is her mother Dona Carolina (Alejandra Miranda). Along with her best friend Marty (Chrissie Fit), she goes to a party for her boyfriend Mateo (Bryan Craig), who has just returned from service in the Vietnam War. A minor indiscretion and being told “nothing can happen the first time,” results in Celina getting pregnant. Until that moment, her two favourite things were school, where she is somewhat of a math wiz, and having fun with Marty. After losing Marty to a back-alley botched abortion by a dentist of all people, Celina realizes she has no option but to accept the shame given from her community, school and family. So cue to nine months later Celina gives birth and starts to raise her son on her own, with no help from Mateo.

Being from such a structured, strict, religious community and having not finished her high school education, Celina struggles at a menial job to earn and put away money for her son’s future. She is constantly under the eagle eye of her supervisor Minerva (Liza Weil) who tries to find fault in everything she does. But eventually with her strong work ethic, she catches the eye of her superior, Gilbert Li (Simu Liu), who has his own Chinese immigrant story as well. While Gilbert promotes her from typist to teller at the bank, as he gives her a helping hand as well and teaches her the ways of investing in land, housing etc., there is of course there is always an ulterior motive and Celine learns this the hard way. She also earns the respect of Minerva, who is also defying community with her own inter-racial relationship and gives her a helping hand as well – but with no ulterior motives attached. During all this Mateo and Celine reconnect, marry, although ultimately unsuccessfully, as he is not only jealous of Celine’s work ethic, but he goes back to his old cheating ways with Lois (Alessandra Torresani). Seemingly the only way out for her is divorce or she will fall into being something she does not want be – exactly like her mother.

Director: Lissette Feliciano – “Women Is Losers”

The acting by lead Lorenza Isso truly makes the character of Celine come to life as she gives us her all with every emotion of wanting to laugh, cry, and fight right beside her. The supporting cast of Craig, Chrissie Fit, Miranda, Liza Weil, Liu are all fantastic and only add complexity to this colourful story. There is one scene at the beginning that shows the range of this cast that is done a-la ‘West Side Story‘ style, of a dance off that is truly a choreographed wonder to watch. In addition to the wonderful cast is what it is precisely that “Women Is Losers” brings to the table. To start off with, it speaks volumes about the true struggle of not only women, but marginalized women whether it be because of race, colour or religion – someone is always trying to hold you back. For every step taken forward, five are added to reach the next level. But there is always a price, and while this story ends well, so many do not. If anything to take away from this film, it’s the celebration at the end of Roe v Wade at the end and how this right must never be taken away again as more women like Marty will pay the price of doing so.

Grade: A-

@pegsatthemovies

Review screening : Courtesy of 42 West PR and SXSW Film Festival

REVIEW: “ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” (2021) Amazon Studios

A stylish and promising debut from Regina King at the helm “ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” is a fascinating watch with King working in close collaboration with Kemp Powers to adapt his own play to the screen with a story that pits four iconic figures and their beliefs against one another. The film is set mostly at the Hampton House, a motel in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood and was one of only a few places for Black entertainers and celebrities to stay while performing at the swanky clubs and hotels of the then segregated Miami Beach.

After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) wins the World Heavyweight Championship from Sonny Liston in Miami, he meets up with Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), all legends in their own right, to discuss their individual roles that they can play in the civil rights movement amid the upheaval of the 60s. Clay has promised Malcolm X that he will embrace Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali the next morning. Ali/Clay’s boxing career had reached new heights, but he was barred from Miami Beach due to Jim Crow laws at the time, but he also unaware that Malcolm has just broken ranks with Elijah Muhammad, the national leader of the Nation of Islam at the time.

Introducing each of the characters in their everyday vocations as Cook is a hugely successful singer although he seems to be struggling with being accepted across the board i.e., by white audiences, Brown is a famous NFL player, but he’s also just had a taste of movie stardom and likes it, the soon to be Muhammad Ali is the World Heavyweight boxing champ and Malcolm X is a minister and one of the biggest leaders of the Civil Rights movement at the time. The struggles they faced in being black men sets the film up for a rather powerful main act where they discuss how they can use their positions of varied success to be heard during the civil rights movement.

This film has a dash of ironic, humorous moments which serve it well, because a good chunk of the film is a bit intense and lags at times with the rhythm getting bogged down for a few scenes, but there are some lively moments, especially revolving around musical performances. The acting by the four leads though is what kicks this film up at least ten notches as they give it their all, even though their were a few times their personas felt a bit pushed and character-ish. It’s so very difficult when an actor portrays a real person though all of them found a fine balance within their performances. Leslie Odom Jr showed off his singing chops, Ben-Adir gave us a talkative beautiful Malcolm X, Goree gave us all the ‘float like a butterfly – sting like a bee’ he had, but my personal choice was Aldis Hodge’s portrayal of Jim Brown, especially as Mr. Brown is still the only member here still alive. Hodge captured him as I someone who supported his friend, yet was also moving in the direction of ‘going Hollywood’ at time when not many men of colour had that opportunity. I think my only beef is the female co-stars Joaquina Kalukango as Betty X and Nicolette Robinson as Cooke’s wife Barbara, got the short shrift here with a scarce amount of lines, but then it is a story about the four men so on the other hand, it makes sense. Add in the wonderful Lance Reddick, Michael Imperioli, Beau Bridges in supporting roles and you’ve got yourself kicking up more notches up to round out this film. The production design, costumes, and soundtrack were beautiful and having said that, there are parts of the dialogue which are genuinely stirring.

‘One Night in Miami’ is an absorbing & entertaining film about the power of these men who while having some conflicting ideals, are really all striving for the same common goal.

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy oGinsberg/Libby PR

“ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” IS OUT IN SELECT THEATERS WHERE AVAILABLE AND COMING TO PRIME VIDEO ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2021

REVIEW: DA 5 BLOODS (2020) Netflix

Here we have Spike Lee’s first film since BlacKkKlansman and “Da 5 Bloods” is sure to evoke all kinda of reactions including my very own. While I watched the movie about 10 days ago, I decided to wait till all the fervor regarding it died down some before putting out my own thoughts.

Making a film about the Vietnam War isn’t always on the top of most directors lists as it’s not what one would call a ‘good war’ such as some did for WWII.  And a bit of even the most basic history will tell you the Vietnam War was fought on a soil not many American’s had ever touched let alone wanted to fight for.  Needless to say it was known that it was a tough war because so many opposed it, which was probably the right attitude, but it meant that a lot of returning vets didn’t get the respect they deserved or the help they needed – which is sadly the American way, and actually by no means exclusive to just the Vietnam war. And of course we all had learned about the ‘My Lai Massacre’ in school – where 500 unarmed civilians – men, women, children and yes, even babies – were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers. Women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated, as were children as young as 12. When their cover-up was eventually busted and brought public, 26 soldiers were charged with criminal offenses but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was given a life sentence but served only three and a half years under house arrest. Sound familiar?

Many leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., were opposed to the war as black men were being essentially told (as was everyone as we, the U.S., had initiated the draft) to serve their country, and there weren’t any colleges or doctors writing bone spur deferrals for them. They were asked to protect the freedoms of people in other countries when they still didn’t have real freedom in their own homes. So of course this means POC – and even more specifically black men – were called up in much greater numbers than their white fellow citizens of course, and therefore were also a higher proportion of POC/black men combat casualties in Vietnam. To put the cherry on top of the cake, African American soldiers encountered racists bigots amongst their own ranks, huge discrimination and many disadvantages when it came to promotions/decorations, and lastly,  few to no services if and when they returned home. So yes, there is a lot of history of this war and none of it is good.

Now we’ve seen the Vietnam War done many times, and some of the very well, but Spike, well Spike has got his own tale to tell of this war and in Da 5 Bloods he does just this. The film follows a platoon of four Vietnam vets, headed by level-headed Otis (Clarke Peters) and erratic, Trump-supporting Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) as they travel along with Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) who has his own backstory with his dad, back to their former battleground to recover the remains of their celebrated leader and 5th Blood, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman)…and also the pile of gold they stashed along with him.

From there the film zips from thriller to hang-out comedy, action to drama and here is sadly where the film falters some as it’s all over the place with tone as the plot almost changes completely. The mood of a scene can change on a whim, some of them are ridiculous and so far over the top we almost lose the entire sense of the film itself. It’s as if it almost becomes a reflection of the turbulence of the battle they once fought in – where, as we see in superb retro-inflected flashbacks of so much of the controversy of which the 60’s entailed as Lee also puts in a bunch of videos and stills of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Kent State Massacre and the Fall of Saigon are among the many notable figures and events from the time of the Vietnam War, along with the dramatic events of the present unfolding in the blink of an eye in front of us. Their quest to find Norman’s remains – wanting to give him the hero’s funeral he is painted as deserving – is an arduous one, but is one that is allowing for some truly brilliant character studies of these guys to emerge as well. Of course, to smuggle something to the tune of $7 million of gold back into the United States, the Bloods have to involve Tiên (Lê Y Lan), Otis’ old flame, and a Frenchman named Desroche (Jean Reno). Desroche promises he will get the money to various off-shore accounts that the Bloods will be free to draw from, which truly is up for debate throughout the entire film.

So as not to tell you the entire plot line and give away everything as the film is something you should take the time to watch, delving a little into character study is needed. While all the characters play key roles in this plot, none quite do it like Delroy Lindo does. Lindo, always a great supporting actor, has never really had to really carry the entire weight of a film on his back alone, and here he does a remarkable job of giving us his all. The reflections monologue as he ventures into the jungle is unparalleled by anything he’s ever given us before. Paul is ravaged by PTSD, he is by far and away the most complex and entrancing character on screen, and Lindo brings him to life. You hate Paul – you love Paul – you want Paul to leave – it’s all that and so much more. Almost indescribable. Again this is not about diminishing the other performances in the slightest. Everyone does an incredible job, especially Majors as David. However, it would be remiss not to point out Lindo’s all out one that put’s an incredible hold on you throughout the film.

To summarize it up, after Lee’s last film was there maybe more to be expected, sure there was, and while the message is clear and strong, the sometimes ridiculous plot is saved by the brilliant acting all the way around. For that reason alone my grading goes up a notch.

Grade: B-

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DA 5 BLOODS IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON NETFLIX