Spirit Awards Review Nominee Screenings – week one

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So I am a member of Film Independent and every year they do a two-week long jaunt of screenings of all the Spirit Award Nominees. As a lover of Indie films, these two weeks are quite heavenly as not only are the screenings just a short distance from me, but let me see and open my eyes to many films that you don’t always get a media screening invite for. It gave me personally an extra benefit this year as I was quite ill, especially these past few months and missed quite a few of screenings I did have. So onward with brief thoughts and grades on everything I’ve seen so far. Mind you, I did miss some of these even, as not only do they do a whole block of them on weekends as in four in a row – I had a medical time-out for most of the week. Luckily, many of the films are luckily on Netflix, Prime or Hulu – and as voters are also provided with links to watch all of nominated films. But truthfully, watching films on a laptop just seriously isn’t how they are meant to be viewed now is it. So with that in mind – here we go. (following in the format of the Film Independent Screening Awards schedule)

Day One:
“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” Dir: Boots Riley

I was really loving the first part of this film as it was satire sharp, imaginative and funny. But not only does it run too long, but that bizarro left turn it takes in the last third of the movie will surely leave most as bewildered as I was.
Grade: C-

Day Two:
“SHIRKERS” Dir: Sandi Tan

This was a great little women-driven documentary that takes on a journey of a lost film, a strange relationship that made that happen, and all the friends along the way. But maybe it’s the oddness of all of it put together that works so well.
Grade: B

“LEAVE NO TRACE” by Debra Granik

If you asked me if I thought I would enjoy a film about a man (Ben Foster) and his 13-yr. old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living off the grid in an urban park of all places, and what happens when they make a single mistake and get caught, well I would’ve have probably laughed a bit and given you a ‘NO’ in response. As it was, I loved this film. It was taunt with drama, and the age old question of what is right or perceived as so, and what is wrong, again, perceived as so.
Grade: A

“HEREDITARY” by Ari Astor

While the film wasn’t scary per se for me, nor a particularly good horror film by any stretch, it did stitch itself together enough to follow along and be entertaining mostly because Toni Collette took it there. I had forgotten about Gabriel Byrne somewhat over the years, but his supporting role along with Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff topping off with good performances of their own, helped bring this film up a notch to be sure.
Grade: C

“ROMA” Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

A completely different take on the trials and tribulations in the life of a maid in to a rather dis-functional wealthy family in 1970’s Mexico City. While Yalitza Aparicio is a breath of fresh air to be sure, along with Marina de Tavira and well, truly the whole cast, I do think it’s a bit over-hyped in the ‘how good it is’ department. Mind you it IS good and I will leave it at that.
Grade: B

Day Three:

“PRIVATE LIFE” Dir: Tamara Jenkins

Both Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give a completely believable ordeal of what one couple goes through to have a child – including numerous fertility ordeals, tests, fake surrogates, family surrogates, money and most of all their own lives and relationships, in a series of choices that can only make one cringe at times as to what some will choose to endure.
Grade: C-

“THE FAVOURITE” Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Let me just shout about how much and how long I’ve loved Olivia Colman. I always felt she was under-utilized so much or not given enough credit for her work. Here, she finally gets her lead role that will no doubt finally change all that and bring her an award. Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as her supporting, they do a commendable job of making this odd story come to life. While I didn’t love the film overall, the performances were so strong. Even Nicholas Hoult dons the old British wig and make-up to do a fun spin here as the strangest of cads. All said and done, just give Olivia her due already and be done with it.
Grade: C+

Day Four

“MADELINE’S MADELINE” Dir: Josephine Decker

I tried very hard to find a redeeming quality of this film and I just really didn’t find one. It was all over the place with nonsensical scenes cutting back and forth to add up nothing of what makes a film flow from scene to scene. It completely lacked any sense as you didn’t know if Molly Parker’s character was wanting Madeline (Helena Howard) to be crazy or making her crazy. All in all, it just lacked any and all of the Drama/Mystery/Thriller it is categorized as.
Grade: D-

“MINDING THE GAP” Dir: Bing Liu

As we know not all documentaries are going to be a pleasant, happy experience. This one however, made me feel as though I was watching a long drawn out episode of Teen Mom. And while I’ve never actually watched that show, I’m going to guess if you add in their boyfriends and skateboards, you’ve got it down pat. Enough said.
Grade: D-

“FIRST REFORMED” Dir: Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried both give good performances here and once again, without that this would be a truly hard film to sit through in it’s entirety. I just wish the movie didn’t drag so much for so long in many different parts. It’s seems as it’s trying to be a social commentary on despair, climate change, torment and tragedy all wrapped up in a bow that you see the ending coming right at you by the 30th minute leaving nothing to chance.
Grade: C

Day Five:

“If Beale Street Could Talk” Dir: Barry Jenkins

While I wasn’t Moonlight’s biggest fan, I did find Beale Street to be a far better film to be sure. I still didn’t love it as it left a lot of questions unanswered for me that I wanted to know and made it feel incomplete to me. While Kiki Lane and Stephan James are the leads, for me it was all about Regina King and Michael Beach (who is all of a sudden in so many projects and I love this fact) who really brought home the acting. And while so much of this hit hard, there was just still too much I wanted to know more about.
Grade: C+

And that’s all I’ve seen at this point – but I’ve still this weeks schedule and to make up some of last week’s also. So please come back as I will hopefully be posting more often again.

@pegsatthemovies

REVIEW: “THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU” (2014) Warner Bros.

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I went into this movie knowing it was another one of the genre of ‘family dysfunction’ movies that either go over really well..or not.  With the cast at hand, I really was looking forward to at least a somewhat decent flick and expected some top-notch dark, comedic moments.  And Jane Fonda.. Can I just say how badly I want to look like Jane Fonda when I am her age..hell I want to look like her NOW.. But truly, even with the almost always funny, Jason Bateman & Tina Fey, sadly nothing could save this movie from being completely mediocre.     this is where 2

This whole middle-class.suburban angst type genre movies were all the rage about a decade ago, but it’s tapped itself out as there’s only so many movies about the upper classes and their problems that you can take if they’re not bringing something new to the table. “THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU” doesn’t fit the bill, in that’s it’s an incredibly familiar story we’ve seen done too many times before and it’s become rather boring and lackluster.  The rundown of the film is the ‘heard it so many times before’ story of the kids coming home to reunite in the wake of their father’s death. No one wants to be really be there, and the fighting starts almost immediately.starting with the newly separated son “Judd Altman” (Jason Bateman) having been called home by his sister “Wendy Altman” (Tina Fey), with him having just a few months earlier been cheated-on by his wife, “Quinn” (Abigail Spencer) caught in the act with his boss “Wade Beaufort” (Dax Shepard) no less. but then able to find quirky new love interest who just happened to have a crush on him years back, “Penny Moore” (Rose Byrne) within hours of his return ~ can we just give a big YAWN here already?!  And to make it somewhat even less plausible, though the father was an atheist, everyone is told by family matriarch “Hillary Altman” (Jane Fonda) that they all must stay as he wanted them to ‘sit shiva’, which from what I understand is a Jewish religious custom where the family sits & receives guests for a set amount of days. So you would think at least some comedy would ensue here riiiigghhtt??!!!  *sigh*

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The funeral is an awkward affair to say the least. Judd’s older brother “Paul Altman” (Corey Stoll) has taken to his new role as the head of the family with an overly-controlling bullying attitude and whose wife “Alice” (Kathryn Hahn) is comically desperate to get pregnant. Wendy is busy with her two children, considering that her husband “Barry” (Aaron Lazar) is an inattentive workaholic and makes her want to run back to her past also with the brain-damaged boy next door “Horry Callen” (Timothy Olyphant). The rest of the Altman family ranges from oh soooooo annoying youngest brother “Phillip Altman” (Adam Driver) the bratty black sheep of the family, who comes with his rich older girlfriend in tow “Tracy Sullivan” (Connie Britton) who happens to be a psychiatrist just like his mom..yeah you get the jist where that is going.  One thing we do get plenty of is Fonda’s smothering mother and her grotesque boob job, with the boobs almost so comic that they feel out of place in some somewhat serious moments. They provide easy laughs, but this itself suggests a problem, when they are the funniest thing of the movie.

 

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So, yes there is a surprise at the end of the movie that only ever so slightly redeems it, but at that point, it’s basically too little too late.  Bateman’s performance is decent, Fey’s also, though you don’t get ‘comedy’ from either of them and no one’s is outstanding in the least. By far the most annoying character & portrayal comes from Adam Driver, when I would have liked to have seen say Olyphant’s character of Horry more developed as at least as the bit we got of him, was interesting.  To be honest, this isn’t the worst movie out there right now by far, but I think audiences are expecting more from it than they are going to receive, especially now that we are gearing up for the year-end slew of Oscar contenders sure to come.  This movie will not be one of those contenders.

Grade: C-  (below average)

(See grading scale)

#peggyatthemovies