Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! Just a note about a change. Up until now, I have designated the winning or nomination of an Academy Award (Oscar) separately from other nominations and wins. The more foreign films I watch the more I see that separation as ridiculous. From now on it will be total wins and total nominations. I get the data from imdb.com, so if you want to learn more about what they were, it’s easy to go and see for yourself.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (original title)
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino, Christel Baras, Armande Boulanger, Guy Delamarche, Clément Bouyssou
Director (and Writer): Céline Sciamma
Genres: drama, romance
mini-blurb from imdb:
On an isolated island in Brittany (France) at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.
What the blurb doesn’t say is that the painter has to do the painting without the young woman knowing she’s doing it, as she’s resistant to getting married and the painting is a traditional prerequisite to the marriage and she’s already driven off at least one other painter. The story revolves around the portrait and the feeling that is growing between the painter and the subject.
Impressions: Although isolation is often depicted in film as menacing, lonely, and other negative ways, there is never that atmosphere here. Here it is translated as more of an opportunity to focus on the intricate attributes of the few people who are in ones’ orbits. The painter (Merlant) and the subject (Haenel) are admirably depicted as complex personalities in a time where women were mostly regarded as chattel. The chemistry between the two is exquisite. Haenel as the young woman who has been locked away in a convent for years, released only to become a stranger’s wife, is captivating in her role. Merlant as the mysterious female painter is superb as well. Sciamma is one heck of a director!
Etc.: French movie with English subtitles; LGBTQI+ friendly; nudity
Awards: 44 wins and 126 nominations
Trivia from imdb:
According to Céline Sciamma (director), one of the manifestos of the film was to get rid of the idea of a muse, which she considers to be a “nice” word that actually hides the participation of woman in artistry. The muse is typically seen as a silent, fetishized woman who is inspiring just because she is beautiful. And even though for a long time, women’s opportunities in art were limited to modeling, she claims that the models were co-creating the art by being one of the brains in the room and helping to guide the artist. Her goal was to portray that and to make a love story and a creation dialogue with equality.
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Brian McCardie, Emon Elliott, Gary Lewis, John Sessions, Shauna McDonald, Jim Broadbent, Joanne Froggat, Kate Dickie, Martin Compston, Iain De Caestecker, Shirley Henderson, Joy McAvoy, Jordan Young, Pollyanna McIntosh
Director: Jon S. Baird
Genres: black comedy, mind-bender
Synopsis: McAvoy plays a cop competing with his co-workers for a promotion, which brings out his worst character attributes. The implication is that he used to be a good cop but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Now his anti-social, gaslighting traits are ruling and complicated by an almost maniacal obsession with staying as drunk/high/out-of-his-gourd as much as he can while still trying to function. His co-workers think his wife is visiting family but in reality she’s deserted him with their child, which really has him spiraling out of control. Lots of hallucinatory scenes as his grip on reality loosens ever more.
Impressions: When I say black comedy, honestly, I didn’t think this movie was funny at all except in a mean-spirited way. I almost turned it off over and over again. It was painful to listen to the horrible running dialogue in his head as to what he really thought of people and how he used his skills in attempting to manipulate others, all the while struggling to hold on to sanity while imbibing every mind-altering substance he could get his hands on. Really ugly, yet at the same time pathetic, character study. It goes beyond off the deep end by the end. If you’re not feeling particularly mentally healthy, which is understandable in these trying times we find ourselves in, you might want to skip this one.
Etc.: English speaking but filmed in UK, Sweden, Belgium, and Germany; Irvine Welsh wrote the source novel. Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language and some violence.
Awards: 9 wins and 14 nominations
Trivia from imdb:
Bruce’s first hallucination featuring Dr Rossi takes place in a white room, similar to the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dr Rossi offers Bruce pills marked Litio Crm 114, a code seen on the EVA pod in the same film. The code CRM 114 also appears in Dr Strangelove, referencing a machine which prevents aircraft receiving ‘false transmissions’. Bruce, earlier in the film, does not take his real-life medication, and is consequently vulnerable to ‘false transmissions’ of hallucinations and paranoias.
What Men Want (2019)
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Josh Brener, Shane Paul McGhie, Richard Roundtree, Kellan Lutz, Jason Jones, Kristen Ledlow, Justin Alvarez, Chris Witaske, Max Greenfield, Paul Brian Johnson, Brian Bosworth, Kausar Mohammed, Taj-Naranja Jenkines, Pete Davidson, Auston Jon Moore, Devonta Freeman, John Collins, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Cuban, Grant Hill, and many more
Director: Adam Shankman
Genres: comedy, sports, romance
Synopsis: Henson is the only black female sports agent among the many white (and minimal non-white) males in the very successful agency she works for. The story begins when she is passed over yet again for being made partner. The latest super basketball player is as-yet unsigned, which makes him an object of competition for the agents. Henson’s character needs to convince the kid (played by McGhie) and his loving and very savvy father (Morgan) that she’s the best choice. In between this plot is Henson’s character’s realization she’s possibly ready for a non-Tinder type of relationship.
Impressions: I thoroughly enjoyed this movie every which way. Henson is superb in her role as the seasoned sports agent that is getting fed up with the “good ol’ boy” way of doing business. At the same time, she is an extremely funny person who gets herself into some hilarious situations. Having such an excellent cast to bounce off of, both other comedians (Morgan and Brener) as well as the foils of the more serious ones really has her shining in the role. There are so many cameos of famous sports figures in here it’s impressive. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, but there are also some touching moments as well.
Etc.: LGBTQI+ friendly
Awards: 1 win
U2: Rattle & Hum (1988)
Starring: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr., B.B. King, Phil Joanou, and many others talking
Director: Phil Joanou
Genres: music documentary
Synopsis: U2 on a North American tour in Fall 1987; mostly the band performing their best songs, but in between, small interview segments, some shots of them out and about and some in their hotel rooms; some filmed in black & white; there is a special guest performance with B.B.King, and the band goes to a church to sing with a choir. Graceland appears.
Impressions: I loved it as I love U2 music and it was great seeing them all young again. I love the segment of them singing with the choir. U2 is not just another pretty face.
Awards: 1 win and 1 nomination
Project Power (2020) Netflix
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, many others
Director: Mattson Tomlin
Genres: action, dystopia
Synopsis: Set in New Orleans, the streets are being flooded with a pill that, when taken, will give you some kind of power (you won’t know what it is until you take it) for 5 minutes. People are going berserk all around town. Enter the 3 main characters: a badass (Foxx) who is looking for his daughter, as she’s been kidnapped by the manufacturer of these demonizing pills as a research subject; a cop (Levitt) who takes the pills in order to “fight fire with fire” in stopping the berserkers; and an obnoxious black female teenage rapper (Fishback) who is forced to sell the pills to earn enough money to pay for medical care for her extremely ill mother. These 3 are thrown together to fight against the real monsters: the ones who have flooded the streets with this garbage.
Impressions: The idea is excellent, and it is a perfect metaphor for real life on the streets in many ways, and for that I admire it. Unfortunately the way it was put together and manifested was just plain terrible. You’ve got the star power with Foxx and Gordon-Levitt, but somewhere along the way (editing? Script? Not enough time to develop it properly?) something went wrong, very wrong. Not recommended.
Awards: too new
Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars (2017)
Starring: Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Ginger Baker, Chuck Berry, Pattie Boyd, Jack Bruce, Tom Dowd, Chris Dreja, Bob Dylan, Ahmet Ertegun, Hughie Flint, Aretha Franklin, Richard Goldstein, Jim Gordon, Bill Graham, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Alex Hooper, Mick Jagger, Cathy James, Brian Jones, Bobby Keys, B.B.King, John Lennon, Charlotte Martin, George Martin, John Mayall, Paul McCartney, Jim McCarty, Jamie Oldaker, Alice Ormsby-Gore, Ben Palmer, Carl Radle, Keith Richards, Howard Smith, Ringo Starr, George Terry, Steve Turner, Mike Vernon, Muddy Waters, Roger Waters, Charlie Watts, Bobby Whitlock, Steve Winwood, Gary Wright
Director: Lili Fini Zanuck
Genres: musical documentary
Synopsis: interviews and archival footage galore of so many greats connected with Eric Clapton. The 2-hour plus biography starts from the time Eric is a small child being raised by his grandparents, only later learning that his sister who lives in another country is really his mother. The already “loner” child takes the info hard. The implication as events unfold is that Eric never recovered from what he perceived as his mother’s rejection/abandonment. He used music as an escape and as a means of being accepted, which developed into a long and successful career of musical performance and innovation. Along the way the substance use and abuse and a string of dysfunctional relationships crept into his life. The documentary goes into detail about Eric’s obsession with Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife. It also goes into the drug addiction pretty deeply. The biopic ends with current status.
Impressions: I love the depth they went into about all of the above. Eric does the narration through it all. If you want to get to know more about this guitar hero, this is the documentary to watch. I appreciate the fact it didn’t seem to pull any punches about any of the painful events in Eric’s life, including the death of his 4-year-old son, Conor, in 1991.
Etc.: UK film
Awards: 1 win and 5 nominations