PREVIEW: Spirited Away

I’m thrilled to be attending my first Studio Ghibli movie on the big screen! Spirited Away will be screened on Wednesday, Jan 23 at 7 p.m. in the Michigan Theatre. It is part of a larger film series, Icons of Anime, curated by the Center for Japanese Studies. Directed by the acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, the movie follows ten-year-old Chihiro as her family stumbles upon a supernatural theme park. The movie has gorgeous, magical animations and is a captivating fantasy.

REVIEW: If Beale Street Could Talk

The Oscar nominations came out today, and as always, such an occurrence is bound to spark a fire of controversy about such-and-such films being snubbed while other films enjoyed perhaps more than their due of appreciation. Yet it does not feel like a reaching statement to say that If Beale Street Could Talk was indeed snubbed. The romantic drama, directed by Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins and based on the 1974 novel of the same name by James Baldwin, received only three nominations: Best Supporting Actress (for Regina King), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Three is a startling dearth of recognition for a film that succeeds in terms of acting, visual efficacy, and overall emotional impact.

If Beale Street Could Talk tells the love story of Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne, Chicago Med) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James, Race), a young couple in New York City who are falling in love while also dealing with racism and racial tension. This culminates in Fonny’s wrongful arrest for rape, which coincides with Tish’s learning that she is pregnant. Much of the movie is concerned with the ripple effect that Fonny’s arrest produces throughout both their lives, as individuals and as a couple, and the lives of their families and friends. Tish and her mother, Sharon (King, Seven Seconds), fight for Fonny’s freedom, while Fonny struggles through the experience of incarceration and tries to retain both his sense of self and his relationship with Tish. The storytelling is accomplished in part through alternating timelines, which switch between the development of Tish and Fonny’s relationship prior to Fonny’s arrest and the fallout that occurs afterward.

One of the film’s most masterful accomplishments lies in its very careful attention to each character as an individual. A particularly telling scene occurs when Tish first visits Fonny in jail and they get into an argument; it is clear that the argument is borne not from anything lacking in their relationship itself, but from their own individual frustrations and respective inabilities to completely understand the other’s situation. Tish feels helpless and scared because she cannot help Fonny and is facing the prospect of pregnancy while he is in jail; Fonny is frustrated because he has been wrongfully imprisoned and is unable to be there for Tish. The fact that even in this scene, they come around from their respective frustrations and reaffirm their love and support for each other, only strengthens the sense of the gravity and wholeness of their love. Another standout is of course Regina King’s performance as Sharon, whose visit to Puerto Rico in order to plead with the rape survivor Victoria (Emily Rios, Breaking Bad) to admit Fonny’s innocence is perhaps the most finely crafted and emotionally resonant scene of the entire film.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a masterpiece on a visual and tonal level, echoing much of the slow-burn pacing and colorful cohesion that Jenkins trademarked two years ago with Moonlight. From the brief and bemusing appearance of Dave Franco as a Jewish realtor to the haunting, wholly incredible monologue of Fonny’s friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry, Widows), it is a film packed with rich feeling and timeliness. It speaks to the careful attentiveness and thought of everyone involved in creating it, and one can only hope that audiences respond to it with similar attention.

REVIEW: Mary Poppins Returns

Image result for mary poppins returns

Mary Poppins Returns hit theatres in December 2018, and was received with mixed reviews– some loved the new spectacular addition to the classic Mary Poppins film starring Julie Andrews; others found it exhausting and drab in terms of plot, characters, and music. I find my own opinion lodged somewhere between the two; I didn’t love the movie, but I will defend its integrity and originality. The movie takes place a generation after where the first movie left off. Michael and Jane Banks, the children who Mary Poppins comes to nanny, are all grown up now. Jane is an activist fighting for union workers’ rights, and Michael is an artist and teller with three children who recently lost their mother– and it seems like that they’re all about to lose something else– their house. Amidst this financial turmoil, Mary Poppins materializes to help the Banks children– all of them– go on a magical adventure to revitalize their sense of wonder and joy.

Emily Blunt’s rendition of Mary Poppins is, well, blunt. This new Mary Poppins, reeled in through a kite with not a single hair out of place despite emerging from the eye of a raging storm, with perfectly poised little kitty heels bent at an artful angle, with her curt responses and matter-of-fact commandeering of the Banks children– she’s not as cheery and la-di-da as Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins. This new one’s feisty. She’s got attitude. She means business. This new Mary Poppins rolls her eyes and bustles around and smiles less but manages to do more. Her magic is controlled and precise, bestowing the children with their own sense of agency rather than spoiling them with her treats. Emily Blunt’s interpretation of Mary Poppins is slightly spicier than it is sweet– and I love it for that. I’ll defend this movie against musical theatre purists that argue that Emily Blunt is not as good as Julie Andrews. They’ve both made the role their own in fun and inventive ways.  

That being said, however, in all honesty, my reaction to this movie was quite ordinary. I didn’t love it; I didn’t hate it. The plot of the Banks children trying to keep their house wasn’t the most engaging, even if Colin Firth was the one playing the evil banker. I didn’t find myself humming the tunes to the new songs as I walked out of the theatre. They just weren’t as catchy or extraordinary as they’d been hyped up to be. And, most importantly, the movie didn’t light up that spark of wonder and joy that Disney movies usually do; the nostalgic, gooey, fuzzy feeling spreading through my stomach– that life can be seen through a rose-colored lens– this movie just didn’t strike that emotional cord for me.

It did have its ups, though. In a song called A Cover Is Not The Book (possibly my favorite part of the whole movie– it’s really fun and whimsical), Jack and Mary Poppins perform with animated characters under the dazzling lights of a circus tent, and in the classic Hamilton style, we get some of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s crisp rhymes and fast-paced rap-style rhythms. There’s a song where the Banks children’s bathtub transports them to an oceanic adventure, swimming with whales and dolphins under an infinite blue sky and tufty white clouds. There’s the subtle romance between Jack and Jane, and though it’s painfully underdeveloped, it’s cute to watch. But still– I can’t really say that any of this adds up to a hugely substantial and magical movie experience. It’s a fun movie, and obviously part of a larger American musical cultural phenomenon, but in isolation, it seems enjoyably ordinary to me.

(Poster from Google Images)

PREVIEW: The Favourite

The Favourite has become one of the most talked-about films of late 2018 and early 2019, receiving no less than five nominations at the Golden Globes (including a win for Olivia Colman as Best Actress — Motion Picture Comedy or Musical). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the film stars Emma Stone (Maniac) and Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel) as two cousins competing to be the “favourite” of Queen Anne (Colman) in 18th century Britain. The Favourite is showing this week at the State Theatre as well as at Ann Arbor’s Quality 16.

PREVIEW: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk only hit local theaters recently, but it is already garnering an impressive reputation. An adaptation of the 1974 novel of the same name by James Baldwin, the film has accrued several award nominations, including three at the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture — Drama, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. Directed by Barry Jenkins of Moonlight fame, the film stars KiKi Layne and Stephan James as Tish and Fonny, a young couple whose romance is derailed and tested when Fonny is falsely accused of rape and Tish discovers that she is pregnant. If Beale Street Could Talk is currently playing at the State Theatre, as well as other local Ann Arbor theaters such as the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX and the Quality 16.

PREVIEW: The Room

Although described as a cult classic, I have never even heard of this movie. Its description is beyond bizzare, warning that I will “never see a football the same way again,” which is terrifying, and brings me to a very specific memory of this poem I read from a book I picked up for 50 cents at a used book store. Reviews of this movie range from calling it a masterpiece to the worst movie ever made.

Basically, I have no idea what watching The Room will do to me, but I will die from curiousity if I don’t see it.

You should join me in this odd venture into the unknown. It’s showing one night only, Friday, November 30 at 10 PM, in the auditorium of the Michigan Theater.

One last thing: the Michigan Theater website requests that audience members do not bring metal spoons or footballs to the show (???), so be sure to remove the spoons and footballs you normally carry before arriving.