Posts Tagged ‘review’

The family saw Ocean’s Eight (or Ocean’s 8) at the Spectrum in Albany without any of us having seen any of the previous Ocean’s Eleven George Clooney/Brad Pitt trilogy (2001/2004/2007). Nor did I see Ocean’s 11 (1960) with Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

The first few minutes, I wondered whether a foreknowledge of the Clooney films was necessary, as Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is at the tomb of her late brother Danny, who died in 2018. The chatter with her old friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) is a bit tedious.

But then they recruit the team, and they are mostly a lot more interesting. Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) is a 1990s clothes designer considered washed-up by the fashion media; thirty years ago, she would have been played by the late, great Carol Kane.

Rihanna plays Nine Ball, who knows electronics. New motion picture academy member Mindy Kaling’s Amita knows jewels. Sarah Paulson is Tammy, the conflicted suburban mom, who knows how to move product.

Lou and Debbie see potential in Constance (Awkwafina), a street hustler. Not incidentally, Awkwafina, appears on the cover of the Spring 2017 edition of UAlbany, the University at Albany Magazine; the woman a/k/a Nora Lum received at B.A. from there in 2011.

But it’s Anne Hathaway who steals the film as the seemingly vacuous Daphne Kluger. Part of the movie feels like a clever takedown of celebrity culture and the fashion world. There are many cameos by people such as Heidi Klum, Common, Serena Williams, and various Kardashian/Jenner types.

The revenge angle of the film, involving Richard Armitage as Claude Becker, Debbie Ocean’s former flame, never really held my interest.

Yet the heist itself, and the twist at the end, was rather clever. To the degree the movie works, it’s based on the star power, including James Corden as insurance inspector John Frazier. He almost always looks like James Corden, yet I bought into him in the role.

Ocean’s Eight is not a great film, and probably not a good heist flick, but it’s an amicable one, and the less you know beforehand, the better you may enjoy it.

Leave No TraceLeave No Trace, which I saw by myself at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, is Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini’s screen adaptation of Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment, directed by Granik, and produced by Rosellini.

Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) live in the forests near Portland, OR. They are extremely resourceful, collecting rainwater to drink, using tools efficiently, and hiding away their presence when necessary. Chess is their game of preference.

When their life choice is crushed, they are put into social services system separately. Eventually, they are reunited and put into their new surroundings, but it is a challenge. Fitting into this iteration of the world seems beyond reach.

Leave No Trace is a beautiful, poignant American film. It is, I am told, quite different from Winter’s Bone (2010), Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role in another Granik/ Rosellini collaboration. Thomasin McKenzie, who is being compared to Lawrence by critics, is an 18-year-old from an acting family in Wellington, New Zealand. Her real voice is very Kiwi, but there’s no evidence of that accent in the performance.

There is very good use of music in this movie, most notably Michael Hurley and Marisa Anderson singing O My Stars. And animals, at pivotal points in the story. Nothing in this seems extraneous. Every choice, including the lack of dialogue early on, seem deliberate methods of advancing the plot.

The film may lead the viewer to questions the nature of society and where the line is between the rights of the individual and the presumed common good. This is largely a gentle, non-violent, yet heartbreaking film which should be experienced, preferably in a theater rather than on a small screen.

Odd, but this is the second father-and-daughter saga I’ve seen this summer, after Hearts Go Loud, and I’m looking forward to yet another one very soon, Eighth Grade, the trailer for which I almost know by heart.

Three Identical StrangersThe documentary Three Identical Strangers starts off with a fun re-enactment. In 1980, on Bobby Shafran’s first day at Sullivan County (NY) Community College, about 110 miles from Long Island, he’s being high-fived and hugged by people who are total strangers. This leads to the discovery that he has a twin brother, Eddy Galland.

David Kellman sees the news, recognizes himself in the pair, and soon there is a wonderful reunion 19 years later of the three boys born July 12, 1961. This is a story so unlikely that, if it were a piece of fiction, it might well have been rejected as absurd. The brothers already had many of the same affectations; they all smoked Marlboro cigarettes, wrestled in high school, and claimed similar tastes in the kind of women they were attracted to.

As they started dressing alike, their infectious personalities and toothy grins made them talk show fodder. (I’m fairly sure I saw them on NBC’s TODAY show at the time). These boys instantly loved one another. Sometimes they could complete each other’s sentences. They enjoyed their modicum of fame. They even appeared in a cameo with Madonna in the movie Suddenly Seeking Susan.

Once the initial exhilaration passed, the adoptive parents started asking questions. To say more here would be giving away too much. I will say that the movie addresses the ethics of adoptions and asks, though not fully addresses – because it can’t really be answered – the question of nature versus nurture in childhood development.

Tim Wardle is a well-regarded British documentary director. He had a tough time negotiating through the sometimes raw emotions, not only the boys and their adoptive parents, but some of the more peripheral characters.

Of course, I needed to know how frequently one will find identical siblings. “Only about one in 250 births is identical twins, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Biosocial Science. Identical triplets are even less common, occurring about 20 to 30 times per 1 million birth.”

The movie Three Identical Strangers would be well worth your while.

Just before my wife and I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I read Ken Levine’s review.

It begins: “Full disclosure: I was not a fan of MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD when it aired. My kids watched it, but I found it oddly creepy.” Next paragraph: “I am now one of those people recommending WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”

That’s the point: you don’t have to be a fan of Fred Rogers’ long-running children’s program on PBS to appreciate the wonderful individual he was who did appeal to very many kids. Adults didn’t get him because he generally wasn’t talking to them.

Although he pretty much single-handedly secured funding for Public Broadcasting in 1970 through his direct plea to a Congressional committee chair.

The thing about his show was not designed to entertain the parents but to create that one-on-one relationship between the host and every child. It was because he understood child psychology and remembered some of the more painful aspects of his own childhood. Someone suggested that what Fred did was to take the formula of every other idea in children’s programming and do the opposite.

Fred was trained as a Presbyterian minister and was a lifelong Republican, back in the day when there were moderate Republicans such as Governor William Scranton in his native Pennsylvania. But he addressed big issues, such as race relations and violence, while not being preachy, just genuinely good and kind.

I really related to Mr. Rogers’ use of his puppets. I know that the use of inanimate objects can sometimes express ideas and feelings more easily than one can do directly.

The movie touched on some reportage that suggested that suggested that millennials are whiny because Fred Rogers told them they were special. I thought it was nonsense at the time, and the film only reinforced my view.

The Mr. Rogers message was/is that we ALL are special, worthy of being loved. In doing so, he taught them/us we need to be thoughtful and considerate to others. That seems to be an effective representation of what ministry should be.

My wife and I thought the same thing, separately: when African American performer Francois Clemons shared a wading pool with Fred Rogers for the second time in the film, it felt like the narrative of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. I can’t explain why.

Whether or nor you liked MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD, or even heard of it, you should watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, who also also directed that great documentary about backup singers, 20 Feet from Stardom.

Given all the other tomes on my bookshelf, I surprised myself by checking out from the library, The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (2015), the author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, about Thomas Jefferson.

The subtitle, Orchestrating The Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, informs how George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, along with others such as Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris (not related), got the thirteen colonies, who had fought off the British, came to accept another centralized government.

A lot of reviewers noted, and it was my experience as well, that our American history courses in high school presented the narrative of the last quarter of the 18th period woefully incompletely. There was the revolutionary fury of the Declaration of Independence and the war, which was reasonably well laid out. The Articles of Confederation -they failed, but why? – followed. Then the Founders came up with the Constitution – but how? – including the Bill of Rights.

In fighting the American Revolution, the colonists were cohesive in that limited battle against the British. However, the notion that these 13 nation-states would then relinquish their independence to accept the creation of a powerful federal government was no guarantee. Certain visionaries diagnosed that structure created by the Articles of Confederation was doomed to fail. They suggested conventions, purportedly to amend the Articles, but ultimately to throw them out.

As Newsday noted: Ellis’ account of the run-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the subsequent state-by-state ratification process is so pacey it almost reads like a thriller. New Yorker Hamilton, fearful that anarchy was looming, developed a national vision first; Madison was just a bit behind. Jay, serving as foreign affairs secretary, was trying to fashion coherent foreign policy. But all agreed that if their efforts were to succeed, a reluctant Washington, who had retired to Mount Vernon, had to be on board. Washington’s revolutionary credentials were unassailable.

“In 1780, most Americans, having thrown off the fetters of a faraway central power, would have thought the kind of national government envisioned by Washington and Co. as peculiar in the extreme. Some historians have viewed the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution by a cabal of elites who crushed an emerging democracy. Ellis, however, reminds us that democracy was viewed skeptically in the 18th century; he prefers to see the efforts the quartet as ‘a quite brilliant rescue’ of revolutionary principles.”

I totally agree that, for a topic that could be very dry, I found the book surprisingly engaging. Ellis explains how the Founders, even those opposing slavery such as Hamilton, essentially ducked the question for the cause of federalism, hoping the topic would be addressed down the road, which it was, decades later.

I should mention that I got the large-print version of The Quartet because that happened to be the edition near the checkout. I didn’t NEED it, but I’m not complaining about it either.

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