Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Random Movie Thoughts

I've recently seen a couple of the blockbuster summer movies - here are some thoughts (and there will be SPOILERS for both movies, so you have been warned):

Recently, my mom and I went to see Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.  I saw the first movie with some gal pals and we had a good time - Abba music is generally bouncy and fun and the scenery was gorgeous.  Meryl Streep was grand and Pierce Brosnan looked hot.  The fact that his singing was painful to watch and listen to became more of a joke as the movie went on.  But we had fun.  Oh, and I'm a huge fan of Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth, so they made the movie enjoyable, too.  I have no idea why the studio thought they needed to do a sequel (and ten years later, really?), but when my family was here last week, we had a rainy day and my mom and I decided to check out the sequel.  My family's trip had a bit of drama, actually; I'm trying to decide if I want to share.  But I'll at least chat about the movie we saw and maybe share a few photos at the bottom of the post...

So, it's not nearly as good as the first film (which I recently rewatched), but we had a fun time anyway.  I mean, there's a reason that some Abba songs aren't popular - they're not really very good.  And Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is filled with the not-very-good Abba songs.  It seemed a bit of a cheat that both Cher and Meryl Streep are relegated to just a few minutes of screen time.  I didn't realize the set-up of this movie was that Meryl Streep's character was dead and they're opening the hotel in her honor.  I guess that's on me, but I was taken aback.  Finally seeing her at the end was very welcome, and very moving, but gosh I missed her throughout.  The flashback scenes were kind of fun (all of the younger versions of the men were very cute), and I do enjoy Lily James, but none of the flashback performers have the star quality of the cast of the previous movie.  Playing young Christine Baranski is not as fun to watch as seeing actual Christine Baranski.  I'm just saying.  

Cher was...Cher, and she is always a treat, plus she matched up well with Andy Garcia, who apparently is becoming the heartthrob of the ladies-of-a-certain-age set.  To me, he has always been a heartthrob (I just rewatched Dead Again and he is just sublime), but I feel as if he disappeared for a while and now he's back romancing Diane Keaton and Cher.  I guess I should be grateful to see him at all.  And maybe it's aspirational?  It could give me hope to think of being single for all these years and an Andy Garcia is waiting for me on the other side.  Moving on.  Watching Andy Garcia 'dance' with Cher WAS a hoot.  I put 'dance' in quotation marks because it appears that Cher doesn't really move all that much anymore.  She's sort of put into place and wiggles around, then everyone else wiggles around her.  OK.  She's Cher.  She looks younger than me, which is...you know, disconcerting, but hearing her sing "Fernando" made me sigh with pleasure.  I'll probably download her new album of Abba covers, but I won't be buying this film's soundtrack.  None of the songs really worked as well as they did in the first film.  I'm glad I got to see it with my mom, but I don't think Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again calls for repeat viewings.

On to another movie.  Remember, SPOILERS.  A handsome friend is a member of SAG, and he occasionally invites me to be his plus-one at screenings.  I was so grateful to go with him to see Spike Lee's new movie BlacKkKlansman (I think that's how to spell out the title in print).  My friend was excited to have been an extra in the film; he told me about the scenes he was in, but I couldn't wrap my brain around it.  I'll fill in more about his scenes later.

Let me tell you some backstory about me and Spike Lee (that makes it sound as if I've met him, I haven't, I'm just referring to his films):  when I first moved to NYC, I worked at a local university.  We had a small film society and one night, we hosted a screening of a new film by a young director.  And so I saw Do The Right Thing in a tiny room, it didn't seat more than 50, and then we had a Q&A with Spike Lee.  It was incredible.  The way that movie burst off the screen - wow.  I hadn't seen anything quite like it.  The energy and drive and passion opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn't considered before, especially in my life as a white girl from the midwest.  I was simply blown away.  There are a few movies I've been reluctant to watch again because of the impact they made at first viewing, movies like Platoon, Schindler's List, and Do The Right Thing.  I've watched bits and pieces again over the years, but since nothing could ever equal that first time, I've avoided watching the whole thing.  Anyway, the Q&A was also interesting and fun, I especially remember Spike Lee getting into a friendly argument with an audience member who criticized Rosie Perez's dancing during the opening credits.  He just wasn't having it, in a playful way.

I've seen most of Spike Lee's films since then and, for me, some of them are better than others, but they all leap off the screen with his verve and commitment and intelligence and unwillingness to be anyone but himself.  I'm a huge fan.  So I would've seen his new film, regardless of a handsome friend being in it, but I'm grateful to have been his plus-one at a screening.  Backstory done.

BlacKkKlansman is based on a true-story: an African-American police officer (the first in his Colorado precinct) infiltrates and becomes a member of the Klan in 1972. It sounds too wild to be true, but it is.  The film is funny, biting, horrifying, and brilliant.  Its effect on me is a little bit hard to talk about, but I'll try. From its acting to its cinematography to its score to its spot-on direction by Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is an amazing film.  And an amazing experience, too.  Again, there are moments I will never forget - the feelings that the scenes or the dialogue or the situations gave me just can't be duplicated.  Though, unlike those other films I've been wary of seeing again, I feel like I need to see BlacKkKlansman again so that I can parse out and enjoy the craft used to make the film.  Now that I've experienced the overwhelming emotion, I want to again appreciate the storytelling.

I didn't know that our lead actor, John David Washington, is Denzel Washington's son.  I don't know that it would've made a difference in my enjoyment of his performance, but knowing might've shaded things for me a bit.  I thought he was fantastic, with just the right air of grit, resignation, determination, compassion and a little bit of whimsy to make all of the machinations work.  He was also a pair of clear eyes to see all of the racist horribleness through.  I've not been a huge fan of Adam Driver in the past.  I'll admit that I saw him in a play a few years ago and found him extremely wanting.  I'm (almost) embarrassed to admit that it lowered my opinion of his acting for years.  I did enjoy him well enough in The Last Jedi, but I was unprepared for how fantastic I found him in BlacKkKlansman.  He found so many layers - he uses his rather slacker affect to a great response here.  He has a monologue in the film that's as fine a piece of writing and acting that I've seen in a long time.  And his rapport with Washington, and the rest of the actors playing the police force, was terrific.

I never watched That 70s Show, so I didn't really know Topher Grace at all.  He is absolutely chilling as David Duke.  Making all that hate and racism seem bland, pleasant and normal.  I get shivers just thinking about it.  All of the actors playing Klan members were just horrifyingly normal.  A couple lying in bed, having nighttime small talk about killing black people as if it were the most benign thing in the world; I could throw up remembering that scene.  And imagining members of my family having that same kind of conversation doesn't really help.  The Klan characters were occasionally stupid, and often naive, but never less than compellingly real.  And Ashlie Atkinson was off-the-charts brilliant as a Klan wife.  Amazing. 

And then there's my handsome friend.  He told me beforehand that he would be in the big 'initiation into the Klan' scene.  After seeing him in the background earlier and getting a kick out of seeing his handsome face on a big screen, the next time I saw him was when David Duke was pulling a Klan member hood off his face.  I can't describe the feelings of watching that - it's a testament to my friend's great talent that I believed what he was doing and it shook me.  Shook me profoundly.  It shook him, too, in that moment.  We sort of leaned in on one another until the scene was over, but my god.  I mean, it was a horrible enough scene to watch - all those mediocre white men trying to pretend they're superior, yet hiding themselves behind capes and hoods - but to see a face I know and love there...wow.  Maybe if times weren't as horrible as they are right now and if I weren't a little bit suspicious that members of my family may actually be in the Klan, it wouldn't have been such a sucker punch.  But it was.  I'm proud of my handsome friend for accepting the role, owning it, and being in such an important film.  But that doesn't mean I might not close my eyes during that scene the next time I see it.

But even all of that didn't prepare me for the end of the movie.  Again, I should've done more homework, I guess, but I didn't realize that actual footage of the Charlottesville riots last year would be in the movie.  Wow.  Another sucker punch.  Throughout the movie, there are little seeds that pop up every now and then, showing how this behavior in 1972 could've led to what's going on now (one example: David Duke says variations of "America First" and "Make America great again" at one point - the audience groaned and chuckled with rueful understanding), but then to actually see it, to see the actual, real-live, nonfiction hate that happened last year, including the moment the car plowed into the crowd and killed that poor woman, and then with the comments from that wretch who lives in the White House...it was devastating all over again.  As it should've been.  Spike Lee is a f*cking genius.  There were women around us who were overcome, loudly sobbing and wailing at the unexpectedness of it.  I couldn't breathe.  Only a confident, brilliant filmmaker would've had the audacity to give us a film with hints of comedy, hints of romance, underscores of horror and then smacks us in the face with what is ACTUALLY HAPPENING.  And that's Spike Lee.

There was a brief Q&A after the film with a few of the actors; Topher Grace was very eloquent in his repudiation of David Duke and all that he stands for and how he couldn't find anything of value in the man.  Corey Hawkins (who also has an amazing monologue at the top of the movie) was also very moving in describing what it meant to him, as a black actor and a black man, to be in this movie at this time.  A member of the audience asked the cast "Do you think there will need to be protection or police presence at screenings of this movie?  Do you think it will cause riots or anything?"  The cast sort of hemmed and hawed, but didn't really think so.  I just read a brief interview with Spike Lee where he said that movie execs told him those exact fears, that riots would happen, when Do The Right Thing came out.  I guess we can be grateful that nothing has happened yet, but I have a feeling that the people who NEED to see this movie and who would be most offended by it won't bother to go.  And it is their loss.  GO.

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