Friday, October 29, 2021

Weekend Screen Scene: A Mouthful Of Air, Women Is Losers

Amanda Seyfried stars as a children's book author dealing with post-partum depression in the difficult drama A Mouthful of Air. 

It's a difficult in a number of ways. For one, it's a topic, like many topics centered on women, that too often gets relegated to the realm of Lifetime, seldom making it into studio pictures. And it's a difficult topic to depict, as many stories of mental illness can be. How do you properly convey an inner turmoil that can often be so deep and hidden via a medium that depends on the visual?

First time director Amy Koppleman, who also wrote the screenplay, which is based on her 2003 novel of the same name, chooses to keep most of that turmoil hidden. From the start, we don't really know how new mom Julie (Amanda Seyfried) is feeling, we only see how she is reacting to her feelings, when she attempts suicide in the early moments of the film. We then see how those around her react to that attempt, and some of those reactions are shocking, like when her sister-in-law (Jennifer Carpenter) yells at Julie for being thoughtless; do you know her brother is still scrubbing blood out of the carpet!?

Thankfully, Julie's husband (Finn Wittrock) is more understanding, and when she gets pregnant again, he's the one who insists she stays on her medication, while she is more fearful about what the medication may do to her child, and her own ability to breastfeed. Seyfried gives a great performance, and when the film does depict her moments of mental and parental exhaustion, she is wholly convincing. She shines in a film that is too often frustratingly opaque.

A Mouthful of Air is now playing in select theaters.

Women Is Losers is another movie about the hardships of motherhood, and if these two movies have taught me anything, it's that I should never regret not having children.

Women Is Losers instantly won me over, at least partially, with its early 1970's San Francisco setting, even if the film makes no real attempt to depict that era of the city accurately. This is actually something the film apologies for, right off the bat, as characters break the fourth wall, explaining that their small budget didn't allow for much in the way of street dressing, or glamorous lighting. (There's no excusing the era-inappropriate hairstyling though. But I digress.)

Breaking the fourth wall happens a lot, with the film's single mother heroine Celina (Lorenza Izzo) often speaking directly to the viewer about the inequities that women, especially women of color, had to face in that era, and pointedly calling out where things have not really changed. It's a little gimmicky, and gives the film the feeling of a stage play, but for the most part it didn't bother me. The strong cast, which includes Simu Liu, Liza Weil, Stephen Bauer, but particularly Lorenza Izzo, helps carry the film over its bumpier and cliched moments.

Women Is Losers is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Weekend Screen Scene: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, No Future

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is an odd movie, which is appropriate, because Louis Wain was an odd man. I don't think I had ever heard of him prior to this movie, but there's no doubt I was aware of his artistic work, as it involved cats. 

It's hard to imagine a time when cats were not considered the meme-worthy creatures they are now, but back in Victorian England, cats were mainly animals you kept around outside to kill mice, their history as creatures who were, in other cultures and earlier times, worshiped as gods, blinding people to their inherent silliness. Louis Wain did just that in whimsical and colorful work that appeared in books, postcards, newspapers, and other commercially available ephemera.

Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Wain, in a biopic that both sticks to the conventions of the genre, for better and for worse, and tosses in moments of surrealism and unconventional imagery that helps bring Wain's unique worldview into focus (although I have a hard time understanding director Will Sharpe's choice of aspect ratio). Claire Foy, also great, co-stars as his wife, Emily, the ultimate catalyst of his cat fancy. The middle parts of the film, depicting the happiest moments in their life, are, maybe needless to say, the most enjoyable. As Wain gets older, and must deal with tragedy and his own declining mental state, the film becomes a bit of a drag.

As tends to be the case with many biopics, you may come away from it with more questions than you even had going in, reaching for that phone so you can google his Wikipedia entry once the end credits start. Don't come to The Electrical Life of Louis Wain for the facts. Come for the performances, some moments of original beauty, and of course, the cats.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is currently playing in select theaters and will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on November 5th.

I'll watch almost anything Catherine Keener is in because even in a bad movie, I know she'll be, at the very least, interesting. In No Future, Keener is as interesting as ever, with the added benefit of being surrounded by an equally strong cast, including Charlie Heaton, Jackie Earle Haley, and her Brand New Cherry Flavor co-star, Rosa Salazar. And it's the film's performances alone that lift it, occasionally, above a pretty standard story of addiction and the difficulties surrounding recovery.

The unexpected relationship that develops between Keener's grieving mother, and Heaton, as her deceased son's former best friend, instills the film with moments of genuine frisson, and Keener, as always, kept me fully engaged. But aside from those moments, the film is predictable, and doesn't really have anything new to say about the toll drug addiction can take on friends and family. The ending left me thinking "Is that all there is?" until I quickly realized that's a rather fitting response. For lives torn apart by addiction, too often that really is all there is.

No Future is currently playing in select theaters.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Weekend Screen Scene: Black As Night, Bingo Hell

Last October, Amazon Prime premiered four horror films under the banner Welcome to the Blumhouse, and they're back this year with four more, with two premiering today, and two more next Friday.

While last year's films didn't exactly rise above that of "straight-to-streaming" fare, what I appreciated most about those I saw was how they told multicultural stories with diverse casts. This year seems to be following suit.

Black As Night follows Shawna (Asjha Cooper), a New Orleans teenager who can't quite shake an inferiority complex fueled by her troubled, drug addicted mother, and a brother who can't resist pointing out that the boy she has a crush on prefers lighter-skinned "Creole girls." When she's attacked and bitten one night returning from a party, she discovers the city's homeless are being turned into a vampire army, and she enlists the help of her friends to find and kill the leader.

It doesn't go without comment even within the film that this set-up is similar to another story centered on a teenage vampire slayer, and Black As Night is at times equally humorous and irreverent; I especially enjoyed the kids' ingenious use of garlic powder as chemical weapon. But it also manages to address some serious topics, like the lingering effects Hurricane Katrina continues to have on the city, and deep rooted colorism within the Black community. All that and the presence of horror movie veteran Keith David can almost make me forget the film's completely unnecessary coda.

Bingo Hell takes place in a town that bears a striking resemblance to New Orleans, but is called Oak Springs. And like post-Katrina NOLA, Oak Springs is losing its soul to hipster-fueled gentrification and vampiric developers. Lupita (Adriana Barraza), the neighborhood abuela, refuses to give up without a fight, facing each day with anger despite her aching feet and creaking back.

When the local bingo hall (bingo hall, bingo hell, get it?), is taken over by a creepy outsider and transformed into a neon filled nightmare straight from the Vegas strip, the neighborhood is initially wary--until they start to learn about the cash prizes they could win. And we all know what those kinds of winnings lead to, right?

Bingo Hell covers some of the same ground as Black As Night, though I think the latter is ultimately the better of the two. Neither is telling entirely original tales, but Black As Night holds a few more surprises