Friday, September 23, 2022

Weekend Screen Scene - Blonde, Don't Worry Darling, Catherine Called Birdy

I was extremely skeptical Ana de Armas could pull off playing Marilyn Monroe after hearing her speak in the above trailer. She just couldn't mask that accent. But I'll admit my reservations were unfounded; for the most part, the voice works.

But her performance, which is excellent, deserves to be in a better movie than Blonde, a relentlessly bleak film that, while based on a "fictionalized" account of Monroe's life, may still have you coming away believing that her life was nothing but an endless series of traumas. It's no mystery at this point that Monroe had a tragic life, so concentrating on nothing but that is not bringing anything new to her story. 

Director Andrew Dominik does an amazing job recreating some of her most iconic screen moments, and it had me wishing there were more of them, because at least those scenes are kind of fun. Monroe's career is filled with way more comedies than dramas, and while she was a fine dramatic actress, she was a genius at comedy. But I can imagine someone who's never heard of Marilyn Monroe coming away from this film having no idea why she's supposed to be so famous, aside from her being pretty.

Which, again, is why it's a shame de Armas's performance, which really does, at times, capture some of Monroe's preternatural charisma, is wasted here. Trying to convey the magic of a cinematic icon with an actress that doesn't have anything near to that kind of magic is why so many Marilyn biopics have failed. Finally, we have an actress that is able to get closer to that than anyone before her, and she's forced to spend the majority of the movie crying.

That said, I was never bored watching Blonde, even at 165 minutes long. But I was frequently annoyed; by its nonsensical switches between black and white and color; by it's intrusive score (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis); and by a story that turns the life of a multi-faceted legend into just another cautionary tale about the pitfalls of fame.

Blonde is in select theaters now and will stream on Netflix starting September 28th.

I'm not sure Don't Worry Darling could ever live up to the drama that is its publicity tour, but if that somehow gets people curious enough to go to the theater to see it, I'm fine with that, because it's also not as bad as the surrounding buzz would have you believe.

If mid-century Palm Springs aesthetics are your jam, then you'll probably be sucked into it as instantly as I was. If you're a Harry Styles fan, I'm a little less sure how you're going to react to it, as I saw it in a theater full of Harry Styles fans, and they were laughing. A lot. It was very confusing! But if you're a Florence Pugh fan, I promise you'll still be one by the time the movie ends.

And yes, I'm avoiding talking much about plot here, because I don't want to give anything away, even if anyone who has ever seen any film set in a utopia can probably guess pretty early on that something is going on. Director Olivia Wilde definitely wants this film to speak to ideas of modern gender roles, toxic masculinity, and female autonomy, but she lingers in that perfect world just a little too long. Not that I can blame her.

Don't Worry Darling is currently playing in theaters

Speaking of female autonomy, let me present you with Catherine Called Birdy, the story of a teenage girl in medieval England who is doing all she can to avoid being married off by her desperate, near destitute father.

Lena Dunham, who has adapted the book by Karen Cushman, and also directs, may not seem like a natural fit to tell the story of a medieval teen, since her output until now has been firmly set in the now. And some may take umbrage with the use of modern pop songs peppered throughout, as well as the more modern sensibilities espoused by Bella Ramsey's Birdy. But, much like Don't Worry Darling, and, in a way, even Blonde, the film is using the past to comment on the present, and how much women have had to, and still have to, fight for the basic right to exist as they want to.

Catherine Called Birdy is currently playing in select theaters and will stream on Prime Video starting October 7th.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Weekend Screen Scene - I Want You Back, Blacklight

Romantic comedies are such a well-trod genre that, for the majority of them, it is less about the destination --we all know the destination; it's love--and more about the journey. I Want You Back owes a lot to the rom coms that have come before it (particularity When Harry Met Sally, which itself owed a lot to Woody Allen's oeuvre), but the cast and refreshingly uncynical screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger make this comedy the kind you won't regret spending the evening with.

Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) are dumped by their respective partners, Anne (Gina Rodriguez) a dissatisfied with life school teacher, and Noah (Scott Eastwood), an anxious for adulthood personal trainer. When Peter and Emma meet-cute, both crying over their breakups in the stairwell of their office building, they decide to team up and try to break up their ex's new relationships in the hopes it will force them back into their respective arms. A series of awkward and amusing attempts at seduction and bromance follow.

Charlie Day can be an acquired taste. Sometimes his manic energy is so strong it creates a black hole that sucks in all the comedy around him. But he's blessedly restrained in I Want You Back, allowing his fellow castmates to share in the comedic spotlight. I find Jenny Slate immensely charming, and have loved her in everything she's done; someone please give her a series that lasts for several seasons, stat! That likeability is a tremendous asset because even when her character does some morally questionable things, you root for her, and have faith no one is really going to get hurt.

Laughs, tears, and the occasional inexplicable cameo make I Want You Back perfect Valentine's Day viewing, though perhaps a little more so for the brokenhearted than the happily entwined.

 I Want You Back is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Speaking of genres, Liam Neeson movies seem to have emerged as a genre unto themselves. They always, of course, star Liam Neeson. In them, Neeson has some kind of mission, issues with family, and he always possesses a very particular set of skills. Like a rom-com, you pretty much know what you're going to get with a Liam Neeson movie. And for some people, no matter how bad the movie actually is, it will be enough.

I'm not one of those people. Blacklight is cliched, silly, and, the biggest sin of all, boring. Opening with the murder of a politician who is very clearly and uncomfortably modeled after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, before moving on to the rescue of an undercover agent trapped amongst a group of backwoods white supremacists, Blacklight's political viewpoint just gets murkier as its conspiracy plot advances. 

Neeson's OCD FBI agent is there to help reveal the corruption in the bureau, while also, of course, resolving his family issues (strained relationship with his daughter), and using his particular set of skills (a more sadistic, or at least more deadly series of Home Alone-esque booby traps) to off the bad guys. But even a few good car chases and 'splosions aren't enough to make the movie even half-way enjoyable. I don't want Liam Neeson to retire, but perhaps the Liam Neeson genre should.

Blacklight is currently playing in theaters.