Review: Advantageous

Advantageous is a beautiful film. Every frame is a work of art. It’s visually stunning in every possible way and worth seeing for that alone.

This science fiction drama is slow and quiet and doesn’t have a lot of exciting action. Yet, it vibrates with fear and tension in the quiet moments. It’s a film about hard choices. How does a mother give her daughter a chance at success in a world full of both extreme wealth and extreme hardship?

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Advantageous”

Advertisements

Review: Sense8, season 1

Sense8 is a Netflix original created, written and directed by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, among others. It’s strange and disjointed and hard to grasp at first, but it’s also fascinating and intriguing and compelling. The series is an ambitious attempt at epic storytelling.

Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading “Review: Sense8, season 1”

Review: Beyond the Lights

I can’t say enough great things about Beyond the Lights. It is an exceptionally good film. If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to do so. I had the idea that it would merely be a love story. It was a love story, but it has so much more depth than that, which delighted me.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Beyond the Lights”

Orphan Black: S3 E6 Certain Agony of the Battlefield

Episode 6 of season 3 of Orphan Black is “Certain Agony of the Battlefield.” Lots of plot twists and huge developments mark this episode as a turning point in several ways.

Before I get into that, I want to give a multitude of kudos to the director, Helen Shaver, for creating this episode’s surreal, hallucinogenic, and magical world. Shaver also directed an episode in season 2, Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est. Can she be the permanent director for Orphan Black please?

The recap will be divided into doings at the Hendrix household, doings at Dyad, and doings at the Castor compound.

The Hendrix Drug Machine

Donnie and Alison dancing in their underwear

Alison (Tatiana Maslany, a multitude)  and Donnie (Kristian Bruun)  are dancing on the bed in their underwear, tossing money in the air, and having a very sexy time celebrating their filthy lucre. Who knew Donnie could twerk?

They pay off Jason (Justin Chatwin) the 30K or so they owe him, and Donnie still has enough to put $10,000 cash down on a fast car.

Alison in her mother's store

Alison has the idea that she can buy her mother out of her store, Bubbles. It will be perfect way to launder all their drug money. She takes Jason and Donnie there to talk about the possibility. Jason thinks it’s perfect.

At Dyad: Sex and Science

Cosima, on the other hand, has been screwing her brains out for 5 days with Shay (Ksenia Solo).

Shay and Cosima in Shay's apartment

Cosima is missing calls, missing work, showing up late. Scott (Josh Vokey) is mad at her. Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) returns and she’s none to happy with Cosima’s absences either. In fact, Delphine looks at Cosima like she’d like to slap her or spit nails at her or something equally angry.

Cosima looks at Delphine with distrust

Delphine talks about trying to protect Dyad and the sisters, but Cosima doesn’t trust her or welcome her return. Delphine knows they processed the samples from Seth’s brain and she shows them that the same faulty protein they found in Seth (Ari Millen, an army) is also in Gracie. She suggests they follow up.

Delphine and Cosima await Gracie's arrival

Felix brings Gracie into Dyad. As Delphine and Cosima wait for her outside the elevator doors, they look miles apart. Delphine told Cosima she missed her. Cosima didn’t respond.

Felix talks to Rachel

Felix sneaks off to have a chat with Rachel, who spends her time in a wheelchair painting with watercolors. He wants to know about Castor so he can find Sarah. Rachel wants out of there.

Rachel's painting and The Island of Dr. Moreau

Scott notices the symbols Rachel is putting in her paintings. He takes one and compares it with the symbols in “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Delphine and Cosima work together to examine Gracie. They tell her that whatever Mark infected her with affects different people differently. They tell her the defect is contagious.

After getting in so much trouble for not doing her job, Cosima goes to Shay’s with the intention of telling her they need to slow down. But when she sees Shay all she wants to do is “make out for 7 hours straight.” Shay encourages her to talk. Cosima just wants to make out. Their smooch-fest is interrupted by a call from Scott, who says he thinks Rachel knows Duncan’s key.

At the Castor Compound

It’s been 5 days since Sarah disappeared into the Castor prison. Felix (Jordan Gavaris) is frantic. Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) tries to keep him calm, but he’s breaking. Gracie (Zoé De Grand Maison) is still at Mrs. S’s house. They Skype with Kira (Skyler Wexler) in Iceland, who wants to know why Sarah isn’t talking to her.

Paul talks with Benchman

Paul (Dylan Bruce) is off in Arlington talking to a guy named Benchman (Tom Barnett). He gives him the log books showing sexual contacts that the Castor clones tracked. He whistleblows on Dr. Coady, who is doing unlawful experiments involving civilian females who have sex with the Castor boys. Benchman wants more evidence.

Kira appears in Sarah's dream

Sarah spins through fever induced hallucinations and strange dreams. Everything appears strange, surreal, part wishful thinking and part reality. She sees Kira and follows her around an empty Castor compound.

Sarah sees herself in a cot

Sarah climbs into Kira’s blanket fort and emerges in a room where she sees herself being pumped full of Rudy’s blood.

Charlotte appears in Sarah's dream

Sarah dreams she sees Charlotte (Cynthia Galant) who wants to lead her down a tunnel into the light. Sarah resists.

Beth is in her dream

In her fevered dream, she talks to Beth. Beth tells her to stop worrying about why and start finding out who.

Paul arrives and sees Sarah feeling very sick. Her temperature is 103. Dr. Coady says she’s treating her, but Sarah tells him differently.

Paul arrests Dr. Coady and takes over the compound. He puts a lot of people in the stockade. Among the few he trusts is Mark. Paul and Mark go to Coady’s office, where all the science information is stored. They find the evidence Paul needs. Sexual contact with the Castor clones causes sterility in women.

Sarah’s fever has broken. Dr. Coady gets very excited because Sarah didn’t die from Rudy’s blood. She tells Paul and Sarah that what she’s learning can end wars in a single generation.

Helena eats the scorpion

Helena runs through the desert. When she falls in exhaustion, Pupok the scorpion talks to her about Sarah. She eats poor Pupok. For Tatiana’s sake, I hope she’s really eating a big, black gummy bear, but the thing she put in her mouth was wriggling as she did it. But, really, how hard is it to eat an imaginary scorpion, I ask you?

Rudy, who has been off chasing Helena, comes back to the compound after a phone call from Arlington. He starts killing everyone in a search for Paul. It’s like a video game up in here with all these dead bodies laying around.

The Big Finish

Paul realizes he’s been played. He takes Sarah to a tunnel where she can escape. On the way he kills the clone Miller, but Miller stabs him while they struggle.

Paul goes to Dr. Coady’s office. She finds him there, surrounded by all her science, and shoots him 3 or 4 times in the chest. But, even with a stab wound to the gut and 4 bullets in his chest, the heroic Paul still has enough life in him to give Coady a dirty look and drop a hand grenade on the floor.

It must have been one hell of a hand grenade, because when it explodes it knocks Sarah down in the tunnel.

Helena finds Sarah in the tunnel

Helena finds Sarah in the tunnel. They leave together. Helena came back for her sestra!

Delphine looks at photos of Cosima and Shay

Delphine sits in front of a pile of photos of Cosima and Shay. She’s watching video of them on her computer as she downs booze as fast as she possibly can. She knew about them all along. As a result, she can’t get blotto fast enough.

Some Thoughts

Virginia Coady seems to be the mad military-industrial-scientific mind that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was so worried about. In the years just after America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, obliterating hundreds of thousands of people in a flash of radioactive energy, concern over this kind of thinking was fresh on the American conscience. Scientists/soldiers/corporations with power over life and death – who think the ends justify the means – has been a theme of Orphan Black from the beginning. We’re seeing it played out here in the form of Castor experiments on unsuspecting humans.

The scene between Beth and Sarah was beautifully shot, with characters jumping through time and space. We saw depression on Beth’s face, which is the only way Sarah remembers seeing her. And it was pivotal in setting a direction for Sarah in looking at the who of it all.

Mark is an okay guy. He tells Paul he brought Sarah to the Castor compound so Rudy wouldn’t kill her. He tells Paul he fell in love with Gracie. Speaking of love confessions, Paul told Sarah that he loved her, right before he went off to blow himself up in Coady’s office.

The soldier boy clone count is down to Mark and Rudy. (Maybe. Rudy was close to the grenade in the office.) Paul is dead. Farewell to Mr. Hunkalicious, Dylan Bruce.

Someone in Washington was aware of what Coady was doing and supported it. Who, indeed. Everything is uncertain and in flux.

The Title Quotation

From Dwight D. Eisenhower, this week’s quotation comes from the same paragraph as last week.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Sundance: She is a Best Director

Here’s a video from the Sundance Institute in which filmmakers including Jane Fonda, Greta Gerwig, Kristen Wiig, Lesley Headland, Mindy Kaling, Ava DuVernay and others discuss the importance of female voices.

I found it interesting and inspiring.

Review: An Invisible Sign

An Invisible Sign got terrible reviews from all the critics. And, as often happens, I love the very movie the critics hate.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: An Invisible Sign”

Bessie Release Announced by HBO

HBO’s biopic about Bessie Smith, Bessie is scheduled for release in the spring. The film stars Queen Latifah as the legendary blues singer.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith
Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith

The HBO synopsis of the film:

Queen Latifah stars as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in this HBO Films presentation, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees from a screenplay by Dee Rees and Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois. With a story by Dee Rees and Horton Foote, the film focuses on Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “The Empress of the Blues,” who became one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s and is an enduring icon today. BESSIE also stars Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Tory Kittles, Oliver Platt, Bryan Greenberg, with Charles S. Dutton and Mo’Nique.

Queen Latifah and Dee Rees were at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, where they discussed the film.

Queen Latifah and Dee Rees at Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Queen Latifah and Dee Rees at Television Critics Association winter press tour.

Rees, who wrote and directed the film, commented that Bessie Smith is part of a long line of women of color who reached success as female artists in a world dominated by men. Starting with Ma Rainey (played in the film by Mo’Nique) and moving through singers like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and many others up to the present day, Bessie Smith represents women oppressed by the world around them, but triumphant in spite of it.

Queen Latifah said she was first offered the part when she was 22. She didn’t even know who Bessie Smith was at that time. She’s obviously learned since and will probably do a much better job playing her now than she would have at 22.

Here’s Bessie Smith, who was bisexual, singing the blues about a man.

As you can hear, Bessie Smith had a particular style, timber, and cadence to her singing. I hope Queen Latifah doesn’t try to match it exactly, but simply creates a sense of the truth of who she was as a woman.

Review: Selma

Selma manages to take the microcosm of the marches in 1965 in Selma, Alabama to tell a sweeping saga that remains painfully relevant today. By focusing on this singular moment in a long battle, a vast epic is revealed.

Much that is in the news today shouts unfinished to the battle fought by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courageous supporters in Selma. For example, several members of the cast appeared on the red carpet for the opening of Selma wearing tee shirts emblazoned “I can’t breathe.”

A large crowd of African Americans attempt to register to vote.
A scene from Selma. David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in the center.

David Oyelowo stars as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He managed to portray King as very human with doubts and fears and failings while painting a portrait of King as a brilliant organizer, an astute politician, a moving orator, and an inspired showman. It is a stunning performance giving us a very real man who managed to achieve greatness. It’s a portrait both intimate and historic.

The story alternates between quiet moments and horrific moments of violence. The two opening scenes are good examples of this contrast. There’s Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempting to register to vote in an act of quiet determination. Then there’s the church explosion that killed 4 young black girls as they scampered down the church stairs discussing their hairdos. Mixed with these types of gut wrenching scenes are strategy sessions and arguments between civil rights movement leaders and meetings between Dr. King and government leaders.

I was impressed by the careful way King picked Selma as the perfect place to stage a massive demonstration for voting rights after President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) refused to take action on the issue with the speed King needed.

There were actually 3 marches in the attempt to go from Selma to Montgomery. The first became known as “Bloody Sunday.” About 600 people arrived for a demonstration march on Sunday March 7, 1965. State troopers met the demonstrators at the edge of Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and chased, clubbed, tear gassed, and terrorized the demonstrators into a retreat.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, by the way, was named for a head of the KKK. It bears the same name today.

The Bloody Sunday demonstration was televised. Thousands of people flocked to Selma in support. The second march was much bigger because of the publicity. When this group walked across the bridge, the state troopers moved aside. King stood looking at the situation for a long moment. He knelt to pray. As one, the marchers behind him did the same. Finally he stood up and turned back. He was waiting for a legal ruling that would protect the marchers and he got it the next day.

The third attempt was the one that made it over the bridge and all the way to Montgomery, where Dr. King gave a speech on the steps of the capitol. Finally, President Johnson was forced to act to remove restrictions on voting such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and other impediments meant to keep black citizens from voting.

The horror was visceral: the bodies of dead children amid the concrete rubble of a bombed church, the thuds of clubs and the screams of pain and terror as white men on horses attacked fleeing black men and women on the bridge.

The hate filled words of men like Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) were as terrifying as the scenes of chaos and attack. They are the same words we hear today. They are a reminder that for each victory like this one in 1965, there are still white men fighting to deny certain Americans their civil rights.

The music chosen as background in certain scenes was completely apt. The lyrics told the story as the story was being told.

The cast of the film was very large. There are many real people in this story whose names we know: Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, J. Edgar Hoover, John Lewis, Malcolm X. Many other characters whose names are not so famous were also in the story. All were played by actors whose faces I’m sure you recognize. I’m not going to list all the actors in these parts, but I do want to acknowledge those excellent performances.

The film was written by Paul Webb and directed by Ava DuVernay. Cinematography was by Bradford Young. All 3 deserve Oscar nominations, as does the film for Best Picture.

The Trailer

AARP Interview with Laura Hillenbrand on Unbroken

The AARP Bulletin ran an interesting story with Laura Hillenbrand talking about her book Unbroken and her relationship with World War II hero Louis Zamperini.

Louis Zamperini inspects his bomber during World War II.
Louis Zamperini inspects his bomber during World War II.

The book is being made into a movie, directed by Angelina Jolie.

I thought this quote from Laura Hillenbrand from the AARP Bulletin article was worth repeating here.

“I wanted to tell the story of the Pacific war through the eyes of one man. He said, ‘Go to it!’ ”

It was a huge responsibility to have Zamperini and his fellow POWs share their stories, Hillenbrand says. “You have to do justice to someone’s most searing memory.” Often she spoke with men who had never described their ordeal. “They would weep on the phone,” she says.

Unbroken has given solace to families of veterans returned from the Pacific. Hillenbrand recalls that “I started getting thousands of letters and emails from family members who would all say the same thing: ‘I never understood my father or my husband or my grandfather, what he went through, why he was in so much pain, why he drank.’ People were able to find forgiveness, and that is terribly moving to me.”

There is much more interesting material in the article as well as a link to a radio interview with Hillenbrand.

Louis Zamperini image — War Department via Fold 3

Watch This: Trailer for Helicopter Mom

Helicopter Mom looks hilarious. The film stars Nia Vardalos, Jason Dolley, Mark Boone Junior and Skyler Samuels. It was written by Duke Tran and directed by Salome Breziner.

Here’s the description of Helicopter Mom.

Oh, how far we’ve come from the dark days of rampant homophobia. But teenager Lloyd Cooper (Jason Dolley) may think society—or at least his mother—has progressed a bit too far on this topic. Lloyd’s mom Maggie (a hilarious Nia Vardalos) says she would not only accept a gay son, she actively encourages it, as it would be “really cool” to have one. In fact, Maggie becomes so convinced that Lloyd himself is gay that she “outs” him to his entire high school. Like any good “helicopter mom,” who hovers over every aspect of her children’s lives, Maggie takes control of Lloyd’s social life, setting Lloyd up on dates with boys whom she has approved and filing for a gay student college scholarship. There’s just one wrench in her grand plans: Lloyd doesn’t even know whether he’s gay or not. But the mother is willing to accept her son for who he is—or at least who she thinks he is.

It looks like Helicopter Mom is hitting all the festivals right now. I’ll let you know if I see any news about where it might be seen or streamed later. The web site looks fairly up to date and has a funny behind the scenes video. It mentions where the film is currently to be seen as well.