104 New To Me Movies: The Piano(1993)

Stats

Title: The Piano
Release year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Written By: Jane Campion
Recommended By: Blank Check With Griffin And David
Star Rating: 5 Stars

Review

Sometimes you hear over and over again that something is a masterpiece. You know something by reputation and yet nothing specific about it. Not really. And then you observe it, for yourself and it overwhelms you.

The only other time I ever felt that, that I can think of, the pure, overwhelming understanding that a piece of art could be as perfect and wonderful as it’s reputation was when I saw one of the canvases of Monet’s Water Lilies at The Museum of Modern Art. The size and scope and detail just hit me right in the heart.

It took me some time to realize that was the same feeling I got from The Piano. I knew very little about it. I knew it was notable historically because of Anna Paquin’s Oscar Win. (In a stacked category, at that) I knew there was something about a mute woman, and I knew it took place in the Victorian era.

I was just, not ready for this movie’s emotional heft. I was not ready for Holly Hunter’s mute performance to still convey ever thought and feeling she was having. For the casual violence and inherent foolishness of colonialism and patriarchy to be laid bare, and for art and emotion and love to all be mixed up in something just so powerfully visual and stunning.

This is a hard movie to sum up, when you verbalize what it’s doing, it loses some of it’s power, and also sounds weird and kind of rapey. (To be fair, there are aspects of it that are weird and kind of rapey) but this is a movie that takes full advantage of what film can do visually, what actors can do emotionally, what music can do cinematically.

It’s simply flawless. No notes.

What I Was Drinking

The Butcher’s Daughter Chardonnay. Soft, fruity and very easy drinking, this is the house white of The Butcher’s Daughter, a 5 star kosher restaurant in Paris. I picked it up at first when I thought I was going to spend New Year’s with a friend who keeps kosher and I was going to give it to her as a hostess gift. Instead…now it’s just my go to. Nice and creamy, takes a chill well and opens up as it loses temperature.

104 New To Me Movies: Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Stats

Title: Muriel’s Wedding
Release year: 1992
Director: P.J. Hogan
Written By: P.J. Hogan
Recommended By: The HBO Max Algorithm
Star Rating: 4 Stars

Review

Snowy weekends are perfect for catching up on movies. When the screening of Licorice Pizza I was supposed to go to was cancelled, it meant pajamas, and soup and character driven dramedies. (I also rewatched Moonstruck and My Best Friend’s Wedding.) HBO Max has been putting Muriel’s Wedding in front of me for a while and I figured I might as well stay Down Under for a bit, since I’m still mired in Campion land.

This movie was not at all what I expected, which too be fair was just Toni Collette in a wedding gown. (That does happen a lot) P.J. Hogan’s movie is about a lot of things, but it’s mostly about finding your own heart and the people that matter to you in defiance of what’s expected.

Murial has never fit in in her Australian beach town, and desperately wants to, but her life changes when on a disastrous holiday with a bunch of people who hate her, she runs into an old school friend, Rhonda. Muriel then runs away to Sidney with Rhonda and life happens. She meets a guy, Rhonda has a spinal tumor that causes paralysis, but Muriel is still happier than she’s ever. She just has this little problem where she goes to bridal shops, lies about getting married (complete with tragic back story) and gets her picture taken in big poofy wedding gowns.

She winds up agreeing to a green card wedding with a South African Olympic Swimmer, which brings her old friends crawling out of the woodwork and disgusts Rhonda. A family crisis shakes Muriel out of it though and she remembers what actually matters, being herself, and ABBA fandom.

I adored this quirky little flick. Well worth the watch.

What I Was Drinking

Sofia Blanc de Blanc Sparkling California Wine. I like this nice little Cali sparkler because it comes in cans which makes it perfect for brunch drinks. I don’t have to open a whole bottle. It’s also fun for movie stuff because it’s from the Coppolla Winery, named for Sofia, director of Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides. So that’s fun. It’s pretty straightforward as sparkling white’s go, a little bit sweet, very easy to drink. And convenient.

104 New To Me Movies: And Angel At My Table (1990)

Stats

Title: An Angel At My Table
Release year: 1990
Director: Jane Campion
Written By: Laura Jones, based on To The Is-Land, An Angel At My Table and The Envoy from Mirror City by Janet Frame
Recommended By: Blank Check With Griffin And David
Star Rating: 4 Stars

Review

If Sweetie challenged me in the a way that made me uncomfortable and grateful that art can still do that to me, An Angel At My Table reminded me that art can also alienate and embrace me all at once.

An Angel At My Table tells the true story of poet and novelist Janet Frame, who survived a depression era childhood, a false schizophrenia diagnosis that lead to nearly a decade of institutionalization and finally became an artist who was well known enough at least in her homeland to be beloved.

The first section of the movie, which covered Frame’s childhood was probably my favorite. I’ve kind of got a soft spot for stories of feral childhood. Maybe it’s because I grew up as a highly scheduled suburban millennial (even if I was looser than a lot of my peers, due to my mother’s philosophy on childrearing. Should I write a memoir about how I was wildly allowed to ride my bike to school and then all over town after age 10? Is that interesting?) (Of course it isn’t, my childhood was loving, comfortable and boring) so I see something romantic in what is actually kind of horrifying.

But what I appreciate is that Campion’s detached style really suits the material here. Campion shoots in this observational non judgmental way, so Janet’s family’s poverty, her struggles with mental health and social awkwardness in general simply are. There’s no condemnation or point of view clouding how it hits you personally. It’s truly fantastic filmmaking, and I’m glad I got a chance to check it out.

What I was Drinking

It was freezing around here and I made meat sauce so obviously, I had to go for a nice full bodied red. Roots Run Deep Winery’s Educated Guess North Coast Cabernet is one of my favorite wines. When I visited Napa and Sonoma with my family a few years ago, we kind of just stumbled into Roots Run Deep’s tasting room and were blown away by their budget friendly and fully formed wines. And hey! They distribute to the east coast. (Not all of the small wineries we visited did. Precious few, in fact)

Their Cab is fruity and smooth, does, in my opinion require a little bit of air, so don’t pour immediately, or decant it for a while before you drink. (My family disagrees with me on it needing air but they like bolder flavors than I a lot of the time)

104 New To Me Movies: The Cutting Edge (1992)

Stats

Title: The Cutting Edge
Release year: 1992
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Written By: Tony Gilroy
Recommended By: Valerie Hardt (Valerie and I connected in a friend’s Facebook Comments over mutual One Tree Hill Fandom a few years back. We’ve been haunting one another’s socials ever since. She will be a frequent source as we move forward in this project), Crystan Brodsky (You all probably know Crystan from previous writing. She changed my life by being randomly assigned to host me when I visited Scranton. While we occasionally baffle one another, our taste is generally deeply aligned. Though our friendship may never recover if she brings up her anti Steve Rogers opinions ONE MORE TIME, she also will be around this project a lot, sometimes even in person!)
Star Rating: 4 Stars

Review

Romance novels have become my number one comfort food in these unprecedented times. No matter how tough things have gotten in the past two years, curling up on my couch and reading about two people finding happily ever after has been guaranteed to make me feel better. And I’ve always loved the romantic comedies of it’s best era, the late 80’s to late 90s.

So how precisely had I missed The Cutting Edge? I couldn’t tell you. I love Moira Kelly! (The West Wing! One Tree Hill! The Lion King!) and I love sports movies, especially ones about winter sports. (D2!) But it had passed me by. And what a miss it was. The Cutting Edge is adorable, and has so many excellent sweaters.

The plot: During the 1988 Olympics figure skater Kate’s partner drops her on her ass during the long program, and hockey player Doug sustains a career ending head injury. Two years later, prickly Kate hasn’t settled into a new partnership and Doug’s working in factory by day, subbing at his brother’s bar in the evenings, playing in beer leagues and still hoping against hope for the NHL.

Kate’s coach Anton Pamchenko decides to take a chance, and train Doug in figure skating. Kate is appalled at first, but her competitive nature kicks in, when she realizes that Doug might have what it takes. After that it’s enemies to lovers all the way down, plus obvious body doubles, a drunken feelings confession, some heartfelt jackassery from Kate’s dad (TERRY O’QUINN! Lost! The Rocketeer!) and did I mention the sweaters? Great sweaters in this movie.

We never know if Kate and Doug actually win gold, but that’s not the point. The point is they get each other, and it’s great. A comfy little rom com with a happily ever after for the ages. Definitely a good choice.

What I Was Drinking

I realized these posts might be an excellent chance to explore one of my other great loves beyond cinema, ALCOHOL! Specifically, wine and mixology. Most movies, I’ll be drinking a few glasses of wine or a cocktail with, so why not share!

With The Cutting Edge a classic rom com with plenty of froth, I went for Bourgrier Pure Loire Sparkling Vouvray.

Vouvray is a style of French white wine with deep creamy flavors and a gorgeous golden color, similar to a Chardonnay but with a little less fruit. The sparkling versions have a lighter touch than champagne, less sweetness and looser bubbles, and tend to be half the price, if harder to find. So, when I find a bottle that I like, I tend to stock up. I got half a case of the Bourgrier and I’m not using it for stuff like spritzes and brunch drinks, only drinking it straight, enjoying the cream. It suited Doug and Kate’s slow burn, enemies to lovers romance perfectly

104 New To Me Movies: Sweetie(1989)

Stats

Title: Sweetie
Release year: 1989
Director: Jane Campion
Written By: Jane Campion & Gerard Lee
Recommended By: Blank Check With Griffin And David
Star Rating: 3 Stars

Review

I’ve come around to the idea that good art can make you uncomfortable, that sometimes that is absolutely necessary. But I maybe shouldn’t have gone for that on a freezing cold Sunday morning when I’m fighting anxiety over a Covid Spike? Anyway, I watched Jane Campion’s first feature film Sweetie and I did not enjoy it.

I was moved, to an extent, and certainly challenged. And disturbed, very disturbed. Sweetie is the story of a family dealing with a severly mentally ill daughter, mainly her sister…who also probably isn’t particularly well, and the way that effects and shapes the way people live their lives.

The movie is a lot. It doesn’t romanticize severe mental illness at all, which of course makes it very disturbing to watch, because severe, unmanaged mental illness is disturbing.

So I finished the movie, intrigued but disturbed, logged in my spreadsheet, with a four star rating, but then I listened to my beloved Two Friends break down the movie and it turns out it is supposed to be a comedy.

Huh.

Anyway, lost a star for that. Because while there are definitely funny moments, but more in the theatrical human behavior can be funny ways, less in the haha this is a comedy ways. Anyway, I wasn’t terribly into it.

I really am interested as I move forward with Jane Campion’s filmography. She definitely clicks into some very real and intense feelings and as her work gets more polished, I look forward to it hitting me differently. I’m not going to quit, but…oof, this one was kind of tough.

104 New To Me Movies: In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

Stats

Title: In The Heat Of The Night
Release year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Written By: Stirling Siliphant, From The Novel By John Ball
Recommended By: Sidney Poitier passed away last week, AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition
Rating: 5 Stars

Review

Sidney Poitier had one of the most iconic years in the history of cinema in 1967. His three most remembered roles, Mark Thackery in To Sir, with Love, Dr. John Prentice in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Virgil Tibbs in In The Heat Of The Night. I’ve seen the other two movies more times than I can count. (And did watch them this weekend, upon hearing of Sir Sidney’s death.) But I’d never sat down and watched In The Heat Of The Night and decided to remedy that.

The movie is based on a novel, and tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a homicide detective from Philadelphia who has the bad luck of waiting for a train transfer on the morning a wealthy real estate developer is murdered in a tiny Mississippi town. Eager to put the matter to bed, the local police figure picking up the strange black man in the train depot is probably fine.

Tibbs manages to keep his cool long enough to not get pinned with the murder, but does get roped into helping solve it. What follows is a beautiful structured detective story, anchored by a stunning slow burn performance from Poitier. All of his natural charm and charisma is pointed toward simmering rage and perfect bodily control.

The one moment where he loses that control, when an old plantation owner, a suspect in the murder, slaps Tibbs and Tibbs slaps him back. Now, in addition to trying to solve a crime in a place that is actively hostile towards him, there’s a bunch of people who are literally trying to kill him.

Tibbs is working with racist but filled with integrity new police chief Bill Gillespie, in a truly incredible performance by Rod Steiger.

Nothing about this movie would work if you didn’t buy Steiger in this role. And if he and Poitier’s chemistry has this really flinty perfection, and as these two men grow to respect (but never like) one another, you feel the flint spark.

The mystery is pretty standard pot boiler/rural noir stuff, but it’s a stunning example of it anchored by these two excellent performances. And I’m very glad I revisited the other two of Poitier’s epic year, to see the differences. He really was the greatest.

104 New To Me Movies: Two Friends (1986)

Stats

Title: Two Friends
Release year: 1986
Director: Jane Campion
Written By: Helen Garner
Recommended By: Blank Check With Griffin And David
To Explain: Blank Check is my favorite podcast. It has completely changed how I watch and think about movies. Plus it’s very funny. So, I’m watching along with them this year (they go director by director) and when their movies are movies I’ve never watched before? Well, I’m counting them for this project. They’re starting the year with Campion and I’ve never seen any of her movies, so, the second movie of the week for the next 8 weeks will be those!
Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review

OK, so I gave my little foreword, but I do have to say, that if it weren’t for Blank Check I wouldn’t have watched this movie at all, and I’d be the poorer for it. While restrained by it’s made for Australian TV format and it’s time, it’s a remarkable piece of writing that’s well directed.

Two Friends is a beautifully structured and creatively shot film, with deeply true things to say about female friendship and the ways that it builds and breaks you up.

It centers around two girls, two friends if you will. (Again, I apologize for Blankie rhetoric) Louise and Kelly, who have always been close, but when high school comes they go in different dirrections and it breaks them up, despite a beautiful feeling before that.

Where the movie gets cool, is that it moves backwards. It starts in one point. Louise settled in, as her parents fret over the death of another friend’s daughter’s death. Kelly is mentioned, but only off hand. They’re worried about her, Louise hasn’t heard from her in a while. She does eventually get a letter, where Kelly outlines what her life currently looks like. We also see Kelly’s strained relationship with her mother and stepfather, we then flash back throughout a year, showing how the girls friendship got where it is now. The real fraying point seems to be when Kelly’s awful step father decided that Kelly would not be attending the prestigious high school both girls got into.

The movie is episodic, and deeply felt and very real. I love stories about female friendship and they tend to often be sanitized, but Louise and Kelly’s friendship is anything but sanitized. They hurt each other in small ways, It’s also always cool to check out an acclaimed artist’s early work, because I can absolutely see why Campion got to move on. Even with it’s limitations this is a fascinatingly shot movie.

There’s one scene where Kelly is completely lost, having planned on spending the weekend with her father, who then ran off to hang with his girlfriend, finds herself making out with his roommate and then fleeing in terror of the adultness of that situation. Campion films Kris Bidenko, who plays Kelly, alone at an intersection, showing how the large world is around this little girl. It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to diving more deeply into Jane Campion for the next few months. Two films in and I’m already pretty happy with my project choice.

104 New To Me Movies: Citizen Kane (1941)

Stats

Title: Citizen Kane
Release Year: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Herman J. Mankiewiecz & Orson Welles
Reccomended By: AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition
My Rating: FIVE STARS

Review

Citizen Kane is widely regarded to be the greatest film ever made. It tops just about every list, touting it’s revolutionary use of the camera, it’s clever and piercing satirical screenplay and it’s, for it’s time unconventional structure.

And I, a person who loves movies, who especially spend a lot of time…uh…what’s a nice term for yelling at people? Loudly and emphatically attempting to persuade those around them, that works, to check out old movies, had never seen it! (FYI, my mental “old movies” barometer is pre 1970. 1970 to around 2000 is just “movies,” and anything after that is “newer movies.”) So I was curious. Would I also think this was the greatest movie ever made? Would I see the revolutionary wheels it set in motion? Be shaken to my core by it’s satire of William Randolph Hearst in particular and The Hollowness Of The American Dream in general?

Eh.

Look, it’s a great film. There’s just no questioning that, it’s actually very funny, in a sharp wry, theater-y way. It’s written and structured a lot like a play, probably because it was written and directed by Orson Welles, who was, primarily, a playwright. The too crazy to be true, but mostly actually is, life of Charles Foster Kane, told by the various people who loved him until he sucked them dry, the way he did everyone, and everything, and even, some would argue, the soul of the nation he claimed to love.

And as I understand it, it did this first, and that is very impressive, and it’s seamless and doesn’t seem too clunky, Welles knows exactly what he’s doing with this movie. His performance as Kane is transcendent as well, truly leading us through how he corrupted himself and those around him, with chemistry, charm and unfathomable charm.

But while I was watching, all I could think was, “In 9 years, All About Eve is going to do this so perfectly.” (To be fair to Citizen Kane, All About Eve is ACTUALLY my choice for the greatest film ever made…soooo…) But I’m glad this was my first choice for this project. I was thrilled by the movie, pleasantly surprised by it’s comedy, and I can absolutely see why people are so hot on it as “the greatest ever!” I just disagree. I think it created a wonderful template for films of it’s kind, masterfully acted and the camera work is exciting.

I hope as I get back in shape my criticism can get more sharper and less reactive, so I apologize if this was just me saying, “Movie good, but not perfect!” but let’s walk before we run here folks.

2022 Project – 104 New To Me Movies

Hi Fangirl Friends!

I know I’ve been MIA, here’s the thing.

Turns out living in a general sense of existential dread for 2 years is uh…not super great for creativity! Who KNEW? So while my mental health PLUMMETED in the spring of 2021, I realized I needed to change some stuff, and I decided, first and foremost, I needed to cut down on my voluntary work load.

I decided to focus on fiction for a while, as losing myself in the world’s in my mind felt safer and easier. So while The Marina Chronicle flourished, and I finished a NaNoWriMo draft, I decided to leave The Fangirl’s Dilemma behind for a while.

But then something kind of weird happened.

Black Widow hit theaters and every time I tried to write about it, I felt like I had nothing to say. I loved the movie. I thought Scarlett Johannson finally got to do justice to a part she’d grown up with. Florence Pugh was my new favorite film actor and David Harbour and Rachel Weisz delivered truly unhinged and delightful supporting performances.

Dune came out and I watched it like six times, and tried to reread the novel to do an In The Shadow Of Adaptation and just…wasn’t interested. I didn’t have much to say about Dune that I hadn’t said when I wrote about the books a few years ago.

But then, I shifted my focus. Away from the big nerd properties I’d been so focused on. I squeezed into a festival screening of Spencer, I went out of my way to see The French Dispatch and House of Gucci, I hit a 92nd Street Y screening and Q & A of The Humans with Crystan, random weeknights saw indie and foreign movies with Irvin, I found myself more excited to talk about tick, tick…BOOM! and see Belfast or Licorice Pizza (I haven’t yet, I had a COVID scare when I was planning to!) than Spider-Man: No Way Home. (Exception of course for The Matrix: Resurrections which is probably my favorite movie of the year because it’s insanely perfect!)

I remembered that before I started writing about nerd media I was interested in a far more wide spectrum of film. I watched old movies, and saw off beat indie comedies. I read about Awards Buzz and had actual opinions about the movies in those articles. I knew about writers and directors and just…gave a shit.

So, for 2022, I’m going to try to give a shit again. I’m going to commit to going off of my beaten path. I’m going to watch 2 movies a week that I’ve never seen before. I reached out on Facebook and asked friends to recommend movies for me to watch. I was honest about the AFI 100 and Best Picture Winners I’ve never seen, and I’m going to fill in some blind spots.

Hopefully this will kick me back into gear. Because I miss criticism, and I miss being passionate about movies. We start tomorrow with Citizen Kane!

That’s right before last night I’d never seen Citizen Kane! I know. I’m awful. But I’m going to try to be better. That’s the whole point!