RADIUM GIRLS (2020)

October 23, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. A huckster or carnival barker is spouting off the many uses and health benefits of radium. He even hails it as “liquid sunshine”. That’s how this film from co-directors Lydia Dean Pilcher (A CALL TO SPY, 2020) and Ginny Mohler kicks off. Ms. Mohler co-wrote the screenplay with Brittany Shaw, and it’s presented as a historical dramatization – some of the names have been changed to protect both the innocent and guilty.

Joey King (“Fargo”) stars as Bessie, younger sister to Josephine (Abby Quinn, I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS). Josephine is the more studious of the two, as Bessie dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. Both girls work as dial painters at American Radium (re-named from the actual United States Radium Corporation). Josephine wins awards for being the most productive, while Bessie gets scolded and has her pay docked due to shoddy work. See, Bessie refuses to lick the brush to create the fine tip needed for precise work. So what’s a dial painter? Well, it’s 1925, and these women are applying a radioactive liquid to the faces of watches to create the popular glow-in-the-dark effect. Marie Curie’s discovery from twenty years prior has been found to have many uses, including shrinking cancerous tumors. However, the story finds the dial painters who lick-dip-paint, are getting sick and dying at an ever-increasing rate.

Mary, older sister to Bessie and Josephine and also a dial painter, had previously died after being diagnosed with syphilis. Bessie’s outrage and curiosity starts to build when the company doctor passes along the same diagnosis to (virgin) sister Josephine when her teeth start falling out, her joints ache, and her skin breaks out in a rash. We witness the transformation of Bessie from teenybopper to activist. She’s helped along by love interest Walt (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) who introduces her to the socialist movement, as well as Wiley Stephens (Cara Seymour, “The Knick”), the real life founder of the Consumers League.

Many dial painters refused to believe the connection and were frightened to lose their job. A few came forward, though they struggled to find a legal counsel willing to go against the giant corporation led by the arrogant Mr. Roeder (John Bedford Lloyd). It’s interesting to see the pieces come together for the 1928 court case. Another real life player in this chain of events was Dr Katherine Drinker (played her by Veanne Cox), the scientist who conducted the confidential study that concluded radium produced harsh effects, including physical deterioration – just as Josephine has experienced.

The courtroom scenes may not have the dramatic impact that we are accustomed to seeing in cinema, but this is a remarkable story of some incredibly strong women who stood up, not just for themselves, but for those who wouldn’t or couldn’t come forward. Their court case led to changes in workplace safety laws, while also reminding us of an era when women were given so little power, and giant corporations and the government ruled the roost and couldn’t be trusted. The filmmakers blend some vintage clips throughout, and use the discovery of King Tut’s tomb only three years prior to give the feel of this era nearly 100 years past. Rosamund Pike starred as Marie Curie in RADIOACTIVE earlier this year, and there have been a couple of books written on this topic: “The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women” by Kate Moore (2016), and “Radium Girls: A Play in Two Acts” by DW Gregory (2000). It’s a story of courageous women that deserves a wider audience.

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MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003, South Korea)

October 19, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Between 1986 and 1991, 10 women were raped and brutally murdered in the province of Gyeong-gi outside Seoul. Considered South Korea’s first serial killer case, the crime went unsolved until 2019. The case was the inspiration for writer-director Bong Joon Ho’s second feature film, as was Kwang-rim Kim’s play, “Come to See Me”. Director Bong Joon Ho co-wrote the screenplay with Sung-bo Shim, and of course, went on to win an Oscar for PARASITE (2019), in addition to providing other popular features such as OKJA (2017), SNOWPIERCER (2013), and THE HOST (2006). This early film can be compared to David Fincher’s ZODIAC (2007), although this one is a blend of murder mystery, crime thriller, black comedy, and political commentary.

Kang-ho Song (PARASITE) stars as Park, a local detective called to the scene of the first victim. Almost immediately we can tell Park and the police force are borderline incompetent. Park is convinced he has “Shaman eyes” and can identify the guilty party simply by looking at them. Of course, this is ridiculous and is proven so on a few occasions. Park’s partner, Detective Cho (Roe-ha Kim), is a hothead who takes a heavy-handed approach to interrogation (though he later experiences true karma). When a second victim is discovered, a more seasoned professional, Detective Seo (Sang Kyung-Kim), arrives from Seoul. In contrast to Park’s gut-feeling approach, Seo puts faith in evidence, proclaiming, “Documents never lie”. These two detectives are at the core of the story and we watch as each evolves.

The film begins on October 23, 1986 as the body of the first victim is found. We witness how the crime scene is immediately corrupted by both cops and local kids. This is also our indoctrination to how the filmmaker is treating this much differently than most crime dramas. A stream of suspects Park refers to as “punks” are paraded through the station, but true chaos ensues at the scene of the second body. We can’t help but be relieved when a professional, big city detective arrives. Bits of evidence are slowly assembled – red clothes, rainy nights, a song on the radio – each may play a role in the actions of the killer. Frustration builds as more murders occur and the detectives are unable to pin down the perpetrator.

The mental and physical toll that detectives endure with such a case are on full display. The obsession with finding the murderer never ends and the fantastic ending proves that even a career change doesn’t erase the failure. We are inundated with crime thrillers these days, but it’s difficult to grasp how this masterpiece was put together by a director whose career was just getting started. Certainly today we recognize the brilliance of Bong Joon Ho, but this was 17 years ago! It plays as a time capsule of South Korea socially and politically in 1986, and it works on that level every bit as much as a crime thriller. Cinematographer Hyung Koo Kim (THE HOST) balances the crime scenes with the police station, as well as the telling facial expressions of the characters. Last year’s solving of these horrific crimes pushed this classic into release, and it’s well worth a watch.

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THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness.  Tom Hayden, Alex Sharpe, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Bobby Seale, Lee Weiner, and John Froines. Those were the defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 National Democrat Convention in Chicago. So why were there 8, when they are known as the Chicago 7? Well, writer-director Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) not only answers that question, but also fills in many of the blanks for those of us who have known only the highlights of the story.

This story has been told many times before in books, articles, and other movies, but it’s never before had Sorkin’s focus on the spoken word and the transcripts pulled from the 1969 trial. For those familiar with Sorkin’s work, his penchant for absurdly rapid and a bit too on-the-nose chatter is renowned. Here, he has assembled a truly superb cast that revels not just in the words, but in the historical aspect and the modern day relevance. There are a lot of characters to get familiar with, and Sorkin doesn’t delay in introducing each of them by name and affiliation.

Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, 2014) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) represent Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and are focused on the lives being lost in the war. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) are the leaders of the Youth International Party (the Yippies) and their goal is to disrupt the system through chaos. Actual Boy Scout leader David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a conscientious objector and part of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, aptly nicknamed “The Mobe”. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is the leader of the Black Panthers, while Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty, “The Americans”) were protesters, but can’t understand why they are lumped in with the more recognizable group leaders.

William Kunstler (Oscar winner Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES, 2015) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) are the attorneys for all except Bobby Seale, whose attorney was unable to attend due to a medical emergency. Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the hand-picked prosecutor for the Justice Department, while Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) is the presiding judge. Other key players include Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, and the always great Michael Keaton as former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Lewis.

There is a lot going on here for a courtroom drama. The diverse personalities alone make this a must watch. Flashbacks to the violence and the interactions between police and protesters are mixed in between testimonies. We are also taken into the Conspiracy House, where conversations and debates between the accused get quit colorful. There are also glimpses of Abbie Hoffman’s college campus speeches/performances which illuminate his thinking, and some of the best conflicts occur when Abbie and Hayden are going at each other in such contrasting manners. Langella’s Judge Hoffman is a true lightning rod in the courtroom. Is he biased or incompetent … or both? His behavior is what drives attorney Kunstler, the ultimate believer in the law, to finally understand what Abbie had said all along … this was a political trial – a show of governmental power, and an attempt to quash anti-war activists. This trial occurred mere months after Nixon was elected, and though they never share a scene, the sword-fight between newly appointed Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) and outgoing AG Ramsey Lewis (Keaton) is a thing of beauty. Keaton especially shines in his two scenes.

“The Whole World is Watching” became a common protest chant as the government worked to shut down the movement to end the Vietnam War. Netflix and Sorkin have capitalized on the current political and social environment to demonstrate what happened 50 years ago … the more things change, the more they stay the same. Abbie Hoffman states, “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before”, and that ties in brilliantly with the desire for Cultural Revolution. Hayden’s intellect in on display here, and Rylance is the real standout as Kunstler, though Langella (the Judge) and Abdul-Mateen (Bobby Seale) aren’t far behind. The scene where Seale is bound and gagged in an American courtroom is one of the most uncomfortable moments I can recall. There may be some questionable directorial choices, but the story and performances make this one to watch.

Premiers on Netflix on October 16, 2020

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LA RESTAURACION (2020, Peru)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We don’t typically look to Peru for observant black comedy filmmaking; however this first feature film from writer-director Alonso Llosa (story co-written with Gustavo Rosa) is one of those pleasant surprises we usually only get from film festivals or a spontaneous streaming selection. It’s yet another reminder that an entertaining film doesn’t require a massive budget or a mega-movie star. A terrific story with relatable characters and heartfelt performances will do just fine.

Shots of Lima’s towering and shiny new skyscrapers open the film as we hear from the narrator who describes the booming economy, as well as Peru being “a country of builders that peaked during the Inca period”. That narrator is Tato Basile (played by Paul Vega), a 50-ish failure at life. He dropped out of school which kept him from pursuing his preferred career as an architect. His marriage didn’t last. He has no job, lives with his mother, is addicted to cocaine, and claims he is ‘psychologically incapable of working”. His mother Rosa (Attilia Boschetti) is bedridden and near death, and is fairly disgusted with her grown man son who should have figured out life by now. Still, she grudgingly gives him money for his habit. Her long-time trusted housekeeper and personal assistant Gloria (Delfina Peredes) has protected Rosa from the fact that the family funds are nearly depleted … and the once glorious mansion is crumbling.

One day Tato runs into old friend Raymond (Pietro Sabille), who is now a real estate tycoon cashing in on Lima’s boom market. Their conversation leads Tato to concoct an ingenious and devious plan that requires the assistance of Gloria, as well as Eladio (Luis Fernando Ananos Raygada), the family friend-gardener-handyman-driver, and Inez (Muki Sabogal), Rosa’s young caregiver. The idea is to sell the family house to Raymond for top dollar, and to keep the transaction a secret from Rosa by telling her the family home is being renovated. To pull this off, the co-conspirators will re-create her bedroom in a remote location, and pipe in construction noise and the familiar aroma of the neighbor’s stew. Of course the plan is ludicrous, but desperation for money often leads to poor decisions.

Llosa includes humorous moments and memorable characters, in addition to the life lessons that Tato learns about 3 decades later than he should. Rosa has a recurring acute punchline about disliking “social climbers”, and the score has a 1980’s “Miami Vice” vibe that complements the retro look and feel of the film (including the credits). Llosa’s film is sweet, funny, and sad, and is an example of excellent story-telling. Mr. Vega perfectly captures adult Tato as he finds the soul and love that he’s been lacking. This one might take some effort to track down, but you’ll likely find it worthwhile and entertaining. I sure did.

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2 HEARTS (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen it before. Two stories, seemingly unrelated, yet parallel. Only this time it’s based on a true story, and the 2017 book “All My Tomorrows” by Brian Gregory. Director Lance Hool and co-writers Veronica Hool and Robin U. Russin serve up a touching and inspirational story of how the lives of families can intersect, and how triumph can come from tragedy.

Admittedly, the film has a bit of Lifetime Movie Channel look and feel. It even begins with some conventional philosophy on life courtesy of our narrator: it’s either a miracle or it’s not, and life either happens to us or for us. These are neither particularly thought-provoking nor deep, however, they do set the stage well enough for the story. We first see an unconscious Chris Gregory (Jacob Elordi, THE KISSING BOOTH) being wheeled on a gurney into the surgical area of a hospital. His loved ones are obviously concerned. We then cut to a period many years earlier as a young Cuban boy passes out on a soccer field. We learn Jorge Bolivar has a lung disease, and has been told at various stages that he wouldn’t live past 12, 20, or 30 years old.

Despite the different time periods, we see the symmetry with the romantic interests of the men. Modern day college student Chris (also the film’s narrator) literally bumps into Sam (Tiera Skovbye, “Riverdale”), and the two become ‘Safety Buddies’ on campus – offering a ride to those students in need. An older Jorge (Adnan Canto, “Designated Survivor”) locks eyes with flight attendant Leslie (Radha Mitchell), which kicks off a whirlwind globe-trotting romance. Chris is a middle-class boy whose parents (Kari Matchett, Tahmoh Penikett) are loving and demanding. Jorge is part of a wealthy Cuban family forced to relocate to Miami due to political pressures under Castro.

Keeping up with the time period for Jorge and Leslie involves spotting the clothing styles and technology hints, and very few viewers won’t know where this is headed well before it gets there. The two staged weddings provide all kinds of cuteness, as does goofy, easy-going Chris. Life perspective is one of the key takeaways here, as is a fact that most people should already be well aware: organ donors make a difference and mean the world to those impacted. The film ends with a note on the Gabriel House of Care, a non-profit worth researching.

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YELLOW ROSE (2020)

October 8, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Immigration and the plight of undocumented workers is as relevant now as it has ever been. Writer-director (and fellow Longhorn) Diane Paragas and co-writers Andy Bienen, Annie J Howell, and Celena Cipriaso have expanded Ms. Paragas’ 2017 short film of the same name into her first feature length project. Although it covers some familiar topics, the film has a distinct look and feel to it … the vision of an interesting new filmmaker as she provides a glimpse at the struggles and challenges facing undocumented folks, both young and older.

Eva Noblezaba stars as Rose Garcia, a 17 year old undocumented Filipino living in the outskirts of Austin in the hotel where her widowed mother (also undocumented) cleans rooms. This is Ms. Noblezaba’s first film, and she’s best known for playing Kim in the stage production of “Miss Saigon”. Here, she’s the teenage daughter of a very protective mother, and she spends her time trying to fit in at school, while also jotting down Country Music song lyrics in her Townes Van Zandt notebook, and strumming the battered guitar her late father gave her. Rose professes no interest in singing her songs for others, but that and everything else changes in one eventful night.

Elliott (Liam Booth), a friend in her class and an admirer of hers, invites her for night out in Austin at the Broken Spoke, “the last of the true Texas Dance Halls”, where Austin Country Music icon Dale Watson is performing. An underage Rose over drinks, but also catches the performing “bug”, and loves everything about the honkytonk atmosphere. The youngsters return to the motel just as ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) is finishing up a raid, and are taking Rose’s mother (Princess Punzalan) into custody. Rose’s mother instructs her to seek shelter with her Aunt Gail.

Gail (Tony winner Leah Salonga) lives in an upscale Austin neighborhood – quite the contrast to the life Rose and her mother have been living. Gail is sympathetic to Rose’s plight, but Gail’s husband doesn’t want to get mixed up with harboring an illegal. So Rose recognizes that she’s unwanted and seeks refuge with Jolene (Libby Villari), the owner of Broken Spoke (Ms. Villari gives an excellent performance, though it should be noted that the infamous James White is the real life owner of the iconic dance hall). Jolene offers Rose a bed in a back room of the club, something a great many Austinites would pay handsomely for (maybe it should be an AirBnB!).

Dale Watson turns into a reluctant mentor for Rose, and the two write songs and perform together. Mr. Watson is a natural playing the on screen version of himself. There is a lot going on here, as this teenager from the Philippines proves she is strong-willed in both pursuing assistance for her mother, and in following her Country Music dream … all while maneuvering through the obstacles of being undocumented. There is inherent racism in the film’s title (Rose’s nickname at school), but director Paragas never allows politics to override Rose’s personal story.

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ON THE ROCKS (2020)

October 4, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sofia Coppola cemented her place among top filmmakers with the instant classic LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003). Sure, she’s had other successes with THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999), MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006), and SOMEWHERE (2010), but it’s her thought-provoking and self-analytical film with Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson that struck an emotional nerve for so many. This time, she reunites with Murray in what could easily be a companion piece, as it’s both familiar and not.

Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”) stars as Laura, who is trying to find herself as a writer amidst the fatiguing responsibilities that go with being a mother and wife, and having age 40 staring her in the face. Marlon Wayans (WHITE CHICKS, 2004) plays her charming, just-started-a-new-business husband Dean, who may or may not be cheating on her. Whether it’s Laura’s concern over how “boring” she has become, or the little clues she finds … well, it’s probably nothing … but doubt grows into suspicion.

It’s at this point when Felix (Murray), Laura’s father, enters the story. Felix is a likable cad (probably an archaic word, but it fits), who has never been much of a father to Laura. Instead he chases fun and skirts, and begins convincing Laura that all men are like him. Director Coppola examines contemporary relationships, and the insecurities that come with a long-term commitment. Can one person be enough? Can men be trusted?

What follows is an offbeat father-daughter husband-spying adventure, and an ill-advised one at that. Felix pulls up in his Alpha Romeo, and the two enjoy caviar on their stakeout – with the top down on the convertible. This leads to a scene clearly written to take advantage of Bill Murray’s talents. As he zips the sports car through the city, he gets stopped by New York’s finest. Depending on your perspective, you’ll either view this as a prime example of white privilege, or as the benefits of spending one’s life being a good listener, attentive to others – a people person making connections.

There is a great line from Felix that carries a great deal of weight, although it’s easy to treat it as a ‘throw away” line. He advises Laura, “You need to start thinking like a man.” Spending time with her dad makes her wonder if he’s right – do all men think like him? This plays well against the non-stop yapping mother Laura gets regularly cornered by when dropping her daughter for school. Jenny Slate is perfectly annoying as the mother who not only still thinks the world revolves around her, but also that the world is still interested.

Of course, we know, and Laura figures it out: her father worships her. He may gallivant around the globe looking for his next notch, but he absolutely realizes what a beautiful soul his daughter is, and what a better person she is than him. Probably the best lesson Ms. Coppola offers is that communication is key … or lack of communication can cause a thought to spin out of control. Sofia Coppola and Rashida Jones are both daughters of giants in their field, and likely could relate to having a larger-than-life figure cast a shadow. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Barbara Bain as Gran. Ms. Bain rose to fame as Cinnamon Carter in the 1960’s TV series “Mission: Impossible”. She’s now 89 years old and still working! Sofia Coppola has delivered yet another film that’s interesting and provides terrific conversation after watching.

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ETERNAL BEAUTY (2020)

October 1, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. There is an odd line early on in which the psychologist says, “Don’t fight depression. Make friends with it.” What makes this an odd line is that Jane is a paranoid schizophrenic, and depression doesn’t seem to be a driving force in her life. Craig Roberts wrote and directed the film (his second feature as director). You might know Mr. Roberts as an actor. He played the lead in SUBMARINE (2010). His approach as a filmmaker is one that keeps the audience off-balance; in fact, we can simply state this one is weird.

Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER, 2017) plays Jane. She lives on her own thanks to medication. Her family is present, though not especially supportive. A flashback takes us to Jane’s wedding day where a younger Jane is played by Morfydd Clark (THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, 2020). Jane is spurned on her wedding day by her husband-to-be, and it pushes her over the edge emotionally and mentally.

An early scene gives us a peek at current day Jane. She brings wrapped Christmas presents to her parents’ house, and promptly hands over the receipts to each family member. She purchased her own gifts, acts surprised and grateful as she opens them, and expects her parents and sisters to repay her for the gifts. It’s quite a scene.

We follow Jane through her days as she seems to drift in and out of awareness and reality. She periodically hears her phone ring, and by answering she hears the voice of her former fiancé. The red phones match the phone she was on during her last conversation with him on her wedding day. It’s her most painful and visceral memory, and one that Jane can’t seem to overcome.

Relationships between the parents and the sisters are quite something to behold. Penelope Wilton (THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, 2011) is the mother prone to cruelty and confusion, whereas the father (Robert Pugh, MASTER AND COMMANDER) nearly fades into the wallpaper, though seems more empathetic. Jane’s sisters Nicola and Alice are played by Billie Piper (“Penny Dreadful”) and Alice Lowe (GET DUKED!, 2020). Nicola envies Jane’s ability to collect free money (disability), while Alice is estranged from their mother, and claims her “normal” life is boring.

When Mike (David Thewlis from Charlie Kaufman’s latest, I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS) enters the picture, it’s like a jolt of electricity from touching the wrong wire. Mike is somehow stranger than Jane, yet they manage to connect. As an example of the film’s odd dialogue, when Jane asks Mike how things are going, he responds, “Things were looking up for a few weeks, a couple years back.” That’s the type of exchange we deal with throughout, and it takes an inordinate amount of energy to process what we see and hear.

One shot from cinematographer Kit Fraser is a particular standout. It comes from inside a microwave, replete with rotisserie base and Jane’s face peering through the glass. There are numerous moments we’ve not previously seen or heard in movies … like the doctor clarifying if the patient is “fine or good”. Ms. Hawkins delivers another strange, but affecting performance … something she has mastered over the years. She always makes the character hers, and makes us care about her. An added bonus is hearing Ricky Nelson sing “I Will Follow You” … slightly more soothing than David Thewlis’ frantic electric guitar performance. It seems certain that filmmaker Roberts agrees that normal is boring, and he ensures his film and characters are not.

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ONCE UPON A RIVER (2020)

October 1, 2020

 Greetings again from the  darkness. Haroula Rose is an extraordinary talent. She’s a singer, actor, writer, producer, and director, and she’s continuing to prove she’s very good at all of the above. This is her first time directing a feature length film, and she also adapted the screenplay from the popular 2011 novel written by Bonnie Jo Campbell. The film has a unique look and feel, yet is so accessible we are drawn in from the stunning opening shots.

Kenadi DelaCerna stars as Margo Crane, a teenage Native American living on the Stark River with her beloved father (Tatanka Means, “Banshee”). Taking place in 1977 rural Michigan, the film shows Margo’s father teaching her how to hunt and fish, and honing her sharpshooter eye with a rifle. We learn that a year ago, Margo’s mother left a note explaining that she had to “find” herself, though other rumors circulate through the small community. This abandonment is only the first of many unfortunate situations Margo must face. Two of these involve her father’s half-brother Cal (Coburn Goss, MAN OF STEEL), a demented, yet powerful man in town – and his two entitled sons. The most tragic event pushes 15 year old Margo to set off down the river by herself (with her “Annie Oakley” biography), in hopes of locating her mother.

At this point, it’s tempting to label this a ‘coming-of-age’ story, and while it is that, it’s also much more. Margo’s journey finds her crossing paths with Will (Ajuawak Kapashesit), a Native American researching his roots, and Smoke (John Ashton, BEVERLY HILLS COP), a grumpy old codger with emphysema. In the simplest of terms, Margo is a teenage runaway, but there’s nothing simple about Margo. Along the way, she’s discovering life lessons and finding out what she’s really made of. One of the most stunning moments (and there are a few) occurs when Margo tracks down her mother (Lindsay Pulsipher, “True Blood”), and calls her out on the lie she told to “find” herself a shiny new life. When the mother asks Margo, if Cal ever asks about her, I nearly fell out of my chair. That line carries so much weight.

The cinematography from Charlotte Hornsby delivers the breathtaking beauty of nature, as well as the pain and intimacy of the characters. Even the music of Zac Rae follows the travails of Margo as she continues on. We are accustomed to seeing grizzled men living off the land and making their own way, but not teenage girls. The closest comparison I can come up with is Debra Granik’s superb 2010 WINTER’S BONE, which introduced many of us to Jennifer Lawrence. Here, it’s Kenadi DelaCerna, with her first acting credit, who carries a difficult film. It’s fascinating to watch her skin a rabbit and soon after, figure out that sometimes blood has nothing to do with family, and making the best choices can be quite challenging. It’s not a fast-moving film, but it’s one that will stick with you.

Available via Virtual Cinemas on October 2, 2020

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THE GLORIAS (2020)

October 1, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Who hasn’t dreamt of having a conversation with their younger self in hopes of instilling some wisdom to improve the forthcoming life decisions? Writer-director Julie Taymor (FRIDA, 2002) and co-writer Sarah Ruhl have adapted Gloria Steinem’s autobiography, “My Life on the Road”, and use cross-country bus trips as a vehicle allowing Ms. Steinem to chat with herself at four different stages of life.

The feminist icon and activist is played by four actors: Oscar winner Julianne Moore, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson (“The Haunting of Hill House”), and Ryan Kiera Armstrong as the youngest Gloria. Childhood is called the formative years for a reason, and we do get a taste of how Gloria’s nomadic hustler of a father Leo (Timothy Hutton), and her mother Ruth (Enid Graham) influence the woman she became. Her father (referring to himself as Steinomite) explained that travel is the best education, while her mother struggled with mental instability after being forced to give up her writing career.

Bucking the male-dominated world began in the era portrayed by Ms. Vikander, and it takes up most of the first half of the film. Discrimination and harassment were commonplace as she fought to be taken seriously as a journalist and writer. This portion includes her trip to India, where she was heavily influenced by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. In addition, we see Gloria’s time as a (undercover) Playboy bunny, and the reactions that her corresponding article caused.

Ms. Moore is on screen much of the second half, including the founding of “Ms.” magazine, and her affiliation with other activists like Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero, “Seinfeld”), and of course, Bella Abzug (Bette Midler). There’s a moment on the bus when Ms. Moore’s Gloria tells her younger self, Ms. Vikander’s Gloria, “Speaking your mind will get you into trouble.” It sounds like a warning, but in fact, it’s motivation for what’s to come.

Ms. Taymor’s film cuts between periods of Steinem’s life with the multiple Glorias in action. The bus rides are an interesting choice as looking out the windows we (and Gloria) sees the streets of New York, the palette of India, miles of nature, and even her own father on the road in his car. Outside is filled with the colors of life, while inside the bus, the colors are muted, often black and white. We see actual clips of the 1963 March on Washington DC, including Mahalia Jackson, and the 1977 National Women’s Conference. It just feels like something’s missing here – like the movie doesn’t have the heft Ms. Steinem deserves.

Sometimes Ms. Taymor’s approach is a bit too artsy for the story, and there is only a brief mention of Ms. Steinem’s nemesis, Phyllis Schlafly … despite much attention to abortion and women’s rights. Gloria’s passion for issues is clear, and we note her motivation to transform an environment that stifled her mother. The film’s music comes from Oscar winner Eric Goldenthal, and the cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto, frequent collaborator of Martin Scorsese and other elite directors. The timing is spot on for the film given contemporary issues, including the opening on the Supreme Court created by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Despite this, the film might just be a bit too nice, or too lightweight given the history, accomplishments and impact of Gloria Steinem (who has a cameo appearance on the bus).

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