Mainstream Chick’s 2019 Middleburg Film Festival Recap

There’s something addictive about the Middleburg Film Festival. It’s not like I rank among press that is comped for transportation, put up in the festival’s home base – the swanky Salamander Resort & Spa – or extended an invitation to the private parties (crashing them notwithstanding). No, I must take a break from my ‘day job’, make the hour-plus drive from Maryland into Virginia horse country, and plant myself (along with a couple of equally budget-conscious movie gal pals) at a Hampton Inn about 18 miles southeast of the bucolic venues – all for the privilege of waiting in long lines to watch a slew of movies on straight-backed wooden chairs with minimal posterior padding.

And oh what a privilege it is. For real!

Review: Britt-Marie Was Here

We’ve seen this one before. An older woman finds out her husband has been having an affair and leaves him. First she struggles with it and then she finds herself. Last year’s Finding Your Feet explored this topic nicely. And now comes the Swedish version Britt-Marie Was Here, based on a novel by the same author that brought us the wonderful A Man Called Ove back in 2016. He certainly excels at writing older characters. Britt-Marie is no Ove, but it’s a pleasant enough little self-discovery flick for a matinee with some gal pals.

Review: Joker

Disturbing. That’s really the only word that comes to mind when attempting to process my thoughts on Joker. Did I like it? I don’t know. Not really. Did I not like it? No. It’s okay. Am I glad I saw it? Yes, but only because I wanted to be able to respond with first-hand knowledge to the hoopla over whether it might somehow incite violence; and, I wanted to know if Joaquin Phoenix’s performance might be deserving of awards consideration, as many have already suggested. I’ll get to that. But first, a warning of sorts about the film for anyone who might be expecting a typical action-packed DC Comics ‘super-hero’ or ‘super-villain’ movie. It’s not that. In DC Comics fashion, it does skew dark. But there are no heroes. No superpowers. No joy.

Review: Ms. Purple

This stylish drama set in L.A.’s Koreatown tells the story of a young woman’s dedication to family at the expense of her own happiness and her gradual return to a fulfilling life. Tiffany Chu stars as Kasie, a 23-year old first-generation Korean American who’s stuck working as a hostess/call girl in a karaoke bar so she can take care of her comatose father. But when her home health aide abruptly quits, she calls on her estranged brother Carey (Teddy Lee) for help, and she begins to reexamine her relationship with him and with the life she’s been living. It’s a slow, but beautifully wrought tale.

Review: Where’s My Roy Cohn?

There’s something inherently distressing and depressing – and more than a little scary – about the documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn? The title is taken from a 2018 quote attributed to none other than Donald Trump, lamenting the fact that his former lawyer/fixer Roy Cohn wasn’t still around to employ all the tactics that Cohn was known for: treachery; hypocrisy; media manipulation; offensiveness; ruthlessness; a sense of entitlement. Pick your poison. Cohn was a master, and Trump misses him dearly. Rudy Giuliani may be trying his best to channel Cohn, but as the documentary reveals, Cohn is a tough act to follow.

Review: Midnight Traveler

Stories of refugees and immigrants are all over the news these days. But mostly they’re about numbers and policy while the people are faceless and nameless. What this gritty documentary does is put names and faces on a family who are forced to flee their home and navigate the horrid landscape of the refugee system to find a safe place. Shot entirely on their smart phones, it’s the story of Hassan Fazili, an Afghan filmmaker who was marked for death by the Taliban and escaped with his family, crossing border after border to find a home in Europe. It’s a day by day chronicle of what a family has to endure to satisfy the requirements of various immigration systems. From leaving Afghanistan to finally getting asylum in Germany, they filmed themselves for almost two full years on their 3,500-mile journey.

Review: JUDY

Renée Zellweger is the total package to play legendary performer Judy Garland. Zellweger is an actress who can sing (Chicago), do drama (Cold Mountain) and deliver a punchline (Bridget Jones). She leverages all of the above to bring life and star power to what might otherwise be a rather dry biopic about the singer and actress who rose to fame as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and died some 30 years later of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 47.

Review: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is a movie for the legions of loyal fans of the “Downton Abbey” television series, and I am quite confident they will be most pleased with this highly-anticipated opportunity to revisit the estate and all its inhabitants, from the aristocratic Crawley family upstairs, to the devoted servants down below.

What? You’ve never seen the show and don’t know a Crawley from a crawfish? Oh dahling, I’m afraid you must move on. Or binge watch the six seasons that ran on PBS from 2010 to 2015. Or, at the very least, watch this 10-minute recap on YouTube, followed by the extended series finale, available on Amazon Prime. That’s what I did. Sure, it’s a bit like sneaking into a marathon a mile or two from the finish line. But without that baseline of knowledge about the characters and their backstories, I would have felt completely lost. I’m sure I still missed plenty of subtext, but at least I was able to appreciate the fine acting, witty dialogue, gorgeous costumes, early 20th Century set design, and the bucolic scenery.

Review: Neither Wolf Nor Dog

This ever so indie film was funded with a Kickstarter campaign and then self-distributed. And right now it is the longest-running US theatrical release in more than a decade, having premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival back in 2016. And it’s finally making its way to the big cities now. Set in Lakota Sioux country, the film takes a white author on a coerced road through Native America as an elder and his friend impart their wisdom to him. The elder is played by the late Dave Bald Eagle who gives the film its deep resonance. Adapted from a semi-autobiographical book of the same name, Neither Wolf Nor Dog isn’t destined to be a blockbuster, but its message from the Native American community is one that should be heard.

Review: Hustlers

Can/will Hustlers appeal to both men and women? I’m not sure. It’s a film about friendship and sisterhood, payback and… pole dancing. A stimulating crime drama served up with a side of T&A. And yes, it’s a perfect vehicle for Jennifer Lopez (Second Act, Maid in Manhattan) to showcase her assets. Does her performance live up to all the hype about a potential Oscar nom? I wouldn’t go that far – at least not yet. It’s way too early in awards season, with many strong movies and performances likely to emerge. Lopez does work the pole – and the drama – with a tremendous amount of flexibility and flair. But Hustlers itself is not an OSCAR movie. It’s like The Wolf of Wall Street meets Striptease (Demi Moore worked the pole in that rather forgettable flick from 1996). Hustlers includes the standard elements of most ‘true crime’ dramas: Money. Greed. Sex. Drugs. Excess. Revenge. Friendship. Betrayal. It also has shades of Magic Mike, i.e. there’s more to the movie than meets the eye(candy). The main characters have some depth.