Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

Quickie Review: Friendsgiving

It’s that time of year. The holiday movies are upon us and the first one out of the gate is this sometimes funny comedy centered on a couple of besties in Hollywood who had planned on a low-key Thanksgiving together, but end up in a crowded house with a bunch of wacky friends and characters. Molly (Malin Akerman, “DollFace”, Watchmen) is a famous actress who’s just been through a divorce and is looking for some distraction. And her life-long friend Abby (Kat Dennings, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Thor) is just getting over her first lesbian relationship. But when their friend Lauren’s (Aisha Tyler, “Archer, “Criminal Minds”) Thanksgiving plans fall through, she invites herself and a dozen others over and it turns into a crowded plot that goes nowhere. And that’s sad since it has a talented cast. I was hoping for a warm and funny Home for the Holidays, but got an R-rated Lifetime holiday flick.

Review: Rebecca

If you haven’t seen the classic version of Rebecca, you might be entertained by this latest melodramatic take. But that 1940 film starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and it won an Oscar for Best Picture. This new version won’t be up for any awards. It stars Lily James (Baby Driver, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) as the young wife who is never named and Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, On the Basis of Sex) as her husband Maxim, the haunted widower-owner of the storied Manderley estate. Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Gosford Park) takes on the role of the sinister Mrs. Danvers. And it’s a fairly plodding take on what should be an absorbing psychological drama.

Review: David Byrne’s American Utopia

As a Talking Heads fan from way back, I was anxious to see this documentary of a live Broadway show based on Byrne’s latest album. And it’s fabulous! It all takes place in front of a theater audience on a minimalist stage, but it’s mesmerizing. Byrne, barefoot and dressed in a gray suit, is center stage, surrounded by his band, an uber-talented group of performers who are choreographed to dance and sing all while playing incredible music. They’re also barefoot and dressed in gray suits. But as minimal as the sets and costumes may be, the film is full of whimsy and inventive stagecraft all perfectly captured by director Spike Lee. And you don’t have to be a Talking Heads fan to enjoy it.

Review: Vinyl Nation

Do you still have a turntable and love to flip through your crate of albums just looking for the one that strikes a chord? Then this is a documentary you’ll certainly appreciate. But even if you got rid of your boxes of vinyl years ago and listen to Spotify and your iTunes library or ask Siri to play something snappy to get you going, you’ll probably have a great time with this film. I expected it to be about a bunch of old white guys hanging onto the nostalgia of their youth, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a look at the growing culture at the heart of a resurgence of tangible music and the people across every demographic – young and old, male and female, black and white – who are buying and playing and loving their vinyl connections. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Review: Maxima

When I heard the title of this film, I thought it might be another superhero epic. And I was right, though not the way I expected. The superhero here is a tiny little indigenous farmer from Peru named Maxima Acuna Atalaya Chaupe whose fight against an enormous transnational corporation inspired environmentalists and human rights supporters around the world. This powerful documentary follows tiny Maxima through her arduous journey, taking her from her remote mountaintop to courtrooms in Lima and Washington. And she’s an inspiration.

Review: Martin Eden

Adapted from a Jack London autobiographical novel, Martin Eden is the story of a young working class Italian man who accidentally falls into the lives of the upper class and decides that he deserves a better life, and that writing will get him there. Back when there were still live film festivals, Luca Marinelli (The Great Beauty, The Old Guard) was deservedly recognized as Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance as the title character. His transformation from itinerate sailor to acclaimed writer feels like the stuff of classic Italian neorealistic cinema, somewhat a mirror image of The Conformist. Situated in a societal shift where socialism is shaking up the lives of the bourgeois, Martin stands apart, viewing both sides from his own distinct perspective. The film definitely embraces 20th century European intellectual pretensions, and despite being a familiar poor kid makes good story, it’s absorbing and entertaining.

Review: A Call to Spy

This based-on-a-true-story WWII drama centers on three women in a British spy agency you probably never heard of – the SOE, Special Operations Executive. Early in the war, it was set up to recruit women to enter Nazi-occupied France, send back intelligence, and build the resistance. Churchill figured that women could move around more inconspicuously than men. In the film Vera Atkins (Stana Katic, “Castle”) a secretary of the SOE is in charge of recruitment and selects two women to send abroad – Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas), an American woman with a wooden leg who’s been turned down for the US diplomatic corps, and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Atpe), a Muslim pacifist who’s a crack wireless operator. They both distinguished themselves, so much so in Hall’s case that Klaus Barbie gave orders to hunt her down.

Review: Kingdom of Silence

In October of 2018 the world reacted in horror at the news that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The story of his demise changed hourly. But thanks to the Turkish government’s bugging of the consulate, we now know exactly what happened. It was the Saudi government and in particular Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) who ordered a group of assassins to kill and dismember a journalist whose opinions were in opposition to the story they wanted to be told. Most of what I read around that time spoke of Khashoggi as a brave dissident whose goal was to tell the truth about the Saudi government. And while that was true towards the end of his career, Kingdom of Silence looks at his very close relationship with the royal family over decades as a window into the power and influence they exerted in the region and internationally. And it is a fascinating and frightening story.

Review: Eternal Beauty

Mental illness seems to be the zeitgeist in the film world right now. And fortunately it’s being explored in a wide range of genres. Paper Spiders looks at paranoid delusion through a mother-daughter/coming-of-age drama. Words on Bathroom Walls takes a YA view of a teen dealing with schizophrenia. And The Burnt Orange Heresy takes it into mystery-thriller territory. And now comes Eternal Beauty a dramedy about a woman living with paranoid schizophrenia. Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Maudie) plays Jane, a sometimes lovable odd-ball who lives on her own albeit with a host of voices in her head keeping her company. Her extremely dysfunctional family doesn’t really help her maintain any sense of sanity. But despite a number of bumps and detours in her road, she keeps a hopeful outlook (at least when she’s on her medication.) It’s a strange film and worth seeing especially because of Hawkins’s bravura performance.

Review: Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own

Ursula Von Rydingsvard’s name did not ring a bell when I first heard of this documentary. But after watching it, I realize I’ve actually seen and loved her work in many of the important museums around the world. Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own makes the case that she should be as well known as many of the other female sculptors of the modern age, like Louise Bourgeois or Louise Nevelson. In this short documentary (it’s just 57 minutes) director Daniel Traub deftly mixes the story of her personal life with the making of her amazing art. She’s one of the few women who make monumental sculptures, and just seeing how it’s done is worth the cost of admission.