Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

Review: Echo in the Canyon

When I lived in Los Angeles, I frequently drove through Laurel Canyon on the way to and from work and I knew that over the years it had been famous for its arty inhabitants. I even looked at a rental house or two there, since I loved the counterculture vibe of the place. Echo in the Canyon is a documentary celebrating the musicians of the mid-60’s who lived there and invented folk-rock together and separately. The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas and so many of the biggest groups of the day were there, creating and collaborating. The film is hosted by Jakob Dylan, lead singer-songwriter of the band The Wallflowers. He sits down for chats with an array of famous 20th century musicians – including Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty in his very last film interview. And those interviews are intercut with the making of an album and a 2015 Los Angeles tribute concert with contemporary artists (Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones) performing some of the songs made famous by those musicians of the canyon. It’s a lot of fun.

Review: Non-fiction (aka Doubles vies)

After seeing Non-fiction, I found IMDB’s description of it to be kind of bizarre: Set in the Parisian publishing world, an editor and an author find themselves in over their heads, as they cope with a middle-age crisis, the changing industry and their wives. Whoever wrote that missed the part that Juliette Binoche is more than just an afterthought wife in this flick. For me, she was the most interesting character. Yes, it’s about the imminent demise of the printed page, and both lead men are in that world, but I’m not sure this film is about any middle-age crisis, but more about how two couples cope with infidelity and commitment. The world of publishing is definitely the milieu, and the many discussions of the digital future in the literary world are pretty fascinating. It’s a smart film, but it’s also extremely entertaining.

Review: Meeting Gorbachev

As a Werner Herzog über-fan, I’m always excited by the opportunity to watch anything he’s involved with, since he usually has a thoughtful and thought provoking view of the world. So when I heard about this film where he sits down with Mikhail Gorbachev, I wondered what kind of strange spin he might put on Cold War political history. Meeting Gorbachev is a series of three sit-down interviews Herzog had with Gorbachev over a period of six months. And those friendly chats between two fascinating people offer some decidedly pointed takes on the history of the fall of the USSR and a timely perspective on world leadership and the danger of what Gorbachev calls “reckless politicians.” It’s a simple and straight forward documentary, intercutting the interviews with archival footage from the time they’re discussing, but it has that Herzogian tone that’s just a little off kilter and keeps you glued to the screen.

Quickie Review: Working Woman

This Israeli #MeToo drama centers on Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) whose husband’s new Tel Aviv restaurant is struggling to get off the ground, so she takes a job with real estate developer Benny (Menashe Noy) who she knew from her time in the army. At first everything is great. She’s given a lot of responsibility and finds she’s really good at what she’s doing, but then come the unwanted and inappropriate advances and she’s not sure how to react, but hopes they’ll stop once she says no. They don’t. Working Woman is a story that will be familiar to many women. Orna wants the job. She’s given well-deserved promotions and people treat her with respect for the great job she’s doing. But the boss thinks he has the right to treat her however he wants. He knows she’s happily married and has kids at home. He’s married too, and she’s met his wife, but still.

Review: Wild Nights with Emily

The Emily of the title is the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, long thought to be a delicate recluse who was afraid to publish her work. But that, the film tells us, is an entirely false narrative devised for profit after her death. In fact, Dickinson was a strong and passionate woman who carried on a life-long affair with a woman who was her childhood friend and later her sister-in-law who lived conveniently next door. Played by miscast SNL alum Molly Shannon, Emily is certainly an unconventional poet, but also an early women’s rights adherent pushing for women to have the same opportunities as men and to be taken just as seriously. While it is a potentially heavy subject, the film has a light tone, which works most of the time. It’s an odd little romcom that plays off the juxtaposition of Emily’s real life with the sanitized version told by Mabel Loomis Todd (Amy Seimetz), Emily’s brother’s sly mistress, who as her de facto biographer took great liberties with Dickinson’s legacy, despite having never actually met her.

Quickie Review: Instant Dreams

Did you ever have a Polaroid camera or loved that instantaneous thrill of having the image appear in your hands? The Polaroid camera was a marvel and this quirky doc clues you in to how truly amazing it was as it charts the history from its invention to its demise. It also takes three (and a half) people and explores their connections to the film: a man trying to recreate the film after Polaroid officially folded and the formula for the film went with it, a photographer still using a hoard of the out of date film, and an author who wrote a book about all about Polaroid. And while some of it is interesting, the pieces don’t really add up to a whole. And if you are at all into photography you know that there is instant film available today. It’s an art for art’s sake film in a lot of ways.

Quickie Review: The Chaperone

Louise Brooks was a silent screen phenomenon. A woman whose style all others copied. But before she was a star, she was just a teenager in Wichita, Kansas. The Chaperone is the story of her trip to New York at the age of 15 to attend a prestigious dance school and launch her career. And though she’s the one who became a star, it’s her chaperone who’s at the center of this Masterpiece Theater drama. A local woman named Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey) overhears Louise’s mother at a party lamenting that her daughter is in need of a chaperone and volunteers her services. She has an ulterior motive, of course. She’s escaping a fractured marriage and also searching for her birth mom who abandoned her decades earlier in a New York orphanage. Written and directed by Downton Abbey alums Michael Engler and Julian Fellowes, this period drama is a fascinating tale of liberation and self-discovery.

Review: Dogman

Bullies need enablers and Dogman is all about one such relationship. At the center is Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a diminutive and timid dog groomer, who lives for his time with his daughter Sofia and never met a dog he didn’t love. But he also sells cocaine on the side to make ends meet, especially to pay for his scuba trips with Sofia. One of his buyers is the hulking brute Simone (Edoardo Pesce) who Marcello looks at like one of his dogs that could be tamed, if only. Simone only sees the relationship as what he can get from Marcello and pushes it to the breaking point. It’s a dark and dreary character study with flashes of comedy that you know won’t end well.

Quickie Review: Girls of the Sun

In our #Girlpower era, a film about battalion of Kurdish women fighting ISIS in North Kurdistan should be a slam dunk. But somewhere between idea and execution Girls of the Sun got a bit lost. Part of that may be that it is framed as being about a French war correspondent who embeds herself with this group of women and her story is a distraction. I was never sure why I should care about her. After all, the women she’s with have lived through absolute hell. The more interesting story is that of the female commander Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani) who lost her husband and son to ISIS and has a reason to be fighting the fight.

Quickie Review: Ramen Shop (Ramen Teh)

Following in the tradition of a spate of recent foodie flicks, Ramen Shop wraps a slight story in a culinary journey and has you drooling and wishing the film would be over quickly so you can get out to the nearest ramen shop yourself. This time around the story centers on a young Japanese chef Masato (Takumi Saitoh) whose father dies at the start of the film, sending him on a quest to find his culinary roots in Singapore. Dad met Mom there and there are a lot of unanswered questions about her and her family. She died when he was a boy, and his discovery of her diary among his father’s possessions, sends him in search of his uncle and the story of his mother’s estrangement from his grandmother. But all along the way there is a lot of cooking and eating mouth-watering food.