Maiden

First Hit: An extraordinary and heartrending film about women banding together to prove how amazingly powerful they are.

I grew up near boats. My dad and his best friend Frank Schultz built a 32’ cabin cruiser in our driveway so that they could dive for abalone together. My first memories as a month’s old baby are the warm sun, rocking waves, and the sound and vibration of the motor as I lay on the dark green engine cover.

My dad then bought a Mercury class day sailor, and it is here that I learned to sail. It was always exciting to head the boat as close to the wind as possible eking speed wherever possible, and having the boat heal over with water spilling over the rails both scared and excited me.

This film is about two things; sailing the most incredible boat race on earth —The Whitbread, and the first all-women crew to ever sail The Whitbread.

Tracy Edwards was always independent and driven, which is what she learned from her parents. When her dad suddenly died when she was 10, her mother, a new abusive stepdad, and she moved from Pangbourne England to Wales.

Rebelling in high school and eventually dropping out, at age 16 she became a stewardess on a yacht. This became her first introduction to sailing. Loving the independent life of being on boats, she began to learn the different positions by crewing on different ships. Wanting to be a part of the Whitbread race, the most dangerous and prestigious in the world, she sought out a crew position on one of the racing boats. However, the only spot any skipper would let her have was the cook.

Taking the job, she learned three things about this male-dominated sport and race, women were thought of as inferior, she hated how she was treated by the male crew, and she wanted to sail Whitbread again, but this time as an integral crew member.

Realizing this wasn’t going to happen on a boat skippered by a man, she brought together a team of women who would crew a ship that she would captain. Because she couldn’t find a sponsor, she mortgaged her home to purchase a used boat and did a second mortgage to fix it up.

She and her team re-built the boat by hand and got it ready to sail. Finding a sponsor to support the expensive logistics of racing in the Whitbread, she called her old friend King Hussein of Jordan. He said yes, and financed the remaining part of this excursion.

The press and all the other male crewed boats in the race predicted that this all-female crew would give up and turnaround before the end of the first leg of the event was completed. However, they finished the leg in third place, and because this wasn’t enough for Tracy and her crew, they pushed on and won the second and third legs of the Whitbread. Their results gained the respect of all sailors and the press, they were a crew to be contended with. It also created a wave of enthusiastic public support. And as they entered each port, crowds of people were cheering on this women’s team.

That was the real power of this team. The team’s ability to stay together, work hard, and succeed as a top-notch sailing team. The scene when the Maiden pulled into Southampton, England after completing the race brought tears to my eyes and the eyes of Edwards, who, despite her own acknowledged failings, let go and allowed herself the deep joy of doing a fantastic job.

The film used current time interviews with the crew as they recalled the power from completing the race as a team. There were also archive interviews of the Tracy and her team. Along with those clips, there was terrific footage of the race, the crew on the boat, and the power of the ocean.

Alex Holmes did an excellent job of splicing together the archival footage and giving the audience enough historical context of both the race and Tracy to make this story compelling. Tracy and team members Jeni Mundy and Mikaela Von Koskull were the main interviewees of current footage, and it was beautiful to get a sense of their view on the accomplishment.

Overall: Witnessing this sublime slice of sailing history helped to solidify the importance of the women’s movement worldwide.

Stuber

First Hit: Poorly conceived and acted, there were some funny moments, but that’s all.

The concept could have been good. Policeman hires an UBER driver and car to help him solve a significant crime.

The opening sequence attempts to establish that Detective Victor “Vic” Manning (Dave Bautista) and Detective Sarah Morris (Karen Gillan) are ready to capture Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais) a ruthless cop killer and drug trafficker. Entering a large downtown LA hotel, they go up to Oka’s room to make an arrest and are met by Oka’s bodyguards. Fisticuffs and gun battle ensue between Sarah, Vic, Oka and his men.

This opening scene struck me an unrealistic because there wasn’t any backup police and because Sarah and Vic were wearing bulletproof vests with “Police” imprinted signage, this appears to have been a planned raid and should have had a backup.

The impressive battle moves from the hotel room to the lobby, to the street and the firing of pistols by the police in crowded public areas was probably not realistic. Then Sarah gets killed by Oka and Vic is devastated.

Then we meet Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) who works at a goods store and to make extra money he drives for UBER. His longtime friend Becca (Betty Gilpin) and he are working together to open a women’s only cycling exercise studio called “Spinsters.” It’s evident that Stu has more than just friendship on his mind with Becca.

The story moves six months into the future and Vic is getting Lasik surgery, where he is told that he’ll have a hard time seeing for a few days and he’s not to drive a car. This is the set up for him to hire an UBER to get around. His daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) sets it up on his phone so that he can get to an Art Opening featuring her sculptures. On the afternoon of his daughter Nicole’s opening, he gets a call from an informant that Oka is going to be getting a new shipment of drugs and he can nail him.

Scrambling to his car, he tries to drive, but the car ends up in a construction hole. He calls an UBER, and this is where Stu and Vic meet up.

They are opposite types of people. Vic is brutish, pushy, and very aggressive in his behavior. Stu is focused on pleasing people, he wants 5 Star reviews, and is very accommodating. He’s also unassertive and is unable to tell Becca what he wants out of their relationship and hopes to just sneak into her life somehow.

From here the Stu and Vic spend their time together pursuing the whereabouts of Oka so that Vic and get his revenge.

Added to this story is that Vic’s boss Captain Angie McHenry (Mira Sorvino) is not one of the good guys and hinders Vic’s capturing the terrorist Oka.

As one might expect from sticking two very different types of personalities together, there are out loud funny moments during their escapades. Although predictable, the ending scene when Vic shows up at his daughter’s house for Christmas was sweet. Also, using the reference to the UBER pool feature as an issue in their chase was cute.

I thought the fight scene in the sporting goods store to be of little value to the film. The hot sauce warehouse scene almost as bad.

Nanjiani’s acting was overwrought and overdone. There was a constant smirk on his face, which made this film seem like it was a joke for him as well. Bautista was overzealous in his brutishness towards Stu. The well-worn trick of not using Stu’s correct name (kept calling him “Steve”) as a way to demean him, lacked punch or relevance. Sorvino’s role as the crooked cop was uninspired and had no background to make it realistic. Morales was a bright spot in the film as her even-keeled approach made her role work. Gilpin as Stu’s love interest was good as well. She was able to make me believe her. Uwais was okay as the uncaring, ruthless drug dealer and cop killer. Tripper Clancy wrote this script and its failings as a cohesive story showed up in multiple places. There was little need to have the manager of the sporting goods store change from jerk to longing for a friendship with Stu during the fight scene in the store. There are many such scenes in this film. Michael Dowse directed this with little concept of how to put together these scenes into a story that is believable, funny, and interesting. It didn’t engage well.

Overall: Stuber was stupid.

Wild Rose

First Hit: A more realistic version of a star being born.

I’m old enough to remember seeing two of the four most noted theatrical versions of “A Star is Born” in movie theaters: The recent 2018 version with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (given name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), and the 1976 version, with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I have also seen a television replay of the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. In these films, it was always the feeling at the beginning of these films that a star would be born, and their name would appear in lights - everywhere.

In Wild Rose, the feeling is different. In so many turns, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) acts out in un-mindful ways. She just doesn’t seem to get it that her impulsive, loud, party-like, good time girl behavior and impressive singing voice isn’t enough to make her a country singing star, especially being from and living in Glasgow, Scotland. We get why she says, “I should have been born in America.” She appears to have little understanding of what it takes to become this idealized dream she has for herself.

The film opens with her packing up her map of Nashville and personal belongings because she is getting out of prison after being incarcerated for twelve months. Part of the restriction for her release is that she’ll have to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. We know this is going to become an issue in the film.

We see her first go to her boyfriend’s house. After a physically impassioned visit, she heads to her mother’s home where she is coldly greeted by her mother, Marion (Julie Walters). We also learn that her mother has been taking care of Rose’s two children, Wynonna, and Lyle (Daisy Littlefield and Adam Mitchell, respectively). Marion has been taking care of the children during the time Rose-Lynn was incarcerated, and we get the sense, many other times as well.

Upon seeing their mother, Wynonna is distant towards Rose and Lyle is expressively happy to see his mom.

It wasn’t lost on me that Rose’s love for country music was also expressed in the names of her children as they are named after country music legends Wynonna Judd and Lyle Lovett.

Having to begin to take responsibility for her children, she finds a cleaning job at the home of a wealthy woman named Susannah (Sophie Okonedo) who has two children herself. Susannah’s children hear Rose sing while she’s working and tell their mom. Her mom convinces Rose to make an electronic recording on their computer which eventually makes it to the BBC country music radio host Bob Harris.

Bob invites her to London to meet with him. She is excited about this opportunity but ends up getting drunk while partying with a group of blokes on the train and then discovers that her purse, phone, money, and ID have been pinched. Rose tries to blame the train personnel, the woman sitting across from where she left her bag and her lot in life. She doesn’t get that she’s her own problem. One of the themes of this film.

Leaving the train station, she runs through London and ends up being late for her meeting with Bob Harris, but Bob meets with her anyway. He asks her if she plays an instrument or writes a song to which Rose says “no.” He says she’s got to have something to say to be a singer. This is the first clue that she may not make it as her dreams had hoped she would.

Slowly, Rose starts taking responsibility for her children and her life. She makes a home for her kids and begins taking an interest in their lives. The children feel this change of heart and start warming up to their mom.

The film continues with wonderfully staged scenes where Rose gets the opportunity to grow and learn about being a parent and her wish to be a country star. There’s the undying support from Susannah, then the talk with Susannah’s husband in the car, multiple discussions with her mother, including one where her mother takes a chance on her daughter. There’s are beautiful scenes in Nashville, where she really sees that being a country singer is a lot more than “three chords and the truth” (references a tattoo and belief on Rose’s arm).

The ending scene is filled with deep emotion and the realization of what it means to be both a mother and an outstanding country singer.

Buckley is sublime as Rose-Lynn. She encapsulates in both action and heart this young woman who has a dream but has to learn how to grow into her life. When Rose looks through her children’s knapsacks, my heart was warmed. When she started partying on the train to London, I felt myself saying, oh no, this isn’t going to turn out well. Walters was earnestly compelling as Rose’s mother, who also had to learn the difference between being responsible and a child’s hope. Littlefield and Mitchell were great as the children. I thought Littlefield’s slow growth towards trusting that her mom would be there for her was insanely perfect. Okonedo was terrific in her role as Rose’s boss and inspired supporter. Nicole Taylor wrote an outstanding script that told a compelling story of growth, responsibility, and understanding. Tom Harper made all the characters come alive and have a purpose in this story.

Overall: This film was indeed about a human star being born.

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

American Woman

First Hit: This film grew on me just as Debra (Sienna Miller) grew into a strong, thoughtful person in this story.

I was somewhat reluctant to see this film and for a stupid reason. I always equated “American Woman.” the film’s title, with the 1970s, Guess Who song, “American Women.”  I first heard this song while in Vietnam, and it is about the downsides of American government and society.

However, this film is about the growth of Debra from her early thirties until about her mid-forties. In this time, we learn she was a sixteen-year-old mother to her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), she’s close with her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) and has a love-hate relationship with her mother Peggy (Amy Madigan).

Opening this film, Debra is getting ready for a date. She’s yelling for her daughter to come in and help her dress. We hear a baby crying in the background, it’s Brigit’s young son Jesse (Aidan McGraw as young Jesse and Aidan Fisk as older Jesse). Brigit burst into Debra’s room, and we can immediately tell what kind of life this family is living. Debra is trying to look sexy and hot in a too tight turquoise color dress, and Brigit looks slovenly in a baggy too large sweatshirt, hair disheveled, and her attitude is rebellious.

Katherine lives across the street from Debra with her husband Terry (Will Sasso) and their children. Katherine and Terry spend a lot of time taking care of Debra’s needs. Peggy lives nearby, and when she’s in the room with Debra, the tension is the focal point. The way they talk with each other is filled with sarcasm, resentment, and pain.

Brigit goes out with her baby’s dad Tyler (Alex Neustaedter) who everyone thinks is a punkish, loser, and drug user. She never comes back home from the date and Debra’s left to care for her daughter’s baby boy.

The film takes us through approximately sixteen years of Debra, Katherine, Terry, Peggy and Jesse’s lives together. While mourning the loss of Brigit together, they are also raising Jesse the best they can.

Through this time, we watch Debra start to make wiser choices in her life. One such opportunity is her realization that Ray (Pat Healy), the man she had invited to live with because of financial reasons, is unhealthy, and finally kicks him out in a theatrical kitchen scene.

We see her develop a positive relationship with Chris (Aaron Paul), which quickly develops into marriage. As an audience member, we root for them because Chris has a very positive relationship with Jesse. But when she discovers he is having an affair, watching her end this marriage, we see how far she’s come and grown. She does this with mindfulness, although she is deeply hurt. Much different than the breakup with Ray.

During this time, she has gone to school, graduated, and works as a human resources supervisor at an assisted living facility. A place her mother ends up in.

This film is about how events of deep pain can help someone to begin to choose another way to live. How taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child can assist in guiding us to a better life. It is about Debra thoughtfully taking charge of her life. It is about making amends, as shown in the scene when Debra and Tyler talk late in the story; it’s powerful.

Miller is terrific at embodying this role. This is a role she can hang her heart on and say, I did this. It is a career role. Hendricks is equally great as the sister. Her ability to cajole, support, and give space to Debra is powerful. Paul was excellent as Chris, the man who did really care but made a big mistake. Sasso was outstanding as Debra’s brother-in-law. His kindness and support are felt throughout the film. When he follows Debra, who is searching for her daughter, we see his support. Neustaedter was very strong as Jesse’s father. When he eventually finds himself having the ability to talk with Debra positively was beautiful. Madigan as Katherine and Debra’s mom was perfect. She did the dance of caring in her limited way with perfection. Healy was scary excellent as the abusive, controlling boyfriend. Fiske was great as the older Jesse. I loved his scene at the prom and subsequently telling Chris about his first girlfriend. E. Roger Mitchell as the police detective Sergeant Morris was excellent. His level of compassion when bringing Debra to where her daughter was killed was utterly somber. Brad Ingelsby wrote a powerfully strong screenplay. Jake Scott brought out excellent performances by all, and this story is about an American Woman who is willing to grow and become a powerful example of strength.

Overall: This film surprised me with its depth of character and compelling storyline.