Drama

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.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

First Hit: I was both enthralled and, at times, perplexed by this quirky powerfully acted story.

The opening set of scenes; a neighborhood preacher/orator is standing on a box talking about cleaning up the neighborhood near the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. There’s a local group of young men hanging out talking smack to each other south of Hunter’s Point. Also, there are men in hazmat suits cleaning up the hillside near the shipyard. A fantastic looking house in the Fillmore district on “Golden Gate near Fillmore” (House is really on S. Van Ness), and other great shots in the city, were all mesmerizing. These opening scenes and more were amazingly shot, giving a languid sense of life in a subsection of San Francisco.

But all is not so languid on the inside and neighborhood as Jimmie Fails (plays himself) rides a skateboard everywhere around the area, stopping, looking at “his grandfather’s house.” We find him sitting in front of the house on S. Van Ness Avenue. His close friend Montgomery Allen (“Mont” Jonathan Majors) is often with him. In fact, Jimmie sleeps at Mont’s home where Mont takes care of his Grandpa Allen (Danny Glover). And there is a tension that rises from all the players, except Mont.

In an early scene, Jimmie is climbing up on the house on S. Van Ness and is painting the windowsill. The owners of the home come back and start throwing fruit at him, telling him he must leave, and he must quit coming by the house and painting it.

He claims that his grandfather built the house in the early 1940s, although the style and construction type is clearly from a time 100 years earlier. In one scene, he shares this information to a crowd led by a tour guide (Jello Biafra) on Segways in front of the house – it is both funny and telling of Jimmie’s deeper self.

As he keeps telling the story about how his grandfather built the home, and as an audience member, I am becoming convinced that he is right.

There are scenes of the Greek chorus (the gang) in which they challenge each other on some set of facts or of their manliness, and most of the time, through the biting comments, all is made well enough.

The couple living in the home leaves, so Jimmie and Mont move in. There are exploratory sections where Jimmie tries to get a loan from a bank, and Mont talks with the listing Real Estate Agent named Clayton (Finn Wittrock) who shows the property deed to Mont. The exploration here shows just how difficult it is to find a path to their want - the house and the truth.

Mont writes and draws in a notebook he’s always carrying around, and one evening he writes a play, which they put on at the house. It is a great scene.

The film was touching in many ways because Jimmie is attempting to live in an idealized world and believe the story he tells himself. Mont is wonderfully supportive and faithful and Jimmie’s friend. The intense scenes of the group challenging each other, the play, and when Jimmie is pleading for money from the bank’s loan manager are powerful. The poignant, convincing acting is telling a story of wants, desires, wishes, family, pain, and truth.

Fails is great as himself in a role he envisioned as a very young boy. His remembrances of being in the house as a young boy are particularly vivid. Majors, as Jimmie’s friend Montgomery, is elegant in this role. His ability to live in a present moment and not become too swayed by emotions, especially when the gang attack him verbally was stunning. Glover was fun as the grandfather who couldn’t see and needed television programs explained to him. Willie Hen as the corner preacher who stands on boxes and shares his word was amazingly strong. He captures so much of what is going on in SF and life in his sharing of his truth. Wittrock was excellent as the real estate agent who grew up in the neighborhood. The Greek Chorus (the gang that hangs out) were all great, each exemplifying an attitude and stake in the ground of the city. Joe Talbot and Rob Richert wrote a wonderfully dynamic screenplay that was based on a story by Jimmy Fails. Talbot shows us in the first 5 minutes that he’s an influential director with a clear vision.

Overall: When Jimmie says; “You can’t hate this city unless you love it,” a sentiment that, based on this film, it says it all.

Framing John DeLorean

First Hit: It was wonderful to learn more about John DeLorean, his life, and what happened to this risky innovator.

First off, this film is a combination of straight documentary film and reenactments. There is plenty of original documentary footage, including FBI footage of a sting operation, and interviews of John Z. DeLorean and his family. There are also current interviews with players in John’s life, including his two children. However, the wrinkle is that this movie also consists of reenactments of specific scenes in John’s life. Alec Baldwin plays John in these reenactments.

Being a car enthusiast, starting in the late 1960s, I was very aware of DeLorean’s impact at General Motors. His first impact statement with GM was the Pontiac GTO, the first bonafide muscle car. This was a “gotta have car” in the 60s. In this film, we learn how he figured out how to get the car made and out to the public under the strict design, build, and delivery structure at General Motors.

Because he bucked the traditions to get things done at General Motors, he was observed by senior managers. John’s everything-he-touches-turns-to gold successes at increasing sales at GM led him to become the youngest Division Head at General Motors at age 40. Although he pushed the buttons of the staunch old guard at GM, his bold work had him being touted as the next CEO and President.

However, tired of run-ins with the old guard, and having a lack of design flexibility, DeLorean left GM in 1973 to start his own motor car company, the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). To find financing he touted his prowess at GM. He got private funding of about $17M and also got a lot more money from the British Government because he was going to build his manufacturing plant in Ireland. This was a real win for the Irish people.

The interviews of the factory workers were wonderfully touching. They loved working there because they were building something together, and the riff between the Protestant and Catholics fell away on the factory floor. This was great for both the people and the governments of Ireland and England.

However, technical issues and quality control issues caused problems with the automobiles, and they didn’t sell. Additionally, the economy took a downturn just as John introduced these cars but what really sank this ship was Margaret Thatcher deciding she didn’t want to continue under the support agreement DeLorean and England had created.

Needing money to keep his dream alive, fix the manufacturing problems, and sell the cars, he got caught up in a drug deal that was going to get him some $24M. However, it was a sting operation by the FBI.

The film goes into more detail about the trial and how it affected his family that what was reported in the papers. Current interviews with his son Zach and daughter Kathryn share how hard it was on the family.

Then it was discovered by a forensic accountant that the original $17M that DeLorean collected had been laundered with the help of an Italian group who took half the $17M, while John took the other half. I didn’t know beforehand about this issue, and it really added to the sneaky way John worked.

Some of the scenes during which Baldwin plays DeLorean, are modeled after the tapes and film of John, like being busted for the cocaine deal, and it’s effective.

DeLorean did not really spend much time behind bars, but he ended up broke and still trying to finish the dream with the DMC2 model. He died in his apartment, alone.

However, it was the film “Back to the Future” that may cement the DeLorean Motor Car as iconic.

Baldwin was very good as John, and I sensed he came close to sharing what DeLorean was like. Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton did a great job of scripting this hybrid film. Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce did a fantastic job of directing this complex story of a complicated driven dreamer.

Overall: I really enjoyed learning more about this visionary.