Showing posts with label Are You There God It's Me Margaret. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Are You There God It's Me Margaret. Show all posts

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Best Movies of 2023 So Far (according to the New York Times): What Rosy the Reviewer Thinks!

[I review Wes Anderson's latest film "Asteroid City" as well as "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret," the French film, "Full Time," as well as "Polite Society," "Showing Up" and "Sanctuary."] 

It's been a tough couple of years at the movies, and I have to say, it's been slim pickins,' so I was happy to see this list of must see best films from The New York Times (dated July 5). I am always looking for recommendations for some must see good movies. 

But do I agree that they are really must see? After viewing the films, here is what I thought. 

Asteroid City

A retro-futuristic play within a movie that depicts the events at a 1955 Junior Stargazer convention in the fictional town of Asteroid City.  

The film opens in black and white with Bryan Cranston as a TV host a la "Twilight Zone," informing the audience that they will be watching a rehearsal for a play. Written by Conrad Earp (Edward Norton), the play takes place in the fictional town of "Asteroid City," so named because a meteor fell on it.  The story centers on Augie Steenbeck (Jason Swartzman), who has arrived in Asteroid City for the Junior Stargazer convention with his daughters and brainiac teenage son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan). Woodrow is being honored at the convention. Augie's father-in-law, Stanley (Tom Hanks) later joins them. It seems that Augie's wife has died and Augie has neglected to tell his kids. Augie and Woodrow meet Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards).  Dinah is also being honored and love blooms for both Augie and Woodrow. 

Other convention attendees include five-star general Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright); astronomer Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton); Ricky (Ethan Josh Lee), Clifford (Aristou Meehan) and Shelly (Sophia Lillis), three other brainiac honorees, and their parents, J.J. (Liev Schreiber), Roger (Steve Park) and Sandy (Hope Davis); elementary children chaperoned by teacher June Douglas (Maya Hawke); and a cowboy band led by singer, Montana (Rupert Friend). They are all looked after by the motel manager played by Steve Carell.  Did I miss anyone? Oh, right. Jeff Goldblum plays The Alien, but I will get to that.

Just as the convention commences at the Asteroid City crater, a UFO appears and an alien emerges and steals a fragment of the meteorite that created the crater in the town, which throws everyone into a tizzy and forces a military quarantine (a nod to Covid lockdown)? But in the meantime, more romance blooms, this time with Montana and June.

Just when the quarantine is about to end, the alien comes back to return the meteorite fragment thus continuing the quarantine for an indefinite period of time, which upsets everyone once again, but the brainiac kids contact the press about the lockdown thus exposing a military cover-up (a nod to Roswell)? So we have a desert town, astronomy, space cadets, romance, an alien, a quarantine, the military, a cover-up, and atom bomb testing. There is a lot going on.

So, in vibrant color, that's the play. And it's all very Wes Anderson.

In "real life (filmed in less vibrant black and white)," we also get to know the writer and the actors playing the parts in the play (in a nod to The Actor's Studio and the creative process). So like I said, there is a lot going on. In fact, too much. While recording the play, Jones Hall, the actor playing Augie (who is also Schwartzman), confronts the play's director, Schubert Green (oh, right, Adrian Brody is in this too), telling him he "still doesn't understand the play."

And that, my friends, is the most profound statement in the film.  Despite the star-studded cast (everyone and their grandmother seems to want to work with director Wes Anderson - Margot Robbie also has a cameo in this), I not only didn't understand the play, I didn't get the point of the film, and worse, I did not enjoy it. But maybe that was the point. It wasn't supposed to be enjoyable. There is a lot of talk about the meaning of life and it's no fun trying to figure that out.

However, I give Wes Anderson props.  He is one of our best directors. You can count on his films being colorful and idiosyncratic with first-rate production values and original screenplays (this one written with Roman Coppola), but he can be an acquired taste.  His films are all over the place from linear, understandable and enjoyable ("The Isle of Dogs" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel") - I loved those - to way, way out there ("The French Dispatch").  I didn't like it.
Rosy the Reviewer says...sadly, this one for me, falls into the "I didn't like it" category.
(Streaming on Peacock and for rent on Amazon Prime)

Are You There God, It's Me Margaret

The angst of adolescence.

It's the 1970's and Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) returns from a great summer at camp only to discover that her family is moving from Manhattan to New Jersey.  Margaret is not happy about that because New York is where she has grown up and where all of her friends are.  This leads her to ask, "God, are you there?" And Margaret keeps talking to God as she navigates, not only the changes to her life in New Jersey and the pressures from her new friends, but the changes in her body as she enters puberty.

Meanwhile, Margaret's parents, Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie), are also navigating their new lives.  Barbara has given up her job as an art teacher to become a stay-at-home Mom, and she is not doing well with that.  She volunteers for all of the PTA committees because she has nothing else to do, but her heart isn't in it.

So Margaret is struggling to adapt to her new life in New Jersey, and so is her mother. But what 11-year-old cares about what is going on with her mother when there are so many other things to think about like...boys?

Herb is Jewish and Barbara is Christian, so they deal with that by not celebrating any religious holidays. They want Margaret to make her own decisions when it comes to religion. When Margaret's teacher assigns Margaret a paper on religion, Margaret starts asking questions about Barbara's parents. Margaret has a close relationship with Herb's mother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), but doesn't know Barbara's parents at all. Barbara shares that they were not happy about the marriage and disowned her. Now Margaret's conversations with God are really urgent as she grapples with religious choice.

I trained as a young adult librarian and, when Judy Blume came on the scene with the book upon which this film is based, it was a huge deal because she dealt with real tween and teen issues, something that hadn't really been done before, especially all of that talk about menstruation, which has caused this book to be banned many times over the years.  Never mind that young girls might need some reassurance that puberty is natural and that they will get through it.  Judy Blume performed a public service to skittish parents who avoided these kinds of discussions but what thanks does she get?  Her book gets banned. 

Blume was able to capture the tween world of young girls, and this movie also does a good job bringing it all back to those of us growing up in the 60's and 70's. Margaret is befriended by Little Miss Know-It-All, Nancy Wheeler (Elle Graham), who confidently talks about boys and bras and the importance of getting one's period.  She brings Margaret into her secret club where the girls are obsessed with boys, practice kissing on their bedposts (I practiced on my Dr. Kildare pillow), and long to wear a bra, diligently performing exercises to fit into one - "I must, I must, I must increase my bust?!" When that fails, stuffing it with toilet paper works!    

Adapted from Blume's book and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the film is well-acted (I especially enjoyed Fortson who is fun to watch because she has one of those really expressive faces) and captures the spirit of the book and the times and what it's like to be a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. I am surprised it has taken this long to get this film version made.  The book was written in 1970.  Judy Blume is one of the producers, so maybe it's one of those things where if you want to get something done, do it yourself. There is nostalgia for those of us who lived this era - Princess phones and 70's music - but hard to believe today's 11-year-olds would be this naive.  I mean, do kids still play "Spin the bottle?"

Fortson is the center of this film as her face tells it all.  But McAdams is also wonderful, exuding a loving warmth as Margaret's mother.

Rosy the Reviewer says...A fitting tribute to a watershed coming of age book. (Amazon Prime)

Full Time 

What it's like to be a single working Mom in France...during a transportation strike.

Julie Roy (Laure Calamy) is a working mom with two kids.  She has moved to a Paris suburb to give her kids a good life, but it's not such a good life for her because she works in Paris as a maid supervisor in a five star hotel and her commute time is killing her. She takes her kids to a babysitter at the crack of dawn and then embarks on a long slog to get to Paris. Her babysitter is threatening to stop caring for her kids because her schedule is so erratic. The ex-husband is slow with his child support and her money is running out.  It comes to light that she had a high end job at one time, and she has managed to get an interview for a better job, but how does she get to that interview without her boss finding out?  She can't afford to lose her current job but it's not looking good for her. Add to that a transportation strike and her life is hell. What will happen?

Who knew a movie about a single mom trying to get to work would turn out to be a thriller?

Written and directed by Eric Gravel, the film will pull you into Julie's world. The acting here is wonderful.  Calamy is believable and powerful and the production values are also first-rate. Whether it's Paris or the U.S. this is as real as it gets when it comes to a single parent trying to do the best for her kids and it's about time these folks get some props for the stressful balancing acts they must perform every day. 

Rosy the Reviewer's a gripping foray into the world of a working mom.  I liked it, but as a film experience perhaps not for everyone. (Amazon Prime) 

Polite Society

Ria plots to save her sister from a bad marriage.

Ria (Priya Kansara) is a young Pakistani girl growing up in upper class London with her parents and older sister Lena (Ritu Arya). She aspires to become a movie stuntwoman like her idol, Eunice Huthart, who won the British TV series "Gladiators" and then came back as a Gladiator herself known as Blaze.  Ria calls herself "The Fury" and creates YouTube martial arts movies with the help of her sister, Lena, who has dropped out of art school, discouraged and depressed, feeling she wasn't good enough to become an artist.  Ria's parents are not too happy with Ria's dream, but Ria does not want to live up to conventional expectations.   

Both sisters are very close until Lena meets the suave Salim (Akshay Khanna), and they decide to get married and move to Singapore.  But when Ria discovers Salim's dark intentions, she is determined to stop the wedding, so she enlists the help of her two best friends, Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri), and they concoct a plan to save Lena.

First they try to use diplomacy.  That doesn't work.  Then they try to find dirt on Salim and eventually they plan to smear his name by breaking into his home and planting incriminating evidence. It all goes very wrong and is all very funny.

Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, there is a lot to enjoy here. 

From Ria's Jackie Chan kicks as she practices her martial arts to "waxing as torture" when Salim's mother (Nimra Bucha) catches Ria breaking into her house, the film is a nonstop mix of genres and it's a delight.  There are funny nods to spy movies, sci fi, musicals, westerns, even Jane Austen and actress Kansara is obnoxiously endearing.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a joyful comedy of manners that is over-the-top but stylish and fun and with a message to young girls that cuts through cultural lines. Be yourself and follow your dreams. (Streaming on Peacock)

Showing Up

A sculptor prepares for her upcoming show but everyday battles threaten to interfere with her life.

Michelle Williams stars as Lizzy, a quiet woman living in Portland, Oregon, who just wants to get her art show ready.  But stuff keeps happening.  Not very much stuff, mind you, but stuff.

Her water heater doesn't work and her landlord and seemingly best friend, Jo (Hong Chau), is taking her time getting it fixed. Jo is also an artist and Lizzy is envious of Jo. Jo is the opposite of Lizzy.  Where Lizzy is downtrodden and rarely smiles, Jo throws parties and seems to have it all figured out. And then there is a wounded pigeon that Jo foists onto Lizzy and taking care of it also interferes with her work.

Judd Hirsh plays Lizzy's father and there are some humorous moments with him but all in all, this was kind of a slog, because Lizzy is a downer. 

This film is Williams' fourth collaboration with director Kelly Reichardt (who also wrote the screen play with Jonathan Raymond), but I have to wonder what drew her to this project.  The film is deliberate and slow and not much happens. I know it's all about the world of artists and the creative process, but the film didn't make me care about Lizzy or that, and the bit with the bird is a rather obvious metaphor about breaking free but...yawn. It just took too long to get to the point and I'm not even sure what that was.   

Rosy the Reviewer says...yes, Michelle Williams is in this film and she is a fine actress but otherwise?  Zzzzzz (Amazon Prime)


Gee, what does a man do when his dominatrix goes rogue?

Not something most men have to deal with (I hope), but that's what happens to Hal (Christopher Abbott) in this rather kinky two-hander (that's Brit for a film with just two actors) that also stars Margaret Qualley, Andie MacDowell's talented daughter. 

Qualley has cut quite a swath through Hollywood. She came onto the scene in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" as one of Manson's girls and later starred in "Maid," a wonderfully good mini-series.  Here she plays Rebecca, the dominatrix for Hal, a man who has just inherited his father's hotel empire and Hal, anticipating his new high profile role, wants to end the relationship so he doesn't get found out.  Rebecca says, "Nope!"

Written by Micah Bloomberg and directed by Zachary Wigon, it's just Qualley and Abbott in something like a love story.  It's all about the acting and the relationship between the actors, and I can appreciate that but it's yet another kind of a slog.  I have a high tolerance for slow moving talkie films, but this one took too long to get to the point.  It's all about control and gender and sex but you don't even get to see any sex.

Rosy the Reviewer's well-acted and an interesting concept, but I can't for the life of me understand how this got on a mainstream "best of" list.  This is TOTALLY not for everyone. (Amazon Prime)

So my final word...

This New York Times list came out before "Barbie," "Oppenheimer" and even the latest "Mission Impossible" and Indiana Jones movies, so one can't help but wonder if any of those films would have made that list.  I have a feeling the answer would be no.  Except for "Asteroid City," the entire list is made up of indies, so that seems to be the jam. I would like to have seen "No Hard Feelings" on this list because it's one of the few comedies I have seen in the last few years that actually made me laugh, but comedies don't often get the respect they deserve. But it's on MY best of list.

All in all, I question whether these films are the best films for the first half of 2023, but thank you, New York Times, for alerting me to some movies I might not have known about, especially "Polite Society," which was my favorite on this list. 

So, the "best of" moniker aside, were these films at least must sees?

Rosy the Reviewer order of appearance...maybe, yes, sort of, yes, and no and no.

So there you have it. You and I are not in agreement, New York Times, but no hard feelings?

And as Rosy the Reviewer always says...I see the bad ones so you don't have to!

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

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