“Gayby” (2012)

Jenn- a straight woman (Jenn Harris) and Matt- a gay man (Matthew Wilkas) are best friends from college now in their 30s. Jenn teaches hot yoga and has been single for a long time. Matt owns/manages a comic book store and can’t get over his ex-bf (who left him after 7 yrs). They decide to fulfill a promise to have a child together- the old fashioned way! They do spend some time dating new people- w/ mixed results- as it’s tough to be single in NYC. I heard about this movie a few weeks ago on the Designated Driver podcast; Adam Driver (and his future wife- Joanne Tucker) have supporting roles in this comedy. Driver plays Neil, Matt’s laid-back/supportive co-worker; Tucker plays the over-educated yoga studio’s admin. The writer/director, Jonathan Lisecki, plays the role of the (self-proclaimed) “bear”- Nelson.

There are many NYC-based character actors here (all of whom do a fine job). I recognized a FEW from the Law & Order franchise. Wilkas is V fit/youthful; I recognized his name (as former partner of Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy). He and Harris have terrific chemistry together; you truly buy them as BFFs (almost like family). Louis (Louis Cancelmi) is the brooding artist who comes to paint Jenn’s apt; he’s married to actress Elizabeth Waterston (daughter of Sam). Scott (Mike Doyle) is preppy/handsome; he comes to buy comics w/ his young son. Adam (Dule Hill, from one of my fave TV shows- The West Wing) is one of Jenn’s dates; he is charming (as usual) and does a BIT tap dancing (how he started in theater). Sarita Choudhury (a prolific Indian-American actress) plays the healer who Jenn goes to for herbs/natural remedies; she recently made a splash on the SATC reboot- And Just Like That. Choudhury is one of MANY actors I saw while living in NYC; she’s even more beautiful in-person! Driver (in perhaps his 2nd feature film role) is adorable as a nerdy/sweet guy; he wears his hair short (just covering the tops of his ears). Check this movie out IF you’re in the mood for something fun!

[1] It’s light hearted and funny throughout the story. […] The story is quite positive as well, even though the lead characters are not super successful people, they are portrayed to be good people that are down to earth and easy to relate to. 

[2] Director Lisecki has taken the bold step of using an actor- Jenn Harris- who isn’t an incredibly gorgeous woman. […] Jenn Harris looks like a person who could be your friend, or, for that matter, your yoga instructor. […] Harris is an excellent actor, and so is Matthew Wilkas. The supporting cast- including Lisecki himself- is highly competent. The dialogue is witty, the characters are endearing, and the movie is very enjoyable.

[3] While the theme of “gay guy and straight woman decide to make a baby” has been done MANY times (“The Wedding Banquet” is probably the Gold Standard) even back in 2012, this rendition absolutely comes off as believable, with well-formed characters, great acting and a solid script.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Adam Driver’s 1st Feature Film: “Not Waving But Drowning” (2012)

This movie (focused on female friendship) was written/directed by a young woman, Devyn Waitt. We first see a short film titled The Most Girl Part of You, based on a short story by Amy Hempel. In the days following his mother’s suicide, a teen boy named Big Guy (Ryan Munzert) and his BFF Amy (Lili Reinhart- one of the stars of Riverdale), begin to see each other in new ways. This story is dark, yet also sweet, perhaps reminding one of first love. The second story is about moving away from family, becoming distant from an old friend, and trying to make a new life.

One summer, blonde/bubbly Adele (Vanessa Ray) leaves her small town in Florida for NYC. She’d grown tired of her boring job and the (married) man who’d been chasing her. Her brunette/reserved BFF, Sara (Megan Guinan), stays behind. Adele has a small/crappy apt in a neighborhood that looks a BIT sketchy. One of her young neighbors, Kim (Isabelle McNally), wants to be her friend. Adele (though she has gone to college) can ONLY get a job cleaning a high-rise office building. Adam (Adam Driver) is her co-worker; this isn’t a big role, but it’s an important one.

After a huge pile-up on the freeway, Sara’s cop father (Scott Bryce from As the World Turns) becomes anxious/depressed. He thinks it’s too dangerous for Sara to drive her old car; she uses her bike instead. Sara starts work at a local retirement home where she monitors the hallways and teaches art. She meets Sylvia (Lynn Cohen- best known as Magda on SATC), an older woman who flouts the rules. It turns out that Sylvia also lived in NYC and had many adventures in her young life.

Feeling lonely/bored, Adele decides to go drinking/clubbing w/ Kim. They end up on a rooftop w/ a small group; it looks like everyone is having fun. Adele and one of the young men end up kissing, then he sexually assaults her (she’s scared/verbally protests). Sadly, she can’t bring herself to confide in anyone (certainly NOT her much younger sister- or even- Sara)! Adele is V curious re: the man who leaves late at night; she sneaks into his office and starts writing on his computer. She wants to be a journalist, she tells Adam.

Finding people you can trust is often tough in a new/big city. Adam is kind, honest, and a good friend to Adele. He has longish hair and wears tees, shorts, and a messenger bag. After Kim and her friends steal beer and cigarettes from a bodega, Adam pays the clerk. He looks disappointed as he tells Adele that she doesn’t need to hang out w/ people like that. After a few mins, she returns to where he was waiting nearby. Adele decides to go on a “day date” w/ Adam in Central Park. (FYI: This is Driver’s 1st feature-length film; it was shot about 4-5 yrs before it got released.) In Frances Ha, BOTH Ray and McNally have small roles (where they act alongside Driver). You can see this movie on YouTube.

[1] Firstly, the acting was superior to many other mainstream movies… In addition, the thoughtful plot provided refreshing insight into character development for this coming of age story.

[2] Regardless of your generation or gender, there’s much to appreciate in this film about two young women moving from their adolescent lives into the wider world. […]

The characters develop through multiple experiences that are sometimes uncomfortable or worse. Yet, overall there’s so much energy, humor, and truth that the film feels very balanced. The editing and music are dynamic and keep the viewer highly engaged.

[3] I very much related to this amazingly accurate portrayal of what it’s like to move to New York to “begin your life”. It deals so well with the divide between what you want/expect and what the real world is actually like. The visuals are great…

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews



“Frances Ha” (2012) starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, & Michael Zegen

Frances lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness. —IFC Films Summary

Frances Halliday (Greta Gerwig) is a 27 y.o. “apprentice” dancer in NYC; she doesn’t yet feel like “a real grown-up.” She lives w/ her BFF since college, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who works as an editor for Random House. They’re both trying to figure out adult life/responsibilities, BUT Sophie seems to be a bit more confident and put-together than Frances. The friends often sleep in the same bed and act like sisters. Frances breaks up w/ her bf, Dan (Michael Esper- primarily a theater actor). Dan had wanted them to live together and get cats (a rather pricy/ugly breed). Then, Sophie wants to move to her “dream apt. in Tribeca” w/ another friend; Frances is saddened that they won’t live together anymore. She makes two new friends, Lev (Adam Driver- before fame) and Benji (Michael Zegen- who co-stars on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), who have space in their Chinatown apt. available. Unlike most of her circle, Frances doesn’t come from money; her parents are middle-class. At a dinner party, Frances heard that Sophie and her bf, Patch (Patrick Heusinger), are moving to Japan for his job! What will happen to their friendship?

Lev: Just because you bought dinner doesn’t mean I’m gonna sleep with you.

Frances: I’m not trying to sleep with you.

Lev: No, I was pretending to be a liberated woman.

***

The way Adam says it is like a song: “Ah-ma-zinnggg.” I always think of that word that way now.

-Noah Baumbach, director

I came across this charming film when I was looking up works w/ Driver; he doesn’t appear much here (but his character is memorable). Driver and Baumbach became very good friends; he is the 2nd male lead in While We’re Young (2014) and the lead in the much-acclaimed Marriage Story (2019). The movie was shot in black and white to “boil it down to its barest bones,” and create an immediate “history” and “a kind of instant nostalgia” (according to Baumbach- who also directed). Frances goes on one date w/ Lev (who is a sculptor), but may have a connection w/ writer Benji (a stand-in for Baumbach w/ his dark hair/eyes, and slim/short build). I was pleasantly surprised to see that romance isn’t at the heart of this story- it’s about female friendship.

Sophie (on her visit to Lev and Benji’s apt): The only people who can afford to be artists in New York are rich.

Charlotte d’Amboise, who plays the head of the dance company (and a former dancer) is a well-known Broadway dancer, w/ such shows as Cats, Chicago, A Chorus Line, and Pippin. Frances’ parents are played by Gerwig’s real-life parents, Gordon and Christine. Gerwig was raised as a Unitarian Universalist; there’s a scene in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (which she grew up attending). Rachel (Grace Gummer) stars as one of the modern dancers; her mother (Meryl Streep) starred as Aunt March in Little Women (2019) directed by Gerwig. The college seen in the movie is Vassar, a liberal arts university in Poughkeepsie, NY (which Baumbach attended).

Frances: I’m poor.

Benji: That’s actually offensive to poor people.

I could relate to this movie in many ways, as I also lived in NYC when I was in my late 20s. I went to grad school at Fordham. Like Frances, I was (usually) broke, since I worked as a substitute teacher (as well as a few smaller jobs in the summers). I lived in two NOT so fabulous apts (though the rents were high- as you’d expect). Unlike Frances, I didn’t have one particular bestie, BUT I did meet many smart/interesting people (some of whom became friends and I stay in touch w/ 10+ yrs later). I didn’t know where my life was going, BUT I think I put myself out of my comfort zone and kept a positive attitude (which Frances does as well).

[1] I felt there was something truly raw and authentic about everything in here, especially the characters’ interactions and dialogs. Apart from that, there is some great music… Lead actress Greta Gerwig scored a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal here and it was very deserved I must say, especially as she also came up with the excellent script.

[2]The feeling of Frances not really knowing where she is going, bouncing from one flat-share to the next (albeit awesome flats) is very well done and Gerwig delivers it very well, somehow managing to get through all the traps of the genre.

[3] I’m not saying you should live your life like her or take advice from the movie. But it is very refreshing to see something, that is not very obvious. I couldn’t tell where the movie was going, but it was interesting to find out. And while some might find this boring, others will rejoice.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Anna Karenina” (2012) starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, & Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Vronsky: I love you!

Anna: Why?

Vronsky: You can’t ask why about love!

In 1874, in Imperial Russia, the aristocratic Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow to save the marriage of her brother Stiva- AKA Prince Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen)- who recently affair w/ the governess. My fellow Austen fans know that Knightley and Macfadyen previously starred together in Pride & Prejudice (2005), also directed by Joe Wright. Anna has a loveless marriage w/ her husband, Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law); they have a young son- Serhoza. Anna meets a cavalry officer, Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), at the train station; they have a strong attraction to each other right away. She learns that Vronsky will propose to Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander- in one of her early roles), the younger sister of her sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). Anna convinces Dolly not to divorce Stiva; Kitty invites her to stay for a ball. The diamond necklace that Anna wears is an exclusive piece created by Chanel. Anna and Vronsky dance at the ball and call attention to themselves. They begin a love affair that will lead to tragedy for Anna.

Karenin: I consider jealously to be insulting to you and degrading to me. I have no right to inquire into your feelings. They concern only your conscience.

Wright adopted an experimental (some said ambitious) approach to this story; the majority of the film was shot on a theater built in Shepperton. The skating rink, train station, and stables were dressed on top of the theater. Doors open onto Russian landscapes; some actors walk from one set to another under the stage. Toy trains and doll houses were used for some shots. Levin (Domhnall Gleeson- in one of his early roles) is allowed to venture out of the theater b/c Wright wanted to stress the fact that Levin is the only authentic character. The soundtrack makes use of a Russian folk song that was also adapted by Tchaikovsky in his Fourth Symphony (written in the same time as Tolstoy’s novel). The song that the (presumably gypsy) Masha (Tannishtha Chatterjee) hums and sings near the end is a Bengali lullaby (a language spoken in Bangladesh and the West Bengal region of India). Wow, I was NOT expecting that!

Countess Nordston: Would you die for love, Konstantin Dmitrich?

Levin: I would. But not for my neighbor’s wife.

[pause]

Levin: An impure love is not love, to me. To admire another man’s wife is a pleasant thing, but sensual desire indulged for its own sake is greed, a kind of gluttony, and a misuse of something sacred which is given to us so that we may choose the one person with whom to fulfill our humanness. Otherwise we might as well be cattle.

Countess Nordston: Ah, an idealist!

[laughter erupts]

I just saw this (1st time) last week and was a BIT disappointed (though I didn’t have high hopes for it). I’d heard/read reviews from several viewers who either hated it or were meh (unimpressed). As one viewer commented: “It looks like a perfume ad.” One podcaster said that Wright goes more for “style and beauty than substance.” I thought he did a great job w/ Atonement and liked the freshness he brought to Pride and Prejudice. Macfadyen is the ONLY actor who looks like he’s having fun w/ the role. Macdonald is naturally good in everything, but I think she is under-used here. There is almost no chemistry between Knightley and Taylor-Johnson (who has some distracting hair). I learned that he is British (I assumed he was American b/c I first saw him on Nocturnal Animals). Several fans of the book were esp. disappointed w/ Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal, b/c Vronsky is supposed to be more of a “deeper” man. Law does a fine job (though he looks unglamorous); some of his fans may be shocked to see his (natural) hairline. The younger couple (Gleeson and Vikander) do a good job also; I liked the sweet scene w/ the letter blocks. Levin’s scenes out working the land were done well. These actors teamed up for Ex Machina, a hit movie that was also critically-acclaimed.

There are other versions of this story to check out, if you’re interested; I have seen two other adaptations. The 1997 movie (starring Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean) has the romantic chemistry lacking here, but some viewers felt Marceau was a bit TOO restrained. I always like seeing Alfred Molina; he plays Levin. The 2000 mini-series (starring Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd) has intelligence and maturity (which some book readers felt Knightley lacked). Sadly, McCrory recently passed away from cancer. I liked how Karenin (Stephen Dillane) and Levin (Douglass Henshall) were portrayed in that show.

[1] I’m not saying all films have to be constructed in a conventional manner, but when the form overtakes the substance something has gone wrong.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky is a piece of serious miscasting. Instead of looking like a great lover and sure temptation for wavering Anna, he looks like some feeble dandy with his foppish shock of dyed curly blonde hair which makes him look quite ridiculous.

Keira Knightley does the best she can, despite looking most of the time like she’s attending a fashion shoot.

[2] Keira Knightley’s version of Anna is not nearly as bad as you would think. She has the sense to restrain herself a little so that the many other elements of the novel shine through. […] This Anna takes Vronsky just because she can, and then ultimately regrets it. We can feel her frustration: she’s young and wants to have fun but she’s tied down to a stuffy older husband. In that sense, it’s quite a modern interpretation, but not hideously so.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky was just miscast. If the novel had been about Anna seducing a schoolboy, he would have been great, but Vronsky is meant to be a dashing man. The styling is atrocious- he looks like a seventies Scandinavian Eurovision entry.

Jude Law as Karenin. A bizarre choice… However, he gives a performance that is probably his best.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Silver Linings Playbook / Kai po che!

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Dance brings two troubled people together in this (unlikely) hit film

The silver lining is actually the fact that there is an audience for sensitive/grown-up films like this one!  Bradley Cooper (never overacting) and Jennifer Lawrence (a naturally gifted actress) fall in love, despite their respective issues (hey, we all got’em).  This is shot like a ’60s film, an avid moviegoer in my office said, with long takes.  It’s a treat to see DeNiro, who looks to be in fine form (and great shape, too).  Chris Tucker gets a few funny moments, but doesn’t overdo it.   Who says the psychological issues can’t be dealt with using humor!?  (The only odd note was the racial incident involving the therapist, his fellow Indian football fans, and some angry white guys.)  Also, there is a great interview w/ director David O. Russell on Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross (NPR) that I recommend you listen to. 

Kai po che!  (2013)

Indians going crazy for cricket (as usual)

This is a film for folks who avoid (or even abhor) typical Bollywood fare.  Why?  It’s well-acted (no joke), well-written, and just keeps your attention (watchable).  There is a bit of romance and great music, too.  It’s about three idealistic friends (more like brothers) who open a sports store in the city of Ahmedabad.  One has the business savvy, the other a passion for cricket, and the third procures a loan.  They also discover a pre-teen cricket prodigy (Muslim) who they nurture. Then, a series of (true) events occur which affect all their lives deeply.  Check this film out!