Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, & Kyle Chandler

This film was an awards show darling a few years back, BUT I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week (on Netflix). The film (made for less than $12 million) received a 10 min. standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival -WOW! The woman who wrote The Price of Salt– Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January, Strangers on a Train, etc.)- was a friend (later in life) to the screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. The Price of Salt was inspired by a blonde woman in a mink coat who ordered a doll from Highsmith when she was working as a temporary salesgirl in the toy section of Bloomingdale’s in New York City during the 1948 Christmas season.

Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven; HBO’s miniseries Mildred Pierce) has a deep interest in stories w/ strong women and unlikely love. His style was inspired by Douglas Sirk, who was known for “women’s pictures” (Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, etc.) Carol is quite an effective film w/ regard to its look: period costumes and hairdos (wigs), musical score (by Carter Burwell, frequent collaborator of the Coen brothers), beautiful cinematography (by Edward Lachman), and thoughtful directing style. Carol was shot on Super 16 mm film to resemble the look and feel of photographic film from the late ’40s/early ’50s. There is shooting through windows and using reflection.

What I found lacking was the dialogue; I found out that some other viewers felt the same. I expected more deep conversations between the two leading characters, 21 y.o. clerk, Terese Belivet (Rooney Mara- wide-eyed yet wise beyond her years), and 30-something housewife, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). However, it wasn’t hard to relate to Terese, who feels uneasy and unsophisticated when hanging out w/ Carol (w/ her fur coat, jewels, and manicured red nails). Terese wants to work as a photographer; she is more of an observer, letting life happen to her.

Carol is a BIT of a mystery to the viewer, as well as to Terese. It’s obvious to viewers that Carol deeply loves her young daughter, Rindy. The character of Carol was inspired by Virginia Kent Catherwood (1915-1966), a Philadelphia socialite 6 years older than Highsmith with whom she had a love affair in the ’40s. Catherwood lost custody of her daughter after a taped recording of a liaison she had in a hotel was used against her. Carol is risking much by falling in love with Terese, BUT she can’t help it, as she tells Abby (Sarah Paulson). This woman who seems to know Carol best; Abby had a much bigger role before the film was edited, Paulson said in interviews after the film was released. Abby is someone that I wanted to know more about; she isn’t afraid to assert herself in a male-dominated world.

The men in story are NOT evil, BUT they are clueless. Terese’s long-time boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), seems like a decent guy, though there isn’t much interest on her side. Richard is planning/saving for a big trip to Europe after they get married. I thought it spoke volumes when Terese gently refused to go to over to his family’s home on Christmas day. Danny (John Magaro), the young newspaper reporter who hits on Terese, turns out to be a supportive friend in time. Even Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Harg (Kyle Chandler), is NOT painted as an all-out villain. I thought the actor did a fine job w/ the role, esp. in the more quiet moments (notice the pained expressions on his face). I think that Harg loved Carol, BUT he didn’t realize just how far she had gone from him (emotionally). When they were married, her life was all about him (as was expected of a housewife of Carol’s status).

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (NOW PLAYING) starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, & Oscar Isaac

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the new Star Wars movie.

Growing up, mentorship, and the search for belonging (identity) continue to be themes in this sci-fi movie series. The Last Jedi is also re: growing old and regret (esp. when it comes to Luke and even Leia). Early filming began on Skellig Michael Island (off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland) in September 2015 w/ Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley. It was speculated by MANY fans that Rey is actually the long lost daughter of Luke. Being the prankster that he is, Mark Hamill made a comment, accidentally referring to Daisy Ridley as “my dau… I mean my colleague.” Luke wants no part of fighting, throwing his lightsaber over his shoulder (much to Rey’s dismay and surprise).

The island has some cute (new) creatures- the Porgs and “caretakers.” There are some touching moments (esp. for long-time fans) when Luke sees the Falcon (Han Solo’s old ship), reunites w/ Chewy, and bumps into R2-D2. Chewy can’t eat the roasted Porg b/c he feels guilty- one of the funniest moments in the movie. There is a good amount of humor in this movie.

There is more of lovable rogue Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)- YAY! He’s in the cool battle at the start, along w/ co-pilot BB-8, and also makes fun of Gen. Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). You can’t deny the great chemistry between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a new character. Tran did not tell anyone she was doing a Star Wars movie, instead saying she was working on an indie film in Canada. She even got some maple syrup to bring back to her parents. Finn and Rose go to an island like Vegas (and Monte Carlo); this was a quite different world for Star Wars

“This movie introduces new stuff into The Force” (as reviewers on Collider noted), such as the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren- formerly known as Ben Solo- (Adam Driver). These scenes were quite effective, thanks to the sound design, and the acting skills of both actors. I watched Driver on Girls (HBO); the more I see, the more I appreciate his acting. He is an unconventional leading man, not just b/c of this looks, but b/c he is easily able to convey confusion and vulnerability. Rey thinks that Kylo isn’t totally lost, though he’s trying to pull her over to the Dark Side of the Force. And did you hear re: how Driver didn’t know what “emo” meant (until recently)? Social media was buzzing about this.

Leia (Carrie Fischer- in her final role) finally uses the Force- I didn’t expect that! She had begun training as a Jedi shortly after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Motherhood, and troubles in the Galactic Senate, caused her to cut that short. Fischer was also a writer; she helped Rian Johnson with the writing of the script for this film.

 

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery (Episodes 1 & 2)

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from the first two episodes of this new Star Trek series (available on CBS All Access).

The Importance of the Star Trek Universe  

I recently learned that inventor of the cell phone was inspired by the communicators used by Kirk (William Shatner) and his Enterprise crew on Star Trek (the original series- TOS). MANY young people (incl. scientists) were inspired by creator Gene Rodenberry’s imaginative writing, characters, etc. The Vulcan nerve pinch was invented by Leonard Nimoy (who played the iconic Spock); Shatner went along w/ it and ad-libbed the fainting effect. Roddenberry loved it, so it became part of the canon. Though the newer J.J. Abrams films operate on the alternative (Kelvin) timeline, they build on earlier works. The power and influence of the Star Trek universe (starting in TV, then branching off into movies) is comparable perhaps ONLY to Star Wars.

As some of you (who follow me on Twitter) know, I’m a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), which I caught towards its later seasons, then went back to watch. I saw a bunch of eps w/ my younger sibs and (sometimes) my parents. FYI: My favorite captain is Picard (Patrick Stewart). I was a BIT disappointed that Picard and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) never became more than friends; the actors had such great chemistry together. Riker (Jonathan Frakes- who directed some Discovery eps) was one of the few men who looked better w/ a beard. And who could forget the friendship between engineers- LaForge (LeVar Burton) and Data (Brent Spiner)? I saw Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) when it originally aired, though I haven’t seen the final season. I was excited when Alexander Siddig’s name (he’s British of Anglo  and Algerian heritage) popped up in the opening credits; I loved his character, too. Sisko (Avery Brooks) was NOT only a strong captain, he was a widower and loving single father to Jake. It was refreshing to see a different side of Worf from TNG (Michael Dorn) during his romance w/ Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) on DS9. My favorite romance  was the slow-burn relationship that developed between long-time co-workers and friends, Kira (Nana Visitor) and Odo (Rene Auberjonois). The bromance between Dr. Bashir and O’Brien (Colm Meaney) was one of the rare male friendships on TV (at that time). Unlike TNG, there were a FEW supporting characters on DS9 that operated in shades of gray. This show was NOT afraid to delve into controversial issues, primarily military occupation and religion (incl. types of worship and the existence of gods). 

My Initial Impressions of Star Trek: Discovery 

Some people were hating on Star Trek: Discovery (set 10 yrs before TOS) even before it aired; they feared that Star Trek’s legacy would be ruined (whatever that means). The main character is an African-American woman w/ a male name, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who starts off as “Number One” (First Officer) to Capt. Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh- internationally known, primarily in martial arts films) aboard the Shinzou, a ship of exploration at the edge of Federation space. They have served together for 7 yrs, so are NOT only co-workers, BUT share an almost mother-daughter relationship. I liked the chemistry between these two characters. 

The main antagonists in this show will be the Klingons, BUT they don’t look anything like Worf (or even those on TOS). The Klingons we meet here have no hair, different skin tones, and a LOT of ridges on their bodies (or just clothing). I think their costumes are unique, BUT it’s tough to see the actors’ expressions through so much prosthetic (which takes about 3 hrs. to apply). We hear a LOT of the Klingon language; this could put-off those who are new to Star Trek. Some critics compared these rogue/fundamentalist-type of Klingons to ISIS; others thought that their ideologies were similar to white nationalists. 

Michael’s birth parents were killed by Klingons during a battle. Now here is where some fans take issue: she was raised mostly on Vulcan by Sarek (played by one of my fave Brits- James Frain), who is also the father of Spock. Michael still adheres to the Vulcan way of thinking, though she has also has emotions that can’t always be suppressed. The banter between Michael and science officer, Saru (Doug Jones), was pretty interesting; Martin-Green said in an interview that these two characters were BOTH ambitious, so were competing to please their captain. Critics are saying that Jones is one of the strongest aspects of the show so far; he is of a (new) species that “can detect the presence of death.” Speaking of positive aspects, the special effects are VERY good (“like a movie,” as some viewers noted).

TV critic Matt Mira asked (in After Trek, the after-show following E2): “Where is the Discovery?” Well, you won’t see that spaceship until E3, as these first 2 eps were more like a prologue (as a few critics noted). We will meet more of the regular cast in E3, including Capt. Lorca (Jason Isaacs); the British actor got heat for his tweets re: Trump supporters. I saw on IMDB that there will be three South Asian actors (WOW)- one American (Maulik Pancholy, noted for Weeds, but also a theater actor), one Canadian (Rekha Sharma from Battlestar Galactica), and one Brit (Shazad Latif from The Second Best Marigold Hotel and The Man Who Knew Infinity). 

One of the main issues is that this series is behind a pay wall ($5.99/mo. w/ commercials is the plan I chose). As one critic (on Collider) commented, a Star Trek series should be accessible to ALL (free). Is the show taking advantage of its (already existing) fan base? Will it find an audience among those who are NOT “trekkies” (or “trekkers,” if you prefer)? The TV shows and movies on CBS All Access may NOT be appealing to everyone, BUT I was glad to see that The Good Wife was available.

Are you planning on watching this show? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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