“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

“This is Where I Leave You” (2014) starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, & Corey Stoll

Judd: I don’t understand the Shiva. Mom’s not even Jewish, and dad was an atheist.

Wendy: A Jewish atheist, and this is what he wanted.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a radio producer in NYC who finds his wife, Quinn (Abigail Spencer), in bed w/ his boss/radio personality, Wade (Dax Shepard). A few mos. later, after Judd becomes divorced, his father passes away in their hometown upstate. His final wish is for the family to hold shiva (though their family wasn’t religious). Judd’s sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), is married w/ a toddler son. Judd’s mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), is a famous therapist/author who overshares. Judd’s younger brother, Phillip (Adam Driver), is the “wild child” who runs his mouth, drives too fast, and is seeing an older woman. The eldest brother, Paul (Corey Stoll), takes care of the hardware store (the family biz) and is married to Annie (Kathryn Hahn); they are desperate to have a child. Judd runs into an younger friend of his, Penny Moore (Rose Byrne), who used to have a crush on him.

Judd: My marriage is over. I don’t have a job.

Hillary: That’s why you didn’t come see him these last few weeks? You thought he’d think less of you?

Judd: I think less of me. I’ve got nothing. Look at me. Way too old to have this much nothing.

Sitting shiva is the Jewish ritual of mourning after a loved one dies. The relatives of the deceased (his or her parents, children, siblings, and spouse) gather daily at one house and receive visitors who offer condolences (and often food). The Hebrew word “shiva” literally means seven, as the Altman’s family friend/rabbi (Ben Shwartz) explains. Hillary also explains that they need to sit in low chairs (as they are close to the earth).

Judd: It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up, you know.

This isn’t technically a holiday movie, BUT it will give you many of the same vibes. The 4 adult sibs are forced to stay in their childhood home for 7 days- yikes! They retreat to the roles they had as kids (which is what you’d see in any family). There are secrets that will be uncovered- some small and some pretty life-changing. The cast is quite strong; they actually seem like a (dysfunctional) family. The actors have good chemistry together; it looks like making this movie was fun. However, there is TOO much going on! Some of the dialogue is quite touching, but there are also lines which come across as obvious, cliched, cringe-worthy. The hometown folks don’t have much characterization, as some critics/viewers commented; Penny comes across as a “manic pixie dream girl.”

Phillip: Dad was a stoner?

Judd: No, it was probably medicinal.

Phillip: It always is.

This movie was directed by Shaw Levy (Date Night, Stranger Things, Free Guy, etc.) and written by Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the novel based on his own family’s stories). It’s nice to see Fonda, but I wish many of her lines were better. Bateman and Fey seem to usually play these type of roles and they do well. Stoll said this was his first time working on a comedy; he started in the theater and I liked him since House of Cards. Driver (before he became famous) is the lil bro who still has to grow-up; he plays the stock market and his love life is messy. Driver (funny/carefree) looked like he was enjoying this role; it was also the time when he was working on Girls. Stoll and Driver also acted together in The Report (which I will post about soon).

“The Beguiled” (2017) starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, & Colin Farrell

During the Civil War (1864), the secluded Virginia mansion which serves as Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies is still running. It is occupied by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), a teacher named Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and 5 teenaged students. Amy (Oona Laurence) stumbles upon Col. John McBurney, a wounded Union deserter near death. The balance in the school is disrupted after the headmistress decides to take in the soldier (while he heals from his leg injury). It’s not long before they find themselves competing for the man’s attention/favor.

To be surrounded by talented, decent, smart, insightful creative and serious women – I was spoiled by Sofia Coppola who set a particular mood of comfort, ease and trust. It allows you as an actor to play and explore. -Colin Farrell

Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) chose the 1.66 : 1 aspect ratio b/c she wanted to make the film feel claustrophobic. So, this may NOT be the best movie for you if you’re feeling a BIT trapped at home (in quarantine life)! She won the prize of Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival; this marked the first time in 50 years a woman won the award! The estate used in the film as the main location is the Madewood Plantation House near Napoleonville, LA. The same location was also used for portions of Beyoncé’s long-form music video Lemonade (2016). Interior scenes were filmed in the New Orleans home of actress Jennifer Coolidge. The film was shot over 26 days. The cast went through several lessons during filming: sewing, dancing, etiquette, corset training. They also had to cook and eat meals together. A Civil War reenactor demonstrated how to dress wounds. A priest explained prayers from the Book of Matthew. Costume designer Stacey Battat saw Dunst’s character as being romantic; her wardrobe had decorated billowy sleeves, diaphanous skirts, and more jewelry than the others. She gave Kidman’s character a high neckline and a vest to denote authority.

I think she’s unique. It was like watching a virtuoso or an incredible athlete. We’d do a scene, and she’d have five different emotions going on at the same time. -Sofia Coppola re: Nicole Kidman

Coppola stated multiple times that this is not a remake of The Beguiled (1971), but an adaption of the same source novel by Thomas Cullinan. Since the adapted screenplay of the 1971 film (which I haven’t seen yet) is credited in Coppola’s film together w/ the novel, story elements from the earlier screenplay have been used, too. McBurney’s heritage was not changed to suit Farrell’s natural accent; the character is Irish in the book. The character Hallie was cut from the film; she’s a slave and the only person of color in both the novel and the 1971 film. Coppola explained that as slavery was such an important topic, she didn’t want to treat it lightly; she felt she should focus on these women cut off from the world.

McBurney: If you could have anything, what’s your biggest wish? If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?

Edwina: Anything?

McBurney: Yeah. Anything.

Edwina: To be taken far away from here.

[rushes out of the room]

This is a short (a little over 90 mins.) movie that was made for about $10.5M. The languid pace will turn off viewers who want excitement. Several critics/viewers have commented that this is a matter of style (visuals) over substance (characterization, tension, etc.) We know Kidman can handle any role she is given; her first movie was at age 18 (I think). I did see potential in Dunst’s character; she is very lovely (but looking a tad bit heavier in her mid-30s). I’ve learned that she still eats meat and hates extreme exercise. I also liked the ambiguous nature which Farrell portrayed; he is still quite youthful (though he also isn’t very slim here). Fanning (her older sis Dakota is also an actress) looks stunning; she may have a big career in the future. In a bold move, her character sneaks into the soldier’s room and kisses him (while he is asleep)! The acting is very good all-around, but this story just felt under-cooked.

[1] This is a slow-burning movie that picks up steam as it moves along, leading to an extended climax that provides plenty of effective drama. …it does suffer from the style-over-substance syndrome and ultimately feels hollow at times.

[2] Sofia Coppola delivers a quiet, sparse tale of female competitive power. McBurney is no saint either. It’s an empty fleeting world especially with the slaves abandoning the mansion. There is something eerie about this creation. I do want for more tension or more horror like Misery. It’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters. Maybe she should concentrate on Edwina as the only protagonist. This has a nice haunted vibe, but I don’t feel for anybody.

[3] This is Coppola trying on something closer to a piece of Gothic literature… this is her trying to tackle one of the Brontes, only through cinematic grammar. She rarely uses music in the film, certainly not much at all in the first half, and when it comes up it’s eerie and brooding, a low synth that sounds like someone is somewhere about to do something sinister. Or, in this case, giving what may be just desserts for some.

The acting: it’s all wonderful, but Dunst is the one that I hope people remember the most here. Farrell and Kidman are the leads, but she’s the one who has the most inner conflict, the person in this tale who has so much responsibility with these girls while at the same time wanting to choose her own path…

[4] The story is rather slow in pace, but the interaction between the characters are well portrayed. The women’s jealousy and rivalry are palpable, while the soldier’s mind tricks on them are not so nice. The story turns dramatically in the middle, and it become a story of survival. It is worth watching, especially for the cast.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Passionate Friends” (1949) starring Ann Todd, Trevor Howard, & Claude Rains

Steven: Do you remember once, I asked you how you could love me and yet marry someone else?

Mary: Yes, I remember.

Steven: Your marriage was bound to be a failure.

Hide your wives when Trevor Howard is near- LOL! I heard about this film on a podcast just 2 wks ago; it is one of the fave classics of critic Angelica Jade Bastien. It’s based on the 1913 novel The Passionate Friends by H. G. Wells (who is more known for his sci-fi work). The film was directed by David Lean; he made Brief Encounter (1945) which co-starred Trevor Howard. Many critics/viewers have commented that this tale expands on the themes of Brief Encounter (and we get to see the POV of the husband).

Mary: I’m not a very good person, Steven. I wanted your love – and I wanted Howard’s affection and the security he could give me.

Steven: I can give you security too, and more than affection.

Mary: You don’t really know me at all. My love isn’t worth very much.

This emotional, intelligent, and visually interesting classic film is told through flashbacks. The first is when the two lovers are single and committed to each other. Somehow they broke up and went their separate ways. Several years later, Mary (Ann Todd) is married to a wealthy/older banker, Howard Justin (Claude Rains), when she meets Steven again. They see each other for about a week, then Howard (returning from a business trip) finds out re: their affair. Despite hints to the contrary, Mary decides to stay w/ her husband! Now (9 yrs. later), Mary and Steven (now an accomplished professor) meet by chance at a resort in the Swiss Alps. Steven has (finally) married and has two young kids. They spend a day together (boating, hiking, and a picnic). Unexpectedly, Howard arrives back at the hotel early to find that his wife is out. He is furious when he sees Mary with Steven; Howard is determined to divorce her and name Steven as the co-respondent (possibly ruining his life)!

Film is a dramatized reality and it is the director’s job to make it appear real… an audience should not be conscious of technique.

I think people remember pictures not dialogue. That’s why I like pictures.

I like making films about characters I’d like to have dinner with.

Always cast against the part and it won’t be boring.

-Quotes from David Lean re: filmmaking

Who said Brits don’t know romance!? I esp. liked the scenes in Steven’s apt. when they have a lunch (which he cooks); it’s a cute/domestic situation. The book Mary finds on Steven’s shelf and reads from is Patterns of Culture (1934) by Ruth Benedict (1887-1948), an American anthropologist/folklorist. It is the first book from which Mary and Steven quote after dinner (“In the beginning, God gave to every people a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life.”) The second book that they quote from (“From the music they love you should know the texture of men’s souls.”) is taken from English novelist/playwright John Galsworthy’s The Man of Property (1906), the first in a series of three novels and two interludes comprising the The Forsyte Saga (1922). The actual quote is: “By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know the texture of men’s souls.”

What sets this film apart is that it also has empathy for the husband in the love triangle (which you rarely get to see)! Rains does a fine job (as usual), BUT he gets to show his romantic side. Mr. Justin knows he’s in a marriage of convenience, then he finds himself falling in love w/ his wife (which he didn’t expect). Also, he has an important job which requires him to travel often; sometimes Ann goes along. He also has a personal secretary, Miss Layton (Betty Ann Davies); she sees some of the drama (real, yet awkward). We get to see a woman’s POV (get inside her head); this is rare for a classic film! There are several moments when the camera lingers on Todd’s face, spending extra time on her thinking/emotions. Todd (in her early 40s) has great chemistry w/ Howard (who is charming and warm). Her hairdos and variety of outfits are V classy/beautiful. The music really suits the movie. Check this movie out!

“Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, & Mark Hamill

While the First Order continues to ravage the galaxy, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finalizes her training as a Jedi. But danger suddenly rises from the ashes as the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) mysteriously returns from the dead. While working with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to fulfill a new mission, Rey will NOT only face Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) again, but will finally discover the truth about her parents. She’ll also learn a deadly secret that could determine her future and the fate of the ultimate final showdown to come.

Luke Skywalker: [preventing Rey from throwing her lightsaber into the fire] A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect.

I (finally) saw this movie 2 wks ago; I saw the previous 2 sequel films in the theater (A Force Awakens and The Last Jedi). Wow, was it a disappointment; I’m sure you’ve heard that before! Now, I’m NOT a huge Star Wars fan, but I do have some interest in it. Director J.J. Abrams undoes a LOT of what Rian Johnson did in the previous film. The first thing I noticed was how unfunny it was; the lighter moments come off as too obvious. A few of the actors are phoning it in; others are doing the best they can (w/ the material that has been given to them). They way that Gen. Leia Organa’s scenes were put together come off as awkward (esp. on the re-watch); Carrie Fisher passed away before this movie was made. Some viewers felt like Leia’s death and her funeral weren’t handled well either.

[through the Force]

Rey: I see through the cracks in your mask. You’re haunted. You can’t stop seeing what you did to your father.

Kylo Ren: Do you still count the days since your parents left? Such pain in you. Such anger. I don’t wanna have to kill you. I’m going to find you and I’m going to turn you to the Dark Side. When I offer you my hand again… you’ll take it.

Rey: We’ll see.

We still have the “force time calls” (LOL- love that term) btwn Rey and Kylo Ren; they kept that from the last film. As w/ the last movie, there is good chemistry between Ridley and Driver. I also thought Ridley and Boyega worked well together before; however, Finn doesn’t have as much to do here. Poe has even less of a role than Finn; from interviews w/ Isaac I could tell he wasn’t enthusiastic about this movie. And what about Finn’s love interest, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran)? If you’re NOT paying attention, you’ll miss her (few/short) scenes at he Rebel base. Rose gets a pat on the back from Finn (no kiss here); more importantly, she doesn’t go on any adventures (ugh)! Some viewers assumed that Finn was in love w/ Rey; others commented that he wanted to talk to her re: being “force-sensitive” (which I also thought).

Finn: The Force. The Force brought me here. It brought me to Rey. And Poe.

Jannah: You say that like you’re sure it’s real.

Finn: It’s real. I wasn’t sure then… but I am now.

We get to see some new planets and aliens (some cute/some weird), BUT we don’t spend much time on anything! I watched some YouTube reviews and podcasts re: this movie; several used the term “fetch quest” (as characters are going from place to place in search of a “MacGuffin” which drives the action). It was fun to see Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) again; he is one of the few highlights. As for the action itself, I didn’t have any issues w/ it (though Rey’s lightsaber cutting off the wing of Kylo’s TIE fighter was unexpected). It looks like Rey can also heal w/ her touch; I don’t think this was seen in previous films w/ other Jedi. Perhaps this was explained somewhere else, BUT the casual Star Wars viewer won’t know that.

Finn: Why are you helping us?

Gen. Hux: I don’t care if you win. I need Kylo Ren to lose.

There are more new characters to meet, BUT they aren’t V developed. We now have the imposing/eldelry Gen. Pryde (Richard E. Grant); I assumed that Gen. Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) would have more to do. When they travel to the planet Kijimi, we meet Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell- mostly hidden under a big helmet), an ex-gf of Poe. A tiny alien droid expert, Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson), works on C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). One critic compared Kijimi to “a Victorian X-mas village”- LOL! Finn is surprised/happy to learn that Jannah (Naomie Ackie- who I liked) and her people are also former First Order stormtroopers (who escaped to the planet of Kef Bir).

Emperor Palpatine: Long have I waited, for my grandchild to come home! I never wanted you dead. I wanted you here, Empress Palpatine.

The stakes aren’t that high, as several critics commented. In one (tense) scene, it looks like Chewbacca (Joonas Suatamo), was killed on a transport ship! Rey blames herself; she has been fighting Kylo for power to control the transport. But soon after, we see Chewie merely being held as a prisoner. Zorii somehow has a token that can help Poe and his friends avoid the First Order patrols around her planet. This part reminded at least one viewer of a video game (ugh).

We (finally) learn re: Rey’s true parentage- she’s a Palpatine (which surprised MANY viewers)! It turns out that her parents weren’t “nobodies”- they were hiding from the Emperor. FYI: Rey’s mom is played by Jodie Comer (who was recently in The Last Duel). Many commented that Palpatine looked/sounded like a cartoonish villain; they weren’t impressed w/ his planet or his crowd of Sith (?) followers. Also, the evil version of Rey just looked like bad CGI (and NOT scary at all). As for the kiss between Rey and Ben Solo (after Kylo left the Dark Side), then Ben’s instant death, some audiences laughed (which wasn’t what the filmmakers intended)! The editing comes across as slap-dash; Disney wanted it released in time for the 2019 holiday season. I could go on, BUT I won’t… b/c I’ve spent enough time already.

[1] The first critical error the film makes is by telling us that a secret message has caused a stir in the galaxy: the Emperor is alive. You know, instead of a scroll, perhaps this event — probably the most important thing that’s happened in all three of these post Return of the Jedi films, could have been shown to us so we could grasp just how mindblowing it is. Nope. It’s in words on the screen. The dead speak! This is lazy filmmaking.

It turns out that everything evil in the past few films has come from Palpatine, including Snoke who is just a clone.

[2] With so little time to breathe in the story, the film feels far too rushed which made it very difficult to digest the more convoluted parts of the story. There is also too much going on so the film feels very cramped by the final act, and also too many characters.

[3] The film is running on double time and the speed seems to be used to hide from story questions. Everybody is rushing. History is being revised. No one is throwing away a light saber in this one. Finn never actually say the thing to Rey. It is emotionally safe. I thought they would keep Carrie Fisher in the first act, but they dragged her out there for too long. I won’t say that it’s disrespectful, but it is a little awkward. Overall, this one tries to quickly wrap up the story in a fan friendly way and the last person turns out the lights.

[4] If you want lightsabers and space battles then you get it here. However if you put aside the technical feat, it is very much hollow. I struggled to care about anyone in the film; the dialogue was often clunky, and there was almost nothing natural or organic in there. The writing doesn’t help itself by doing things that seem fan-service at best, and cynical at worst.

[5] This episode boiled down to everybody chasing Rey. Fin was chasing her, Poe was chasing her, Kylo Ren was chasing her, and Palpatine was chasing her. Either someone wanted to help Rey as she wandered away lone wolfing it or someone wanted to convert Rey to the Dark Side–in any case Rey was always being chased. […]

We found that Rey was the most powerful being to ever grace the Star Wars franchise. Master Yoda hadn’t reached the power level of Rey and he lived 800 years! Which is weird because she was exhibiting amazing power though she wasn’t yet a Jedi. Which makes me realize I have no idea what a Jedi is. I thought once she knew how to use the force she was a Jedi, but apparently she was not.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews