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Blue Jay (2016)

Blue Jay was directed by Alex Lehmann in his fictional feature debut, from a screenplay by Mark Duplass. It stars Duplass and Sarah Paulson. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2016.

The film was released on October 7, 2016, in a limited release prior to being released through video on demand on October 11, 2016. (from Wikipedia)

Blue Jay (2016)
Written by Mark Duplass
Directed by Alex Lehmann
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Meeting by chance when they return to their tiny California hometown, two former high-school sweethearts reflect on their shared past. The film marked the Duplass Brothers’ first film under their four-picture deal with Netflix. Netflix financed the film without seeing a script, but just reading a 10-page outline of the story. This allowed for a true independent film experience.

The film had no script. The actors were given a summary of the movie and their characters and the rest was improvisation.

Blue Jay was the first feature film for director Alex Lehmann. He also served as the director of photography and cinematographer of the film.

The film was shot over the course of seven days in and around Crestline, California. It was filmed on a canon camera without built-in recording or built-in power source.

The film’s score was composed by Julian Wass.

One of my best friends recommended Blue Jay to me. I’ve said this before, at lyriquediscorde, but any and every movie she has ever recommended to me has ended up on my list of all-time favorite movies (if you want some recommendations by her, too, you should follow her movie Instagram – breewatchesmovies.

Here are some of my thoughts on the movie, written originally after seeing it for the first time.

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Nostalgia has plot holes, but oh how I have such a soft spot for it. How many times have I thought about what it would be like to run into a past love, to have a day to spend together, to talk and re-connect, and share a moment again. Not just any past love, but one that mattered, one that had real significance. But, given that opportunity, is it not potentially loaded with emotional landmines that can, or most likely will, go off unexpectedly?

This movie hit very hard. I had a nostalgia reuniting situation a few years ago, and it was full of wonder and magic and passion – at first, but eventually all it had was a hell of a lot of landmines, and boy did they go off. Would I do it again? At one time I would have said yes, but now, where I am in my life, my answer is no. Would these two characters do it again? Yes, I think they would. I really do.

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This film reminded me at times of the second installment in Richard Linklater/Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy’s “Before” series, as well as Graham Greene’s book, “The End of the Affair”. The former because of the reconnecting of past lovers, and the day spent together, though to me “Blue Jay” had more hope and joy to it, even in the sad moments, than “Before Sunset” did. The latter (“The End of the Affair”) in the reveal that what you assume, and what you decide to say, is not always what you want, or mean. I do not want to spoil anything, but there is a moment where you see that things that happened, and things said, were not as true as they seemed at the time.

Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass are two favorite actors of mine, and they were brilliant in this. They had chemistry and ease and emotional deft that brought these characters immediately to life for me, and also pulled my heart around for the entirety of their day/night together. I felt so much watching this film. I laughed, I cheered, I sang-a-long, I hurt, I cried — a lot, and I felt — a lot, too.

I think what hit me the most was how lost Amanda seemed to be, in her life, and in herself. Jim is lost, too, but he seemed more cognizant of it, more recently aware. But, I felt like it was all hitting Amanda. Maybe seeing Jim joggled some of that in her; the experience of hearing her voice on the tape, coming head-on with her younger self, as well as her first love. That resonated with me as I find myself wrestling with my own lost self, and traversing my way through it.

I loved the way these two connected to music in this, and how music played a part in their relationship, and their meeting up again moments. I love the black-and-white filming of it, the way it added to the starkness of winter in this small town, and the bleakness of being lost and being back home again. And, I loved both of these characters so much. When the movie ended I wanted so much more, but at the same time was good with where they left it.

The film plays out like a play. I’d actually love to see it performed on-stage, preferably with Mark and Sarah. I can’t imagine anyone else playing them.

The choice to have the movie shot in black-and-white was a brilliant one. I think it adds to the intimacy and almost too close look into these two people’s lives. It strips away the distraction of color and just focuses on these two characters – just as a play, in a small theater, with two actors on a stark and nearly empty stage would.

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“No More I Love You’s” by Annie Lennox scene

Booksmart MOTD

Booksmart (2019)

Booksmart was directed by Olivia Wilde, from a screenplay written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. The film stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, who play best friends on the cusp of high school graduation, and changes that will separate them. They have spent their lives goal-oriented, focused, and driven, avoiding anything reckless or non-academic. They decide to break the rules on their graduation eve, and the film takes us along for the ride.

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Booksmart (2019)
Written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman
Directed by Olivia Wilde
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I was lucky to have seen a preview showing of Booksmart a few weeks ago. But, in order to both support women filmmakers and also share the movie with my daughters, we went to see it again today. What a perfect way to start June off – a Summertime feel of a movie starring awesomely talented women, written by awesomely talented women, and directed by an awesomely talented woman.

Booksmart is clever, funny, well-written, and original in its take on the teenage/coming of age/one night left/party genre. It defies expectations while still visiting those well-trodded teen tropes that we all know and love.

I love the young women in this film who are taking agency of their sexuality and sex, their life choices, and their futures. I applaud a real look at best friends-friendship, the good and the bad. I think it speaks a lot to relationships and intimacy, the give-and-take between people, and how it is to be a best friend/in a best friendship.

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At times, it reminded me a lot of the best friend I grew up with. The intimacy we shared, and the struggles. It definitely made me miss her, too.

The leads in this are fantastic. I’ve been a fan of Kaitlyn Dever since the film Short Term 12, and have enjoyed her in other movies such as Laggies, and The Spectacular Now. And Beanie, she stole the movie Ladybird in so many ways, to me. I can’t wait to see what both actors do next.

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I’d also be remiss to not mention the comedy brilliance, and overall glow, of Billie Lourd. I’ve had my eye on her since her stints on “American Horror Story” and “Scream”, and because of her family ties (Carrie Fisher – a forever favorite, and inspiration, of mine). Billie is outrageous in this film, in the best kind of way.

The love and laughter and awkward moments and heart in this film are what makes it so enjoyable, and what will stick with me for a long time to come. I love that there was no real difference in the characters experience with love and sex, regardless of their sexuality. It was great to see an awkward bathroom-at-a-party sex scene with two girls, sex that wasn’t “lesbian for the male gaze”, but sex that felt like real first-time clumsiness and nervousness. I like that the movie flips stereotypes on their heads, even if the film has received criticism for having everyone be “too nice” to each other (I really don’t see it that way).

All in all, this movie is great fun. A good time. Full of heart and laughter and bittersweet joy. I know I’m going to add this to my movie collection when I can and add it to my roster of movies that make me feel good.

Also, yay women filmmakers and writers and actors – if you want to see more like this go out to the theaters and support movies like this – so we can get more, and more. 

Go see Booksmart right now in theaters – and take your best friends along with you!

 

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

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The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
Written by Jonathan Evison (book) and Rob Burnett (screenplay)
Directed by Rob Burnett

Trailer

I told you I only date assholes.” ~ Dot

Yes, and I’m not an asshole. And since you want an asshole, my not being an asshole makes me more of an asshole than the assholes that you normally date, because they’re giving you exactly what you want, whereas I, by not being an asshole, am not. Which makes me an asshole.” ~ Trevor

I can’t believe I actually understood that.” ~ Dot

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Five minutes in and I knew I was going to like this film. A bit more than five minutes in, when I realized that the majority of the movie would be “on the road” my heart did a little two-step, and that gypsy soul of mine who LOVES road trips did a twirl, and I knew I was going to love this film. And yes, I did love it.

Meet Ben Benjamin, beyond his unfortunate name (I mean, it isn’t even superhero-ish in its alliteration), he is a seemingly stunted individual who has a vacancy about him that is initially undefined. We see him reluctant (to say the least) to accept the reality of his pending divorce, and we meet him at a crossroads, pleading somewhat with a mother and son to be given his first shot as a caregiver.

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We learn soon that Ben’s vacant demeanor is caused by grief and a PTSD-type haze that paralyzes him momentarily with flashbacks of his deceased young son. Ben is searching for something – redemption? Maybe. Forgiveness of self? More than maybe. A new hope? Yeah, I think so. Ben definitely needs a chance at something.

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Meet Trevor. He is wheelchair bound with limited capacities. He’s sarcastic and dark humored and also grieving, but in a more resigned way. He is definitely in need of a chance and some kind of hope and an adventure outside of his TV room and meals of frozen waffles and short trips to the park.

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We also have Dot. A runaway/hitchhiker/gypsy on her own way to redemption-adventure-new chance at something. They make up an unlikely trio who will have you laughing and caring a lot. This could have fallen into over-sentimentality and tragedy, but it never did. It has tons of heart, but also humor and realism and damn likable characters who are all significantly flawed.

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The writing is sharp in this, wit with a heart of gold. The performances are tops, especially Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez. Please, please, please put Craig and Selena in more films.

There are some twists in the story, and there are some predictable moments, but the film is not based, nor hinged, on either. This is about people, about family – both the ones we are born into, and the ones we choose, about firsts, and about chances.

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The movie made me laugh more than cry, though I did do both. It also made me itch to go on a real road trip, with ridiculous roadside attractions as the main, and multiple, destination(s).

This one has definitely made the list of a favorite films.

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“This is what road trips are all about.”

This is the Only Time We Have :: Ryan Miller

The Nice Guys (2016) :: MOTD

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The Nice Guys (2016)
Written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi
Directed by Shane Black

You’re the world’s worst detectives.” ~ Holly

“Just talking.”

Shane Black wrote and directed one of my all-time favorite movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so when I heard about Nice Guys coming out, and saw the trailer, I was more than a little excited. For the most part I really enjoyed the film, though there were a few things that put me off about it, such as the opening shots having to be a dead, topless woman, and some of the connotations of the porn industry and sexual promiscuity – the latter though, I can somewhat deal with because this film is set in the 70’s, but the first one, the dead girl opener, I just wish we could see less of this on TV and film.

I know this is a detective story, and that Black’s style often harkens back to detective novels of the past, and that noir-esque anti-hero type of detective, often saving the girl with a past, or with issues/bad associations – but I think it could have been done without the gratuitous topless female corpse.

That said, Black does have a way of giving his female characters layers, and more than just surface stereotyping or generalizations in his films – though this one had some places of missed opportunity, in that regard.

Going beyond this, though, I did enjoy the writing, the acting – great performances by Ryan Gosling (not sure I realized how funny and slapstick he could be), Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice (who stole the whole movie), Matt Bomer (always love him) and Kim Basinger (so underused, please make more films).

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I love how 70’s Los Angeles is a character in the film. Anyone who knows me knows I have a love/affection/addiction for films and songs and books about Los Angeles, especially when they capture both the good and the bad – and this movie does that. Black has called this take on LA as a “horrible combination of smog and porn”, which does come across – as well as capturing what it felt to live here beyond porn and air pollution – nods to the gas price hike and odd/even days, advertisements and local news, and just the way the city felt – the kind of worries and stresses. I was a only 8 years old in 1977, but it still felt familiar to me.

Holly (Angourie Rice) the adolescent/pre-adolescent daughter of single father Holland (Gosling) was my favorite part of the film. She was not just the story’s conscience, but she was the voice of reason and also of intelligence and wit. The chemistry she shared with both Gosling and Crowe was palpable and believable, and I could see how she brought them together, and change both of them in significant ways without actually changing who they were. I couldn’t help but root for all three of them, and both laugh, and cringe, at their antics.

I was not as invested in the case at hand though, not in the same way that I cared about the case in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, though that may be a personal thing – I’m not sure. I know that the film as a whole never quite connected with me the way Kiss Kiss Bang Bang did, but I did really enjoy it – enough so that I’ve told people about it, encouraged people to go see it, and will probably own it when released on DVD/Bluray.

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This is a return to what I loved about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – so I’m hopeful that more will come in this vein. As with Kiss Kiss, I left the theater thinking this would make one hell of  a cable TV series – as I’d enjoy seeing what happened with Holland, Jackson (Crowe) and Holly. I wanted to see them open a makeshift PI/detective agency, and have Holly help them with it – maybe as a more worldly, street smart Nancy Drew type.

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Hell, I’d like a series just based on Holly, in the vein of Veronica Mars and Buffy – sans the vamps, and set in the 70’s. I’d watch the hell out of that.

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Oh, and before I forget, the soundtrack is a great dip into 70’s music kitsch, funk, disco and rock – it is well worth a spin, or two. You can check it out here, on Spotify.

Rock and Roll All Night :: KISS
Something from the soundtrack…

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An American Werewolf in London (1981) :: A-to-Z Movies :: Spooky October Edition :: My Top 5

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Written and Directed by John Landis

Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors.” ~ Dart Player

Beware the moon, lads.” ~ Chess Player

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1. All the songs in the movie have the word moon in their titles. Just that fact makes me want to makes the music geek in me smile, and, well, also makes me want to make a lunar playlist for this “spooky season“.

Per IMDB’s keen “trivia” section I learned that John Landis wanted three other “moon” songs on the soundtrack. First, Cat Stevens wouldn’t allow Moonshadow to be used as it was at that time that he’d stopped allowing his secular music to be licensed for films following his conversion to Islam. Second, Bob Dylan wouldn’t allow his version of Blue Moon to be used in an R-rated film, as he had just begun his brief conversion to Christianity. Lastly, Elvis Presley’s version of Blue Moon was unavailable due to ongoing lawsuits involving his estate that were going on at the time.

What other “moon” songs can you think of?

Blue Moon :: Sam Cooke

2. I am a big horror movie fan, and have quite a few favorite horror sub-genres. Horror mixed with comedy is definitely high up on the list, probably tied with haunted houses and zombie stories. A little bit of laughter with my jump scares and chilling turns, that wins me over, and it is the wit, as well as the gruesome special effects, that stuck with me long after I first saw this film.

“Jack’s warning”

3. Did you know that in the credits the undead are mentioned? The typical “all characters are fictitious” disclaimer name checks not just the dead, but the undead. Nice that no zombies or other alive/not-alive beings were represented here without their permission.

“All characters and events in this film are fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living, dead, or undead, is purely coincidental.”

3. I saw this movie on cable when I was a teenager. I don’t remember the exact age (I didn’t see this in the theater, at 12 years old I don’t think my mom would have allowed it) I was, but I vividly remember the werewolf transformation. The effects were of a caliber that I’d never seen before, and the vividness of it had a big impact. I still think it is one of the best shifts from man to wolf I’ve ever seen, and probably the most gory (though Hemlock Grove’s transformation may take the title for gore).

An American Werewolf in London was the first film to earn the Academy Award for Best Makeup. That category was created in 1981.

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4. It was this movie, and his enthusiasm for it, that made Michael Jackson want John Landis to direct the video to Thriller. Though I knew Landis directed the notorious video, I never put two and two together until looking into the movie today. It seems so obvious now.

Thriller :: Michael Jackson

5. Can this please be a horror movie that isn’t remade? Please? I know there was a “sequel”, but no remakes please.

Oh no, am I too late in my wishing and pleading? See this.

Trailer

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