Molly Shannon has pretty much toiled under the radar in recent years, in small roles and guest appearances, but she jets back to relevance in Madeleine Olnek’s excellent biopic Wild Nights with Emily. Shannon lowers the registers on her comic rawness to deliver a warm, funny, engaging, even sprightly performance as poet Emily Dickinson. Shannon plays her, not as the reclusive spinster of lore who hid in her bedroom, but as a fun-loving, funny, joyous adventuress, fired by modern thinking, and unashamed to share her life and bed with Susan Dickenson (Susan Ziegler) her brother’s wife. The charmingly biting and frequently witty script is based on Dickinson’s letters and poems; she robustly describes Susan as her muse and while the poems are urgently passionate, the relationship appears to have been mature and stable. Sure, ED was obsessed with death, but apparently, that was the result of growing up overlooking a mortuary – “funerals were my entertainment”. A male publisher said her poems made him feel unclear and gave him “a tumbling sensation”, but she did find a female publisher and the rest, of course, is history. This is more fun than a barrel of monkeys with typewriters and of course, Dickenson, one of the greats, is revealed as she was; inconceivable back then.
Patricia Rozema’s moving tribute to a mother through her daughter’s memories will stir the hearts of anyone who has lost theirs. Mouthpiece’ milieu is grief, but its unique execution makes it sing. Daughter Cassandra is played by two characters (writer-actors Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava) representing her emotional struggles in the 48 hours between her mother’s death and the funeral. Cassandra wants to do the right thing, plan the funeral, and deliver the eulogy, but so many obstacles – her rebel spirit, indecision and agonizing self-awareness. Memories flood her, as she realises who her mother was; she wants to give the eulogy to “make it up to her” for not seeing her. The actors play Cassandra simultaneously, sometimes in identical movements, while their views on what to do are different. The organic realism they’ve achieved is extraordinary, but it’s not so distracting so as to overshadow the stinging pain and Cassandra’s desire for resolution. Rozema continues to explore female psychology with remarkable creative energy.
The Tomorrow Man from video music director Nobel Jones is a tribute to the Upper Midwest of the United States, inspired by what he saw there while driving across the US. It’s set in a greyish small town somewhere where not a lot happens. John Lithgow and Blythe Danner are lower middle-class seniors, living alone in ruts of their own making. Jones describes his first feature project – “I wanted to make a mild commentary on the world we live in. I also wanted to do something that was slightly surreal, to the point of almost being science fiction.” Good start. Ed’s life is devoted to self-protection from disaster, he’s built a bomb shelter, loaded with food and water, every move dictated by fear. Ronnie’s a shopaholic, keeping anxiety at bay by collecting stuff. Lithgow is completely transformed – his mannered physicality is replaced with uncertain dithering, while Danner’s tentative about everything. It’s a change of pace for both actors. These are people who haven’t thought about love in a long time but they meet and the idea wakes them up. They’re awkward but they try. This is an unexpected treat. It’s not for everyone but it rewards – and shocks – like a champ.
Alec Baldwin seems to know a lot about the late celebrity automotive mogul John DeLorean. In playing him for re-enacted portions of the docudrama Framing John DeLorean you can see his brain churning, as he relates obscure details and a psychological evaluation of the man who created the nuttiest car in history. A wheeler-dealer/dreamer in the automotive industry DeLorean had it all, from the perspective of his time. He was a GM exec, wealthy, married to supermodel Cristina Ferrare and counted acolytes wherever he went. DeLorean’s obsession was an ideal stainless-steel gullwing car, the one he wanted to share with the world, the impossible dream, and he made it real. However, he was done in my drugs and criminality, predictably. His grown son has little sympathy for him, and his daughter is exasperated by him. The family’s a mess, maybe that’s why there are so many unproduced John DeLorean features in the hopper. This is shocking, incredible, larger than life, sad and of course wildly entertaining. Baldwin’s obsessive grasp of the man is no joke and for me, that’s the centre of the story.
Ron Howard’s documentary on the late great Italian tenor Pavarotti is more than a musical treat – but it is assuredly that, it’s a richly detailed history and summary of the man, the voice and the life he led. Pavarotti was a superstar, bringing opera into the mainstream and inspiring operatic acts that are more common than not today. What was his power that he was able to renew an elitist art form with a relatively small international audience into a household entertainment and he himself, a sex symbol? Get set for exhilarating performances that will raise goosebumps, intimate interviews, never-before-seen footage and learn things that were not widely known previously. Pavarotti remains one of the most loved and respected performance artists in modern times. That voice! That smile! Interviews with among others, Princess Diana, Spike Lee, Bono and Stevie Wonder. Look for it in @DolbyAtmos sound.
Andrew Slater’s Echo in The Canyon focuses on the musicians and ideas that floated around L.A.’s Laurel Canyon district in the 60s and 70s and the pop explosion they created. The UK ‘s pungent blast of rock from the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks and hosts of bands dominated charts from the early to mid-sixties, but it was finally met by a powerful American musical resistance/ingenuity, 1965 – 1967. The electrified folk “jangly guitar” sound was based on 12 string guitars and gentle progressive harmonies of bands like The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas. Bob’ son Jakob Dylan who seems well versed in the history of music takes us to meet stars of the era Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn plus fans Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty in his last film interview and a modern phalanx of talent – Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones- reimagining some of those old chestnuts in performance. The interviews are a tad underwhelming, almost across the board subjects focus on who slept with whom, who did what drugs when and gossip, but it’s ok. It was the seventies and probably half of what they say is fairy dust. But there’s excellent stuff too – Brian Wilson reveals the landmark sonic experiment Pet Sounds was inspired by the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonelyhearts Club Band. And the final scene of a big name will blow your socks off.
Speaking of special places, how about Palm Springs 1953? Midcentury glam, top of the heap celebs, filmmakers, writers, politicians, Las Vegas dancers, gangsters, carte blanche, endless golf clubs (all but one restricted) and unwavering power– that was Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs world. The desert oasis south of L.A. was a haven for stars who wanted to get away from their public and enjoy life in its relative privacy and Frank Sinatra was King for fifty years. He lived in Rancho Mirage on a street bearing his name, dominating the landscape and apparently, he still does, according to Leo Zahn’s doc Sinatra In Palm Springs – The Place He Called Home. It’s a loving portrait of Sinatra the man, of a place and time in history and it’s an eyeful – all those beautiful midcentury ranches. Frank had three compounds, one of which he built for JFK. There’s that time he and astronaut Alan Shepard sang Fly Me to The Moon to shocked bar patrons and his incredibly generous private philanthropy is revealed. Did you know Sinatra was a hobby train fan? And that he carried the torch for one woman most of his adult life, not his wife. Extensive archival footage and new interviews with Barbara Sinatra, Mel Haber, Tom Dreesen and Trini Lopez bring that slick, swingin’ world back to life in full colour, after oh so many years. On DVDand Digital Download.
Pose Season Two is here! The series that boasts the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series. The transgender cast includes Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross, great dresser Billy Porter (everyone’s favourite red carpet model), Charlayne Woodard, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Dyllón Burnside and Angel Bismark Curiel. The series looks at the underground ball culture, luxury, social climate and style of the day, from its beginnings in the 80s. This season, the House of Evangelista faces new challenges, is forced to reevaluate their goals. Meanwhile, the AIDS crisis worsens and LGBTQ kids find their way to the House. The ten-episode second season starts Tuesday on FX.
And finally, Big Little Lies Season Two June 9. Meryl Streep. Enough said. On your marks, get set …
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