"Frances Ha"

This film came across my Netflix suggestions. I immediately put it on “My List.” I heard about this film for years as the breakthrough for Greta Gerwig. The title always read as humorous to me. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a dancer always on the brink of a big break but not quite. She gets by with the help of her friends. As she is inching the end of her twenties, she begins to make decisions to no longer merely survive but to thrive.

Greta Gerwig is delightful and grand, delivering a balanced performance with the fears and realities Frances has. Mickey Sumner plays Sophie, Frances’ best friend, with joy and growth. Baby Adam Driver plays Lev, one of Frances’ friends, who helps her in a pinch. Grace Gummer is Rachel, Frances’ "friend,” who is the successful equivalent of Frances. Michael Zegen gives optimism and wonder to Benji, one of Frances’ friends. Patrick Heusinger, Charlotte D’Amboise and Maya Kazan are an exceptional supporting cast.

Writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach gives a realistic portrait of being an artist. Greta holds down Sactown, her hometown, for real. The audience witnesses the endearing friendship between Frances and Sophie. The film begins with them laughing and enjoying their time together. At some point I thought, “how do these women afford to do what they do?”. Their friendship is an evolving plot of the script. The film is an hour and twenty-five minutes. In some parts, it feels long. Do not go into this film taking it too seriously yet leave feeling good. Director Noah Baumbach gives color in this black and white film. Watching Frances run through NYC is freeing.

If you could not already tell, this movie is streaming on Netflix.

"Vox Lux"

The first ten minutes of this film are grisly and traumatic. What follows for the nearly one hour and forty-five minutes is a view of processing trauma and reaching stardom as Celeste, the sole survivor of a high school shooting, is brought to sudden fame as a pop singer. This film reminds me if “Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “A Star is Born” had a child.

Natalie Portman gives a performance that compliments the nerves and fame of Celeste, her character. The audience sees Celeste mostly as a teenager, played by Raffey Cassidy with captivating power. There are a lot of quiet moments. In Raffey’s eyes as Celeste, she delivers the evolution of a character. Jude Law is great as Celeste’s manager with a fairly good New York accent. Stacy Martin plays Eleanor, Celeste’s sister. Eleanor is a foil to Celeste and truly moves the drama with her performance. Jennifer Ehle digs into her fast-paced, no holds barred role as Josie, Celeste’s publicist. The casting choices are interesting.

Writer & Director Brady Corbet delivers a fascinating film that is a bit too long. The school shooting happened in 1999, which was when the shooting at Columbine High School occurred. The audience also sees Celeste’s reaction to 9/11 in 2001. There is a reason why these events were in the film amidst Celeste becoming a superstar and overcoming her trauma. Even if the film is Celeste becoming a popstar, watching her go through the ills of fame would be worth watching. Telling the story about grief amidst the glittering beast of entertainment makes the story timely for society. Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Sia, who writes the songs, are executive producers. The ending has some full circle.

This film is streaming on Hulu.

"Little Woods"

I saw this film was an option during a flight from Philadelphia to Athens, Greece. I could not wait to plug my airplane given headphones and watch. Two sisters, Ollie and Deb, overcoming their dire circumstances, forces Ollie to return to a life of crime days before getting off parole.

Tessa Thompson as Ollie delivers the resiliency of her character, continuing to establish herself as one of the most versatile and dynamic actors onscreen in any generation. Lily James gives wonderful meekness and power as Deb, Ollie’s sister in a commanding performance. Lance Reddick plays Carter, Ollie’s parole officer. His presence onscreen is warm and motivating for Ollie. Charlie Ray Reid, Luke Kirby and Max Hartman are a part of a sharp supporting cast in their delivery.

Writer and Director Nia DaCosta delivers a story speaking of survival, despair, love and loyalty between Ollie and Deb. There are rich layers in the storytelling, broadening the scope of how the audience sees these women. The writing does not miss a beat in the story’s stakes. The story delves into women’s reproductive health, drugs, mental health, among prevalent issues in society. DaCosta’s direction is sharp in showing the lifestyle of these sisters, particularly in their homes. Music by Brian McComber fits the drowning tone of the film, heightening the film’s pulse. This is a golden independent film.

"Summer Viewing"

I am out of the country, as you may have seen from my “Book On It” post. I hope your summer is off to a magnificent start! Hopefully, this movie season will have better movies.

A show I enjoyed was “Ramy.” It is about Ramy, a Muslim Millenial Male (talk about alliteration) discovering what he wants from life while abiding by his strict upbringing. The show is as if “Atlanta” and “Master of None” birthed a television show. It is fairly provocative yet touches on subjects of religion, sexuality and aging. Each episode is about twenty-two minutes. I watched it in a weekend because I was so intrigued. The show is streaming on Hulu.

"Juanita"

Imagine Stella from “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” had a second cousin named Juanita. Juanita is a grandmother, overworked, and under-appreciated by most of her children. She decides to travel to a small town from her life in Ohio with revelatory results.

Alfre Woodard is fantastic as Juanita, equal parts refreshing and emotional. She breaks the fourth wall perfectly, engaging the audience into the shenanigans around her. Adam Beach is charming and captivating as Jess, Juanita’s love interest. Latanya Richardson-Jackson is wonderful as Kay-Rita, Juanita’s best girlfriend. Ashlie Atkinson is funny as Peaches. Blair Underwood is sexy and hilarious as Juanita’s man in her mind. Tsulan Cooper, Jordan Nia Elizabeth, Acorye’ White, Marcus Henderson, Bonnie Johnson make a unique, funny, and warm supporting cast.

Director Clark Johnson captures the expanse of Montana. Juanita is truly the center of her story even when she is on the other side of the room. Writer Roderick Spencer adapts the novel “Dancing on the Edge of the Roof” by Sheila Williams. There is a great display of culture about Native Americans. The story is beautiful for watching a black woman have agency to reclaim her life. Also, to go against the grain that traveling and discovering yourself is for the young and free. The cooking scenes are also fun to watch.

This film is streaming on Netflix.

"Dark Phoenix"

It is only natural that with the two mediocre films that proceed “Dark Phoenix,” this film would be written off. I was intrigued to see the film because of Jessica Chastain’s look and the trailer actually made the film look fantastic. Through the course of the story, Jean Grey learns about the circumstances of her upbringing and the lies of the life she knew after a cataclysmic accident enhances her powers.

Sophie Turner played Jean Grey with innocence, vitality and vigor. Once again we watch a female character who is told to control their emotions in order to inhabit their power. Jessica Chastain is a fantastic antagonist. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Alexandra Shipp return to the series with great appeal as Professor X, Magneto and Storm, respectively. Evan Peters brings the humor as Quicksilver. I wish he was used in the film more. Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops compliments Sophie’s performance with a balance of love and protection. Jennifer Lawrence is good as Raven in a fairly underutilized role to satisfy the story. Nicholas Hoult is incredible as Hank/Beast. Nicholas should be the next Batman. I will shout that from the mountaintops. Ato Essandoh gives vengeance and manipulation as one of the D’Bari members. Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a great supporting performance as Nightcrawler, one of my favorite characters due to Alan Cumming’s performance in “X2.” Hannah Emily Anderson and Scott Shepherd are great as Jean’s parents.

Director & Writer Simon Kinberg gives fire to the story in parts. For his writing, the story is good. It is also discombobulated. The D’bari Empire is not explained well. You can still fear them. There are a couple of plot points that did not make sense and fully commit. There are corny political connections that I guess speak to reality. There is an evolution and a completion to a series that began with “X-Men: First Class.” For Jean Grey, there is a focus on her evolution with her power. The film could have benefited to use the six minutes to make the story fuller for a two hour film. However, this film is accomplishes not dragging out. For his directing, with the special effects, there is breathtaking action. The score (as I looked up who created it makes so much sense) by Hans Zimmer is electric and with his signature enhancing the film’s experience.

I am going to see this film again.

"Always Be My Maybe"

The title of this film alone made me eager to watch. Sasha and Marcus are childhood friends who lose touch after a heart-wrenching moment. When they reconnect as adults, they realize what was a maybe could become something.

I need to watch more of Ali Wong. She is fantastic as Sasha. Randall Park is sharp as Marcus. As an actor, he knows his lane without being typecasted. Daniel Dae Kim, who was a gorgeous presence, is Brandon, Sasha’s conceited and business minded “boyfriend.” Michelle Buteau and Casey Wilson continue the humor as Sasha’s assistant and decorator, respectively. James Saito is warm and encouraging as Harry, Marcus’ father. Susan Park is wonderful and nurturing as Judy, Marcus’ mother. Raymond Ma, Peggy Lu and Karan Soni are a part of a stunning supporting cast in humor and presence. Keanu Reeves walks in the room and air exhales.

Writers Ali Wong, Randall Park & Michael Golamco crafted a strong romantic comedy. The story felt realistic and inclusive. It was also sentimental. The ending was rushed. The film is fun with enough drama. I liked that Sasha was a successful chef. She grew up as a latch key kid. The relationship between her and Judy, particularly through food, was special. Director Nahnatchka Ali gave a wide scope of San Francisco. I could tell the location scouts had a ball capturing the eclecticism of the city. Marcus fronts a band. Their music is cool and funny. Michael Andrews and Greyboy created a good soundtrack. Ali Wong’s glasses are a character of their own. Costume Designer Leesa Evans created essential looks for each character. Sasha moved in and out of glamour and comfort casual effortlessly.

This film is streaming on Netflix.

"Fresh"

This film is 25 years old. There is a scene that hits at a man’s fragile ego, which shows the film’s relevancy today. Fresh (Sean Nelson) is a pre-teenage drug dealer looking to escape with his sister from a dangerous lifestyle. I felt like this film was a combination of “The Sandlot” and “Menace II Society.”

Sean Nelson gives a cunning and mature performance. As Fresh, he handles his business yet allows himself to be vulnerable. Samuel L. Jackson is wise as Sam, Fresh’s father. They are rebuilding a broken relationship. It is fascinating to see Jackson look older and homely in his earlier roles. Giancarlo Esposito is ever fantastic as Esteban, a manipulative drug dealer. N’Bushe Wright is wide-eyed and commanding as Nichole, Fresh’s sister. Jean-Claude La Marre is ruthless as Jake, a lookout. Luis Lantigua brings the humor as Chuckie, Fresh’s best friend.

Writer & Director Boaz Yakin crafted a multi-layered script. New York was not as prevalent but the story could have been set anywhere, which is how it resonates. Chess is a powerful metaphor for how Fresh moves in the dangerous world of drug dealing. It is the way Fresh and Sam build a relationship against the odds of their father-son dynamic. It is also not a little boy’s game. Fresh is constantly in grownup situations. There were plenty of moments for him to be murdered. He also has a crush on a girl, bringing back the reality that he is a child. The language and slang of the film adds another realistic element even if it is cringeworthy to hear from these kids. Music by Stewart Copeland is interesting in the scenes. It has a Renaissance feel.

You can stream this film on Netflix.

"See You Yesterday"

This film embraces all of the elements I enjoy in film. Cool characters, sharp writing, culture and escapism. CJ and Sebastian are friends eager to build a time travel machine. When CJ’s brother is murdered by police, they work to prevent the circumstances prior to his death.

Eden Duncan-Smith is fantastic with true emotion as CJ, a powerful girl with imagination and innovation. Dante Crichlow is mesmerizing as Sebastian, a boy with curiosity. They have stunning chemistry with keeping each other in check and holding each other up. Astro, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Wavyy Jonez lead a strong supporting cast. Michael J. Fox makes a charming cameo.

Co-writers Stefon Bristol and Fredrica Bailey crafted an affirming, blerdy, hilarious and black multi-layered script. I loved the homage to Brooklyn and the generational relationships. Director Stefon Bristol gave power in how the characters function in reality. While CJ and Sebastian are teenagers, they are written wonderfully and compellingly. Costume Designer Charlese Antionette Jones crafted distinct looks for each character. I particularly liked the hip-hop grunge vibe. The ending is satisfying.

You can stream this film on Netflix.

"Tyrel"

The film was a few things but not quite. Horror. Satire. Fictional. An imagination. This film is about a black man named Tyler (referred to as Tyrel in parts) who spends time with a group of white men in the Catskills.

Jason Mitchell brings humor and anger to Tyler. He plays a cook in this film, a job for most of his characters, tied possibly because Jason was an oyster shucker before becoming an actor. Caleb Landry Jones truly played into the brashness of his character, Pete. Christopher Abbott was fantastic as Johnny, Tyler’s friend who coaxes Tyler to being “one of the guys.” Ann Dowd is delightful as Silvia. Reg E. Cathey, in one of his final performances, is strong as Reggie. Michael Zegen, Nicolas Arze, Michael Cera and Roddy Bottum form a strong ensemble, amplifying the flow of the story.

Writer and Director Sebastián Silva crafted a film that highlights the struggles of being black and brown man in a predominantly white man’s space. One of the white men puts on a durag and automatically thinks they can rap. Tyler dry laughs with his discomfort shown. Tyler’s irritation heightens when he is asked to participate in asinine games, yet he wants to be a part of the crew so he gives in with a smile. The camera absorbs the convos and interactions in the home. The way I will sum up this film is white boy wasted and ruthless living from the eyes and actions of a black man. If the film was any longer, I would say it was a dud. However, clocking in at 1 hour and 26 minutes, it is long enough to get the scope of what the film tries to convey.

You can stream this film on Hulu.