At the beach, you’ll want to curl up with a good book. But later, how about a trip to the movies, or a stay-at-home night with a glass of wine and something to provide All the Feels? Here are a few suggestions:
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts
This abnormally well-titled documentary dives deep into the character of both drag superstar Trixie Mattel, and (more compellingly) the less-often-witnessed person behind the character: Brian Michael Firkus. In truth there doesn’t seem to be that much of a divide between the two personas. Brian comes across as a rather emotionally healthy and stable person. He’s almost surprisingly so for a wildly successful performer whose mother can still barely be bothered to come to one of his events (even as he helps pay her bills).
There’s a gentle sadness in Brian about this, and about a childhood spent being the family black sheep back in Wisconsin. His abusive stepfather used to call him ‘Trixie’ when he acted feminine. The fact that Brian used this as part of his stage name evidences that he is the sort of entertainer who takes pain and turns it into laughter. Like the great clowns of old, he leaves a hint of the original sorrow in his act. That’s part of makes him great and why he draws so many kindred misfits to seek shelter in the shadow of his massive wig. Another apparent source of joy and sadness for Brian is his frequent comedy partner, friend and Drag Race alumni, Katya (Brian McCook).
Their YouTube’s series (UNHhhh) was so popular it got picked up to be a bigger series on Viceland. Katya’s subsequent meltdown before the end of the first season is something Moving Parts sheds some light on. The situation’s impact on Firkus, who again smiles and sings through the hurt, speaks volumes about his personal strength of character. Documentarian Nicholas Zeig-Owens achieves a level of behind-the-curtain intimacy that’s not easy to come by. He even lived on Trixie’s couch for a time. As a result, Owens doesn’t just capture Trixie in motion, but also the parts of this talented and terrifically real person are genuinely moving. THE WORD: Also worth seeing for Trixie’s music – she’s a legit singer/songwriter! Coming to: Video on Demand
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It’s clear that actor/director Olivia Wilde (House, Tron) and a group of four female writers have done their homework about how to make a crowd-pleasing high school coming-of-age story loaded with silly and smart humor. However, if they were metaphorically sharing a classroom with 2007’s Superbad, any observant teacher might accuse Booksmart of copying off its neighbor’s work. Both Booksmart and Superbad can accurately be described as ‘school’s-out-forever’ odysseys. Each follows fiercely loyal misfit friends on quests to punctuate their high school experience by finally making it to the big party and seeing nascent crushes reach some level of fulfillment.
The film also matches Superbad in many specific ways — too many to list. Suffice it to say that while Kaitlyn Dever does something of a Michael Cera impression, Beanie Feldstein could believably pass as Jonah Hill’s younger sister. That said, the category of ‘high school comedy’ is certainly a well-worn form; so perhaps it’s not surprising that there should be so many similarities. However, Feldstein (Lady Bird, What We Do in the Shadows) and her co-star Dever (Short Term 12, Beautiful Boy) make Booksmart clever in a way that transcends the genre.
It’s not necessarily in the writing (which is winning but often precious). Nor is it fully to be found in the characters (which are pleasing but not believable under scrutiny). Yet its cast, which also includes Diana Silvers (Glass, Ma), Molly Gordon (I Am Sam), and Billie Lourd (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, American Horror Story: Apocalypse) — supported by cameos from veterans Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte — handily fulfill the film’s comedic promise. The Word: This film is like popcorn, delicious but primarily empty calories. Still the Booksmart’s main message is positive and queer-friendly, and stars have bright futures in Hollywood. Coming to: Video on Demand
After her comedic talents helped make Crazy Rich Asians such a hit, rapper and actress Awkwafina finds herself back in the East. This time, she’s in China with some less opulent Asians. Billi (Awkwafina) has a life and career in New York that aren’t going so well. That’s when she gets some distinctly bad news: her beloved grandma back in China is dying. Already Billi’s family have a plan. They’re not going to tell grandma about the stage-four cancer in her lungs. Instead Billi’s dad (Tzi Ma – The Arrival, Mulan) and his brother in Japan are conspiring to bring both their families for one last visit their ailing mother. They plan to use a cousin’s hastily assembled and entirely forced wedding as a cover to avoid making grandma suspicious at this sudden influx of family.
Apparently keeping knowledge of terminal illness from the elderly (at least until the very end) is commonplace in China. Why? As Billi’s mother puts it patly, “When people get cancer, they die.” Deceptive as it may seem (and tangled as it may become) there may be some wisdom in the tradition. However, it mostly seems cruel to Billi — whose family doesn’t even want her to come. (They fear that her special bond with her grandma will cause her to spill the beans.) Nevertheless, Billi buys a ticket she can’t afford and goes anyway. The story that unfolds as the family surrounds a still vivacious and utterly adorable matriarch is a pitch perfect mix of true-to-life comedy and well observed pathos.
The blend is so smooth that audiences are likely to feel both elated and a little sad at the same time. THE WORD: The cast is excellent, but grandma (Shuzhen Zhou) and Awkwafina (who was raised by her own grandmother after her mother died when she was only four years old) carry the award-worthy, well-balanced film that easily crosses all barriers of culture and language to touch the heart. Coming to: Video on Demand
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Willem Dafoe portrays iconoclast film director Pier Paolo Pasolini in the final days before his murder in 1975. It’s immediately uncanny how much Dafoe resembles the 53 year old Italian director. (Dafoe was 60 when the film was shot in 2014.) Why is the film only just reaching American audiences now? The delay isn’t so surprising given how European, intellectual, and non-linear this tribute to the legendary artistic and political provocateur is. Pasolini is perhaps best known for his controversial and graphically sexual film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The auteur liked to challenge a society he believed was heading down a bad road. Consumerism was a particular concern of his, as was corrupt Christian democracy which he saw as similar to Italy’s fascist past.
From the perspective of our current global political climate, Pasolini’s views appear prescient. What’s more, his belief that post-industrial culture was being degraded by consumerist and bourgeois values anticipates the dissolution of individual will into the media slurry we now inhabit. His opinion: ”We are all in great danger, we are not real people any more.” Pasolini was a communist, but primarily an independent and outspoken thinker whose violent death sparked serious outcry within Italy. Was he murdered in a homophobic panic by the young man who was found driving his car? Or was his death an organized assassination by right wing forces? Director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) faithfully serves both Pasolini’s essential character and brutal murder with a clear and unblinking eye. Wisely, he does not attempt to copy Pasolini’s style, even as he mixes scenes of what would have been Pasolini’s unfinished final film. THE WORD: A good watch if you’re up for something intellectual that also features explicit gay sex. Coming to: Video on Demand.
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Last modified: August 14, 2019