Trailer: Ellen Page in Netflix Drama “Tallulah”

Posted on July 5, 2016 at 3:35 pm

“Juno” stars Ellen Page and Allison Janney re-team in “Tallulah,” written and directed by Sian Heder (Orange is the New Black). It is the story of young vagabond, Lu (Page), who lives in a van and is fiercely independent in her hand-to-mouth existence. She impulsively “rescues” a baby from a negligent mother, Lu, and at a loss for what to do, turns to the only responsible adult she knows: Margo (Janney), who mistakenly believes she’s the child’s grandmother.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Freeheld

Posted on October 8, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Copyright Lionsgate 2015
Copyright Lionsgate 2015

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a 23-year veteran of the police force, learns that she has terminal cancer. And then she learns something even more devastating — that her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) is not eligible for the pension benefits that she would be entitled to if they had been a heterosexual married couple.

It is hard to believe that was only ten years ago. But in 2006, marriage equality seemed very far in the future. And that was not Laurel Hester’s concern. As shown in the Oscar-winning documentary short, also called “Freeheld,” she did not want her fight for death benefits to be used to promote marriage equality. Hester was a very private person who did not even tell her longtime detective partner (Michael Shannon) that she was gay. She just wanted what she believed she had earned, and she wanted the woman she loved to be able to stay in the home they created together.

The term “Freehold,” by the way, is unique to New Jersey, and it goes back to the state’s earliest history. New Jersey’s first constitution, written in 1776, declared a county representative must be worth “fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same and have resided in the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election.” “Clear estate” means owning a property outright, and is also called a “freehold,” so only those who owned land could vote or be elected to office. While that restriction no longer applies, the position most localities call “representative,” “supervisor,” or “councilman” is referred to in New Jersey as “Freehold.” In the case of this movie, “freeheld” refers to the property shared by Hester and Andree and their love for each other as well.

There are really two stories here, both familiar to moviegoers, but not combined in this way. There is the story of the fight for justice against the barriers of bureaucracy, bigotry, and bullies. And there is the story of a reserved loner opening up to love. The combination is at times uneasy. The love story is the stronger part of the film, but gets less attention. Moore is superb as Hester, with her Farrah Fawcett hair wings, utter dedication to her job, and resolve built up into isolation after more than two decades of mostly good-natured but sexist and homophobic humor from her fellow cops. She crosses state lines to play in on a lesbian volleyball team in Pennsylvania so no one in New Jersey will see her.

And then she meets Stacie, tiny, much younger, but confident in who she is and who she loves. The scene where Andree proves herself to the manager of a car repair shop is a highlight. And so is their date, where we see Hester’s conflicting feelings. She is very attracted to Andree, she cannot quite believe Andree is attracted to her, she wants love in her life, she does not want to be exposed or vulnerable. When the two of them walk away from the bar to talk quietly, they are approached by thugs, and Hester pulls out her gun and identifies herself as a police officer. It is, in a way, a supremely romantic gesture. Later, she introduces Andree as her “roommate” and barks at her for answering the phone. But when she gets sick, she understands quickly what her priorities need to be.

She remains clear, even after Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), a flamboyant activist for gay rights, shows up. Hester reluctantly allows him to create some political theater to support her cause. There is a loophole in the law. Domestic partners of state employees are covered, but local Freeholders decide whether city and county-level employees will qualify. Hester’s Freeholders have already turned her down and she does not have much time.

As often happens in re-telling a recent true story, the movie trips over the proportions in trying to get the facts straight. The interactions between the various Freeholders, including Josh Charles as the most inclined to support Hester’s rights, are no more interesting than municipal-level politics usually are. But the deep love between Hester and Andree and their quiet insistence on simple justice give the story sincerity, sweetness, and conviction.

Parents should know that this film includes very sad scenes of a terminal cancer patient, and death, themes of LGBTQ rights including homophobic and bigoted characters, some sexual references and situations, some strong language, smoking, drinking, and some law enforcement-related violence.

Family discussion: Why did Laurel insist that she was not an advocate of marriage equality? Should she have told her partner the truth?

If you like this, try: the Oscar-winning documentary that inspired the film

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Based on a true story GLBTQ and Diversity

To Rome With Love

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

The quality of Woody Allen’s films is incidental, even coincidental.  Woody Allen and Adam Sandler may occupy opposite ends of the comedy spectrum when it comes to their audiences and cultural touchstones.  Sandler’s touchstones are “I Love the 80’s” faded celebrities and Allen’s are philosophers, New York, and jazz musicians.  But they have more in common than their mutual fixations with nostalgia, male characters afflicted with arrested development, and sex.  Both, thanks to the enabling devotion of their dedicated audiences, are enabled to make movies that are closer to conceptual art than fully-realized story-telling.

For Allen, who averages a film a year, his real art form is the perpetual production schedule. The prestige factor means that he can get top actors — both in ability and box office appeal to reassure the budget guys — for microscopic fractions of their usual fees.  He keeps the same crew.  All he has to do is provide a script.  But because his priority is getting the film made rather than awards, critical reception, or selling tickets, movies like “To Rome With Love” feel like they came out of the oven without being fully cooked.  It plays like a first draft, or even a handful of random notes grabbed at random from a drawer because the cameras were ready to roll.

Allen continues his tour of the capitals of Europe by setting his story in Rome, or, I should say, stories.  A stunningly unoriginal opening shows us an Italian traffic cop, who advises us that Rome has many stories.  Like an episode of “The Love Boat” he combines four stories, and these are variations on the themes of love, sex, music, aging, and what one character calls “Ozymondian melancholy,” a nostalgic pre-occupation with the past.

A successful architect (Alec Baldwin) confronts a younger version of himself (“The Social Network’s” Jesse Eisinberg), or perhaps himself as a younger man, to try to prevent him from making a disastrous mistake by betraying his lovely, stable, devoted girlfriend (a criminally underused Greta Gerwig) with her high-maintenance friend (a criminally mis-cast Ellen Page, who is supposed to be seductive and neurotic).  A naive newlywed couple from the country come to the big city on their honeymoon.  As they prepare to meet his very conservative relatives, who have offered him a high-paid job, they get tangled up in deception that includes a fetching prostitute (Penelope Cruz, one of the film’s highlights) and a predatory movie star.  An ordinary man (Oscar winner Roberto Benigni) finds himself inexplicably a celebrity, hounded by paparazzi and fans who are fascinated with the most mundane details of his very mundane life.  At first, he enjoys the attention and takes advantage of his fame, but then it becomes tiresome.  And Allen himself plays a retired opera director who is visiting his daughter (Allison Pill, who was Zelda Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris”) and meet her Italian fiancé  He discovers that the fiancé’s father, an undertaker, has a magnificent tenor voice, but only in the shower.  There is a lot time spent on extraneous conflicts with the Allen character’s wife (Judy Davis) and the lefty politics of the younger couple that never goes anywhere.

There are some very funny lines and some mild humor from the situations, but the best that can be said of it is that just as not much energy was expended in making it, not much will be required to enjoy and then forget it.

 

(more…)

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Comedy Romance

Inception

Posted on December 7, 2010 at 8:00 am

Stop right now. I mean it, stop reading. If you have not already seen “Inception,” there is nothing I can tell you that would not diminish your experience of this film. The less you know going in, the better you will appreciate the unfolding, doubling-back, and overall mind-bending stories within stories in one of the year’s best films. So, go see it and then come back and read what I have to say and share your thoughts about what you think it is all about.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, welcome back.

Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “Memento”) has written and directed that rarest of movie pleasures, a fantasy action movie for people who like to think. It’s kind of, sort of, “The Matrix” crossed with “The Sting,” “Fantastic Voyage,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” On crack. It’s the kind of movie people will argue about all the way home, go see again, and argue about some more. Nolan understands that the power of movies is that they allow the audience to plug into a kind of Jungian collective dream and he takes that idea to the meta-level, and then metas it a couple more times.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is part of a renegade team that has taken corporate espionage to the next level. They do not steal secrets from the offices and memos of corporate executives. They steal secrets from their minds. Cobb has taken techniques developed by his professor father (Michael Caine) and come up with a way to enter into the subconscious of these people by literally entering and manipulating their dreams. This, of course, has led to the development of a whole new industry of counter-dream espionage through bolstering the subject’s psychological defenses. Within a dream, as with other abstract concepts, they are made explicit and concrete as armed assassins. Being shot by them affects the physical reality of the avatar-like representation of the person entering the subject’s dream. It can hurtle them out of the dream entirely. Or, it can push them into an endless mental limbo.

Audiences may feel (enjoyably) as though they have toppled into an endless mental limbo as the characters’ journey takes them into dreams within dreams, each with its own setting, time (moments in one dream level equal weeks in a deeper one), and properties. Sometimes those properties seep across dream boundaries, with vertiginous shifts in physical properties. In one extraordinary sequence, characters in an otherwise-standard-looking hotel become weightless and fights take place as though they are all under water.

The team knows how to extract thoughts from dreams, even the subjects’ most guarded secrets, made material within the minds’ fortresses and vaults. “Create something secure and the mind automatically fills it with something it wants to protect,” explains a character.

A new client insists that they must do something far more difficult — implant an idea, and do it so quietly that the subject will believe he thought it up himself. All of this is in the context of a slyly chosen, well-worn set-up, the last big heist. Dom wants out. He wants to go home. He wants to see the faces of his children. And this is his last chance.

The visual razzle-dazzle is breathtaking, especially as new member of the team Ariadne (“Juno’s” Ellen Page) is introduced to the world of dream architecture. But what makes the film so enthralling is its own fully-realized intellectual architecture, the rules and consequences of its world view that seem so complete they extend far beyond the borders of the story. This is a film that will reward repeated viewings. It will be the subject of late-night dorm discussions, application essays, and possibly some scholarly exegesis because of the way it poses provocative concepts of identity, responsibility, and consciousness. “Reality is not going to be enough for her, now,” Dom says as Ariadne explores an architect’s ultimate fantasy of creation. Yes, and that’s why we have movies. After all, dreams and reality feed each other. As Humphrey Bogart said in “The Maltese Falcon” and Shakespeare said long before that, they’re “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

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Action/Adventure Drama Fantasy Science-Fiction

Whip It

Posted on January 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

Drew Barrymore has devoted more time than most people to growing up and has done it more publicly than most people, too. At age 34, she has been acting for nearly three decades. Here she makes her directing debut with a coming of age story that may be conventional in structure but has some unexpected warmth and wisdom.

Ellen Page of “Juno” plays Bliss, a small-town girl whose undefined sense of displacement and dissatisfaction never got more specific than feeling inauthentic in the beauty pageants her mother insists on or working as a waitress at a barbecue place called the Oink Joint. She feels fully herself only with her best friend Pash (the bountifully freckled Alia Shawkat), until she gets a flier for a roller derby. She convinces Pash to go with her. The roller derby girls are full-on smash and bash and brash and completely unabashed in a way that makes Bliss feel fully alive. Even though her “last pair of roller skates had Barbies on them” and she is tiny and not especially athletic — not to mention that her parents would never approve — she decides to try out.

Even in movieland, girl squab Ellen Page seems like someone you skate over. But they do the Harry Potter thing and give her the one attribute that makes it possible for her to compete with women three times her size and five times her weight class. She is very fast. And that is how she is taken on by the “Hurl Scouts,” including Maggie Mayhem (Saturday Night Live’s Kristin Wiig), Bloody Holly (stuntwoman Zoe Bell), Rosa Sparks (rapper Eve), and Smashley Simpson (director Barrymore). Their Girl Scout-inspired uniforms and cheerfully bad attitude make her feel at home. Bliss becomes Babe Ruthless and she is on the team. And before long, she has a fan, a handsome young musician (Landon Pigg), who likes her very much.

Do you think that Bliss is about to embark on a journey far more fraught with peril than the roller rink? Well, then, you’ve seen a movie before. Yes, there will be complications and painful disappointments involving her friend, her parents, the musician, and the friend.

What is best about this is the way Barrymore gently sells the niceness of it all. It turns out that roller girls just wanna have fun and that the sisterhood of the traveling skates is one big happy family. Barrymore has spoken frankly of her essentially parent-less childhood and here, as she often does in movies, she conveys a young girl’s feelings of isolation and the longing for motherly guidance. Bliss finds that guidance from an unexpected place in one of the movie’s most affecting scenes. The overt message about girl empowerment may focus on hip checks and punches, but what lingers are the lessons that nothing is more powerful than forgiveness, that loyalty to others enhances your ability to define your own space, and that at every level within and outside the film sistas are doing it for themselves.

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