Pick of the Litter – August 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

(Universal) Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby. The first spin off movie from the Fast and Furious franchise gives us Agent Luke Hobbs and former outlaw Deckard Shaw forced to work together to save the world (and Shaw’s sister) from a genetically enhanced madman who is intent on releasing a biological weapon that will decimate the world’s population – and that Shaw’s sister stole from him. August 2

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Love, Antosha

(mTuckman) Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine, Jodie Foster, Nicolas Cage. The heartbreaking and yet still inspiring story of the late actor Anton Yelchin whose death in a freak accident at age 27 robbed the world of a consummate artist whose best work was ahead of him. August 2

Ladyworld

(Cleopatra) Ariela Barer, Annalise Basso, Ryan Simpkins, Odessa Adlon, Eight girls are trapped in a house during a birthday party by a massive earthquake that may or may not have happened. As the never-ending party continues, the girls begin to face the music in that food and water is becoming short and a kind of Lord of the Flies mentality begins to kick in. The film is touted as a new look at feminine stereotypes by visionary director Amanda Kramer. August 2

Luce

(Neon) Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth. A married couple couldn’t be prouder of their son, adopted from a war-torn African nation. He has risen above his past to become a model student, a fine athlete and someone much admired in the community. When a devoted teacher suddenly rings alarm bells after he writes a paper advocating violence, the parents are forced to reconsider their image of their son. August 2

Brian Banks

(Bleecker Street) Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd. The incredible but true story of a 16-year-old high school football player, considered a can’t-miss prospect for the NFL, who is incarcerated for 11 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He struggles to prove his innocence and get a chance to get the life he should have had back. August 9

The Banana Splits Movie

(SyFy) Dani Kind, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Romeo Carere, Steve Lund. What better birthday present could there be for a young boy in the 1970s than tickets to a taping of the beloved children’s show, The Banana Splits? However, things take a much darker turn in this much-anticipated horror comedy. What hath Sid and Marty Kroft wrought? August 13

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás, Cyril Corral. Budding filmmaker and staunch surrealist Luis Buñuel is certain that he will never make an impact on his art or the world until a friend with a winning lottery ticket allows him to make a documentary that will forever change the way he sees the world. This is based on a true story and features actual footage from the original documentary woven in with the animation. August 16

Mission Mangal

(FIP) Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha. The incredible true story of the scientists and engineers of the Indian Space Research Organization who in overcoming personal adversity and a history of failures were able to successfully launch India’s first probe to Mars – the least expensive mission to ever go there  August 15

The Amazing Jonathan Documentary

(Hulu) The Amazing Jonathan, Weird Al Yankovic, Anastasia Synn, Benjamin Berman. Popular comedian and magician The Amazing Jonathan found his life derailed when he was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition that gave him a year to live. First-time documentary filmmaker Berman initially was set to document the last year of his life – only to discover that reality and illusion were beginning to blur. August 16

Aquarela

(Sony Classics) Viktor Kossakovsky. A globe-hopping, mesmerizing documentary examines the effects of water on our world and the effects of climate change on all things aquatic. Using stunning visuals to immerse the viewer in a world of water, ice and steam, the movie will also be released in high frame-rate versions in selected cities. August 16

Brittany Runs a Marathon

(Amazon) Jillian Bell, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh, Lil Rel Howley. A New Yorker, tired of being ignored and overweight, decides to take charge of her life in this life-affirming comedy. She decides that her goal is to run the New York City Marathon and while some scoff, she will not be deterred. August 23

Freaks

(Well Go USA) Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Lexy Kolker, Amanda Crew. An overprotective dad keeps his young daughter confined to the house. As she grows up, she begins to suspect her dad may be paranoid and delusional, and she is eager to solve the mystery of her mom who disappeared when she was very young. It turns out that her dad had reason to be overprotective. August 23

Official Secrets

(IFC) Kiera Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode. This is based on the true story of British whistleblower Katherine Gun, who was tried for violations of the Official Secrets Act for leaking information to the press about an illegal NSA operation that was designed to convince the UN Security Council to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite there being no real evidence to justify it. August 23

Vita & Virginia

(IFC) Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones. This is based on the actual love letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; whose forbidden romance inspired the novel Orlando. August 30

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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus


Say "cheesy".

Say “cheesy”.

(2006) Fantasy (Picturehouse) Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell, Harris Yulin, Jane Alexander, Boris McGiver, Emmy Clarke, Genevieve McCarthy, Mary Duffy, Lynn Marie Stetson, Gwendolyn Bucci, Eric Gingold, Christina Rouner, Marceline Hugo, Emily Bergl, Matt Servitto, David Green, Sandriel Frank, Krista Coyle. Directed by Steven Shainberg.

In the 1950s, housewives were expected essentially to be seen and not heard. The only voice their husbands wanted to hear was “Welcome home, honey” and “Here’s your martini” and “Dinner’s ready” and maybe “Yes, dear.” Of course, that’s a very simplistic way of looking at things and most wives, even back then, had voice and were heard, although they often had to find subtle ways of doing it. Diane Arbus was never the strongest of women, but she had a vision and her determination to express it led her to places that she could not have expected to go.

Diane Arbus (Kidman), the quiet, mousy daughter of fur magnate David Nemorov (Yulin) and his overbearing wife Gertrude (Alexander), is also the devoted wife to would-be photographer Allan (Burrell). She has aspirations to being a photographer herself, but has had little time to pursue that dream, helping her husband run his portrait studio as well as clean their apartment and raise their children. However, her passions and eclectic nature have led even her children to label her “weird,” although her saintly husband is willing to overlook her occasional emotional outbursts and supports her in nearly everything she wants to do.

However, a drastic change ensues when the mysterious Lionel (Downey) moves in upstairs. He only ventures in public wearing a sweater mask; that is, when he ventures out at all. She finally summons up the courage to go introduce herself to the new neighbor and discovers he suffers from a rare disfigurement; his hair grows rapidly and all over his body, turning him effectively into a living wolf man. Once she gets over his appearance, she wants to take his portrait but he keeps demurring, offering her a glimpse into a world of what used to be called the freaks; a world of dwarves and dominatrix, giants and gender benders. She begins to immerse herself more fully into that world, withdrawing more and more from her own family. Which world will Diane Arbus eventually choose?

Kidman is asked to carry this movie while retaining the obedient and subservient demeanor of a 1950s housewife. Much of her dialogue is in a whispering, excuse-me-for-speaking voice which at times gets irritating, considering you’re asking the audience to retain an interest in her character. To her credit, Kidman’s  acting is right on the money for the character as written, but pales when compared to Downey’s Lionel.

Essentially pared of facial expression for most of the movie (except for the very last reel in which Kidman tenderly – and sensually – shaves the fur from his skin), Downey uses his eyes and his voice to great effect. Although he received no acting nominations for any major awards for his performance, he was certainly deserving of consideration. If they’d used a fictional photographer loosely based on Arbus in many ways this would have been a better movie, because then they could make it about Lionel. In addition, Burrell does a surprisingly good job as the husband helplessly watching his wife drift away, wanting her to be happy and yet needing her love and support. You can see the potential he would eventually fulfill in Modern Family.

The filmmakers capture the energy of New York circa 1958 rather nicely. The apartment set by Amy Danger and Carrie Stewart, is spot-on. The set decoration, both of the Arbus’ apartment with its 1950s normality, and the more whimsical loft of Lionel, is bold and striking. Carter Burwell’s score captures the jazzy feel one associates with the city in the era of the Beat Generation. The legendary Stan Winston’s make-up for Lionel makes him the perfect Beast to Kidman’s Beauty.

First of all, I don’t like the whole concept. Why create a fictional account of Diane Arbus’ life? I’d much rather prefer to see a movie about her actual life. Wasn’t it interesting enough? I also find it highly telling that in a movie purporting to be a tribute to the world-famous photographer they use none of her photographs. I found very little of Diane Arbus in this movie, at least as far as I could detect. While Kidman does a pretty good job acting, she is asked to essentially carry the movie and yet be reserved and quiet (most of her lines are delivered in almost a whisper), leading to a curiously flat quality to the movie. We never get a sense of who Diane Arbus really was or why anyone should bother making a film about her life.

No. I honestly think this does a disservice to the memory of Diane Arbus and her work. I felt after seeing it that I hadn’t gleaned anything new about the artist; in that sense, you’re better off picking up a book of her photographs (of course, that’s pretty much true of any artist). Despite Downey’s wonderful performance and Kidman’s presence, the movie is neither inspiring nor informative and sadly, not really entertaining either.

WHY RENT THIS: Downey is compelling. Recreates the era nicely.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: We don’t ever see any of Arbus’ actual photographs. Would have preferred seeing her actual life story. Kidman speaks in a whisper and we never get the sense that Arbus was of any interest whatsoever.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is much explicit nudity and a graphic sex scene. The adult tone to the film make it unsuitable viewing for any but the most mature teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Director Steven Shainberg’s Uncle Lawrence was a close friend of Diane Arbus.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2,3M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Eyes
FINAL RATING: 3.5/10
NEXT: Selma