Friday, September 23, 2022

'Blonde' and 'Sidney' stream; 'Darling' and 'Woman King' try to rule theaters

Still unreeling and catching up from 10 days at TIFF. (If you missed them, on-site reports can be read at left):

A special Netflix press screening of the tragically vivid "Blonde" in Toronto, with no connection to the 47th annual film festival there, still has me feeling that if Ana de Armas doesn't run away with a Best Actress Oscar, then the award simply should be abolished.

The demure Cuban beauty simply dazzles in her monumental portrayal of 20th Century America's No. 1 sex symbol, actress/icon/orphan/waif Marilyn Monroe, by looking, singing, speaking, walking and generally wearing pain just like the wounded superstar (real name Norma Jeane Baker) did in her maddeningly brief 36 years.

The latter assumption carries through an assortment of Norma Jeane's woes, including the memory of being raised by an unhinged mother (Julianne Nicholson), short-lived marriages to famous, unnamed  "Daddy" figures we now know as the abusive Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Carnevale) and more patient Arthur Miller (Adrian Brody), unimaginably brutal and warped relationships with anonymous/obvious men who ran a major studio (David Warshofsy) and the United States (Caspar Phillipson), respectively, and so much endlessly more.

Though the story is based on a fictionalized novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, there's no mistaking the reality of everything we've heard, read, and seen about Monroe's apparent drug-shortened life, which director/screenwriter Andrew Dominik offers up with both brilliantly orchestrated and peepshow glimpses.

Rated "NC-17" by MPAA: for some sexual content; 2:47; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Blonde" is now playing in select cities -- though none in Ohio -- and debuts Sept. 28 on Netflix.)

Another late screen legend more legitimately fills the screen in "Sidney," a documentary of requisite talking heads and clips from Sidney Poitier movies that remind us how elegant, eloquent and classy the man truly was. (A quick aside: The Oscar-winning actor was so genuine in taming a group of English hooligans in his 1967 hit, "To Sir with Love," that I often wished he could be one of my teachers.)

Poitier died just last January at age 94, itself an ironic achievement for someone so tiny when born two months prematurely, he tells us in his own words, that his Bahamian father brought home a shoebox to "discard" him. Later, he revisits the story and, with tears in his eyes, adds how his mother talked to a soothsayer who told her not to worry about the ailing son that would live a remarkable life.

Longtime filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, directing here, gets some especially touching help, too, from producer Oprah Winfrey and Civil Rights leader Willie Blue in describing the importance of Poitier's activism off the screen, while his two wives, six daughters, and a Who's Who of Hollywood Royalty nicely fill in a few necessary blanks.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: adult themes and racial slurs; 1:51; $ $ $ out of $5

("Sidney" made its world premiere Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now streaming on Apple TV+.)

Now only in theaters everywhere, "Don't Worry Darling" includes a memorable '50s soundtrack for those of us who have been around long enough to appreciate it, good-looking cinematography (from two-time Oscar nominee Matthew Libatique), and Florence Pugh in the lead role.

The latter, who has been nothing short of sensational as sexy "Lady Macbeth," a WWE wrestler (in "Fighting with My Family"), oft-played Amy March ("Little Women") and even the sister of "Black Widow," might meet her match here, though, as a scared woman with nowhere to go.

Of course, we don't know that until a head-scratching last act leaves us yearning for the possibilities promised by an experimental society of swaggering swingers (led by a cocky visionary played by the strong Chris Pine). He heads the kind of creepy-sounding Victory Development that demands loyalty from all its young-buck male employees and their pretty wives, who may or may not be from Stepford (spoiler alert: OK, they're not).

Pugh's character and hubby (Harry Styles) can't keep their hands off each other, that is, until the Missus starts experiencing a few oddities, breaks a key Victory rule, and starts remembering stuff. Uh-oh. Can't wait to see what happens next. (Just let me know if you figure it out.) 

Rated "R" by MPAA: sexuality, violent content, and language; 2:02; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally, "The Woman King," another world premiere movie from Toronto, has Viola Davis portraying a title character based on a real warrior and ruling her historically accurate, all-female army of Dahomey the same way she dominated the recent opening weekend of the film festival.

Seriously, she and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose year 2000 "Love & Basketball" remains one of the finest debut features ever produced, received before-and-after ovations for making "King," and then accepted a few more when the dynamic duo participated in TIFF's popular "In Conversation With . . ." program the day after their sold-out premiere.

At that last event, they talked about key career moments and why the director and Davis' own JuVee Productions came together to make a movie that's part epic, part action film and all actually set on the Africa continent.

Prince-Bythewood shared a few stories about the process, including one in which she feared that continuous rains would delay shooting enough to miss an important deadline. "I just had put my head in my hands, when I heard these wonderful sounds of singing and laughing," she said. "It was the 300 extras just spontaneously having a good time, and the spirit of it all became so infectious."

"The drummers were there and joined in, too," Davis added. "It was wonderfully moving, and I asked one of the dancers what they were singing about. She told me it was to stop the rain. And it did!"

The rest is history, with "The Women King" leading all others at the box offfice last weekend with a $19-million haul. It remains in theaters everywhere.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: strong violence, partial nudity, brief language, some disturbing and thematic content; 2:06; $ $ $ out of $5

(New in theaters: Three more TIFF flicks, Lena Dunham's "Catherine Called Birdy," the David Bowie doc "Moonage Daydream," and Sanaa Lathan's "On the Come Up," also on Paramount+; the re-release of "Avatar"; "Control," and "The Infernal Machine," also On Demand. Tyler Perry's "A Jazzman's Blues," still another TIFF world premiere, is streaming on Netflix.)

No comments: