by Julian Spivey
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Starring: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison & Tig Notaro
Runtime: 1 hour & 30 minutes
Director-writer Nikole Beckwith’s “Together Together,” which had its world premiered almost a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival before seeing a limited released in late April, is an interesting story you don’t often (or really ever) see.
The film, which can now be seen streaming on Hulu, is the story of a single middle-aged man Matt, played by Ed Helms who always seems to be at his best in these small indies, who wants to be a father and seeks out a surrogate Anna, played by Patti Harrison. Matt wants a child. Anna needs the money. But neither of them expects the purely transactional relationship to blossom into friendship, and this is where Beckwith’s film finds its big heart.
The chemistry between Helms and Harrison, who pretty much the entire film relies on as none of the supporting characters have much screen time, is charming as all get out, which makes “Together Together” a breezy watch, especially as it doesn’t overstay its welcome at 90 minutes.
There’s a “will-they-or-won’t-they” develop this friendship into a relationship, despite the 15-20 year old age gap between the characters, for much of the film but it never really gets that far, which might be a bummer for some viewers, but I think is a nice place for the film to leave off. Matt and Anna might spend the rest of their lives together, but will they be together together? I don’t know that I care so much as long as they remain friends because they’re at least meant to be together in that way.
Beckwith’s film is simple. It’s not going to be anything you haven’t seen before, other than maybe it’s overall plot about a man seeking a kid through a surrogate alone (we’ve certainly seen it the other way around). But “Together Together” has loads of charm and is a lovely viewing to spend a lazy afternoon or evening with.
by Tyler Glover
Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard & Charise Castro Smith
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero & John Leguizamo
Runtime: 1 hour & 42 minutes
One of the greatest things happening in film today is greater representation for minorities. People that are not white are finally getting to see people like them on their screens (and not in stereotypical roles). It’s the way that life has always been: people from all different ethnic backgrounds have always been around from the beginning of time; film just hasn’t always reflected that. This progress has gone even slower in the world of animation. Disney did not have its first African-American princess until 2009 with the introduction of Princess Tiana in “The Princess and The Frog.” Since then, Disney has taken us to the Polynesian Islands in “Moana,” to the jazz club in “Soul,” and to Mexico on Dia De Los Muertos in “Coco.” While Disney took years to get the ball rolling, it appears they are committed to bringing diversity, inclusion, and representation to their animated films.
Disney’s latest film, “Encanto,” is the latest effort towards representation exploring Colombian culture. “Encanto” in English means “charm” and there could not be a more appropriate name for this film. “Encanto” is 100 percent charming start to finish. “Encanto” follows the story of the Family Madrigal who all live in a magical home that gifts all of them with specific magical powers except for Mirabel. As Mirabel is struggling to find her place in the world and in her family, the house starts to lose its magic and so Mirabel sets out to save the magic.
There is so much to love about this film from top to bottom. The biggest thing I loved about the film was the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is showing us all why he is one of the biggest names in entertainment today with this score. The songs are all so great that it is difficult to choose just one. If I had to pick, it would be “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” It would not surprise me at all if “Encanto” manages to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score and win. The score was that great.
The film also has so many relatable characters. I feel like we all can identify with at least one of the characters. That’s one thing I think the script does splendidly. Grandmothers will relate to trying to do what’s best for the entire family, mothers will relate to trying to keep the peace, people worried about trying to always fulfill people’s expectation to be perfect will identify with Isabella and Luisa. People who are overly emotional will identify with Tia Pepa. Finally, anyone who has ever felt like an outcast will identify with Mirabel. Mirabel is searching for her place in the world and feels like no matter what she does, she messes things up while trying to do so. All of these characters for the most part are incredibly easy to love.
“Encanto” is a film that is beautiful to look at with such vibrant and delightful colors but what I love the most about the film is that it gives us a look into Colombian culture. It shows us that the world is different and that’s a good thing. One thing about Mirabel that is different from other characters is that she is in a leading heroine role wearing glasses. My daughter wears glasses and when she saw Mirabel for the first time, she looked at me and said, “Daddy, she has glasses like me.” That’s what representation is and why it matters.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Emma Seligman
Starring: Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari & Molly Gordon
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 1 hour & 18 minutes
Director Emma Seligman’s directorial debut “Shiva Baby,” which she also wrote, is one helluva first feature.
The film must be something close to her because it’s been something she’s worked on for years. The feature version of “Shiva Baby” is adapted from her own 2018 short film of the same name, which was her thesis project while studying at New York University and is only eight minutes long. How Seligman managed to flesh out eight minutes into 78 minutes for the feature is beyond me, but boy did she ever make it work.
The film stars Rachel Sennott as Danielle, an aimless twentysomething Jewish woman making money by prostituting herself via an app and not really knowing what she wants to do with her life. She is attending a shiva with her family in which other attendees include her ex-girlfriend Maya (played by Molly Gordon), Max (played by Danny Deferrari), who is one of her sugar daddies via the app, and Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron), who is in tow with their baby and has no idea what her husband has been up to. Also featured in the film are Fred Melamed and Polly Draper as Danielle’s parents Joel and Debbie.
Basically, the entirety of “Shiva Baby” is set at this shiva in a house with way too many attendees and it gets claustrophobic as hell with the setting and feeling of things tightening in on her serving as a terrific state of being for Danielle. It’s amazing how a debut filmmaker like Seligman is able to convey the anxiety of Danielle’s experience so perfectly and this combined with Sennott’s excellent portrayal of a moment in one’s life spiraling out of control really make “Shiva Baby” what it is – an almost fly on the wall experience where the viewer can be on the verge of an anxiety breakdown themselves.
The absolutely most cringe scenes in the film involve Danielle’s awkward conversations with Kim, especially after Kim begins to realize something has happened between Danielle and her husband. At times it’s fairly comical when Danielle is toying with Max in front of his wife with him realizing Danielle can bring him down at any moment and Danielle truly doesn’t care if she does.
I wouldn’t change anything about “Shiva Baby,” but damn if there’s also not another movie within it that I’d love to see and that is the relationship between Danielle and Maya. Sennott and Gordon have such great chemistry together that I wanted more every time they were on screen together. I want to see their story, whether it was their relationship before or whatever they have together after the film’s final scene.
Speaking of the film’s final scene … wow. It’s the cherry on the ice cream as far as cringe-inducing moments in the film. I don’t even want to say anything about it because it was such a fun experience that I hope people just view the film and get to it. I was giddy watching it. It was the best final scene of a film I’ve seen in a while.
I’m really impressed with Seligman’s debut product “Shiva Baby” and can’t wait to see what comes next from this young filmmaker.
“Shiva Baby” is currently streaming on HBO Max.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman & Bradley Cooper
Runtime: 2 hours & 13 minutes
Through no intentions I’ve somehow managed to have never seen a Paul Thomas Anderson movie before seeing “Licorice Pizza,” so now that I’ve completely discredited myself as a film critic, let’s review the director’s latest film.
It may be quite typical of Anderson’s style, but I must first warn you before going into “Licorice Pizza” that there is essentially no plot to this film. If that bothers you you might want to skip it, but you would be missing out on some absolutely fantastic performances, especially given the two leads of this film have never acted in a motion picture before. “Licorice Pizza” is a hangout film and because the characters are so interesting, I didn’t mind spending a couple of hours with them.
“Licorice Pizza” stars Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Oscar-winning actor and longtime P.T.A. collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, as 15-year old Gary Valentine living in the San Fernando Valley of California in 1973. Valentine is a child actor, but he seems to be aging out of that quickly and looking for any get rich scheme he can find. Many reviewers have referred to Gary as a “hustler,” and I guess that’s true, but to me he also comes off something of a con man, a future skeevy used car salesman if you will. Gary is always interesting, but not often likable. I’m not sure if Anderson, who also wrote the script, intended him that way though because the character is based off the childhood of Anderson’s friend Gary Goetzman.
It’s the film’s other lead character Alana Kane, played by Alana Haim of the Grammy-nominated sister pop-rock group Haim, that I found so likable. That being said, Alana Haim is hard not to like, even when playing a fictional character. Kane is something of a lovable loser, she’s 25-years old and aimless working for a creepy photograph at the film’s beginning, which is where she first meets Gary during his high school yearbook photoshoot. It’s the first scene in the film and it may well be the single best one in the entire movie, as the two are flirting from the moment they meet in the photo line until it’s Gary’s turn to take his picture in a long tracking shot that had me smiling most of the way.
I wish Anderson could’ve somehow kept the magic of that opening scene bottled up for the entirety of the film – but isn’t that how relationships work, you have the magic of the meet-cute and then it’s topsy-turvy from then on.
The 10-year age gap between the two characters had led to some controversy, as Gary is a teen and Alana is an adult in the film, but I think it’s mostly folks complaining to complain. Never in the film is Alana predatory, in fact, it’s the age gap that has her mostly just interested in being Gary’s friend for the majority of the film.
The movie is basically told in vignettes and some of them work better than others. The scene with Sean Penn as an aging actor, based on William Holden, trying to re-live his glory days on a motorcycle while being egged on by Tom Waits’ veteran film director could’ve been left on the cutting floor in my opinion, even if it does serve as a form of jealousy between Gary and Alana and leads to one of their coming togethers again. Also, something that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor is John Michael Higgins’ as the Japanese restauranteur with a new Japanese wife each time we see him, who doesn’t speak the language but feels he’ll be understood if he uses an offensive accent. It’s this character that has drawn more controversy to the film and has even led to some boycotts. The character just isn’t necessary.
Then we have a vignette that is among the best parts of the film involving the leads bringing a waterbed, one of Gary’s schemes before the oil embargo of the early ‘70s puts an end to it, to film producer Jon Peters, played chaotically by Bradley Cooper in a performance hopefully not too small for the Academy to ignore come Oscar-season. The fantastic part of the scene is knowing that Alana Haim did most, if not all, of the driving of this big moving truck on her own during the film shoot.
One thing that Anderson absolutely knocked out of the park with “Licorice Pizza” is its soundtrack with tracks of the era and some of the best needle drops I’ve seen in recent years in cinema, particularly with David Bowe’s “Life on Mars?” and “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney and Wings. The soundtrack really enhances the mood and overall likability of the film.
A complaint I have about “Licorice Pizza” is that my distrust of Gary and my full on crush of Alana have me feeling a certain negativity when it comes to the ending. I think a lot of viewers of the film will probably come away feeling differently than I do about it and that will probably lead to a more satisfied ending for them than I had watching “Licorice Pizza.”