FlixChatter Review: On The Basis Of Sex (2018)

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“You couldn’t have existed until now.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s teenage daughter has just told off a cat calling construction crew. RBG stares at her daughter, who is striding into the street to call a cab. Oblivious to the rain and to the cab which her daughter is now impatiently waiting by, RBG sees her daughter with new eyes. Jane Ginsburg is an entirely new kind of woman: a woman that RBG could never have conceptualized, much less become, in her teenage years.

This is one of two running themes of On the Basis of Sex. The movie never strays from its biographical storyline, but the movie is also clearly built to remind its audience that everyone is a product of their time. Bader Ginsburg was one of the first women to ever attend Harvard and yet she found herself shocked by her own daughter’s ability to stand up to a perhaps less institutionalized part of the patriarchy. The groundwork laid by our predecessors allows us to become something that they could never have dreamed and sometimes that shocks our predecessors.

The second theme regards the importance of family and a strong partnership. Martin Ginsburg prepares meals, comforts his children, and encourages his wife to pursue her ambitious dreams. RBG also puts in her fair share of work around the house, is willing to sacrifice a degree to support her husband, and puts in twice as much work as any other Harvard students when her husband gets sick. Most notably, the give and take of the Ginsburg’s relationship is not something that the movie asks its audience to be impressed by.

Aside from Armie Hammer’s unfortunately benign interpretation of Martin Ginsburg, the cast of On the Basis of Sex is spot on. Felicity Jones’ performance (as Ruth Bader Ginsburg) is strong-willed, reserved, and funny. Her performance, which is great all around, was downright heart stopping when she curled up in a hospital bed with her husband: the love, sadness, and hope exuded in that moment has lingered in the back of my mind in the week since I saw the movie.

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Justin Theroux excelled as an almost likable, smarmy Mel Wulf. Cailee Spaeny (as Jane Ginsburg) was a perfect teenager: self-righteous, emotional, and ultimately full of love for her family. Sam Waterston was…Sam Waterston. He was a believable Dean of Harvard, but I doubt that Waterston captured Erwin Griswold’s essence in any meaningful way.

The costume and set design were gorgeous. From the very beginning of the movie when Bader Ginsburg is highlighted as a bright blue spot in a sea of black suits, the movie is visually stunning. The clothing, furniture, and city scape of the 50s and 60s are lovingly and colorfully recreated, making the movie an absolute treat to watch.

Ultimately a feel-good movie by director Mimi Leder, On the Basis of Sex is well worth seeing. Much of Bader Ginsburg’s life and work go unaddressed, which, considering the scope of her life’s work, is to be expected, but the film paints a beautiful portrait of Bader Ginsburg and her family.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times. You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘On The Basis Of Sex’? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘First Girl I Loved’ + ‘My Scientology Movie’ doc

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‘First Girl I Loved’ Review

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First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age story for the social media generation. Mix this with a narrative about teenage sexuality and you have the new feature film written and directed by Kerem Sanga. It stars Dylan Gelula as Anne, the nerdy high school yearbook photographer, Brianna Hildebrand as Sasha, star of the softball team and the object of Anne’s desire, and Mateo Arias as Clifton, Anne’s best friend who secretly loves her.
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This is a movie that whether you like it may depend on what mood you are in. On one hand, the lead characters in this movie are teenagers that act like teenagers (no deep psychological speeches here). On the other hand, there is a lot of giggling and nonsensical teenager speak that can get annoying.

The narrative at times can be confusing as it’s told in flashback from each character’s perspective. If this was intentional to help the audience understand how conflicted these young people are, it succeeded. Dylan Gelula in particular is a standout in this movie, as she aptly portrays the angst of the high school years. I feel like this movie will really strike a chord with some viewers but unfortunately I am not one of them.

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‘My Scientology Movie’ Review

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I was intrigued by this documentary when I learned of the unconventional method that documentarian Louis Theroux (apparently cousin of actor Justin Theroux) in approaching the controversial subject matter. Directed by John Dower, Louis traveled around Los Angeles to investigate what goes on behind the scenes of the elusive church of scientology. But instead of featuring expert ‘talking heads’ as most documentaries typically do, Louis instead chooses to re-enact some of the practices and speeches, based on recruitment/marketing videos from the church that he got from whistleblowers.
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The style immediately reminds me of The Act of Killing documentary where filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer exposed one of the most brutal genocide in history that took place in Indonesia with re-enactments of the murderous ‘act’ itself. The difference is, Joshua used the actual perpetrators of the event to re-enact them, whilst Louis hired unknown actors to play the roles of major figures of scientology, including the church leader David Miscavige and the movie star Tom Cruise, the most famous celebrity scientologist in the world.

The result isn’t quite as hauntingly profound as The Act Of Killing, but still it’s quite a revelatory as well as amusing documentary. There are moments that are downright hilarious, such as when people start showing up across the street from where Louis was filming with their own video camera. When they’re confronted, they refuse to say who they are, but there’s little doubt they’re likely sent by the church to investigate Louis’ crew. The church also blocked certain roads and claimed they owned the property, which at the end is proven that it was in fact a public road. These encounters are often hilarious, but that’s not to say there’s no serious nor intense moment in the film.

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The exchange between Louis and Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who ‘blew’ from the church, is quite intense. There’s a certain unpredictability to Mark given that he was the inspector general of the church at one point. In fact, another whistleblower claimed that Mark had punched him during one of the most controversial practices. The scene where the actors re-enacted a brutal interrogation scene where Miscavige was berating some church members inside a room was quite intense, and I never know if at one point the actor playing Miscavige might snap and start hitting people.

Of course the church denies all the malpractices depicted in the film, including the infamous Hole that’s basically a prison for senior executives they deem as misbehaving. The whistleblowers were candid about the extreme abuse and human rights violation they suffered, to the point that they’d rather die than having to stay in the church. One of the most memorable moments was when Louis and his crew were watching a video of Tom Cruise talking passionately about scientology and they paused at a footage of him with a wild, fierce look on his eyes, as if he’s ready to strangle anyone to defend his religion. But I think its leader Miscavige is just as scary if not more as Cruise was, and he’s even more elusive.

As this is the first documentary on scientology I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if this is the definitive film on the subject. I’d think Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief might give more insights into scientology, just based on Gibney’s previous work. Still, this one is worth a look, an entertaining doc that’d make an intriguing discussion afterwards.

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FlixChatter Review: The Girl on the Train (2016)

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When this project was first announced, I was hoping I’d finish the book by the time the film comes out. Well I didn’t get to the book, but I was still anticipating this one, largely for the female-driven story.

Comparison to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (which I reviewed almost exactly two years ago) is inevitable, given that both involve a missing person and is told from a female perspective with some mental, emotional turmoil. Reading the character descriptions in the novel, where the protagonist Rachel Watson is described as ‘not beautiful and can’t have kids,’ it seems that the stunning Emily Blunt, who’s actually pregnant with her second child during filming, doesn’t seem to fit the role. That said, I think Blunt did a terrific job in making Rachel a believable train wreck (pardon the pun). She rides the train every day and passes by the same neighborhood, a leafy, posh Hudson River Valley where she used to live with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux).

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Rachel still can’t reconcile with her past and she drinks away the blues, filling up her plastic water bottle with booze whilst she voyeuristically watches Megan Hipwell from the train. In Rachel’s eyes, Megan lives the life she’s always dreamed of. A beautiful woman married to a handsome, rich guy who seems to love her, as they’re shown being constantly lovey–dovey. But one day, Rachel sees Megan kissing another man and she goes berserk. It’s as if something snaps in her and she somehow felt *betrayed* that Megan would stray.

Watching this film makes me want to pick up Paula Hawkins’ 2015 best-selling novel, as surely there are tons of story/character nuances that are simply lost in a feature film. Certain internal things, such as the moment Rachel got upset by Megan’s infidelity, is conveyed visually by her lashing out in the bathroom of Grand Central Station. While her chronic drinking problem might’ve made her prone to destructive behavior, this scene made her seem like a deranged, violent person.

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Though the film did manage to keep me engrossed throughout, thanks largely to Blunt’s performance, the narrative feels disjointed. I don’t know if it’s meant to make the audience empathize with how the protagonist is feeling but it can be quite frustrating. Director Tate Taylor (who directed The Help with a multi-narrative plot) adapts the film from Erin Cressida Wilson‘s screenplay. Her last script was Men, Women & Children, which I wasn’t at all entertained by, though this one is far more watchable by comparison. I was rather skeptical when Taylor signed to do the film, as I was expecting someone more like David Fincher who made Gone Girl such a gripping and visceral film that’s also wildly entertaining. The Girl On The Train is a dark and somber tale, but the film itself could’ve been less drab.

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Performance-wise, I find it odd that we’ve got a British actress playing the protagonist when the filmmakers moved the story from London in the novel to NYC. She keeps her British accent throughout though it’s never clear where she’s actually from. In any case, Blunt approaches the role with razor sharp precision, not just by looking unglamorous but she also embodied Rachel’s tormented peace of mind. Newcomer Haley Bennett as Megan has the most screen time out of the supporting cast. I think she has some screen presence, but at times I find her scenes too melodramatic. Later we find out her life isn’t so dreamy after all, and she too has a dark past that haunts her, but yet I can’t find myself to sympathize with her. To be fair, none of the privileged people who love to indulge in their own misery is easy to root for.

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The rest of the characters are pretty much one dimensional. Rebecca Ferguson‘s good as Tom’s second wife Anna, but her acting skills seems underused here. Luke Evans is all rugged perfection as Megan’s husband Scott but he seems to be more eye-candy than anything. Another handsome actor, Venezuelan Edgar Ramírez, seems oddly cast here as Kamal Abdic, who’s from Serbia or Bosnia in the book, but he’s speaking Spanish in the film. Ramírez seems charismatic enough but his character is so boring it barely made any impact. I also have to mention Lisa Kudrow as Tom’s ex boss Amanda whose role is basically a cameo, but an important one.

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Lastly, there’s Tom the antagonist, who actually seems untrustworthy from the start. Initially, the only image of Rachel comes from his point of view and she’s portrayed as a truly unhinged woman with drunken, violent outbursts. I think Theroux a skilled actor but there’s not much to work with when he’s given a paper-thin character who’s more of a caricature douchebag than a menacing sociopath. I’d think in the novel there’s more to his character than presented here?

The reviews haven’t been kind for this, sounds like another case where the book is much more superior than its cinematic adaptation. The novel might be a ‘thriller that shocked the world,’ but I don’t think the film lives up to that. I do think it’s still worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of Blunt who proves herself once again that she’s a versatile and skilled actress. The movie itself isn’t quite as thrilling as it could’ve been, though I wasn’t exactly bored by it. It works more as a psychological drama than a taut whodunit murder mystery.

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Have you seen ‘The Girl On The Train’? Well, what did YOU think?