Tag Archives: Michelle Williams

I Feel Pretty (2018) Blu-Ray Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

I Feel Pretty

Directors: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Stars: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski

Obviously, Amy Schumer’s uninhibited brand of comedy isn’t for everybody. Like other comedians whose typical routine doesn’t come with anything resembling a filter, she’s an acquired taste. Comics who get by on sheer audacity, exuberance and a willingness to say or do anything are sometimes the most polarising.

That being said, I Feel Pretty is sort of Schumer-lite, perhaps because she didn’t write this one. Though the basic premise seems tailor-made for her, co-writers/first-time directors Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein appear to be pulling their punches for a more traditional romantic comedy, with Schumer along for the ride. The result is enjoyable enough, though nothing particularly memorable.

Schumer plays Renee Bennett, an insecure young woman with body-image issues who works for Lily LeClaire, a high-end cosmetics company. She manages the website from a small basement office far away from corporate headquarters – a gleaming glass tower where every employee looks like a supermodel – run by Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams). Renee spends her time with two equally-timid friends, while aspiring to be like the beautiful women she looks up to.

Following a head injury, Renee wakes up believing she’s been miraculously transformed into a stunning beauty, which suddenly gives her the confidence she never had before. She gets promoted to head receptionist at LeClaire, where Avery and company matriarch Lily (Lauren Hutton) are enthusiastic over her suggestions to change the company’s elitist image with its latest line of “diffusion line” products. Renee also begins dating Ethan (Rory Scovel), who’s as self-conscious as she used to be.

The “joke,” of course, is that Renee hasn’t physically changed at all, only her perception of herself. This joke isn’t always particularly funny, often stopping just short of humiliating its main character during such scenes as a bikini contest or Renee & Ethan’s first sexual encounter. One might assume these moments come courtesy of Schumer herself, and perhaps they do, but the film never crosses the line into cheap laughs at Renee’s expense. Ultimately, I Feel Pretty has an empowering message about body-positivity and, refreshingly, is not about turning the tables on a batch of elitist snobs. In fact, all the so-called “beautiful people” here are as likeable as Renee.

However, the film’s consistently positive tone also renders the whole thing pretty predictable. With little in the way of actual conflict, you’ll see every revelation and epiphany coming long in advance. Schumer is ironically most effective when she isn’t engaging in the brash behaviour we typically associate with her.

This will likely disappoint those expecting another film similar to Trainwreck or Schumer’s own audacious Comedy Central series. In fact, even though she’s decent in the lead role, Renee could have been played by any able actor. I Feel Pretty is watchable – even charming, at times – but never the uproarious romp many are undoubtedly anticipating.

The Greatest Showman (2017) Movie Review by Chauncey Telese

GREATEST SHOWMAN

Director: Michael Gracey
Writers: Jenny Bicks (screenplay by), Bill Condon (screenplay by)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya

Hugh Jackman will forever be known for Wolverine, however as the “SNL” sketch “Two Sides” notes, Jackman has two sides. He can be Logan but he’s also a musical theater guy. Now that Logan is behind him he can focus on realizing his dream of being a 21st Gene Kelly. His passion project “The Greatest Showman” about P.T. Barnum is a fascinating window into Jackman. He clearly relishes in playing Barnum as Gabbo, all but actually singing “you’re gonna like me, you’re gonna love me!”. The problem is that in wanting to play the showman he chooses as story that glosses over the darker elements of Barnum and his most famous creation; the circus, in favor of a film that’s only ambition is to crowd please. Crowd pleasing in and of itself isn’t a bad thing and on that level the film mostly works but it causes everything to ring false.

“The Greatest Showman” opens up with a young Barnum (Ellis Rubin), the poor son of a tailor. While he accompanies his father on a job he meets the wealthy Charity (Skylar Dunn). She is the daughter of a wealthy family and they bond after he makes her laugh. Her father sees this budding friendship and then banishes her off to finishing school. Barnum is reminded that he’s beneath Charity but that doesn’t deter him. They send clandestine letters back and forth until one day they’re married and have two daughters. The adult Charity (Michelle Williams) loves that Barnum is full of whimsy and has no problem eschewing her wealth to support his dreams.

After losing his job as an accounting clerk he decides now is the time to break out of his monotonous life. He cons a bank into loaning him $10,000 so he can buy a museum of oddities. At first no one is biting but his daughters give him the idea of finding living acts. Barnum recruits a bevy of “freaks” that happen to live in town. The three freaks that the audience actually gets to meet are Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), the Bearded Lady Lettie (Keala Settle), and the trapeze artist Anne (Zendaya). Barnum’s show is instantly the talk of the town. At first people are terrified at the people Barnum puts front and center but then they are dazzled. Well, almost everyone. There are certain townspeople that want these freaks ridden out of town on a rail. There is also the critic James Gordon Bennett who lambasts Barnum for being a huckster. Barnum then makes it his mission to elevate his show and himself into high society.

The problem with this critique is that his show isn’t a con. What you see is what you get. Every oddity is as advertised so that seems like an odd corner to take on Barnum’s show. Furthermore, the film paints Barnum as this huckster but with the exception of conning the bank to loan him money, he doesn’t really swindle anyone. Sure, he’s charismatic and a barker but not a flim-flam man. The real Barnum is credited with the famous line “There’s a sucker born every minute”. That line is not in the film which is a clear and conscious choice. Jackman’s Barnum is meant to be a well-meaning dreamer who uses his force of personality to make his dreams happen.

Every character exists to serve Barnum and while they are given stuff to do, it is purely surface level. Barnum recruits playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to help him make the show better. Barnum persuades him by convincing him that he’s unhappy and confined by being born into wealth. At no point does the film actually show the audience that this is the case. When they meet Phillip seems unhappy that this particular work isn’t his best but other than that Phillip isn’t a character. That undercuts this moment where all of a sudden Phillip buys into the circus. Ditto, his relationship with Anne. They meet and she doesn’t like him. Then after hearing a performance of renowned opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) they’re in love. At no point does the film bother to give Anne a character nor do they give her trapeze artist brother W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Maheen II) a name. Barnum and Charity are supposed to have this collaborative relationship but that is never shown. He gets caught up with Jenny Lind and both that character and that conflict just come and go. It’s a shame because every actor is giving their best but there isn’t anything for anyone to do. Every relationship is yada-yada’d so they can get to the next musical number. All the conflict is waved away in an instant because all that stuff gets in the way of the songs.

The songs themselves are power pop dialed up to 11. Justin Paul and Benj Pasek help craft these songs that are at times catchy and all times delivered at the highest volumes by the cast. The songs are great but most songs don’t feel as though they weren’t written specifically for this movie. The musical numbers themselves are repetitive save for the number between Anne and Phillip which utilizes her trapeze ability. This is a bummer because had the film hired a better director they could’ve made better use of the actual circus. It isn’t clear what happens at the circus when each act takes place. It’s all the same opening number and then its yada-yada’d again. All of a sudden Barnum has elephants even though it’s established that he wanted or acquired them in the first place.

Director Michael Gracey wasn’t a great choice for this project. He’s a visual effects guy by trade and while everything looks glossy and vibrant, the choreography is over shot and lacks any real vibrancy. That’s been an issue with most musicals over the last 20 years. Any filmmaker that wants to make a musical should study Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen etc. because nowadays most directors are content filming musicals like they’re either embarrassed to be making a musical or are ripping off Baz Luhrman.

“The Greatest Showman” plays like the Disneyland show of P.T. Barnum’s life. It’s the version he would’ve told. That’s fine. It didn’t have to be a musical expose into Barnum and the institution of the circus. Jackman and company set out to give families a rollicking good time around the holidays and they will surely accomplish that goal. If they had tried a little harder they could’ve created an experience people won’t forget two hours after they had seen it.

Manchester By The Sea (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

MACHESTER BY THE SEA

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

Affleck is on point, Williams will break your heart and you’ll be looking out for Lucas Hedges in years to come. Kenneth Loregan’s subtly beautiful and sneakily tragic film is gentle and brutal in equal measure.

 Lee Chandler (Affleck) is a lonely, surly janitor who’s obnoxious to the tenants in the buildings he works in and awkward around anyone who wants more than a second of his time. He also gets drunk and picks fights in bars. Lee is called away from work because his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has a heart attack. He arrives at the hospital too late and didn’t get a chance to say his goodbyes. And he is…okay. He’s not ecstatic that his big brother has just died but he doesn’t react in a way you’d expect.

Lee is shocked to learn that he’s been named guardian for his nephew Patrick (Hedges) and, in a series of flashbacks, we begin to understand Lee’s strange mannerisms.

Lee wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time Lee was married to Randi and they had three beautiful children. One night after happy-go-lucky Lee had finished partying with his friends, he went out to buy some more beer and returned to find his house ablaze with his hysterical wife outside. When being interviewed by the police, it transpires that Lee and his friends were in the basement of his house drinking, smoking joints and doing coke. When Randi kicked his buddies out she went to bed and Lee, deciding that the house was cold and that central heating would give his daughter a headache, built a fire in the livingroom fireplace before going for his beer. It’s further revealed that when he was on his way to get his beer he questioned himself as to whether he put a guard in front of the fire or not.

Deciding it didn’t matter, he continued on his drunken quest. When the police tell him there’s no law against that, he calmly accepts their response before taking a gun from a cop’s holster and tries to shoot himself, being stopped by a crowd of cops.

This is where it’s clear why Lee is so shocked his brother made him his nephew’s guardian in his meticulously planned will. Lee is adament that Patrick should live elsewhere, either with relatives or his brother’s close friend and his wife. Anywhere, in fact other than with Lee himself or Patrick’s mother. It seems that the time between Joe’s diagnosis for his congenital heart condition and his passing, Patick’s mother had developed a drinking problem and spent time in a psychiatric facility, leaving them both long before Joe died.

Lee is forced to move back to his home-town, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and everything haunts him. He’s adament that if he’s to be Patrick’s guardian, it has to be somewhere else. But Patrick loves his life in the sleepy seaside town. He has two girlfriends; he’s on the hockey team; he’s in a band; he’s popular. But for Lee everything in this town reminds him of what he’ll never have and what he’s lost. He’s living in his dead brother’s house. His nephew is becoming an adult – something his own kids will never be. And his ex wife has remarried and is heavily pregnant.

To top it all off, the boat in which Lee, Patrick and Joe used to go out on the sea is falling apart and they can’t afford to maintain it.

The realationship between Lee and Patrick is where we see the real Lee. Patrick is stubborn, argumentative, challenging…a 16 year old boy. He’s also confident and funny, but it’s how he challenges Lee and how his uncle responds where we get to glimpse at Lee’s good soul. He’s gruff, foul-mouthed and abrasive but he’s also incredibly patient and kind.

He’s in hell in Manchester. Because of the time of year, it’s too cold and the ground is too hard to bury Joe. So, as is the custom in these circumstances, it’s not uncommon to have a church service at the time while the mortiary keep the cadaver frozen until the Spring and have the burial then. Lee explains this to Patrick, and although he understands the logic behind it it’s a constant source of friction between the pair. Lee’s patience in dealing with the headstrong Patrick is truly beautiful and when the latter has a panic attack when rooting around the freezer in his kitchen, Lee’s unorthodox and comical approach to comforting his nephew is just lovely.

It’s important to remember that Lee’s children died very young, so he never got to wade into these muddy teenage waters carefully. He was dropped in the middle of it.

The film progresses with more and more challenges for Lee, none more troubling than when, months later, Randi bumps into Lee in the street. She apologises to Lee, begging him for forgiveness for the things she said after their children died. What’s remarkable about this scene is that we don’t know what was said or how many times she said it but Michelle Williams will have you believing it was worse than anything you’ve ever heard before, but probably completely understandable given the circumstances.

Willams is in the film for only a few scenes in total but her performance , in that scene especially, will break you into a million pieces. Affleck’s reaction will grind those pieces into dust.

We know that Casey Affleck is an outstanding actor but he’s is in the process of refining his craft to the point that he’ll slip quietly into his role as one of the greats. His performance in Manchester by the Sea is beautiful, messy, ugly, relatable…a host of superlatives and oxymorons. Lee is a man lost and Affleck doesn’t play his character, he lets the devastating story wash over him.

If Michelle Williams is nominated there’s a great chance she could win an Academy Award as one of the actors with the least amount of screen time in the history of film.

But there isn’t a wasted second in her performance. She is astounding.

Lucas Hedges delights and frustrates in equal measure. Not his performance, you understand. His character is so…adolescent! He’s so combatative and beligerent, yet so vulnerable. It’ll be a delight to watch where he goes from here.

Kenneth Lonergan’s film is a treat for the eyes, as well as the soul. The coastal Massechusetts town has a lovely, cold winter glow. His long, lingering shots of his characters expose their vulnerabilities and flaws. Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography lights up the entire film, literally. The raw, naked light is, at times, uncomfortable. But it’s the brightness of the film as it’s juxtaposed with the dark subject matter that brings everything alive.

Oscar contender? Definitely!