What former inner-city English teacher wouldn’t love a film that begins with three disparate definitions for one word and then showcases a brilliant adolescent ? Yet, celebrating not fitting into the stereotyped role gets complex when Malcolm ( Shameik Moore) finds himself caught with one-hundred thousand dollars worth of drugs. This coming-of-age film is clever,funny and full of hip-hop music, which is integral to the message of making the right choices responsibly. “My fault-my weight to carry” are Malcolm’s words. The fact is that students in the inner-city have too much weight to carry given the crazy circumstances they can encounter so innocently.

The three definitions for “dope” outline the journey of our protagonist: an illegal substance,a stupid person,and excellent. Malcolm and his two buddies are like the three Musketeers,Mickey-Mouse-style. They are “geeky”,BMX bike-riding students,who get their shoes stolen and start up a punk band called “Oreo”. These three,one a lesbian, love the 90’s and hip-hop music in general. The fact that Sean Combs and Forest Whitaker are the co- producers and that Pharrell Williams scored the music may have nothing to do with this,but one of the best scenes is on a city bus with every rider bobbing his and her head to the beat of their music. The use of abrupt slow-motion is delightful and speaks to the power of beat and lyrics joined and joining.

“Dope” was written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa. I loved the metaphor of “the slippery slope” and how it was used both comedically and as a thematic metaphor. So many of life’s ironies were touched upon: “the pray away the gay”, the male dominance “pissing contests”,the use of technology for good and for evil. I enjoyed the Tolkienesque “Return To The Kings” t-shirt and the drug lord’s son, who could not rap, and the laughing Hispanic maid.The drug use always was portrayed as humiliating,  be it in vomit or public urination.One scene at a Starbucks-like facility drew one of my favorite lines. After the drug dealer and respected CEO’s daughter was arrested, the  black patron who called the police was interviewed. “How am I supposed to eat my pound cake ( we don’t eat scones,you know) and drink my vanilla chai latte with that hoe peeing in the bushes right next to me.” Stereotypes again turned on their respective heads.

A chain of events like tutoring a love interest,being tempted with playing sexualized “Mother May I”, and shakily aiming a gun at a gang member’s face,all lead to a more normal Six Flag outing and a college admission letter.Shameik Moore, at twenty,was amazing in his flat-topped brilliance. The fact that he so resembled a former student by the name of Darryl R. made this film all the more delightful in its truth-seeking. The cliche “Don’t sell yourself short” applies here. See this movie.

“Saint Laurent”

“Yves St. Laurent Slips Away” may have been the headline in Paris’s “Le Monde” in 1977, but in this 2014 biopic, it is St. Laurent’s character that slides. The self-destructive couturier and self-indulgent 33 year old is superbly played by actor Pierre Niney. Niney looks like YSL and has his mannerisms,as well as,actually dressing in his clothes and luxuriating in Yves St. Laurent’s apartments. We learn of St.Laurent’s work rituals like his wearing of white lab coats and his penchant for classical music. We also learn of his substance abuse and his passion for risky sex and chocolate mousse. The film makes it clear that he was the artistic genius who had no interest in the scheduling or in the business transactions. As his assistant prattles on about the day’s line-up of appointments,he rebuffs her with,”Let me listen to my music,please.” As he draws and sketches,selects fabrics and models,and attends fittings,his partner Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) runs the fashion house’s financial side. Laurent complains of Pierre to his girl pals Lou Lou and Betty,”You can vanish here–only power and money interest him,the monster!”

Berge was more than cooperative in getting the film “St. Laurent” made. He comes off as the stabilizing factor in Yves’ life. He puts up with temper tantrums,infidelity, boozy clubbing,and St. Laurent’s easy boredom. We,in turn, see Laurent locked in his quarters and managed like a child. Laurent’s own mother tells her son that he has”left the world” and can not change a light bulb. Pierre can and will was his response. It is Pierre that picks up Yves passed out and dumped body at a construction site. It is Pierre who tries to avert a scandal by halting an interview from being published. And it is Pierre Berge who amassed 350 million dollars after St. Laurent’s death. More than Michael Jackson’s or Elvis Presley’s estates earned by comparison.

One scene has a drug addled YSL pick up a Roman bust and attempt to smash Berge’s head in as he slept. Most of this drama stems from the real villain of the film,the debauched socialite,Jacques de Bascher. Introduced to St.Laurent by fashion rival Karl Langerfeld,Jacques (Xavier Lafitte)has no limits on kinky sex or on heavy acid dropping. His most yucky line is ,”why not step into the bushes?” With Jacques,fear and ugliness enter like the cobras YSL hallucinates. Still in this eighteen year relationship with Laurent,Berge begs “Don’t let him destroy us.” St. Laurent responded with,”I love bodies without souls.” Berge later gives St.Laurent a painting of Proust’s bedroom,staid and 19thc safe.

The film’s director Jalil Lespert uses flashbacks inordinately. Beginning in 1974 where YSL books a Parisian room under the name Mr.Swann (a toast to Proust, maybe) to the Algerian home where he dresses dolls for his sisters,the scenes and atmospheres jump back and forth.This is effective for the “untold story”, but not so much for the actual factual one. One really needs to already know that St. Laurent was the first living artist to have a solo exhibit at the Met. or that he ushered in “men’s clothing for women” in the form of tuxedos and trousers, and that he pushed the borders of couture  with the sheer blouse. That he was a protégée of Christian Dior or the that he retired in Marrakesh was not broached. What was shown was his love of music,Maria Callas in particular. His goals of art acquisitions like Matisse, Mondrian and Rothko;his wish to please his mother,his early hobby of collecting y- shaped sticks for good luck,his cameo collection in later life and his Buddha altar were all interesting.

I enjoyed seeing the actual seamstress work and appreciated the pressure they were often under. “Tell Mr. Laurent that I am not Houdini’s wife” was a telling line. How to keep satin-backed organza simple was refreshing, as was watching gigantic scissors slicing through patterns. The collections and the runway shows entranced. The scenes with girl pals Lou Lou and model Betty were fun. My favorite line being St. Laurent’s, “Let’s go in disguise and terrorize everyone” would have a different take today.

I did not enjoy the 1971 disco clubbing or the four year old French bulldog Moujik’s demise from spilled pills. The fancy granite headstone and box of white lilies hardly made up for the pet’s panting,drooling and suffering. I disliked the pseudo-frontal nudity and the genital jewelry. Somehow,”you dress the world” does not include these. The film left me feeling sad for YSL’s shallowness. His “fashion passes like a train” will be want I hope to remember.

“I’ll See You In My Dreams”

      When more than three fourths of our life is over, “So What?” may be a sobering question. Somehow the film “I’ll See You In My Dreams” makes mortality, at least the idea of it, a no brainer. One lives like one always has lived with daily rituals in place and friends in one’s corner. Blythe Danner is matter-of-fact, practical, and no nonsense as she has an aged and ailing pet put down, deals with a rat in her house, bouts of loneliness, and the quirks of friends.

Set in Southern California, this is a slow, low budget, slice-of-life film that empathizes with rather insulated and well-off seventy-year-old white women,who find themselves bored with golf and bridge. Sally (Rhea Perlman) longingly jokes how sexual the “tee” vocabulary is what with “ball”, “hole” and “stroke”. The retirement home Speed Dating and the medical marijuana forays seem contrived and equally pathetic. The pool boy relationship Carol (Blythe Danner) invests in is more realistically linked to her teacher/songstress background. Poor souls looking for support and connection is thematically here as Lloyd (Martin Starr) needs Carol’s attention and support as badly as she needs his.

In one scene, Lloyd takes Carol to a karaoke bar after being impressed with her East Village club history.
Danner’s rendition of Julie London’s “Cry Me A River” is pretty weak,while throaty. The best part of this Indie film is in the details.The bouquet of daisies replaced by the bowl of lemons,the dog’s leash, the digital clock’s red numerals, and the endless wine guzzling leave their mark.The cemetery urns,dust and the left cigar and the small trowl door knocker all leave us knowing that Carol will keep living each day and dreaming about tomorrow.

Brett Haley,director and writer, does a good job with Cath ( Malin Akerman) ,Carol’s daughter’s role~just enough love,concern and tension. Enjoy Danner’s blue,gray,and accented yellow wardrobe as you learn about her husband’s death twenty years ago. Her raised eyebrow,her classic trench coat and Riedel clinks make us know what she is thinking when one has “30 seconds to shift”. Georgina ( June Squibb) and Rona  (Mary Kay Place) complete the cast of  girl friends.

Sam Elliott’s Texas charmer role did surprise and his remark,”Hard to lose somebody no matter how many legs they have,” later has ironic resonance as his fate is learned. The song lyrics of the young pool cleaner/cum poet make the title of this film make sense.

“Spy” and “Pitch Perfect 2”

After a week of scholarship and insight at Indiana University’s Mini-U, it is time for a balance by reviewing summer comedy and snarky spoofs.A fellow friend and film blogger had seen “Spy” and enjoyed it enough to wish to see it again. My husband had seen a review on “Pitch Perfect 2” and asked me to join him even though we had not seen the original. Below are my thoughts on both films.

Never really a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I must say I loved her in “Spy”. She is more vulnerable here and less vulgar,even in a wait-until-the-credits-roll-by outtake. (Worth waiting for because McCarthy can’t even believe she allowed her ad lib to be included.)Let’s just call it her thumb review! Likewise,Jude Law is stellar: the perfect stance,facial expressions and timing. In his James Bond role,as Bradley Fine, he looks mighty fine,too!
I thought the entire cast with the exception of Allyson Janney was top notch. Janney was too
one dimensional for me~never wavering from the hard boss. While Rose Bryne,Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart and Jason Statham brought a natural and balanced vigor to their roles. Loved the creative name-calling and word play from “Shits Carlton” to you dress like “a slutty dolphin trainer”. I consider Paul Feig’s “Spy” most summer-comedy worthy with double agent action to keep you guessing.

“Pitch Perfect 2” bored me with the use of the divided screen highlighting pillow-fight hijinxs and campfire singalongs. I liked the word play in this comedy as much as the a cappella singing. “Deutsche bag” and “treblemakers” struck me as creative.By the way,the German singers had the staging and the voices. Das Sound Machine out did the generations of Bellas in my estimation. The contest co-hosts Elizabeth Banks And John Michael Higgins were less than hysterical.The Christmas album with Snoop Dog was inspired as was the “songs about butts ” category and the gift card to Dave and Busters. Product placement advertising is rampant in “Pitch Perfect 2”: Cover girl and Pantene star.

One of the most beautiful shots is in Copenhagen with drizzle and sun rays on the colored facades and umbrellas mirroring all. Fat Amy and “muffingate”, or Southern exposure to the Commander-in-Chief was as silly as “sucking vodka from a maxi-pad”, sophomoric at best.I did not much care for Anna Kendrick or Rebel Wilson. Skyler Astin was energetic more than memorable.Fans of “The Voice” may find this film “the kicker of the ass”,I just didn’t.

“The Connection”

This is the French “French Connection” with subtitles, two intensely handsome foils, Cote Azur scenery and a focus on the human aspects of the circa 1970 international drug wars.The fast cars,trendy motorcycles,guns,and discos are all here,but so are the family scenes and drudge work involved in fighting for justice and in keeping one’s henchmen in line.

Director Cedric Jimenez co-wrote “The Connection” screenplay with Audrey Diwan. A woman’s touch is evident in drawing out the humanity in each of the prime adversaries. Based on real characters and a handful of real events,we are made to care what happens to both judge and gangster. Both are family men, devoted to their wives and both are seen reading and playing with their children. Magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) and Gatean Zampa (Gilles Lellouch) will fight it out,the overly zealous enforcer and the untouchable drug king pin. Their staged meeting is thrilling. Two super egos and two opposing world views respecting each other in a way. The women (Marie,Christianne and Dora)are forces that motivate,persuade and add meaning to their men’s lives.

We meet the magistrate before we meet the Marseille Mob. Pierre Michel is counseling and coaxing a teen,Lily, to look hard at her needle tracks and to please name her pusher. He gently tells her mother to be “tough,but strong”. We see the celebration as this self-possessed, side-burned junior judge is promoted to The Organized Crime Division.

The veteran drug squad boss enlightens us with the image of an octopus,its tentacles every place: bars, casinos, slots. “They don’t stop at Bingo”! We learn when Lily returns to give the magistrate the name of her pusher that Pierre was once a gambler,who pulled himself out. Lily later dies,and the grief on Pierre’s face is Oscar-worthy. It is in this sequence that my favorite frames of a hyped and newly charged Pierre are shown. The video speed is ramped up as Dujardin walks to his car and the speed of the car is super paced next. His beginner zeal is racing in case we had any doubts what a “mad dog” he will become.

Zampa is celebrating next. He is hosting his private anniversary party, and he wants to know who a woman is that he does not recognize. He is a man aware that many are after him and that he must keep in control if he is going to maintain his untouchable status.The tailing,watching and logistics of his enterprise are shown. Labs,deliveries and associates are displayed to drum beats. We see Zampa,or Tandy as he is called,starting to wear bullet- proof vests and to drive armored cars. The war is on, and the film’s tension builds. Proud that his drugs are pure,Zampa has has met men like his adversary before. He smiles ,in one harrowing chase scene, Zampa sends Michel bottled water And a frayed glass with the message that this zealot will need it. Michel counters by taking bribe money and giving it to the drug rehab center. It is like chess is being played and your opponent is respected for his vigor.

One of the key scenes is script-orchestrated. It never really occurred. Michel has been surveiling and arresting a score of Zampa’s men. Zampa wants Michel wasted. Zampa and his sidekick tail Michel’s car. Michel stops his vehicle, gets out and walks back to Zampa with cowboy nerve. Zampa looks at him and says,”No woman ever did as much”. Michel banters back, ” I’m not into thugs”. The dialogue is good, and the massacres are score settling. “High Noon” tension is accomplished.

The cynical tenor of this film does not come from the bribes offered,but from those taken.So many higher-ups profit from the status-quo. They are never outted. Michel is taken from the case and must wait for a regime change before he can ask to be returned to it. When Michel asks the mayor of twenty-five years why he allows a rotten aide to stay,he replies,”I have a life,Pierre.”

The laudable tenor of this film is that Michel will not give up. Marital problems ensue.Marie is tired of being afraid all the time.Michel feels she is selfish. He is fighting for the Lilys of the world. She feels he is king-pin obsessed. She leaves;he cries and begs;she returns. Much happens. There are many set-ups. Michel leaves for the U.S. to help the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) take testimony from a French drug runner. The Corsican Mob retailiates as Marie puts well-dressed haricots verts on the family table. This version of the war on drugs is worth seeing,though this film is not for dreamers. Here believing that nothing is impossible has its costs.

“In The Name of My Daughter”

Like a Greek tragedy where the story is half told by the Greek chorus,the French film “In The Name Of My Daughter” tells a tale of greed and obsessive love without showing key plot elements. I found this fable-like, with the catharsis centered on child and parental relationships. The protective and powerful parent and the yearning-for-freedom-child, in this case a twenty-nine year old divorcee, plays out well. In France, mother/daughter relationships are close.The age old mantras of “I’m not a little girl, anymore” and “My job is to protect you” are here. The sub-theme of the film could be “children can be one’s undoing” ,for ironically,the son of the accused killer finds his loyalty on the side of the righteous,while the wealthy mother loses everything in her daughter’s betrayal.

All of my sympathy went to Renee de Roux,the mother played by Catherine Devenue. Perhaps, this is because the screenplay was based on her memoirs,”Une Femme Face A La Mafia”. Perhaps, because my own daughter was rebellious and is still willful. In any case,Catherine Devenue, the the face of Chanel perfume in the ’70’s, goes through hell. She is not immediately sympathetic. Renee Le Roux is a powerful workaholic~controlling and consumed with keeping her casino palace out of the hands of the Italian Mafia. “The Palais de la Mediterranee” has kept her from giving her daughter the attention she wants. Yet,Devenue’s face radiates love and joyful amusement at her daughter’s independent strivings.

Under the direction of Andre Techine, we see Devenue lose five million francs in one night to crooks. We see her lawyer and personal advisor succumb to her daughter’s flirtations and worse. We see her daughter’s attempted suicide and her refusal to see her mother.

Renee’s own refusal to release her daughter Agnes’s three-million-dollar inheritance seems reasonable given the circumstances. She asks Agnes to wait two years,and offers to financially front a desired bookstore and artisan-textile shop. Agnes wants to “be free”and rejects all to foolishly allow her love-interest and her mother’s former advisor to co-sign a joint account.

Devenue is splendid as she uses cigarette- holder,trench-coat and those eyes and that voice to portray a woman betrayed but still able to sing “Stand By Me”. She understands her daughter,and spends thirty years trying to bring closure to her dissapearance. This mother-love may be the obsessive love to match her daughter’s. When Renee’s driver,Mario, speaks badly about her daughter,she is so pained that she must lie down. She explains that her daughter betrayed her only because she was manipulated. We know she is right.

There is a sophistication in expecting the viewers to know something about the so-called “baize-wars” of the 1970’s. The film’s narrative is not particularly logical. Life relationships are like this; everyone has their reasons. Some reasons are more self-serving than others.

All of my loathing goes to Maurice Agnelet,superbly acted by Guillaume Canet. As the lawyer and family advisor he is the most narcissistic, revengeful and scheming, greedy charmer to appear on screen in quite some time. Even Sergeant Troy in Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd” could blame his villainy on character flaws.

Maurice’s humiliation of the La Roux family is sick. When he tells Agnes,”You will find a new pal,I’m sure”. Goodbye.”, the audience wanted to jump on the screen. Maurice tells Agnes that he is with his mistress until midnight,but he asks if he can “visit her” afterward. His famous cad words are “Don’t love me too much. I panic.” Maurice is not concerned with the fallout from the liquidation of the Palais casino either. Three hundred and fifty families will lose their livelihood, but he cares not. When Maurice yells at Renee with, “You piss me off. Devotion has its limits!” I screamed,”Right back at you” to the screen.

In extended flashbacks,Agnes, played beautifully by Adele Haenel,reminds me of Isabelle Adjani in her portrayal of Victor Hugo’s daughter in Truffaut’s “Adele H”. Both stalk their lovers,both write endlessly in their journals, and both swim or dream of swimming.The water scenes especially were a metaphor for drowning souls. Agnes’ wish to not stay at the villa,her little-girl “jumping on the bed” in her own apartment , and especially the African,hair-splaying,orgasmic dance were all intimate manifestations of independence and longing. Haenel does her nude scenes as only the French can do,both naturally and feverishly.”Don’t you fancy me?” and “I’m no coward” was as masterfully spoken as “I can’t be content with what you give me.” Whether hysterically crying, accepting bullish behavior or examining herself in the mirror,Haenal shows she can act with the best. Her look and tears as she recited,”I vote against” are Oscar worthy.

This story was the stuff of tabloids,and basically I love how the actors,screenwriters and director elevated it to Greek tragedy. Coastal shots and music are praiseworthy. It is the prolonged shot of the water spout and the story of Maurice’s brother and of his parents neither of whom attended their son’s funeral that stump me. Can someone enlighten?


This week a teacher and friend posted a placard touting the acronym STEAM. Enhancing the education of STEM students ( science,technology,engineering and math) by adding art is seen as a practical advancement, for “what good is any education if one can’t creatively use it”. The “steam metaphor” can be extended. Steam dissipates and reaches:it flows further; whereas, a stem holds one beautiful thing up, steam opens all pores. The documentary “Iris” illustrates how art and hand-crafted trades deepen our lives by polishing our individuality and connecting us to the art of show. “Iris” is also a love story and a peek at personal history.

Iris Apfel is a “rare bird” who for over seventy-five years  influenced interior design and fashion with her personal style. She is engaging and pulsing with life and mission. While not everyone grew up reading back issues of “Women’s Wear Daily”, I ,too, find the intersection of design,verve and collection fun. As director,Albert Mayles (87 himself) films Iris twirling and bowing Ungaro-clad ,we see her as legendary.

How many of us look for a fabric that doesn’t exist? And how many of us seekers would decide to weave our fantasy fabrics ourselves? This is just what the “nonagenerian starlet” Iris Apfel does when she opens Old World Weavers with her husband Carl. The textile company which ran from 1950 through 1992 restored a handcrafted fashion trade. Reproducing fabrics from the past led Iris to restoration projects at the White House. From Truman through Clinton,nine administrations called for her expertise.

In her own words,Iris is a ” busy bee”. From her wheelchair we see her in the process of collecting,haggling with street vendors and playing the bargain hunting game. Her whisky voice announces “I need a scotch after this”. Her renown collection of costume jewelry is a key part of her accessorizing process. As she layers one necklace on top of another she states, ” Do something like this and you start to get a look”. Mayles takes us to the Apfel’s Long Island storage loft as Iris starts to unload her travel acquisitions. Much, I learned , will be sold on “One King’s Lane” this year. Every piece has a memory.

At 90, we see Iris lecturing as visiting professor at the University of Texas,Austin. We see her gifting costumes to museums with exhibitions at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan, The Norton Museum at West Palm Beach, and The Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. A museum dedicated to displaying her clothing is in the works. From her middle class Queens up-bringing during the Depression to her background in art history through her gut level improvisations,we see a practical business woman who does not compose her visions in designer speak. Her “very Voguey” is almost snarky. As we see her beloved husband blow out his 100 year birthday candles, we hear her “kind of like the eternal flame”wit. He is her “pussycat~cool,cuddly,and he cooks Chinese…couldn’t do any better!”

Bill Cunningham makes a cameo appearance in this film and reminds me of Iris’ quip, “Color can raise the dead”. It would be fun to see the Diane Vreeland,Cunningham and Apfel documentaries together.Curiosity and humor seem to be the attributes of these style holders.Whimsy and elegance pulse through business acumen and aging in this documentary. We are happy that this fashion maven is as she likes to say,”still vertical and sailing into her second century.”