CHRYSTAL: finding beauty in pain

Twenty years after the car accident that severely injured his wife and killed their young son, Joe (Billy Bob Thornton) returns home.  He spent those twenty years in prison because he was drunk and running from the law when he wrecked the car. He was also growing weed, and that’s why the cops were after him in the first place.  

Ray McKinnon wrote, directed, and has a supporting role in 2004’s Chrystal. Lisa Blount (McKinnon’s late wife, best known as Lynette from An Officer and a Gentleman) delivers a heart-wrenching performance in the lead role.

This is not a movie you should watch if you’re feeling suicidal.  It’s not a pick-me-up, blow sunshine up your ass kind of flick. Except for a somewhat humorous fight scene between Joe and the local hillbilly drug lord Snake, there isn’t much comic relief.   Overall, it’s gritty and devastating. Chrystal’s pain is so obvious in her stiff gait that it’s difficult to not have neck pain while you watch. She has random sex to temporarily forget the chronic pain.  She sees a spiritual adviser who tells her that her dead baby is in her neck and she needs to find a way to let it go. That causes more weird shit. Through it all, Chrystal manages to maintain a sense of humor. But that could be because she’s mentally ill.

Chrystal was filmed on a shoestring budget, and there are a few indie clichés.  For example: Lots of staring, even from the dog, which is pretty creepy. But it carries an emotional depth that compliments the quirks.  There’s a satisfying and happy-ish ending, so the horrible indie habit of ending the movie without wrapping up the plot was completely avoided.

Filmed in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Chrystal captures the deep-south in a way that is both beautiful and shameful.  The scenery made me miss the summers I would spend at my grandparents in the Ozarks.  I love it when I find an emotional connection with a film, even if I don’t relate to the characters.  The shameful aspects are the hillbilly meth-cooks and small-town politics, with a little racism thrown in for good measure.  

Why should you see it?  Chrystal reminds us of the simplistic splendor that is possible in film, even though it’s rarely accomplished.  It’s a beautiful, understated film that unfolds like a poetic novel.




BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: Suck it, haters

The first time I saw a trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, I was so excited I could hardly stand it. For years we’ve heard about a Freddie Mercury biopic, but all of the starts and stops had me convinced it would never happen. Waiting to see it felt like unnecessary torture. And then the early reviews started rolling in. Sheila O’Malley of rogerebert.com gave it one star. ONE FREAKING STAR.

The overwhelming consensus of the bad reviews is that the movie waters down Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, his drug abuse, etc. The negative reviews make it sound like the movie barely addresses his bisexuality (or homosexuality, depending on who you ask). The first trailer didn’t mention it, and instead showed him with his wife Mary Austin, so it was easy to believe. But as misleading as the trailer may have been, it’s simply not true that his sexuality is ignored.

Another complaint was that it doesn’t cover his childhood. But it’s a movie, not a miniseries. And it goes right into the formation of Queen. As much as I would love to learn more about Freddie Mercury’s childhood, I would have been impatient waiting to get to the meat of the story.

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Bohemian Rhapsody begins with Freddie as Farrokh Bulsara, a baggage handler at Heathrow. The story evolves quickly. Within a few minutes of the beginning, Freddie is meeting Mary Austin (a heartfelt performance by Lucy Boynton) and the men who will become his bandmates. There is a feeling that we have somewhere to go and there’s no time to waste. I enjoyed that vibe, as it mirrored Freddie’s unstoppable ambition.

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The story covers his marriage, which is a beautiful and devastatingly flawed love story. We get to see the band writing their songs and grappling over their individual artistic visions, and fighting to have their music heard. The movie goes into Mercury’s drug abuse, sexuality, hedonism, divorce, and HIV diagnosis. It ends with their triumphant performance at Live Aid.

Freddie Mercury is portrayed as brilliant and dangerous. Above all, he is a performer. Perhaps some reviewers wanted more about his personal life and less about his art, which was one thing he struggled with when he was alive. He was an artist and performer, and didn’t feel that he owed unlimited entry into his personal life to his fans and the media.

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But there is a lot about his personal life in the film. We see him with Mary, who was one of the most important people in his life until the very end. We see him coming to terms with his sexual identity. We see him with his traitorous boyfriend and band manager Paul. We are introduced to Jim Hutton, the  man who was his partner in his final years. There are allusions to the drug-fueled orgies and outrageous parties.

Does it feel like there is more to the story? Absolutely. But how much can go into one movie?

Each band member is perfectly represented. And Rami Malek is fantastic as Freddie Mercury. Every person in this movie is giving it their all. Even the bad reviews confirm that the cast is brilliant.

Freddie Mercury is one of the most beloved musical icons of our time. I understand why there are high expectations to meet with this film. The flawless performances and glimpses into Freddie as a person and not just a persona had me glued to the screen. There is a lot of music in the film, much to my delight. The only reason I can see for not enjoying this film is if you’re not a Queen fan. If that’s the case, stay home.

Ingrid Goes West: worth the emotional hangover

I happened upon Ingrid Goes West while I was on Hulu searching for a new episode of The Path. I clicked play when I saw that it stars Aubrey Plaza and O’Shea Jackson Jr., two actors I will watch in anything.

Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid Thorburn, an unhinged young woman who doesn’t know how to be the least bit chill when it comes to friendship. After behaving like a lunatic at a wedding reception, she is institutionalized and medicated before being released back into the world.

Ingrid becomes obsessed with a beautiful and glamorous Instagram star named Taylor Sloane, played perfectly by Elizabeth Olsen. Ingrid moves to California to befriend her, and alters her style to mimic the young woman.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s new landlord and potential love interest. He’s an aspiring screenwriter who is way too into Batman. He’s incredibly kind to Ingrid, as well as handsome and charming. He provides balance and relief when Ingrid’s instability is almost too hard to watch.

This movie puts a lot of focus on how much of our lives we live on social media for all to see, and the falsehoods we promote about ourselves. And also the danger we put ourselves in by exposing the details of our daily lives.

The esthetics of the film made me believe initially that it would be more a comedy, wherein our heroine recognizes the error of her ways, gets back on her meds, and lives happily ever after with the landlord who is out of her league considering her erratic behavior. This story isn’t so fun and breezy, and the path to Ingrid’s self-discovery is painful and sad. Ingrid’s mental illness is neither glamorized nor minimalized.

The supporting cast is incredible. Billy Magnussen (Nathan in the FX series Get Shorty) as Nicky Sloane, Taylor’s drug-addicted narcissistic brother, steals every scene he’s in. Wyatt Russell is Ezra, Taylor’s tortured artist husband whose complicated feelings for his wife are made easy to understand through his words and expressions.

Watch this movie. Just keep your Prozac handy.