“The Square”, Way Outside the Box

There were many reasons to escape into the cinema today; 11 hours (in two days) of intense retail work (100% friendly customers though), wide angle steer clear of some who haven’t found their zen, and an ice cold message from a former college sweetheart. Need I go on?

I was even willing to go solo to “The Square” knowing how much I loved the director’s (Ruben Ostlund) previous film “Force Majeure” which was nominated for a Golden Globe back in 2015. But to the companionship rescue galloped my friend Dave, who went way outside his box by attending a foreign film of considerable length, 2:22.

And just like Mikey in the old Life commercials, he liked it! And so did I….but….

Ok positives first:
Tremendous screen writing*. This film had that verisimilitude that the phrase “you can’t make this sh*& up” implies. I won’t give away any of the ‘what the bleep just happened’ moments, but three stand out specifically to me.

The acting was top notch: Claes Bang, who rarely leaves the screen, was totally believable as the museum director who slides down the slippery slope of megalomaniac justice seeker. Elisabeth Moss’s character is if the Handmaid (she’s in the Margaret Atwood novel inspired tv series) got revenge by going off the deep end.

Cinematography, again, gorgeous, from the sex scenes to the art work, to the spiral staircases that symbolically end in a square, just fabulous.

And if the *one wild loose end that isn’t tied up is a message that we care more about the impact of fictional work then we do human reality, then let’s give this movie the Academy Award. Though Ruben should really have a flyer ready to explain that to people on their way out.

My only gripe (besides the obscurity of the aforementioned) was the last 15 minutes. If Ruben had ended it at the press conference, hand the Oscar over right now. But to go on and on meandering to a cheerleader’s competition and then a near miss at a dumb ass parent move (never leave your kids in a car in a strange place) which negates character development (like hello, wasn’t that what got you in the mess to begin with?) was a disappointment. Like a Fuji apple I have thoroughly enjoyed only to find a rotten spot on the last bite, that’s “The Square”.

But all is forgiven. One last bite can’t spoil the wonderful surprises, much needed escape, and calm company this experience supplied. Go see this.

Two’s Company, Three Billboards a Crowd

There’s some aspects to appreciate about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Mo. Martin McDonagh is a proven writer (In Bruges, The Pillow Man), but while Three Billboards has some unique qualities; a snapshot of small town America, some complex characters, and lot of twists, I couldn’t love it.

First, the positives: my incredible bias for Sam Rockwell. If you’ve read my blog, you know he’s one of my top five actors of all time. Unfortunately in this film, he’s a despicable character, but I appreciate he can’t always wear the white hat and I’m also amazed at how young the guy can look with a super short hair cut (he’s 49, but looks 30 here).

Second, two scenes were gorgeously done. One, the orange juice scene which I won’t go into due to spoilers, but this was almost Magnoliaesque (Magnolia is a movie by PT Anderson with MANY memorable poignant vignettes). In this scene, props to Caleb Landry Jones (who was also impressive recently in American Made). Two, the comeuppance lecture Frances gives to the priest that comes to console was priceless and should be tweeted to the world.

And of course the star of the show, Frances McDormand. There’s not much this lady can’t do, though she hasn’t mastered Streepian epic tales or dialects (besides North Dakota), she can do no wrong in the dramedy department. She deserves a nomination, but not the win for this. Sorry, the Lady Bird still soars higher. Or even Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West.

A minor character who stood out for me was John Hawkes who looks so much like Chris Cooper that they could be brothers. He really glows as Frances’s ner do well ex-husband. But again, because he is written as an over the top cad, it’s a turn off.

Who else? Woody Harrelson is solid as ever, but not given much to play with, here. And the actress choice for the wife seemed weird-a wine drunk with a British accent telling her husband with cancer to go shovel the horse barn? What kind of vicious c word does that? And the kids, equally unbelievable. I see where McDonaugh was going, showing Woody as forgivable foil, but better actor choices and writing in this subplot would have helped a lot.

Lucas Hedges is over saturated now. Let’s give some other young adult actors a chance.

Peter Dinkler does a great job, but watching rude behavior toward little people is not funny, nor is using the word retard or the n-word. Don’t get me wrong, McDonaugh was attempting to show these folks as buffoons, but it’s so crass to watch these days in light of the actual idiots that still remain in the U.S. that it’s tough to watch. God help us if there’s a small town and police department actually in existence with such ignorance.

The violence was also over the top. Yes, I know this is McDonaugh’s trademark, but I don’t care. No one survives being beaten and thrown out a second floor window, nor receiving third degree burns…let’s start portraying violence as truly harmful so kids brought in stupidly by ignorant parents don’t get the desensitized impression you just bounce back from these type of injuries.

I enjoyed the moral arc of the characters and the theme of hope. But the aforementioned unrealistic characters and plot did not impress me. In Bruges brought a tear to my eye, but Three Billboards just made me chagrin.

A “Lady Bird” in the Hand…is Worth 3 in the Oscars

Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, has nested three more nominations for my Academy Award picks: Gerwig for best original screenplay, Laurie Metcalf for best supporting actress and Saoirse Ronan for best actress. I say nominations obviously because the film season is just getting warmed up.

Great attributes of Lady Bird are many. First, a super sharp dialogue and a realistic plot. Most women will relate to the mother daughter struggle that is beautifully portrayed between Metcalf and Ronan. I love Laurie Metcalf and was fortunate enough to see her in New York City play opposite Jeff Goldblum in “Domesticated”. She has the perfect timing to play dramatic, with a pinch of ironic humor. Ronan had me at Brooklyn, a corny epic that I should have groaned at, but instead bought in hook line and sinker. Here in Lady Bird, she is unrecognizable, meaning a genius at owning the part of a senior straining to get the hell away from her family of origin.

And now let’s talk about Greta Gerwig…and what’s weirdly coincidental is that right now as I simultaneously listen to Greta’s Fresh Air interview, where God Bless her, Terry Gross, is asking pointed questions regarding men with whom Greta has worked. And may I just muddy my review further by an error of Terry’s: she is saying that Ronan Farrow has stood by his step sister’s abuse claims, when I read that he’s quite the contrarily said he believes his mother, Mia, coached her daughter to make these allegations.

I can appreciate Greta Gerwig, though I am skeptical about her kindness, from her relationship with Noah Baumbach which probably is more about my projecting the past rejection I can’t get rid myself of by Mr. Saturday Night, the smart, sporty Jewish man who doesn’t seem to miss me. This isn’t immaturity, just honesty. Check yourself right now in the figurative mirror and tell me there isn’t some former romantic pain still in your heart. If you can claim freedom, God Bless you or perhaps, you don’t pass the “I’m Not a Robot” test(smiley face).

Anyway, when reviewing the movie Good Time with Jennifer Jason Leigh, I keyed into the fact that Greta and Noah fell in love on the set of Margot at the Wedding, a movie they did with then Baumbach wife JJ Leigh. I feel for JJL, what can I say? And while I loved Greta’s role in Greenberg and Frances Ha (which she also wrote), I thought she was terrible (or was it the writing?) in Maggie’s Plan. No matter, she is a great writer and a competent director, so here here to that!

The entire cast was just incredible, let me count the ways:

The men: Tracy Letts, plays an excellent detached dad, but I’m rooting for an even bigger acting comeback after the horrrrrrrrrrible movie he did called The Lovers. Lucas Hedges, while a genius in Manchester By the Sea, seemed to be overacting in a few scenes as the anguished Catholic school student. Timothee Chalamet was perfect as the Jack Kerouacesque boy toy.

A notable pair who play Lady Bird’s brother and sister-in’law were Jordan Rodrigues and Marielle Scott, fantastic as the dull-eyed underachievers who post college still reside at home.

Other notable females were: Beanie Feldstein and Odeya Rush who couldn’t be more genuine as the (heavy sweet and slutty worldly) Catholic gals respectively.

And now I’ll listen to the remainder of the Gerwig interview and see how she squirms under the question of ‘how do you feel about working with men accused of sexual harassment?’. I’ll be sure to postscript any interesting tidbits. Until then, I root for Gerwig, Metcalf and Ronan at the Academy Awards!

Postscript tidbit: Greta turned the tables and make Terry answer the question, too, so both woemn, in so many words, said or didn’t say how I feel, and that is I think we can appreciate a person’s talent, and yet be disappointed in some f their behavior. Bravo Gerwig (and Gross), I respect you.

Daddy’s Home 2, Proof I’m not a Film Snob

There’s a famous song by Garth Brooks, “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” and if he changed the lyric from Friends to Films that would be the perfect description for my affection for Daddy’s Home 2. Hey, on a Friday night after running three miles, lunching with an ambivalent date, working six hours and walking a half hour to and fro to work, a silly comedy with a sweet friend is really quite satisfying.

Sure, Daddy’s Home 2 isn’t a cerebral challenge and I could have gone without the physically violent slapstick moments, but fortunately the dialogue was pretty sharp. Not surprising since Sean Anders and Brian Burns also co-wrote one of the most satisfying comedies of recent note, Meet the Millers.

Mel Gibson plays a great cad, John Lithgow a lovable old nerd and I laugh at simply looking at Will Ferrell. Mark Wahlberg, even in his inability to hide behind his larger than life personality, is hard to resist.

The ladies are very solid as well and I kept racking my brain wondering where I had seen Linda Cardellini before. I’m thinking it had to be The Founder or Welcome to Me though she looks like she could be Ellen Page’s older sister. Alessandro Ambrosia is gorgeous and is probably acting her little brains out.

The cameos were cute and I won’t give them away. Best of all the message was a positive one, that we need to love one another in spite of our differences AND even more importantly, we need to step up and shut up regarding stupid worries and hand wringing, be them familial or political, and simply be grateful for what we have for the sake of our children or if you don’t have kids, for the sake of the child still inside of you. And I certainly can’t dismiss a movie based on that gorgeous idea.

Last being a sucker for sentimental music, what Meet the Millers did for “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls”, Daddy’s Home 2 does for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. Love it, love it!

Happy Holidays!

A Solid Second Serve, Borg vs. McEnroe

So right off the bat I have to say Mea Culpa in being THE most biased reviewer when it comes to a film about John McEnroe (Borg vs. McEnroe directed by Janus Metz). See I’ve been in love with him since I was 17, had my bedroom wall plastered with his photos as a senior in high school, met him for an autograph in 1983, even loved his short lived interview show, and am still to this day, downright giddy when I see him commentating. I LOVE THIS MAN.

On the other hand, I may be the most biased against a film that stars Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe. HOWEVER, Shia LaBeouf actually did a very good job portraying him. And I mean, very, very believable. My only nitpick is that McEnroe is a rocker (meaning in the physical self-soothing way) and in a scene where he’s on an interview Tonight Show like show, he sat perfectly still. That’s not Mac. But beyond that, excellent. And talk about kindred spirits…it’s no secret that Shia has been arrested a few times due to reckless behavior. I’d actually read Shia’s book about his obviously tortured past. I’d even help him edit (HINT, HINT).

The man who plays Borg could have easily been Borg’s son, or an identical clone that was cryogenically defrosted, Sverrir Gudnason. Not much acting involved besides pensive looks, but still, well done. And the man who’s in every Lars Von Trier film, Stellan Skarsgard, was also good as ‘the coach’.

The screenplay by Ronnie Sandahl (who won accolades for a foreign film called Under Dog) told each player’s back stories enough for us to understand their tremendous drive to be victor. And extra congrats to the man who did the musical score, Jonas Struck who not only saved, but refreshed re-watching a condensed 5 hour tennis match.

Definitely worth seeing on the big screen, especially if you’re a tennis fan. And thank you very much to my comedy editor and com padre, Bob, for treating me to this film, the finale of the Cineworld Film Fest sponsored by the Sarasota film Society.

Only the Brave, plus new cinema ailments

Can a movie be a nice tribute, but a mediocre film? Yes. Can there be ailments that are specific to cinema aficionados? Yes, and I’ll be the first to name them: NUMB BUM. Symptoms include: a voice in one’s head that says, “wow, this is a long ass movie” or questions, “the caption just read THREE YEARS LATER, could it really be 2020?”. Physical symptoms such as tingling or numb glutes, restless leg syndrome, eyes on wrist watch…or how about the ailment HOT CORN, symptoms include a voice burning in one’s head that says, “yeh I get they’re a fraternity of bros, I got it with the mooning and yuck yuck man pranks, I don’t need 6 scenes of this.”

This is Only the Brave written by Sean Flynn, directed by Joseph Kosinski and edited by…oh yeh, probably no one. Or no one objective.

How about a little editing folks? Did we really need the Jeff Bridges fighting city hall subplot? Or his scene where he’s country singing as yet ANOTHER old haggard western dude? In fact, please allow me this quick break to write him a letter:
Dear Senor` Bridges:
I use the Spanish Senor` as you insist on becoming an old man with an obvious dental or jaw difficulty. Why oh why? Where did Jeff Bridges go? You know the sexy one from Against All Odds or The Fisher King or even the slightly sexy in a rough way ‘dude’ from The Big Lebowski. Sure, I know you’re two years from 70, but please Jeff, do something besides the Ed Brimley selling Quaker Oats before you retire.

Ok, sorry, had to get that out of my system…the move was good, ok? Certainly the 19 men who died deserve a tribute. And I do like Josh Brolin, though his character is corny. But OMG, Josh, just looked you up assuming you were at least my age and you’re younger than my brother? Jesus, excuse me for another distraction:
Dear Senor` Brolin,
Do not become typecast like Senor` Bridges. Hire a trainer, stat!

Sorry again, sigh. Ok Jennifer Connelly, she’s ‘good’, but her character, do I really need to hear her story of her peeing her pants? I get you’re showing how intimate they were as a couple, but ew, and the lovey dovey scenes, candle lit bathtub, ‘you’re sweaty, I’m, sweaty”, that’s really only sexy in real life, not voyeuristic-ally speaking.

Star of the movie to me (and I might just have Hagiographa from Whiplash still) is Miles Teller, who kicks ass as the f-up who rises to the challenge of becoming a firefighter after becoming a father prematurely. This subolot was done well and without much corn (I didn’t need his disapproving single mom martyr). You’re the man, Miles. In fact give a lesson or two in staying hip to Senor` Bridges and Brolin. Gracias!

The Florida Project, wish he was my relative; Sean Baker

Sean Baker has done it again, floored me with a film of beauty and poignancy….I’d like to call him my brother from another mother, read on….

I dated a brilliant, handsome and funny man for five years of Saturday nights before I moved to Florida, and before you think it was some string of boozy weekend affairs, please continue. We had busy week day lives (me: running, teaching and exhausted; he: tough mudder training, IT at community college and exhausted) so we’d get together Saturday evenings for movies, drinks, snacks and well, you get it. Those were good times that sadly ended when I moved south.
HOWEVER, our best night maybe ever, was the night we rented Tangerine off Netflix written and directed by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. I think we had more surprised belly laughs than any other night, which added to the glow of our camaraderie.

The Florida Project did not elicit belly laughs, HOWEVER, it is my favorite movie of this year this far. It will be the movie I scream at the tv about if Oscars are not presented. The Florida Project was real, haunting, and to steal a word from Willem Dafoe (star of the film) on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, “noble”.

The Florida Project is an ode to children and should be required viewing for any parent who gets involved with DSS. It would be the perfect scared straight film for those not already permanently lost.

The movie made me think of my cousin JJ, who depending on the real truth, either suffered from lack of guidance and parenting, fetal alcohol syndrome, an individual chemical imbalance, brain injury or a combination of any of the aforementioned. Whatever the cause, his life has been very sad, even from a distance.

Fortunately for the viewers, The Florida Project doesn’t follow the children into adulthood to see possible the jail time or ruin carried over into their adult lives. Seeing the neglect in their formative years is impactful enough. And if any complaint is to be made, is that many children who grow up in an undernourished and chaotic setting are not as cute or manageable as the gorgeous children in The Florida Project, but very few people, unfortunately, would seek out that film.

As with Tangerine, when I researched the actors, there was little known about them. Sean Baker likes to choose unknowns who add to the verisimilitude (a motive of which I’m guessing). Huge praise needs to be heaped on the kids in the film, notably Brooklynn Prince, the main child and daughter to Bria Vinaite, who also is simply amazingly believable.

The beginning of the film and end are bookended by beautiful music; Kool and the Gang‘s Celebrate and, and, swing and a miss! No soundtrack on Itunes or elsewhere. Their offical movie website says touch to continue, but my touch not working tonight. Take my word for it, it was an orchestral arrangement of a popular song. Any one who sees the film, hang out, watch the credits and let me know what the end song was, please, because the film doesn’t even have its own website.

GO SEE THIS, it’s y number one as we head into the big competition.

Wherever You Are, There You Are…”Lucky”

Serendipity led me to see Lucky, meaning even though I had already done my self-psychoanalysis, talking myself down from the proverbial roof (hit a wall after working 50+ hours a week, became ill and also became very aware of poor working conditions of impoverished folks directly in front of me, combined with the self-imposed high anxiety of doing stand up comedy), the film helped add the necessary cement to my rediscovered zen. Picture my aforementioned realization, hitting myself in the head: I live in Sarasota and AM LUCKY, so curb the neuroses for Pete’s sakes.

Included in my muchos gracias to the cosmos is a thank you to my friend Pedro, another deep soul in the universe, for going with me.

Lucky is John Carrol Lynch’s directorial debut, but you’d recognize his face from many acting roles, most famously Fargo (Frances’s husband), but recently in a performance as LBJ in Jackie. Here’s where my amoxicillin infused whining kicks in in that I’m tired of people with three names and I’m also weary of the ridiculous number of television aka internet series there are (of which JCL stars in several-see IMDB if you care).

The screenplay was co-written by Logan Sparks (sounds like a fake name but at least it’s just two words) and Drago Sumonja, both of whom are new to big fame, but according to their filmography have put in their time as assistants.

Enough of the rabbit holes you say, what about the movie? The story is crucial considering our aging population’s need for story lines with which they can relate. I say this on behalf of the best Grandma on the planet, Florence Baker, 94, still kicking intellectual and physical buttocks in spite of her advanced age. Grandma doesn’t want to see Surburbicon or Thor, so thank you!

Henry Dean Stanton (ok we’ll let hm have three names God rest his soul, in fact anyone over 80 can have their three names) was a wonder and pretty much revealed on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that this plays pretty close to his own life. Three quick commonalities are: was in the Navy, sang in a band, lived a solitary life.

HDS (aka Lucky the character) was an interesting dichotomy of melancholy and zen of which I can totally relate. My only wish for the film and my English speaking population is that there had been subtitles during the beautiful mariachi song he sang three quarters into the film. Trust me, I’m going to research and find out, but it would have added to the poignancy to see the words (though I can see the opposite argument and possible reasoning for subtitles distracting).

Minor characters were beautiful in both composition and story. Of note were: Yvonne Huff as a caring 420 friendly waitress, Tom Skerritt as a fellow armed services vet, and dear to my heart, Ed Begley Jr as Lucky’s wise cracking doctor.

Here’s where I call out the worst: David Lynch, my man, you can’t act. James Darren, you’d have been better stopping after Gidget (though you’re well preserved) and Beth Grant, you might be good, but your big mouth wise ass bar owner character was a turn off.

Overall though, great film, with an important message that since we don’t have proof of an afterlife, we better best enjoy we we have right now. Carpe Diem.

Best of the PPL’s “Wilson” and “Happy Tears”

Whatchu Talkin’ bout Wilson? I wanted to title my post this, but worried in our overly pc culture that people wouldn’t get the reference from the old television show Different Strokes.

Wilson, based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes and directed by Craig Johnson, was irreverent and funny. Woody Harrelson can do no wrong in my book and continues his excellency here. Laura Dern (why the long face?) was not as believable, but then again, I always think she’s just miserable. Evidence? Artifact one: Certain Women, Two: Founder, just to name some recent films. Has she been typecast? I know she’s in my favorite comedian of all time (today, admittedly fickle) Bill Burr‘s F is for Family, but here again she plays the long suffering wife of the 1973 set racist Archie Bunker-like husband.

What I disliked about Wilson was the gratuitous violence. In three scenes the violence was too close and too long. I don’t need to see and hear Cheryl Hines punched in the nose, it’s just not necessary. Likewise, don’t need to see Woody beaten to a pulp, but not really harmed (ridiculously unrealistic and we wonder where people get their violent ideas?!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Anywho, on to my mission to see more Parker Posey, I borrowed Happy Tears from 2009 written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein. I really enjoyed this, so much so that I bought it on Amazon for my brother for Christmas (shh, don’t tell him) because the dad in the flick (played by Rip Torn) reminded me of my Dad. Not only was Parker Posey good, but Demi Moore was perfect as her sardonic sister and Ellen Barkin hit it out of the park as the crack whore masquerading as the father’s girlfriend (and no, that’s not the commonality with my dad: he does not date a crack addict).
The only thing wrong with Happy Tears is the subplot with the artist husband of Parker, could easily have been excised and still been a worthy endeavor.

Next on my PPL list are two older films The Lost Weekend, a Barry Rothman request, and The Secret of Success.

Columbus, Docked Just Shy of the New World

Ok, I know Columbus, the new movie by relatively new(?) director Kogonada, has nothing to do with Native American destroyer Christopher Columbus, but the analogy of C.C. not quite going the distance to make it to the new world, fits perfectly with Kogonanda’s film being so close to greatness that it’s almost painful.

Columbus is actually about Columbus, Indiana which I am so excited to have learned is a mecca for architecture. I’ve not been exposed to building design instruction, but I appreciate beautiful homes and buildings enough that I am making it a goal to become schooled on the wealth of architectural wonders right here in Sarasota.

With this gorgeous motif as its setting, Columbus (the movie) has a cast just as luminous. First, there’s one of my top ten actresses of all time: Parker Posey. I have loved and seen Parker Posey in most of her films but her tiny role in Columbus just compelled me to request two former films from Selby Library, MORE PARKER NEEDED:) Parker reminds me of my clumsy, but endearing self (or at least the latter’s my hope for what people see in me).

Another excellent actor in Columbus is John Cho (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar) who was superb as the long suffering son of an aloof architectural aficionado. The other two standouts were Haley Lu Richardson (equally good in Edge of Seventeen and The Bronze) and Rory Culkin (who I really need to go back n my posts and see what I praised him for-could it be Lymelife? He was just a little kid, but had that glow akin to Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society).

SO the acting was excellent, the direction interesting, many scenes shot from peoples’ backs or through angles (in a reflection of a mirror, from a hallway), so what gives, you ask? Well, it’s all in the pacing. Meditative is fun, but clunky leads to dropping anchor before you hit the shore.

I still recommend Columbus, just be prepared to swim a ways.