A Girl Walks Into a Movie Theater…

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A girl walks into a movie theater, intent on seeing Little Women, but just as I veer towards the men’s group at any Super Bowl party, the minute I heard a woman say how Little Women dripped a little too much maudlin, I spun and drove for a power lay up back into Uncut Gems.

Before the opening jump shot, I had second row ‘court seats’. With two hipsters behind me, I struck up a conversation with one after his pal went to retrieve some popcorn. I had heard them jiving Safdie and turned to agree on how tremendous Good Time is/was. Like the enthusiastic school marm I’ll always be, I cheered, ‘buckle up’ in delicious anticipation.

While I harangue bad movie behavior, this viewing entailed a magic moment where out of the corner of my eye during the last 10 minutes of the film, the two hipsters were LITERALLY on the edge of their seats, as if they, too, were at game 7 with the bet of their lives at stake.

THIS is what movies are for, the vicarious thrill and off the planet escape that brings such joy.

My second viewing was better than the first. I laughed harder at the Sandlerisms, his “NO” to his flirty mistress, his grabbing a pillow out of his office filing cabinet in order to sleep on the couch, his calling his son, over the top excited to be wearing Garnett’s NBA championship ring. THIS MOVIE WILL ROCK YOU in a far different way than my muscial allusion to Bohemian Rhapsody, but equally fun.

Uncut Gems: Sparkling!

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Not sure how to write a review about a revelation without spoiling this film written by my cherished Safdie brothers (Good Time, Daddy Long Legs) and their writing partner Ronald Bronstein. BUT I will keep my promise!!

Suffice to say it’s a must see and certainly breaks into my top ten at ‘lucky’ number 7 (a call back to gambling which Uncut Gems is all about). Scroll down for the rest of the top ten.

I will briefly mention magic moments that do not give away major plot points:
*Adam (Howard) Sandler wheeling and dealing in his jewelry store
*The frenetic sound of the magnetic locked door
*Camera work on Adam’s fingers on is telephone (researched and discovered famous and seasoned Tehran born cinematographer Darius Khondji did the work (Okja, Evita, Amour)
*Judd Hirsch and the auction scene
*the closet texting scene
*Weekend concert scene (and another closet!)
*suspenseful moments that came to nothing but were fun exactly because they were unfulfilled
*John Amos (funny cameo and call back to Good Times (with an s) and the Safdie movie without the s
*the bat mitzvah dress scene with Idina Menzel
*the unfeeling atmosphere of NYC
*Daniel Lopatin’s eerie soundtrack

The acting is HUGE: Adam Sandler deserves a nomination.
Julia Fox has come out of nowhere, but fantastic!
Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Lakeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnet and Idina Menzel were magic.

I almost liked Good Time a tiny bit better, but need to re-watch to figure out why. Perhaps time has warped my perception.

And, I would doctor this script in two tiny ways:
Add maybe one more moment with Adam and his youngest son, some bonding or lack thereof
Add a scene at the beginning where Adam talks to his aquarium fish or defends them against an insult by basketball players
With just a dash more soft side of Adam would have heightened the emotion.

But overall, BRAVO. Safdie and Bronstein are my favorite writers!

My top 10 (can Little Women usurp anyone?)

Marriage Story
Honey Boy
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Lighthouse
Peanut Butter Falcon
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Uncut Gems
Her Smell
Parasite
Judy

Sweetest Peanut Butter I’ve Ever Known

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Hyperbole, schmyperbole, I’m jumping on The Peanut Butter Falcon Oscar bandwagon ready to throw non-breakables at the television should it not win several awards.

Best Original Screenplay: Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz are the new Affleck/Damon, great storytelling and not a second of filler in the entire movie. My movie companion was dying to get a popcorn refill, but didn’t dare leave. I’m even more proud I’m his friend since once he realized what we were witnessing, movie magic, there’s no popcorn worth missing a second.

Best Actor: Tie: Zack Gottsagen, the Down syndrome actor is tremendous, such a tender nuanced performance doesn’t happen very often. Shia LaBeouf, hands down the role of a lifetime and he nails it. A la Casey Affleck and Willem DaFoe in Manchester By the Sea and Florida Project respectively. Understated, and real, his guilt ridden life takes on new meaning as he finds a run away Down syndrome man and becomes his caregiver.

And breaking news (to me), Shia has a screenplay he wrote and filmed coming out in November with Lucas Hedges called Honey Boy. I’ll call it now, this is LaBeouf’s year to rake it all in.

Best Picture: Roma certainly was a work of art and deserved the best picture win, and this year it’s time to give to a work of heart. So many small gorgeous moments in this film had me crying midway, a first ever. But a cry that feels good to be human and blessed to be in this world.

The ensemble of actors couldn’t be more perfect: Bruce Dern has had an acting renaissance since Nebraska and just keeps excelling. This year with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and now even bigger and better as Josh’s accomplice in Peanut Butter Falcon.

Best Supporting Actor (almost): If Thomas Hayden Church who I LOVE (Sideways!!!) had had a bit bigger role as the washed up wrestler, he’d be in the running. Here’s where I’ll come down from the soap box and say, great performance, but not large or wide ranged enough for a nomination.

And while I think Dakota Johnson is fantastic (Black Mass especially), I don’t think her character gets enough screen moment time to win an award. Nomination(?) Sure. Win(?), probably a stretch.

I’ll be going to see this again and will be rooting for it for the next six months. This is the best picture of the year, hands down.

Maiden: Using undertow as a verb

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I’m declaring undertow as a verb, as in underdwhelmed, as in, ‘I got undertowed’ by the high praise for the documentary “Maiden”. I like the sound of it and hope to have it goes viral. Of course I’m saying this somewhat tongue in cheek.

On the one hand, what the women on “Maiden” did, as the first all woman team to sail around the world, is a really big deal.
Yet I was undertowed by the footage and the narrative by Alex Holmes. Consequently, the doc only grabbed me near the end.

What’s sadly ironic is that in the late 80’s the women were asked almost solely about the crew members relationships crew vs. tactical questions fed to men, yet Alex Jones the writer and director only focused on the women’s faces in present day interviews and soundbites of male chauvinists. If you want to help evolve, tell mini stories of the women, show moments that make us realize just how big a feat this was.

The relativity of it all, is that other documentaries I’ve seen this year that were much more inspiring, “Ask Dr. Ruth” and even “Echo in the Canyon” showed more humanity. And that’s the crux of the problem. I didn’t get to know any of the other gals besides the skipper and even her story didn’t ‘dive’ into the angst enough for me to have the big splash or payoff.

Interviews of present people and old 80’s blurry film doesn’t make for riveting story telling. Lesson learned: Don’t get undertowed by over enthusiastic reviewers.

I Use to Go Here, A Pleasure!

I Used to Go Here (written and directed by Kris Rey) was a delight, even overcoming my ‘I miss the theater’ nausea caused from at home video. But no kidding, right? Since I love Jemaine Clement and really like Gillian Jacobs (who I adored in the Netflix series “Love”).

With the aid of an outstandingly casted minor role group, the combo of hormonal crises, both college and biological clock, work. Normally, I’d be shaming the 35 year old woman, but here all’s fair in honest vulnerable people needing connection.

Those great minor actors in order of impact include: Brandon Daley, Hannah Marks (great as the lead in “Banana Split”), Josh Wiggins, and Zoe Chao.

If you’ve ever had a crush on a professor, been the fish out of water (the only unmarried in a swarm of marrieds) or simply heart broken over a breakup, “I Use to Go Here” is a movie for you.

The Sunlit Night: ‘Coulda’ been a Contender (if only…)

I use to be disappointed in kids who cheated when I was a teacher, but downright angry when a super smart kid would cheat.

That’s why The Sunlit Night made me slightly mad. It’s probably a screenwriter issue, which is a shame in this instance, Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight wrote the book from which the movie is based AND the screenplay. So come on girlfriend, why’d you cheat?

What I mean is why be so damn overt with the sexual stuff….like Jenny Slate’s mother picking a leech (which wasn’t a leech but a worm) out of her bottom….or Jenny posing in underwear (when she’s the artist). Sexuality is fine and even fun to watch when it’s not random and super conspicuous.

Mind you, I may still have Little Weirds (Jenny Slate’s recent book which was equal parts moving and Eat Pray Love maddening at the end book) taint on me.

So Miley, what’s good? Ok, there were some beautiful aspects to the movie. First and foremost the cinematography of Norway, bravo to director David Wnendt and cinematographer Martin Ahlgren. Second, I did enjoy Jenny Slate’s character’s allusions to resemblances of people with historical paintings, but Rebecca, why not start that fun narration from the get go, instead of the unevenly paced family melodrama you began with?

I love the artist in residence aspect of the film and thought the head artist’s (Fridtjov Saheim) performance was very realistic. I also appreciated the mourning man’s (Alex Sharp) portrayal as important and raw. As much as I adore Zack Galifinakis, his Viking Tourist Attraction seemed eerily Baskets-like, and the comedic dryness seemed off balance in this story.

To be fair, translating novels to screen is tough business. I just feel like under more objective hands, this could have been a great film, when in the end, it was just mediocre.

Intelligent and Believable! Burnt Orange Heresy

Burnt Orange Heresy, from a Charles Willeford’s novel, has been spun into a marvelous screenplay by Scott B. Smith (nominated for a screenplay Oscar back in 1999) and film directed by Giuseppe Capotondi.

Set in Italy, Claes Bang (absolutely fantastic in the foreign film The Square and currently playing Dracula on Netflix) plays an edgy art expert, very similar to the role in the aforementioned Academy Award nominated film.

In Burnt Orange Heresy, a tryst involving an American tourist, played realistically by Elizabeth Debicki, brings them to a castle owned by mega wealthy art collector, coyly portrayed by none other than Mick Jagger.

Low and behold, down the wooden path from Mick’s castle, lives reclusive artist Donald Sutherland. And here I ask, need I say more? Power house acting, superbly suspenseful, gorgeous music and cinematography, Burnt Orange Heresy is great escape from our new normal.

An Ironic Mutiny: The Ghost of Peter Sellers

Ironically, I abandoned ship on a movie that WASN’T about a ship, since Peter Medak’s doc
The Ghost of Peter Sellers
was poignant enough to keep me engaged. Realize, I rarely give up on a film anyway, but my increasing impatience with the distractions of home cinema is fraying my ability to make it to the finish line.

Peter Mendak idolized Peter Sellers, as anyone with comedic taste would, and was thrilled when he agreed to do a movie with him in 1973. Trouble is, between horrible weather, a budget that got out of control and Peter’s mental health, the movie was an entire unreleased failure. Mendak’s doc is his attempt to reconcile the guilt and to explain his rationale for going forward despite the many red flags or should I say, Jolly Roger flags that appeared.

The movie I DID pull the plug on had a really good review
Sorry I Missed You
and granted, it was well acted and by all rights, I should have done my due diligence of research on director Ken Loach, known for his socialist realism. Mind you, I am all for the working class, and know firsthand that employees can be exploited, especially now in desperate pandemic times, but I could only do 45 of the hour and 41 minutes. I am interested in how the movie ends, but it was just too bleak for me to continue.
The film has garnered BAFTA nominations and I was super impressed by all the actors especially Debbie Honeywood and Kris Hitchen as the married couple working their British fannies off to provide a living for their two children.

Straight Up a fun flick!

Good on ya James Sweeney, writer and director Of Straight Up available now on Netflix. This was the perfect movie to quench my cinematic thirst since I was getting a LIT-TLE angry that Hollywood/China is holding us movie fans hostage waiting for the miracle Covid19 cure….

Thank God for James Sweeney’s Straight Up (only his second feature film where he’s the head honcho) which employed romantic comedy mixed with sexual orientation confusion. Gen Xer’s will be able to relate and again, the movie made me forget momentarily about the news grabbers of that generation. According to this film, many aren’t focused on deconstruction and cancellation….some according to this movie are looking for good old fashioned joy and contentment, while loving each other despite differences and disagreements. Ah heavenly!

Katie Findlay plays the female half of the film who has the jaded ‘does it all have to be about sex?’ philosophy, a true Saposexual. While she was a tad cloying at times, equally cloying was the male half, lo and behold triple threat James Sweeney…that sneaky guy’s photo is not on IMDB hence did not know until just now! Anywho, James Sweeney (as Todd) was so cute as the guy who earnestly wants a successful relationship that he’ll do almost anything. The fact that they were both corny emotionally isn’t an insult, if anything their sentimentality gave their relationship its poignancy.

The minor characters were very well acted making the entire movie a joy: Tracie Thoms as James/Todd’s therapist, Betsy Brandt and Randall Park as James/Todd’s parents…all solid performances. Also good were Dana Drori as Todd’s shallow gal pal and James Scully as the male on the prowl.

My favorite nuanced scene was between James and his ‘dad’ Randall Park which communicates many emotions in once impactful scene.

Just gorgeous, innocent and funny with a clever fast paced script that anyone can appreciate.

Pure Joy: Palm Springs

Palm Springs is directed by the relative newbie Max Barbakow and written by the equally novice screenwriter Andy Siara. And they’ve got legs, in other words, they’re going places!

Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs is the best romantic comedy I’ve seen since Long Shot (Rogen and Theron). I laughed out loud several times: for both genuinely funny moments and also quirky twists and turns the movie took. Part sci-fi, part slapstick, both actors gave equally charming performances making you believe in their chemistry and plight.

J.K. Simmons might just be the new John Goodman in simply taking over the screen even in minor roles. I was so excited to see him again, having loved an hated (due to his horrible cruel character) in Whiplash. The other minor character among an entire wedding guest set of actors was Conner O’Malley. With no more than five lines, he made an impression on my funny bone.

Palm Springs is definitely worth a Hulu visit.

You Can’t Handle “The Truth” (2019), especially if you like tight screenplays

I am really confused by “The Truth”. How can the same man (Hirokazu Koreeda) who wrote and directed the BRILLIANT “Shoplifters” move on to a follow up of circuitous drivel like The Truth?

My guess is he has the bank to surround himself with the best actors, so he thought, let’s do this, even if it’s not fantastic.

I mean who doesn’t adore Catherine Deneuve? Or Juliette Binoche? Or Ethan Hawke?

The story has promise addressing a damaged mother and daughter relationship, but never really probes deep enough for impact.

Instead, the drab script just crinkles and falls apart like the dried up autumn leaves shown at the beginning and end of the film.

A Confession of True Romance

I had better things to do in 1993, having had my precious son during that year, 27 years ago. And I was a Tarantino naysayer up until Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his old stuff being too rough for my silky blood.

But now that I’m older and more jaded (and can mute and fast forward violent parts) I took a gander at True Romance who many a man I’ve encountered have claimed the movie as one of their favorites.

And I get it: buxom beautiful Patricia Arquette, charming Chrstian Slater, bad boys like Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini and Christopher Walken though the latter just makes me giggle. Best of all is Brad Pitt who might be the best stoner of all time (ditto in Once Upon a Time and Burn After Reading).

I enjoyed the steel drum music that served as background as the romantic music for Christian and Patricia…tell me they didn’t date with that chemistry. Confirmed, though he’s dated just about everyone.

The story’s implausible, but the mega talent mixing it up in vignettes make it all worthwhile and Tarantino iconic. And true to it’s true title, the movie opened up a portal in me, as I conjured up two romantic memories of my own.

Wisdom in the Babyteeth

I admired and enjoyed Babyteeth written by Rita Kalnejas (also known for Ghostrider) and directed by Shannon Murphy.

The complex narrative combined with super uniuqely lit shots made the two hours and change time line fly by. The convincing actors include (in order of my best to very good): Essie Davis as the caring but distraught mom, Toby Wallace Moses as the abused homeless young man, Eliza Scanlen as the lead ‘teenage’ 10th grade daughter (real age 21, but close enough), and Ben Mendelsohn as the dad trying to hold it all together.

Mix these characters with a Russian cello teacher, an Asian boy seemingly cast off by his family and a single woman on the verge of giving birth and you have a riveting story.

Watch for the party scene (cinematographer Andrew Commis) which rivaled my previous favorite in the Warren Beatty/Halle Berry Bullworth scene for eroticism. The soundtrack was fantastic as well like this gem Golden Brown by the Zephyr Quartet https://www.what-song.com/Movies/Soundtrack/103402/Babyteeth or Come Meh Way by Sudan Archives https://www.what-song.com/Movies/Soundtrack/103402/Babyteeth or For Real by Mallrat https://www.what-song.com/Movies/Soundtrack/103402/Babyteeth.

Definitely worth the time and money, Babyteeth, evocative and real!

You May Be Right, I May Be…In Love with “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn”

I paused for so long during the ZZ Top doc on Netflix that up popped a scroll of available Netflix movies. Fortunately, I looke dup from my computer at the opportune time to discover “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn.”

I love Jemaine Clement as much as I love John McEnroe. Big love, to be sure. So Jim Hosking’s written and directed film with Aubrey Plaza was up my alley.

A forewarning: watching this film is like getting on a wild stallion. The first 15 minutes is pretty jarring as every character seems to be an outrageous hyperbole of stereotype. But hang in there, once you realize that Hosking mocks EVERYONE, you settle in and start laughing.

Aubrey and Jemaine are a couple made in heaven, each out dead panning the other. Matt Berry (“What We Do in the Shadows”) and Craig Robinson (Ditto and “Pineapple Express”) are better than any comedic bromance I’ve seen in a long time. Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild” phenom, is also fantastic as a maniacal coffee shop manager.

If you get Netflix, give this outrageous comedy a try.