God’s Own Country, a must see

Featured

Recently I was asked to co-host a program at our local Independent Theater Burns Court for the movie “Ammonite” which debuts November 13th.

As a dutiful life long learner, I looked into the writer/director Francis Lee. Lo and behold, was a movie on his filmography I’d been meaning to watch starring one of my favorite young actors, Josh O’Connor.

God’s Own Country, from 2017, is by far the best love story between two men that I’ve ever seen. Kudos to Francis Lee for his expert writing and direction. Thank God Sundance and the Chicago Film Fests honored this film. Where in the H-E-double pitchforks (going with the farming theme) were the Oscars or Independent Spirit Awards that year?….asleep at the tractor, I guess.

The harsh Scottish farming setting lends itself to the desperation and loneliness felt by Josh’s character. Romanian actor Alec Secareanu was also outstanding as his out of town gypsy co-worker.

The parents portrayed by Gemma Jones and Ian Hart (playing much older than his actual age and VERY believable) are an absolute duo of acting marvel, beaten down by the weather and farming life.

I was truly moved by this movie to the point where I felt the emotions resonating into the next day. Mark my words, Josh O’Connor SHOULD win an Oscar in his life time and if not, he should at least clink glasses with others who unfortunately have gone without (Willem Dafoe to name one).

And fun fact: Alec Secareanu and Gemma Jones are both cast again in Lee’s upcoming November release.

A Girl Walks Into a Movie Theater…

Featured

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!

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Two-Fer NEW MOVIE Reviews: something light, something heavy

The Fatman and The Life Ahead are two movies I’ve taken in this week; subversive-lite and poignant-beautiful respectively.
The first, The Fat Man is playing for a few more days at Lakewood Ranch (please support them) and probably longer at CineBistro. The movie stars Mel Gibson as Kris Kringle and if the Nelms brother had veered a little more comedic instead of the weakling sibling of violence, it could have been a winner. Either evil within their own twin beings, or within the Hollywood execs that led led them, the film ends Tarantino-essque. Still, the movie did attempt to make some points about the shallowness of the ultra rich and how karma can come back to bite you in the flannel clad fanny.

The second, The Life Ahead, should be a nominee for film of the year, best actor and best actress. The director, Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren’s son, did a great job with the adapted screenplay by Ugo Chiti. The actor who just threw me off my feet (granted I was on a couch watching it streamed on Netflix) is Ibrahima Gueye. He is going places at the young age of, I’m guessing, 14 max (?) as no date is available on the internet. Sophia Loren plays his foster mother and the jist of the film is Loren is a former call girl who now takes in younger call girls’ neglected or abandoned children.
Gorgeously shot in Italy, the movie made me tear up several times. If this isn’t THE film to watch about crossing barriers from race color to we are all of the HUMAN race, I don’t know what is. Essential holiday viewing to mend hearts at the holidays.

The Climb, Placing My Oscar Bet on Zach Kuperstein

Ok, that bet I just posted in my title, I’d like to place it to happen in the next ten years, since the ye olde Academy has enough fish to fry for awhile. But mark my words, they’ll see the genius of Zach Kuperstein (already nominated for a Independent Spirit (the smartest) Awards for The Eyes of My Mother).
In The Climb, you can’t help but notice Kuperstein’s magic in the stripper Thanksgiving scene, the outside the house merry go round shot during the Christmas Scene, the immersion of the ice fishing bachelor party. Visually inspiring, Zach’s got it going on.
Now for the rest of the story…Michael Angelo Covino starred and directed The Climb about a relationship between two male friends, the friend with whom he also wrote The Climb’s screenplay, Kyle Marvin. The story is interestingly told, in chapters with cute title cards, “I’m Sorry”, “let it go”, etc. The premise is also unique in that while I’m sure there’s many co-dependent male friendships, we don’t see friendship looked at with such a magnifying glass often.
The minor characters were well drawn, too, 3 dimensional without over interrupting the through line. I especially liked Gayle Rankin (Glow, Blow the Man Down) Todd Barry and the grooms two sisters (Daniella Covino, Eden Malyn).
A refreshing dark comedy about relationship and family dysfunction playing currently at Burns Court. Please support your independent theaters!

Ammonite, see it and ignore the critics!

I’m a lover, not a fighter and if you still disregard me because I think people can have different opinions without the need for cancellation, so be it. Addio, arriverderci, thank you next.
Same with the critics of Ammonite, who were NOT accurate in these complaints:
“The ocean drowned out the dialogue.” What? Nope!
“It was dark and depressing.” A period piece needs to have reality. A movie needs to take you to a place you’ve never been, nor can ever go…1840’s Dorset Coast, two women in a patriarchal society…there weren’t discos or fashion shows folks.
“The sex was as gratuitous as ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’.” What are you crazy? There were two scenes and only one explicit and not one second was extreme. Classy in execution and anyone who differs is obviously homophobic.
The acting was tremendous. Kate Winslet achieves the perfect tight rope walk of stubborn and vulnerability, and Saoirse does well with wispy loneliness, too. They are Mary and Charlotte, neglected paleontologist and budding geologist. Fiona Shaw, who is new actress to me, was also great as the well to do neighbor of Kate/Mary’s past.
Please support your local movie theaters like Burns Court/Sarasota Film Society. We need communal experiences to keep our humanity intact.
And write to my email with any comments at irun2eatpizza@hotmail.com

What a find! Citizens of the World

Wow, what a refreshingly slow paced film with a mood that transcended it’s 90 plus minutes; “Citizens of the World” written and directed by Gianni Di Gregorio.
The jist is three men in their 70’s (Gregorio being one of the actors as well) decide they are suffering from wanderlust and make a grande` plan to move to a different country. What ensues isn’t hilarity but a beautiful meditation on gratitude for the mundane and routine, something I think anyone in Covid times can fully appreciate.
The other two actors of the trio were Girogio Colangeli and Ennio Fantastichini, who were fantastic in their humanity. Salih Saadin Khalid helped the trio put things in perspective. Bellisimo!

Life Long Learning “The Night Full of Rain”

I thank Jack Guren for filling in this cinematic movie gap, assuming I’d know who Lina Wertmuller was, when I sheepishly replied, ‘never heard of her.’ Call me chagrined. His Wertmuller comment came after a Wertmuller memory was sparked by an aborted attempt at watching the remake of Rebecca, which was such a far cry from Hitchcock’s original that we abandoned ship.
I searched and missed his specific “Swept Away” and “Seven Beauties” (nominated for best foreign film) reference and instead wound up with “The Night Full of Rain” from 1978. Candice Bergen and Giancarlo Giannini star as a battling when opposites attract (and I mean battling, ugh ptsd flashback from my youth)…must be the 70’s was the couples’ conflict decade, “The Way We Were”, “Woman Under the Influence” as further evidence.
Wertmuller definitely has a unique modernist style, in this film, for instance, she employs flashy cinematography, a groovy if not disturbed soundtrack, religious statue allusions, and a modern day Greek chorus who debate what makes love and relationships work. Is it comfortable repetition or passionate fire? Can both possibly co-exist? According to this film, passion is fueled by disagreement which means sex is better with someone with whom you could never cohabitate. And Lina, I have to concur!

Rebecca, the Original 1940

In anticipation of watching the Armie Hammer remake, I had to first watch the original Rebecca from 1940, which is the only film Hitchcock ever won an Oscar (and this for film, not direction).
The 1940’s version starts Laurence Olivier as the oxymoronic man both aloof and temperamental. The character, at least portrayed here is a bit of a yawner, not compelling enough to elicit a response. Likewise, IMO, Joan Fontaine is also boring and mousey in character, hence again, evoking apathy rather than feeling. The characters with the most acting challenges and achievement were Judith Anderson and George Sanders*, the jealous chambermaid and Bedswerver respectively (thank you https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/7-obscure-words-for-cheating-and-infidelity). A fun runner up with a minor (but comedically shrewish) role is Florence Bates.
I will say for 1940, the cinematography is very realistic and impressive (George Barnes). The screenplay was also titillating enough to almost make it through the 2 and a half hours in one shot. And of course Hitchcock’s takes with photography were gorgeously done.
Fun actor/actress facts:
*George Sanders was married to two Gabor sisters; Zsa Zsa and Magda. And Joan Fontaine was the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland.
Joan was snubbed on the set by Oliver who wanted his then girlfriend Vivian Leigh to get the part. She was also snubbed by her sister at the Oscars after saying an unkind remark about Olivia’s husband.

Comedy’s Core: The anticipatory laugh and how Borat Subsequent Film nails it

If we ever needed to have belly laughs, it’s the week before the election and “Borat Subsequent Film” delivers in spades. Just Sacha Baron Cohen’s word play (and to be fair, his 11 other collaborators who worked on the screenplay) alone, is commendable. I double dog dare you to check out Rudy Guillani’s Twitter response to his role in the film and then Sacha’s twitter video follow-up and NOT laugh….classic puns and double entendre!

While there’s many minor characters who are hysterically funny as straight men and women (and for any millennials reading: I mean that in the non-comedic sense, not sexual preference sense), Sacha’s only other main co-star is a Bulgarian actress names Maria Bakalova.

While I thought Maria fit the bill as believable foreigner, I didn’t think she was perfect for this role. She hammed it up a little too much which almost sounds impossible given the absurdity of the plot. My rationale is when you have one character who is the jester, I think the secondary character calls for more subtlety.

A minor flaw though in a perfect film. Sacha is the Groucho Marx of our time and God Bless him we need the humor now more than ever!

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s prolific and still relatively young. As I perused his filmography, here are my top five of his films:

1. Steve Jobs
2. Social Network
3. Moneyball
4. Molly’s Game
5. Tie: Charlie Wilson’s War and today’s specialty The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron’s forte is his snappy storytelling and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is right up there.

I appreciated the massive cast in The Trial of the Chicago 7, yet at the beginning of the film, it was difficult to not see them acting. Part of it was the semi mundane cinematography which I realize is tough to glamorize. Protests and courtrooms are not that picturesque.

What didn’t help was the make up and wigs. Again, I realize this was the late 60’s, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s wig looked like something he used on Borat and Rylance’s comb over looked fake as well. Like Rylance (maybe the equal in underappreciated as Willem Dafoe), Jeremy Strong portrayed Jerry Rubin with excellence, yet his wig also looked pasted on.

The most believable acting goes to Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

As a historical document of a very dark time in our past, this film is a 10. As far as a best picture Oscar award winner, a yes for screenplay winner but as for a film, yes to a nomination, but in total I wasn’t wowed.

On the Rocks, Conned this Rox

One of my top fifteen movies of all time is Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s gorgeous ode to feeling misunderstood, captured perfectly by two different generations (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) who come together in a hotel bar.

So I went skipping to On the Rocks, Sofia’s newest using Bill Murray again, in a different self-aware cad role with the beautiful Rashida Jones as his Eyeore of a daughter.

If L.I.T. was about feeling misunderstood, On the Rocks is about feeling unappreciated. Rashida feels unappreciated by her husband, Marlon Wayans (pretty face, not an actor). Bill relates to the under appreciation having felt that ‘back in the day’ and consequently straying from Rashida’s mom.

Hence, Bill wants to help his daughter get ahead of the curve and find out if indeed Marlon is the cheater he (Bill) use to be.

Many missed opportunities: one being use Jenny Slate as more than just three funny cameos, two give Rashida’s character more pizzazz (I mean no wonder Marlon would be bored), three, the pivotal daughter-father showdown needed to be amped up to evoke emotion.

Fortunately for Sofia, Americans have been bludgeoned by Covid 19 and are so starved for movies that this looks good enough to rate an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. In reality, however, this is a 72and a half (I’m averaging my film buddy Gus Mollasis’s 75 and my 70 here) at best.