Professor Marston and the Wonder Women: More like Prof. Maasdam

Hey when you write a film blog, sometimes you learn something new, like this afternoon when I’m looking for a cheese that starts with M (like Marston does) and and ends in an N or M (like Marston does). And Eureka (!) you find Maasdam cheese from the Netherlands which is perfect since it’s a semi-hard cheese and that’s about as excited this movie will make either gender.

People, the concept is titillating, a Harvard Professor of Psychology and his wife begin a menage a trois which blossoms into a permanent, shall we say mini Mormon experience, meaning relative bigamy, cohabitation and child rearing. All of which were shocking lifestyle choices in the 1940’s.

And certainly all three lead actors were competent (Rebecca Hall being the strongest of the three by far, and yes I’m biased-see my “Christine” and “The Dinner” reviews), the other two being: Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote, both of whom still have hope for greater films.

But oh the screenplay is the Maasdamiest (cheesiest) of any screenplay I’ve seen in recent memory. A tell tall cough here, maudlin music here, sexy strip music (with slo-mo) there.

The best that can be said about Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is that I got to spend time reclining (@CineBistroSKey) with Pete, a gentleman who gave me space after a long workday (and who I am truly honored to have been visited by). I also like true stories and the fact that we got to see photos of the real people at the end always heightens my affection for a film. My only wish is that the screenwriter would have opted for human commotion over the ‘mellow’ (cheese) drama.

That’s amore`, that’s a screenplay! Spinelli’s American Made

Two aspects of American Made immediately impressed me; first the taut screenplay by Gary Spinelli* and Tom Cruise‘s perpetual likeability**.

*I’ll continue to research, but thus far, there’s not a whole lot of bio information about Gary Spinelli. I assume he’s relatively new at screenwriting according to the short list of his writings on IMDB. Though it appears he wrote a stinker back in 2012 (Stash House), and has since roared back now with American Made (with a tv show and a film in pre-production). Spinelli’s American Made condensed a complicated story (drugs and weapon running in the 80’s) with equally convoluted politicians (are there any other kinds?) and clearly established three sets of characters (Cruise and wife, the CIA and a drug cartel). So bravo Mr. Spinelli. Your script is worth seeing again.

Speaking of seeing a movie again, a shout out to the prince of princes who saw American Made a second time for my benefit AND who bought me a garment to keep me warm in the why-the-f-must-Floridians-a.c.-the-hell-out-of-us atmosphere of CineBistro?

**Another gentlemen who’s a prince in his roles at least, Tom Cruise is certainly irresistible in his polite and handsome, “ma’am, I’m sorry to inconvenience you, but this is the way it has to be. I must be heroic, or anti-heroic.” Here, he’s the latter, playing real life Barry Seal who is fleshed out in a fantastic piece of journalism (http://fair.org/home/american-made-a-largely-true-story-with-some-not-so-fun-lies/) that takes apart the truth vs. make believe of the story. Tom Cruise with his gargantuan acting ability hypnotizes us into rooting for him, no matter what his character does, in this case putting his family in danger for his thrill seeking career pursuits.
And anti-hero could be closer to the real Tom Cruise, according to the rumor mill, what with his rather demented Scientology fixation).

Three other quick accolades must be mentioned: Doug Liman, director (and not coincidentally, probably got the great stories from his dad, Iran/Contra counsel Arthur Liman) also director of Edge of Tomorrow (great film!), Sarah Wright as Mrs. Seal, and though not a huge role, the always consistently good, Domhnall Gleeson as a cold, calculated CIA agent.

American Made is definitely worth going to, even for a second viewing to fully grasp the screenwriting’s excellency.

Battle of the Sexes, I Miss the 70’s

For many reasons, I love the 70’s. It’s partly the drop dead beautiful music (Elton John‘s Rocket Man, George Harrison‘s What is Life!), partly that I was a little girl obsessed with the adult world (10 at the time of the King-Riggs match), and partly due to the moments of spectacle (like the aforementioned tennis match and another off the top of my head- Evel Knievel). These days, everything has become a spectacle and consequently, very few things are that amazing.

At any rate, Battle of the Sexes was good. Emma Stone, good. Steve Carell, great. But because the real people are so damn cool, I’d prefer to see a well executed documentary rather than people playing them. Which goes back to corroborate my love of that decade.

Probably the most extraordinary part of the film is the back story of Billie Jean’s sexuality and that she was one of the first people (at least of that era) that had to finally be courageous enough to live the life she truly wanted. Although according to Wiki, she didn’t actually get divorced until 1987, but perhaps the movie, which led me to believe he knew at 1973 that Billie was a lesbian, stayed married for practical purposes.

An interesting sub-plot was the nutritional advisor Rheo Blair who Bobby Riggs employed to help is stamina. Fred Armisen of SNL and Portlandia portrayed the man, and unfortunately, his appearance reminded me of Louis CK in Trumbo and here I’ll invoke another tennis legend in Fred as actor choice, “You Can’t Be Serious!”. Even more strange, ther’s no wiki page on this dude. Try it, all you’ll come up with his his own website-Nutritionist to the Stars! I expected some Brian Wilson psychiatrist type scandal bringing this guy down eventually. Hmmmm, a mystery.

So, Battle of the Sexes a good walk down memory lane, but not as spectacular as the spectacle of the genuine articles.

Another Gorgeous Slice of Life: Brad’s Status

Thanks to my benevolent friend Carrie, I sat in luxury leather to watch Brad’s Status. And not just anywhere, but in the hometown of one of the film’s stars (read on to find out!).

But that’s not why I liked the film. The story by Mike White (School of Rock, The Good Girl) was not only extremely realistic in portraying the awkward relationship parents have with their late adolescents ready to leave the nest for college, but was also produced it in such a way to also detail the interior mind of a middle aged man with social anxiety.

We all have an interior monologue going on in our heads (come on admit talking to yourself:) and movie voice overs can sometimes be cringe worthy. But Ben Stiller has a presence and a voice that makes you feel camaraderie, like, “Yeh man, I know what you’re talking about!”.

The awkward silences and stoicism of parent-child relationships were very well done as were the college finance and major questions, the hope-you get-into-a-prestiguous-school, but how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-pay-for-it struggle? The you’re-a-great-musician vs. can-you-make-a-living-wage-at-it?

Austin Abrams who played Ben’s son is the aforementioned native of my new home town of Sarasota*: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3641002/?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm, and walks a talented line between tolerant and ready to explode upon his awkward dad. *In fact, for shame distributors! It’s only playing in one theater in Sarasota!

Class struggle was also gracefully, but honestly handled. Living in Sarasota means seeing a wide range of incomes. Those of us in the middle class can’t help but feel occasional envy at the mega wealthy. Brad’s four friends in the latter category were portrayed just enough for us to understand without straying from the main story. Mike White (yes he wrote it, directed it and acted in it) Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords(PLEASE do more movies, I love you!) all do stand out performances in minor roles.

In fact the beauty of a good movie is that the story makes you think more about it after the fact. For instance, did Michael Sheen’s character have accurate info on his wealthy buddies or was he simply as envious as Ben Stiller?

Definitely worth the CineBistro price. Go root, root, root for the home boy Austin Abrams while the film is still in town!

See Stronger, Be Better, Forget ‘It’

Hellooooooo, is anyone (deep) out there? For God’s sakes, according to the trailers and the number one film at the box office “It”, we are a country of violent dunces. Do me a favor, go see Stronger and redeem our collective reputation.

Funny thing is, before the violent 8 trailers, my companion and I realized we were both feeling trepidation about seeing the movie. Here I thought my dear friend Dave wanted to see it and I was worried it would be too schmaltzy for me. Meanwhile my friend thought I really wanted to see it and was also somewhat reluctant. Since it was my idea, a lump was in my throat at the film’s start that I would be looking like the idiot and that had wasted our hard earned doe. Fortunately, we both loved it, he-man and tom boy alike.

Stronger is not just a man gets injured, man learns to walk again. It’s literally a biopic of a real human being, with real failings (arrested development, toxic family, menial job). It’s also not a jingoistic let’s nail the terrorists film and in fact, actually looks at all angles of military service. If I was again a woman in my mid thirties, wishing my then husband would mature beyond lothario, this might be the movie that could cause such an epiphany (though realistically, probably not since Wonder Boys didn’t do the trick).

But I digress…can we give Jake Gyllenhaal a definite nomination? I mean, the guy works his a@$ off. The last film I saw him in was South Paw, a mediocre film, but JG’s six pack of steel deserved some kind of accolade. Before that, in a movie I loved, Nightcrawler, he became a shriveled violence-porn addict. In Stronger, he pulls off a skinny Mass-hole, complete with the accent and through some kind of acting and cosmetic magic, almost seems to possess a different face.

Equally strong is Tatiana Maslany who portrays Jake’s girlfriend. Tatiana should also get an Oscar nom as you can’t fake the mixture of emotion of someone conflicted over duty vs. love, and stay in hopes of someone maturing vs. leave and start over. Fantastic!

Likewise, Miranda Richardson, is tremendous as Jake’s alcoholic, narcissistic mother. I mean God Bless her that can’t be fun to play such an ignorant attention whore, but she owns that role. In fact, she’s so good, I was moved to library request an Oscar nominated performance she did in Tom and Viv.

Negatives? I can’t really think of any. I didn’t even mind hiding my eyes several times due to my oversensitivity to violence and people on the precipice of injury.

Stronger is more than meets the eye. The fact that two people with vastly different tastes loved it speaks highly of the screenplay (John Pollono/Jeff Bauman), director (David Gordon Green of Pineapple Express-woo woo!) and actors.

Would the real Steve Coogan please stand up? (The Trip to Spain)

I’ve had enough of Mother Nature (Irma here, deadly Maria and Mexico City earthquakes there) so I decided to forego mother! until I have someone to give me a hug after.

And I could use a hug. Let’s just say I wish people were more self-aware, acknowledged questions or previous plans and communicated in a linear fashion.

And so I took The Trip to Spain, loving Steve Coogan as I do. The movie parallels some of Coogan’s life (he brags about his Philomena Oscar nominations and meeting the Pope) and intrigues those of us middle aged women who are attracted to his unknown real life. IMDB reports that he has a college aged daughter with a solicitor and was married for three years.

I won’t give away those plot details that lead you to believe that Coogan needs a hug. Let’s just say one of the film’s themes is ‘you can’t have everything’. Which is a great message the cinematic gods were sending me; I have a great son, two interesting, semi easy jobs, and my health. So I should quit my whining about romance and consistent friends.

The Trip to Spain is the third in a series. I loved the first The Trip and was sad about the weak, maudlin The Trip to Italy. Spain seems to be a little closer to the first, albeit with a really dumb ending, which I can only hope alludes to the fourth in a series and if it is, let’s get it rolling.

To me, “The Trips” (directed by Michael Winterbottom) have become the parallel monosex version of Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight in that I hang on every word, wondering what Coogan or fellow actor Rob Brydon will say next. Unlike Linklater’s films though I am NOT sad when the trips end, mainly because there’s just a little too much meandering and not enough conflict, or in Spain’s case the conflict shows up at three quarters in, when my vacation enthusiasm has started to wane.

But still worth the price, even just to see two witty, dapper (they should get a male fashion award of some kind) gents pare off amidst the splendor of Spain’s food and gorgeous vistas.

Muy bien.

I Do…Until I Don’t: the perfect explanation of my opinion

I Do…Until I Don’t is not only the title, but the perfect explanation of my opinion of this film. I do like it, or did, until about three quarters of the way in, when the plot turned so oddly you could hear the proverbial record scratching switch over.

But still, I would see it on the big screen. We need to support comedy as our country’s become much to maudlin and dour. I mean Marc Maron moaning that we’re in the ‘end times’ is ridiculous. The only comedian who seems to be immune (and thus my favorite) is Bill Burr.

So, let’s support Lake Bell who wrote and directed I Do…Until I Don’t. She is talented even if her character was a bit too annoying to be crowned protagonist. In fact, her massage parlor scene is worth the price of admission alone. Supporting her in that hysterical scene is someone for whom I came late to the fan club party, but boy, am I upfront now-Paul Reiser. From his excellent concerned Dad in Whiplash, to his funny cameo in The Little Hours, Reiser is as solid as Romano in the comedy world. Of the seven individuals depicted in I Do Until I Don’t, he was by far my favorite.

The actors, with the exception of Bell (at times), Reiser (all) and Ed Helm (all, who must have won Most Sincere superlative back in high school) were celebrities first, actors second. Mary Steenburgen (I see right through you) and Amber Heard (I see you and your post Johnny Depp/Elon Musk gorgeous self) suffered from characters too stereotypical to be real. Dolly Wells who I had never seen before, was funny as the rueful Brit documentarian, but again, her cliche lacked depth enough to take seriously.

The screenplay also suffered from too many people and sub stories (and I speak from firsthand experience with my own screenplay, Buck Up, which had the same fault). The Hollywood ending seems to be more of a necessity in comedies, though maybe next time, Bell will choose a darker shade to allow for something more real and open ended.

Still a gallant, worthy effort by Lake Bell.

The Dude Meets the Daddy Longlegs: An early Safdie (of the recent Good Time) film

Daddy Longlegs is an early film from 2009 by brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, along with Ronald Bronstein who also stars as ‘the Dad’.

Much like Good Time, the movie Daddy Longlegs is well done and simultaneously difficult to watch. Like going on a roller coaster that might make you ill, you ride along with the Safdie’s knowing the quality is worth the discomfort. A.O Scott called this film “lovely and hair raising” which suits my analogy to a T.

Set in NYC, this movie is especially for divorced parents trying to juggle jobs and family responsibilities. Based partly on their upbringing this semi autobiographical film opens with a written font-like tribute to the Safdie dad.

Two connections I made to this film were with an autobiographical sketch in the Rolling Stone of Robert Downey Jr’s upbringing where his father sits at the breakfast table, stirring his screwdriver with a hammer. Acting (and screenwriting geniuses) often come from creative and chaotic childhoods.

Connection two comes from Rachle Cusk‘s book Outline which I mentioned in my previous Ingrid Goes West blog. Cusk’s books offers so many pearls from such a gorgeously deep reservoir. This quote is intimately intertwined with the father (acted brilliantly by co-writer Ronald Bronstein) in Daddy Longlegs in the push pull of his loving his sons with his desire for freedom.

“My mother once admitted she used to be desperate for us to leave the house for school but that once we’d gone, she had no idea what to do with herself and wished we would come back.” (Cusk, Rachel. Outline. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2014.)

Much like their film Good Time where the brothers’ love for each other was both gorgeous and destructive, intimacy whether it be sibling to sibling or parent to child is one of life’s many challenges.

Definitely worth a local library search. I am grateful to the Selby Library for their tremendous inventory.

Ingrid Goes West: Thought Provoking

As much as I want to say I’m above worrying about social judgment, I am hurt that a recent simplistic choice has cast me in a homely light. As a pedestrian commuter, I transport necessary a.c. sweaters in a Publix bag INSIDE my book bag so they don’t co-mingle with anything dirty. So, what’s the big deal? Well occasionally said sweaters have to be brought forth to the light of day due to cooler air and some times said bag is met with horror by one, if not two, people in my life. Guess I need to find a more fashionable bag within a bag. Mea culpa.

And so it is through that lens that many women, like moi, can appreciate the film I saw last night called Ingrid Goes West (directed by Matt Spicer) starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, an unnerving mix which, depending on your idea of what cinema or art should be, might be palatable. Like my Publix bag, can a film be solely provocative and still be acceptable? In my one and done year with the Sarasota Area Playwright’s Society, I was taught, and agreed to, the definition of art as being something uplifting (though ironically ripping actual humans to shreds in public over their writing is mighty fine*). But is simply ‘moved’ a better art indicator? *Not sour grapes, I promise. I received praise for another play that was performed at a nursing home, but the viciousness of critique when your work is not liked is downright mean.

Some might argue that the end of the film is uplifting, but I would disagree. I won’t tell you the ending as my promise of no spoilers remains true.

Let’s first explore what was unnerving about Ingrid Goes West. First the teacher-mother in me wants to say for shame in glamorizing suicide attempt as a way to gets loads of positive attention. I’m not sure we want impressionable teens and young adults to think taking a chance on suicide is a good way to win folks over.

Second, are we suggesting that if you have an army (meaning having a few influential people snowed into thinking you’re perfection) when you’re not any better than anyone else that you are allowed to bully, berate and judge others who are more alone? Or is that merely the law of nature, survival of the fittest/biggest army?

Friendship* and loyalty are the main themes in Ingrid Goes West. In the film, extreme cases of rejection and reactions are portrayed. Aubrey’s Ingrid was alone, her mother having recently passed away (in the plot from the get go, not a spoiler). She was also unlucky in friendships (not invited to a wedding for instance), had no sisters, or father (which never is addressed). In a more extreme sense, this movie reminded me of what could have been a prequel to Christine, the real life story of Sarasota news reporter Christine (see my previous review) who had parental abandonment issues as well as social awkwardness and perfectionistic qualities. Was this solitary essence combined with uneven brain chemistry what made the Ingrid character and the real life Christine more vulnerable to our current world’s pack mentality?

*Speaking of friends, thank you to David Utz, who’s also a talented artist http://www.utzart.com/, for treating me to the film and his friendship.

Male female relationships are also explored, ang again, to my second aforementioned point, I’m not sure I like the message. Why do men stick with women who are unkind? Why don’t they follow the adage that there are more fish in the sea and continue to look? One confesses how quitting his job to please his girlfriend has made him miserable and then buys right back in, another is seriously injured as a result of psychosis, but goes right back to the woman. Love, as well as friendship, according to this film, truly is an illusion.

Coincidentally, love as illusory is also theme in the Rachel Cusk book I’m reading now entitled Outline, Rachel sums up the end of illusion in relationships perfectly: “And then one day the river dried up: their shared world of imagination ceased, and the reason was that one of them stopped believing in it. In other words, it was no one’s fault; but all the same it was brought home that the what was beautiful in their lives was the result of a shared vision of things strictly speaking to could not have been said to exist.”

Obviously Ingrid Goes West sparks a lot of thought. The acting was superb and I’d be remiss not to mention the three male leads who followed in that high regard: O’Shea Jackson Jr. (fantastic in Straight Outta Compton as well), Wyatt Russell (as good looking as his mom and dad and great in this film), and Billy Magnussen, most impressive of the three, who plays such a jerk, you want to reach through the screen to strangle him yourself.

But as I told someone recently, I’m a lover not a fighter, glad to be in this world, even in spite of rejection over a plastic bag. Smiley face emoji.

Twilight is Broken and thank goodness: Good Time

If it hadn’t been for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s interview on Marc Maron’s podcast, I would have been very reluctant to see Good Time. I mean a crime drama starring the dude from Twilight isn’t exactly in my wheel house of interests.

But JJ Leigh interested me, even more so her back story, her dad Vic Morrow killed in the Twilight (wait Twilight again, holy coincidence) Zone movie accident, her husband Noah Baumbach leaving her for Greta Gerwig, etc.

JJ Leigh’s only in Good Time for ten minutes max, but she definitely causes a stir. Those with the most screen time are equally magnetic, especially the star, Robert Pattinson. In Good Time, he looks so different from his plain white milk vampire films that he seemed brand new. His performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination, but the character lacks the range for a trophy. This isn’t the actor’s fault, but just a tiny flaw in the writing. Without more back story, we’re left as an audience to wonder. Not a bad thing, and certainly intriguing, but not deep enough then to be a tko of a film.

Two other male leads are also fantastic, one of whom co-wrote and co-directed the film, Josh Safdie. His performance as a hearing impaired brother of Robert Pattinson had an Of Mice and Men Lennie and George quality and was equally poignant and elusive due to the plot. The third ‘stooge’ who garners screen time is a very good question that I need to research further. He’s not on the top of the imdb list, but I will keep searching as he plays a very believable thug rendition.

Minor characters added to the film’s verisimilitude which really felt like a director’s cut of a Cops episode, a Paul Harvey’s ‘the rest of the story’, which is even alluded to in scenes where characters are watching the Time Warner 24 hour news program.

This film was so real, I was frightened for my son’s safety in NYC, as any one of these characters and situations could harm an innocent bystander. Akin to lifting a blanket up and discovering your bed infested by bed bugs or the human equivalent thereof. Good Time is thus best seen in the cinema as you need to put your seat belt on without distractions to really enjoy the suspense and ironic subtlety of the film’s performances.

I am grateful for my friend Dave who picked me up in the pouring rain and who not only understands the art of conversation (meaning he didn’t lecture or bludgeon my ears with his life expertise) as have my last few encounters. Bless Dave with good karma this week as he undergoes some medical testing.