Captain Marvel Schmarvel, Meet Woman at War

Winner of the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes this year, Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War certainly has it charms.

Erlingsson and Olafur Eglisson’s screenwriting is tried and true 101 stuff, meaning the film provides repetition of unique and endearing items: a three piece band, a trio of traditional singers, and a recurring vacationer on a bike.

So while part of me enjoyed these items, like I do occasionally watching Kramer slide sock feet into Seinfeld’s apartment, I think the movie would have been more moving with more of a back story on the main character Halla (and her twin sister Asa) played by Halldora Geirharosdottir. I understand caring about the environment and feeling passionate about a topic (mine is child abuse), yet I could have used more information on her reason d’etre to fully be moved.

On the other hand, these Icelandic writers put our American formulaic, overly violent and pointless action movie plots to shame. Halla doesn’t need any super powers, she merely needs a crossbow, sturdy saw and some great hiking shoes.

The movie also has the best ending of 2019; thus far, I realize its early. And while i can’t give it away, I certainly felt gender empowerment as I left the theater, a strong feminine, “I Got This!”.

The Invisibles: Better Title, A New Term Perhaps: Tenacitators

Tenacitators might be a strange term, but something about the title The Invisibles makes this film sound like a new Marvel movie or animated deal. And when I think of the four principle characters, real humans who survived hiding during Hitler’s last desperate days, invisible is the furthest word from my mind, rather they are tenacious people who just kept moving until rescue finally came via the Russian and American troops.

In this post Oscar movie drought, how did director Claus Rafle know that I was fatigued with both historical reenactment films and also straight documentaries? Yet here was his film, miraculously braiding the two genres into a moving piece about, can I use my new word? The Tenacitators. Ok, does the tator suffix make it sound too tater totty? (yet another new phrase)

In all seriousness, The Invisibles made a poignant case for those brave enough to resist the Nazis; in one case a brave man typing up letters to send business mail in rallying people to rise up at the risk of his and his family’s life. In the most moving case of the movie, a man thanks the woman who saved him by hiding him and thus forsaking herself.

Claus Rafle is co-credited with Alejandro Lopez for the screenplay which also included well edited stock film footage of bombed out Germany. So perfectly woven, I was never confused going between the three threads: doc, film and real film. The four actors: Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Ruby O. Fee and Aaron Altaras, while not ‘big stars’, were serious and believable.

Looking back, the film was strongest in these candid interviews of the two women and two men who lived to tell. Each beautiful in their own right, not preaching or whining, but simply grateful for the literal ‘it takes a village’ salvation. Reading Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles the same day as seeing The Invisibles, I couldn’t help but notice a similar theme in that our ‘family’ ends up being those who care for us daily. Fleeting relationships or those we are lucky enough to see endure are equally important in keeping us alive and well.

Everybody Knows Farhadi’s a Master at Moral Dilemma

I’ve loved every Asghar Farhadi film, specifically four to be exact: About Elly, A Separation (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film), The Past, and The Salesman (Academy Award Winner!). Each as hauntingly memorable in its own right, that try as I might, I can’t choose one that is notably better, they’re all fine films. Feel free to search for my past reviews of those gems by plugging in Asgahr’s name in the search engine.

Signature to Iranian director Farhadi’s style is the moral dilemma. In his newest film Everybody Knows playing at Burns Court, this is no exception. Secrets are revealed that bind people together, in this case the ever gorgeous Penelope Cruz and her real life husband Javier Bardem. Without giving spoilers away, you often hear true life stories where teenage love haunts us well into adulthood. While Cruz and Bardem are not married in the film, Farhadi’s choice of pinning them as star crossed unrequited lovers is a work of genius.

Javier Bardem, in fact, is the Atlas of the film, doing the mountain share of nuanced inner struggle and portraying this beautifully on screen. His exasperation in his line to friend Fernando, “Oh don’ don’t f*** with me Fernando,” is gut wrenchingly real.

Set in Madrid, Farhadi also takes his time in establishing the passionate culture, the duty to family, the wild celebrations. His layering of difficulties, wanton teenage behavior, rain storms and power outages, never seem cliche. His ending as with all his films is a non-ending, meaning there are more moral dilemmas that ripple like a rock thrown in a stream that grant further discussion once you leave the theater.

While not his most superior film, Farhadi’s Everybody Knows is worth seeing and with any smarts other writers and directors will pair Cruz and Bardem together again.

Still Hot After All These Years: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Vertigo

Consider this review a ‘cleanse the palate course’ after the Oscars (which I thoroughly enjoyed and was pleased about) and the new movie season.

Two films I saw last week were McCabe and Mrs. Miller at my very close confidant’s big screen and then Vertigo on an even bigger screen at the hip Sarasota Cinmeatechue space.

And while they were made 13 years apart (1971 and 1958 respectively), they do have commonalities. First, both directors (Robert Altman/Alfred Hitchcock) while nominated, never received an Oscar.

Perhaps another similarity and larger slight is that neither cinematographer even received an Oscar nomination for these films. Vilmos Zsigmond DID win for Close Encounters, yet in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I was mesmerized by the snowy landscape and the ending scene with Warren Beatty becoming one with the snow. Pure fascination!

Likewise, in Vertigo, I was transfixed by the camera angles. And yes, I realize a lot of this was ‘Hitch’, but Robert Burks must have had something to do with it as well. Another gripping scene (pun intended and not) came at the film’s end, as Jimmy Stewart, way out of his good guy type casting, man handles Kim Novak up the stairs of the mission to recreate the crime. Even more orgasmically suspenseful is the creepy black shrouded nun at the top of the stairs. Watching this, I totally forgot the creation’s year was 1958, the suspense felt new.

Both films also built the physical and romantic desire to titillating heights. In McCabe and Mrs. Miller, we witness Warren Beatty spellbound by Julie Christie’s voracious appetite, his mutterings of how enervating she is (yet his angst proof that he loves her) and her imploring that he settle affairs or at least seek safe shelter. In Vertigo, Kim Novak utters the sultry film noiresque line, “One person can wander around, but two people doing that are going places.” Hummina, hummina.

So if you’ve got nothing to do, wander over to your tv and rent one of these classic beauties. Or if you’re on a date that’s ‘going places’, both McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Vertigo are pretty darn good foreplay.

Shoplifters (a Foreign Film up for Best Oscar) Will Steal Your Heart

If Shoplifters directed by Hirokazu Koreeda does not bring you to tears, can you call me? Because I’ll bet if you’re not moved, the next time you check the box “I’m Not a Robot”, you’ll be discovered for your cold internal wires.

I’m not saying Shoplifters is perfect (editing definitely was an issue), HOWEVER, seeing this make shift family navigate the sometimes brutally cold Japan (both in temperature and social/economic climate) and sweltering (you’ll see pitted sweat shirts and sweaty post coital nudity) will make your heart ache.

It’s about who really is your family, how titles such as biological mom and dad are not always accurate or healthy. Best of all, you’ll feel for this family and forgive them their trespasses.

Shoplifting doesn’t look so bad when loving human bonds and play bring joy. Lily Franky is a genius as the loving but wayward father as is Sakura Ando as his romantic (and the children’s maternal) counter part.

In preparation for my Oscars guest role on Gus Mollasis’s At the Movies Facebook Live show (airing tonight at 630 pm EST 2/21/19), I decided to count the poignant beats in my favorite movie of the year (tune in to find out which one it was that scored 7). In Shoplifters, I’ll list the same:

1. Lily Frank’s sweet “we’re connected here (heart) not just here (crotch)”
2. the subtle nuanced love making scene and shower scene
3. the beach scene (“grandma telling her she’s turned out to be beautiful)
4. women’s fitting room scene
5. sex trade woman hugging the mute customer, sharing self-abuse stories
6. Lily Frank and his ‘son’ played so well by child actor Jyo Kari in the ocean and at the movie’s end

Just a fantastic film that you need to have patience wading in slowly, but you’ll come out awash in emotion and tenderness….if you’re really not a robot (smiley face). American film makers should start taking notes!

Cold War(s), Worm Heart

Shakespeare’s noted for the Hamlet proverb, ‘brevity is the soul of wit,” and Cold War, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski is certainly a film of which The Bard would be proud. Briskly paced at 90 minutes, we’re taken on a European musical escapade through starkly frigid Poland, austere Yugoslavia and comparatively freewheeling Paris.

Shot in black and white, star crossed lovers Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are genuine and tortured by the confines of post-World War 2 communism. The monochrome film adds not only to the nostalgia of lost love, but also to the bleak surroundings. The cinematography moves like a stately photo album filled with clips; the couple’s cloaked embraces, a wind-swept field tiff, and raucous bar gyrations.

Much like many Shakespearean plays, characters Zula and Wiktor do not live happily ever after, or do they? Depending on your level of faith and ability to identify with unrequited love, may determine your adoration or lack thereof for Cold War. If nothing else, the film is tremendous eye and ear candy with conversational inspiration about the nature and duration of true love.

Perhaps our modern day’s frenetic speed has me craving more constructive and redemptive stories since in total Cold War did not impress me and wasn’t what the media had my ‘hype’ it would be.

Stan & Ollie Needed a (Script) Fluffer

I wrote a play about five years ago about a conversation between two old friends. Feedback repeatedly came back that I needed to move the conflict sooner in the script. Stubbornly, I held fast until recently and Stan & Ollie‘s led weighted script is definitely a good slapstick kick in the arse to that same point.

What could have been a blockbuster; poignant friendship between to men starring two outstanding actors, ends up stumbling and fumbling as much as the real pair’s schtick use to include.

I couldn’t help but feel for Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, titans in my list for Philomena (and Jeff Pope helped write that AND this??? A mystery.), The Trip (the former) and Magnolia and Chicago (the latter). They had to have loudly gulped at the script which leaves out ‘coulda been scenes, LIKE:

what about sailing with a bevy of actresses?
what about Stan’s drinking or Oliver’s gambling?
or either’s failed relationships?

In all three circumstances we’re told the information instead of shown. Instead, we’re smothered entirely by their vaudeville scenes and hotel rooms, and even the music which seems cloistered.

One character who could have been written at least with some charisma is their manager, who again limps through bland writing without leaving a mark.

Ok, so it did receive a Rotten Tomatoes 92% so let’s switch hats to the positive, a la Nicki Minaj, and say, “Myley, what’s good?”

The make up and superior acting of the two male leads are certainly worth seeing. The scene where Stan visits Ollie in his post heart attack bed, and blathers on about a new bit where Ollie cries, is projecting Stan’s deep feelings for his friend. Here, Coogan’s watery eyes made the movie soar to Oscar worthy, again, had that type of depth or visual been allowed in the film’s entirety. Likewise the actresses who portrayed their wives were very good. Had they been able to let loose a little more in their scenes (Nina Arianda as Stan’s fiercely independent Russian wife and Shirley Henderson as Ollie’s straight out of central casting 50’s wife) the movie would have been livelier.

So what we’re left with is a semi boring movie with a halcyon look back at two vaudeville originals. Stan & Ollie deserved better, as did Steve and John.

If Beale Street Could Talk: So Gorgeous, It Doesn’t Need To

Keeping with my Citizen Kane metaphor of a luxurious cinematic bath, If Beale Street Could Talk is a spa treatment for the eyes and ears.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk (noted hereafter as IBSCT) is not Moonlight by any stretch. To me Moonlight was a masterpiece, in story, in acting, cinematography and so on.

Reminiscent of Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in IBSCT, we’re treated to the gorgeous symbolic benefits of color (the feminine yellow that Kiki Layne and Aunjanue Ellis wore (the former an innocent chick [as in baby chicken], the latter as a religion jaundiced old bag). Layered innocence again in Kiki’s baby blue mock turtle neck and her more sophisticated paisley numbers as she works the perfume counter. And let’s not forget the dapper gents costuming; the manly leather worn by Colman Domingo and Michael Beach, the slick but honest suede worn by the movie’s main male character Fonny, played by Stephan James.

Our ears were gifted the string magic of Nicholas Britell ( I defy you to listen to the track “Eden” and not be stirred inside), our eyes basked in the slide and swing cinematographer James Laxton. Two scenes that stood out to me in this cinematographic regard were: 1. During Fonny’s empathetic listening to his friend Danny’s prison horror stories where the camera glides back and forth between them is indicative of a truly human exchange. This isn’t just one man’s story, it is two men sharing a moment. 2. When Fonny and Tish are shown the loft by a yamaka clad Dave Franco, the camera moves up and down Tish with the grace of a high rise elevator even though they are on the cusp of renting a barren warehouse.

The acting was excellent in most places: Kiki Layne-terrific, Stephan James (in need of a smidge more emotion) and the fathers (Domingo and Beach)-great, both mothers (Regina King and the aforementioned Ellis) fantastic. Even the sour sisters (reminiscent of the Lowell bitches of the film The Fighter) were phenomenal.

Overall, IBSCT is prime example of art transcending story….we don’t need to know the back story of the two families antagonism. We don’t need to see prison brutality, nor be bludgeoned by a rape scene. Jenkins does well in the documentary style interruptions of Kiki’s voice over just stating the facts, that police and prison systems worked jointly (present tense ‘work’ probably in some places still today) to continue slavery and racial bias. A sad, sad story told through magnificent art.

The Mule: Love for Clint, but What Gruel!

Addendum to my previous confessional blog:
For the record, I’ve seen my share of classics. So probably like Tebow, I’ve “dated” plenty of film circa 1965, my favorites being: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Double Indemnity, The Thin Man Series, and Philadelphia Story (Hepburn, Stewart and Grant of course). So Ive been around the classics block so to speak. And still (!) Citizen Kane stands out.

Now empathy first for Mr. Eastwood. I love the man! Not only is he hot (yes I said it and mean it! He can make my day any day.) at 88, he’s obviously still a force with whom to be reckoned. And his acting was spot on for what the story of The Mule was…but there’s the trouble: the ‘writers’ Sam Dolnick should stick to newspaper journalism because he (and fellow ‘writer’ Nick Schenk) only wrapped up one story and certainly decided to air on the side of what, where, when, why.

The first half of the film which I saw with my Dad was intriguing and it was probably a joy for my Dad to see an 88 year old guy dance (and much more suggested) around with bikini clad gals a quarter of his age. I also enjoyed watching Clint sing along to the oldies while driving a fancy Cadillac truck and say silly things that older people some times do in not keeping up with the current p.c. lingo.

HOWEVER, once Dianne Wiest, who I normally adore, utters her first hiccup, the movie takes a giant swan dive into corn and just ludicrously written dialogue. More than three times I did the rolling hand gesture to get on with it, only to have the ‘on with it’ be a giant thud.

So, while I hand it to Clint for continuing his career, he needs to choose better writers to achieve and maintain his theatrical reputation.

Confessions of a 55 Year Old (Classic Movie) Virgin

Ok Ok, I confess. I had never seen Citizen Kane before last night’s showing at Sarasota Film Society’s Cinematheque.

(A quick aside, why the heck isn’t Sarasota Cinematheque packed with Ringling College Film Majors? You’re missing out! Giant screen, great sound, hipster vibe, talk back op…Get over to 500 Tallevast Road on Saturday nights!)

Ok, back to my confession…Much like my virginal metaphor, I had seen the Citizen Kane trailer plenty of times and only noticed some old guy ranting…and hence thought, won’t this be painful? Isn’t it overrated?

But alas, the movie truly is an orgasmic masterpiece. Like my English teacher literary equivalent I tout almost weekly (Ray Bradbury‘s 1959 prescient Fahrenheit 451), Citizen Kane for 1941 is the gold standard for universal storytelling; hoarding to fill emotional needs, the replay of familial cyclical dysfunction (CK’s dad abused him, he then neglects his own son), man’s weakness to infidelity and subsequent political downfalls, the corruption of wealth and power. It’s all there in under 2 hours.

Besides my awe of having missed this for more than half my life, my main takeaways were: Orson Welles (genius, of course, both acting and in storytelling), Joseph Cotton (funniest in the film, especially the nursing home scene where he was trying to remember the name of a place and said a long list ending with Sloppy Joe’s) and the cinematography of doors and windows, shadow, smoke, and in the end, fire. The women in the film, notably three: mother (Agnes Moorehead) and two wives (Ruth Warrick-wow I watched All My Children for years and never knew, and Dorothy Comingore) were all extremely well performed, both due to the writing (strong women for their day) and in believable portraits of women in angst of different varieties.

I couldn’t help notice a strong resemblance of Orson Welles and Leonardo DeCaprio and also how The Wolf on Wall Street seemed to copy Citizen Kane in its mania of wealth gone wild. This is especially seen in the scene where CK acquires the writers from a competing newspaper and gets up to do a number with dancing girls. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that The Wolf on Wall Street or Leonardo is better than CK, just that there is a strong physical and timing resemblance. Surely Scorsese had to have Citizen Kane dreams while filming Wolf.

So, I’m glad I pulled a Tim Tebow and waited because now I know why the film Citizen Kane has been rated the number one movie in American Film history and is far better than Gone With the Wind and Vertigo due to its universal themes and artistic quality.