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.

The Nest Wasn’t Quite Empty Enough

Sean Durkin, director and writer of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” decided to spare us the word count with his latest of sparer title, “The Nest”. I wish his screenwriting could have also been trimmed.

Don’t get me wrong, The Nest is worth seeing, especially if you’re in for a moody, gray foreboding Surrey landscape. Not to mention, superb acting by Carrie Coon, Jude Law and even ‘their children’; Oona Roach and Charlie Shotwell.

So what’s my problem, you ask? Well, have you ever heard the Louis CK method of comedy writing (no not the ‘come into my hotel room’ one-lol), the write your heart out and then use you closer at the beginning and rewrite forward? If Sean had cut the first five, maybe even ten minutes off The Nest, his film’s pacing would have been tighter. Or possibly the ‘beating of the dead horse’….you’ll see.

But even with the bloat, I enjoyed The Nest, in addition, even the message at the end, which as I always promise, I won’t spoil.

Jimmy’s Middle Name Should be Joy: Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President

Jimmy Carter is one of those rare individuals who has truly lived a life of integrity. And I’m so glad Bill Flanagan helped write the documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President. Additionally, I hope this is just the start of bigger projects for director Mary Wharton, though she’s no novice, having won a Grammy in 2004 for best long form video for the song Legend.

What struck me about the doc within the first ten minutes was how much Jimmy Carter (and wife Rosalynn) smile. Genuine smiles from grateful, earnest people. Boy is that missing in our world right now. If we have to wear masks until Christmas, PLEASE, let’s make them transparent. We need to see people smile.

The doc details Jimmy’s humble upbringing (probably the antithesis and main curse of our most angry US clientele these days, meaning spoiled folks raised in luxury who now subconsciously suffer due to never having any real hardship, aka, ‘so let’s create one’) and his listening to radio music and his Sunday worship gospel songs.

We are what we watch and listen to and the point is hit home by countless musicians within the doc, too many to mention. The largest screen time goes to Willy Nelson, Gregg Allman, Larry Gatlin, Nile Rodgers and Bono.

While I loved the entire documentary, my highlights were:
Seeing Dizzy Gillespie have such a blast making Jimmy ‘sing’ Salt Peanuts, and Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala where Aretha in all her beauty sang “God Bless America” and Paul Simon sang “American Tune”. This should be mandatory viewing for anyone angry these days. Get back to the music, y’all!

A Kaufman Plug: Woman Under the Influence

Charlie Kaufman’s an influencer, not the Instagram type, more of the cinematic and literary type. Having attempted to read a book he mentions in Antkind (The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty, blech, a shallow, yet ironic attempt to analyze our fixation with beauty), I took a crack at Woman Under the Influence from 1974 (after the characters in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” talk about the film at great length) by the late great father of Independent Film-John Cassavetes.

I did finish the movie as uber difficult that it was due to my own PTSD from domestic squabbles in my youth. Yet now I have to go back to “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” to grasp the critique of the female character. I’m hoping (and almost sure) she recounted how the people surrounding the Woman in Woman Under the Influence were just as crazy as she. The Woman by the way was portrayed marvelously by Gena Rowlands for which she won the Golden Globe, aside trivia: Cassavetes wife.

Peter Falk wasn’t just kooky Columbo, he was a powerhouse actor as Gena’s equally insane husband. I loved his angry ‘we’re going to have fun kids!’) mentality. I think Adam Sandler would do a great rem-make of this as long as the Safdies’ are willing to direct. I thought a lot of the Safdies’ during this film, as their upbringing was almost as chaotic and brought to film wonderfully in Daddy Long-legs.

I literally was concerned about the welfare of the three children in the film as the scenes they had to perform were traumatic. On IMDB, it appears the two boys made it out alive into adulthood, but the little girl (Christina Grisanti) doesn’t not have an internet footprint which worries me. If you want to know the extent of extremes, Christina was dragged around by her arm several times by Peter Falk, had tea (praying it was cold) splashed in her eye and ran around naked in a house full of people. Can you see why I became a School Counselor?

At any rate, the movie certainly will stick with you and is available for free on HBO.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, But Confusion Set In, Instead

I’m fixated on Charlie Kaufman lately, immediately falling in love with Antkind, his new epic comedy novel. So when it piggybacked (great callback that no one will appreciate unless they see “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”) a new movie he adapted from a novel by Iain Reid, I was in.

But wait, an hour in to the Netflix release, I was so creeped out and overwhelmed by the experience (it was night), I called a time out. Finishing it a day plus later IN DAYLIGHT, I was confused, but impressed.

What to say first: I said it first (though Charlie repeats it in “ITOET”, that he is the accessible David Foster Wallace…and given the title of this movie, I do worry about him. How can one many possess so much obscure knowledge and creativity? Iain Reid of course is due much of the credit here, supplying the story, but I wonder whose idea the dance sequence was…guess I know have to read the book though to be frank, I JUST read the summary and it sounds way way violent, where Kaufman’s genius in “ITOET” was creeping me out without bloodshed. How did he do this? Let’s talk about the images which won’t spoil anything:

Like Kubrick’s The Shining, there’s nothing like a snowy, blizzardy dark night for fear. Use the creepy lonely repetitive sound of windshield wipers on a dead night and you amp that up. Lukasz Zal is the cinematographer from the great black and white film “Cold War”.

Like Lynch, add in some minor characters of overly giggly fake looking women juxtaposed with sad hideous folks.

How about continuous scenes with a different face appearing to speak out of nowhere?

How about three power house actors whose moods change on a dime? Toni Collette (I bow at your feet), Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley all fantastic.

How about a cellar door with bloody scratch marks and tape marks like it had been manically taped shut? Or a black spot in the hay where an animal had died?

How about frozen dead animals?

See, stupid gratuitous violent movie makers, you can do scary without your stupid simple minded violence and gore! Let this be a lesson for you.
So watch this film, in daylight, in two chunks. You’ll still get the mood, trust me!

Robin’s Wish: A gorgeous documentary tribute (?)

Taken on the surface, Robin’s Wish is a loving tribute of Robin Williams by his wife, friends, neighbors and doctors directed and written by Tyler Norwood with the help of Scott Fitzloff, both worked together previously on another doc called The United States of Detroit, and both are specialists in cinematography.

And the cinematography in Robin’s Wish is of particular note, not just the gorgeous geographic pans of San Francisco, but even in the nuanced eye for light and water reflections on a ceiling, the occasional shading of the screen to denote Robin’s diminishing mental health.

His friends tearful last moment stories are beautiful, as is his widow’s nascent romance re-telling…here’s where my ugly conspiracy theory skepticism comes in:

If he was getting more ill and more paranoid for months all the while being tested, it’s hard for me to believe that a wealthy man, with I assume, state of the art doctors that didn’t know his brain was turning to Swiss cheese from Lewy Body’s Disease. And if they didn’t see it, where’s the oops? And what spouse doesn’t peek in to check on their ailing partner first thing instead of to just assume he’s sleeping before you leave the house for the morning.

I guess if the doc contained an all encompassing take (none of his children took part, nor any celebrities, though Ben Stiller was certainly dangled out there in many scenes), I’d be less suspicious. Give it a look for a mere 6.99 on Bezo’s Monster and let me know what you think.

You Say Tommaso, I say Too Macho

Ok, I couldn’t resist the title, if anything, I felt for Willem Dafoe’s character to a point…

But first, let me say that Abel Ferrara’s a new director to me. I did not see The Bad Lieutenant, but did love Herzog’s sequel Bad Lieutenant Port of Call. From what I’ve read of Ferrara’s filmography, he’s too rough for me.

Dafoe has worked with Ferrara before and will be in his next project as well (Siberia) and my fandom of Dafoe means even in his dish washing scenes, I’m riveted. The man can do no wrong in my book. To be completely serious check out the Al Anon scene where he professes gratitude for the man who helped save him from drugs and alcohol.

And for the love of God, since the Oscars are going to be gutted anyway, let’s give a tiny white guy award just at the end for someone with a filmography that is so underappreciated in awards: The Lighthouse (come on!!) At Eternity’s Gate (what????) and The Florida Project (get out of town)…for those ALONE, come on up and grab your award Willem.

Back to our regularly scheduled review, Tommaso. Ok, the story is cinema verite’ and it’s tough to feel sorry for a rich director living with his 25 year younger girlfriend who has had his child* . Part of me of course is unsympathetic…a you reap what you sow mentality…meaning when you engage with a woman half your age (portrayed perfectly by Cristina Chiriac) and get verklempt that you have nothing in common, I say, I told ya so…

(*said child played by Abel’s daughter-please get her therapy now for scaring the hell out of her in one screaming scene)

Yet I appreciated the honesty of the film, that Ferrara doesn’t paint Dafoe as innocent. If anything, Dafoe’s character IS trying to insert himself into a family milieu with a woman who grew up without one.

Answer me this? Have you ever had a relationship where you were trying to recreate your parent’s marriage/relationship. My hand is up and in marriage two, I chose a volatile, somewhat infantile, yet extremely intelligent and sexy man, and I filled the role as spoiled woman who enjoyed the highs of occasional trophy boyfriend. I know, gross, you may be saying, but look in your own mirror and perhaps you’ll see where you also, recreated the familial scene (for better or for worse).

In Tommaso the young wife rejects her older companion, thus setting him up to be a enraged without ventilation, though certainly his dalliances with other woman are an outlet, justifiable to him, due to this rejection.

So the movie is deeper in that it makes me wonder, what do we want of our men? Do we really want them involved in child rearing, or would we prefer to have them just as financiers and protectors until the kids are out of the house….and by that time, we find ourselves different people who no longer fit together as we once did?

For this meditative thinking, Tommaso is worthy of watching, as the director allows us the quiet space to decide for ourselves, what is fantasy and intentional.

Easy Girl, Complex Plot, Halcyon Memories

When I was just a lass, there use to be Saturday matinees at 2 pm on channel ten (showing my age when there were 4 channels: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS) that were mostly foreign films. And in the tiny town of Perry, New York, Rochester was foreign enough, let alone artsy films from the likes of Italy or Paris, which might as well have been Venus or Mars. But often, I would get sucked in by the otherness of it all, the classical music, the gorgeous scenery, the oddly dubbed in English.

Tonight on Netflix, I took in Easy Girl, after seeing it won the SACD Award at Cannes.

And man, what a find! This movie took me back to the halcyon days of my youth, being enthralled by the sights (literally filmed in Cannes), the sounds (gorgeous soundtrack including Naimi as well as beautiful classical numbers), and best of all, Easy Girl communicates many levels of love (and lust).

The French director and screenwriter Rebecca Zlotkowski communicates the love of family-mother daughter (including teenage contention), cousin to cousin, male female friendships, and the mixed up hormonal need to connect, lover to lover, however awkwardly.

The acting is superb: Mina Farid will bring you to tears and make you smile by the movie’s end, Zahia Dehar will have you drooling and dreaming of Sofia Loren and Lakdhar Dridi will remind you of every beautifully sweet outrageous gay teen you’ve ever known.

The two adult men: Benoit Magimel, was THE student in The Piano Teacher, and is tremendous here, and award winning Portuguese actor Nuno Lopes is wonderfully complex…

As is the whole darn beautiful film. Watch with some patience for the dubbed n weirdness and be moved.

Creem: America’s Only Rock N Roll Magazine

I’d like everyone to read and see the combo I ate today. I started my day with Jason Whitlock’s recent blog on Howard Stern, detailing the demise of his subversive style equating it to the death of free speech. Of course, since he sold his soul to Sirius, this is no surprise, but nonetheless tragic.

I then ended my afternoon with the new documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock N Roll Magazine and I was compelled to call the younger generation together for an intervention, that perhaps they need to realize Mommy and Daddy (represented by the media and politicians) have abusive tendencies from which they need to run. Let’s get back to y.o.l.o and eradicate the Polo (as in all that corporate America and the stuffy mega wealth sport touts as so important).

Ok less sarcastic: evolution depends on us a. loving each other, b. continuing to hash out and listen too all ideas and opinions and c. coming to compromise. Devolution is going on ‘recess’ and not talking to each other. We won’t break if we disagree, but we will break if we stop talking.

Creem was a brilliant magazine which I never saw back in the day, but that’s because I did not have older rock n roll siblings showing me the way. But to be honest, I didn’t need Creem Magazine to feel free in the ’70’s because we all were…free to joke around, free to laugh at human folly, free to make mistakes and LEARN from them without getting immediately cancelled. Thank the good Lord I grew up when I did.

The doc was brilliantly told with a story arc of wild men who burned out quickly, masking depression or bipolar disorders with too many substances. But before their demise, they reported on, praised, criticized, made fun of and yet were beloved by their own targets.

Bravo to Scott Crawford who directed and help write the doc, with writing help from Jaan Uhelszki. This film is not only a love letter to the magazine, but to Detroit and writers and artists everywhere who should take this as inspiration to be brave enough to return to the truth plus an essential sense of humor, not the facade all are parading today.

First Cow, A Friendship Fable

First Cow, directed by Kelly Reichardt, known for her unmistakable ability to capture simple pleasures and universal pain, has another wonder with First Cow (now streaming on Itunes). This time she has re-teamed with Jonathan Raymond (Mildred Pierce, Wendy and Lucy) to bring the latter’s novel “The Half-Life” to cinematic life.

A perfect circular plot, the story is of two men (one American, one Chinese) who find each other lost and on the run in the gold mining craze of centuries yore.

Reichardt makes sure to take her time and in our frenzied world, you really need to release the monkey mind and take the lazy river ride. She’s worth it as well as the two actors chosen to play friends: John Magaro (who was in the cast of thousands in Big Short) plays the American ‘Cookie’ and Orion Lee (who needs more opps than the tv schlock his IMDB details) as King-Lu.

While you’ll know the end of the tale at the movie’s start, you care enough about the pair to travel with them as they succeed in selling their oily cakes (think the first Krispy Kremes).

Again, certainly the Icarus who flies too close to the sun tale is as old as time, yet powerful acting and careful directing and storytelling make it ever so delicious…much like the sweet treats noted in the film.

If You Could Read My Mind, You’d See a 7…

While I thoroughly enjoyed the company (my Mom and dear Jack), I don’t think the narrative aspect of Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind was well organized. At least twice, I remember hearing a random comment, out of sync with the previous sequence…for instance, Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni (newbies so forgiven) establish that Gordon was a drinker, then they move on to another topic, then they throw in a line from someone else saying he liked to drink…

The best section of the doc dealt with the history behind the song Sundown when Gordon had an ominous feeling about his then girlfriend, Cathy Smith, later convicted of serving John Belushi the deadly drug cocktail which led to his death.

Two other positives: I will say is that Gordon wanted to come clean about his womanizing days and the emotional pain subsequently inflicted. He is also deserving due to his tremendous lyric writing and distinctive vocal talent.

Beyond that, the story isn’t as well crafted, nor is their an explanation why Alec Baldwin is commenting. And Bruce Cockburn is more prolific, but lesser known as far as best Canadien folk singer. But hey, at least it’s music and apolitical. Hallelujah!