Three Summers, Like a Tres Leches Cake, Tres Veroes

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Pardon my bad Spanish analogy, but since I love Tres Leches cake, I thought I’d compare Tres Veroes, a fine movie written and directed by Sandra Kogut.
First the perfect three part structure: Decembers of 2015, 2016, and 2017.
2015 begins with Mada, played brilliantly by Regina Case, as housekeeper/family caretaker to a wealthy Brazilian family. Add in holy Cell phone interruptus which reeks of shady, an ailing patriarch and lavish parties.
Mada through it all is a brash, hopeful woman who truly wants to start her own ‘kiosk’, think roadside food stand and appears to be getting a loan from her boss to make this dream come true.
2016 begins with the wealthy family apparently unable to make it back from ‘vacation’ and Mada calling folks to tell them that Secret Santa and their annual celebration are cancelled. Characters, including the ailing patriarch seem to have new life blood, in light of new developments and the ‘help’ is also able to pivot to other pursuits to make ends meet.
2017 begins with further business excursions; the filming of a commercial within the home from what I gather is selling either mixers, or other small appliances and using the house as an airbnb. I won’t spoil the ending.
Well written and well acted, I liked the frenetic pace and the outspoken passion of the characters. Americans certainly look like stiffs in comparison. I found the end catharthis to be a bit stunted, but the structure, cinematography and joy of the main character made up for that tiny glitch. Worth the 10$ rental fee from Sarasota Film Society’s virtual cinema.

God’s Own Country, a must see

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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…

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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.

Here Today: Good Attempt & Concept, But…

Billy Crystal is one of those hapless gents you can’t help but love. His reeking self-apology immediately makes a person want to like him just to stop his emotional bleeding.
In his latest film which he directed and co-wrote with Alan Zweibel, “Here Today” is a well meaning attempt to grapple with the sticky situation of Alzheimer’s. As anyone who has researched the affliction knows, people can sometimes be lucid and functional and then suddenly fall into a black hole of incapacitation. And Billy with Alan’s short story as a start nails this perfectly.
But then there’s the tricky situation of how to do flashbacks…which now we all know, having a one sided flashback (the love of Billy’s life is seen talking into the camera as if the camera is Billy in several lengthy scenes) does NOT work. Overlaying schmaltzy string music only makes this worse. Rarely do I cringe in a non-violent movie, but the third time Louise Krause appears on screen, I literally wanted to scream out “NO! Please not again!”. A script doctor would have gently persuaded Billy to either hire a younger actor to portray him or simply show photographs in a scrapbook.
I’m impassioned about this as I truly believe Here Today could have been the “Marriage Story” of dementia, moving, not a false note, but instead we’re left with a movie like the disease itself, possessing beautifully lucid moments of ageism, the horrific pain of getting old and losing memory mixed with horrendous scenes (and I LOVE Tiffany Haddish as a comedian but she is no singer and not a dramatic actress either) that seemed straight out of a Hallmark movie.
One last positive, the crew of actors and actresses in the SNL-ish show Billy’s character writes for, were talented actors. Billy’s ‘family’, on the other hand, should seek out other professions.

Sarasota Film Fest Shorts Program & the winner is…

After attending the 2021 Sarasota Film Fest’s Shorts Program, the hands down winner is the documentary Original Splendor. From the professional camera work, beautiful sweeping footage of Sarasota to the flawless and lean narration, Allen Clements directed doc details the restoration of Sarasota’s County Courthouse. Bravo to Triforce Pictures and Shaun Greenspan for an outstanding work.
The other two docs in the shorts program were also well done, G’s Southern Kitchen (directed by Colin Reid) and Raw Honey (directed by James Berry). The former details the trajectory of G’s Southern Kitchen, from its nascence as a plea for love and it’s current limbo status as food truck. My only quibble is why not use this as a marketing chance to show the truck or promote where the public can find them. The latter, Raw Honey, needed more of a story arc. The Covid apocalypse took the wind out of the sails (and sales) and then…you let the hives deteriorate…but then use something to pivot from there higher than, ‘then I decided to try again’. But buddy Rye, I support you!! Love honey and will seek yours out. As Steve Perry would say, “Don’t stop believin'”.
Of the three Ringling College narrative entries, Miss Florida was the most professional, both in acting and writing.

Limbo: an eye opening look at refugees

Limbo, written and directed by Ben Sharrock, is a BAFTA nominated and even more importantly, one of the first films debuted in the post Covid, reopened Burns Court Cinema!
Limbo takes a granular look at individuals in refugee crisis, specifically four men stuck in limbo on a Scottish island awaiting asylum approval.
The four men are all unique, not only in countries of origin (two of different African nations and two of Middle Eastern descent), but personalities, dreams and goals. From acceptance to a minimum wage life to dreams of being a soccer star, the four attempt to keep hope alive in this bleak and mostly sunless landscape.
Amir El-Masry portrays the main character, Omar, who lugs his mandolin-like instrument around like an albatross, unable to resume his consummate expertise due to his longing for home and family.
The cinematography, including Northern Lights that many of us only dream of seeing, and of the unending dirt roads in lonesome vacant vistas, helps to build the poignancy of the men’s plight. A very creative sequence with marbled glass doors helps symbolize the men’s multifaceted emotions regarding missing home, yet realizing they are better off even as strangers in a strange land.
Comedic cultural awareness instructors and a fixation with a pet rooster help alleviate some of the angst. Still Limbo left me with a lasting impression that not only am I grateful to be living in the sunshine state, but that refugees deserve human care and intervention.

Mind blowing is not hyperbole: Soul

You’re reading a review by an adult cynic…like animation!? Poppycock. Except….”I Lost My Body” and “Up”. So small group of exceptions. But add and in fact, move “Soul” to the number one position…in fact call me Kanye storming the stage if it doesn’t win the best Oscar animated film.

And it makes perfect sense, since Peter Docter also wrote both Soul and Up. Mike Jones added his own flair to the story as well. And Kemp Powers did double duty helping Docter with direction and both Docter and Jones with the screenplay. Not to mention Powers working on the masterpiece One Night in Miami. A talented trio to be sure.

The prime voices of note were Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, and special praise also goes to Rachel House as the New Zealand accented accountant.

I assumed the music (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) would be paramount and although it was good, the moving story and off the charts animation clearly overpower any other facets.

Voyagers, Doesn’t Pass Jordan Peterson’s Rule 6

I’m obsessed with Jordan Peterson’s wisdom in Beyond Order: 12 More Rules.
So after half liking Voyagers, written and directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, The Illusionist), I changed my mind to a below 50% rating.
Here’s why: in Rule 6, Abandon Ideology, Jordan warns against viewing things/people/ideas as black and white. Burger’s screenplay, a space adventure Lord of the Flies, doesn’t aim for any nuances. Main characters are 2-d: evil (Fionn Whitehead, who to give him credit, wears that lean and look well) or innocently pure (Colin Farrel, Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan also wearing their ‘white hats’ fashionably). All the other characters are pretty much sheep.
Yes, it was a ‘fun ride’ to get you off the planet for and hour forty-five, but the cinematography (with the exception of a stellar sequence at the beginning of an infant growing in the womb) was god awful boring. And the corniness of some of the dialogue: Lily: “what will we do now?” with so pregnant a pause, that I was dying to scream out a comedian’s retort, Tye: “I don’t know…fuck like rabbits?” ….forgive my French.
Wait for Voyagers on tv, or better yet, queue up some old Star Treks when people had three dimensional morality.

Just like a well crafted cocktail, Bad Trip is humorous taken one small dose at a time

I watched Bad Trip over the course of four or five evenings, like a nightly tonic of humor before bed. Hence, I disagree once again, with the fine NY Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis who probably took it all in one sitting. True, it’s the movie’s fault to not forewarn people about portion suggestions.

Catsouils writes the movie is ‘belching clouds of poor taste’….true IF you drink the entire fifth of tequila in one sitting. But on separate evenings, the humor an admittedly jarring guffaw, but you need to view humor as a globe, and appreciate the work each gag entailed: hidden cameras, elaborate costumes (man dressed as a gorilla, two black men disguised as two white women) and actors that can hang in there with a premise (Tiffany Haddish is an amazingly straight faced toughie), just to mention a few. Not to mention the gonads to pull off such gags without suffering some dupe’s short patience and temper.

Humor is meant to shock, especially these days when so much has already been done. I wonder if Jeannette finds the WAP song just as disturbing. I know I do since it perpetuates women’s primary gift to men as sexual, when all sapiosexuals know that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Kitao Sakurai (director and writer) and co creator and star Eric Andre have the creative brains to pull this off, and doggone it, I admire them.

City of Lies, in this film: LA, but applicable to many

I wish I had one of those wrong answer sound effects I could add to this blog as I point out the untruths in Jeannette Catsoulis’s NYT review of City of Lies.
Wrong answer buzzer one: ‘the latest attempt to monetize the unsolved 1990’s murder of Christopher Wallace”? Really Jeannette? You think Brad Furman actually thought he was going to make money on this movie released during a pandemic with a star that’s bordering on the cancel culture precipice?
Wrong buzzer two: ‘with rather more appetite than artistry’. Police procedural are usually more believable without choreographed dance. The movie was about Russell Poole (played brilliantly by the aforementioned described Johnny Depp) and his noble obsession with the truth. A close second focus was the relationship Poole develops with journalist Forest Whitaker, who also shines brightly as the sometimes clumsy partner seeking justice.
Last buzzer: ‘dreary…misbegotten mush…and dead ends’. Guess what Jeannette? That’s what exactly happens when the truth is so buried in the sediment of corruption that it can’t be found. As some wise sage tweeted: we can find who stole Tom Brady’s jersey, but we can’t find Biggie’s killer….yes Jeannette, that is dreary.
Bravo to Christian Contreras for putting together a script of so many loose ends and still having it make sense.

Doy! Vs. Joy, Take a Guess Which Decade Did Film Better

I watched the movie Happily written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski Friday and then had the joy of watching City Lights written and directed by Charlie Chaplin for two nights straight. And now you already know which was the DOY! as in the DUMB of the two films.
To be fair BenDavid (a tellingly ridiculous name) grew up in the ‘everyone gets a prize’ new abnormal and hence is crippled as far as honing true creativity. But even I could write a better script than Happily. Who watches the end result on this cast and pats themselves on the back for a job well done?
And to spread my criticism, ditto the eye roll for J Blakeson, same generation, for I Care A Lot, which was at least a little smarter. But the people who truly ‘enjoyed’ this, given a lie detector test, would admit it was great mainly for the hot actresses.

Why did I bother with Happily in the first place? Joel McHale. I loved him for The Soup which he took over from Greg Kinnear and kicked it up a notch. I was also happy to see Al Madrigal former Daily Show correspondent who received only two minutes of screen time. Unfortunately, great comedians can’t salvage crappy writing. The only actress who impressed me in the cast was Natalie Morales, who plays a no nonsense alpha. The movie had a great premise: an overly happy married couple is suspected as weird or alien by all of their cynical and unhappily coupled friends. And from there is devolves into stupidity.

To Gen Xers and Millenialls: dark comedies are lazy. “Ooh let’s team laughter with bloody violence and mistreatment.” Guess what? NOT funny.

Go back to film school and see how to pair comedy with pathos (City Lights a great way to start). You wonder why society’s so angry? It’s because no one slows down enough to feel anything, hence, without being self-aware, folks walk around deprived of tough and real emotion (both love and hate).

The Mole Agent, Not a Dermatologist Film

Latin American Director Maite Alberdi is only 37, but obviously an old soul. Many of her films have dealt with nursing homes and aging.
The Mole Agent was just nominated for an Oscar, so I had to take the bait to see what was worthy about it.
Ok, I understand the sincerity and sentimentality of the story: a woman hires a PI to make sure her mother is being cared for in a facility. The PI then hires an older gentleman to be the mole. He’s to locate ‘the target’, take photos and recordings surreptitiously, and report back. The mole needs to acquiesce to three months in a Chilean Nursing Home.
What I enjoyed about the doc were real people moments; the interview with the daughter of the mole (recently widowed) who is truly concerned and needing assurance that her father will not get stuck in there….his convincing the daughter that he’s kind of bored and this is an adventure. Also heartening was the relationships that grew out of his mission.
I won’t spoil the ending or themes that occur, but suffice to say that due to my own ocation- a few miles passed middle age- with healthy parents, the doc was more morose than happy, reminding me of what’s around the corner for us all, making me more keenly aware of my own destiny. Being single certainly makes that reality more stark.
I discovered in researching this doc that it began more as a spy thriller, but the original mole broke his hip and a soft hearted replacement, Sergio, was hired. Sergio’s ‘discovery’ changed the trajectory of the story, turning it to focus more so on the residents (the journey) than the investigation (destination). A life lesson we all realize sooner or later.

Hunger (2008), Beware the Yikes of March

The lovely ladies at Burns Court Theater (part of the Sarasota Film Society) were wonderful hostesses to a pre-St Patty’s Day event showing Steve McQueen’s Hunger from 2008. But let me tell you something…this was realism in all caps, like this: REALISM! Attending this film is as close to being in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland as I’d like to get. Holy violence.
I actually did not know the story before going in, with the exception of hearing his name, and knowing about The Troubles. If you don’t know the ending, I will not spoil it here.
Steve McQueen made his first directorial splash with Hunger and continued using Michael Fassbender (who portrayed Bobby Sands in Hunger) in his penultimate (my opinion) 12 Years a Slave and again in Shame (fantastic film and a better Carey Mulligan role than the eye rolling Promising Young Woman).
McQueen goes to the darkest places in this film which should have been an awakening for prison reform across the globe.
The best scene in the film is a two person number between Fassbender and the actor Liam Cunningham playing a priest attempting to counsel Bobby Sands. While both actors are riveting, Fassbender’s monologue is a show stopper, akin to my favorite monologue of this year by Ellen Burstyn in Pieces of a Woman. For Fassbender’s monologue, it was worth shutting my eyes and closing my ears for what must have been 15 to 20 minutes of violence and gore. Yet, it’s history and the worst of man’s depravity. God help us if we ever slide back into such hatred.