Top Sevens

I had an interesting conversation the other day when a friend who popped out with his top 7 songs and movies…this was a person who I was trying to get to know, but seemed elusive. And because I’m a bit of a chameleon I, too, tend to clam up when with another clam.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty important, being a film blogger that I have a top 7 list of modern films. And why not have 7 songs as well?

So here goes my films, not in any order of importance, they’re just all darn good.

Moon
Whiplash
Saving Private Ryan
Drive
Revolutionary Road
Adaptation
Magnolia

And because I do so many foreign films I am going to add 2 of those:
Toni Erdmann and Avalanche

Songs:

Please Forgive Me David Gray
For the Love of You Whitney Houston
Beautiful Ones Prince
Express Yourself Madonna
You’re Too Early Kenny Loggins
Sweet Reunion Kenny Loggins
Whenever I Call Your Friend Loggins/Nicks

Eye Eye Captain; First Man

Tongue in Cheek: Sure Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but I may be the first to discover there are at least two different movie watching personality types that coincide with five astrological signs. Sagitarius, Virgo, Scorpio and Aquarius folks are intense movie watchers…we don’t talk, and stare at the screen GLADLY for the full movie. Whereas Leo’s are restless types, needing to look at their company, for reassurance perhaps, or in my Dad’s case even inquire, “what did they say?” or my friend last night who needed to comment on an average of once every five minutes. One small primal scream for man, one giant yelp for man kind.

But back to the movie…Damien Chazelle is credited (by me) for one of my favorite seven modern films of all time (Whiplash– see my next blog post for the full list) and one of my most frustrating (LaLaLand). This time with First Man, I’m in the middle, or a little to the right. I didn’t LOVE it, but it certainly satisfied.

Chazelle focuses much of his camera work on close ups, way way close, with a lot of eye concentration on Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (who definitely should get a best supporting actress nod). For Ryan/Neil, eye work makes sense since through his helmet, that’s the the only facial target. But even out of his suit and with his wife, played as I just mentioned expertly by Claire Foy, the eyes have it as it were.

The story (screenplay by Josh Singer is good, but perhaps a tad too long). I do fully appreciate the fact they (the book’s author and subsequently Singer) wanted to show the full sacrifice and missteps along the way, as well as increase the suspense. I mean after all the accidents, who the hell would think a tin can could actually make it to the moon? That’s faith or bravado or a hell a lot of both. I also loved the inner workings of the Armstrong marriage and the honest approach of Neil, who struggled with his daughter’s death and his need to be a workaholic. In his defense, this was the oppressed 50’s and 60’s when men didn’t cry or were shamed into being stoic and thus, manly.

Other supporting actors had minimal coverage, but I will say Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick) and Corey Stoll (I know him from Girls) were solid and stood out as Neil’s co-astronauts.

Chazelle’s directorial work seems to lean toward Terrence Malick and that’s ok for me (and probably my fellow Sagitarians). We hear the odd noises of the rocket, we ‘feel’ the jittery, dizzying shakes, and the frantic pushing of buttons. Chazelle bucks the trend of having everything be neat and pretty and instead, also uses silence, space and different types and lengths of scenes to make a meaningful collage.

A Salad Bar is Born

You did read the headline right, a salad bar is born. I wanted to like A Star is Born (directed and starring Bradley Cooper) having a halcyon remembrance of seeing the Kristofferson/Steisand version at Silver Lake Drive Inn many moons ago. I remember thinking that movie was sexy (though I’m sure I didn’t even know what that word meant at 13).

I’m bucking the crowd here in my dislike of the film, but I’ll tell you what I did enjoy first. I liked it for the same reasons it may win awards….the people in it are drop dead gorgeous. Bradley Cooper is downright adorable and Lady Gaga looks prettier without much makeup than she does with. But this is the same reason I didn’t feel for the characters. They weren’t tortured enough (or ever looked to be like anyone who could experience pain).

Another bias against the film is that I’ve seen Lukas Nelson perform (in Nashville by accident). I was there a night early and wanted something to do so thought, why not? Lukas is peripherally in A Star is Born and worked with Cooper on seeming to be a realistic guitar player. Lukas Nelson is ten times as “real” as Cooper and I think it may be telling that he didn’t even get a speaking role, in that, ‘don’t let anyone with genuine talent overshadow ‘the star’ sort of way. Its even strangely coincidental that Lukas’s band name is Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real. If a brave director had cast Lukas in the starring role with a younger Gaga like ingenue, we might have had a film. Lukas Nelson’s performances are entertaining and 3D, whereas Cooper’s were like a cardboard cut out.

My last problem with the movie has to do with my salad bar analogy. You know when you’re in line at a salad bar and you can’t linger too long in choosing because someone’s directly next to you? That’s what the scene length and therefore shallowness was in this film. I’d like to go see it again just to time out the scenes. I bet in the two hours and 17 minutes of the film, there wasn’t a scene longer than 5 minutes. Again, if we don’t linger in any pain or joy for more than that, we don’t feel anything.

So the film was admirable and the music was decent. Both Cooper and obviously Gaga are mega talented. it’s just too bad they’re so pretty and the screenplay was just too fast scene-wise to evoke an emotional response.

What Gilda Radner and Anthony Bourdain suddenly have in common

I recently saw Love, Gilda with a new funny friend, so I was grateful that the cancer and death piece of the new doc Love Gilda (directed by Lisa Dapolito) was as brief as it could possibly be. Yet the doc was also too safe, not wanting to hurt Gilda’s mom perhaps if she’s still alive(I researched and came up with nothing, there goes my budding (sarcasm) private detective practice).

Clearly, for reasons I will not give (no spoilers, remember?), her mother was not up for any parent of the year award.

I really enjoyed the old SNL footage, especially those including Bill Murray as I lusted for him in my youth. I also learned some things about Gilda (easily found on her Wiki so NOT a spoiler) that she dated many men (nothing wrong with that, as I clear my throat in solidarity) and was even married to G.E. Smith famed guitarist from the SNL band. I also appreciated as with most comics, there dark side, apart of which spurs them to the therapeutic ‘make a joke out of it’ response.

The commonality I see between Anthony and Gilda now, isn’t so much about them as individuals, though, now that I consider it, they both had depressive tendencies. But more so the lack of verve in Gilda’s doc and Anthony’s last episode set in Spain which aired on CNN last Sunday.

The first of the last of Bourdain’s episodes was set in Africa with W. Kamau Bell as his sidekcik. this one still held the beauty of what former seasons had been known, poignancy, intellect, humor. This last one seemed to be cobbled together, inserted seemingly haphazardly was the Spanish chef’s salute to now deceased Anthony. I get not wanting to end the show on the doner note, but the alternative, some weird bonfire scene with random (I assume Spanish) woman dancing like whirling dervishes. This show was not indicative of the talent of his staff. So I invoke Fred Willard from A Mighty Wind…’what happened?’

I consider this last season to be the closest thing to a funeral dirge I’m going to get. Let it not be akin to having store bought cake at a Moose Club. And truth be told, Gilda deserves more fanfare and emotional heights than this doc. No offense to anyone involved, just my opinion.

The Wife: A Whole Lot of Hand Wringing

The Wife directed by Bjorn Runge is a whole lot of hand wringing. Do we fault his Danish maudlin ways? Or should we go after Jane Anderson who wrote the screenplay based on Meg Wollitzer’s novel? I say Jane.

The dialogue was a bit like a high school chorus practice, at times the singing’s revelatory, at others, as if half of them are experiencing nails on a chalkboard adolescent hormone induced voice changing.

But enough whining, let’s talk about the positives, of which there are many. As I said, at times, this film soars: Close is fantastic, even if I kept waiting for her to pull out an ice pick or boil a rabbit. Equally great was Elizabeth McGovern, stealing a scene that resonates far beyond its short duration. The plot does indeed thicken on a slow burn and was suspenseful and unpredictable.

And the movie was realistic in showing the stickiness of co-dependent relationships. I spent 6 years of my life in one and sometimes wonder what the hell I was doing. Yet my time was chump change compared to the long duration of this marriage.

Not to end a negative, but Jonathan Pryce is a bit precious at times and Jeremy Irons’ son, if you can believe it, shows LESS emotion than his steely dad (hey how’s that for a pun: iron, steely)….ok, go easy on me.

Go see it, especially if you think your partner might be cheating on you. If he or she sweats profusely, you might want to retain an attorney:)

Juliet, Naked and Mission Impossible

One of the wackier weeks I’ve had as a Floridian including computer hijack scammers, a move to a place I’d only been able to view twice, and a leaning into the old temptation of barking up the wrong trees.

In the midst of all that, I saw two films: Mission Impossible and Juliet, Naked. It was the worst of times and it was the best of times, respectively.

I wanted to like MI, as Tom Cruise, despite his regimented Scientology, is a good actor. But he phoned this in. Don’t be fooled by the B.O.A.T. (Best of all time) malarkey. This movie was ludicrous. Baby Driver had better and more engaging chase scenes. The two women in Cruise’s life (I guess three counting the blonde villainess) were bland, beyond their enticing accents. If you’re going to do bathos, at least add some more humor to the mix.

All fitting though considering my back story involved. Phoning it in would have been an excellent subtitle for the movie and my life.

Juliet, Naked on the other hand was an unexpected delight. I’m not a big Rose Byrne fan, but here she proves emotional range. Chris O’Dowd is a man I loved, then hated and am now respecting again. He also has a stilted Irish/Scottish reserve that is still capable of leaking enough emotion to be believed.

And Ethan (Hawke that is)…we all know, well maybe you don’t, that he holds a nearly McEnroesque stature in my cinematic life; from the glow he first showed in Dead Poets, to his anxiety ridden brotherhood in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, to his sweet charm in the trilogy of Before Sunrise, etc. Not to mention his profound turn as a pained minister in the recent Reformed (here visualize me in a prayer stance whispering: please give this man a nomination).

In Juliet, Naked, Hawke plays, well probably, Hawke, father to children by different baby mamas, a disheveled ‘artiste’ who goes around saying, aw schucks, did I f up my life again? Not that he’s been in that much ‘trouble’, but he appears to be just enough absent minded professor mixed with a lot of testosterone which we all know leads to stolen kisses and broken hearts. His turn here as a washed up rocker was perfection.

So let this be a lesson to you; be the water and not the grinder. Go with the flow rather than paddle upstream.

Book Review of Lisa Jobs Memoir

I had six likes on Good Reads and decided to post it here:
Small FrySmall Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Lisa Brennan-Jobs new memoir, Small Fry, is searing in a Mommy Dearest expose` way, with me exclaiming and throwing the book down on at least three occasions, with a, “He did what?!”.

And that’s saying something for a former high school counselor, who’d thought I had hardened to any shock at inconsistent parenting and emotional abuse. So let me tell you, Steve Jobs takes the Apple cake. But instead, pick up a copy of Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ book and let her tell you in her very rational, yet compelling writer’s voice.

View all my reviews

Spike Lee’s Signature: Blackkklansman

I enjoy Spike Lee. God Bless him, seriously, every movie he makes really tries to do what his first big film was actually titled, “Do The Right Thing”. And every movie he makes definitely has his signature. Kooky graphics, mystical camera tricks, and ‘hit you over the head morality’. He also has the gift of Scorsese, meaning he’s rich enough that he can pour everything but the kitchen sink into one film, without having to regard any advisers or editors going, “Maybe you could trim back a bit”.

The acting was rock solid. John David Washington, the star of the movie, didn’t have to show great range, yet, he was terrific. Adam Driver, also, isn’t the king of stretching, but can be damn serious and still interestingly watchable all day long. The poor saps that had to play the angry Klansman (Topher Grace as David Duke) were all good, too, even though cringe worthy to watch such hate or even fathoming that type of person existing in the world.

I thought Colorado Springs was an interesting setting choice, being ignorant to the Klan and merely assuming it was mostly south of the Mason Dixon line. And wow, if you check out History vs. Hollywood, you’ll find out just how true the movie is AND, having not read John David Washington’s IMDB bio, I just learned that he is the son of Denzel Washington! Having not seen many interviews or entertainment shows, I think it’s great that they didn’t lead with this, letting JDW stand on his own merit. So a two-fer for me in learning important history as well as trivial movie relationships.

Blackkklansman is definitely worth seeing. Is it a perfect film? No. Spike wraps the plot up too quickly and neatly for deep emotional resonance in order to make his other points, but that’s ok, that’s Spike and I like him. He’s trying to get us to wake up and be nice and there’s nothing ever wrong about that.

Eighth Grade, Moving On Up!

Eighth Grade was incredibly moving, especially if you were or are a good Dad to a teenage daughter. It’s also great for anyone who’s been in 8th grade within the modern era. Even though I was in 8th grade long before technology, I could relate to the film. If you were or are a school teacher who loves kids, all the better.

But hold up. That’s not how I started out feeling about the film written and directed by Bo Burnham. At first, I thought the film suffered from the Netflix show “Love”‘s third season syndrome, meaning musical interludes substituting for plot or that the NYT review was true, intimating the people most interested in this film would be those whom it’s about, meaning adolescents.

But the beauty of seeing a film in a theater is you’re strapped in for the long haul. The beginning I now understand was simply the slow burn to a semi surprising and escalating finish.

The acting was gorgeous, particularly everyone! But specifically the lead, Elsie Fisher and then definitely, (hey I’m still a hot blooded woman) for Josh Hamilton…where have you been hiding? I literally looked up the theater company he helped produce in NYC (since closed, bummer) In all seriousness, his monologue during the last quarter is genius, as good as Michael Stuhlbarg‘s shorter, but also poignant’s in Call Me By Your Name. Nominate this man, Josh Hamilton, he’s truly deserving for vulnerability extraordinaire.

By movie’s end, I could have really unleashed a bucket of tears (not easy for stoic me), but held myself in check as not to blubber in front of my friend Carrie. Great film, go see it!

“Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot”…Hmmm…

Ok, I usually have a strong opinion about a film, however, “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is tricky.

Here is a two facts I do know:

One: Joaquin Phoenix should get nominated. Done. He is like Christian Bale was in The Fighter, transformed into being John Callahan. A very close absolute best, tied with his role in The Master, a PT Anderson masterpiece.

Two: Jonah Hill‘s performance is also magnificent, his best ever. He uses Gus Van Sant‘s (writer and director) material like a virtuoso conductor, making his understated role crescendo to a moving denouement.

My main difficulty with the film is the story, it’s more a sweet tribute piece then it is a narrative. I’d almost like to see another layer added to the film, like Van Sant’s reasoning for making the film, his learning about the man, what attracted him.

So a great rental, or if you’re a giant Joaquin fan like me, worth the $6 bucks admission.