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.

Comedy’s Core: The anticipatory laugh and how Borat Subsequent Film nails it

If we ever needed to have belly laughs, it’s the week before the election and “Borat Subsequent Film” delivers in spades. Just Sacha Baron Cohen’s word play (and to be fair, his 11 other collaborators who worked on the screenplay) alone, is commendable. I double dog dare you to check out Rudy Guillani’s Twitter response to his role in the film and then Sacha’s twitter video follow-up and NOT laugh….classic puns and double entendre!

While there’s many minor characters who are hysterically funny as straight men and women (and for any millennials reading: I mean that in the non-comedic sense, not sexual preference sense), Sacha’s only other main co-star is a Bulgarian actress names Maria Bakalova.

While I thought Maria fit the bill as believable foreigner, I didn’t think she was perfect for this role. She hammed it up a little too much which almost sounds impossible given the absurdity of the plot. My rationale is when you have one character who is the jester, I think the secondary character calls for more subtlety.

A minor flaw though in a perfect film. Sacha is the Groucho Marx of our time and God Bless him we need the humor now more than ever!

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s prolific and still relatively young. As I perused his filmography, here are my top five of his films:

1. Steve Jobs
2. Social Network
3. Moneyball
4. Molly’s Game
5. Tie: Charlie Wilson’s War and today’s specialty The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron’s forte is his snappy storytelling and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is right up there.

I appreciated the massive cast in The Trial of the Chicago 7, yet at the beginning of the film, it was difficult to not see them acting. Part of it was the semi mundane cinematography which I realize is tough to glamorize. Protests and courtrooms are not that picturesque.

What didn’t help was the make up and wigs. Again, I realize this was the late 60’s, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s wig looked like something he used on Borat and Rylance’s comb over looked fake as well. Like Rylance (maybe the equal in underappreciated as Willem Dafoe), Jeremy Strong portrayed Jerry Rubin with excellence, yet his wig also looked pasted on.

The most believable acting goes to Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

As a historical document of a very dark time in our past, this film is a 10. As far as a best picture Oscar award winner, a yes for screenplay winner but as for a film, yes to a nomination, but in total I wasn’t wowed.

On the Rocks, Conned this Rox

One of my top fifteen movies of all time is Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s gorgeous ode to feeling misunderstood, captured perfectly by two different generations (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) who come together in a hotel bar.

So I went skipping to On the Rocks, Sofia’s newest using Bill Murray again, in a different self-aware cad role with the beautiful Rashida Jones as his Eyeore of a daughter.

If L.I.T. was about feeling misunderstood, On the Rocks is about feeling unappreciated. Rashida feels unappreciated by her husband, Marlon Wayans (pretty face, not an actor). Bill relates to the under appreciation having felt that ‘back in the day’ and consequently straying from Rashida’s mom.

Hence, Bill wants to help his daughter get ahead of the curve and find out if indeed Marlon is the cheater he (Bill) use to be.

Many missed opportunities: one being use Jenny Slate as more than just three funny cameos, two give Rashida’s character more pizzazz (I mean no wonder Marlon would be bored), three, the pivotal daughter-father showdown needed to be amped up to evoke emotion.

Fortunately for Sofia, Americans have been bludgeoned by Covid 19 and are so starved for movies that this looks good enough to rate an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. In reality, however, this is a 72and a half (I’m averaging my film buddy Gus Mollasis’s 75 and my 70 here) at best.

And I thought the only “Gilda” was Radner

Ok, so maybe I’m not a film noir connoisseur. I had never heard of Gilda, but then again, I’m not a heterosexual male either. But wowee, Rita Hayworth certainly had pizzazz.

While the movie plot was pretty implausible (at least in 2020), I definitely felt the charisma between Glenn Ford (too boyish for me, give me Humphrey Bogart or Fred Mac Murray anyday) and Rita. Not to mention the sultry George Macready, who possessed a je ne sais quoi, and whose cheek scar was a real deal. Note to those afraid of Covid, his cheek scar happened due to a car crash where the closest doctor was a veterinarian AND he contracted Scarlet Fever since the vet hadn’t cleaned his animal utensils. hashtag: #wewillsurvivieaslongaspeoplestaycalm.

Glenn Ford, who I really didn’t know that well, won the Golden Globe for another oldie I’ll have to catch by Capra, “Pocketful of Miracles”.

Worth watching just to covet Rita’s lustrous locks, voice and body and for just a fun walk down memory lane.

With Regal closing, this may be are only ticket to ‘new’ films, films that are simply ‘new’ to us.

Dick Johnson is Dead, What a Way to Go!

Kirsten Johnson (writer and director AND daughter of Dickey J) originally made a splash with a doc called Cameraperson in 2016. I won’t pretend that I had ever heard of her before her recent and profound, “Dick Johnson is Dead”.

In Dick Johnson is Dead, Johnson walks her dad figuratively speaking through his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs about death and the afterlife as he meanders further into old age and dementia. While this may sound bleak, Kirsten makes it fun, by allowing her Dad to experience his hope for Heaven and biggest wishes.

This should definitely be in the running for the Oscar doc this year for three simple reasons: universal thematically, moving and unique.

Wildly inventive, this movie will make you seek out your own family with fresh eyes and patience. I only wish I had seen it Friday night, alas, most often, we’re lucky enough to live another day and improve.

And while I had thought it quite morbid, seeing Dick Johnson experience his funeral live (literally), I now understand my Grandma wanting to read her eulogy before the lights go out.

Now this is the Jenkins I Know: The Last Shift

Before “Kajillionaire”, I never suspected Richard Jenkins of any acting fraud. And with “The Last Shift”, which was suppose to be premiered before Covid took out the Sarasota Film Festival, Jenkins is back, possibly in his best role yet.

In The Last Shift his character is once again, down and out and awkward, but with Andrew Cohn’s amazing writing and direction, he is more than a character, he is a tragic figure. Bravo.

Equally as wonderful was Ed O’Neill, who should have catapulted to comedic movie stardom rather than be stuck in tv sitcom drudgery. Ed scene steals every minute he’s in. I love that man!

Shane Paul McGhie should also now be front listed for every part that Lakieth Stanfield turns down. He is a monster actor who evokes empathy while projecting keen intelligence. Birgundi Baker is destined for greater heights as well.

Go see this film. It’s real, raw and heartbreaking. You’ll want to go help a fast food worker afterward and rightly so, as these folks work thankless jobs for little pay.

Kajillion ways to improve Kajillionaire

I pat the couch like Sigmund and say, “Miranda, come sit over here. In fact, lay down and tell me what you wanted to communicate in this film.”

I really enjoyed Miranda July’s “Me You And Everyone We Know,” back when through lines were a thing. Kajillionaire was billed as a comedy, but if I laughed once, it was in delirium over how slow an hour and 36 minutes can actually feel.

A bit of an exaggeration. Yet Gina Rodriguez’s allure toward the grifter family didn’t make sense. Evan Rachel Wood seemed to be trying too hard to be weird, as was Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins. The movie just felt beneath them.

Evan Rachel Wood’s post tremor epiphany needed more explanation as to why she ignored Gina’s character, given that REW’s character had such an epiphany due to the child rearing and parent bonding classes she was taking.

Make us care more by not being so weird. Save that for a more capable eccentric, like Todd Solondz or Charlie Kaufman.

The Artist’s Wife: Almost 3-D

I really enjoyed The Artist’s Wife, but I have an old man crush on Bruce Dern, so own that bias. Actually I had a young man crush on him, too, even though I saw his younger man movies way after the fact.

Bruce Dern has that amazing charm to be able to be a total verbal barbarian, yet also be lovable (again stamp me ‘biased’). And in The Artist’s Wife, written and directed by Tom Dolby (wrote The Last Weekend which I need to see as a Patricia Clarkson fan) h certainly adds to this talent.

The acting in the film was superb. Lena Olin wins you over in the first five minutes. Her acting is real and her beauty just as genuine. Equally affecting was Juliet Rylance, in Frances Ha, but I was too in love with Greta Gerwig to remember her. Avan Gogia also does a bang up job, no pun intended, but it works (find out for yourself).

Ryan Earl Parker needs a shout out for cinematography for making winter look pretty in the NYC and Long Island area and Jeff Grace’s music complemented the film as well.

My only quibble is that the film was almost too pretty, all were gorgeous and rich. But I still felt the emotions, so in the end, the film definitely won me over.

The Devil All the Time (switch out Violence for Devil)

An often asked interview question is “if you could have four dinner guests, who would they be?” and typically, people name Jesus, Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs and Freud…you get the idea…

Based on my viewing The Devil All the Time, I’d like to dine with Antonio and Paulo Campos (writers and director of said film), the Safdie Brothers (Uncut Gems) and Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things).

Of course, I’d be tricking the Campos to attend what is really an intervention. One where I’d go, “Hey, Campos’ listen to the Safdie’s explain how small bits of violence have much more impact that constant slaughter.”
And Charlie would chime in with, “You realize you’re capable of creeping people out without a lot of bloodshed.”

And the Campos would pensively reply, “Oh yes, now we see, we thought Americans liked a violent waltz where on the three count, we strike with violence and then repeat.”

Luckily I didn’t read anything in advance of viewing except for a snippet that said Robert Pattinson stole the show. Trust me, I’m a huge RB fan every since the Safdie’s Good Time and felt this was probably accurate. However, I disagree. This was an epic acting collaboration and the only reason RB stuck out was, he was the only character not West Virginia slack jaw and depressed. (Note to West Virginia, which I suggest from direct experience since my great grandparents lived there and I visited most summers growing up: put Prozac in the drinking water pronto as 99% of the folks are clinically depressed, including all the characters except RB).

There are so many competent actors to mention, but I’ll just name the standouts: Riley Keough who is proving her acting chops rather than ride on her grandfather (ELVIS, yes, THAT Elvis’s coat tails), Tom Holland, and Jason Clarke.

The screenwriting as a story was well done and intelligent. Kudos should also obviously go to Donald Ray Pollock author of the novel on which the screenplay was based. Worth watching, I guess, as long as you turn your head or squeeze your eyes shut every ten minutes for the duration of two hours and 18 minutes worth. Hence, please Antonio and Paulos, come to my dinner party:)