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.

ITH:Finally, a musical extravaganza like the old days!

I remember seeing my first Fred Astaire movie, simply in awe at the dancing prowess, not just of ‘the man’, but all the dancers moving in perfect synchronicity. So how refreshing, but not surprised considering my adoration for Hamilton, to be super moved by the dancing in Quiara Alegria Hudes and Linn-Manuel Miranda’s play and screen adaptation. Jon M. Chu deserves credit as well, for directing a deluge of a cast.
And speaking of cast, Anthony Ramos is perfection as the lead, Usnavi, as is his love interest, Melissa Barrera. Gorgeous and great acting made the movie’s long running time go by in a flash. The other romantic couple, Leslie Grace and Corey Hawkins were solid runner-ups, but not charismatic enough to compete with the main stars. Jimmy Smits was terrific as the caring father, Olga Merediz also great as the sage Auntie, and Gregory Diaz IV was inspiring and funny as the teenage dreamer working at the bodega.
At 2:23, the musical could have used some editing and as I’m not a Script Doctor but I play one on tv, I’d cut a bit of the beauty salon piece, trim down the pool scene and Auntie’s song and departure and bingo, you have a solid 2 hour flick. But minor chump change considering the grandness of the dance sequences and special effects which were sprinkled in just enough to add a little more wonder. Bravo!

Undine, (Water)Mark her words

I discovered Christian Petzold after catching Transit one home cinema evening. I enjoyed how smart the story was and how it challenged me to pay attention. Likewise, with Petzold’s newest Undine, loosely based on the water nymph mythology.
Petzold reteams the unrequited lovers in Transit, actress Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski as well as another actress Maryam Zaree. The trio are all fine actors, Beer winning the best actress category at the Berlin Film Festival when Undine premiered last year.
Undine isn’t a perfect film, needing more music and a quicker pace that would have heightened the emotions, but I enjoyed the premise much more than Transit. Without spoiling the film, my take away on said premise is that people can not be replaced, an idea we need to embrace in our fast paced disposable society.
And here’s a fun debate topic…should one research the premise of a film before viewing?…Get back to me with your thoughts.

Like the Most Annoying Bourne Identity: Cruella

I can’t remember where in the sequence the Bourne film was that drove me nuts, but Cruella achieved likewise. Their common ailment? I really don’t care to watch someone (or a group of three in Cruella) run for two hours straight since a real marathon would have much more substance.
This is not to say I hated Cruella. I love the soundtrack which was a mixture of the best British and American hits from the 60’s and 70’s. and I love fashion, so watching both Emmas (Thompson and Stone) rally for who wore it best was fun. And that’s where the compliments end.
Criticisms besides the Fast and Furious shallowness is the failure to use the acting talents of actor Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewel, I, Tonya). Beyond that, the redundancy aka lack of editing further illustrates and accenuates bad story telling. Tony McNamara (who co-wrote this schlock) was successful with The Favourite, so perhaps it was a case of too many (five writers on this one) cooks spoil the soup.

The Dry, a 100% until the last ten minutes, no spoilers

What fun it was to see The Dry on the big screen, an eerie movie rendition of a Jane Harper novel written and directed by Robert Connolly, winner of several Aussie Awards. He also had help writing from fellow Australian Harry Cripps and Jane Harper herself.
First, whatever supplements Eric Bana is taking, get thee to a pharmacy and buy the same. A handsome perfect detective, Bana (star of Hulk, Munich and Blackhawk Down) is a man of few words reminiscent of the Bogart tradition. Keir O’Donnell, who was hilarious in Wedding Crashers, plays the straight man here as the trusting townie policeman is also flawless. The flashback teenage actors were all tremendous as well as the middle aged ne’er do wells who wanted to rough up any foreigners who dare to ask questions on past crimes. One last acting shout out to sultry Genevieve O’Reilly who was excellent as a femme fatale, good enough to remind me of Barbara Stanwyck.
A suspenseful well told story that keeps you guessing until the very end.
The only acting false note was one of the teens fathers who just seemed to be overreaching in his role. And there should have been an announcement with 10 minutes remaining that said: For those of you who get it, please proceed to the next theater over to see the credits. Anyone still confused, hang on, we’ll draw you some pictures.

Back to 2018 for one I missed: Transit

Transit, is based on a novel by Anna Seghers, whose other novels were also turned into excellent films like 1944’s The Seventh Cross. Christian Petzold, wrote and directed this modernized version of Seghers’ Transit and despite the confusing beginning, the film is a thought provoking and mind bending script of twists and turns.
Franz Rogowski, a German version of Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead, a forlorn character, letting free will decide his fate in Fascist Europe. Paula Beer, who will also co-star with Franz in Petzold’s Undine, is Rogowski’s love interest.
The rub? Well, Paula’s searching for her husband who has not only disappeared, but is in possession of her papers to flee to Mexico. The thing I’ve noticed about many foreign films is that even the minor characters are quality (her for instance, the doctor Godehard Giese, deaf mother Maryam Zaree and child Lilien Batman) rounding out the movie and adding to its verisimilitude.
Definitely worth a watch, but unless you know from the get go that’s it’s the equivalent of a Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet, you’ll be totally confused.
And the open ending is fun to discuss.

Percy Vs. Goliath: part of a new Medicare Movie Cycle

Much what Billy Crystal’s “Happy Now” tried to do for dementia, Christopher Walken attempts to do in exposing agrochemical evils in “Percy Vs. Goliath”. While the former tried to humanize and add comedic nuances, Christoher’s screenwriters, Garfield Lindsay Miller (please pick some initials) and Hilary Pryor went for straight on courtroom and farmland saga.
Fortunately, director Clark Johnson chose Walken (who I could watch till a field all day long) and Zack Braff as his long suffering (literally walks with a cane) lawyer. Christine Ricci seems oddly wooden here as the journalist who wants to expose big pharma farma.
Again, just like Crystal, I commend these guys for making real story films, rather than pimp themselves out as aged super villains for Marvel. And like Ruffalo’s Dark Waters, we need to keep an eye on and repeat the history of these money grubbing companies who don’t care about human health repercussions.

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.