Rocketman: ‘Hall’ of Fame Movie

My ‘Hall’ of Fame title works a double shift, denoting a multilayered touching film with the screenwriter’s name; Lee ‘Hall’ of War Horse and Billy Elliot fame. And while there’ll be plenty of ‘was this as good as Bohemian Rhapsody’ comparisons, I’ll be the first to say, ‘hell yeh’. AND, while no one is going to do what Rami Malek did with both face and dancing gyrations to Freddie Mercury, I think Hall’s screenplay has the story depth to make it a truly equally great biopic.

Besides both Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman were virtually directed by the same guy, Dexter Fletcher, the hired gun after Bryan Singer’s Me, Too demise in the former film.

The only shenanigns in this flick were those of despondent Sir Elton, bent on self-destruct after years of both neglect and abuse by his horrible parents and a lover whose best descriptor might be sadistic d-bag. Is that too crude?

See Rocketman and I promise you’ll feel enough rage against this trio of twits to utter at least one profanity. But isn’t that what a tremendous movie is suppose to do? (Nod ‘yes’).

I certainly can’t be the only one who wanted to reach through the screen in Love and Mercy to strangle Paul Giamatti for slapping the hamburger out of poor Jon Cusack’s hand (aka Brian Wilson). That’s exactly how good the acting and writing is in Rocketman. Kudos to Bryce Dallas Howard for being such a great shrew of a mum.

Taron Egerton is a perfect Elton, capturing his tortured soul who, like most abused people, try again and again to get the love they need, but as the song says that I’m bopping to (hadn’t heard Honky Cat in so long until tonight’s movie), Elton trying to get love from those pathetic blokes was ‘like tryin’ to get whiskey from a bottle of wi-ine’. And speaking of lyrics, Jamie Bell believably played a sensitive, but wiser, Bernie Taupin.

The movie did a marathon effort of fitting in his biggest hits, appropriately situated to help tell Elton’s story. And stay through the credits to see the split screen of Elton’s iconic costumes and signature sunglasses.

I’d love to tell you my favorite scene, but then I’d be breaking my no spoiler promise. Here’s a hint though, it contains Matthew Illesley who plays the young Elton (Reginald). I predict Matthew is the next (About a Boy) Nicholas Hoult, meaning he’s destined for a successful acting career.

As you can tell, I was moved to the very end, skipping merrily out of CineBistro Siesta Key to “I’m Still Standing”. And I’ll be going back for a second helping and it won’t even take a “long long time”.

Inventive Back Stories: An odd comparison of Joy and Melancholia

Ok, maybe the most oddly contrasted movies in history, like comparing apples and oranges, but because I watched the films on the same day, I claim emotional license to do so.

“Ask Dr. Ruth”, currently showing at Burns Court was absolute rapturous joy. To paraphrase my movie friend Gus Mollasis, who hosted an enlivened talk back after Tuesday’s showing, this movie kicks all the contenders for last year’s Oscar to the curb and is therefore, an obvious contender (if I can speak for both of us) for this year’s Oscar.

If you think you know anything about Dr. Ruth, be humbled by watching her life story, beautifully directed by Ryan White (also of The Case Against 8 and Good Ol’ Freda). Ryan knows how to unreel a story. The animated back story adds a poignant human element to the Holocaust driven trauma which could have driven her to a jaded adulthood, as Dr. Ruth went at the age of 10 to being unwanted and underappreciated for the remainder of her formative years. The quality of the animation is key here as anything but truly human looking depictions would have totally ruined the emotion.

In contrast, RBG, while I loved her as a subject, was told with mainly just a repetition of stock photos which didn’t evoke any moments of solitary fear and agony.

My favorite scenes in Ask Dr. Ruth were watching her intense listening to callers’ questions (from heart wrenching to naive) and her lovely empathetic answers.

Now my weirdo comparison…I also watched “Godfather 2” yesterday after my son (and others) claimed it was better than the original. And while I realize I’m way late to this partito, the back story of Vito diluted the power of the ‘contemporary’ Michael story which was truly powerful on its own. My defense is that I think 99% of us get that mafia wars (or any gang wars) begin in the long distance past, as decade after decade racks up new grudges and retaliation.

The scenes I loved from GF2 were the following (using the actors’names to give them props): the moment Pacino realize Cazales was in on his house attack, when Keaton tells Pacino it was an abortion, when Cazales is fishing with Pacino’s son. Tremendous acting and the grandeur of GF2 is certainly larger than the original, but as Sade sings, “Its never as good as the first time…”.

Fortunately Ryan White did such a thorough and moving job of Ruth’s life, we’ll never need a sequel, nor could there ever be a replica as beautiful as Dr. Ruth.

Wild Nights with Emily: A Smoothie

After a disorienting first ten minutes, my confusion about the film, kind of what you’d wonder when trying to name an alien being you’ve never seen before, dissipated and I was totally in for the ride.

First, let me ruin one thing for you. If you’re expecting to witness actual wild nights with Emily, stay home. The title makes you think you’re going to “Blue is the Warmest Color”, but you’ll see more skin on Ellen’s talk show.

Yet, while the title was enticing and deceptive, I’m not disappointed in Wild Nights with Emily. While totally different in topic and tone, the recent historical reenactment/documentary “The Invisibles”, like Wild Nights, take a moment in history scrapping a one note wonder period piece, preferring a fun blend. And no surprise here, since they were both produced by Greenwich Entertainment.

Blend, blend, hey, I just chose my blog title: “Wild Nights with Emily”: a Smoothie!

Madeleine Olnek who wrote and directed this piece combines history and deadpan comedy, akin the to the popular Documentary NOW!. She uses Molly Shannon (SNL) as Emily Dickinson and Brett Gelman who I absolutely adored in HBO’s “Love”, here as the stuffy Atlantic Monthly Editor. In fact I’ve now made a list of where to stalk him; HBO’s “Camping”, “Fleabag” and an indie called Lemon. Prepare to be stalked Brett. Others with great comedic future potential are Jackie Monahan and Kevin Seal.

The cinematography (sometimes a forgotten step-child) is gorgeous in this film with Emily scenes in a beautifully tranquil sunlit white curtained writing room. Victorian era costuming as well was oh so pretty making me almost wish I could wear a petticoat for a day (ok maybe hour).

Olnek deserves credit for getting the truth out about Emily. A. That she wasn’t a recluse. B. She probably wasn’t the craziest person in her childhood home. C. Putting the exclamation point on a NYT 1998 story that technology had proved that Emily’s love letters were really written to ________ (see the movie to find out) and erased and tampered with by __________(see the movie).

“Wild Nights with Emily” is worth seeing for its novelty and noble history re-recording.

Long Shot, Truth Hot

There’s much to love about “Long Shot”, directed by Jonathan Levine, also known for two of my positive feel good flicks, “Snatched” and “The Wackness” (a perfect take-your-teen-to-teach-him-about-sex movies, no joke, it’s perfect). Here Levine, gets physical once again, this time grown up 2019 style with Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen comingling.

While midway, the movie veered a little too close in plot to “Bullworth” (loved that Warren Beatty/Halle Barry movie), the screenwriters pulled it out (no pun intended, but enjoy it) during the second half to show something not only original and close at heart to Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules in “Speak Your Truth” and good things will come your way. And breaking news, it also gave a plug for bi-partisan unity. Can I get an AMEN!!!!!!!!!

And bombshell! Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah helped write a subtle presidential lampoon which is so much better looking than in your face vindictiveness. So good on ya for that as well.

I bought the Theron/Rogen chemistry having an affinity (and former relationship with a bookish Jewish man with facial hair). I’m definitely not saying I’m any Theron, or that I was even in anyway better than him, but instead, that smart, intellectual let-it-all-hang-out men are organically sexy.

Bravo to the minor character actors as well, love O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (thanks to him or the screen writer for making me look up the ‘new’ music of Dram ‘Broccoli’, hey I’m here to learn people), love June Diane Raphael (except for her three names) and Ravi Patel. Alexander Skarsgard, (who I had neglected to mention in my recent “Aftermath” review is a Golden Globe winner for Big Little Lies) lets himself play a silly droll Canadian Prime Minister (well played A.S.!) All of the aforementioned, along with Bob Odenkirk (who I liked more raw pre Better Call Saul stardom) helped round out a very talented ensemble.

The message of dare to be your true self is an apropos one today and one I feel better and better about employing.

Spring ‘Camp’: The Loved One 1965

Wow, the out of this world movies one can run into in mid spring, post film fest lull, an absolute gem called “The Loved One” from 1965. Directed by Tony Richardson, Oscar winner for another that is now on my classic must-see-next list, “Tom Jones”. I knew he was ex-husband of Vanessa Redgrave, but until this morning’s internet rabbit hole did not realize he had fathered not only Natasha (r.i.p.) and Joely, but also a third child by another actress and evidently got around, Jeanne Moreau, etc. A creative genius in many respects, I guess.

But I digress; Terry Southern helped write this beauty, based on an Evelyn Waugh novel. I loved his bio on IMDB, that he added to Edgar Allan Poe stories that he thought ‘didn’t go far enough’, ah the genius pomposity. He also helped write two Oscar nominated films; “Dr. Strangelove” and “Easy Rider”.

I fell in love with one of the main characters in “The Loved One” Robert Morse, still alive and kicking, most recently Emmy nominated for a few Mad Men episodes. In “The Loved One”, he’s an adorably impish bloke from London (redundant?:) who’s vying for the affection of the perfect 60’s brunette with the likes of an effeminate Rod Steiger (who is downright hysterical).

Steiger is so funny (his quick strutting gate, his barbells on the bed, his histrionic relationship with his mother) that he rivals Jonathan Winters, the comic genius who also has a double role in this film. To see Winters in his prime was simply breathtaking. Knowing he won an Oscar for one of my dad’s favorites In the Heat of the Night, I’ll seek one of his oldies out soon as well called Happy Birthday Wanda June and maybe even a more recent film Burton’s Mars Attacks.

For a mere 2.99$ on Itunes, The Loved One is totally worth two hours of giggling. Thanks to Jack Guren for hipping me to this great movie.

Stockholm the movie & Aha’s Take on Me

Ethan Hawke and Robert Budreau must have formed a synchronicity working together in the heart breaking biopic Born to be Blue considering the dynamic duo are back again in Stockholm the movie (Ethan starring of course and Budreau writing and directing).

Being a card carrying Ethan Hawke fan from his pinch his cute cheeks in Dead Poets Society to his twitchy f-up of a brother in Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, to his nightly strangulation in Sam Shepard’s play True West on Broadway, I also thought Stockholm was well executed.

Here’s the deal with Ethan: you know he’s acting and yet you believe it anyway. He’s in that upper echelon of Ed Norton and Sam Rockwell, equally recognizable, yet so lovable and masters of their craft that you go with it, happy for every ride.

In Stockholm, named for the incident that describes the phenomena of a hostage falling for her (or his) captor, Hawke is the predator and Noomi Rapace is prey. Noomi is probably best know for the foreign version of the Dragon Tattoo movies and may be set for super stardom with an upcoming Maria Callas biopic. Also standing out are Mark Strong as Ethan’s robber com padre accomplice and Christopher Heyerdahl as the chief of police who lets ‘winning’ corrupt his humanity.

The second best part of Stockholm besides Ethan and Noomi’s hot chemistry, was the humorous touches in the script. Noomi’s disappointment while being held hostage that her husband chose to serve meatloaf instead of the more creative fish dish, Ethan’s character’s insistence to have Dylan music as a back drop to the robbery, and many other subtle nuances prove that Budreau likes a sprinkle of comedy with the absurdity of our lives.

And the very best part of Stockholm is Hawke’s throwing himself into every role, similar to the Aha band’s video of “Take on Me”, where the animated character hits the wall until he becomes human. Hawke does that to writing (the wall) until we believe his human (acting) form.

This comedic spice alone might be worth inserting in every movie hereafter, since, if we can’t laugh at ourselves, where are we going?

Amazing Grace: Everything and Desire for More

Amazing Grace was a labor of love that Sydney Pollack was never able to pull off alive. He was always too busy according to IMDB, to finish syncing voice to video. Instead, before he died of cancer, he handed off the project to Alan Elliott (whose IMDB bio does not glean much info, besides a personal blog link to a spooky place that hasn’t been touched since the early aughts). Sure, Alan has done a lot of composing, but this is his first directorial production.

My guess is he’s a man of few words. The only narrative contained were the four to five captions that started the film. Perfection for a music purist, a mindset of, “Just let the girl (and marvelous choir and studio band) sing and play”. Raw footage without ‘story interruptus’ allows the audience the vicarious awe and joy as the church onlookers dance, cry and shout out passionate spiritual yelps.

Yet, I was still hungry for story….what was happening behind the scenes? What was Aretha like as a woman? Why didn’t she want this made until after she passed away?

Story implied in the footage was that her dad was adoring and proud, and I loved the paternal moment where he wiped her adorable 29 year old face of sweat as she began another feverish number.

Maybe it’s that I’m/we’re so use to knowing every intimate detail (and then some) these days of documentary subjects that I felt like I was missing something. Perhaps what I really miss are days like these in 1971 when things were simpler and people were afforded privacy. No one in Aretha’s audience was caught looking zombie like into phones or surreptitiously trying to capture an image on such nuisance contraptions.

So really, Amazing Grace was everything you’d want it to be. And in the words of philosopher Slavoj Zizek, perhaps it’s time for us to stop trying to be progressive to the point of ruination and actually reach back to what worked in the past. I loved the 70’s. And moreover, I also loved Aretha, too.

Diane…Realism Personified

Kent Jones (known most for his documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut) wrote and directed Diane, the second of what I call noble films I’ve seen this week (For those who don’t read my every critique; Saturday was The Public by Emilio Estevez).

Diane was noble in taking on the true true reality that none of us get out of here (Earth) alive. Mary Kay Place (who I envied as an adolescent ogling over her sexy character Loretta on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman) does a tremendous job as the lead character, who like a Timex watch that keeps on ticking even after being dented again and again.

Her dings come in the form of an abusive drug addicted son (a supporting actor worthy performance by Jake Lacy), a cervical cancer stricken cousin, and other family members who both support and deride each other.

Also pinged by the cold winter of New England, Diane shops, enables her son by doing his laundry and grocery shopping, and works at a low income food co-op. She gives so much of herself, that she has no self left to nourish. Added to her plight is a painful secret (or maybe two) that haunts her and a true love that got away.

The dichotomy of mystery and symbolism (we are in the car with her viewing the winding road at several points) of the journey capture what our real lives truly are. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring (mystery), but we must keep driving the journey (symbolism) to discover. The flip the story takes where instead of mother badgering son, son badgers mother is beautifully portrayed and shows the evolution most of us face in being the givers and subsequent receivers of care.

A tiny bit wonky in parts and a little confusing as far as Diane’s own experimentation and denouement, Diane reminded me of a lesser First Reformed, yet totally worth viewing this thought provoking story.

The Public: Important Conceptually; But Cinematically? Well….

Dear Emilio,

First, let me say you should have been nominated for best screenplay, director AND actor for The Way. You’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for that poignant father son film. On the lighter side, I enjoyed your work in The Stakeout, as sweet as the Bubble Yum gum I devoured in my youth.

Now, dodging rain drops in Asheville, North Carolina, I gladly took in your newest film The Public. I mean, you’re such a humble man with good intentions and the homeless using public libraries must be an issue in many cities, my hometown of Sarasota (shout out to the Selby Library!) included. And due to the aforementioned films, I had high hopes especially with two of my other favorite actors also in the film; Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater.

But boy, did I wish wish wish after the fact that I could have been a script doctor or more apt, let me shelve alphabetically what character contradictions I would have excised:

A for Alec; how can a person specializing in conflict resolution then lead a charge of storm troopers?
C for Christian Slater: he goes from prosecutor/bully to acting with the authority of chief of police? Christian threw his weight around more than a WWE Wrestler. He also sued on behalf of a homeless man’s rights being denied at the library (who paid for his service?) yet called them bums and basically wanted them taken down in the coup so that he could go watch The Tonight Show? Did we go back in time to the Johnny Carson days when The Tonight Show was a one time event? Now you can watch clips in any cab in NYC days later.
D is for dialogue: much too snappy and choreographed…there were times when I was waiting for this to be a musical and then sure enough, it became one! A mixture of Hair and The Full Monty!
E for Emilio Estevez: your character defended the privacy of the public within the library, but you were pumping (see Groucho Marx and his wiggling cigar say, “in more ways than one”) your cute Apartment manager for the dirt on other tenants?
G for girlfriend: her mood swings were bigger than Mariah Carey’s; one minute she’s supportive the next she’s lecturing, wait, that’s actually realistic of most women…add that to the positives…

Segue…for the positives: the movie held my suspense, I really didn’t know where it was going, sort of like what it must feel like to lose your brakes on Lombard Street.
I did believe the chemistry between you and the Apartment Manager. I did believe some of the homeless people and the crazy antics that must happen in libraries every day. I also appreciated your attempt to see the rift between the haves and the have nots.

Your resolution, while Hollywood in bright lights was cute, and Emilio, so are you! And see me for future script help, I’ll work for peanuts (make that almonds, I need calcium:)

Yours Respectfully and Truly,

Roxanne Baker

Making of Montgomery Clift: A Timely and Worthy Mission

With a busy life, I was able to score two Sarasota Film Fest Tickets.

My first film was a new documentary by Rob Clift, Montgomery Clift’s nephew, Making of Montgomery Clift .

First and foremost, bless Rob Clift for caring enough about his Uncle’s reputation (and indirectly his Dad who ripped Clift’s biographer for warping his life story) to try to establish facts. My friend Barry Rothman, author of Mary Ann or Ginger?, a film aficionado, basically told me the side of the story he (and most of the general public) was fed.

Unfortunately, Barry did not see the film and now I must burst his bubble, taking the torch of Rob Clift in informing him that Montgomery was not losing his mind during Judgment at Nuremberg, but tormented with rewriting the script (proof shown in this documentary) to make his role more believable. In fact, Montgomery did this with almost every script, carving it into his own language. Thus, he was not only an accomplished actor, but a script doctor as well.

He was also NOT miserable after his car accident and actually thought his refurbished face had more character for acting.

Probably addicted to pain killers and quite the drinker, he did die very young from a heart attack. But women and men alike who loved him, knew him to be engaged with life.

In this post fact world, where the loudest and most repetitive propagandist voices are the ones given credibility, Rob Clift stands up to try to set the record straight. May we all be blessed with such a noble relative. Or how about this goldenish rule, unless you know what you are saying or writing is absolutely factual about another person’s life, shut the heck up.

And one nostalgic post script: I was tickled pink to see the man who played Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) in Super Man interviewed. Who knew he was still alive?