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.

Coogan + Brydon=Bliss: A Trip to Greece

Here’s a first: I rented the new, fourth and unfortunately last of Michael Winterbottom’s Trip series with the delectable Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon AND was enjoying it so intensely, I watched it in spurts in purpose. Their impersonations, singing, sound effects are so dizzying, their conversations so witty and fun, that why you would you want to gobble it all down in one sitting?

While the middle two movies were more basic, the first and last of this series are home run hits. Part travelogue; in this a gorgeously shot trip to Greece and part foodie paradise, the men allegedly are orchestrating a chronicle for the UK Observer amongst all this hedonism.

What’s special about this series is the men play a fictionalized version of themselves: their names are their real names, they have their acting careers as fodder (here for instance, Coogan’s 7 Bafta’s) and their personal lives are a close facsimile to reality (Coogan is single, Brydon married). This last contrast adds poignancy to each movie, this one especially.

I love these two men and am sad this is the last. I could watch them talk, eat, banter forever.

For rent now from IFC for a mere 7.99. Worth the over 90 minute smile I had on my face.

Here’s my own coming attractions: Did you know I also write book reviews? Here’s the link to my recent review posted on Goodreads and feel free to support the book shop I work for at www.bookshop.org/shop/book1 ! Here’s the review link:
View all my reviews

Three (new films) for the Road (Couch): Arkansas, The Wrong Missy, & Deerskin

I’m slipping folks, between Covid 19 c blocking my movie theater experience and a new temp job, my review writing has gone out the window like a worn out mask.

But here’s three new films I watched this week from the old couch or recliner:

Arkansas: I’ve come to adore Vince Vaughn, in fact, gosh darn it, I’m going to go to his filmography and try to catch up. There’s something about his dark side and hapless demeanor that makes me sympathize more with him than his machismo contemporary Ben Affleck. In Arkansas, he plays a no nonsense drug runner. The cast is also supported by the genius John Malkovich, another guy, akin to Jeff Goldblum or John Goodman, whose performance, you know, can make even a bad movie, great. Rounding out the cast were lesser knowns (Liam Helmsworth, formerly Mr. Miley Cyrus and CLARK DUKE, in caps since he directed the movie and actually hails from Arkansas). Definitely worth a rental and much better than the lame 49% Rotten Tomatoes.

The Wrong Missy: I also confess to love David Spade’s humor. I could watch the guy eat toast and find it funny, so Adam Sandler’s produced The Wrong Missy, while hideously dumb in parts, had me in the over ten fingers worth of laugh out louds. Lauren Lapkus is a comedic genius and I predict she’ll be the next Melissa McCarthy as far as star power. Directed by Harvard grad/stand up comedian (how’s that for oxymoron?) Tyler Spindel, the movie’s tropical hotel cinematography is quite grand. I also have to mention a minor character who really made me laugh, Nick Swardson.

Deerskin: Last, but not least, those crazy French…written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, starring Jean Dujardin (Academy Award Winner for The Artist) is a comedy horror flick about a guy unhinged after a marital break up. And wow, knew she looked familiar but Adele Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) plays his side kick. A great movie for PETA folks seeking vengeance, this film is well written and acted.

He makes you work for it: Clint Eastwood’s Bird

I decided watching Bird from 1988 was a lot of work. And then I thought, wait, so was his most recent The Mule, as was Million Dollar Baby. Let’s face it, Clint is one of those Dad’s who made you do chores, lots of them.

Written by Joel Oliansky, Bird is darkly lit, with many a rainy night car ride. I understand that much of the jazz world lived in the night, and certainly Bird’s life contained more darkness than light, still, at a bloated 2 hours plus, at times I felt a The Irishman falshback.

Also, the chemistry between Forest Whitaker (Charlie Bird) and (his common law wife Chan) Diane Venora (who I liked in the modern day take on Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke) was uneven at first. But eventually their union grew on me when I realized that were two eccentric people trying to cobble a relationship all the while one was a jazz genius/heroin junkie/drinker were bound to seem wobbly.

Forest Whtiaker is an amazing actor and I just realized I’ve never seen his academy Award winning performance in The Lat King of Scotland. I am also glad I got to learn about Charlie Parker via biopic.

Extra Ordinary, How ‘Bout Above Average Ordinary

Extra Ordinary is the feature length directorial debut of the creative duo Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. And while it wasn’t ‘extra’ (I love that term spoken in Uncut Gems by Julia Fox to describe “Howard” Adam Sandler), it was pretty original and entertaining.

Here’s why:
The dead pan jokes mostly landed….there were a few clunkers and some of it a little cliche, BUT because the story was so original and the cast s innocently convincing, the humor gelled.

The actors were ordinarily real…Maeve Higgins (who co-wrote the film) stars and while a lesser version of Olivia Colman, does a good job as the lonely spinster driving instructor. Barry Ward who plays the widower love interest is almost too hot for the lost puppy role, but he fits the bill channeling different ghosts’ personalities. Claudia O’Doherty who played the clueless roommate in Netflix’s great comedy called Love, is perfect as ‘Satan’s Servant’s the angry wife. And last but certainly not least, was the creme de la creme, Will Forte as the aforementioned demon seed.

To elaborate, Will Forte has carved the perfect niche of playing lovable and lame. He did it in The Last Man on Earth, way back in his SNL days creating the character of Mac Gruber, and of course, as the fallible human in Nebraska.

One other bonus of this comedy/sci fi is the gross out factor was kept to a minimum. During the one fight scene at the end, I easily turned my head for a minute or two to avoid and any other violence was my speed, comic book level.

The movie was written well enough I’m willing to watch another Maeve Higgins screenplay and watch The Rainbow Bridge Hotel, especially since my senior thesis was on Love Canal, as this comedy set next to chemical plants near Niagara Falls.

An A+ for Makowsky’s Bad Education

I love when I find a screenwriter who captures the essence of a story and without any fluff, builds a well told narrative. Well this week, Mike Makowsky’s Bad Education came out on HBO and Mr. Makowsky, you made high honor roll!

Being a retired vet of the NYS Education’s Public School System, I can attest that Makowsky’s tale was spot on. Of course there’s no screenplay if you don’t have the right director and here newish guy Cory Finley filled the bill stylistically painting small town Long Island yearning to be as opulent as its Big Brother-Big Apple mover and shaker.

And talk about a perfect cast!!! Can we please sneak this in as a major motion picture contender and give Hugh Jackman a Oscar nomination? The guy is multi-talented and willing to take risks, so what do you say? Come on HBO, gather your inner Long Island chutzpah and stand up to Netflix! Equally great and already an Oscar winner, Allison Janney always nails her acting mark. Other solid performances came from Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan (anyone in something called Emo the Musical sounds fun to me), Annaleigh Ashford (about to star in the next Woody Allen project) and last but not least, Pat Healy, I love this man and evidently Makowsky does, too, as he’s in another one of his movies, Take Me, which is not on my watch list. Makowksy’s one other IMDB listed movie for writing is I think We’re Alone Now with Dinklage and Gainsbourg, so yes please, sing me up for a future viewing of that as well.

Can’t recommend this enough!

Shirkers, Halcyon Days

Shirkers is a 2018 documentary written and directed by Sandi Tan which made the short list for Oscars Best Docs of 2019. As much as I talk smack against Amanda of The Big Picture Podcast (mainly because she has not given Shia LaBouef nor Robert Pattinson the credit they deserve), I am blessed to have watched this doc at her encouragement.

Shirkers tells the story of Sandi’s young adult infatuation with an exotic American film director living in her native country of Singapore. Sandi’s shaky upbringing and non-conformist personality led her to seek out charismatic mentors.

Without giving spoilers, Sandi becomes estranged from her man of admiration and attempts to discover the murky parts of the man’s life of which she was unaware.

The music by Ishai Adar and Brad Dutz set the a dreamy atmosphere. Movie clips from classics like Fitzcarraldo and Sex, Lies, and Videotape add to the intrigue. Last, any woman who had an older man crush as a youth will appreciate Tan’s halcyon view of her past, and her attempt to recapture the naive innocence we all once had of the world.

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

If I can recommend one fun adult movie during these quarantine times, ‘ it’s A Good Old Fashioned Orgy written and directed by Alex Gregory and Peter Hyuck, a dynamic comedy duo also known for their work on Veep and King of the Hill.

Rotten Tomatoes critics are pretty harsh at their 39% and this is from a girl who doesn’t care for American Pie type movies (or even-brace yourself-Something About Mary), BUT A Good Old Fashioned Orgy had that sweet spot (dirty pun intended) of a near perfect cast and really funny AND smart writing.

Let’s discuss the titillating cast: Jason Sudeikis is always a wise ass we can love, and if you didn’t like We’re the Millers, get the heck out of here. Lake Bell may be one of my favorite modern comedic actresses (I highly recommend her movie In A World). A ‘new’ guy to me and a great surprise was Tyler Labine who plays the chubby funny guy (I’m going to seek out Someone Marry Barry starring same). I have an interesting attraction-repulsion for Nick Kroll who is excellent as the blackberry obsessed financial analyst and last, I really like Will Forte and Lucy Punch who play a nerdy just married couple.

So give it a chance! It’s not as raunchy as the title might lead you to believe. Guess that makes it a bit of a tease, wink, wink.

Big Time Talent, Big Time Adolescence

Bravo Jason Orley! I liked the story you wrote called Big Time Adolescence and I liked your directing, too. Though I’m not surprised because I also enjoyed Pete Davidson’s comedy special which you also directed. You’re one sharp cookie!

The story of Big Time Adolescence, a younger guy’s bromance with his big sister’s ex-boyfriend was very realistic, as was the ex-boyfriend’s arrested development. We all know one of those guys who gets mired in his hometown, never evolving, basking in his glory days as party animal.

Pete Davidson is perfectly (type?) cast as ‘the dude’ and his little buddy, Griffin Gluck is definitely going places, spot on as the skeptically naive high schooler. I’ll definitely be on the look out for a new movie he stars in called Dinner in America. Rounding out the cast are Jon Cryer (keep acting!!) and pinch your cheeks cute Thomas Barbusca. While this is mostly a bro movie, two actresses who stood out were Emily Arlook and Oona Laurence. And I have to give one more shout out to the man who played the grouchily disinterested Dad on the couch.

Realistic and fun, yet with a tinge of anxious drama. My kind of movie. Thanks Jason Orley!

Abe: Reality After the Mirage

For a day or two, Rotten Tomatoes had Abe at 100% and in Covid times, that’s like walking the desert and seeing a fountain up ahead. By the time I got to said fountain aka Abe, the RT rating was at a much more sensible 71%.

And rightly so…
Is the story of Abe excellent fodder?
Battling relatives of different religions and nationalities is certainly intriguing and even if you’re a Wonder Bread white girl, you can still appreciate strife caused by differences in political opinions.

HOWEVER, take the same intrigue and then stretch it out like silly putty so that the images are now of the Circus mirror type, and you have how the four writers (too many cooks adage, SO apropos here) screwed up this script.

Noah Schnapp (the boy Abe) and Seu Jorge (Chico the chef) are super realistic and great, but besides the Uncle (I tried finding the actor on IMDB and I don’t know if he was ever named in the dang film and without photos, many actors are without them on Abe’s page, I can’t name the actor), ALL of the other family members are hack actors. Or were given the Circus mirror of a script and seem like hack actors.

I was moved by Abe’s story and the neglect form his rather ignorant parents who seemed so blase’ about most everything, but then would clamp down on punishments hashtag #stupidparenting.

The other highlight was the soundtrack, a mix of Brazilian reggae fusion by Gui Amabis.

Surreal Times Call for Surreal Film: She’s Allergic to Cats: subtitle Kinky for Kinsky

Perfect for dog groomers or anyone in need of a far our cult film, this yum yum flick is for a night when you’re up to your neck in what the f’s hurled toward Covid19 frustrations.

I do need to watch Carrie from 1978 which is heavily referenced, (not a Stephen King movie fan with the huge EXCEPTION of The Shining), as the main character Mike Pinkney plays a Hollywood resident dying to re-make Carrie into an all cats movie, which having only suffered the trailer, has to be better than the actual Cats musical from this past year.

Pinkney is awesome as the nerd who can’t get his life together and paired with spot on blurred day dreamy cinematography proves he’s merely phoning in his dog grooming assignments.

His agent, portrayed and voiced by a comically critical German misogynist, Flula Borg,is now just as good on a new Netflix series called Brews Brothers. A smaller role, though well played for kinky and kookiness is Sonja Kinsky, Natasshja’s (not a typos, strangely spelled first name) daughter and Klaus Kinsky’s grand daughter (insert cuckoo clock sound effect). And talk about odd coincidence, Natasshja was nominated for a Golden Globe for a horror flick called Cat People.

I love this film, written and directed by Michael Reich based on his real life. His previous endeavors have been in the music video arena. Support the little creative geniuses and check this movie out.