Two Semi Oldies: Both Blue in Language and History

I recently watched two PPLL (Pre-Pension Library Loaners) and was surprised at their similarity regarding a legion of f-bombs. The two films also both have either a sad back or front story.

I took out Object of My Affection after starting a play reading class in which we started with one act by Wendy Wasserstein. While I had heard of her Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play The Heidi Chronicles, I didn’t know much abut her. She wrote the screenplay for The Object of My Affection (directed by Nicholas Hytner, who these days directs mostly National Theater Live productions). Wendy Wasserstein had a sad ending to her brief life (died of cancer at age 55 after having a baby late in life (49)).

In her honor I watched The Object of My Affection which despite it’s Rotten Tomatoes 49% was very real and well written. The only negatives I saw was the hacky saxophone music (like it was stuck in the 80’s still) and the acting. Both Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd meant well, but their performances were no match for the script’s verisimilitude. Which I think is rare, believing the words, but not the people speaking them. Again, a tribute to Wendy W. I will say something about solid acting in the film, too, and that was by John Pankow who has done mostly tv work as of late.

The second f-bomb laden film I watched was for totally different reasons. My favorite co-worker, Barry, and I are on a constant conversation about film. He has suggested mostly great films for me to watch. This latest, Auto Focus, directed by Paul Schrader (coming out next week with what looks like a blockbuster with called First Reformed), had its pluses and minuses. The sad front story here was the move’s focus of Bob Crane’s sad descent into drinking and sex addiction after hitting it big with Hogan Heroes.

The actors Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe were terrific, yet the movie felt a bit clunky. A little cliche in the beginning and downright uncomfortably cloying as far as their characters fascination with sex. Ironically, I realize what they did back in the early 70’s was nothing compared to the probable rampant porn addiction happening today.

I forgot to mention that Barry’s recommendation was partly due to our common fascination and admiration with Richard Dawson and how he is the person who introduced (unknowingly) Bob Crane to his future assassin, John Carpenter.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a few rainy afternoons in Sarasota.

Disobedience, Two Rachels Sitting in a Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Don’t you feel proud to remember something before you end up doing an internet search?

Like I was going to pose the question: does Rachel Weisz play the same femme fatale character in every darn movie?….but then I remembered, ‘wait, no! Remember one of your favorite films OF ALL TIME (thanks Kanye) called “Truth” where she played Michael Caine’s loving daughter. A maudlin role, but not a malevolent one. But then came another memory question: why can’t I remember The Constant Gardener for which she won the Academy Award when I adore Ralph Fiennes? And a non-memory question: why did she leave poor Darren Aronofsky (who has now also been left by Jennifer Lawrence)?

As usual, I digress, but at least I left out my wish for the halcyon days, because guess what Disobedience (written and directed by Sebastian Lelio, [Fantastic Woman]) was about? The Jewish culture! I’m on a Hebrew Roll as they say. If you’ve seen the movie poster for Disobedience, you can almost cite the plot to me without ever seeing the film. Rachel Weisz comes home for the funeral of her father only to be tempted back to her true lesbian tendencies that had her excommunicated from the Hasidic culture.

“Fun” fact, wiki Hasidic Jewish Culture and this definition pops up: “The Hasidic movement is unique in its focus on the joyful observance of God’s commandments (mitzvot), heartfelt prayer, and boundless love for God and the world He created.” Which sounds so kind, right? According to the film Disobedience, all’s good as long as you follow the strict rules, which does not include homosexuality or women with fun hairstyles or a sexy sense of fashion.

Rachel Weisz was great as the self-loathing lesbian. I don’t really care for Rachel McAdams as a rule. She was fine in The Notebook, but I don’t see a thing on her IMDB page she’s done since that thrills me. On a Rona Barrett (how’s that for an old reference?) note, she did just have a baby with Jamie Linden and it has to frost her onions that on his IMDB page there are nothing but photos of he and Zoe Deschanel. Anyway, she’s fine for what she had to do in this film; repressed scowling.

Who stole the show for me was Alessandro Nivola, of whom I’ve not had much exposure. His understated, yet moving portrayal of a man scorned was original.

Not a fantastic film, but it held my interest for at least veering from textbook screenwriting in the last half.

Late Marriage from 2001, Consummate This!

After seeing Foxtrot and loving it at Burns Court last week, I sought out an older film starring Lior Ashkenazi with whom I am now obsessed. In a good way of course, but perhaps in a negative sense as he makes me miss both an emotionally abusive social worker (holy oxymoron) I dated and my other Jewish five year once a week boyfriend. Oh well, what are you gonna do? In an odd coincidence, I just started a play reading class at the Temple Beth Shalom. Suffice to say, I’d definitely be willing to convert if it brought back the latter of the two relationships previously mentioned (it’ll never happen since I haven’t heard from said person since the Trump election, no connection other than the date, although perhaps he thought Trump’s slogan was “Make America Date Again”, hardy har har har). But I digressed before I even began! My apologies.

Late Marriage from 2001 was directed by Dover Koshashvili an dis a fun film for both sexes. The basic premise is a Jewish man in his 30’s is causing his family anxiety by not getting married. His relationship with a divorcee does not sit well with his fundamentalist family, and hence, conflict ensues.

But it’s a fun conflict in that the film is written sardonically with terrific sex scenes and great chemistry between Ashkenazi and the hot divorcee (great actress Ronit Elkabetz). Interesting twists forbid me to reveal any more, but suffice to say that the snappy dialogue and interesting narrative (also written by the director) are well worth seeking out at your local library or Netflix.

Foxtrot, Sins of the Father

Foxtrot is an amazing film written and directed by Samuel Moaz. This blog will be exceptionally short because to say much about the film would spoil the various and fantastic surprises that occur.

I can and will say a few things, of course.

First, you know the old real estate slogan: location, location, location. To call Moaz’s keen eye for camera angle artistic, is an understatement. From the downward angle at a mesmerizing tile floor, to the upward reflection off a stagnant water filled trench, to the soldiers’ tilted, sinking bunker, Moaz helps keep us visually stimulated and off center adding to the suspense.

Moaz is ten years older than Asghar Farhadi, yet his film has the delicious obscurity of A Separation and Farhadi’s other great films. This appears to be only Moaz’s third film, yet I know he’ll be a film force to be reckoned with and that Foxtrot is only the beginning.

Tremendous acting was done by: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler and Yonaton Shiray. Bravo to all, but especially the writer and director, remember his name folks, Samue Moaz!

Lean on Pete, Saddle Up, It’s a Wild Ride

My brother recommended Lean on Pete (directed by Andrew Haigh, also of 45 Years, another solid film) and I joked with him after that he’d owe for the Valium needed to come down from the angst. But the bigger question is, my brother didn’t like the Florida Project due to its realism, so why did he like Lean on Pete, which was more harrowing by a long shot?

No matter, we all have our pet topics, some of us are PETA people, some care about child neglect and abuse (me), others more concerned with wayward youts (that’s a My Cousin Vinny relate) and I’m assuming my brother’s soft spot.

Lean on Pete took the torture your hero screenplay conceit to new heights. The obstacles were plenty and while the movie kept me in suspense, due to its 2 hours running length frayed my nerves. At one point, I turned to my date (a non-sequitur specialist) and said, “I’m going to kill my brother” since I was tired of shielding my overly sensitive eyes and ears to the violence.

I will say the movie did an excellent job in the putting me in a different mind space as I walked out of the theater thinking I might be homeless, especially as I walked solo home, carting my take out guac and salsa, passing by packs of families and dinner dates.

Yet Charlie (the main character of the film, portrayed AMAZINGLY well by Charlie Plummer, also of The Dinner) understood, and I empathized, that it takes a strong person to deny needing anyone’s help, and to suck it up and go it alone. It beats the hell out of wanting someone’s loong story to come to some type of meaningful conclusion.

Supportin cast-wise, Steve Buschemi was great as the horse owner, Chloe Seivgny fantastic as the cynical female jockey Steve Zahn as drunken a-hole (sorry no other way to say that), Travis Fimmel as drunken dad. The only weak link was the Aunt, who seemed too obscure, but I guess at the point in the film where she is discovered, we just want white milk and not a white Russian.

See this film, it may get a nom or two come awards time.

In a World…..there are still valuable indies: Band Aid

Four score and seven years ago, no not really, just 10 months ago, a little indie called Band Aid appeared at Sundance and was nominated for the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Festival (it also won at the Calgary Festival, proving once again that Canadians are generally kinder than Americans). Tis true, I have firsthand experience back to back in 2002.

At any rate, my question is, it was prize worthy and then what happened? Why didn’t it get a wider release? How does the horror and violent crap get to screens everywhere (case in point, right now at Hollywood 11: A Quiet Place, Rampage and Avengers….) and that’s if you only officially count violence and horror, I know from the trailer that the anal chugging in Blockers and the physical-she-fell-on-her-head and gained confidence Amy Schumer debacle are not quality films.

But enough soap box. Get a hold of Band Aid, Zoe Lister-Jones wrote and directed (and sang!) this gem about a couple mourning or avoiding mourning a miscarriage. Some hilarious dialogue ensues involving Fred Armisen as a sex addict as well as witty fight songs (no, not Katy Perry’s, better!).

A cameo by my darling Susie Essman and a mention of one of my favorite singers (BabyFace) helped keep me smiling for 91 minutes.

Adam Pallyy was great as Zoe’s husband and talented in his own right. He’s got Mike Birbiglia affability and charm.

Now was the story perfect? No, in fact that’s what makes it real. There’s a conflict scene in which Adam’s character deliberately picks a fight when he should be rejoicing, and something that could have been cookie cut out of my second marriage. But that’s exactly what makes the movie even better. It portrays just how confused and self-destructive we can be when on the brink of success.

I’m just hoping our world is not so full of distractions these days that love can’t sustain the pressure. Guess there’s only one way to find out.

If you get a chance, which I hardly do, also watch Zoe in a Life in Pieces on CBS. There’s enough humor to get you through the corn.

Way Late to the Party: Bridge of Spies

What can I say? When Bridge of Spies came out I avoided it like the plague thinking it was a war movie, combined with the fact that Tom Hanks has become like chocolate cake. He looks good, tastes good, but gosh darn it, is he healthy to like so much? I felt the same way watching him in Bridge of Spies as I did watching Meryl Streep in August, Osage County, literally almost tearing up at the thought of the day when she (in this case, he) won’t be acting any longer.

But let’s not forget what brought me late to the part to begin with, and that is the majesty of Mark Rylance. If you enjoy dry British humor and have some time to kill, google his Tony Acceptance speeches (2008, 20011). Now I still say he didn’t deserve the Oscar as much as Tom Hardy did the same year for The Revenant, but I will say that I lust after his quiet demure attitude and handsome appearance.

The movie was not violent to my relief and I will always cherish the memory of viewing it with my Grandma and Dad. Not to mention, because Tom Hanks is always so good, I looked like the superstar for picking it out at the library. Thanks Tom!

Wes Anderson’s genius: “Isle of Dogs”, Eye’ll Grab Ya

I’m no artist, but a few times when I’ve attempted to draw or paint a person’s face, I’ve noticed, even in my lame limited effort how striking you create eyes to be. Wes Anderson surely knows and it’s the eyes of all the characters in Isle of Dogs that are so riveting.

In addition to not being an artist, I’m also not a dog person. HOWEVER, at my grandma’s 95th birthday party (Go Florence, Go Florence!), I fed a visiting dog a carrot (after being encouraged by its owner that he liked such food) and out of a circle of 8 folks, my lap was then chosen for the pup’s nap. Guess I should write a parody book, “If You Feed a Dog a Carrot” (rip off of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”). My point is, if a dog is sweet and calm, I could be convinced to own one.

My second point is, due to the eyes of the dogs in Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola‘s (yes, son of that Coppola), I could have teared up, that’s how good this movie was.

But as Wes Anderson (and perhaps Roman, too) is want to do, he often goes one step too far in making his plot so darn intricate, that I lose the wonder and awe of his creativity to say, ‘ok, enough’. It could be a gender thing, sorry men. Often men go one step too far, one too many text messages, one too many comments to impress, tickling a minute too long where I want to scream, “OK, enough!” I always think of the Billy Joel song, “Leave a Tender Moment Alone,” (aside: am listening to a live version on YouTube right now and damn, can I just say I love Billy Joel) or as a tried to tell someone recently, just stay on the boat, stay on the boat (aka don’t go overboard).

I can forgive Wes Anderson though, the guy (AND Roman) are true geniuses and while if you looked at the basic story structure of Moonrise Kingdom and Isle of Dogs and would find the same basic core story, because he dresses it in such a new funky outfit, it’s fantastically novel at the same time.

I should mention some of the stand out voices in this stop motion animation: Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and Bryan Cranston, all of whom I’ve had a crush on at one time or another. And for the gents, you have Scar Jo’s sultry voice as the show dog named Nutmeg. So how can you go wrong? Go See Isle of Dogs, it’ll warm your pet loving, or even loathing, heart.

Angels and Insects Showing Some Skin in a PPLL from 1996

I came upon Angels and Insects via my manager Kate who is from London. She had mentioned seeing British born Mark Rylance on Broadway and still behind culturally, I had only heard of him visa vie his Academy Award winning performance in Bridge of Spies. So I scoured his IMDB page and there he was in Angels and Insects (novel by A.S. Byatt, directed by Philip Haas, adapted by Belinda Haas) winner of the Palm d”ors at Cannes. By the way, a quick study on the husband wife Haas team doesn’t show any recent work and yet I also don’t see any note of death. Perhaps they are simply retired and enjoying life.

The movie was fantastic and I’m actually surprised it didn’t gain more awards. Mark Rylance is brilliant as the introverted and humble scientist who falls into a wealthy family. Kristin Scott Thomas, as you well know, is one of my favorites. I keep finding films, both old and new, and am always excited. Here, while she was supposed to be playing the underclass science nerd, she can’t help glowing in that sultry way of hers. Patsy Kensit plays the lilting Lily, Rylance falls for (and research on her indicated she has me beat by a marriage or two, all to rockers, and none of which lasted more than 4 years). Douglas Henshall plays the bullying brother and was tremendous. He’s still active in British tv and was nominated recently for a BAFTA in Scotland.

In case you’d want to borrow it from your local library, I won’t say too much about the plot. Suffice to say, it takes some twists and turns and (and picture Groucho Marx and his cigar) speaking to twists and turns, has some of the best filmed sex scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Those Brits don’t mind showing the bodies and why not? They all looked great!

“Love Simon” or at the very least Very Much Liked

Ok, so I didn’t love “Love Simon”, but I did like it a lot. Let’s focus on the positive first. I’m broke as a joke from now until December 1st when I pray NYSUT makes good on my 30 years as a teacher. That said, my kind generous friend Carrie treated me to the movie after picking my tired keister up after work. So that’s a positive in its own right.

The ‘teen’ actors were all fantastic and I’ll name my top four: Nick Robinson (23) plays a great high school senior wrestling with his sexuality becoming public. Katherine Langford, 22 who I haven’t seen because she stars in 13 Reasons Why which I think is exploitative to teens vulnerable to suicidal ideation. Yet she does well here as the jilted gal. Keiynan Lonsdale (27!) is wonderful as a humble classmate and Logan Miller is wonderful as the cringe worthy guy who tries way too hard to get a girl (and trust me) this doesn’t just happen to teens, I know 60 year olds doing the same damn thing.

The dialogue was mostly witty and novel. The fact that gay people ‘have to come out’ while heterosexuals just get to be was well taken. Technology (emails and texts) were interwoven smoothly. The school seemed even more repressed than is the norm and the rallying of Nick Robinson’s character seemed a bit over the top, but this is a movie and heightened drama is essential.

Now the bad news: oy! Jennifer Garner and blech! Josh Duhamel. Ok, Jennifer did an adequate job and super role model as a caring, but non-oppressive mother, but the corny couple dynamic of she and Josh was nauseating. And Josh Duhamel should really look for a nice little game show to host. He’s got the pretty boy Ryan Seacrest look going for him, but drama ‘ain’t his bag’.

Greg Berlanti, the director, is new to me, but was nominated for a Golden Globe for a 2012 mini series called Political Animals.

Definitely worth seeing especially if you are in need of some optimism.