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.

Funyuns and Hip Hop, A great film combination!

“The 40 Year Old Version”, Rhada Blank’s amazingly creative new film of which she both wrote and directed had the freshness of ‘Clerks’ and the ‘woke-ness’ of ‘Sorry To Bother You’.
The story of a woman at 40 trying to re-invent herself is as real as any midlife crisis story. Here, Rhada, a teacher by day and former 30 under 30 stand out playwright struggles with what will be her much belated next creative success.
Mix in the comic Greek Chorus of bodega owner, homeless man, and an outspoken naysaying neighbor and you have yourself a charming tale.
Supporting cast members were terrific; Peter Kim as her long time friend and agent, beat mixer and possible cougar fling guy Oswin Benjamin and students Imani Lewis and Haskiri Velazquez all help round out a realistic and refreshingly UN-sermonizing narrative.
Blank’s black and white film choice punctuated with color segues and asides are brilliant. This is definitely a film in need of a re-watch to catch all of her delicate layers.

Some Kind of Heaven, Some Kind of Mediocrity

I fully appreciate Lance Oppenheim’s interest in humans and the choices they make, never having seen his other pieces, among one about a man who got on a cruise and stayed on cruises for twenty years.
Yet, he has a ways to go in making a doc that titillates.
Let me school you just a bit:
First, quiet is fine, but it can also be tedious, especially at the beginning of a film when you’re already a bit discombobulated. This was so quiet (here’s where you yell, HOW QUIET WAS IT?) that I dared not eat my popcorn.
A simple fix is have some type of groovy music, even ambient if you want the sounds of a golf course sprinkler (not exactly riveting) to still come through.
Second, it’s perfectly fine to zero in on three topics that intrigue you, but at least one of the three has to have more comic relief. Oppenheim chooses three depressed souls which is unfair to The Villages. Surely there are some happy folks there who could have added balance to the film.
Third, I’m sure this wasn’t made yesterday (since no one was masked up), so how about an interesting tidbit at the end about how they’re doing during the pandemic?
So, to conclude….interesting yes, imaginative, no. Probably a lot like living at The Villages.
IN HINDSIGHT, I did ponder long after about the theory that when you choose a relationship for comfort that you lose your freedom…a conflict deeply felt by the vagabond man story which was part of the trio. Certainly this also applied to the married couple as well, since her life was affected immensely by her spouse’s legal kerfluffle.

Making Room for Pieces of a Woman in my Top Ten

Time to shove over a few selections for the phenomenal Pieces of a Woman directed by Kornel Mundruczo and written by his fellow Hungarian collaborator Kata Weber. But first, I am glad I heard the beginning of a podcast which foretold the difficult scenes in the first 20 minutes, I’d challenge that and say 27 minutes. If this had been in the theater on the big screen, I may have crawled out of my seat with anxiety. But the labor (very bad pun) is worth this sure to be Oscar nominated film.

Weber’s writing, her characters so well drawn that you forget about them as actors. Even Shia LeBouf, the troubled soul in rehab again, is tremendous as the husband who realistically attempts in many ways to bridge (a better pun, you’ll see) the grief. Obviously a different story than Blue Valentine, but just as melancholy.

The two standouts though are the women: Vanessa Kirby, new to me, but played a young Princess Margaret in The Crown. Here she is the raw, grieving mother, who is angry yet sympathetic. Her mother, played by Ellen Burnstyn steals the movie with a monologue so powerful, reminiscent of the caliber of Chadwick Boseman.

The beautiful off kilter shots of Kirby’s neck (just to give an example) help the viewer stay with the emotion rather than get sidetracked by faces. You’ve surely been in a moment where you are so traumatized or outside yourself that you’ve stared at something other than the other people in the room.

Montreal is an incredibly bleak but gorgeous metaphor and backdrop for the story, so kudos also for the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb and the complementary music by Academy Award winner Howard Shore (Hugo and Lord of the Rings). Watch this film on Netflix.

Sub ‘Twisted’ for ‘Promising’ Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s written and directed Promising Young Woman is worth seeing. Good twists, scant violence, bravo on both counts. Now let’s talk about assuming your audience is intelligent, a demographic of which I guess Emerald doesn’t care to appeal.
Much like Fincher’s Gone Girl, the characters are rather 2-D, there’s bad frat boys, there’s disgraced, vengeful women, women who just care about marrying for status and then there’s smarmy coffee shop employees and customers. Yawn.
There’s also the old stupid movie trope where no one goes through the proper channels for justice; police, legal teams, nor is there any ramifications for the ‘hero’s’ tawdry Robin Hood type ways.
And let’s get another item ballyhooed about among some dumber critics; this is NOT Carey Mulligan’s most demanding role: see “Drive’ or “Far From the Madding Crowd” for better quality acting and writing.
I love Jennifer Coolidge in everything she does, even here as Carey’s mom. Ditto Molly Shannon as Carey’s best friend’s mother. Since Alison Bree bugs the tar out of me, I was fine with her being the shallow gold digger. Bo Burnham was perfect as the old college alum who comes back to woo her, anyone else would have ruined the movie for sure.

The Twentieth Century, Oh Canada! Air Kiss!

The Twentieth Century is a satire that makes getting older a breeze…why you ask? Because I learn more about former my upstairs neighbor (me-Rochester, them-Canada). Who knew they had a famous prime minister (or any prime minister) named Mackenzie King who lacked charisma, but made up for that in spades in eccentricity.
If you happened on this movie without knowing a thing….you’d say, ‘hmm, look at this kooky flick from the 1970’s when people could get away with avant-garde.’
The magically hilarious writer/director is Matthew Rankin, who is a newbie in full length films. Encore, encore! The stars, totally commit to their wacky roles, and I’ll name the actors who had to show the most range or captured the most screen time: Dan Beirne as King, Sarianne Cormier as the Nurse, and Emmanuel Schwartz as Lady Violet.
You have to see this film to believe it. It had the subversive charm of Death Race 2000, Sylvester Stallone’s very first film.

Another Round, Perhaps another run at my top 10

Another Round written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who according to IMDB, is one of the Danish forefounders of “dogme95, a set of rules dedicated to reintroducing the element of risk in film-making,” is best known to me from his direction in the great Thomas Hardy adaptation from “Far From the Maddening Crowd”.
Another Round passes the great movie litmus test of evoking a mood or feeling that reverberates long after the movie ends…in this case a feeling of mindfulness over reckless abandon. After witnessing several men and teenagers lose their control over moderate drinking habits, I was left with the ‘watch what you’re doing’ self-observation even in the reality that I fall under the CDC’s guidelines on healthy average weekly drinks.
The acting is top notch; Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen (four time winner of Best Danish actor), Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe portray a bros before hoes gang who, like my never to be seen or read screenplay “Buck Up” get together and decide to re-claim their identities through a drinking experiment.
A universal truth, for me, and evidently the psychological study’s founder Finn Skarderud, I believe having a tiny buzz certainly adds to my extroversion and ability to speak my mind. It helps shut off my rigid self-consciousness. What I definitely DON’T believe in is doing this 24-7, which also led to the demise (spoiler alert) of the four men.
The film is a scathing look at alcohol misuse and abuse by both young and old, and yet I see dumb asses who are billing this film as a “delightful comedy” (Sean Burns WBUR, and Hollywood Reporter Scott Roxborough). They must also think Leaving Las Vegas was a laugh riot spoof. Lord, send breathalyzers to both these folks.
To end on a positive note, Thomas Vinterberg helps bring up our society’s overuse of alcohol and yet, to give Burns and Roxborough a break, since no children were hurt during the film and since we do collectively like to giggle at drunks-Otis Andy Griffith, your ‘drunk Uncle’, he possibly sanitizes the negative results a little too much.

News of the World, a Mainstream Media Metaphor

You know what your going to get when you turn on or read mainstream news, you choose what makes you feel congratulated with stories that say, ‘you’re right!’ or ‘be afraid’ which in this sense, means, ‘You’re left.’ Ok enough of my political humor…I’m a moderate for the record, wishing everyone could always compromise and be adults…and with that to finish off the metaphor…in my perfect world, the news of the world stories would be more like the truly precise and helpful graphs they (the Times) posts about Covid outbreaks. A factual news paper with the obvious exception of the Op-Ed pages.

And since my m.o. is for everyone to be happy and get along, and since we did sell many copies of Jiles’ book News of the World for that very reason-the ‘nice story aspect,’ a feel good, feel right tale that brings everyone comfort, I was in the mood for a lazy river ride, where I can tell the beats coming up in a story. And who is more of a reassuring actor than Tom Hanks, ground zero Covid celeb?

I guess I raised my hopes for maybe a more complex story given the two who adapted the screenplay were Paul Greenglass (who also directed News of the World and directed the fantastic Captain Phillips) and Luke Davies who wrote both Lion and Beautiful Boy, both complex and very moving films.

And I really do like Tom Hanks (should receive the most handsome beard and mustache set for sure), but maybe it’s that I can’t unsee him in his better films, so everything else now is simply gravy. Or perhaps the story was just too simple…And I really don’t want to hear how profound the young girl (what gives with the Howdy Doody makeup freckles?) as (Helena Zengel) since she didn’t have a lot to do, REALLY, and young actors like Lucas Jaye from Driveways did ten times the acting this year.

Sorry to bring the bad news to the world…News of the World is just mediocre to me.

Black Bear and Black Bottom (Ma Rainey’s)

Black Bear, written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, had a lot of promise, yet landed with a thud. Let’s just say it’s a movie about a screenwriter full of ideas.
The lead is one of my favorite comedic actresses Aubrey Plaza (my faves: Ingrid Goes West &An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn). And while she is great here, I did not find her character sympathetic enough to care about, she was just another histrionic female who I would not want to know. Ditto with actress Sarah Gadon, super acting, but another broad I’d steer clear of in real life.
The male of the triangle, actor Christopher Abbott who could be a long lost brother of Shia LeBouef, is terrific as the sadistic and narcissistic husband and boyfriend, but at the risk of sounding redundant, not someone I want to know. Hence, lack of plot plus unlikable characters equals an annoying movie.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was also annoying, but only until I settled in and quit fixating on Viola’s lip syncing and the obvious playwright’s (August Wilson’s original, screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson) techniques of a one room hostage situation where we are stuck in a room with people arguing. Once I got past those items, I marveled in Chadwick Boseman’s performance. Not being hip to Black Panther (just not a super hero movie fan), I was amazed at the depth of his acting. He BECAME his trumpet playing character, not overly acted (as I found the two record execs to be-Jeremy Shamos and Jonny Coyne). Ma’s love interest, actress Taylour Paige, also seemed rather overblown, but strategic in standing out in an ensemble as formidable as Davis and Boseman. Viola Davis is an acting force, I genuflect to her power. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is definitely worth seeing, just be ready to don your Broadway thespian patience cap.