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.

A Confession of True Romance

I had better things to do in 1993, having had my precious son during that year, 27 years ago. And I was a Tarantino naysayer up until Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his old stuff being too rough for my silky blood.

But now that I’m older and more jaded (and can mute and fast forward violent parts) I took a gander at True Romance who many a man I’ve encountered have claimed the movie as one of their favorites.

And I get it: buxom beautiful Patricia Arquette, charming Chrstian Slater, bad boys like Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini and Christopher Walken though the latter just makes me giggle. Best of all is Brad Pitt who might be the best stoner of all time (ditto in Once Upon a Time and Burn After Reading).

I enjoyed the steel drum music that served as background as the romantic music for Christian and Patricia…tell me they didn’t date with that chemistry. Confirmed, though he’s dated just about everyone.

The story’s implausible, but the mega talent mixing it up in vignettes make it all worthwhile and Tarantino iconic. And true to it’s true title, the movie opened up a portal in me, as I conjured up two romantic memories of my own.

Wisdom in the Babyteeth

I admired and enjoyed Babyteeth written by Rita Kalnejas (also known for Ghostrider) and directed by Shannon Murphy.

The complex narrative combined with super uniuqely lit shots made the two hours and change time line fly by. The convincing actors include (in order of my best to very good): Essie Davis as the caring but distraught mom, Toby Wallace Moses as the abused homeless young man, Eliza Scanlen as the lead ‘teenage’ 10th grade daughter (real age 21, but close enough), and Ben Mendelsohn as the dad trying to hold it all together.

Mix these characters with a Russian cello teacher, an Asian boy seemingly cast off by his family and a single woman on the verge of giving birth and you have a riveting story.

Watch for the party scene (cinematographer Andrew Commis) which rivaled my previous favorite in the Warren Beatty/Halle Berry Bullworth scene for eroticism. The soundtrack was fantastic as well like this gem Golden Brown by the Zephyr Quartet https://www.what-song.com/Movies/Soundtrack/103402/Babyteeth or Come Meh Way by Sudan Archives https://www.what-song.com/Movies/Soundtrack/103402/Babyteeth or For Real by Mallrat https://www.what-song.com/Movies/Soundtrack/103402/Babyteeth.

Definitely worth the time and money, Babyteeth, evocative and real!

You May Be Right, I May Be…In Love with “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn”

I paused for so long during the ZZ Top doc on Netflix that up popped a scroll of available Netflix movies. Fortunately, I looke dup from my computer at the opportune time to discover “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn.”

I love Jemaine Clement as much as I love John McEnroe. Big love, to be sure. So Jim Hosking’s written and directed film with Aubrey Plaza was up my alley.

A forewarning: watching this film is like getting on a wild stallion. The first 15 minutes is pretty jarring as every character seems to be an outrageous hyperbole of stereotype. But hang in there, once you realize that Hosking mocks EVERYONE, you settle in and start laughing.

Aubrey and Jemaine are a couple made in heaven, each out dead panning the other. Matt Berry (“What We Do in the Shadows”) and Craig Robinson (Ditto and “Pineapple Express”) are better than any comedic bromance I’ve seen in a long time. Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild” phenom, is also fantastic as a maniacal coffee shop manager.

If you get Netflix, give this outrageous comedy a try.

King of Staten Island, Dethroned

Sorry pals, this is not Apatow’s best film yet, though the movie starred many of my favorites. The reasons are varied, but primary may be the fact that Pete Davidson’s recent stand up special contained many of the anecdotes found in this based on his real life film. And because Pete is such an honest, self-deprecating story teller, I’d rather here his real personal take, than a fictionalized watered down, and I’ll even go so far as saying bloated (2 hours and 16 minutes) version.

Which is too bad since I love Bill Burr (as Pete’s mom’s first boyfriend post 9-11 widowdom) and thought his performance was off the charts. With his cheesy ginger mustache, I bought he was a hard ass fireman. Bel Powley was excellent as Pete’s assertive girl friend. Ricky Valez was cool as Pete’s bros before ho’s friend. Kevin Corrigan who does not get enough parts, has his typical cameo here. And another underrated stand up comedian, Lynne Koplitz, who I saw at McCurdy’s in Sarasota, FL, should be a regular in any comedy, had two to three scenes in this, but yet not enough leash to show her comedic talents. Pamela Adlon is great as Bill Burr’s jaded ex, though she appears to be suffering from bad Louis CK karma. And while I hate nepotism, Maude Apatow was solid as Pete’s sister.

Ok, and here’s the saddest part of King Of Staten Island, Marisa Tomei is one of my favorite actresses of all time: In the Bedroom, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and The Wrestler to name my top three, is not believable as Pete’s mom, nor Bill’s love interest. I saw through every scene and didn’t once feel for her.

I did like the movie, but it’s no 40 Year Old Virgin, Trainwreck nor even Funny People.

Gratitude and Genuflection for Driveways

My my my I felt sad when Brian Dennehy died, not that I was even that hip to his filmography, but he reminded me of my former father-in-law, a hard shelled exterior soft hearted interior Irish guy. And after seeing Driveways (fantastic screenplay written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) directed by Andrew Ahn, I am in a combination of awe and mourning.

Driveways has already garnered a nomination for the Independent Spirit Best First Script Award. And I am hoping, flattening the curve willing, that Driveways will get a big screen release, not because the Hudson Valley shots are all that profound as this movie is more about the relationships among humans, yet the emotions are so large, they deserve a big screen to let them breathe. Jay Wadley’s poignant original music is also worth theater sized speakers.

Suffice to say I was teary eyed in the first 10 minutes as Lucas Jaye is an absolute marvel as the 9 year old boy who forms a friendship with neighbor Brian Dennehy. Likewise, Hong Chau, already nominated for a Golden Globe in Downsizing, portrays Lucas’s single mom with a realistic tenderness.

I am rooting for this film as I did last year’s Peanut Butter Falcon. For a mere 3.99 on Amazon Prime, watch it now, and then go see it again when it hits the cinema.

Shirley, Surely Moss is Due an Oscar Nomination

I’ve seen Elisabeth Moss now in two truly amazing performances, Her Smell and now Shirley, directed by Josephine Decker and written by Sarah Gubbins. Gubbins has written for two of my other favorites, I Love Dick and Better Things.

But Moss, while she’s nominated up the wazoo for Mad Men and won for Handmaid’s Tale (aside, love the article I just saw questioning it’s readers whether they’d stand up against an oppressive regime…let’s see we have a good percentage of the population wearing masks alone in their car or out alone in open air, clearly, we already have our answer…sadness!), she’s yet to break into Oscar nomination territory.

Hopefully Shirley may be another opportunity, though goodness knows how any of that is going to work this year.

The movie Shirley is based on a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell which contains the mere true to life portion portraying her dysfunctional marriage (my opinion), otherwise known as loosey goosey, open relationship between Jackson and her husband, a Bennington College Professor. The aforementioned is played by another acting power house, Michael Stuhlbarg, who absolutely blew me away in Call Me By Your Name. In Shirley, I totally believe his and Moss’s cat and mouse flip flop relationship.

Likewise, I also bought the chemistry between Odessa Young and Logan Lerman (who won awards and praise for The Perks of a Wallflower), the young couple who comes to stay with Jackson and become enmeshed in the psychodrama of her tortured writing schedule and their mixed up marriage.

Two special aspects of the film were the cinematography and sound. The former arrested my interest with shots of Shirley through other people or crowds, as well as verdant shots of Vermont. And the latter struck me with sounds of a rushing train, blues music, and typewriter keys (just to name a few) that gave a pronounced impression. I’d be willing to bet an hour’s salary that Decker has been influenced by Yorgos Lanthimos, a master of fraught sound effects.

Definitely worth a watch, and someone, give this woman an Oscar Nom!

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:
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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.