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.

Best Foreign Film List Complete: “Collective”

Since the onslaught of shut downs a year ago, I occasionally fall into a black hole where I fear the world is falling apart. A combination of Megyn Kelly’s disturbing news report on Bill Maher’s show last week and watching a best foreign film nominee, called “Collective”, I once again woke up in the middle of the night worried about the world.

Small Price to pay, I guess, as Collective (written and directed by Alexander Nanau) was very much worth seeing. Think “Spotlight” in real doc time, only this time, the topic is not sexual abuse, but hospital fraud. and I don’t mean just one hospital with an evil greedy administrator, I’m talking systemic. Fortunately not America, however, with less contact and more ‘protocol’s aka ways to hide dirt under the rug, I wonder (especially at 3 a.m.) if this could happen here.
Take a tragic nightclub fire (coincidence that the scream metal band sang anti-government songs?) and then multiply the loss with people who should have survived kicking off in hospitals…then sprinkle in some fearless, tireless journalists (sports journalists mind you, who do seem to be some of the straightest shooters here as well-see Outkick’s new coverage) and a Jimmy Stewart type Minister of Health (Vlad Voiculescu) and you have yourself one excellent doc. Just prepare to be a bit sleep deprived the next day.

I still hold to my number one foreign film being The Life Ahead, but Collective definitely take the 2nd place spot over Another Round.

Best Foreign Film? Who Wore it Better?

I’ve now seen all but two of the Best Foreign Films (remaining “Shudder” which I won’t ever see since I hate horror and Collective, which is still on my watch list), but “Two of Us” was one I am glad I strapped myself to the recliner for.
Mind you, I did start cutting the seat belt off, as the beginning was NOT good. Not sure why the beginning camera work was so out of focus….didn’t make sense to me.
However, after the first 5 minutes or so, the film leveled out and became a gorgeous tale of love and commitment. Writer/Director Filippo Meneghetti is an excellent storyteller and does well making you ‘wait for it’. The acting by Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier was tremendous. Martine’s ‘children’ played by Lea Drucker and Jerome Varanfrain were also topnotch, though their choices were whacked toward the end. If my choice is my Mom’s happiness based on a life choice that doesn’t affect me but I am not a fan of, I’m still for what makes my Mom happy. In fact, kind of sounds like real life.

So, until I see Collective, here’s my ranking (and I think it’s unfair to say Minari (it’s American!) is FF so sorry sucker, you’re out):
The Life Ahead
Another Round
Two of Us

“The Father”, the Hon and the Holy almost

There’s so much that is moving about The Father. First and foremost, the screenplay adapted by Christopher Hampton (Oscar winner for Dangerous Liaisons, nominated for Atonement) from playwright Florian Zeller’s play, originally billed as a black comedy. In directing this film, Florian Zeller has stripped out comedic elements, simultaneously sharpening the realism of what it must be like to have dementia, reminiscent of what the film “Eternal Beauty” did for schizophrenia.
Brilliant acting accentuates the written word with a pair nonpareil in Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins. Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots are also fantastic. I was less thrilled with Mark Gatiss and Rufuss Sewell, but it could be because their characters were cold and abusive.
While plays turned to film can seem stifling (this year’s model for me was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), The Father’s flat turned nursing home did not feel suffocating, a credit to the writing, acting and cinematography.
The Father will not make my top 10, for all the reasons the other films do, portraying more well rounded universal problems, themes and varied emotions.

Nomadland, Important Social Cause, Mildly Impactful Flick

Somewhere along the way Frances McDormand got sucked in. Sucked into the anger and melancholia of social causes. Mind you, in a thin photo finish rival with environmental problems, displaced and disregarded, homelessness is a major problem…but I digress. I guess my main question is: if an actress continues to portray characters of real life problems, does the actress also give a large portion of her multi-million dollar worth to help solve said problem? Or is she simply a poser?
At any rate, Nomadland gets a lot right. First, the REAL people (like the ones in Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets) deserve a spotlight to bring about awareness. Poignant stories of widowers and displaced workers should be a focus.
Second, the cinematography of southwestern desert rock formations, California coastline and redwood trees were breathtaking.
But Frances and David Strathairn simply get in the way because I know they will never REALLY experience any hardship with homes or salaries. Not going to make my top 10 and I would debate anyone that the beauty and poignancy of The Last Shift beats the impact of this movie all day long.

Minari, a Sophie’s Choice for my top 10

What do you do when your favorite movie of the year “Driveways” (directed by Andrew Ahn) is upstaged by a grander (action-wise) movie “Minari” (directed by Lee Isaac Chung)? I guess both could be in my top ten, but it’s a difficult choice. Both films by Asian and Korean directors are masterpieces in my book.
Minari’s tralier was a bit suspect…it looked like it could be a corny affair, meaning here comes an Asian family moving to Arkansas to re-start their lives after menial jobs in California were driving them mad. The movie’s conflict seemed quite poignant and real (until the end-no spoilers, but will be in my upcoming quibbles paragraph). Which helps me make up my mind that Driveways stands as my number one, there wasn’t one false move in the entire film and the music was delectable (though don’t get me wrong Emile Mosseri’s soundtrack is very good).
Before I tear the movie down a bit, let me explain what got me…marital strife between two people who loved each other initially is always an emotion grabber for me, as are elderly Grandma’s who try, but are never going to beat the devil of mortality. In addition, cute little kids, however precocious, always make me smile.
Here are my problems with the film: any woman who still bitches after receiving great news is a beeatch. That does not ring true with reality. If you are with a woman who is not grateful, get rid of her asap! Second, if you’re a mother allegedly worried about your son’s heart murmur, you don’t allow him to stay over night at some rando kid’s house or let your elderly mother take charge.
In a head to head match up between little kid actors (mind you I’m still way ticked off that Noah Jupe didn’t get more accolades for Honey Boy) Lucas Jaye from Driveways wins over Alan S. Kim from Minari. And while I was wringing my hands during the first paragraph, trust me when I say that while Driveways doesn’t have the ‘fireworks’ that Minari does, it is a better movie. Email me with disagreements at irun2eatpizza@hotmail.com

Malcolm & Marie, Ladies Before Gentlemen

Ok, I made a choice this weekend to avoid cancer (as in Our Friend) and instead chose a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf one percenter first world problems debate in Malcom and Marie. Why you ask? Sam Levinson, who produced Pieces of a Woman, wrote and directed Malcolm & Marie, that’s why.

And I both relished and cringed at his evening long battle royale between a gorgeous couple: John David Washington (Black Klansman) and Zendaya (Spiderman and Euphoria neither of which I was hip to). The film’s second saving grace, after watching gorgeous people get figuratively ugly, was the fetching black and white (Kodak, yeah Rochester) film. Like Mank, the black and white choice leads to a more intimate experience with characters, there’s not the distraction of ‘impediment’ of color.

As realistic as the debate was (a woman scorned is never good optics for a man and also never a dignified look for the victim either) it’s basically a lose-lose situation. Yet try as they might this very equal and eloquent couple battles back in forth in one of those fights that we’ve all had…one that ebbs and flows and just when you think a resolution has occurred, up comes more grievances and resentments.
One scene that bothered me was the parallel brushing of teeth…I’m not an oral hygiene watching fan, hence think that was wasted time. Beyond that the movie was worth watching on the big screen at CineBistro. I highly doubt I would have hung in there simply watching on my Netflix big screen. Thanks Jack!

Sometimes ya gotta go back to a French classic…Purple Noon, not a typo for Rain, but there could have been a raspberry beret

I’ll take a movie recommendation from anyone who says one of his favorites is Before the Devil Knows Your Dead…SOLD. so I took in a couple of lazy stay out of the melanoma hours of sun to watch Purple Noon, directed by Rene Clement. Yes, it was in French with subtitles, but good for the soul.
In French, but filmed gorgeously in Italy, Purple Noon stands the test of time 40 years later. The cinematography was off the charts and almost off the boat…I can’t believe there weren’t serious injuries filming the rough sea and mano a mano action. This movie required the stars to have tremendous agility and physicality.
As one of the original Mr. Ripley’s, Alain Delon is a combo Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen (young healthy Charlie) with a crafted tanned six pack, who is/was a serious actor. Even nominated way back three years after this film for a Promising Newcomer Golden Globe in The Leopard. the other male in this greed triangle was Maurice Ronet who came to an early end at 55 of cancer, but fortunately made the most of his years by acting and marrying Charlie Chaplin’s daughter. The female part of the triad was played by Marie Laforet who reminded me so much of one of my former students it was eerie. She has a sad, ruminative face, and no doubt after you read about her traumatic upbringing.
Purple Noon held my attention to the bitter end and was worth the 3.99 amazon rental. I’ll never get to Italy, but felt like I ‘got the picture’ from the gorgeous fish market scene and wonderful historic buildings.

“Down Goes Frazier!” in this case “Mank”, “One Night in Miami” moves into the Top Ten

A true case of “it ain’t over till it’s over”, One Night in Miami just moved into my Top 10 of 2020.

But first, this positive race relations commentary….six Caucasians (actually 4 parties, 2 separate solo single females and two couples) walked into the CineBistro Siesta Key to pay acknowledgement to not only the four great real life men, but also the four tremendous actors who portrayed them AND the brilliant woman who directed (Regina King) AND the man who wrote the script based on the play (Kemp Powers). Not looking for any trophy, just pointing out that there are kind well meaning white Floridians.
The movie began as a newborn calf, kinda clunky, but once I understood the premise that each on these guys: Muhammed Ali, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Malcom X had incurred their own unfortunate racist moments, the movie was off to the races. Where Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom play to movie cellar scene seemed stifling, One Night in Miami’s hotel room seemed roomy enough to hold tighter interest. The choreography of movement of four restless males may have had much to do with this higher level of excitement. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for how more (though in desperate need of more OBVIOUSLY) 1964 was evolved than 1927, but whatever the case, I was fully engaged in their philosophical wranglings. What does ‘freedom’ mean? Is economic freedom more important than proper racial respect? That seems to be the crux of the argument between Malcom X and Sam Cooke.
Let’s talk about the fantastic acting…I would be super pleased to see Kingsley Ben-Adir win the Oscar for Best Actor. You can not show concern and inner turmoil for nearly two hours and make it interesting unless you’re an A+ actor and this man did it handly. Bravo! The other actors were also supreme, Eli Goree scoring the most extroverted part of Cassius Clay. Leslie Odom Jr was fantastic as Sam Cooke who handles Malcom X’s debates with sly intellect. and I can’t leave out Aldis Hodge, while least animated as Jim Brown, he still had to reign in masculinity to hang and be king empathizer to Malcolm X, not an easy task.
At any rate, as pretty and smart as Mank was, this movie represents a piece of history far more important in my book. And it shows that grown men (and women) can disagree politely and lovingly….advice we can all use about now.

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.