Mistaken for Strangers, Sibling Rivalry Galore!

Sarasota-20140218-05124Having been quite jealous when my little brother ‘showed up’ when I was just 3, I was fascinated with the documentary “Mistaken for Strangers” about The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger un-leaded brother Tom. (Aside, I love my brother to death, see photo of us as concert chums for Paul Simon and Sting 3/14, and if anything, much of our younger day rivalry was adult driven.)

This film’s a definite must-see for anyone who feels like the lesser sibling, anyone who wants to make it big with the band (The National had to start from scratch like most bands and Matt tells a touching story of being booked at The Mercury Lounge in the early days and NOBODY showed-ouch), and anyone who feels passionate creativity, but never quite seems to make it.

The footage of different cities is minimal (though Ben Stiller seems to have a clone miming on the streets of London), but that’s ok, it’s about family dynamics first and foremost.

Two scenes in particular were so telling I wonder if there were purposely added in or if its merely the nature of the (family) beast.  First was a childhood photograph of Matt and Tom holding the day’s fish catch, Matt’s being the much larger one and prescient of life’s pegging Tom as forever the small fry.  The second was of Tom being allowed to screen his doc before a National concert in NYC and the yet the screen is merely the backdrop to mountainous drums, speakers and instruments; Tom always foreshadowed or behind his big bro.

Other classic scenes involved Matt giving the cliched, “think of this as an opportunity for growth”‘ speech and laughing at Tom’s confession of frustration tears.  Success can breed apathy, no doubt.  You’ve heard of sore losers (which Tom is definitely NOT), yet Matt can come off as a sore winner.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m a back door fan of The National, proudly first hearing of them in the soundtrack for Starbuck (a French film, see previous review) and then seeing a mesmerizingly sexy performance of them on SNL.  But my lust waned after seeing this film, mainly because although Tom is definitely 50% to blame for self-sabotaging, his patronizing family, cocky tour managers, and apathetic record store owners are certainly no Swiss picnic, nor confidence boosters.


Under My Skin, an original

My last night of vacation could not have been spent better than at Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer.  Positive vibes flowed even before the opening sequence began since I loved the feel of Sexy Beast way back in 2000.  For me to watch a violent film twice tells just how alluring the gorgeous setting of Agua Amerida, Spain was to me.

The setting of Under the Skin, on the other hand, is Scotland, and while I’d listen to the natives speak their lilting sing songy accents all day, I’ll pass on the what appears to be constant rain, wind and cold.  But obviously, that’s the world Glazer, (his screenwriter Walter Campbell-his first according to IMDB and the largest genuflection to the book’s author Michel Faber) wanted to portray.

Characters are unnamed and dialogue is slim with a Malick-ness eye aimed at capturing moments both in nature (as in the mesmerizing snow shot looking up from ground level) and human.  A disfigured man dealt life’s rawest deal so rejected by mankind that he does his grocery shopping in the middle of the night, is lovingly befriended, at least momentarily, by Scarlett’s alien character.  Deprived of tactile affirmation due to his abnormality made their touching of hands and his hand to her neck especially poignant.

Lessons Learned:

1.  The world (and Scotland) can be a cold, cruel place.  Much like Rod Serling intimated in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, the aliens may not be the only antagonists.  Ill will lives in many of ‘us’ (as in humans).   Less cynical than Serling, however, Glazer, (Campbell and Faber), believe there are also just as many humans with good hearts.

Hunch:  Scarlett Johansson may be good friends with Lena Dunham or at least share in the notion that a rubenesque physique is just as valuable as a muscular one.  Most men will agree with her pouty plump lips and hour glass figure that this film could have easily been titled “Sexy Beast Two”.

While much of the story was unexplained, the meditative effect of Scarlett’s journey, both literal (she walks A LOT in this film and proof she’s an alien is that she does all this trekking in high heeled boots) and figurative made this film satisfying and I left feeling I had been transformed to another world.  And that escape from the Earth is exactly the purpose of movie making.


Elaine Stritch: Do Not Go Gentle….

I frugally (and ridiculously) hemmed and hawed over the $6.99 on demand price tag for the documentary “Elaine Stritch:Shoot Me”, but am glad to report the money was well spent.

And since I’m CEO of this blog, I decided that I’ll make my Lessons Learned (from my Nymphomaniac Vol 2 blog) a regular feature.

Lessons Learned from Shoot Me:

1. I may never find love again and that’s ok.  Elaine explains that after her husband died of brain cancer, she never found someone again even though she loved being married.  Here I had blamed my solid relationship drought on the internet age, and moaned that my best love days were behind me (evidence article A-renting a film solo on a Friday night), but what the hell, I’m healthy, employed with money to burn, so life could be worse.  And look at Elaine, she has fun. From appearances, all I have to do is move to the Big Apple for cultural stimulation.  In fact, I could start a parallel blog about that, Mensch in the City.

2. Death is scary, but that by 87, Elaine sees some benefits of an exit. While Elaine worries about post death being a blank screen, as long as you’re not aware of the nothingness, there’s no pain.  The angst comes with awareness, a la Sartre’s No Exit.

3. Note to self:  save some money in a special fund called FUTURE ASSISTANT I CAN DEPEND ON AND PUSH AROUND, that way if I don’t find a partner I’ll have someone to hold my hand during various health scares or in Elaine’s case, low sugar moments, temporary memory losses and impatient cell phone call situations. And I’m not at all mocking, but rather, drop dead serious.  In fact, right now I’d definitely get out more if I had a trusty chauffeur.

I’ve struggled with being humorous without coming off as a bitch.  I admire Elaine for her talent and charm which override her rough edges.

Last, awe inspiring was Elaine pushing through the fear of forgetting lyrics in her lounge performances, which may be the key to enduring old age; acting and acting out even with imperfection.

Here’s to getting old and speaking our minds!  And as Elaine toasted, “Here’s to looking up your old address!”




Once you go “Pho 2”, there’s no Joe to go back to

Once you go Pho2, There’s no Joe to go back to

An ironic epitome of a film, Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 is continued ridiculous absurdum, yet totally worth watching. 

To begin, lessons I learned:

#1. Shia Labeouf can act, so he should burn that paper bag.

#2. I needn’t have hidden that oh so cute teaspoon in my jacket pocket at TGIFridays.

#3. Porn producers should use Beethoven as background music to improve their cred.

#4. Cain and Abel probably missed out on some good action due to one upmanship quarrels.

But seriously folks, Nymphomaniac 2 works for three specific reasons (sorry for all the numbers, but math did play into the equation of the plot, hence I’m redeemed):

One–the cliff hanger of Nympho 1 when Joe claims she no longer feels orgasm combined with the nagging wonder if Seligman would take a pass at Joe, as one (or more) man + Joe (with the odd exception of Willem Dafoe) = sex.

(Aside: I now know what my pouty face looks like when a date claims he’s a non-drinker who can’t fathom the utter bliss of a fresh lime juice margarita based on Joe’s puss when Seligman reveals he’s asexual, which is totally ironic given the film’s end which I promise only to vaguely allude to in my third reason the movie works).

Two– the dual story of Joe’s nympho history juxtaposed with her relationship to super listener Seligman.  Without respite from child neglect, s& m, etc. in the quiet dark space of Seligman’s house, the movie just wouldn’t work.

Three: The ending is satisfying by making us ponder what true friendship means and are all humans  existentially and emotionally sterile.  One thing is a definite; timing is everything when it comes to quid pro quo.  To discover the meaning of that statement, check out Nympho 2, but only after the attentional  foreplay of Nympho 1.

Still a von Trier fan,


Mama Mia, Andy Garcia!

Saw “Rob the Mob” at my favorite popcorn theater in the world, The Little in Rochester, New York and have to begin by saying that Andy Garcia must have been cast by his mom , or similar such person who thought he could portray ‘Big Al’, the mafia boss-gone soft.  Just saying Big Al and trying conjure an Andy Garcia image is incongruous.  And I’m an Andy Garcia fan, when he plays a genuinely anguished guy, such as Vince in “City Island”.  But to make Mr. Garcia feel better, or perhaps more apt the writers of this film, I’ll sprinkle in enough Italian cliches here to make a sickeningly spicy meatball.  (Be sure to read all of my cliches with an abhorrently fake Italian accent, in fact grow a beard first and rub it pensively).

As for the rest of the film, a pseudo Soprano-esque Bonnie and Clyde based on a true story from NYC 90’s, I’d put it in the same discount bin as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, marked ‘could have been a contender’.  This time, the problem isn’t Mitty and Wiig’s flat dialogue, but the editing and sequencing of scenes. 

Flashbacks in home movie style of the male lead’s father being offed by the mob felt authentic, but next would come a comic scene with an over the top Griffen Dunne schooling ex-cons on caring about wholesome productivity over money, on to slow mo love scenes back lit in Flashdance presentation, back to good ol Andy giving it the mafia college try by holding up a piece of Mortadella (that’s as see through as his performance) while he pontificates about life. Feel like you’re riding in the back of a trunk yet, not sure of what waterside factory you’re going to exhale your last breath?). 

So you’re in the trunk of this shock-less Buick of a film and while on the subject of cars, Bonnie’s ‘ride’ goes from junker with loose loose interior door handles at all the right suspense moments, to an impeccably upholstered baby blue interior as their telemarketing boss hops a ride to the Gotti trial..  To add insult to cement shoes, does everyone leave there uzi in their back seat when they give their upstandingly moral boss a lift?

In messy conclusion, the through line in this film was as squiggly as radiatore.  While each story (the lovers, the mafia, the feds and the reporter -Ray Romano who was very believable with hot facial scruff I might add)  was interesting and handled with depth, the rice to egg ratio didn’t hold this arancini of a film together.


Not all that it’s bum cracked up to be: Nymphomaniac Vol. 1

In spite of my subject title, I ‘liked’ Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 I in the same way that I enjoyed my Masters Degree in Counseling training.  Meaning, while it was nerdish fun to learn about dysfunction, after 15 years of the weight of helping people, I ran gladly back to the classroom.  As Bradbury eloquently wrote in Fahrenheit 451, at least a book we can close.

Nymphomania is a great cautionary tale, a look what happens when addiction goes too far piece.  How people (in this case Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character) can be neurologically compromised by addiction, so far gone that re-training is all but impossible.

But in my mind, film should be moving, which necessitates a roundness. And in Nymphomania I just felt flat and utter loss, with the great exception of Uma Thurman’s jilted wife scene.  In this scene, we round out the tragic with the absurdity of a wife who drops her husband off at his lover’s (nympho) house and shows her three young son’s the whore’s bed, “daddy’s favorite place”.   To me, adding folly to a depressing situation allows us as an audience a release and therefore a greater appreciation for darker moments.

And I am sure I am not the only naive person who skipped to the viewing of this like, “Sex? I like sex, this’ll be great!”  Which in hindsight is pretty absurd, like skipping to a documentary about eating addictions because you like Hostess Twinkies.  It’s not at all about the sex, and most of the coital scenes in Nympho I are akin to watching cows screwing, dead eyed and simply humping without conscience (which might be a great band name-Humping Without Conscience, send me some royalties, please:)

I’ve heard rumors that the ending of Nymphomaniac II has hints of Von Triers mocking us as the audience.  Any kind of laughter would be a plus.  Perhaps round 2 will be more rubenesque, or is the joke that now I’m addicted.:)