Craig Johnson & Ej Manuel, any relation?

I saw Skeleton Twins at an almost empty theater on a freakishly gorgeous Sunday for Rochester, New York. The Bills were going down to the Texans during my film immersion and I wondered after if Craig Johnson, co-writer of Skeleton Twins was fall guy for the oddly paced first half of the movie. I tend not to think it was Mark Heyman’s fault since I loved Black Swan (and normally am not enamored by melodramatic girlie conflicts).

Yet the world may never know. Be that as it may, I thought all four of the lead performances were rock solid-Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell. But I can’t get over the fact that the movie could have been great, rather than ‘ok’ up until the second half when the train finally leaves the station. I wish I had been able to help edit and set a metronome to the first half, to simply get a beat going.

The lip syncing to Starship’s “Nothing’s Going to Stop us Now” was a highlight as was Luke Wilson in the same scene appearing and then disappearing, unable to compete with the bond between brother and sister. Children of highly dysfunctional parents will appreciate this film, as will anyone who misses the old days of Hader and Wiig on SNL.

And while EJ needs to sit a game out, let’s give CJ another writing chance to throw for a touchdown.

“A Trip to Italy”, akin to sorbet; pretty colors, shallow nutrition

I’m a bit of a homebody and that trait tranfers over to my vacation choices as well. Meaning, I like to vacation in the ol’ US of A and think a sojourn to Italy is the equivalent of buying a fine wine when the local varietal is just as palatable.

But hold up! Michael Winterbottom’s “A Trip to Italy” might be the best travel advertisement for Italy since the Oscar winning foreign film from last year, “The Great Beauty”. Vistas from every hotel and palace veranda were breath taking as was the swimming scene on the sunlit mirrored sea.

Steve Coogan, a very nice postcard to gaze from my 50 year old eyes perspective, and his comedic partner on this sequel, Rob Brydon are very funny together. Yet the laughs were more chuckle, than belly laugh. Many of their scenes are simply extended riffs on voice impersonations improving on different topics. Suggested viewing before seeing this film, by the way, is Roman Holiday which is referenced throughout.

Winterbottom seemed to want to rely too much on the visual ascetic, the food, and comedic improv. His writing merely dribbles the olive oil of the real emotional depth potential; Coogan’s character’s overt life disillusionment and Crydon’s marital strife.

Perhaps Winterbottom plans to have the co-stars confront their existential selves in a third film set in Sartre’s France which would prove he had this three course cinematic meal planned all along.
And the Alanis Morrisette sound track is the perfect sorbet. Ciao Bella!

The Drop

The Drop is directed by Michael R. Roskam, who wrote and directed the Academy Award Foreign Film Nominated Bullhead, which I’ll seek out now that I’ve seen the understated beauty of The Drop, viewed at the always-smells-like-a-swampy locker room Pittsford Cinema near Rochester, New York.

The Drop is another in the litter of a new genre I’m naming “films starring dead people” with James Gandolfini and the very much alive Tom Hardy. Gandolfini, despite what I heard Marshall fine say, is simply playing Tony Soprano on the skids. Tom Hardy, a new actor on my radar, does a brilliant job at understatement or portraying the understatement written by Dennis Lehane. Hardy’s Bob is a coat buttoned up surprise, and only at the movie’s end do you realize the performance’s brilliance.

Noomi Rapace’s Nadia, Bob’s would be romance interest, is also very believable as a blue collar city cynic.
And while any animal rescue person will salivate without bells at the cute pitbull Rocco, I found the movie lacking for the average girl, and this from a woman who loved and saw Drive (you know, the movie Albert Brooks got ripped off from an Oscar nom from). In other words, I don’t neemd a rom-com to make me happy, but give the romance a little more heat and the conflict between Bob and a rapacious ex-boyfirend character Eric played sinisterly by Rust and Bones’ Matthias Schoenaerts would have been more palpable.

Instead, the movie simmers too long and I almost left a little depressed, as if Tom Hardy’s Bob was the guy you didn’t appreciate until he was gone.

In Your Dreams: Documentary The Party’s Over

I rarely remember dreams and when I do, often get a kick out noticing how my day’s reality contributed to the fantasy’s creation. So last night’s doozy came after an interesting concoction of a Netflix political documentary created by Philip Seymour Hoffman called The Party’s Over, found on some sites as Last Party 2000 and a short video of Gordy Hoffman’s Blue Cat Screenwriting tips.

But first, the movie:

Our first thought when we hear the word violence is the man vs. man type, so the self-inflicted drug variety often seems incomprehensible. We opine about Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman, ‘But they had young children, they had talent, they had money.’

And so it was very poignant to see Philip Seymour Hoffman interview an African American woman steeped in the important issues of the then present day 2000, chagrin that those same issues weren’t being spoken by either Bush or Gore. Her comments about heroin trafficking being a big business were especially ironic given PSH’s ultimate demise.

What struck me most about this doc is that the concerns of those marginalized were exactly the issues we’re still fretting about, yet apparently not able to change; gun violence (I had forgotten about Rosie O’Donnell and the Million Mom March), campaign finance reform that Gore promised he was going to change, and the need for drug rehabilitation centers numerous enough to take care of the multitudes addicted.
Being a Rochester resident and age equivalent contemporary, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death threw me for a loop. The fact that my son’s major at Suny Geneseo is Musical Theater also played a part in its impact. I realize there are temptations in most professions, but performance art has to be near the top as far as drug availability.

The Party’s Over illuminated Philip Seymour Hoffman’s as a passionately concerned citizen. His epiphany, or perhaps simply a confirmation and why he made the film in the first place, was that the Democrat and Republican conventions contained speeches and ideologies that were eerily similar and hollow.

I can’t help but see PSH as a defeated man, done in by his own addictive behavior. And it’s equally difficult not to see Barrack Obama as equally impotent on a political level, given that he ran on a campaign of hope and yet now even in his elocution seems to be totally disillusioned. If men with so much passion and promise can not overcome addiction and the wealthy selfish stubborn respectively, what is the future of the United States?

I’ll end with my lighthearted dream, proving we can have fantasies and wishes of happy endings and that we must in the end, maintain our optimism for human evolution for our children’s sakes at the very least.

The dream:
Thematically there’s a ‘bad boy’ fixation subtext going on here for me, having always preferred gentlemen who buck the conventional, have a lackadaisical view of fashion and are more passionately introverted than the male norm. In addition, the secret crush I always had on PSH.

So how much fun it was in this nocturnal illusion to be an actress vying for Mr. Hoffman’s romantic attention, against a terminally ill woman, hence ‘winning’ the competition. Boy, do I know how to fix a bias on a dream level, or what? The resolution culminated in my ballsy dinner date request for the following week and my apologizing for the only problem that I’d have to come in costume, “But not an alien costume with antennae at least,” I reassured. In an adorably wrinkled, untucked Oxford shirt (as he wore in The Party’s Over) Mr. Hoffman put his arm around me and replied, “That’d be fine.”

Rent The Party’s Over and you’ll be wanting to slumber to a sweet dream state, too, anywhere instead of our country’s deepening hole fourteen years later!

Labor (Day) of Love, Battle of the Two Indies: Land-Ho and A Short History of DK

For school teachers, Labor Day weekend is the last chance at running with the bulls, before the 40 week long monastery cloister. And while I’m on the topic of ‘get thee to a nunnery’ (Shakespeare’s Hamlet), may I beg anyone in driving distance to Geneva, New York, to PLEASE get to the Smith Opera House, a gorgeous elderly saint of a building showcasing films on designated nights.

My bull run finale was two independent movies: Land-Ho and A Short History of Decay, which both have certain charms, the former being the better, and hence more widely screened, of the two.

Land-Ho was written by two youngsters (ok, they’re 20 years my junior). First, there’s the male equation of Aaron Katz (recognized in award nominations for two other films Quiet City and Cold Weather (neither of which I’ve seen, but am now interested in). The female half of the writing team is Martha Stephens, who also is an actress.

In a nut shell, though Land-Ho is only exciting in its location, I credit Katz and Stephens for saving the day with witty dialogue that felt real. The actors, Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn were also so genuine that I searched for past films to view at some point, “This is Martin Bonner” starring the latter, Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn being one.

A Short History of Decay was written by former foreign correspondent/non-fiction book author named Michael Maren. This film is much more amateurish than Land-Ho, both in its setting and acting.

The film is set in Sarasota Florida, (which I have intimate knowledge of, visiting annually for the past five decades and where my parents now reside) but actually smartly filmed elsewhere (probably ridiculously expensive to film in Sarasota, not to mention excessively tedious in its soul crushing traffic).

The acting has its highs and lows. Let’s start with the pros: Bryan Greenberg, Harris Yulin, Kathleen Rose Perkins (ugh these names, pick one! Rose or Kathleen for God’s sake), and Benjamin King (whose imdb photo was definitely graphically tailored) are all believable characters, from Greenberg’s mid-thirties arrested development, to KR Perkins’ school marmish nail technician. Yulin and King (playing Greenberg’s dad and brother respectively) also add cantankerous and machismo humor.

Don’t get me wrong, Linda Lavin’s character as mother with early onset dementia is difficult to play ‘real’. Anyone with relatives suffering from this medical horror knows it never seems real. And as ‘hot’ as she probably is to the male persuasion, Emmanuelle Criqui’s performance is as flat as the Floridian terrain.

The scenes and writing were just not as tight as the Land-Ho’s duo, hence why Ho beats Decay in the Labor Day battle.