Whoa…Christine, from Sarasota no less

Warning….perhaps for the sensitive this movie (CHRISTINE 2016) should be seen in a matinee for a re-balance of post film light of day. I related way too much to the film’s topic due to experiences I have had as a mental health counselor and the chicken or egg toss up of social anxiety and dysfunctional upbringing.

The film’s subject matter is the suicide of a Sarasota reporter in the 1970’s. So first things first: bravo to Craig Stolovich, as a screenwriter you made me care about people even though I knew the bones of the story. And to Antonio Campos for braving probably a lot of, ‘nah don’t make that movie, it’s not ‘pretty’.

The absolute worst day of my life was in 1997 when a student at my school committed suicide. Some are resilient to withstand emotional and/or physical abuse, while others like Christine and my student, did not. Reconciling this took me years with which to come to grips. But I finally understood pain as relative and, try as we might, we can never fully understand another person’s plight.

I mentioned my litmus test for a great movie last month, that if a movie makes you feel differently, you know you’ve been affected….well, let me tell you…I was affected in spite of how amateurish CHRSTINE might appear, meaning were some B level actors and the film quality a purposeful tactic to make it feel like the 1970’s? Or was it budgetary?

Trust me, all of the acting was exceptional, most of all Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts. And I will plant my Oscar flag firmly right now for all three to receive nominations.

Here are other reasons I liked the movie: a 70’s soundtrack, still my favorite musical decade. Dialogue actually spoken by real humans. Acknowledgement of our weapon obsessed part of the world. Actual national news accounts of Christine’s ‘accident’ and political happenings like Nixon’s impeachment.

Strange coincidences or my odd quirky connections:
a. How odd that the reason I went to the film tonight was due to a cancellation of a birthday ice cream combined with the role ice cream therapy plays in this film.
b. Two recent comments; one by a fellow playwright tonight at a staged reading I attended before the movie AND a recent blog of a work colleague both challenging negative portrayals of mothers/parents. The former was regarding a staged reading of a play (not mine) in which a 20 something goes to her grandfather regarding an unwanted pregnancy for fear of her mom’s reaction. My fellow playwright’s critique was, “Nobody’s mom’s that bad.”….all I could hear was what a friend of mine says in his low, dubious low tone, “Right”. The latter was a book comparison blog, liking a more positive spin on family dysfunction, the too negative one being Hillbilly Elegy. And in all fairness to the blogger, while I haven’t read Hillbilly Elegy, I did hear that it was explicitly maudlin.
My point or connection here is that some ‘can’t handle the truth’, to steal a quote from another famous film. Not because they aren’t kind or lack empathy, but because they can’t imagine or don’t want to (who can blame them?) a world where parents don’t unconditionally love their children.
c. Families can do a job on a person’s self-esteem which the movie Christine alludes to. In fact, though 2/5ths of my family celebrated my birthday, a huge thank you to my mom and best friend, still the 3/5th absentees or ‘negators’ did stick with me, in part since the get together occurred within hours of viewing this film and therefore, freshest in my mind; a rather unceremonious or should I say, dis-ceremonious occasion where 85% of the conversation was upbraiding me for not flattering everyone else’s appetites, needs and desires.

In conclusion, may I just say, I am glad I have never owned a gun. Also, I thank God for my best friend Tim who has been the most recent decade long dependable, consistent, unwavering empathetic force in my life thus far. Perhaps the lack of physical intimacy makes this relationship possible, but who knows? The only romantic partnerships I’ve seen (not counting one, a couple I work with right now that seems perfect) have appeared to be compromising of at least one of the partners to be what the other partner wants. I bring this up due to the lack of connection the real life Christine felt with the understanding of her (and my own) frustration and self-defeating behavior.
Third, regarding public cinema etiquette: if you go to a movie with a date (couple who sat two rows ahead of me) and your date includes rubbing your girlfriend’s sock feet, then eating something with same hands, then continuing the foot rub; please either sit in the back row or hand me one of those handy bags the flight attendants pack for airline passengers with air sickness.

Certain Women: Beginning, Middle and En-?

I thought I was a big fan of Kelly Reichardt, yet after looking at her IMDB page, I realize this is a false claim based on only 3 films: her BEGINNING film “River of Grass” (looking to buy this, it’s a keeper, will explain below), her MIDDLE film “Wendy and Lucy” and her latest (EN-?), “Certain Women” last night at Burns Court in Sarasota.

First, her first:) RIVER OF GRASS is bar none, the penultimate Florida film. It’s funny, subversive and is so right on with the kookiness of all that Florida is, that I honestly don’t think any other movie could top it. Why it didn’t gain traction for a re-do with bigger celebrities and bigger budget is beyond me. In fact, it’s so timeless, it could be re-done today. It’s what Caddy Shack is to golf courses.

Her middle film, WENDY AND LUCY was very different. Akin to an uninhibited middle schooler (aka RIVER OF GRASS)
[or me at 52 after a large coffee on email..sometimes stepping over the (tacitly marked) line…]
who takes a high schooler nose dive into moody introspection, came her middle film WENDY AND LUCY. I don’t think I fully appreciated this quiet descent at the time, but looking back, the film had a memorable milieu and considering how many films I’ve seen, is saying something. And for dog lovers, which I am not, I’m sure it would resonate more. In addition, Michelle Williams, a terrific actress, was stellar as a homeless person.

The latest Reichardt invention CERTAIN WOMEN (screenplay/director based on stories by Maile Meloy) was even more quiet than “Wendy and Lucy”‘s Malick-like quiet mixed with Ackerman’s redundancy: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C07E0DA143BF930A15750C0A965948260.

I didn’t mind this either, especially after a very chatty work day; my only need was a satisfying ending. But as Jimmy Olsen once lamented in an old Superman episode, “Oh, nobody got the money.”

Once again, Michelle Williams does fantastic work (biased here of course, loved her in Blue Valentine, and saw her live on Broadway with Jeff Daniels in “Blackbird”). Williams’ range and evocative facial expressions is of DeCaprio’s Revenant caliber. Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart were equally great as a miserable small town lawyers, and a relative newbie, Lily Gladstone was tremendous as a ranch hand.

I can’t say who didn’t get the money to be true to my no spoilers. If you need quiet, love Montana and great cinematography, you will be cinematically nourished. For me, once I finish the novel Nicotine by Nell Zink, Truman’s bio by McCullough, I may hunt down Maile Meloy’s short stories to see if there’s more to be mined.

Toni Erdmann and Gino Vannelli’s I Just Wanna Stop

What crazy film and music connection am I making today? Well, opening my place of work on Saturday morning meant that I could choose the Pandora Station. So Kenny Loggins it was, much to the chagrin of my co-worker, a stalwart Beatles fan. (Don’t feel too sorry for him, I let him switch by 11 a.m. to stop his grousing.) But during those blissful 90 minutes, Pandora mixed in Gino Vannelli. My co-worker groaned, while simultaneously a shopper lit up like a Christmas tree, pronouncing her love for Gino. I had to concur, especially for the song playing, “I Just Wanna Stop”.

About 10 hours later, I’m watching Toni Erdmann, [another Cineworld Film Fest feature, a German comedy written and directed by Maren Ade], as the father character (played perfectly by Peter Simonschieck) explains to his daughter (also a knockout performance by Sandra Huller) that everyone is so busy ‘doing something’ that important ‘moments’ slip by unable to achieve fruition or depth.

As time passes, I’ve felt more profoundly that technology distracts us from the human encounters we use to have, and ‘moments’, like leaves traveling much too quickly down the streams of our lives, go unnoticed. And it’s not just technology, but what activities and ‘progress’ that technology affords. Who hasn’t been on their device thinking, ‘Why not cram in 4 meet up groups?’, ‘why not make more meetings/sell more goods/procure more income?’, ‘hey, what about taking up this hobby?’.

Unless we make the point of grabbing fewer, and therefore, more precious people/possessions/associations and thus, stopping the madness long enough to appreciate them, our later years will be filled with regret and emptiness. This applies to parent-child relationships as in Toni Erdmann, romantic relationships, friendships, et. all.

Toni Erdmann made me laugh, made me cry, and gave me that feeling of being a different person afterwards, which hasn’t happened to me in quite sometime. Being at a distance emotionally from my immediate family right now, and at a physical distance from those who I care most about (and who care reciprocally about me) makes me feel vulnerable. Yet the sweet father daughter tale of Toni Erdmann restored my faith that people can make the world stop and connect.

An added musical comment is that I’m a total sucker for Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” and three quarters into Toni Erdmann, when the song is sung passionately; well, let’s just say the dam was broken. Learning to love ourselves is the greatest love of all. This takes reflection (channel an angry Jewish voice akin to Bernie Sanders for the next phrase), AND unplugging from the damn technology. Only then, can we hope to steel a moment with the ones we care about. This isn’t to say that technology can’t bridge a physical distance, but let’s not let it be our only mode.

I realize I pontificated more on an idea than the film, but Toni Erdmann is, by far, my favorite film of the year. And Cannes, of course, has already confirmed this sentiment, by making T.E. a Palm d’ Or nominee and winner of the Cannes Fipresci Prize. I’d like to advise fathers of daughters to make this a holiday viewing experience, yet there’s one 10 minute scene that I think would be too squeamish sexually for either part’s comfort level. Perhaps watch it separately and have dinner soon after:)

And now for your aural pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xXIHPUmv3k

The Salesman Always Rings Twice & Consolation is Not in His BriefCase

The Salesman directed by Asghar Fahredi played at Burns Court for the Cineworld Film Fest on November 9th. I’m sure based on its quality it’ll get a normal run at most independent theaters and I highly recommend this taut tale.

I’m biased of course, having seen and enjoyed his films in two different states. A Separation I saw on an unfairly cruel cold Austin, Texas day. The good news was that the movie was fantastic and the theater adorable (and comfortable-leather recliners, but I digress). His other two films, The Past and About Elly, I saw in my former hometown of Rochester, NY (which is always cruel and cold, but I digress again).

So back to Fahredi’s tremendous writing and directing. He’s not one to care about his audience’s emotional comfort, caring more about making the viewers question, “what would I do?” In fact, after The Salesman, I heard some women disagreeing about what they would have done. Thought provoking movies are few and far between.

Let me get back to the topic of warmth, but this time not outdoor temps, but rather emotional and psychological. Dang are Iranian relationships ice cold. I understand pride and principles, but the lack of embrace and physical touch, might drive a woman like me, mad. I do understand, however, that witholding of that sense of security certainly adds tension to the story and is also somewhat of a cultural standard. It even made me think today, as I walked the Ringling Bridge, listening to a 90’s tune by Mariah Carey (Dream Lover), that perhaps our own country is getting less affectionate in the aughts and now teens, akin to middle schoolers who become aloof adolescents (my musical comparison being Beyonce’s Lemonade). We (women collectively) ‘ain’t askin’ for love any longer, we’re just demanding respect, which I question: do we have to have to give up emotional embrace to achieve such respect?

I wanted to see The Salesman originally because I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Arthur Miller’s play. I remember an epiphany I once had in teaching Drama some years ago, that I finally understood why the play is an iconic father/son psycho drama and not just a depressing saga. Later, after hearing an NPR interview that Philip Seymor Hoffman gave regarding his stint as Willy Loman on Broadway, I wondered if he was fortelling his own demise, in how much inadequacy PSH connected to in his own self, equal to, or even more so, than the Willy Loman experience.

How this connects to the film is still something I’m wrapping my head around. Did the husband in the film feel inadequate in what revenge he sought or better to my previous comment on affection, did he feel so incapable of consoling his emotionally traumatized wife that that equaled inadequacy. I will say no more in keeping with my ‘no spoilers’ promise. But go see The Salesman and comment back. The film is worthy of discussion and thought!

The Jackson and the Hare, a great combo in Denial

Denial directed by Mike Jackson and screenplay by David Hare was a well crafted film based on a true story (and book by Deborah Lipstadt).

I knew this was quality even before realizing the cinematic geniuses behind the film. First Mike Jackson also directed Temple Grandin, a tv movie I showed to my two independent study students a few years back after we finished a reading of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. An aside, I get misty just thinking of the power this book and movie combo had on the three of us. Claire Danes, in my book, is our modern Meryl Streep. She couldn’t get enough awards for that performance (Temple Grandin, an autistic woman) in my book.

Then there’s screenwriter David Hare, whose filmography contains two of my favorite films-The Hours and The Reader. Hare’s take on Denial was near perfect with my tiny quibble at the film’s climax of scenes tacked on to prolong the suspense (here’s Rachel Weisz on the porch swing in suspense, tensely drinking her lemonade. And here’s Rachel at the barbecue flipping burgers, still nervous. YET in all fairness, that’s reality).

Rachel Weisz I’ve always liked, especially in two recent films-Youth, which I ADORE, as Michael Caine’s loving daughter and almost unrecognizable in The Lobster (not a great film, but her performance was terrific). And in last week’s New Yorker, she was praised for her new role on David Hare’s Off Broadway play Plenty (hmm, light bulb: possible road trip idea to see my son).

Tom Wilkinson, solid as ever, also added to the stellar cast. Likewise, Timothy Spall, with his signature hang dog look, played a despicable Holocaust denier.

Denial, unfairly given 64% in our local paper (Sarasota Herald Tribune) is a rewarding film experience.