Stockholm the movie & Aha’s Take on Me

Ethan Hawke and Robert Budreau must have formed a synchronicity working together in the heart breaking biopic Born to be Blue considering the dynamic duo are back again in Stockholm the movie (Ethan starring of course and Budreau writing and directing).

Being a card carrying Ethan Hawke fan from his pinch his cute cheeks in Dead Poets Society to his twitchy f-up of a brother in Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, to his nightly strangulation in Sam Shepard’s play True West on Broadway, I also thought Stockholm was well executed.

Here’s the deal with Ethan: you know he’s acting and yet you believe it anyway. He’s in that upper echelon of Ed Norton and Sam Rockwell, equally recognizable, yet so lovable and masters of their craft that you go with it, happy for every ride.

In Stockholm, named for the incident that describes the phenomena of a hostage falling for her (or his) captor, Hawke is the predator and Noomi Rapace is prey. Noomi is probably best know for the foreign version of the Dragon Tattoo movies and may be set for super stardom with an upcoming Maria Callas biopic. Also standing out are Mark Strong as Ethan’s robber com padre accomplice and Christopher Heyerdahl as the chief of police who lets ‘winning’ corrupt his humanity.

The second best part of Stockholm besides Ethan and Noomi’s hot chemistry, was the humorous touches in the script. Noomi’s disappointment while being held hostage that her husband chose to serve meatloaf instead of the more creative fish dish, Ethan’s character’s insistence to have Dylan music as a back drop to the robbery, and many other subtle nuances prove that Budreau likes a sprinkle of comedy with the absurdity of our lives.

And the very best part of Stockholm is Hawke’s throwing himself into every role, similar to the Aha band’s video of “Take on Me”, where the animated character hits the wall until he becomes human. Hawke does that to writing (the wall) until we believe his human (acting) form.

This comedic spice alone might be worth inserting in every movie hereafter, since, if we can’t laugh at ourselves, where are we going?

Amazing Grace: Everything and Desire for More

Amazing Grace was a labor of love that Sydney Pollack was never able to pull off alive. He was always too busy according to IMDB, to finish syncing voice to video. Instead, before he died of cancer, he handed off the project to Alan Elliott (whose IMDB bio does not glean much info, besides a personal blog link to a spooky place that hasn’t been touched since the early aughts). Sure, Alan has done a lot of composing, but this is his first directorial production.

My guess is he’s a man of few words. The only narrative contained were the four to five captions that started the film. Perfection for a music purist, a mindset of, “Just let the girl (and marvelous choir and studio band) sing and play”. Raw footage without ‘story interruptus’ allows the audience the vicarious awe and joy as the church onlookers dance, cry and shout out passionate spiritual yelps.

Yet, I was still hungry for story….what was happening behind the scenes? What was Aretha like as a woman? Why didn’t she want this made until after she passed away?

Story implied in the footage was that her dad was adoring and proud, and I loved the paternal moment where he wiped her adorable 29 year old face of sweat as she began another feverish number.

Maybe it’s that I’m/we’re so use to knowing every intimate detail (and then some) these days of documentary subjects that I felt like I was missing something. Perhaps what I really miss are days like these in 1971 when things were simpler and people were afforded privacy. No one in Aretha’s audience was caught looking zombie like into phones or surreptitiously trying to capture an image on such nuisance contraptions.

So really, Amazing Grace was everything you’d want it to be. And in the words of philosopher Slavoj Zizek, perhaps it’s time for us to stop trying to be progressive to the point of ruination and actually reach back to what worked in the past. I loved the 70’s. And moreover, I also loved Aretha, too.

Diane…Realism Personified

Kent Jones (known most for his documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut) wrote and directed Diane, the second of what I call noble films I’ve seen this week (For those who don’t read my every critique; Saturday was The Public by Emilio Estevez).

Diane was noble in taking on the true true reality that none of us get out of here (Earth) alive. Mary Kay Place (who I envied as an adolescent ogling over her sexy character Loretta on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman) does a tremendous job as the lead character, who like a Timex watch that keeps on ticking even after being dented again and again.

Her dings come in the form of an abusive drug addicted son (a supporting actor worthy performance by Jake Lacy), a cervical cancer stricken cousin, and other family members who both support and deride each other.

Also pinged by the cold winter of New England, Diane shops, enables her son by doing his laundry and grocery shopping, and works at a low income food co-op. She gives so much of herself, that she has no self left to nourish. Added to her plight is a painful secret (or maybe two) that haunts her and a true love that got away.

The dichotomy of mystery and symbolism (we are in the car with her viewing the winding road at several points) of the journey capture what our real lives truly are. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring (mystery), but we must keep driving the journey (symbolism) to discover. The flip the story takes where instead of mother badgering son, son badgers mother is beautifully portrayed and shows the evolution most of us face in being the givers and subsequent receivers of care.

A tiny bit wonky in parts and a little confusing as far as Diane’s own experimentation and denouement, Diane reminded me of a lesser First Reformed, yet totally worth viewing this thought provoking story.

The Public: Important Conceptually; But Cinematically? Well….

Dear Emilio,

First, let me say you should have been nominated for best screenplay, director AND actor for The Way. You’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for that poignant father son film. On the lighter side, I enjoyed your work in The Stakeout, as sweet as the Bubble Yum gum I devoured in my youth.

Now, dodging rain drops in Asheville, North Carolina, I gladly took in your newest film The Public. I mean, you’re such a humble man with good intentions and the homeless using public libraries must be an issue in many cities, my hometown of Sarasota (shout out to the Selby Library!) included. And due to the aforementioned films, I had high hopes especially with two of my other favorite actors also in the film; Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater.

But boy, did I wish wish wish after the fact that I could have been a script doctor or more apt, let me shelve alphabetically what character contradictions I would have excised:

A for Alec; how can a person specializing in conflict resolution then lead a charge of storm troopers?
C for Christian Slater: he goes from prosecutor/bully to acting with the authority of chief of police? Christian threw his weight around more than a WWE Wrestler. He also sued on behalf of a homeless man’s rights being denied at the library (who paid for his service?) yet called them bums and basically wanted them taken down in the coup so that he could go watch The Tonight Show? Did we go back in time to the Johnny Carson days when The Tonight Show was a one time event? Now you can watch clips in any cab in NYC days later.
D is for dialogue: much too snappy and choreographed…there were times when I was waiting for this to be a musical and then sure enough, it became one! A mixture of Hair and The Full Monty!
E for Emilio Estevez: your character defended the privacy of the public within the library, but you were pumping (see Groucho Marx and his wiggling cigar say, “in more ways than one”) your cute Apartment manager for the dirt on other tenants?
G for girlfriend: her mood swings were bigger than Mariah Carey’s; one minute she’s supportive the next she’s lecturing, wait, that’s actually realistic of most women…add that to the positives…

Segue…for the positives: the movie held my suspense, I really didn’t know where it was going, sort of like what it must feel like to lose your brakes on Lombard Street.
I did believe the chemistry between you and the Apartment Manager. I did believe some of the homeless people and the crazy antics that must happen in libraries every day. I also appreciated your attempt to see the rift between the haves and the have nots.

Your resolution, while Hollywood in bright lights was cute, and Emilio, so are you! And see me for future script help, I’ll work for peanuts (make that almonds, I need calcium:)

Yours Respectfully and Truly,

Roxanne Baker

Making of Montgomery Clift: A Timely and Worthy Mission

With a busy life, I was able to score two Sarasota Film Fest Tickets.

My first film was a new documentary by Rob Clift, Montgomery Clift’s nephew, Making of Montgomery Clift .

First and foremost, bless Rob Clift for caring enough about his Uncle’s reputation (and indirectly his Dad who ripped Clift’s biographer for warping his life story) to try to establish facts. My friend Barry Rothman, author of Mary Ann or Ginger?, a film aficionado, basically told me the side of the story he (and most of the general public) was fed.

Unfortunately, Barry did not see the film and now I must burst his bubble, taking the torch of Rob Clift in informing him that Montgomery was not losing his mind during Judgment at Nuremberg, but tormented with rewriting the script (proof shown in this documentary) to make his role more believable. In fact, Montgomery did this with almost every script, carving it into his own language. Thus, he was not only an accomplished actor, but a script doctor as well.

He was also NOT miserable after his car accident and actually thought his refurbished face had more character for acting.

Probably addicted to pain killers and quite the drinker, he did die very young from a heart attack. But women and men alike who loved him, knew him to be engaged with life.

In this post fact world, where the loudest and most repetitive propagandist voices are the ones given credibility, Rob Clift stands up to try to set the record straight. May we all be blessed with such a noble relative. Or how about this goldenish rule, unless you know what you are saying or writing is absolutely factual about another person’s life, shut the heck up.

And one nostalgic post script: I was tickled pink to see the man who played Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) in Super Man interviewed. Who knew he was still alive?

Three is a Magic Number, Man and a Woman Had a Little: Aftermath

You remember School House Rock cartoons from the ’70’s, right? The one about the number 3; “man and woman had a little baby, they had three-ee-ee in the family.” I loved that cartoon and was reminded of trinity significance after seeing the critic maligned movie The Aftermath written and directed by James Kent.

First, let’s talk about the triumvirate of actors: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Clarke who commanded the movie each with a particular set of respective skills: welling believable tears, pained, but not annoying countenances, and polite European rage. Their love triangle is plausible and moving. While I don’t know Skarsgard as well (wasn’t a True Blood fan, mainly due to middle class HBO-less wages), I’ve loved and hated Knightley (loved: Atonement, eye rolled: Laggies) and thought Clarke nailed Kennedy (well technically Mary Jo, ok bad joke) in Chappaquiddick.

In The Aftermath, the love triangle doesn’t take long to build, but this is war torn Germany where wives are often alone and some men happen to be widowed. What worked best is some snappy Double Indemnityesque dialogue: Skarsgard, “I was going to apologize (for kissing you),” Knightley: “Why?” as well as other witticisms from the invaded Germans, “They’re making themselves at home”, “yeh, just like maggots in the bacon”.

An additional bonus saving this film from being a stuffy period piece is characters experiencing joy (Skarsgard and Knightley frolic in the snow and have some hot cabin sex). Hence, kudos to the other terrific trio (James Kent had help writing the screenplay from Joe shrapnel (great war writer name) and Anna Waterhouse). Bless all three of you for writing a script that had light as well as dark; and for having layers of stories, the teenage daughter of Skarsgard naively falling for the malevolent German boy also was credible.

To finish my troika analogy and commendation, watching The Aftermath had the delicious combination of a mudslide (Kahlua, Baileys, Cream aka the actors) with Napoletana pizza (Tomato sauce, achiovies, crust aka the writers) without the cheese. Unfortunately, all the cheese was in the trailer which probably dissuades some from seeing this impressive film.