Photograph, a Little Fuzzy Around the Edges

Ritesh Batra wrote and directed “Photograph” and with a great premise and earnest cast, the film almost hits the quality of his previous gem “The Lunch Box”.

It’s one thing to leave a movie open ended (which this one does), it’s another to leave an important loose end. I have to wonder how this happens with major projects…it’s like baking the perfect cake and frosting all of it except for a bald circle on the top. As one of my favorite Fred Willard mockumentary quotes goes, “What Happened?” (featured image)

At any rate, I still enjoyed Photograph, a luxurious Indian cultural bath of arranged marriages, familial pressures and communal joys in Mumbai. While I wouldn’t want to live a life that restricted, not only spatially, but relationship-wise, there is a simplicity and acceptance that this culture embraces. Let’s face facts: America is not only spoiled rotten with choice, but also probably more dimwitted due to the same multitude of distractions.

Another endearing cultural component is respect for elders and the Grandmother character is well drawn and well acted by Farrukh Jaffar. The principal romantic leads (Sanya Malhorta and award winning Nawazuddin Siddiqui) were also believable with their awkward romantic timidity. I was reminded of half a romance I had (I was sure I liked him, but will never know if it was vice versa) in the mid-eighties with a Scottish Social Studies teacher. Perhaps another story left better by mystery.

One beautiful theme from the film involved how precious photographs are to us and how many times, a photo image can capture us at our very best, even better than we are in our everyday lives.

Booksmart: A Goody-Two Shoes Rebellion

Booksmart was a whip smart story of two goody two shoes who realize on the brink of high school graduation that they have been too sheltered to experience love, lust and uninhibited joy.

Olivia Wilde may have directed Booksmart, but four horsewomen of comedy: Fogel, Halpern, Haskins and Silberman wrote the screenplay.

The story was a girls’ version of Super Bad, and worked for 95% of the time. There were just a few lagging moments that could have easily been excised.

The jam packed talented cast and snappy dialogue made the movie. This ensemble had more humor than an entire season of any recent SNL group. Bravo to the two leads: Kaitlyn Dever (who could be Conan O’Brien’s daughter in looks and deadpan facial expressions) and Beanie Feldstein (a more refined version of Aidy Bryant).

Veteran actors Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte were perfect as the nerdy parents, Jason Sedeikis terrific as the ‘dude’ like Principal and Jessica Williams was excellent as the ‘hot for teacher’ teacher. Mike O’Brien was tremendous as the pizza delivery guy and a face I hadn’t seen in awhile, a long lost SNL cast member.

The fellow graduates who really stood out (each one owning their role in a glorious way) were: Skyler Gisondo, Billie Lourd (who reminded me of a young Kate Hudson), Noah Galvin, Austin Crute all deserve future comedy movie roles STAT. Being great at math (eye roll), that’s nine great minor characters.

While not quite riveting enough to say I’d see it again, I laughed out loud several times, adored the music soundtrack and walked out refreshed. I’ve decided movies are not only a real life cleanse, but also an unlocking device to past memories. High school in this case, which for me, especially Graduation Night, was a tremendous high in many respects.

And now for your listening pleasure, here’s a link to Baker & Mollasis at the Movies where I discuss Booksmart s’more:)

The Majestic, An Oldie but a Sweetie

Hard to believe 2001 was almost 20 years ago, my son was an innocent 8 years old, yet shielding him from our country’s rapid ageing after 9/11 seemed impossible.
In line with 2001’s innocence, and subsequent loss of, I watched a movie from December of that year, The Majestic, at the suggestion of my movie genius pal, Gus Mollasis.

Gus had mentioned the movie a few weeks ago on our first podcast (Baker & Mollasis At the Movies on and after his good natured openmindendness on hearing my defense of the deadpan history historical reenactment film “Wild Nights with Emily”, he was due his day (movie) in court (so to speak).

And court there was in The Majestic, this time a 1950’s Red Scare court room scene which unfortunately took the air out of not only the bubble gum bobby socked Americans, but also the romantic and sentimental thrust of the film. Romance with a capital R since the movie beautifully captured not just romance for the opposite sex, but our lust for films and real old time, sit up straight none-of-this-darn-sqeaky-recliner-b.s. movie theaters.

I loved the beginning of the film and thought the opening twenty minutes were very suspenseful, Jim Carrey’s crash scene done very well, the foreshadowing of the coat shut in his convertible door the crash, his rush down the river, his head cracking into the base of a bridge. I was reminded of Gordy Hoffman’s Blue Cat Screenwriting advice: you have to make your main character really suffer!

I also loved the idea that movies have so much power for us and that seeing them on the big screen, in a theater community is a powerful experience. I was even excited enough to fantasize about twenty years from now when maybe, just maybe the trend will swing back, where we’ll grow tired of the one million ways you can watch a movie and go back to the old communal theaters, just like The Majestic.

As far as acting the true stand out here is Jim Carrey even with the likes of who really stands out even with the likes of Martin Landau and Hal Holbrook. Just as the masses have become marginalized by movie venue choices, Jim has gotten lost in choice, too, both personal and professional. He’s definitely caught the politico-fever as evidenced by his mad as a hatter tweets and art work. I’d love him to go back to the likes of “Man on the Moon” or my favorite “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” because he truly seemed to have that Jimmy Stewart sincerity. And look at the director, Frank Darabont, now reduced (in my mind) to zombie products.

And while Martin Landau has always been tremendous, yet his character is so syrupy, as is the film. But in 2001, we were still open to, and in need of, some big sugar. Now, we just need to get back to open, instead of shut in with our tiny little screens. Someday…

Rocketman: ‘Hall’ of Fame Movie

My ‘Hall’ of Fame title works a double shift, denoting a multilayered touching film with the screenwriter’s name; Lee ‘Hall’ of War Horse and Billy Elliot fame. And while there’ll be plenty of ‘was this as good as Bohemian Rhapsody’ comparisons, I’ll be the first to say, ‘hell yeh’. AND, while no one is going to do what Rami Malek did with both face and dancing gyrations to Freddie Mercury, I think Hall’s screenplay has the story depth to make it a truly equally great biopic.

Besides both Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman were virtually directed by the same guy, Dexter Fletcher, the hired gun after Bryan Singer’s Me, Too demise in the former film.

The only shenanigns in this flick were those of despondent Sir Elton, bent on self-destruct after years of both neglect and abuse by his horrible parents and a lover whose best descriptor might be sadistic d-bag. Is that too crude?

See Rocketman and I promise you’ll feel enough rage against this trio of twits to utter at least one profanity. But isn’t that what a tremendous movie is suppose to do? (Nod ‘yes’).

I certainly can’t be the only one who wanted to reach through the screen in Love and Mercy to strangle Paul Giamatti for slapping the hamburger out of poor Jon Cusack’s hand (aka Brian Wilson). That’s exactly how good the acting and writing is in Rocketman. Kudos to Bryce Dallas Howard for being such a great shrew of a mum.

Taron Egerton is a perfect Elton, capturing his tortured soul who, like most abused people, try again and again to get the love they need, but as the song says that I’m bopping to (hadn’t heard Honky Cat in so long until tonight’s movie), Elton trying to get love from those pathetic blokes was ‘like tryin’ to get whiskey from a bottle of wi-ine’. And speaking of lyrics, Jamie Bell believably played a sensitive, but wiser, Bernie Taupin.

The movie did a marathon effort of fitting in his biggest hits, appropriately situated to help tell Elton’s story. And stay through the credits to see the split screen of Elton’s iconic costumes and signature sunglasses.

I’d love to tell you my favorite scene, but then I’d be breaking my no spoiler promise. Here’s a hint though, it contains Matthew Illesley who plays the young Elton (Reginald). I predict Matthew is the next (About a Boy) Nicholas Hoult, meaning he’s destined for a successful acting career.

As you can tell, I was moved to the very end, skipping merrily out of CineBistro Siesta Key to “I’m Still Standing”. And I’ll be going back for a second helping and it won’t even take a “long long time”.

Inventive Back Stories: An odd comparison of Joy and Melancholia

Ok, maybe the most oddly contrasted movies in history, like comparing apples and oranges, but because I watched the films on the same day, I claim emotional license to do so.

“Ask Dr. Ruth”, currently showing at Burns Court was absolute rapturous joy. To paraphrase my movie friend Gus Mollasis, who hosted an enlivened talk back after Tuesday’s showing, this movie kicks all the contenders for last year’s Oscar to the curb and is therefore, an obvious contender (if I can speak for both of us) for this year’s Oscar.

If you think you know anything about Dr. Ruth, be humbled by watching her life story, beautifully directed by Ryan White (also of The Case Against 8 and Good Ol’ Freda). Ryan knows how to unreel a story. The animated back story adds a poignant human element to the Holocaust driven trauma which could have driven her to a jaded adulthood, as Dr. Ruth went at the age of 10 to being unwanted and underappreciated for the remainder of her formative years. The quality of the animation is key here as anything but truly human looking depictions would have totally ruined the emotion.

In contrast, RBG, while I loved her as a subject, was told with mainly just a repetition of stock photos which didn’t evoke any moments of solitary fear and agony.

My favorite scenes in Ask Dr. Ruth were watching her intense listening to callers’ questions (from heart wrenching to naive) and her lovely empathetic answers.

Now my weirdo comparison…I also watched “Godfather 2” yesterday after my son (and others) claimed it was better than the original. And while I realize I’m way late to this partito, the back story of Vito diluted the power of the ‘contemporary’ Michael story which was truly powerful on its own. My defense is that I think 99% of us get that mafia wars (or any gang wars) begin in the long distance past, as decade after decade racks up new grudges and retaliation.

The scenes I loved from GF2 were the following (using the actors’names to give them props): the moment Pacino realize Cazales was in on his house attack, when Keaton tells Pacino it was an abortion, when Cazales is fishing with Pacino’s son. Tremendous acting and the grandeur of GF2 is certainly larger than the original, but as Sade sings, “Its never as good as the first time…”.

Fortunately Ryan White did such a thorough and moving job of Ruth’s life, we’ll never need a sequel, nor could there ever be a replica as beautiful as Dr. Ruth.

Wild Nights with Emily: A Smoothie

After a disorienting first ten minutes, my confusion about the film, kind of what you’d wonder when trying to name an alien being you’ve never seen before, dissipated and I was totally in for the ride.

First, let me ruin one thing for you. If you’re expecting to witness actual wild nights with Emily, stay home. The title makes you think you’re going to “Blue is the Warmest Color”, but you’ll see more skin on Ellen’s talk show.

Yet, while the title was enticing and deceptive, I’m not disappointed in Wild Nights with Emily. While totally different in topic and tone, the recent historical reenactment/documentary “The Invisibles”, like Wild Nights, take a moment in history scrapping a one note wonder period piece, preferring a fun blend. And no surprise here, since they were both produced by Greenwich Entertainment.

Blend, blend, hey, I just chose my blog title: “Wild Nights with Emily”: a Smoothie!

Madeleine Olnek who wrote and directed this piece combines history and deadpan comedy, akin the to the popular Documentary NOW!. She uses Molly Shannon (SNL) as Emily Dickinson and Brett Gelman who I absolutely adored in HBO’s “Love”, here as the stuffy Atlantic Monthly Editor. In fact I’ve now made a list of where to stalk him; HBO’s “Camping”, “Fleabag” and an indie called Lemon. Prepare to be stalked Brett. Others with great comedic future potential are Jackie Monahan and Kevin Seal.

The cinematography (sometimes a forgotten step-child) is gorgeous in this film with Emily scenes in a beautifully tranquil sunlit white curtained writing room. Victorian era costuming as well was oh so pretty making me almost wish I could wear a petticoat for a day (ok maybe hour).

Olnek deserves credit for getting the truth out about Emily. A. That she wasn’t a recluse. B. She probably wasn’t the craziest person in her childhood home. C. Putting the exclamation point on a NYT 1998 story that technology had proved that Emily’s love letters were really written to ________ (see the movie to find out) and erased and tampered with by __________(see the movie).

“Wild Nights with Emily” is worth seeing for its novelty and noble history re-recording.

Long Shot, Truth Hot

There’s much to love about “Long Shot”, directed by Jonathan Levine, also known for two of my positive feel good flicks, “Snatched” and “The Wackness” (a perfect take-your-teen-to-teach-him-about-sex movies, no joke, it’s perfect). Here Levine, gets physical once again, this time grown up 2019 style with Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen comingling.

While midway, the movie veered a little too close in plot to “Bullworth” (loved that Warren Beatty/Halle Barry movie), the screenwriters pulled it out (no pun intended, but enjoy it) during the second half to show something not only original and close at heart to Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules in “Speak Your Truth” and good things will come your way. And breaking news, it also gave a plug for bi-partisan unity. Can I get an AMEN!!!!!!!!!

And bombshell! Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah helped write a subtle presidential lampoon which is so much better looking than in your face vindictiveness. So good on ya for that as well.

I bought the Theron/Rogen chemistry having an affinity (and former relationship with a bookish Jewish man with facial hair). I’m definitely not saying I’m any Theron, or that I was even in anyway better than him, but instead, that smart, intellectual let-it-all-hang-out men are organically sexy.

Bravo to the minor character actors as well, love O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (thanks to him or the screen writer for making me look up the ‘new’ music of Dram ‘Broccoli’, hey I’m here to learn people), love June Diane Raphael (except for her three names) and Ravi Patel. Alexander Skarsgard, (who I had neglected to mention in my recent “Aftermath” review is a Golden Globe winner for Big Little Lies) lets himself play a silly droll Canadian Prime Minister (well played A.S.!) All of the aforementioned, along with Bob Odenkirk (who I liked more raw pre Better Call Saul stardom) helped round out a very talented ensemble.

The message of dare to be your true self is an apropos one today and one I feel better and better about employing.

Spring ‘Camp’: The Loved One 1965

Wow, the out of this world movies one can run into in mid spring, post film fest lull, an absolute gem called “The Loved One” from 1965. Directed by Tony Richardson, Oscar winner for another that is now on my classic must-see-next list, “Tom Jones”. I knew he was ex-husband of Vanessa Redgrave, but until this morning’s internet rabbit hole did not realize he had fathered not only Natasha (r.i.p.) and Joely, but also a third child by another actress and evidently got around, Jeanne Moreau, etc. A creative genius in many respects, I guess.

But I digress; Terry Southern helped write this beauty, based on an Evelyn Waugh novel. I loved his bio on IMDB, that he added to Edgar Allan Poe stories that he thought ‘didn’t go far enough’, ah the genius pomposity. He also helped write two Oscar nominated films; “Dr. Strangelove” and “Easy Rider”.

I fell in love with one of the main characters in “The Loved One” Robert Morse, still alive and kicking, most recently Emmy nominated for a few Mad Men episodes. In “The Loved One”, he’s an adorably impish bloke from London (redundant?:) who’s vying for the affection of the perfect 60’s brunette with the likes of an effeminate Rod Steiger (who is downright hysterical).

Steiger is so funny (his quick strutting gate, his barbells on the bed, his histrionic relationship with his mother) that he rivals Jonathan Winters, the comic genius who also has a double role in this film. To see Winters in his prime was simply breathtaking. Knowing he won an Oscar for one of my dad’s favorites In the Heat of the Night, I’ll seek one of his oldies out soon as well called Happy Birthday Wanda June and maybe even a more recent film Burton’s Mars Attacks.

For a mere 2.99$ on Itunes, The Loved One is totally worth two hours of giggling. Thanks to Jack Guren for hipping me to this great movie.