A Girl Walks Into a Movie Theater…

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A girl walks into a movie theater, intent on seeing Little Women, but just as I veer towards the men’s group at any Super Bowl party, the minute I heard a woman say how Little Women dripped a little too much maudlin, I spun and drove for a power lay up back into Uncut Gems.

Before the opening jump shot, I had second row ‘court seats’. With two hipsters behind me, I struck up a conversation with one after his pal went to retrieve some popcorn. I had heard them jiving Safdie and turned to agree on how tremendous Good Time is/was. Like the enthusiastic school marm I’ll always be, I cheered, ‘buckle up’ in delicious anticipation.

While I harangue bad movie behavior, this viewing entailed a magic moment where out of the corner of my eye during the last 10 minutes of the film, the two hipsters were LITERALLY on the edge of their seats, as if they, too, were at game 7 with the bet of their lives at stake.

THIS is what movies are for, the vicarious thrill and off the planet escape that brings such joy.

My second viewing was better than the first. I laughed harder at the Sandlerisms, his “NO” to his flirty mistress, his grabbing a pillow out of his office filing cabinet in order to sleep on the couch, his calling his son, over the top excited to be wearing Garnett’s NBA championship ring. THIS MOVIE WILL ROCK YOU in a far different way than my muscial allusion to Bohemian Rhapsody, but equally fun.

Finishing the Safdie Iron Man: “Heaven Knows What”

I can now place the Safdie full length narrative film Iron Man medallion around my neck after watching “Heaven Knows What” from 2014. Here’s some tried and true Safdie-isms based on the fill complement of narratives (Daddy Longlegs, Good Time, Heaven Knows What, and Uncut Gems):

1. eerie soundtrack music with a mixture of futuristic organ, baroque, hard rock and classical numbers
2. a begging forgiveness or love scene between lovers
3. shocking brutality and sadness at the conclusion with an added ending scene that scales back with an understanding that we are only specks in the universe and/or the everyday world moves on with or without you

“Heaven Knows What” is the darkest and roughest of the quad of Safdie narratives and deals with the real life story of a New York City homeless junkie. Reminiscent of Midnight Cowboy, the couple attempt to bus to Florida and while no one dies on the bus this time, there certainly are some plot twists. Arielle Holmes, not only wrote the book about her lover, Ilya, she stars as herself in the film.

A poignant, but gritty portrayal of the NYC homeless drug addled populace.

Uncut Gems: Sparkling!

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Not sure how to write a review about a revelation without spoiling this film written by my cherished Safdie brothers (Good Time, Daddy Long Legs) and their writing partner Ronald Bronstein. BUT I will keep my promise!!

Suffice to say it’s a must see and certainly breaks into my top ten at ‘lucky’ number 7 (a call back to gambling which Uncut Gems is all about). Scroll down for the rest of the top ten.

I will briefly mention magic moments that do not give away major plot points:
*Adam (Howard) Sandler wheeling and dealing in his jewelry store
*The frenetic sound of the magnetic locked door
*Camera work on Adam’s fingers on is telephone (researched and discovered famous and seasoned Tehran born cinematographer Darius Khondji did the work (Okja, Evita, Amour)
*Judd Hirsch and the auction scene
*the closet texting scene
*Weekend concert scene (and another closet!)
*suspenseful moments that came to nothing but were fun exactly because they were unfulfilled
*John Amos (funny cameo and call back to Good Times (with an s) and the Safdie movie without the s
*the bat mitzvah dress scene with Idina Menzel
*the unfeeling atmosphere of NYC
*Daniel Lopatin’s eerie soundtrack

The acting is HUGE: Adam Sandler deserves a nomination.
Julia Fox has come out of nowhere, but fantastic!
Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Lakeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnet and Idina Menzel were magic.

I almost liked Good Time a tiny bit better, but need to re-watch to figure out why. Perhaps time has warped my perception.

And, I would doctor this script in two tiny ways:
Add maybe one more moment with Adam and his youngest son, some bonding or lack thereof
Add a scene at the beginning where Adam talks to his aquarium fish or defends them against an insult by basketball players
With just a dash more soft side of Adam would have heightened the emotion.

But overall, BRAVO. Safdie and Bronstein are my favorite writers!

My top 10 (can Little Women usurp anyone?)

Marriage Story
Honey Boy
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Lighthouse
Peanut Butter Falcon
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Uncut Gems
Her Smell
Parasite
Judy

Murder She Wrote was Only an Hour Long for a Reason: Knives Out

Here’s where the easily entertained American Public wins the ratings war: “Knives Out” scored a higher Rotten Tomatoes audience review than Bombshell. Enough said.

I had higher hopes than normal about a movie like Knives Out after hearing over and over that Rian Johnson really brought something novel to the murder mystery genre. Something novel as in too many pages long!

Lord, two hours and ten minutes is a ludicrous length for a mystery as you can’t possibly have red herrings maintain a SMART audience’s interest for that duration.

Very rarely do I walk out, but I could not sit this one out. Call it The Irishman of murder mystery, yikes.

The good kernel of the movie was the fine cast: Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans to name the best and brightest of the crew. Sure, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Don Johnson don’t hurt. Less likeable was Toni Collette who seemed like two dimensional bronze bimbo.

But the sheer marathon duration spoiled any of the fun. I would say the same to anyone who fully enjoyed the entire 2:10 minutes that I do to those who drive way too slowly, “Gee, you don’t want to go home, do you?”.

Tale of Two Shells: Bomb & Smucker’s Magic

Jay Roach’s latest directorial film Bombshell has something in common with Smucker’s Magic Shell. You remember Smucker’s….you pour it over your ice cream and it becomes a crunchy shell. I don’t know about you, but I always thought the shell ruined the pleasure of ice cream, just as I felt at the beginning of Bombshell when the make up or ‘shell’ was simply overload.

Anything that distracts from feeling the emotion of characters detracts from the experience and Charlize Theron, a fantastic actress, was just way too artificial in trying to be Megyn Kelly. Ditto for Jon Lithgow as Roger Ailes and Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson.

I realize this is hypocritical. I really liked Christian Bale’s Cheney in “Vice”, but strike it up to their facades looking different in any given scene. For example, Charlize looked more and more Charlize like by the end of the film. Did they exceed their make-up budget and say ‘come as you are’ by the end of the film.

Much like the make up, the writing also seemed uneven. Charles Randolph (The Big Short) seemed on one hand to want to copy that form, reporter-like Charlize explaining the Fox News Building, Nicole looking directly into the camera, yet these tropes would stop and start intermixed with attempts at more real moments between Margot Robbie and Kate McKinnon. Additionally there were way too many characters; reporters, lawyers, administrators that again, the emotion becomes too diluted on the ones we’re suppose to care about most.

The important message was still well conveyed and I did feel ‘stronger in my femininity’ when I left the theater. And just like I Tonya, Margot Robbie stole this show (with her normal face I might add). I also really like Mark Duplass who brought a sense of realism as Megan Kelly’s husband. Allison Janney was fun to watch as Roger’s lawyer.

However, the better bomb story of the year was Richard Jewell, both superiourly written and directed and hence, more effective.

Richard Jewell, What a Gem!

Do you care if a movie strays from a historical tale IF it is a well told story? I guess I’ll find out after I write this review as I had avoided the articles about the controversy after finding a key piece of plot surprise that I did not want to know about the actual history.

My son was three in 1996 and I was fully in mommy mode, meaning my main television watching was Barney by day and Seinfeld at night.

Let’s just Billy Ray’s (screenwriter of Captain Phillips and Hunger Games) screenplay starts out shaky, as he and (?) Clint Eastwood decided to jam all the minor characters down our throats without saying who they were-sure, we know they’re Jon Hamm and Sam Rockwell but who the hell are they in the movie? It wasn’t clear. Olivia Wilde is the only from-the-get-go character who is fleshed out (and for anyone with a human hormone, hummina hummina, she’s gorgeous). YET, her character is what the primary controversy is all about…did she expose~ herself for the news expose~? Again, I look forward to finding truth vs. fiction, yet I don’t think it’ll affect my film opinion.

Paul Walter Hauser (the ultimate doofus hood hired to hit Nancy Kerrigan in I Tonya and had a role in Late Night, which now I really want to see) nails the role of Richard Jewell. He looks like Jewell and plays the super naive security guard to perfection.

Kathy Bates whose choices in the last couple of years have been so so, is also tremendous as Richard’s mom. I fully support her as Best Supporting Actress nominee. Sam Rockwell is finally back in the pocket as the sexy, charming, smart ass nice guy.

Fortunately the narrative rises to the performers acumen once the bombing happens and in regards to sound and score, the movie is also topnotch.

As with many other late entry movies (Marriage Story and Honey Boy), I teared up at the ending. Not only is Richard Jewell belong in the justice genre, it also encompasses a buddy flick and mother son film.

Shame on the media for knocking the film (can’t help but think this might be political since Eastwood is a somewhat vocal Republican) as well IMDB who let some dumb ass comment that there were 30 f-bombs which sounds about like the FBI case against Jewell, fabricated. I definitely did not notice excessive swearing and say there weren’t more than 8 to ten expletives.

Go see Richard Jewell for the story and acting. Then appreciate the facts for what they are.

The Second Time Around

2019’s been such a great year in film that I’ve seen several a second and some even a third time around. Do I have a movie addiction(?), probably, but thank goodness for the directors. screenwriters and actors making it a tremendous buzz.

Here’s what I noticed on my recent second time films:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, so much magic within the film, that I noticed but quickly forgave the clunky beginning where Matthew Rhys’s
character accepts an award.

Likewise in Honey Boy, my second time realized the story’s rough edges, the almost too independent movie scent of it, but still the performances and the atmosphere certainly make you not care so much about the lack of polish. In fact, like Florida Project, polish might take away some of the emotion.

I need to see Marriage Story a second time before I really place my top three: but currently my top ten are:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Marriage Story
Honey Boy
The Lighthouse
Peanut Butter Falcon
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Her Smell
Parasite
Judy
Uncut Gems (haven’t seen it yet, but I love my Safdie’s)

Honorable Mentions: Book Smart, The Farewell and The Souvenir

Almost Toxin, West Virginia

Mark Ruffalo deserves some credit. He could choose pretty roles at this point in his career, fun stuff like all comic book movies or even hold out for the ninth Tarantino, but no, Ruffalo has consistently chosen movies he finds important: Spotlight, Foxcatcher and now the well written and directed “Black Waters”.

“Black Waters” details one attorney’s brave journey over almost two decades in nailing the DuPont Company for gross negligence in hiding injurious effects of chemicals used and dumped at their many factories. Todd Haynes, directed this, as well as the award winning film “Carol”. Haynes has an artistic eye and from the get go, I was taken in by the West Virginian curves of this tale. Much like Ford V. Ferrari, DO NOT google this ahead of time, let Todd and the trio of writers do the heavy lifting while you enjoy the twists and turns.

And that’s a revelation I had tonight, questioning myself for ‘running away from home’ as I do, to attend a movie, when I could easily turn on the news to get some intelligence. But that’s just it: the news is no longer investigative, unless you count the violence porn of what 20/20 has become. We really don’t know what the biggest news stories are right now due to media bias. If we are not getting political slant, then it’s fluff pieces (quite literally) on cute pets.

So the bad news is we sit in our internet fog looking at what J Lo wore on SNL, while we drink and swim in water that might be harming us. But the upside is that due to concerned citizens like Todd Haynes and Mark Ruffalo (and the previously mentioned screenwriters and magazine reporters) who cared enough about actual humans, we at least receive some real news at the movies.

So my question is, could movies be our new news source?

Inside Game, A Tremendous Rebound

Say what you might about the B level soundtrack and some of the clunky performances, Inside Game (directed by Randall Bantinkoff and written by Andy Callahan) has the true to life gritty feel of a quality reality show. It’s the perfect movie for sports fans, especially NBA fans, a hot topic right now considering that Uncut Gems (the Safdie Brothers new movie) also delves into the sometimes sordid world of sports betting.

What I liked about the movie:
most of the dialogue was realistic
the acting was genuine, especially the leads: Erc Mabius as Tim Donaghy; Tim graciously came to Burns Court Cinema for a post movie Q & A by my charismatic friend and film expert, Gus Mollasis. Will Sasso as Baba and Scott Wolf as Tommy, all three of whom were high school buddies.

The story telling was mostly good, a nice sandwich of boyhood hoop dreams that devolve into sports betting and drug and alcohol.

The female characters were portrayed as materialistic, but given our extremely wealthy area, it seems the resemblance is very familiar. The men seem sympathetic, attempting to make the moola necessary to fulfill their needs. This does not blame them or excuse the men for their extra-marital conquests, but ask me for my Modern Love column submission where I give my take on the current sad status of men who cater to women’s needs, stuffing their own and then acting out immaturely. This plot adds to my case.

Don’t get me wrong, this is truly a B level movie, yet there was a certain honesty and rawness to it that led me to enjoy most. And of course, given we had one of the three represented to speak after, certainly added to my enjoyment. I root for Tim Donaghy to shop his book, Personal Foul since I think with the right cast and director, and Tim’s personal after prison journey, this could be a blockbuster. Hey PT Anderson, what are you up to?

I’d Buy a High Mortgaged House Just to be Mr. Roger’s Neighbor

Thank you Marielle Heller! As you did in Can you Ever Forgive Me (for which you personally weren’t nominated for direction, a shame) you’ve done it again here, once again with the forgiveness theme, in “A Beautiful Day on the Neighborhood”.

The story written by the team of Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (both also writers for tv hit Transparent) did a perfect story telling job, absolutely nailing an angry journalist’s man vs. self wrestling match with his resentment toward his father.

The acting gave me close to a religious experience. Tom Hanks is our generation’s Jimmy Stewart and we are a better world with him in it. Marry Me Rhys (oops Freudian slip, Matthew Rhys) has the soulful face necessary to carry off inner turmoil and I assume accomplished his walk off home run away from tv land. Chris Copper finally got a roll to sink his teeth into again, after a long wait from his Oscar win from Adaptation. Susan Kelechi Watson is also superb as Matthew Rhys’s wife.

I’ve been harping on the importance of moving scene moments, atmosphere and music as of late (after the drought in The Irishman and Ford V. Ferrari) and much like Honey Boy, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood is the perfect, even a tad better, companion piece. I was producing tears by minute 10, reoccurring at minute 20, etc. Favorite scenes (not spoilers) The puppet in Mr. Roger’s NYC apartment scene, the Indian restaurant scene, Mr. Rogers swimming scene (Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise in the background…soooo pretty), the ending shot. Gorgeous, marvelous, bravo.

My conclusion comes from a gal (moi) who always loved the concept of Mr. Rogers (unconditional love), but in all honesty, always felt the show was a tiny bit awkward. BUT, this movie, my friends, I will gladly skip to see again.