City of Lies, in this film: LA, but applicable to many

I wish I had one of those wrong answer sound effects I could add to this blog as I point out the untruths in Jeannette Catsoulis’s NYT review of City of Lies.
Wrong answer buzzer one: ‘the latest attempt to monetize the unsolved 1990’s murder of Christopher Wallace”? Really Jeannette? You think Brad Furman actually thought he was going to make money on this movie released during a pandemic with a star that’s bordering on the cancel culture precipice?
Wrong buzzer two: ‘with rather more appetite than artistry’. Police procedural are usually more believable without choreographed dance. The movie was about Russell Poole (played brilliantly by the aforementioned described Johnny Depp) and his noble obsession with the truth. A close second focus was the relationship Poole develops with journalist Forest Whitaker, who also shines brightly as the sometimes clumsy partner seeking justice.
Last buzzer: ‘dreary…misbegotten mush…and dead ends’. Guess what Jeannette? That’s what exactly happens when the truth is so buried in the sediment of corruption that it can’t be found. As some wise sage tweeted: we can find who stole Tom Brady’s jersey, but we can’t find Biggie’s killer….yes Jeannette, that is dreary.
Bravo to Christian Contreras for putting together a script of so many loose ends and still having it make sense.

Doy! Vs. Joy, Take a Guess Which Decade Did Film Better

I watched the movie Happily written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski Friday and then had the joy of watching City Lights written and directed by Charlie Chaplin for two nights straight. And now you already know which was the DOY! as in the DUMB of the two films.
To be fair BenDavid (a tellingly ridiculous name) grew up in the ‘everyone gets a prize’ new abnormal and hence is crippled as far as honing true creativity. But even I could write a better script than Happily. Who watches the end result on this cast and pats themselves on the back for a job well done?
And to spread my criticism, ditto the eye roll for J Blakeson, same generation, for I Care A Lot, which was at least a little smarter. But the people who truly ‘enjoyed’ this, given a lie detector test, would admit it was great mainly for the hot actresses.

Why did I bother with Happily in the first place? Joel McHale. I loved him for The Soup which he took over from Greg Kinnear and kicked it up a notch. I was also happy to see Al Madrigal former Daily Show correspondent who received only two minutes of screen time. Unfortunately, great comedians can’t salvage crappy writing. The only actress who impressed me in the cast was Natalie Morales, who plays a no nonsense alpha. The movie had a great premise: an overly happy married couple is suspected as weird or alien by all of their cynical and unhappily coupled friends. And from there is devolves into stupidity.

To Gen Xers and Millenialls: dark comedies are lazy. “Ooh let’s team laughter with bloody violence and mistreatment.” Guess what? NOT funny.

Go back to film school and see how to pair comedy with pathos (City Lights a great way to start). You wonder why society’s so angry? It’s because no one slows down enough to feel anything, hence, without being self-aware, folks walk around deprived of tough and real emotion (both love and hate).

The Mole Agent, Not a Dermatologist Film

Latin American Director Maite Alberdi is only 37, but obviously an old soul. Many of her films have dealt with nursing homes and aging.
The Mole Agent was just nominated for an Oscar, so I had to take the bait to see what was worthy about it.
Ok, I understand the sincerity and sentimentality of the story: a woman hires a PI to make sure her mother is being cared for in a facility. The PI then hires an older gentleman to be the mole. He’s to locate ‘the target’, take photos and recordings surreptitiously, and report back. The mole needs to acquiesce to three months in a Chilean Nursing Home.
What I enjoyed about the doc were real people moments; the interview with the daughter of the mole (recently widowed) who is truly concerned and needing assurance that her father will not get stuck in there….his convincing the daughter that he’s kind of bored and this is an adventure. Also heartening was the relationships that grew out of his mission.
I won’t spoil the ending or themes that occur, but suffice to say that due to my own ocation- a few miles passed middle age- with healthy parents, the doc was more morose than happy, reminding me of what’s around the corner for us all, making me more keenly aware of my own destiny. Being single certainly makes that reality more stark.
I discovered in researching this doc that it began more as a spy thriller, but the original mole broke his hip and a soft hearted replacement, Sergio, was hired. Sergio’s ‘discovery’ changed the trajectory of the story, turning it to focus more so on the residents (the journey) than the investigation (destination). A life lesson we all realize sooner or later.

Hunger (2008), Beware the Yikes of March

The lovely ladies at Burns Court Theater (part of the Sarasota Film Society) were wonderful hostesses to a pre-St Patty’s Day event showing Steve McQueen’s Hunger from 2008. But let me tell you something…this was realism in all caps, like this: REALISM! Attending this film is as close to being in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland as I’d like to get. Holy violence.
I actually did not know the story before going in, with the exception of hearing his name, and knowing about The Troubles. If you don’t know the ending, I will not spoil it here.
Steve McQueen made his first directorial splash with Hunger and continued using Michael Fassbender (who portrayed Bobby Sands in Hunger) in his penultimate (my opinion) 12 Years a Slave and again in Shame (fantastic film and a better Carey Mulligan role than the eye rolling Promising Young Woman).
McQueen goes to the darkest places in this film which should have been an awakening for prison reform across the globe.
The best scene in the film is a two person number between Fassbender and the actor Liam Cunningham playing a priest attempting to counsel Bobby Sands. While both actors are riveting, Fassbender’s monologue is a show stopper, akin to my favorite monologue of this year by Ellen Burstyn in Pieces of a Woman. For Fassbender’s monologue, it was worth shutting my eyes and closing my ears for what must have been 15 to 20 minutes of violence and gore. Yet, it’s history and the worst of man’s depravity. God help us if we ever slide back into such hatred.

Best Foreign Film List Complete: “Collective”

Since the onslaught of shut downs a year ago, I occasionally fall into a black hole where I fear the world is falling apart. A combination of Megyn Kelly’s disturbing news report on Bill Maher’s show last week and watching a best foreign film nominee, called “Collective”, I once again woke up in the middle of the night worried about the world.

Small Price to pay, I guess, as Collective (written and directed by Alexander Nanau) was very much worth seeing. Think “Spotlight” in real doc time, only this time, the topic is not sexual abuse, but hospital fraud. and I don’t mean just one hospital with an evil greedy administrator, I’m talking systemic. Fortunately not America, however, with less contact and more ‘protocol’s aka ways to hide dirt under the rug, I wonder (especially at 3 a.m.) if this could happen here.
Take a tragic nightclub fire (coincidence that the scream metal band sang anti-government songs?) and then multiply the loss with people who should have survived kicking off in hospitals…then sprinkle in some fearless, tireless journalists (sports journalists mind you, who do seem to be some of the straightest shooters here as well-see Outkick’s new coverage) and a Jimmy Stewart type Minister of Health (Vlad Voiculescu) and you have yourself one excellent doc. Just prepare to be a bit sleep deprived the next day.

I still hold to my number one foreign film being The Life Ahead, but Collective definitely take the 2nd place spot over Another Round.

Best Foreign Film? Who Wore it Better?

I’ve now seen all but two of the Best Foreign Films (remaining “Shudder” which I won’t ever see since I hate horror and Collective, which is still on my watch list), but “Two of Us” was one I am glad I strapped myself to the recliner for.
Mind you, I did start cutting the seat belt off, as the beginning was NOT good. Not sure why the beginning camera work was so out of focus….didn’t make sense to me.
However, after the first 5 minutes or so, the film leveled out and became a gorgeous tale of love and commitment. Writer/Director Filippo Meneghetti is an excellent storyteller and does well making you ‘wait for it’. The acting by Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier was tremendous. Martine’s ‘children’ played by Lea Drucker and Jerome Varanfrain were also topnotch, though their choices were whacked toward the end. If my choice is my Mom’s happiness based on a life choice that doesn’t affect me but I am not a fan of, I’m still for what makes my Mom happy. In fact, kind of sounds like real life.

So, until I see Collective, here’s my ranking (and I think it’s unfair to say Minari (it’s American!) is FF so sorry sucker, you’re out):
The Life Ahead
Another Round
Two of Us