Time to shove over a few selections for the phenomenal Pieces of a Woman directed by Kornel Mundruczo and written by his fellow Hungarian collaborator Kata Weber. But first, I am glad I heard the beginning of a podcast which foretold the difficult scenes in the first 20 minutes, I’d challenge that and say 27 minutes. If this had been in the theater on the big screen, I may have crawled out of my seat with anxiety. But the labor (very bad pun) is worth this sure to be Oscar nominated film.
Weber’s writing, her characters so well drawn that you forget about them as actors. Even Shia LeBouf, the troubled soul in rehab again, is tremendous as the husband who realistically attempts in many ways to bridge (a better pun, you’ll see) the grief. Obviously a different story than Blue Valentine, but just as melancholy.
The two standouts though are the women: Vanessa Kirby, new to me, but played a young Princess Margaret in The Crown. Here she is the raw, grieving mother, who is angry yet sympathetic. Her mother, played by Ellen Burnstyn steals the movie with a monologue so powerful, reminiscent of the caliber of Chadwick Boseman.
The beautiful off kilter shots of Kirby’s neck (just to give an example) help the viewer stay with the emotion rather than get sidetracked by faces. You’ve surely been in a moment where you are so traumatized or outside yourself that you’ve stared at something other than the other people in the room.
Montreal is an incredibly bleak but gorgeous metaphor and backdrop for the story, so kudos also for the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb and the complementary music by Academy Award winner Howard Shore (Hugo and Lord of the Rings). Watch this film on Netflix.
Pardon my bad Spanish analogy, but since I love Tres Leches cake, I thought I’d compare Tres Veroes, a fine movie written and directed by Sandra Kogut.
First the perfect three part structure: Decembers of 2015, 2016, and 2017.
2015 begins with Mada, played brilliantly by Regina Case, as housekeeper/family caretaker to a wealthy Brazilian family. Add in holy Cell phone interruptus which reeks of shady, an ailing patriarch and lavish parties.
Mada through it all is a brash, hopeful woman who truly wants to start her own ‘kiosk’, think roadside food stand and appears to be getting a loan from her boss to make this dream come true.
2016 begins with the wealthy family apparently unable to make it back from ‘vacation’ and Mada calling folks to tell them that Secret Santa and their annual celebration are cancelled. Characters, including the ailing patriarch seem to have new life blood, in light of new developments and the ‘help’ is also able to pivot to other pursuits to make ends meet.
2017 begins with further business excursions; the filming of a commercial within the home from what I gather is selling either mixers, or other small appliances and using the house as an airbnb. I won’t spoil the ending.
Well written and well acted, I liked the frenetic pace and the outspoken passion of the characters. Americans certainly look like stiffs in comparison. I found the end catharthis to be a bit stunted, but the structure, cinematography and joy of the main character made up for that tiny glitch. Worth the 10$ rental fee from Sarasota Film Society’s virtual cinema.
Emerald Fennell’s written and directed Promising Young Woman is worth seeing. Good twists, scant violence, bravo on both counts. Now let’s talk about assuming your audience is intelligent, a demographic of which I guess Emerald doesn’t care to appeal.
Much like Fincher’s Gone Girl, the characters are rather 2-D, there’s bad frat boys, there’s disgraced, vengeful women, women who just care about marrying for status and then there’s smarmy coffee shop employees and customers. Yawn.
There’s also the old stupid movie trope where no one goes through the proper channels for justice; police, legal teams, nor is there any ramifications for the ‘hero’s’ tawdry Robin Hood type ways.
And let’s get another item ballyhooed about among some dumber critics; this is NOT Carey Mulligan’s most demanding role: see “Drive’ or “Far From the Madding Crowd” for better quality acting and writing.
I love Jennifer Coolidge in everything she does, even here as Carey’s mom. Ditto Molly Shannon as Carey’s best friend’s mother. Since Alison Bree bugs the tar out of me, I was fine with her being the shallow gold digger. Bo Burnham was perfect as the old college alum who comes back to woo her, anyone else would have ruined the movie for sure.
The Twentieth Century is a satire that makes getting older a breeze…why you ask? Because I learn more about former my upstairs neighbor (me-Rochester, them-Canada). Who knew they had a famous prime minister (or any prime minister) named Mackenzie King who lacked charisma, but made up for that in spades in eccentricity.
If you happened on this movie without knowing a thing….you’d say, ‘hmm, look at this kooky flick from the 1970’s when people could get away with avant-garde.’
The magically hilarious writer/director is Matthew Rankin, who is a newbie in full length films. Encore, encore! The stars, totally commit to their wacky roles, and I’ll name the actors who had to show the most range or captured the most screen time: Dan Beirne as King, Sarianne Cormier as the Nurse, and Emmanuel Schwartz as Lady Violet.
You have to see this film to believe it. It had the subversive charm of Death Race 2000, Sylvester Stallone’s very first film.
Another Round written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who according to IMDB, is one of the Danish forefounders of “dogme95, a set of rules dedicated to reintroducing the element of risk in film-making,” is best known to me from his direction in the great Thomas Hardy adaptation from “Far From the Maddening Crowd”.
Another Round passes the great movie litmus test of evoking a mood or feeling that reverberates long after the movie ends…in this case a feeling of mindfulness over reckless abandon. After witnessing several men and teenagers lose their control over moderate drinking habits, I was left with the ‘watch what you’re doing’ self-observation even in the reality that I fall under the CDC’s guidelines on healthy average weekly drinks.
The acting is top notch; Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen (four time winner of Best Danish actor), Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe portray a bros before hoes gang who, like my never to be seen or read screenplay “Buck Up” get together and decide to re-claim their identities through a drinking experiment.
A universal truth, for me, and evidently the psychological study’s founder Finn Skarderud, I believe having a tiny buzz certainly adds to my extroversion and ability to speak my mind. It helps shut off my rigid self-consciousness. What I definitely DON’T believe in is doing this 24-7, which also led to the demise (spoiler alert) of the four men.
The film is a scathing look at alcohol misuse and abuse by both young and old, and yet I see dumb asses who are billing this film as a “delightful comedy” (Sean Burns WBUR, and Hollywood Reporter Scott Roxborough). They must also think Leaving Las Vegas was a laugh riot spoof. Lord, send breathalyzers to both these folks.
To end on a positive note, Thomas Vinterberg helps bring up our society’s overuse of alcohol and yet, to give Burns and Roxborough a break, since no children were hurt during the film and since we do collectively like to giggle at drunks-Otis Andy Griffith, your ‘drunk Uncle’, he possibly sanitizes the negative results a little too much.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Pieces of a Woman
The Last Shift
Sound of Metal
The Life Ahead
Dick Johnson is Dead
Jimmy Carter Rock and Roll President
Borat Subsequent Movie
Let Them All Talk
You know what your going to get when you turn on or read mainstream news, you choose what makes you feel congratulated with stories that say, ‘you’re right!’ or ‘be afraid’ which in this sense, means, ‘You’re left.’ Ok enough of my political humor…I’m a moderate for the record, wishing everyone could always compromise and be adults…and with that to finish off the metaphor…in my perfect world, the news of the world stories would be more like the truly precise and helpful graphs they (the Times) posts about Covid outbreaks. A factual news paper with the obvious exception of the Op-Ed pages.
And since my m.o. is for everyone to be happy and get along, and since we did sell many copies of Jiles’ book News of the World for that very reason-the ‘nice story aspect,’ a feel good, feel right tale that brings everyone comfort, I was in the mood for a lazy river ride, where I can tell the beats coming up in a story. And who is more of a reassuring actor than Tom Hanks, ground zero Covid celeb?
I guess I raised my hopes for maybe a more complex story given the two who adapted the screenplay were Paul Greenglass (who also directed News of the World and directed the fantastic Captain Phillips) and Luke Davies who wrote both Lion and Beautiful Boy, both complex and very moving films.
And I really do like Tom Hanks (should receive the most handsome beard and mustache set for sure), but maybe it’s that I can’t unsee him in his better films, so everything else now is simply gravy. Or perhaps the story was just too simple…And I really don’t want to hear how profound the young girl (what gives with the Howdy Doody makeup freckles?) as (Helena Zengel) since she didn’t have a lot to do, REALLY, and young actors like Lucas Jaye from Driveways did ten times the acting this year.
Sorry to bring the bad news to the world…News of the World is just mediocre to me.
Black Bear, written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, had a lot of promise, yet landed with a thud. Let’s just say it’s a movie about a screenwriter full of ideas.
The lead is one of my favorite comedic actresses Aubrey Plaza (my faves: Ingrid Goes West &An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn). And while she is great here, I did not find her character sympathetic enough to care about, she was just another histrionic female who I would not want to know. Ditto with actress Sarah Gadon, super acting, but another broad I’d steer clear of in real life.
The male of the triangle, actor Christopher Abbott who could be a long lost brother of Shia LeBouef, is terrific as the sadistic and narcissistic husband and boyfriend, but at the risk of sounding redundant, not someone I want to know. Hence, lack of plot plus unlikable characters equals an annoying movie.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was also annoying, but only until I settled in and quit fixating on Viola’s lip syncing and the obvious playwright’s (August Wilson’s original, screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson) techniques of a one room hostage situation where we are stuck in a room with people arguing. Once I got past those items, I marveled in Chadwick Boseman’s performance. Not being hip to Black Panther (just not a super hero movie fan), I was amazed at the depth of his acting. He BECAME his trumpet playing character, not overly acted (as I found the two record execs to be-Jeremy Shamos and Jonny Coyne). Ma’s love interest, actress Taylour Paige, also seemed rather overblown, but strategic in standing out in an ensemble as formidable as Davis and Boseman. Viola Davis is an acting force, I genuflect to her power. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is definitely worth seeing, just be ready to don your Broadway thespian patience cap.
Meryl Streep’s political sourness had turned me off for a bit, as well as the quality of roles she was choosing…not sure which came first the chicken or the egg, and yet she is the same woman who in August Osage County, I came to tears thinking, I don’t want this woman (acting GOAT) to ever perish.
So, boy, was I relieved to see Let Them All Talk, THIS is the Meryl I had missed. Of course, she was given quality material by newbie screenwriter (but seasoned actress) Deborah Eisenberg and fabulous direction by none other than Stephen Soderbergh (Oscar Winner for “Traffic”).
Two other major factors made this film ultra gorgeous; Candice Bergen as the middle class friend of the trio, who evokes an empathy for those down on their luck broads who has worked their asses off, yet always seem just out of reach of the brass ring. Second, the classy jazz soundtrack by Thomas Newman (WOW! 15 time Oscar nominee, the Susan Lucci of Oscars….)…check it out if you can, really beautiful romantic jazz music.
Also rans for helping jazz up the film are Lucas Hedges and Dianne Wiest. Lucas is given more to do than Dianne, but quality is quality, even when it’s merely a dash of salt.
The theme of this movie is thought provoking; my take is that deep friendship is tough to maintain over time, especially when some reach fame where others flounder…but I guess the answer is karma wins out in the end.
Craig Roberts wrote and directed Eternal Beauty starring the incandescent Sally Hawkins. She could make almost any script look good, but all she had to do was bring her A game given the poignant, well drawn dysfunctional family comedy/drama.
With the help of another new, dare I predict future Oscar nominated, actor David Thewlis (Golden Globe winner for Fargo and amazing in I’m Thinking of Ending Things), this pair makes you dream of Todd Solondz’s happier script moments. While I haven’t deep dived into Craig Roberts (note to IMDB: your biographies offer scant inf lately), let’s just say he has the jaded Scotsman approach to life down cold, reminding me of Solondz cynicism.
The other characters in Eternal Beauty are also terrific, notably Sally’s ‘sisters’; Billie Piper and Morfydd Clark.
The movie’s theme is normal is boring, and as a self-proclaimed non-conformist, I second that emotion. While the movie’s subject schizophrenia is nothing to laugh at, Roberts puts things in perspective by showing how nuts the general population surrounding Sally, ne Jane, really are.
I’ll definitely backtrack to see Craig Roberts act in Submarine, of which Sally Hawkins plays his mother. I have a feeling all three of these talents (Hawkins, Thewlis and Roberts) will get a golden statue sometime soon.