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.

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

“Parasite”: Impressive Korean New Wave But Will it Be Oscar’s Fave?

Bong Joon Ho, is part of the Korean New Wave and writer and director of what some say is ‘Picture of the Year”. But what makes a film worthy of such a moniker? It all comes down to story (and scene moments), acting and cinematography.

Let’s take story first. Like Joker, Parasite tackles class and wage discrepancy, but this time set in Bong Joon Ho’s South Korea rather than the good ol’ USA.

Parasite, at its center, contains genius story telling, yet Bong Joon Ho still needs to par the story down in order to make a movie that moves me, or if I may be so bold to say, for ‘the audience’ in general.

Story and Acting: The film seemed promising. Bong Joon Ho’s premise that the son, played by Woo-sik Choi, be the redemptive character did indeed have pivotal incremental stages demonstrating this shift.

Yet since the son is an apathetic kid, as is his family (is this jaded mentality due to their financial circumstances or part of a South Korean mentality?) we don’t see him as the supposed main character ever hurt emotionally or psychologically. In addition, his subsequent infiltration of the upper class is far too easy lessening any impactful empathy.

Moments/Scenes: There were four meaningful moments for me which I’ll merely mention in brief as to not spoil anything:

*the scene where the original housekeeper and her husband reminisce about their more genuine appreciation for the upper class family’s house.

*gymnasium shelter talk about planning where is father tells his nihilistic philosophy that life is too chaotic to even try to plan.

*his make out scene with his student where he begins to realize he does not fit in to the aristocratic culture or that he doesn’t want to since it seems more shallow and plastic.

*the ending which I loved.

Missing for me was a hot of the son as he, his father and sister were hiding under the coffee table. Here, Joon-Ho switches to focus on the father, played by Kang-ho Song who definitely showed the biggest acting range in the movie’s totality.

So perhaps moments are truly what make a movie. While Joker was a lesser movie in story (psychopath rather than Parasite’s family of grifters), I actually had more empathy for Arthur Fleck, because the writers helped me empathize with him.

Unfortunately, Parasite, like another of Bong Joon Ho’s films, Snowpiercer, contains so many extraneous and intricate plot details, my view became too clouded to care enough about the son. Hence, I fatigued and while still enjoying Bong Joon Ho’s ideas, the film is not evocative to me.

Another example of lost opportunity is the scene early on where the son tutors the high schooler seemingly laying the foundation for the word ‘vigor’ which he certainly employed in helping his family get jobs at the same house. But this was not tied back to have the impact it could have at the movie’s end. Again, the son has the upperhand in this scene, and without suffering, he is not a useful main character.

One more point about the actors: While the father figure was definitely the stand out performer, a second impressive performance was carried out by the wealthy mother played by Yeo-jeong Jo, who I ended up feeling almost as much for as the supposed main character, the son.

Addendum-I wrote this before hearing that Bong Joon Ho built his own sets. And the creepy basement was a feat. Hence a tie in this area.

While I still think Joker set Unfortunately, Parasite is also lesser than Joker in its cinematography. Without the flood scene, and the housekeeper reminiscing scene, the only amazing visual is the gorgeous house of the wealthy family. Even “The Farewell” ‘wore cinematography better’ in giving us a glimpse into the sad urban changes to the Chinese landscape.

So I may need to be convinced by fellow podcast reviewers that Parasite is not simply a close, but no cigar.

No “First Man”, But No Second Banana Either: Ad Astra

First of all, do you know what Ad Astra means? It’s a Latin phrase meaning: “Through Hardships to the Stars”. My former Latin teacher friends; Steve Beaulieu, Mary Belleville, and Susie Scoppa will appreciate that mini lesson.

But Ad Astra is also the title of the new movie by James Gray. I don’t own any movies, nor books; if I want to reread or revisit, there’s the library or streaming. BUT, if I was forced to go into outer space Like Brad Pitt does in Ad Astra, and take only five movies with me, I’d choose an older James Gray film, “Two Lovers” with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. So check out that flick when you have a chance, gorgeous and emotional performances by everyone.

Ad Astra enthralled me, but to use a Palin, ‘I betcha’ a lot of folks won’t like. What First Man did with giant sound, Ad Astra does with quiet spaces. And you know how modern day folks can’t stand the silence.

Without giving spoilers, Brad Pitt goes in search of his dad, Tommy Lee Jones, who decided he’d rather stay in outer space rather than come back to this God forsaken planet.

The film does a great job in the first half showing the ridiculousness of an inhabited and colonized Moon, with Subway sandwich shops and hooligans who commit crater (road) rage! The suspense was built nicely throughout this portion.

I still enjoyed the quieter more meditative second half and appreciated Brad Pitt’s lending facial expressions and body language to nuance an emotional performance. And while I thought Chazelle’s First Man was better story telling, (and I realize that’s a Captain Obvious statement, given it was a true story) I believe Pitt is at the Diderot’s (author of The Paradox of Acting) epox of life where his emotions are under control, yet accessible enough to portray such gorgeous inner struggle.

In a contemplative mood, go see Ad Astra, you’ll enjoy the peace.

Lean on Pete, Saddle Up, It’s a Wild Ride

My brother recommended Lean on Pete (directed by Andrew Haigh, also of 45 Years, another solid film) and I joked with him after that he’d owe for the Valium needed to come down from the angst. But the bigger question is, my brother didn’t like the Florida Project due to its realism, so why did he like Lean on Pete, which was more harrowing by a long shot?

No matter, we all have our pet topics, some of us are PETA people, some care about child neglect and abuse (me), others more concerned with wayward youts (that’s a My Cousin Vinny relate) and I’m assuming my brother’s soft spot.

Lean on Pete took the torture your hero screenplay conceit to new heights. The obstacles were plenty and while the movie kept me in suspense, due to its 2 hours running length frayed my nerves. At one point, I turned to my date (a non-sequitur specialist) and said, “I’m going to kill my brother” since I was tired of shielding my overly sensitive eyes and ears to the violence.

I will say the movie did an excellent job in the putting me in a different mind space as I walked out of the theater thinking I might be homeless, especially as I walked solo home, carting my take out guac and salsa, passing by packs of families and dinner dates.

Yet Charlie (the main character of the film, portrayed AMAZINGLY well by Charlie Plummer, also of The Dinner) understood, and I empathized, that it takes a strong person to deny needing anyone’s help, and to suck it up and go it alone. It beats the hell out of wanting someone’s loong story to come to some type of meaningful conclusion.

Supportin cast-wise, Steve Buschemi was great as the horse owner, Chloe Seivgny fantastic as the cynical female jockey Steve Zahn as drunken a-hole (sorry no other way to say that), Travis Fimmel as drunken dad. The only weak link was the Aunt, who seemed too obscure, but I guess at the point in the film where she is discovered, we just want white milk and not a white Russian.

See this film, it may get a nom or two come awards time.

Killing of a Sacred Deer, Communal Grousing Fun

Immediately following (and actually many times during) my friend Tim and I derisively mocked the film Killing of a Sacred Deer. “Implausible”, “Who cares about these non-emotional people?”, “No mother is ever going to say (with the exception in this silly classic horror film trope), ‘Don’t involve the cops'”.

But there I was the following day in Ft. Myers, defending the film. “Wasn’t it fun to mock?” “Isn’t it a film we won’t forget?” “Did it not hold our suspense?” Hence, I suggest renting it when you really need a distraction from reality.

What was well done, besides the aforementioned suspense? Well, the actors were top notch: you can’t get much bigger or better than Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell for Pete’s sakes. And if they can be monotone for the entire script (with one or two scenes of rare exception) then doggone it, we gotta hand it to them for consistency.

And if some deranged parents convinced their children to act in such bizzaro roles and they’re not scarred (or scared) for life, well, then you’ve got some good family therapists.

Probably who stole the show was Barry Keoghan who from my research had a pretty bizarre upbringing of his own (mother deceased, IMDB implying drug or alcohol abuse) raised by a tough Grandma. Perhaps he has a second career opportunity in figure skating (that’s a bad Tonya Harding joke). Barry was also in Dunkirk which I did not see, unable to do a war movie, since Saving Private Ryan pretty much did me in. But this guy’s going places, hopefully at least out of Grandma’s house.

Of the three Yorgo Lanthimos (writer/director) films I’ve seen, I’d say Dogtooth was my favorite, this one second, followed very closely by The Lobster. And due to the beauty of IMDB, I am now in search of one more Yorgo film I have not seen, Alps. Get it at Redbox and live a little.

Undulous and Evocative Swells: The Shape of Water

I remember the first time I heard Schubert’s Winterreise on NPR, white knuckle driving the snowy commute from home to school. Made more poignant by dancer Bill T Jone’s tale of watching his father’s brutal walk in the bitter cold to make ends meet for his family. (https://www.wabe.org/winter-songs-bill-t-jones-picks-schuberts-winterreise/) The music and memory made me calm.

Much like last night, where I walk-ran from work at 40 degrees to Burns Court Cinema to see The Shape of Water. I could have done stand up comedy last night and had my script prepared, yet the four day run of cold temperatures had frozen any mojo I had mustered. And just like Schubert’s beautiful music soothed, so did the magnificent story telling of Guillermo Del Torro and Vanessa Taylor on a chilly night in Sarasota.

Trust me, it wasn’t ‘just’ the story. This was a family affair, an incredible mixture of acting and music virtuoso. My two tiny complaints I’ll get out of the way right here, in that I can’t say I liked the cinematography. As other reviewers have pointed out, del Torro likes things a little too dark. And speaking of dark, figuratively this time, I really wish the torture scenes were shorter. I know, I know, I can hear screenplay script Gordy Hoffman saying this now, “you have to torture your hero.”

Now what I was amazed at:
the acting: I’ve championed Sally Hawkins forever and see my previous blogs, most recently “Maudie” for which she may have even shown more brilliance. Here she is perfect as the dreamy mute who fantasizes her way into the arms of a sea creature.
Richard Jenkins is also stunning as Sally’s man pal and I had to take a commercial break to research. He was nominated for an Oscar for The Visitor (gorgeous film) and garnered a Golden Globe Award for this film. He has my vote. I also added a library hold on one that I had seen the trailer for called The Hollars for which he also earned praise.
Michael Shannon, well, if you know me, you know I’ve been infatuated with him since Revolutionary Road, was privileged to get to see him in person at a George Eastman House Q&A, and now hope he doesn’t get pigeon holed as the Lurch like villain. He has much more to him than this role, and yet, I can’t say he wasn’t tremendous here.
Octavia Spencer, who I felt sorry for, playing another role of ‘the help’ in the 1950’s, was also so good, that my awe outweighed my shame for how stupid and prejudiced America used to be (though sadly there are obviously still pockets remaining).
The writing and editing spot on, again, except for the violence. The weaving in of water imagery, eggs=birth, implied sex, romance, an homage to cinema past, all beautifully done. Even the nuanced prejudice and male chauvinism added to the film’s verisimilitude making you forget any skepticism about the sea creature. It was almost as if to believe that humans could be so ignorant to each other’s needs then you might as well better believe the creature from the black lagoon could actually exist.

The end of the film literally reminded me of the denouement of a gorgeous piano concerto. Perfection. Watch out Top Ten List, some one’s gotta make way for this water!

That’s amore`, that’s a screenplay! Spinelli’s American Made

Two aspects of American Made immediately impressed me; first the taut screenplay by Gary Spinelli* and Tom Cruise‘s perpetual likeability**.

*I’ll continue to research, but thus far, there’s not a whole lot of bio information about Gary Spinelli. I assume he’s relatively new at screenwriting according to the short list of his writings on IMDB. Though it appears he wrote a stinker back in 2012 (Stash House), and has since roared back now with American Made (with a tv show and a film in pre-production). Spinelli’s American Made condensed a complicated story (drugs and weapon running in the 80’s) with equally convoluted politicians (are there any other kinds?) and clearly established three sets of characters (Cruise and wife, the CIA and a drug cartel). So bravo Mr. Spinelli. Your script is worth seeing again.

Speaking of seeing a movie again, a shout out to the prince of princes who saw American Made a second time for my benefit AND who bought me a garment to keep me warm in the why-the-f-must-Floridians-a.c.-the-hell-out-of-us atmosphere of CineBistro?

**Another gentlemen who’s a prince in his roles at least, Tom Cruise is certainly irresistible in his polite and handsome, “ma’am, I’m sorry to inconvenience you, but this is the way it has to be. I must be heroic, or anti-heroic.” Here, he’s the latter, playing real life Barry Seal who is fleshed out in a fantastic piece of journalism (http://fair.org/home/american-made-a-largely-true-story-with-some-not-so-fun-lies/) that takes apart the truth vs. make believe of the story. Tom Cruise with his gargantuan acting ability hypnotizes us into rooting for him, no matter what his character does, in this case putting his family in danger for his thrill seeking career pursuits.
And anti-hero could be closer to the real Tom Cruise, according to the rumor mill, what with his rather demented Scientology fixation).

Three other quick accolades must be mentioned: Doug Liman, director (and not coincidentally, probably got the great stories from his dad, Iran/Contra counsel Arthur Liman) also director of Edge of Tomorrow (great film!), Sarah Wright as Mrs. Seal, and though not a huge role, the always consistently good, Domhnall Gleeson as a cold, calculated CIA agent.

American Made is definitely worth going to, even for a second viewing to fully grasp the screenwriting’s excellency.

Twilight is Broken and thank goodness: Good Time

If it hadn’t been for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s interview on Marc Maron’s podcast, I would have been very reluctant to see Good Time. I mean a crime drama starring the dude from Twilight isn’t exactly in my wheel house of interests.

But JJ Leigh interested me, even more so her back story, her dad Vic Morrow killed in the Twilight (wait Twilight again, holy coincidence) Zone movie accident, her husband Noah Baumbach leaving her for Greta Gerwig, etc.

JJ Leigh’s only in Good Time for ten minutes max, but she definitely causes a stir. Those with the most screen time are equally magnetic, especially the star, Robert Pattinson. In Good Time, he looks so different from his plain white milk vampire films that he seemed brand new. His performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination, but the character lacks the range for a trophy. This isn’t the actor’s fault, but just a tiny flaw in the writing. Without more back story, we’re left as an audience to wonder. Not a bad thing, and certainly intriguing, but not deep enough then to be a tko of a film.

Two other male leads are also fantastic, one of whom co-wrote and co-directed the film, Josh Safdie. His performance as a hearing impaired brother of Robert Pattinson had an Of Mice and Men Lennie and George quality and was equally poignant and elusive due to the plot. The third ‘stooge’ who garners screen time is a very good question that I need to research further. He’s not on the top of the imdb list, but I will keep searching as he plays a very believable thug rendition.

Minor characters added to the film’s verisimilitude which really felt like a director’s cut of a Cops episode, a Paul Harvey’s ‘the rest of the story’, which is even alluded to in scenes where characters are watching the Time Warner 24 hour news program.

This film was so real, I was frightened for my son’s safety in NYC, as any one of these characters and situations could harm an innocent bystander. Akin to lifting a blanket up and discovering your bed infested by bed bugs or the human equivalent thereof. Good Time is thus best seen in the cinema as you need to put your seat belt on without distractions to really enjoy the suspense and ironic subtlety of the film’s performances.

I am grateful for my friend Dave who picked me up in the pouring rain and who not only understands the art of conversation (meaning he didn’t lecture or bludgeon my ears with his life expertise) as have my last few encounters. Bless Dave with good karma this week as he undergoes some medical testing.

Adam “Baby” Driver, Just One Reason to see Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky was just what the doctor ordered, a squeeze in of fun between one enervating work shift and before a totally different, and oft times lonely eight hours. I shan’t bore you with the details, besides there’s too much to say about Logan Lucky.

Not just because Adam Driver, is the attractive introverted, quirky, yet intelligent machisomo co-star. And not just because Steven Soderbergh is so prolific. Check out his IMDB page some time, but be sure you have awhile. Under each sub category: writer, director, producer…his lists are vast. In fact, who knows (?), Soderbergh could have written the screenplay for Logan Lucky since the ‘real’ writer Rebecca Blunt may be a fictitious person (according to IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm8362793/?ref_=tt_ov_wr)

And here’s where I have to call out the establishment on Channing Tatum. Is he going to be the new Jeff Bridges, where he does all this outstanding work with no wins until he’s old and scraggly? I mean come on, Foxcatcher should have earned him something besides best ensemble. And in Logan Lucky, he plays a West Virginain hick with a limp, a feat (pun unintended) and a stretch (pun intended) and a half considering the guy’s got Timberlake caliber dancing skills!

Daniel Craig, fantastic as the explosives expert convict, has earned a merit badge from me. He’s got acting and comedy in his blood in spite of the needs-to-be-put-to-rest James Bond franchise.

And let’s give kudos to the women, too. Katie Holmes, so heartening to see her in a quality film. And breaking news, just realized that Riley Keough, also is Elvis’s granddaughter (or Lisa Marie’s child), wow! This girl not only has soul, but is married to a stunt man, priceless! Farrah MacKenzie is also so sweet as the little Jon Benet Ramsey type.

The smaller parts were classic as well. Seth MacFarlane (say his name tangy and he seems like he could be a West Virginian, ok, an Irish West Virginian) was a CLASSIC. Dwight Yoakam also PRICELESS as the prison warden. Hillary Swank, cardboardy (see my upcoming caricature complaint), but always good to see.

The heist plot is super intricate, and the characters well drawn if even too much so. Meaning, the characters were close to caricatures, especially Hillary Swank’s stick up her backside FBI agent, as well as Daniel Craig’s doofy brothers who reminded me of Larry Darryl and the other Darryl on the Bob Newhart show. But I guess that was part of the Blunt/Soderbergh’s fun.

Definitely worth seeing in the grandeur of the big screen, especially if you’re in need of an escape from quasi menial jobs that can occasionally get on your nerves.