Sub ‘Twisted’ for ‘Promising’ Young Woman

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.

Black Bear and Black Bottom (Ma Rainey’s)

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.

The Parallax View’s 1974 Sage Advice for 2020

Coincidentally themed, Rashomon (1950) and The Parallax View (1974), a film I watched last night, both address how an object (in both films the object in question is a crime) can look different depending on the angle from which you view it. An not to sound too much like Mister Rogers, but, ‘Kids, isn’t that true of life as we know it?”

For instance, one angle of Covid19 is the profound tragedy, including the hundreds of thousands of deaths and vast financial ruin. YET, another viewpoint unfolds a necessary pause from a world spinning out of control, re-uniting families and friends to a more natural, non-material goods based relationships. Mature folks can hold on to both realities and take a breath realizing that beauty can be found even in our restricted lives. We breathe, we have water, food and electricity.

In The Parallax View, a Presidential candidate assassination spurs a reporter to uncover a conspiracy.

First and foremost, Gordon Willis (Oscar nominations for Zelig and The Godfather III) deserved huge credit for the cinematography. If you want a vicarious travel experience, watch this film. You get a trip to the Space Needle in Seattle, the Skagit River Gorge Dam, as well as the wonder of watching two colorful marching band scenes. Equally praise worthy are the trio of sound men [Dockendorf, Grenzbach (Oscar winner for Platoon) & Overton]. if your jaw doesn’t drop going from rushing rapids sound to absolute quiet, you’re not listening.

The acting is also topnotch: Warren Beatty, probably the most handsome man from the ’70’s, Hume Cronin, at a young 63 years of age, William Daniels (the Dad from The Graduate, still alive into his 90’s), and Paula Prentiss (also still kicking and still married to Richard Benjamin).

The story, originally from a novel by Buffalo born Loren Singer and was directed by Alan J. Pakula, (three time Oscar nominated for writing Sophie’s Choice, directing All the President’s Men and To Kill A Mockingbird).

Not sure which writer to blame for the last twenty minutes which slowed down to the same pace as the kiddie train ride Beatty takes to procure a fake i.d., but until then, The Parallax View is a thrilling ride of color and sound, with the added eye candy and panache of Beatty, Daniels and Cronin.

You Go Girls!: Blow the Man Down

Hey Bridget Savage and Danielle Krudy, you go girls!!

I loved their moody noir set in a Maine fishing town. The movie opens with fishmen singing traditional sea faring songs. And yet the movie doesn’t take itself too serious, and one of the fishmen actually breaks the fourth wall giving a knowing look and a smile. Love it!

Acting wise, Sophie Lowe stole the show for me. Her big sister trying to fix up ‘little’s mayhem was poignant. Morgan Saylor portrayed the younger sister, and while proficient, her acting seemed to be more clumsy. Equally as good was Gayle Rankin, whose stark blonde hair and hawk like nose give her a unique fierceness.

Other acting highlights were June Squibb and Margo Martindale who after brief research, won Prime Time Emmy’s for The Americans. Male acting highlights (besides the aforementioned fishmen) got to the two cops: veteran Skipp Sudduth and relative newbie Will Brittain who’s tough vulnerability was the perfect oxymoron.

Blow the Man Down is not a 10. Like Phone Booth, it’s a shake your head knowing what the characters should do (which would negate the plot, I fully realize). Yet, unlike and better than Phone Booth, I never thought it was cheesey. Eerie, yes, and with that I’ll end and commend the music gurus who composed beautifully creepy music: Jordan Dykstra and Brian McOmber.

Phone Booth from 2002

Hey, just curious…do I ever get to retire? Trust me, I feel blessed to be working 33 hours this week, BUT just when I thought I was on easy street, working part-time and having fun dog sitting, here comes Covid-19 to screw up the works. At least my gravestone will say “She Worked It!”

Last night I took in a somewhat iconic film I had missed due to my son being 9 years old in 2002, and since I was having so much fun as a mom and home owner, I didn’t give a fig about movies back then.

Phone Booth was directed by Joel Shcumacher (written by Larry Cohen) starring Colin Farrel with Forrest Whitaker, Katie Homes (man did she look like a teenager (she was 23) with annoying baby voice) and Radha Mitchell. Oh yeh and Kiefer Sutherland’s voice (eye roll).

First, the good news; the movie is short and tightly written. The acting is top notch, especially Colin Ferrel (can we give him an Oscar soon? Killing of the Sacred Dear was amazing and of course In Bruges was terrific as well). The minor characters were also beleiveable.

The plot though, I’m sorry to say, is cheesey. Kiefer’s voice sounded much too Messiah-like and unreal. I kept thinking (since I didn’t allow myself to read about it ahead a time) the voice was actually Kevin Spacey (since he is the biggest Hollywood creep of all time-next to Weinstein).

The ending, too, just seemed cheap. I don’t think this held up over time, but I’m open to comments if someone wants to convince me of something more profound.

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.