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. ( 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 ( 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:

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.

One Outta Three Ain’t Bad: Gilliam, Gillespie and LaGravenese

I attempted three movies in the last five days and only got through one…I know, rescind my film fanatic card. Ya see, I need some comedy in my life and that wasn’t going to happen in any way shape or form in The Last Five Years (LaGravense-a name that works-‘grave’) nor in Lars and The Real Girl. Hence, Gillian’s the winner this week with The Zero Theorum (Gilliam).

Before I criticize LaGravenese, I did see he worked on Behind the Candelabra, well done and award winning. And what did I expect about a musical that ends in a break up? I’ve owned the song Shiksa Goddess on my ipod for probably ‘the last five years’ and was simply enamored with the song and the fantasy of being one once. But waaa, waa, waa, did not happen.
The good news, Anna Kendrick, who I slayed in Mr. Right is the perfect fit here. She can sing and she can pout, perfection. Jeremy Jordan, who plays the male lead, was too pretty for my taste, but I get how difficult it must be to find a great singer and rugged all in one body.

Round Two of weird sadness was Lars and the Real Girl. For once, I’m going to say I was right in the first place to avoid this film. Love Gosling and love Patrica Clarkson…even like Paul Schneider (why I gave it a chance), BUT it was schmaltz city. Perfect fodder for a short film, but a full length film about a guy in love with a mannequin that’s not absurdist is simply ridiculous.

And now on to the winner of the week, suggested by my friend Pat (THANK YOU FOR HAMILTON AND SAN FRAN!!!!). Zero Theorum stars Christoph Waltz who usually bugs me and even here with his glaring bald head was a tad annoying, but the film’s theme of ‘existentialism’ or rather existential crisis caused by technology and the corporate are my pet peeves, too. And there was that Gilliam light hearted ‘we’ll get through this together’ mood which is always affecting. Melanie Thierry was adorable as the love interest, and look at old or should I say pre-Manchester young Lucas Hedges who did a great job here as a kid with affluenza. Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton also do nice side action work.

So I’m left to focus on the positive, relishing a call from my good college friend Laurie who’s in the same boat (date people I don’t feel a connection with or feel lonely) and listen to jazz fusion to erase Lars and The Last Five Years.

The Assassination of Jesse James: a History Lesson

I sought out The Assassination of Jesse James after being blown away by Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. I was fully aware that Casey had ‘been around the block’, but hadn’t been able to suffer through the violent films he usually participated in.

But first, do you ever wonder what happens to your brain on a daily basis? Like my third Sofia review…what the hell happened? It was like my brain had a brown out, a dim wattage moment. I’ve since spruced it up, but was it dehydration? Pizza rather than popcorn for dinner? Let’s hope my foot bone preservation pool jogging this morning doesn’t have the same ill effects on my writing.

Andrew Dominik, director, of The Assassination of Jesse James, now to be abbreviated as TAOJJ, has done two other films I’d be willing to check out based on the quality of TAOJJ. The Nick Caves doc, which sadly can not be had via the library system This Time With More Feeling and what sounds like violence galore (I’ll shut my eyes, as I did with TAOJJ) Killing Them Softly.

So about TAOJJ. At first, the corny narration and blurried frame sequences made me feel like I was watching a lesser Ken Burns PBS special. But I got use to it and I understand that it was the best way to impart a lot of back story in little time. The ending(S) were a tiny bit tedious, but again, I get it. Dominik wanted to show the ‘rest of the story’ and chose to do it in shorter vignettes.

And what a sad tale it was…I mean when I hear Jesse James, sure I know of the bank robber, but my first thought always goes to that philandering tattooed scoundrel who was married to Sandra Bullock. But based on my historical learning from this film-poor Bob Ford! Talk about no good deed goes unpunished! Hence the annoying subtitle I didn’t bother you with earlier: “By the Coward Robert Ford”.

Casey was off the charts and should be eclipsing his big bro by now…who cares about Ben, besides the dimwitted woman who just left her husband for him. Casey’s part was also far richer than that of Jesse James himself, though played well by power house Brad Pitt.

Equally good were the other supporting roles: Paul Schneider who I’m getting to know more and more after bragging about him in Bright Star (next up Lars and the Real Girl, based on his IMDB page), Sam (my #2 man in the world) Rockwell and someone I’ve never seen before, Garret Dillahunt who was tremendous as bunny scared Ed Miller. I’ll be checking him out on The Guest Book, a Community looking TBS show premiering August 3rd.

So I learned some history and got to see Casey Affleck agonize in another gorgeous portrayal over having to kill his hero. Bravo!

Baby Driver: Gentlemen, You Started My Engine!

And so it (finally) begins, an excellent summer movies season. First, Dinner with Beatrix and now BABY DRIVER. While not perfect, Baby Driver is excellent right up to the last ten minutes.

But wait, this podcast is brought to you by Pete Ryckaert, a Rochester visitor who not only treated me to the movie, but to a high end movie experience. If you live in a city lucky enough to have CineBistro, run, don’t walk to this venue. Recliners and gourmet food? Fuggedaboutit.

Back to the review: anytime you pair great music with action and/or emotion, you’ve got a winner. Most of the time anyway (sorry, no dice Lala ‘B’Land). I was in love with Baby Driver even before seeing it, after reading the LA Times article about how the star, Ansel Elgort, landed the role after telling director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, etc) that he knew the words to Easy by the Commodores (SOLD! Love that song!)

Ansel was made for this role, though I couldn’t help but be a little sad for my son, Liam Enright, who is just as in to music and trying his darnedest to make it in Brooklyn (go see him at the Bitter End in Brooklyn on July 7th).

But I digress…again, fully confident that you can handle it, in this a.d.d what’s-my-phone-saying-oh-yes, I’m-listening-to-you-world we live in.

If you loved Drive (Ryan Gosling), you’ll love Baby Driver. With a monosyllabic but ultra hip protagonist (Elgort), a submissive and sensitive romantic interest played by Lily James (Downton Abbey), bad guys galore; Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm (can’t get any better for supporting roles) and of course, drum roll, the man that’s so bad he’s so good (in every damn role he’s ever played) Kevin Spacey.

The film’s action scenes are incredible. I haven’t seen car chases scenes this fun since Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw (The Getaway, “Punch it Baby!”) or the kooky ones in Streisand and O’Neal’s “What’s Up, Doc?”.

My problem with the film is the ending, but I get it. Endings are downright impossible. I’d tell you what I would have liked to have seen, but that would be giving spoilers away. And as you know, I am faithfully yours….no spoilers.