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.

Mank, David Fincher’s Gorgeous Tribute to Dad; Jack

Wow, I already was in love with Mank the movie, fresh out of the can on Netflix. The black and white cinematography (filmed on Red Prototype by Erik Messerschmidt making me feel I’m in the halcyon Wizard of Oz and am so happy I don’t even want colorization), Gary Oldman’s amazing performance, Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer, Amanda Seyfried as Marian Davies and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst: all enchanted me from the get go.

While the film is about the writing of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, portrayed in a small number of scenes by Tom Burke (so good in The Souvenir!) the film centers on Herman Mankiewicz who used Upton Sinclair’s election campaign and his long time affiliation with William Randolf Hearst as super muse to write the first draft of what is arguably the best movie of all time.

The arrow that struck me in the heart in researching this review was that the screenwriter of THIS film is actually director David Fincher’s father, Jack, who died in 2003. The parallelism is outstanding as Jack Fincher’s biopic screenplay on Howard Hughes was turned down for The Aviator. Hence, David was fulfilling his dad’s own dream posthumously all while telling the story of heroic Mankiewicz who also went largely unheralded during his lifetime.

The film is long and maybe a tad overpopulated (did I need the scenes with multiple screenwriters playing cards?) and the flashbacks were a little annoying as well, yet I totally get the need for flashbacks to rev up a story mostly about a writer (Mank) and his muse (WRH’s unruly power and Upton Sinclair’s plea for labor reform).

Gary Oldman is a marvel as is Fincher (both father AND son), the latter of whom is a two time Oscar nominee for The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Probably my highest praise is for Jack Fincher’s screenplay which is whip smart and what Covid couch potatoes need to fire up their brain and attention skills again. Definitely in my top 5 now for 2020.

He makes you work for it: Clint Eastwood’s Bird

I decided watching Bird from 1988 was a lot of work. And then I thought, wait, so was his most recent The Mule, as was Million Dollar Baby. Let’s face it, Clint is one of those Dad’s who made you do chores, lots of them.

Written by Joel Oliansky, Bird is darkly lit, with many a rainy night car ride. I understand that much of the jazz world lived in the night, and certainly Bird’s life contained more darkness than light, still, at a bloated 2 hours plus, at times I felt a The Irishman falshback.

Also, the chemistry between Forest Whitaker (Charlie Bird) and (his common law wife Chan) Diane Venora (who I liked in the modern day take on Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke) was uneven at first. But eventually their union grew on me when I realized that were two eccentric people trying to cobble a relationship all the while one was a jazz genius/heroin junkie/drinker were bound to seem wobbly.

Forest Whtiaker is an amazing actor and I just realized I’ve never seen his academy Award winning performance in The Lat King of Scotland. I am also glad I got to learn about Charlie Parker via biopic.

Blonde Backlash: In Defense of Renee Zellweger

Say what you will about the wonder of Parasite winning best picture and best foreign film, many if not most people piled on to Renee Zellweger in our feeding frenzy pile on, jump on the bandwagon hateful culture. These are the reactionary folks who read soundbites or impassioned tweets and without thinking, go YEH! like a crazed Howard Dean.

Let’s look at the organization of Renee Zellweger’s speech taken from the transcript and really assess if it was really ‘rambling’, shall we?

First paragraph honors her fellow nominees and thanks the movie director and co-workers (17 specifically by name which is impressive). She also recognizes her date and family again by name.
*Her only fault here is the use of the colloquial term ‘boy’.

Second paragraph: Celebrates Judy Garland across generations and offers speech theme of heroes unite us, honoring the best people unites us. She names several specific heroes of all nationalities, genders and ethnic backgrounds.
*she uses ‘boy’ again, bringing out her Texas humility
*Her only fault here is she self corrects when she says across genders (proof she is human)
*And that she negates mid paragraph by saying No when she really means ‘additionally’

She goes on to also call the under rewarded first responders and military which is very loving in a room of super privileged folks.

Last paragraph: she returns to Judy Garland and how this award was never given to her in her life time, but her legacy is proof that the memory longevity of an important artist transcends any ‘award’ they may or may not have been given. She ends with gratitude at the opportunity given to help make this happen.
*Again she mistakenly negates her points by saying No at the beginning of this paragraph making her look ‘confused’ in a very poignant and beautiful speech.