Easy Girl, Complex Plot, Halcyon Memories

When I was just a lass, there use to be Saturday matinees at 2 pm on channel ten (showing my age when there were 4 channels: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS) that were mostly foreign films. And in the tiny town of Perry, New York, Rochester was foreign enough, let alone artsy films from the likes of Italy or Paris, which might as well have been Venus or Mars. But often, I would get sucked in by the otherness of it all, the classical music, the gorgeous scenery, the oddly dubbed in English.

Tonight on Netflix, I took in Easy Girl, after seeing it won the SACD Award at Cannes.

And man, what a find! This movie took me back to the halcyon days of my youth, being enthralled by the sights (literally filmed in Cannes), the sounds (gorgeous soundtrack including Naimi as well as beautiful classical numbers), and best of all, Easy Girl communicates many levels of love (and lust).

The French director and screenwriter Rebecca Zlotkowski communicates the love of family-mother daughter (including teenage contention), cousin to cousin, male female friendships, and the mixed up hormonal need to connect, lover to lover, however awkwardly.

The acting is superb: Mina Farid will bring you to tears and make you smile by the movie’s end, Zahia Dehar will have you drooling and dreaming of Sofia Loren and Lakdhar Dridi will remind you of every beautifully sweet outrageous gay teen you’ve ever known.

The two adult men: Benoit Magimel, was THE student in The Piano Teacher, and is tremendous here, and award winning Portuguese actor Nuno Lopes is wonderfully complex…

As is the whole darn beautiful film. Watch with some patience for the dubbed n weirdness and be moved.

I Use to Go Here, A Pleasure!

I Used to Go Here (written and directed by Kris Rey) was a delight, even overcoming my ‘I miss the theater’ nausea caused from at home video. But no kidding, right? Since I love Jemaine Clement and really like Gillian Jacobs (who I adored in the Netflix series “Love”).

With the aid of an outstandingly casted minor role group, the combo of hormonal crises, both college and biological clock, work. Normally, I’d be shaming the 35 year old woman, but here all’s fair in honest vulnerable people needing connection.

Those great minor actors in order of impact include: Brandon Daley, Hannah Marks (great as the lead in “Banana Split”), Josh Wiggins, and Zoe Chao.

If you’ve ever had a crush on a professor, been the fish out of water (the only unmarried in a swarm of marrieds) or simply heart broken over a breakup, “I Use to Go Here” is a movie for you.

Big Time Talent, Big Time Adolescence

Bravo Jason Orley! I liked the story you wrote called Big Time Adolescence and I liked your directing, too. Though I’m not surprised because I also enjoyed Pete Davidson’s comedy special which you also directed. You’re one sharp cookie!

The story of Big Time Adolescence, a younger guy’s bromance with his big sister’s ex-boyfriend was very realistic, as was the ex-boyfriend’s arrested development. We all know one of those guys who gets mired in his hometown, never evolving, basking in his glory days as party animal.

Pete Davidson is perfectly (type?) cast as ‘the dude’ and his little buddy, Griffin Gluck is definitely going places, spot on as the skeptically naive high schooler. I’ll definitely be on the look out for a new movie he stars in called Dinner in America. Rounding out the cast are Jon Cryer (keep acting!!) and pinch your cheeks cute Thomas Barbusca. While this is mostly a bro movie, two actresses who stood out were Emily Arlook and Oona Laurence. And I have to give one more shout out to the man who played the grouchily disinterested Dad on the couch.

Realistic and fun, yet with a tinge of anxious drama. My kind of movie. Thanks Jason Orley!

Banana Split, New and Tasty!

Banana Split (directed by Benjamin Kasulke whose work I’ve enjoyed in two other films: Laggies and Safety Not Guaranteed) is a tasty new film written by the lead actress Hannah Marks and creative partner Joey Powers.

While the plot’s been done before (even in my own life) in that two young women vie for the same man, Marks and Powers make it seem fresh with a combo of witty dialogue, a cutesie soundtracked grouping of montages in places where we’d normally roll our eyes, and super qualified and likeable actors.

Hannah Marks herself has a face you might see shopping at Publix, yet, her chocolate brown eyes and full lips are quite evocative. Likewise, the man-boy in question is Dylan Sprouse, a pre-Fabio sweet face, as is a Basinger in her twenties hottie Liana Liberato. For comic relief, jester red head Luke Spencer Roberts has the perfect rubbery mouth to make us laugh and care, and a tiny mighty mouse to be reckoned with is Addison Riecke, who I predict could be a future SNL comedian.

Very similar to Book Smart in themes, Banana Split isn’t quiet as intelligent. Party scenes downplay the negative effects of alcohol, a pet peeve of mine. But on a Covd19 Friday evening, the film was a fun watch.

Hooray for something new! Never Rarely Sometimes

Eliza Hittman gorgeously wrote and directed Never Rarely Sometimes Always, available now for the price of two tickets at your living room tv screen. Not ideal conditions, I realize, but dang if this isn’t the best dramatic film I’ve seen this year. Please shoot me if Corpus Christie is my last ever movie theater experience because that flick was far more distressing than First Reformed.

Back to the topic at hand, Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always (winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize) is dripping with verisimilitude from the opening scene of the small washed out town high school talent show. This IS rural America. The grocery store cashier jobs, the bleak lower middle class upbringings, the implied incest, and undercurrent of sexual promiscuity are all woven into a film centering on sisterhood.

Much like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, women rally together in times of unwanted pregnancy, yet Never Rarely Sometimes Always is more emotionally accessible.

The lead, Sidney Flanigan (who stars as Autumn) hails from Buffalo, NY, but I swear I loved her ability and vulnerability before ever knowing she was bred in my backyard. Her cousin Skylar is played by Talia Ryder, who delivers the goods as both feminine toughie and nightingale of sacrifice. According to IMDB, she’ll be starring Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story remake, and if her Ariana Grande look-alike features go deeper, may have singing and dancing talent to boot.

The male lead who stood out was the twenty-something bus rider who courts Skylar, Theodore Pellerin, whose IMDB page is the most experienced of the three.

I found myself talking to the screen, telling the characters what to do, proof that I was moved enough to try to intervene. Unlike Corpus Christi, I didn’t ‘walk out’ of the living room feeling bleak. If anything, I felt uplifted and optimistic about our deeply rooted human bond. And that’s exactly the recipe we need right now.

Eighth Grade, Moving On Up!

Eighth Grade was incredibly moving, especially if you were or are a good Dad to a teenage daughter. It’s also great for anyone who’s been in 8th grade within the modern era. Even though I was in 8th grade long before technology, I could relate to the film. If you were or are a school teacher who loves kids, all the better.

But hold up. That’s not how I started out feeling about the film written and directed by Bo Burnham. At first, I thought the film suffered from the Netflix show “Love”‘s third season syndrome, meaning musical interludes substituting for plot or that the NYT review was true, intimating the people most interested in this film would be those whom it’s about, meaning adolescents.

But the beauty of seeing a film in a theater is you’re strapped in for the long haul. The beginning I now understand was simply the slow burn to a semi surprising and escalating finish.

The acting was gorgeous, particularly everyone! But specifically the lead, Elsie Fisher and then definitely, (hey I’m still a hot blooded woman) for Josh Hamilton…where have you been hiding? I literally looked up the theater company he helped produce in NYC (since closed, bummer) In all seriousness, his monologue during the last quarter is genius, as good as Michael Stuhlbarg‘s shorter, but also poignant’s in Call Me By Your Name. Nominate this man, Josh Hamilton, he’s truly deserving for vulnerability extraordinaire.

By movie’s end, I could have really unleashed a bucket of tears (not easy for stoic me), but held myself in check as not to blubber in front of my friend Carrie. Great film, go see it!

Goodbye Columbus, Goodbye Mr. Roth

My good friend and co-worker Barry suggested Goodbye Columbus a a library loaner last week after Philip Roth died. My experience with Mr. Roth began during my relationship with a Manhattan born handsome devil who encouraged me to read Portnoy’s Complaint.

I had admittedly lost track of Philip Roth except for his announcement a few years back that he was retiring from writing. Then I had heard even more recently that Lisa Halliday had written a roman a clef about her May December affair with Roth in her novel Asymmetry. During the reading of that novel, Mr. Roth passed away at the age of 85.

Hence, I rented Goodbye Columbus that Barry joked was ‘the story of my life’. Did you know that 1969 was a looooong time ago? Meaning, the world has changed leaps and bounds and this film no longer holds up. Sure, there are certainly still conflicts regarding wealth disparity and dating below or above your income status, but the main conflicts no longer exist. The fact that one of the culminating conflicts involved Ali McGraw (and while this was her first movie and she was drop dead gorgeous, let’s face facts, she was not expressive aka had zero range) being verkelmpt over her mother finding her diaphragm while in college isn’t as big of a deal these days as it was in the stubborn repression that the wild 60’s was trying to snuff out. And sure, there were nuances to this conflict, trying to make a relationship work when two people exist in two different realms (one college, one not) rarely works out.

And while Richard Benjamin did a decent job as the middle class outlier, he was an equally flat character. I felt I was watching two actors, almost too nervous and new to really make this film. But then again, it could be I’m just cynical about the outdated plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I needed something somewhat fluffy to get me through Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and it was comforting to see Jack Klugman who I always saw as the ultimate father figure; tough but super caring. And thinking of a younger Barry navigating dating socialites also made me smile.

On Chesil Beach: I’m a runner not a skater, likewise McEwan should stick to novelist

On Chesil Beach (screenplay written by the novelist Ian McEwan, directed by Dominic Cooke) was intriguing and worth seeing. Just realize you’ll spend the first third of the movie motioning the log roll “and then” speed it up signal, and then be equally flabbergasted when you flash forward from a Loooooooong 1962 to a semi quick 1975 to a super sped up 2007.

My movie companion brought up a fair point about Britain’s cinematic fascination over ‘the old day’s’ rather than tackling current issues. Perhaps its fitting with the surfacey insistence that perfect (or in the cinema sense ‘halcyon’ days) royalty must somehow reflect a perfect society, a sweep under the rug of violent crime and racism happening in the ‘real’ England.

Back to the film: cinematography; great. Chesil Beach’s pebbles is/are a perfect backdrop for a marriage ‘on the rocks’. And to be fair, turning a novel into a screenplay is no small feat. McEwan attempts to layer the sedementary rock of their courtship, their separate but equally dysfunctional pasts.

Acting by the leads; Saoirse Ronan, though ubiquitous in recent films, was solid as ever as the repressed English musician. Billy Howie, who I had never seen before (didn’t see Dunkirk), was not an attractive man, but he did grow on me (almost literally considering the decades covered) as the movie wore on. Props to the make up artist who helped him age realistically and convincingly. Emily Watson and Samuel West were impressive in making their small, but abusive parental roles very memorable.

In a nutshell (part pun there as Ian McEwan’s most recent famous novel (new in paperback) is called Nutshell), this is the story of probably 75% of young marriages. Here are two people who don’t know themselves yet and are equally crippled due to family hardships or abuse and thus, two broken kids can not equal a whole or healthy beginning. This is exactly what happened in my first marriage (which I was too immature to just hang in there and wait), and my second marriage which age unfortunately had not advanced to wisdom.

My film companion chalked the film’s message up to “Pride Goeth before a Fall” blaming the male. I see a woman who clearly wasn’t ready for marriage, but was towing the ‘company line of the 1960’s’. The reality is, we all make early mistakes which we inevitably second guess as we age. Yet the most important epiphany to hold on to is that we’re given each new day to make the most of, and we damn well better do that.

“Love Simon” or at the very least Very Much Liked

Ok, so I didn’t love “Love Simon”, but I did like it a lot. Let’s focus on the positive first. I’m broke as a joke from now until December 1st when I pray NYSUT makes good on my 30 years as a teacher. That said, my kind generous friend Carrie treated me to the movie after picking my tired keister up after work. So that’s a positive in its own right.

The ‘teen’ actors were all fantastic and I’ll name my top four: Nick Robinson (23) plays a great high school senior wrestling with his sexuality becoming public. Katherine Langford, 22 who I haven’t seen because she stars in 13 Reasons Why which I think is exploitative to teens vulnerable to suicidal ideation. Yet she does well here as the jilted gal. Keiynan Lonsdale (27!) is wonderful as a humble classmate and Logan Miller is wonderful as the cringe worthy guy who tries way too hard to get a girl (and trust me) this doesn’t just happen to teens, I know 60 year olds doing the same damn thing.

The dialogue was mostly witty and novel. The fact that gay people ‘have to come out’ while heterosexuals just get to be was well taken. Technology (emails and texts) were interwoven smoothly. The school seemed even more repressed than is the norm and the rallying of Nick Robinson’s character seemed a bit over the top, but this is a movie and heightened drama is essential.

Now the bad news: oy! Jennifer Garner and blech! Josh Duhamel. Ok, Jennifer did an adequate job and super role model as a caring, but non-oppressive mother, but the corny couple dynamic of she and Josh was nauseating. And Josh Duhamel should really look for a nice little game show to host. He’s got the pretty boy Ryan Seacrest look going for him, but drama ‘ain’t his bag’.

Greg Berlanti, the director, is new to me, but was nominated for a Golden Globe for a 2012 mini series called Political Animals.

Definitely worth seeing especially if you are in need of some optimism.

Columbus, Docked Just Shy of the New World

Ok, I know Columbus, the new movie by relatively new(?) director Kogonada, has nothing to do with Native American destroyer Christopher Columbus, but the analogy of C.C. not quite going the distance to make it to the new world, fits perfectly with Kogonanda’s film being so close to greatness that it’s almost painful.

Columbus is actually about Columbus, Indiana which I am so excited to have learned is a mecca for architecture. I’ve not been exposed to building design instruction, but I appreciate beautiful homes and buildings enough that I am making it a goal to become schooled on the wealth of architectural wonders right here in Sarasota.

With this gorgeous motif as its setting, Columbus (the movie) has a cast just as luminous. First, there’s one of my top ten actresses of all time: Parker Posey. I have loved and seen Parker Posey in most of her films but her tiny role in Columbus just compelled me to request two former films from Selby Library, MORE PARKER NEEDED:) Parker reminds me of my clumsy, but endearing self (or at least the latter’s my hope for what people see in me).

Another excellent actor in Columbus is John Cho (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar) who was superb as the long suffering son of an aloof architectural aficionado. The other two standouts were Haley Lu Richardson (equally good in Edge of Seventeen and The Bronze) and Rory Culkin (who I really need to go back n my posts and see what I praised him for-could it be Lymelife? He was just a little kid, but had that glow akin to Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society).

SO the acting was excellent, the direction interesting, many scenes shot from peoples’ backs or through angles (in a reflection of a mirror, from a hallway), so what gives, you ask? Well, it’s all in the pacing. Meditative is fun, but clunky leads to dropping anchor before you hit the shore.

I still recommend Columbus, just be prepared to swim a ways.