The Sunlit Night: ‘Coulda’ been a Contender (if only…)

I use to be disappointed in kids who cheated when I was a teacher, but downright angry when a super smart kid would cheat.

That’s why The Sunlit Night made me slightly mad. It’s probably a screenwriter issue, which is a shame in this instance, Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight wrote the book from which the movie is based AND the screenplay. So come on girlfriend, why’d you cheat?

What I mean is why be so damn overt with the sexual stuff….like Jenny Slate’s mother picking a leech (which wasn’t a leech but a worm) out of her bottom….or Jenny posing in underwear (when she’s the artist). Sexuality is fine and even fun to watch when it’s not random and super conspicuous.

Mind you, I may still have Little Weirds (Jenny Slate’s recent book which was equal parts moving and Eat Pray Love maddening at the end book) taint on me.

So Miley, what’s good? Ok, there were some beautiful aspects to the movie. First and foremost the cinematography of Norway, bravo to director David Wnendt and cinematographer Martin Ahlgren. Second, I did enjoy Jenny Slate’s character’s allusions to resemblances of people with historical paintings, but Rebecca, why not start that fun narration from the get go, instead of the unevenly paced family melodrama you began with?

I love the artist in residence aspect of the film and thought the head artist’s (Fridtjov Saheim) performance was very realistic. I also appreciated the mourning man’s (Alex Sharp) portrayal as important and raw. As much as I adore Zack Galifinakis, his Viking Tourist Attraction seemed eerily Baskets-like, and the comedic dryness seemed off balance in this story.

To be fair, translating novels to screen is tough business. I just feel like under more objective hands, this could have been a great film, when in the end, it was just mediocre.

You May Be Right, I May Be…In Love with “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn”

I paused for so long during the ZZ Top doc on Netflix that up popped a scroll of available Netflix movies. Fortunately, I looke dup from my computer at the opportune time to discover “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn.”

I love Jemaine Clement as much as I love John McEnroe. Big love, to be sure. So Jim Hosking’s written and directed film with Aubrey Plaza was up my alley.

A forewarning: watching this film is like getting on a wild stallion. The first 15 minutes is pretty jarring as every character seems to be an outrageous hyperbole of stereotype. But hang in there, once you realize that Hosking mocks EVERYONE, you settle in and start laughing.

Aubrey and Jemaine are a couple made in heaven, each out dead panning the other. Matt Berry (“What We Do in the Shadows”) and Craig Robinson (Ditto and “Pineapple Express”) are better than any comedic bromance I’ve seen in a long time. Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild” phenom, is also fantastic as a maniacal coffee shop manager.

If you get Netflix, give this outrageous comedy a try.

Surreal Times Call for Surreal Film: She’s Allergic to Cats: subtitle Kinky for Kinsky

Perfect for dog groomers or anyone in need of a far our cult film, this yum yum flick is for a night when you’re up to your neck in what the f’s hurled toward Covid19 frustrations.

I do need to watch Carrie from 1978 which is heavily referenced, (not a Stephen King movie fan with the huge EXCEPTION of The Shining), as the main character Mike Pinkney plays a Hollywood resident dying to re-make Carrie into an all cats movie, which having only suffered the trailer, has to be better than the actual Cats musical from this past year.

Pinkney is awesome as the nerd who can’t get his life together and paired with spot on blurred day dreamy cinematography proves he’s merely phoning in his dog grooming assignments.

His agent, portrayed and voiced by a comically critical German misogynist, Flula Borg,is now just as good on a new Netflix series called Brews Brothers. A smaller role, though well played for kinky and kookiness is Sonja Kinsky, Natasshja’s (not a typos, strangely spelled first name) daughter and Klaus Kinsky’s grand daughter (insert cuckoo clock sound effect). And talk about odd coincidence, Natasshja was nominated for a Golden Globe for a horror flick called Cat People.

I love this film, written and directed by Michael Reich based on his real life. His previous endeavors have been in the music video arena. Support the little creative geniuses and check this movie out.

Wiener-Dog; Solondz Always Worth a Little Darkness

You need to buck up when you watch Tood Solondz. Prepare to be disturbed at some point in each of his films…maybe most disturbing was Happiness (but to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in his prime, again, worth it!!).

In Wiener-Dog we get snapshots of four stories detailing the lives of at least three different dachshunds.

The first sub-plot uses one of Solondz’s tried and true motifs of broken childhood dreams. In Todd’s world, there’s no such thing as a protected child. The best thing about this story was Tracy Letts as a curmudgeon of a husband/father and Julia Delphy as the matter-of-fact Mom. Theri dead pan deliveries added the most comedy of the film. And if I could choose any actress in the world to be my sister, it’d be a tough choice between Julia and Parker Posey.

In the second vignette, Greta Gerwig plays a geeky dog lover and Kieran Culkin as her convenient store pick up of a romantic interest. In the third, Danny DeVito plays a washed up Film Professor, and in the final episode, Ellen Burstyn plays an elderly Grandma to Zosia Mamet (Girls, Madmen), a wayward granddaughter stuck in a dysfunctional relationship. Burnstyn is amazing for still acting her arse off into her 90’s and Zosia has young acting chops that I look forward to seeing again in future projects.

Definitely worth a watch and a mere 88 minutes of quarantine time!

Sorry to Bother You: A Movie Ray Bradbury Would Dig

Sorry to Bother You (directed by Boots Riley, writer of Superbad) was a movie Ray Bradbury would love.

I was such a huge Fahrenheit 451 fan having taught it for years and Sorry to Bother You certainly had the dystopian society function on high. In Fahrenheit 451, Midlred is addicted to violent tv shows that everyone thinks are hilarious.

And today, if you watch Highly Questionable (a show that I like except for when they laugh hysterically at people beating each other up) you’ll get an unfortunate sneak preview into the dystopian world of Sorry to Bother You with a tv show called (I believe) I Got the Sh*& Kicked Out of Me where people humiliate themselves and get beat up for fame and possibly fortune.

And that’s just one of the many subversive tricks Boots uses to get our attention. His evil corporation looks eerily like what they already have in China, whereby people live like sardines in dormitories attached to their work places.

If it couldn’t actually happen someday, Sorry To Bother You would be knee slapping science fiction. However, due to the fact that we have become a stupid society praising big wealth, numb to social issues that matter, rather obsessing about who the ruler is instead of caring about the issues, and that act like we are helplessly hooked to our devices and violent images makes Sorry To Bother You maybe the most relevant movie of our times, a social satire to wake us up, if it’s not too late.

I am happy to say that I am living life, and thank God, right? Because who knows if our society isn’t on the border of the violent revolution Boots predicts since people have stopped loving each other based on whether you like donkeys or elephants, meanwhile being brainwashed by a vile media. And anyway, my dermatologist may find some deadly mole on my next visit this week. So why not Carpe diem Baby. Crank up the R.E.M. I say, “It’s the End of the World as We Know it.” But seriously, I hope it’s not.

I promise if you see Sorry to Bother You, you’ll surely laugh and then think the same as me. Acting cred goes to the main actor: Lakeith Stanfield, a relative newbie whose biggest known role is probably the hit show Atlanta. And I can’t help but mention that handsome hunk of a man Armie Hammer, who got even sexier in this film by sporting a beard all while playing the most despicably funny role in the film.

What a great way to end a weekend.

First Post Oscars Film: “The Party”, New Term ‘Bittershort’

Has anyone else taken stock of the people around them, people you encounter in a store or on a street, and realized they’re tense and sour?

I’m not saying everyone, but I can confidently say, MANY. My arm chair psychologist theory is that we’ve entered a period where well off people have lost meaningful purpose and the disenfranchised are working so hard that they are either bitter or exhausted.

Movies often reflect the sentiment of our times and certainly Get Out and Three Billboards reflect the bitterness and thirst for vengeance that many in our society are thirsting for.

Frankly I want to buy and wear a t-shirt that says: CHOOSE JOY and one of the savings graces of the Oscars was that the Best Movie of the Year was about enduring love, aka, joy (The Shape of Water).

So what brings you joy? Go out and find it today! Mine comes from the ability to run out in the fresh air, 15 minutes of sunshine and working on a creative project. Hence, I’ll gladly be gluing 20 more hand cut out balloon shapes for my Grandma’s 95th birthday card.

If you’re wealthy, why not give of yourself to a school by volunteering to read or donating books? Or pay it forward at a coffee shop to someone who obviously has less than you? Not to sound corny or like Whitney Houston, but children our are future, literally, they’re the ones that will be caring for us as we age. Or the less fortunate who take on the low paying home health aide positions at nursing homes across the country.

Roxanne, where the heck is the movie review? Oh yes, I saw The Party last night which made me come up with a new compound word: bittershort. Bittershort can be taken literally; this film was bitter and very short (a mere 71 minutes). Bittershort can also be figurative, every character, but one held bitterness in their heart and were short fused. Kristin Scott Thomas who I love, bitter toward her husband even though she was committing the same sin. Patricia Clarkson who I also adore, bitter and tired of her ‘up with people’ life coach boyfriend (Bruno Ganz-the sole positive force). Emily Mortimer (annoying) bitter about a relationship her lover had 30 years ago (give me a break), Cherry Jones (who are you?) pessimistic over her impending future as a co-parent. Cillian Murphy who needs a lecture that there are other fish in the sea. Timothy Spall, well? His character wasn’t exactly bitter as just stymied by his current situation.

Put these people all together for 71 minutes and there’s your description of bittershort. Wealthy folks without clear focus or aspirations. Even Kristin Scott Thomas whose election win should have been happy, was willing to abandon it and with it, her senses, immediately.

Shot in black and white (reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch) with bad sound editing and even the fuzzy unintended bottom screen shots of Cillian Murphy, this movie got me off the bitter world for a few minutes, but the black hole I entered was truly even darker, a confirmation that the world is in a sad space.

People, choose joy.

Ghost World and the Mysteries It Created

The movie Ghost World used to come up in conversation with the last man I dated in New York, who from this day forward will be nicknamed my Saturday Night Boyfriend. My SNB was (actually ‘is’, he’s still alive and well and needed a job recommendation to a water park from me this past spring) a highly intelligent, good looking Jewish man who also had (has) a wickedly dark sense of humor. The way he pitched Ghost World to me as a film rec, though, did not make me want to go get it. His pitch made it sound like Steve Buschemi was semi predatory toward Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch which I didn’t really want to watch.

Cut to this month where I work with a highly intelligent Jewish man with a wickedly dark sense of humor (ringing any bells? Not my SNB but eerily similar) who also suggested Ghost World. Knowing my co-worker’s refined taste in film (Man For All Seasons, his favorite which I have not seen yet) and coming off a couple of great recommendations from him (my personal favorite was The Night of the Iguana), when he suggested Ghost World, I decided to bite.

And I’m so glad I did! Though mysteries abound now, even more than why my SNB doesn’t miss me; like how Thora Birch went from stunning in this film (and previous to that American Beauty) to mediocre obscurity. And the director, Terry Zwigoff, who is so against THE MAN that he hasn’t done anything since Art School Confidential in 2006 (though does have a tv movie coming out this year about a start up marijuana business). Sadness tinges this film in worse ways, Brad Renfro, who plays the girls’ guy pal, died of a drug overdose in 2008.

At any rate, Steve Buschemi is not the predator, in fact the girls are! Poor Buschemi is the prey and a fantastic actor in playing the vulnerable guy who can’t get a date! Illeana Douglass was fabulous as the overly subjective art teacher as is Bob Balaban, as Thora’s non-confrontational dad. Aside on Balaban, I just put a request in on the Golden Globe nominated film Georgia O’Keefe tv film he directed which sounds fascinating!

The only thing I didn’t like about Ghost World was the ending, but I do understand the reason for it. Definitely worth seeing, a unique movie with an interesting soundtrack to boot.

You’ve earned the right…Moscow, Belgium

In an attempt to preserve my budget, I talked myself out of seeing Toni Erdmann a second time and instead did a library borrow of a foreign film called Moscow, Belgium. I know, I know, it’s old, from 2008, but the familial conflicts so timeless and universal, that it could have been made yesterday.

I titled this blog with a quote my mother has repeated a few times since I’ve moved to Florida. Every time I would question whether I should stand up for myself, in regards to decisions about possible careers or jobs, my mom has said, “you’ve earned the right to relax a bit” after spending 30 years teaching and counseling young people.

Today I applied this quote to a second date situation and after subsequently cancelling said date, and instead watched my third and final installment of Moscow, Belgium .

Did I need company tonight? Yes. Did I want company tonight? Mais oui! Yet I felt like I was already contributing plenty (bringing my own refreshments, driving to this person’s place, watching a dvd of his interest). When then asked to take him shopping (on the eve of my 6th day in a row of early and rather strenuous (yet super rewarding) work (helping move our book store from one block to a gorgeous new place in a historic building), I had to say no thank you with my mother’s advice, “you’ve earned the right to expect empathy and a meeting in the middle”.

Now on this person’s behalf, he doesn’t know that I have spent a major portion of my 30’s and 40’s taking care of people, my therapist called it a broken wing fixation (son excluded-he was a joy and my responsibility and has more self-reliance than many of those I’m about to mention). Everyone from a long term relationship in which I helped a person who started his teaching career late in life, only to have him date a former student of mine to a few men who lived with me while either starting a company or limping through life only to end up moving back to his parents’. So I’ve done all the figurative ‘taking people shopping’ that I can bear. Based on his curt response to my very calm an polite drawing the line, I highly doubt I’ll see this person again.

So back to my cinematic emotional rescue:
Moscow, Belgium mirrored my emotions to a certain extent. It’s about a 51 year old mom who loves her children and pours her heart out to the people she cares about. Her husband has cheated on her and moved out, but still isn’t sure if he wants to end the marriage. For awhile she allows other people to dictate her existence. Now here’s the part I can’t relate to, she falls for a 29 year old. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t believe and enjoy the film.

The film had your textbook screenplay construction: comical subplot at the heroine’s workplace, and I won’t divulge the other aspects to preserve your potential viewing. But what I really liked about the film was the raw dialogue and real emotion. The star of the film was the female lead played by Barbara Serafian. The ’29 year old’ Jurgen Delnaet seemed to be showing his underwear so to speak, meaning you could see he was acting which took away some of the emotion. This was perhaps due to his character being on the immature side. And I’m not calling my 2nd date that didn’t happen immature, as he was older than me and even commented that talking to women his age made him feel like he was talking to an aunt (and channeling a Groucho Marx response, I’d say, “Well now, your Aunt would take you shopping.”

The film premiered at Cannes in 2008 and won some lower level awards. It’s definitely worth checking out, if only to see how free the Belgium society is with people expressing themselves. Sure Americans seem to be really good at expressing negative emotion and angst, but how about if we all start counting our blessings and being kind? There is no irony to beginning of this piece, kindness does not mean continuing to lower the bar on expectations, it simply means giving and expecting the same in equal fashion. We all have earned the right.

20th Century Women: At least one Goddess

Please listen to one of my favorite Jazz singer’s Gregory Porter as you read this blog:
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=gregroy+porter+time+is+ticking&view=detail&mid=C79BF22AB3363629ABC9C79BF22AB3363629ABC9&FORM=VIRE

The best thing a movie can do to you is make you realize, as Gregory Porter sings, that time is ticking. And 20th Century Women does just that, quietly sneaking up on you to say, “Pssst, what are you waiting for?”

20th Century Women was so great that it took a day to fully appreciate the film’s entirety. Truth be told, I went straight to work after and then on to a dinner meeting, but I’m glad the writing locomotive was slowed to give 20th Century Women its proper adoration.

20th Century Women was deeply moving. My friend Carrie and I were both in joyful appreciative tears at the film’s finale. And as a pseudo single mom of one son, I truly related to Annette Bening’s relationship with her son, young actor Lucas Jade Zumann.

Mike Mills, who basically wrote this from an autobiographical viewpoint, (as he also did with his relationship with his father in The Beginners)(see the recent New Yorker profile article, an exhibition of him as the man I most want to meet; sensitive, nerdy, but creatively courageous) does a very inventive job of portraying the late 70’s by using still photographs of punk bands along with real footage of such 70’s events like Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “Crisis of Confidence Speech”, of which I say, where was I? Oh yes, an ignorant 9th grader in a small American town in an apolitical household.

The speech interestingly parallels Annettes’s single mom, a woman without a backup as to whether she is providing her son with the best and well rounded child rearing experience. Just as Jimmy asks for America’s support, Annette seeks out others for help:
“Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.”

Annette Bening‘s search for outsiders lead her to two females for this tutelage. And while they were good, they were not fantastic. I was a huge Greta Gerwig fan to start, but now find her in that Ellen Degenres/Lena Dunham camp…meaning whatever candid part of them I appreciated has seemingly been washed away by their stardom and subsequent shallowness. And while Greta’s character seemed real enough, I just couldn’t buy it. Likewise, Elle Fanning was cute and believable as the teenage nymph, but again, I was not amazed.

Or it could be very possible that Billy Crudup just out shone them both, in his understated, but truly powerful rendition of a sensitive man, afraid to give his heart away, as he indeed gives his heart every day to the gaggle of women and children with whom he takes shelter.

There was a split second where I thought, ok Annette plays a competent woman with doubts…is that such a stretch from the real Annette Bening? And then I thought, nah! She’s the woman who ‘bagged’ Warren Beatty and got him to commit to a marriage and family. It is Annette Bening acting after all in a beautifully nuanced script that allows this vulnerability to shine through.

A great film makes you want to re-visit others. I’ll definitely revisit The Beginners and also look up some Crudup films that fell by the wayside.

Youth surpasses Joy (Not an adage for real life!)

I snuck in two more films before the ball dropped and only one is squeezing into my top ten.
While “Joy” had all the ingredients of a master class film-O’Russell and his wrecking crew of actors and actresses, a few clunky scenes took the charge out of the true story of a poor housewife makes a multi-million dollar invention.

One of the problems was the maudlin narration by Dianne Ladd which I think took away from the life of the film. The other hardship was that two outstanding actors/characters were never allowed to let it loose. Specifically, Virginia Madsen as the bedridden soap opera addict mother of Joy and Isabella Rosselini as the rich second step mom. I’m sure some precious stuff wound up on the cutting room floor. And why leave untidy questions, like; she had two children, yet all we see is the daughter in her later life? This wouldn’t be so troubling, but there was a scene in which the boy had a bad cough and yet there was never any tie in. Only when we found out about a death in the family (which ended up being Grandma ‘Ladd’), did I wonder momentarily, if it was the son.

Now ‘YOUTH’ (directed by Paulo Sorrentino) was MOVIE. If I have one tiny complaint, it was the numerous philosophical ideas that were all jammed into one film: 1. emotions are important to a full life, 2. productivity is crucial to a happy life, 3. hashing out problems is healthy, 4. simple love, simple songs can be prolific, 5. age is a state of mind, 6. depending on people for your happiness leads to misery.

Sorrentino shows his Felinni influence in a gorgeously visual film set at a affluent spa. Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz all give stand out performances.

Especially though, may I plead the case to Golden Globe and Oscar Judges for a Paul Dano a trophy, not only was he brilliant as Brian Wilson, but he was excellent in Youth. Additionally this would also be redemption for his lack of accolades for his super crazed role in 12 Years a Slave. His presence raises the bar of whatever film he’s in.Paul Dano