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!

At the Urging of…Art School Confidential

The Book Store has always been a source for movie recommendations, from classics Barry Rothman hipped me to (Sweet Smell of Success to name one) to modern ones, from James Mammone (Ghost Story) and one from my Curb Your Enthusiasm compatriot Carrie from 2006 (Art School Confidential) when I was knee deep in teaching and being a mom. This last film is what I just finished this afternoon.

Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa and Ghost World) doesn’t put out movies in bulk in fact according to IMDB, the last thing he did was a TV short in 2017 called Budding Prospects. And while Art School Confidential had a few positives, it didn’t grab me in the way it charmed my co-workers.

First, I love John Malcovich and one of the many difficulties I had with this film is, he wasn’t in it enough! The same could be said for Anjelica Houston who I also cherish. Additionally telling was the fact that main star Max Minghella hasn’t actually gone on to bigger and better (though is in the very popular-though not with me) Handmaids Tale. Almost ditto for Sophia Myles. Last, Jim Broadbent’s character was too dark to be believable.

The film uses college and artist stereotypes for humor which is ok and worked some of the time. But the strangler sub-plot took away from my enjoyment of the humor. Hence, a good way to stay away from the media monster feeding our poor frenzied cell phone hostages, but definitely a lesser film than Bad Santa and Ghost World.

Genuinely Great: Downhill

Wow, Rotten Tomatoes Reviewers, take it down a notch. I feel like yesterday I was guilty of whining, yet I don’t see a lot of other folks being as self-aware. Both in my personal life and in movie criticism there’s a lot of hair trigger condemnatory folks walking around. When we read a Facebook or Instagram post, can we start with the assumption that everyone has flaws and that most people aren’t out to take anyone down. Please, can we?

Isn’t is also alright that we come from different opinions and perspectives and if we don’t agree, that does not and should not mean we are suddenly not able to care for one another?

With that lament out of the way, let me say, going in to Downhill I worried whether this was another foreign film remake ruined by Americans. In this case, I was the premeditated hypercritical person, since Downhill was very well done. I confess my bias had come from three lesser remakes: Starbuck (turned into Delivery Man) and Intouchables (adapted to The Upside) and the worst Gloria Bell (adapted to the mean spirited Gloria).

I confess, Force Majeure was a tremendous film, but due to bad memory, I just remember being moved in a disturbed “Joker” type of way. Remember, the responsible party, screenwriter Ruben Ostlund, also wrote the ultra wonder called The Square which is equally upsetting.

So why is Downhill worthy on its own? First and foremost the two leads, known for comedy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrel were simply outstanding portraying married folks who have grown apart. I know this won’t go over well in our current populace though since we have glorified marital partnership and villainized singledom. How dare screenwriters try to suggest that sometimes married people have different moral compasses either unaddressed from the get-go unaddressed or those whose personal ethics fork off in different directions? Yet if we were all really honest and self-aware, this would not necessarily be tragic

I stand by Downhill’s writers Jesse Armstrong, Nate Faxon and Jim Rash and hope people can be more open-minded and as a result more loving. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film (NOT a spoiler) is when Julia is riding a chairlift with a 30 year old woman who claims “black and white” judgment on a couples’ issue, and Julia questions if everything is that cut and dry. Let’s hope our human connection has more than two colors: love or hate.

Murder She Wrote was Only an Hour Long for a Reason: Knives Out

Here’s where the easily entertained American Public wins the ratings war: “Knives Out” scored a higher Rotten Tomatoes audience review than Bombshell. Enough said.

I had higher hopes than normal about a movie like Knives Out after hearing over and over that Rian Johnson really brought something novel to the murder mystery genre. Something novel as in too many pages long!

Lord, two hours and ten minutes is a ludicrous length for a mystery as you can’t possibly have red herrings maintain a SMART audience’s interest for that duration.

Very rarely do I walk out, but I could not sit this one out. Call it The Irishman of murder mystery, yikes.

The good kernel of the movie was the fine cast: Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans to name the best and brightest of the crew. Sure, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Don Johnson don’t hurt. Less likeable was Toni Collette who seemed like two dimensional bronze bimbo.

But the sheer marathon duration spoiled any of the fun. I would say the same to anyone who fully enjoyed the entire 2:10 minutes that I do to those who drive way too slowly, “Gee, you don’t want to go home, do you?”.

JoJo Rabbit: An Overly Frosted Carrot Cake

JoJo Rabbit directed and adapted to screenplay by Taika Waititi is like a good friend who you love dearly, but always goes too far with a joke. Charlie Chaplin knew the fine art of subtlety in the Great Dictator. Sure, mock the Fuhrer, but do so in such a way that it doesn’t make mockery of the cause and pathos.

Like an overly frosted carrot cake, it also frosts my onions when you mix heinous true life death (in this film hanging bodies) with hilarity. They don’t mix, ever.

But it’s a generational divide, considering the millennials on either side of me were gaga, and I almost mean that literally, with the ‘AWWWW” and “OOOOHS’. The difference is, I was protected from media violence as a kid (mom was home and had boundaries for us AND this was pre-computers). Hence, I get the difference between comedy and violence.
Either Waititi should have played all of Germany’s stain as an outright farce or tone it down a notch.

Ok, but it wasn’t all bad. I liked his clever use of comparing Beatles mania with Hitler mania. I looooooved Sam Rockwell, back in the silly, comic department I feel he does his best. The lead little boys (Roman Griffin Davis and Archie Yates) were terrific as was the Anne Frank like young lady (Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie). Scarlett Johansson, while I like her a lot, was wasted in JoJo, her character wasn’t developed enough for me to really understand her, but I totally get she was needed as a plot device. I could have lived without Rebel Wilson, who just stuck out like a sore thumb. As was Taikia as the Hitler character, again, stop with yourself! He was too dopey and too frequent, the too much frosting part of this carrot cake.

A Faithful Man, More Passivity Proof

I’m wringing my hands together like Columbo did when he was on the brink of cracking a case, because if A Faithful Man does not prove my theory* that men stay too long in dysfunctional relationships, then I’ll eat my NFL hat (see the Columbo NFL hat trivia at https://m.imdb.com/review/rw4400766/). *I’ve written an essay detailing my theory called “High Time for a Male Self-Contentment Revival”, ask me I’ll share it with you. Request the essay pitch at my email: irun2eatpizza@hotmial.com

While a bit uneven in mood, A Faithful Man was entertaining and surprising. Concerned by the movie poster’s depiction of two women kissing one man, basically the story of my second marriage (well, he had about 5 others after him), would memories I’d like to keep in the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind category bubble to the surface? Mais non, c’est not what happened…sorry slipped back into English.

Louis Garrel wrote, directed and starred in this short movie (hour and fifteen) and was impressive as the lead. Louis does a fine job with a story that I can’t say much about without spoilers. I will say while I worried it was a film about silly men dependent on women, it may actually be a film about silly men dependent on women…AND it didn’t incense me, meaning the writing and acting were pleasant enough to make the sadness of men who stay with manipulative women not seem quite so tragic.

And speaking of women, the two leads were a mixed bag: Laetitia Casta, drop dead gorgeous (may I have her chest? instead of my pancakes?) was terrific. Lily Rose-Depp (Johnny’s daughter) seemed a bit transparent and cloying as the other woman.

Garrel’s story telling shone in his depction of the young boy (Joseph Engel) who to tie back to my Columbo reference is a bit of a sleuth himself. Engel was fantastic and probably has a big film future ahead of him.

A Faithful Man was a nice kick off for my first film in the Cine-World Film Fest.

Brittany Runs a Marathon, a bronze medal, just like real life

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a bronze medal level movie important just for its attempt to capture real life modern problems. Hats off to Paul Downs Colaizzo’s writing and direction especially since his IMDB page only lists MacGuyver as one of his other writing accomplishments.

Jillian Bell does an excellent job as the lead character, an overweight woman with emotional baggage who leans into unhealthy relationships and behaviors while pushing well meaning people away.

Fortunately, running ends up being her savior of which I can certainly relate. As a 30 plus year runner (two time marathoner Chicago and Myrtle Beach* *Qualifying me for Boston but injury prevented that happening), if I couldn’t run, I’d be a stark raving lunatic. Running is my meditation, my counseling, and my calming influence. To “Brittany Runs a Marathon”‘s credit, even my non-running partner in crime, Jack, teared up at the end of the flick, hence it was moving both literally and figuratively.

Here’s a list of modern day difficulties Colaizzo eloquently displayed:
-Dating: in 2019 it’s damn near impossible to spend time with someone long enough to create intimacy. People are too busy, distracted and easily hiding away in their private lives and devices. An aside, but I say bring back slow dancing as a past-time. Have bars sponsor single nights with big bands playing songs like “It Had to Be You” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”. Just think of how less awkward dating would be if you had an excuse or reason to get close to someone before the date where you’re ready to strip down to birthday suits. What a cool way to segue to that presently super awkward moment. I digress…

-Another topic is how there are probably many heavy folks who don’t dare start an exercise program for fear of how they “look”. This movie appreciates that scary moment to simply begin. Also how ridiculous fitness center fees are when there’s a beautiful outside that is free to exercise in.

-A third topic tackled here are toxic relationships in that Brittany’s roommate tries to sabotage her attempts at self-improvement. Women, speaking from both sides of personal experience, have a much tougher time supporting another woman’s success. I’ve been guilty from the envy side and also victim of the bulls eye. A great role model of healthy behavior shown recently was Linda Ronstadt in The Sound of My Voice. Linda was super jealous of Emmy Lou Harris, but talked herself down from the roof by saying, I can either hate her for being so good, quit in discouragement or befriend her. Fortunately choosing the latter option, she Emmy and Dolly created an equal to Pavarotti’s Three Tenors.

Beyond Jillian Bell, I’ll acknowledge three other actors who added to the emotional impact: Michaela Watkins ‘the rich person who has problems, too’, Lil Rel Howery as the Bernie Mac-esque mentor, and Utkarsh Ambudkar as Brittany’s romantic crush.

Definitely worth the trip to the semi clean Parkway 8 discount theater!

Gloria Bell, Julianne or Paulina: Who Wore it (the screenplay) Better?

Oy, I thought up so many titles for this blog:

Americans Can Sure ‘F’ Up a Screenplay
Gloria Bell: At Least I Liked the Soundtrack
What a (Bad) Difference Five Years Can Make

Can you tell my opinion? Ok, I saw the original Gloria back in 2013 written and directed by Sebastion Lelio and after I’m done here I’ll search and see if it’s in my blog history. I know, for a fact, that I liked the movie a lot and remember telling my son to even go see it.

And after seeing such an empowering female lead last week in Woman at War, I couldn’t help but walk out of the ‘new’ Gloria Bell defeated. Not exactly the attitude you want going into happy hour on a Friday. Was it Alice Johnson Boher’s butchering (my perjorative verb) of Sebastian’s screenplay? Was it Julianne Moore playing the role much too understated? Was it that we can forgive and appreciate passion in Spanish culture and not American? Was John Turturro‘s character simply too sympathetic? Probably a combo of all these factors.

Or simply I’m tired of the extremes our culture has gone to rectify Me, Too to the point where abusive females are cheered instead of taken to task. Can we all agree putting someone’s cell phone in soup is immature and rude under any circumstances? Or when taking a significant other to a family celebration to which the S.O. is clearly an outsider and has even forewarned you that he/she is not comfortable with functional families and then is summarily ignored that the said hostess/host who ignored the S.O. is at fault. Perhaps I relate too closely to this scenario having happened to me at Thanksgiving (the straw breaking the camel’s back was the hostess saying, “Well, maybe we’ll see you next year and maybe *** will be back with his ex-girlfriend”). And while I didn’t do a full Turturro, I made it to the hallway ready to get an Uber back to my hotel.

Back to my “Me, Too Much” rant, can we also agree that women are responsible for their own actions, whether they’ve been hurt emotionally or physically, the help or action you take after is up to the individual? If you feel like punishing yourself further by getting drunk and hooking up with more dirt bags, get some help because that’s on you. But in Gloria Bell, Julianne does just that. She smokes a bag of unknown weed from a suicidal man who lives in the apartment above her—stupid and then goes on a drinking binge after Turturro leaves her in Vegas. Dumb. How about going to see a movie or a show or, I know, getting on a plane and going home?

In fairness to Gloria Bell, I do believe the male lead in the original Gloria was more of a cad, which made the Paulina Garcia less pathetic. Here, Turturro is simply a mixed up guy who should be left until he finds some therapy, not pummeled by Julianne Moore.

And on a positive, I did love the soundtrack. The music of the seventies sparked joy on one side (Earth Wind and Fire) and sang of pathos on the other (Air Supply). I wish we could back to feeling things in 2019 rather than celebrate vengeance and bad behavior.

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.

Two’s Company, Three Billboards a Crowd

There’s some aspects to appreciate about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Mo. Martin McDonagh is a proven writer (In Bruges, The Pillow Man), but while Three Billboards has some unique qualities; a snapshot of small town America, some complex characters, and lot of twists, I couldn’t love it.

First, the positives: my incredible bias for Sam Rockwell. If you’ve read my blog, you know he’s one of my top five actors of all time. Unfortunately in this film, he’s a despicable character, but I appreciate he can’t always wear the white hat and I’m also amazed at how young the guy can look with a super short hair cut (he’s 49, but looks 30 here).

Second, two scenes were gorgeously done. One, the orange juice scene which I won’t go into due to spoilers, but this was almost Magnoliaesque (Magnolia is a movie by PT Anderson with MANY memorable poignant vignettes). In this scene, props to Caleb Landry Jones (who was also impressive recently in American Made). Two, the comeuppance lecture Frances gives to the priest that comes to console was priceless and should be tweeted to the world.

And of course the star of the show, Frances McDormand. There’s not much this lady can’t do, though she hasn’t mastered Streepian epic tales or dialects (besides North Dakota), she can do no wrong in the dramedy department. She deserves a nomination, but not the win for this. Sorry, the Lady Bird still soars higher. Or even Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West.

A minor character who stood out for me was John Hawkes who looks so much like Chris Cooper that they could be brothers. He really glows as Frances’s ner do well ex-husband. But again, because he is written as an over the top cad, it’s a turn off.

Who else? Woody Harrelson is solid as ever, but not given much to play with, here. And the actress choice for the wife seemed weird-a wine drunk with a British accent telling her husband with cancer to go shovel the horse barn? What kind of vicious c word does that? And the kids, equally unbelievable. I see where McDonaugh was going, showing Woody as forgivable foil, but better actor choices and writing in this subplot would have helped a lot.

Lucas Hedges is over saturated now. Let’s give some other young adult actors a chance.

Peter Dinkler does a great job, but watching rude behavior toward little people is not funny, nor is using the word retard or the n-word. Don’t get me wrong, McDonaugh was attempting to show these folks as buffoons, but it’s so crass to watch these days in light of the actual idiots that still remain in the U.S. that it’s tough to watch. God help us if there’s a small town and police department actually in existence with such ignorance.

The violence was also over the top. Yes, I know this is McDonaugh’s trademark, but I don’t care. No one survives being beaten and thrown out a second floor window, nor receiving third degree burns…let’s start portraying violence as truly harmful so kids brought in stupidly by ignorant parents don’t get the desensitized impression you just bounce back from these type of injuries.

I enjoyed the moral arc of the characters and the theme of hope. But the aforementioned unrealistic characters and plot did not impress me. In Bruges brought a tear to my eye, but Three Billboards just made me chagrin.