Just four years later, bet it wouldn’t be made: True Story

I wondered if Rupert Goold was one of those writer/directors that critics just don’t like after many disparaged “Judy”, a movie I found quite moving. Hence, I watched “True Story” from 2015 which Goold co-wrote with David Kajganich (from A Bigger Splash!!!) based on the book by former New York Times Reporter Michael Finkel.

Cue Throat Clearing sound effect: Well? Definitely a movie that should have been left as a book, better yet, should have been simply a case study listed in the DSM-5.

I feel the same about this film as I do every time I see yet another new ‘complete biography’ of Hitler come into BookStoreOne where I work in Sarasota, Florida….like why are we giving this monster the time of day? And in fact, not only does the movie, and I assume the book, establish notoriety of the actual sociopathic murderer (which the movie doesn’t do proper justice showing the evidence that proved he indeed killed his whole family), but also makes the book author and part subject of the book also look like, I’m struggling not to use an expletive, a narcissistic jerk off.

A heinous act happens and the person who gets the most attention is the criminal….WRONG. And I think our news media, as much as I can’t stand their non-news bias (this includes the other extreme, too, Fox News) has done a better job of not detailing the criminals’ lives in some of the more recent mass killings. Shun the bad guys, in other words.

The one blessing I can say of the movie, speaking of the media I feel has completely sold out to political leanings, is that the New York Times, having been disproved recently in bold faced untruths, certainly look like idiots in the closing captions of the film in that they would never re-hire Finkel as a reporter, but DID accept articles from the mass murderer, Christian Longo. How’s that for morality and integrity?

As much as I like Jonah Hill and James Franco, they should have said no way to this project and ditto for Executive Producer Brad Pitt.

Standing Ovation: Zellweger as “Judy”

Typically I’d start out by praising a director of a tremendous film like “Judy”, but this screenplay calls for a standing ovation for dialogue. Realistic and witty, Tom Edge (and the original stage playwright Pete Quilter) I hope will win professional awards for their yeoman’s work.

Director Rupert Goold also deserves high praise for a tight movie that moves through the last segment of Judy Garland’s life like a bullet train. Goold previously received accolades for “True Story” with Jonah Hill and James Franco, both guys I totally respect for their brave choices (“Mid90’s” and “The Disaster Artist” respectively). While I need to go back and watch True Story, I have no doubt that Goold has a big future ahead of him.

Rene Zellweger deserves the most praise for owning this role, usurping the spirit of Judy Garland and bringing her back to life. Her moving portrayal as a long sufferer of child acting and abuse to her financial difficulties in later life moved me to tears. For me the hook that touched me most was how much she loved her children, but due to her instabilities, of whom she was unable to adequately care.

Finn Wittrock plays Garland’s last husband Mickey Deans and is definitely an actor to watch. He stood out in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” as the sleazy real estate broker and in Judy is superb at objectively performing the dubious role as Judy’s cougar suitor, yet due to his brilliant acting, we’re left weighing the actuality that perhaps he actually helped her sustain dignity and regrouping at the later stages of her life.

I’ll save any spoilers, but let me just say that I learned plenty about this icon and am absolutely in awe at Zellweger’s transformation. Natalie Portman received an overhype of praise for playing a stoned out Jackie O., while Zellweger actually had to act as the tragic, but gifted Judy Garland. A must see!

Dear Stanley, ‘Final Portrait’: a masterpiece!

Looking to broaden my film community, I looked longingly at Selby Library’s Film Group Meeting which was showing “Shine”, the Australian movie for which Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar. Alas, I could not attend due to work, but thought I’d check out the protocol there on the off chance their discussion lasted longer than my shift.

In advance, I decided to watch another Geoffey Rush flick that I had almost gone to at Burns Court when it came out in 2017, Final Portrait, written and directed by Stanley Tucci.

And as my blog title already hinted, I loved it! Only the best movies can engage me at home, as you may also agree dear reader, is a place fraught with distractions, from internet dating texts, to dust I notice growing on the tv, to books I should be reading, etc. But I gave no thought to those items as I became enmeshed in Stanley’s tale of the artist, Alberto Giacometti.

Truth be told, I’ve loved most movies based on painters’ lives: Pollock, At Eternity’s Gate and Picasso, just to name a few. But Final Portrait was beautifully different than the aforementioned, having a more 3d approach to the painter’s life.

As most painters, Giacometti was self-involved, persnickety and tortured. However, Tucci showed the comic side to his personality; his very French infidelities and his o.c.d. habits. Geoffrey Rush was amazing as was Armie Hammer as his portrait sitting muse. Tony Shalhoub, who seems like such a namby pamby (yet an award winning one) in the Miss Maizel series, knocks it out of the park as the faithful, shrugging brother. His appearance changed to gray haired and non-descript enhances his acting that much more.

Other visual nuances included an antique wash to the film that made the muted colors Giacometti use seem more vibrant, and the bust that sits between Armie and Giacometti which symbolizes mystique, the third presence, that otherwordly alchemy which happens when someone produces great art.

A wonderful film, offered free on demand right now without interruption on the Starz network. Check it out.

Hustlers: Despite the Thongs, Not All That it’s Cracked Up to Be

Not to sound cocky, but my blog title is better that the actual screenplay of “Hustlers”. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but let me count the ill begotten ways of this movie.

1. If you want us to feel empathy for a character, we have to have some back story…J Lo, for instance, how did her character become a money hungry man hater? Constance Wu, we understand is a sad sack and in the LAST 15 minutes we see one tiny NON-PEOPLED clip that’s suppose to explain. Frontload this, honey.

2. Men who frequent strip clubs might be pigs, but aren’t the girls also who profit? I digress, men might be pigs who…BUT they are also three dimensional humans. Again, we find out about Doug Stone in the LAST quarter of the film after we’ve already seen countless men who simply work on Wall Street and then go throw money at women every evening.

3. Fact checked by an actual man: men do not throw money at strippers like Snoop Dog threw at the Padres (https://ftw.usatoday.com/2019/05/mlb-worst-first-pitches-50-cent-michael-jordan-snoop-dogg-carl-lewis-bababooey-videos-list). They actually want the specific girl to know, ‘hey this is for you’, so it’s not done from the pitcher’s mound.

4. Continuity and Character Development: J Lo’s character has one daughter who she’s a ‘fabulous’ mom to while she’s up whoring it up nightly, but then in a later scene she has another younger daughter…hmmm, a nine month sabbatical happened? And Constance has a kid she neglects, and we never see the child again for the last quarter other film. Poof, gone.

Three positive asides: J Lo’s body has to be the G.O.A.T., the music is good and I did appreciate the inventiveness of sound in the interview process with Julia Stiles.

Have I convinced you that YOUR money might be better spent at an actual strip club? (kidding) The best news for me is that I can cross off my list of highly respected critics (good to clear out the cache of heroes now and again), any of them who even dare mention the word Oscar and J Lo or Constance Wu in the same sentence. This may be a first; my anger at someone even got nominated.

The Invisibles: Better Title, A New Term Perhaps: Tenacitators

Tenacitators might be a strange term, but something about the title The Invisibles makes this film sound like a new Marvel movie or animated deal. And when I think of the four principle characters, real humans who survived hiding during Hitler’s last desperate days, invisible is the furthest word from my mind, rather they are tenacious people who just kept moving until rescue finally came via the Russian and American troops.

In this post Oscar movie drought, how did director Claus Rafle know that I was fatigued with both historical reenactment films and also straight documentaries? Yet here was his film, miraculously braiding the two genres into a moving piece about, can I use my new word? The Tenacitators. Ok, does the tator suffix make it sound too tater totty? (yet another new phrase)

In all seriousness, The Invisibles made a poignant case for those brave enough to resist the Nazis; in one case a brave man typing up letters to send business mail in rallying people to rise up at the risk of his and his family’s life. In the most moving case of the movie, a man thanks the woman who saved him by hiding him and thus forsaking herself.

Claus Rafle is co-credited with Alejandro Lopez for the screenplay which also included well edited stock film footage of bombed out Germany. So perfectly woven, I was never confused going between the three threads: doc, film and real film. The four actors: Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Ruby O. Fee and Aaron Altaras, while not ‘big stars’, were serious and believable.

Looking back, the film was strongest in these candid interviews of the two women and two men who lived to tell. Each beautiful in their own right, not preaching or whining, but simply grateful for the literal ‘it takes a village’ salvation. Reading Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles the same day as seeing The Invisibles, I couldn’t help but notice a similar theme in that our ‘family’ ends up being those who care for us daily. Fleeting relationships or those we are lucky enough to see endure are equally important in keeping us alive and well.

Stan & Ollie Needed a (Script) Fluffer

I wrote a play about five years ago about a conversation between two old friends. Feedback repeatedly came back that I needed to move the conflict sooner in the script. Stubbornly, I held fast until recently and Stan & Ollie‘s led weighted script is definitely a good slapstick kick in the arse to that same point.

What could have been a blockbuster; poignant friendship between to men starring two outstanding actors, ends up stumbling and fumbling as much as the real pair’s schtick use to include.

I couldn’t help but feel for Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, titans in my list for Philomena (and Jeff Pope helped write that AND this??? A mystery.), The Trip (the former) and Magnolia and Chicago (the latter). They had to have loudly gulped at the script which leaves out ‘coulda been scenes, LIKE:

what about sailing with a bevy of actresses?
what about Stan’s drinking or Oliver’s gambling?
or either’s failed relationships?

In all three circumstances we’re told the information instead of shown. Instead, we’re smothered entirely by their vaudeville scenes and hotel rooms, and even the music which seems cloistered.

One character who could have been written at least with some charisma is their manager, who again limps through bland writing without leaving a mark.

Ok, so it did receive a Rotten Tomatoes 92% so let’s switch hats to the positive, a la Nicki Minaj, and say, “Myley, what’s good?”

The make up and superior acting of the two male leads are certainly worth seeing. The scene where Stan visits Ollie in his post heart attack bed, and blathers on about a new bit where Ollie cries, is projecting Stan’s deep feelings for his friend. Here, Coogan’s watery eyes made the movie soar to Oscar worthy, again, had that type of depth or visual been allowed in the film’s entirety. Likewise the actresses who portrayed their wives were very good. Had they been able to let loose a little more in their scenes (Nina Arianda as Stan’s fiercely independent Russian wife and Shirley Henderson as Ollie’s straight out of central casting 50’s wife) the movie would have been livelier.

So what we’re left with is a semi boring movie with a halcyon look back at two vaudeville originals. Stan & Ollie deserved better, as did Steve and John.

Excuse Me Mr. Bale, Meet Viggo Mortenson

Much like director Peter Farrelly’s movie career, [some highs comedy-wise with Dumb and Dumber and lows The Three Stooges, which was utterly disappointing even with my main man Larry David] Green Book was a 10 in its story and acting and a 1 for its trailer. Thank God for my watching the Golden Globes and discovering one of the screenwriters Nick Vallelonga is son of Viggo Mortenson’s character. Otherwise, I would have passed it off as ho hum based on the trailer alone.

So after the ol’ don’t judge a movie by its trailer, I was enthralled with the Green Book story and totally in love with both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson. While both men were off the charts and Mahershala scored the Golden Globe, I am really hoping Viggo can win the Oscar. While Christian Bale had me at Dick Cheney, I have to say that Viggo’s role (similar weight gain) is a greater acting performance based on the Italian diction and overall mannerisms he performed with aplomb of a thespian acrobat. I also think that Mahershala’s truly outstanding work in Moonlight overshadows this less demanding role.

The most mystifying commentary regarding the film is how people raved about Linda Cardellini. Sure, she’s good as the devoted, eyes mist up when she reads her husband’s letters, but she wasn’t on screen long enough or showed any range to deserve the heaping praise given.

The essence of Green Book is that folks can evolve and learn to come together in support of one another despite our differences. A great message to carry in all of our hearts as we ride out the waves until 2020. Let’s be united and positive!

Sugar and Vice and Everything Nice, that’s not what Cheney was made of

Vice directed by Adam McKay (Academy Award winner for The Big Short) recasts many of the same Big Short actors (Bale and Carell) in this solidly entertaining movie about Dick Cheney.

No doubt, the real Cheney is an A Number One Villain, but McKay plays fair enough for most of the movie allowing him to be at least a good husband and father.

Much like Big Short, Vice is an excellent history teacher, with snappy visuals and a compelling narrator that keeps the movie rolling at a 2018 fast paced clip. Jesse Plemons plays the narrator role which could have been easily drowned out in a cast with Bale, Carell and of course, one of my faves Sam Rockwell, here as a too skinny version of George W., (more on Rockwell in a sec). Plemons drew me (and the rest of the audience) in with mystery and intrigue. Mark my words that this guy’s got big potential.

But of course, the piece de la resistance is Christian Bale (cue angels singing) who I’ve been a sucker for since The Fighter and adored equally (comb over and all in American Hustle). You know you’re sexy when you can make Cheney seem appealing. Bale’s my number one pic for the Oscar.

Sam Rockwell made a decent George W. capturing his naive innocence and sheer desire to redeem his reputation with his dad. Steve Carell is also a wonder as Rumsfeld. He really has become a lesser Jimmy Stewart at this point. I really thought he was deserving for Fox Catcher, so let’s hope he gets another role of that caliber soon. Right now unfortunately he’s suffering from the Welcome to Marwen taint.

Amy Adams is a solid actress who I feel slightly sorry for her due to the Emma Stone/Saoire Ronan Young Gal’s Steamroller that seems to be hogging many roles. She’s awesome as Mrs. Cheney and proof that women can be just as cunning and power hungry as their male counterparts.

My only quibble is the post ending clip which is a tad pandering. We get it, Republicans of recent history are cut throat idiots. I personally didn’t need a video that further divides us. We need to come together.

Where’d the Van Gogh? At Eternity’s Gate

Ever since The Florida Project, I’ve devoted myself to be a life long Willem Dafoe fan, so unless the guy’s in an untra-violent film, I’ll be at his cinematic door step. And At Eternity’s Gate proves again that his acting talent should be rewarded in the industry. He won’t win the Golden Globe for which he’s nominated and if it’s anyone else but Rami Malek, popcorn will be flung at the tv. If Bradley Cooper wins, I may throw the entire bag.

Speaking of Golden Globes, former winner Julian Schnaebel (for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly-probably one of my top 20 of all time) directed At Eternity’s Gate and while it didn’t affect me as greatly as shortened title “The Bell” did in 2007, At Eternity’s Gate evokes the true spirit of a a sensitive and misunderstood painter.

If the French teenagers were portrayed accurately, there were some mean kids back in the 1890’s bullying poor Vincent. The French are stereotypically not your friendliest group, and this movie certainly further contributes to that idea. Additionally, like Mike Meyers did in Bohemian Rhapsody as Joe Record Producer (have to get to my Christmas retail job, otherwise I’d look that up), many a man and woman questioned and discouraged poor Vincent, going as far as calling his work ugly and disturbing.

The film makes me want to look up more about his demise and I will do so once the holiday mayhem slows down. At Eternity’s Gate is another acting ‘masterpiece’ for Willem. Oscar Isaac, while I’m not a fan, does well as a self-absorbed Gaugin and in a Mike Meyeresque semi-caemo, former The Diving Bell and the Butterfly star, Mathieu Amalric plays bemused VanGogh’s doctor.

At Eternity’s Gate might garner Dafoe a Golden Globe in an alternate intellectual society and is definitely worth appreciating for its philosophical age old question; what is art? Likewise, just as it was mesmerizing to watch Day-Lewis as a living breathing Lincoln, watching Dafoe walk, paint, run and even urinate (yes you read that right) as a living VanGogh is highly entertaining.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Waiting Too Long

What happens when life gets in the way of writing a review is correlative to the number of rabbit holes I go down researching the background of the film. Like, just now looking at the screenwriters of Can You Ever Forgive Me? I segued on to the co-writer Jeff Whitty who I discovered starred in a (faux?) documentary called Lisa Piccard is Famous….which was directed by one of my favorite actors of all time Griffin Dunne…so there goes the attention.

Ok, I’m back to focus. The other co-writer of Can You Ever Forgive Me? (new short title for the sake of my paltry typing skills: Me?) is Nicole Holofcener who also wrote some of my favorite indies Enough Said and Please Give.

Me?’s Director is Marielle Heller, who again, brushing off my skirt from that hole fall while reading about a small film she wrote and directed called Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) that starred Kristen Wiig, which sounds very intriguing. Stating the obvious here, but just like there’s not enough time to write film review while ‘fresh in mind’, it is also impossible to watch all the movies I want nor the read the same in books.

What about the movie?, you’re screaming about now…ok, the film was very well done. Not perfect by any stretch in that it didn’t really match the genre description of ‘thriller’, though I guess you could make a case for the film in a OJ slow speed chase thriller type pace.

Melissa McCarthy is tremendous. You forget she’s a comedian when she becomes the real life frumpy failed bio writer, Lee Israel. Likewise and even more so in my opinion, with the defense of acting that pulled my heart strings was her sidekick, played at an Oscar nom level by Richard E. Grant. His work here had an air of Dick Van Dyke’s sad whimsical chimney sweep mixed with Greg Kinnear’s gay pathos in As Good As It Gets.

Also rans (a racing term) who impressed were Jane Curtain (aside aging well!) and Dolly Wells, who I swear I saw in a Todd Solondz film once…but no luck in that shallow internet quick hole dip.

While specifics are tough to name, I think I thought they went a little overboard in the gross factor in regards to Lee’s apartment…fly infestation, cat feces beneath the bed. Beyond that though, this film had memorable characters connecting on a very real and deeply nuanced way. If time permitted, I revisit this film, but I’m too busy obsessing about what I’ve yet to see at all. Can You Ever Forgive Me?