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?

Beautiful Boy: Like Carson’s Carmac placing the envelope to my head

I haven’t read a review of Beautiful Boy, yet, preferring as usual to give my original take. But I will take a guess as to why the film only received 69% Rotten Tomatoes (77 Audience, always way smarter aka Bohemian Rhapsody). Envelope to my head like Carmac the Magnificent, I’m going to guess ‘too long’ and ‘too depressing’, but I think anyone would be hard pressed to do a Mel Brooks “Crystal Meth: The Musical”. If you’re patient enough to read my review, I promise to read some reviews and save you the trouble with a Post Script down below.

I actually am daughter to a Dad (no spoiler there) who annually winds up in the hospital with heart trouble. He’s had triple bypass, angioplasty, many stints of stents, etc. Still, he continues his wanton ways; multiple beers a night, horrific dietary practices: Pepsi for breakfast, gravy for lunch, some processed meat for dinner, with plenty of sugary goodies sprinkled in all day long. The long story short of that tale is that others are often aghast that I don’t go running to the hospital every time I get the call.

Watch Beautiful Boy for the full two hours and you’ll see Steve Carell’s character reach the same (I need to keep boundaries to keep my sanity) conclusion. He (in this case the he of the movie is the tremendously talented Timothy Chalamet) won’t change his habits so there is really no fan fare (which in the end only results in negative reinforcement) or hand wringing that can make someone change unhealthy behavior. Only you can prevent forest fires (or in this case, substance abuse).

Here’s what was wrong about the movie: it didn’t need to be two hours. The first 15 minutes were a weird kind of guessing game about who was related to who and a time line regarding Carell’s wife and children. We didn’t need that puzzle. As Gordy Hoffman taught us in BlueCat Screenwriting, get to a main conflict within the first 13 (or was it 10?) pages.

Also there wasn’t a clear explanation of his Timothy Hutton office visit. He seemed to be consulting the NY Times, then no, it was a doctor to do a NY Times article…then there’s a random scene (no explanation) of him at the Rolling Stone offices. Again, you don’t need to make the audience work to understand, unless you’re just padding the screenplay bra (when it should be au naturel).

Acting was top notch: Carell is unbelievable both in the past is several comedic roles and a wonder in this dramatically speaking, as he was in Foxcatcher. As previously mentioned Timothy Chalamet, elsewhere the swaggering handsome guy, or in Call Me By Your Name, the vulnerable college aged guy, was tremendous. What brave roles for both these guys who certainly must be able to call the shots on what films to do. Bravo to them for taking the time to spend on a real topic about real people. Gorgeous. the female roles while minor in scope, were beautifully done: Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan, both oozing with sincerity.

So I give Luke Davies (co-writer) and Felix Van Groeningen (co-writer and director) a pass on the few quibbles I have with the total picture. Felix, by the way, previously directed the movie Broken Circle Breakdown, and while it’s been years since I saw it, remember balling my eyes out. I expected to, but did not, cry at Beautiful Boy, though came close at the airport scene when Carrell tells his son he loves him more than everything. But then again, due to my daughterly experience, when at first I did run to the hospital and now merely blink, take a deep breath and go check on Grandma, I have come to the conclusion that my Dad is living the life he wants to lead, however reckless that it is, rather than choose change which while a relatively painful journey (facing his demons, denying his fat and sugar needs) would most probably reap deeper benefits. I’m ok and you will be, too, even after seeing this film.

POST SCRIPT: Wow, and you thought I was heartless, the reviewers ruthless….”messagey Oscar bait” and as Carmac predicted “exhausting”. That’s what addictive behavior becomes to those on the sidelines, honey..exhausting.

Check your bags at the door reviewers: Bohemian Rhapsody was an 11:)

While I know I’m hard on certain films and did take it down an angry notch after listening to others’ opinions of Old Man & a Gun, I CAN NOT BELIEVE the bitching and whining by the mass of critics regarding Bohemian Rhapsody. While I try not to read reviews before writing my own, and did not, my sweet co-worker Katia read some to me as we worked the book store counter. And I had already heard some of The View ladies (eye roll) bias, ‘you didn’t delve into the gay relationship or AIDS epidemic’, to whom I say, ‘what the heck are you talking about?’. Not only did the film dive into it, the screenwriters (Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan) showed that in the early AIDS epidemic, people were a. in denial and b. super skeptical and ignorantly homophobic.

I also heard the reviewers think his marital relationship was not made complicated enough. Again, I totally disagree. He obviously loved his wife and was conflicted about his bisexual feelings. I’m really not sure why there’s such a backlash to this film.

But I’ll leave the judgments behind and tell you what I enjoyed. In contrast to the all too snappy quick Star is Born, director Bryan Singer allows scenes to breath and thus, we feel more for these people. While I will agree that like Star is Born, illness and alcoholism still don’t look real, again showing our society’s need to have pretty characters in film. Poor Matthew McConaughey probably thinks, ‘why did I knock myself out for Dallas Buyers’ Club’? Though the answer is Academy Award and fame and fortune. Let’s see if the Oscars like Rami Malek better than Bradley Cooper. God knows in this film at least, Rami wins the battle of the balladeers by a long shot.

While the other band members seemed a little bit plastic, I thought they did a decent job of portraying 4 different creative forces trying to hammer out the business side of things. I also was reminded of Love&Mercy in watching man made sound effects (vs. our current everything techno whoopdey do) and their beautiful influence on Queen’s tunes.

Note to self, rewrite my top 7 songs to include Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s pure genius.

And speaking of the song and movie title, while I have complained in the past about comedians anachronistically ending up in dramatic movies (Louis CK; Dave Chappelle), Mike Meyers actually had a reason to be here, having head banged his way through Bohemian Rhapsody in Wayne’s World. And to play such a Tom Cruise from Tropic Thunder douche bag managerial role was perfect.

This film was joyous and maybe that’s the trouble. We seem to be hooked on maudlin at this point in our country’s career. If you’re not hand wringing that the world’s going to end, then you’re frivolous and ‘obviously’ one of ‘them’. How about we all agree to enjoy a great rock concert which Bohemian Rhapsody most definitely is. If you can’t enjoy the pure ecstasy Freddie Mercury got from performing, then you really don’t understand the importance of music. In fact, instead of listening to one more political advertisement, put some headphones on and allow yourself to escape to Someone to Love and get back to me about how bad you feel. I swear it’ll lighten your load.

Is the Paint Dry Yet? The Old Man & the Gun

The most exciting thing about The Old Man & the Gun was Tom Waits in the one scene he was allowed to speak. He tells a funny story about his macho step-dad on Christmas Eve. The scene was unfortunately only five minutes out of the 1 hour and 33 minute running time.

So again, I channel Fred Willard in A Mighty Wind, “What Happened?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of8JOVXYU0Q

Let me go out on a limb and say that perhaps Robert Redford is stoically coping with a debilitating disease. I have to give him props for not caring about Botox, but perhaps there’s something more sinister behind his lack of lines in this film. If this is so, and I hope its not, then the ‘last film’ is a heroic goodbye. If he does still have all his marbles, for shame Robert. And I say to you, Robert what I said to “Dan” (Daniel Day-Lewis), please do not end your career on THAT note. (the emasculating Phantom Thread)

When I saw Casey Affleck pop up, I thought, aw excellent, someone to hang on to, but nope, denied. They (David Lowry and David Grann, screenwriters) must’ve said to Casey, “hey we have a cinch of a film for you-come high, hungover and lacking energy and it’ll be great!” I can only assume here that the real detective was as lethargic as Casey acted. His detective makes Andy Griffith’s law enforcement look James Bond-like.

Toward the end of the film, there’s a montage of clips of the outlaw’s numerous escapes. Again, like the Tom Waites moment, I thought, why, oh why couldn’t we have focused on that? I’d even have taken Sissy Spacek (a weak horse riding love interest) taking the wall paper off her Victorian house and finding the signature of the man that built the house. Here you probably think, ‘ooh that’s sounds mysterious’ to which I reply, ‘Yes! And it shall remain so!’

Just to prove I haven’t jumped into a negative trough (going along with the supposed ‘iconic’ shot of Redford on a horse), here’s a list of all the positives in my life this week:
making my son laugh
talking to Tim about fun topics we like to discuss
my film class with Gus Mollasis
talking to my Grandmother
hanging out with Jack who makes me laugh
my empathic co-workers Andrea and Katia

So there, proof I remain balanced, yet still disappointed in The Old Man & the Gun.

“Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot”…Hmmm…

Ok, I usually have a strong opinion about a film, however, “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is tricky.

Here is a two facts I do know:

One: Joaquin Phoenix should get nominated. Done. He is like Christian Bale was in The Fighter, transformed into being John Callahan. A very close absolute best, tied with his role in The Master, a PT Anderson masterpiece.

Two: Jonah Hill‘s performance is also magnificent, his best ever. He uses Gus Van Sant‘s (writer and director) material like a virtuoso conductor, making his understated role crescendo to a moving denouement.

My main difficulty with the film is the story, it’s more a sweet tribute piece then it is a narrative. I’d almost like to see another layer added to the film, like Van Sant’s reasoning for making the film, his learning about the man, what attracted him.

So a great rental, or if you’re a giant Joaquin fan like me, worth the $6 bucks admission.