Almost Toxin, West Virginia

Mark Ruffalo deserves some credit. He could choose pretty roles at this point in his career, fun stuff like all comic book movies or even hold out for the ninth Tarantino, but no, Ruffalo has consistently chosen movies he finds important: Spotlight, Foxcatcher and now the well written and directed “Black Waters”.

“Black Waters” details one attorney’s brave journey over almost two decades in nailing the DuPont Company for gross negligence in hiding injurious effects of chemicals used and dumped at their many factories. Todd Haynes, directed this, as well as the award winning film “Carol”. Haynes has an artistic eye and from the get go, I was taken in by the West Virginian curves of this tale. Much like Ford V. Ferrari, DO NOT google this ahead of time, let Todd and the trio of writers do the heavy lifting while you enjoy the twists and turns.

And that’s a revelation I had tonight, questioning myself for ‘running away from home’ as I do, to attend a movie, when I could easily turn on the news to get some intelligence. But that’s just it: the news is no longer investigative, unless you count the violence porn of what 20/20 has become. We really don’t know what the biggest news stories are right now due to media bias. If we are not getting political slant, then it’s fluff pieces (quite literally) on cute pets.

So the bad news is we sit in our internet fog looking at what J Lo wore on SNL, while we drink and swim in water that might be harming us. But the upside is that due to concerned citizens like Todd Haynes and Mark Ruffalo (and the previously mentioned screenwriters and magazine reporters) who cared enough about actual humans, we at least receive some real news at the movies.

So my question is, could movies be our new news source?

Inside Game, A Tremendous Rebound

Say what you might about the B level soundtrack and some of the clunky performances, Inside Game (directed by Randall Bantinkoff and written by Andy Callahan) has the true to life gritty feel of a quality reality show. It’s the perfect movie for sports fans, especially NBA fans, a hot topic right now considering that Uncut Gems (the Safdie Brothers new movie) also delves into the sometimes sordid world of sports betting.

What I liked about the movie:
most of the dialogue was realistic
the acting was genuine, especially the leads: Erc Mabius as Tim Donaghy; Tim graciously came to Burns Court Cinema for a post movie Q & A by my charismatic friend and film expert, Gus Mollasis. Will Sasso as Baba and Scott Wolf as Tommy, all three of whom were high school buddies.

The story telling was mostly good, a nice sandwich of boyhood hoop dreams that devolve into sports betting and drug and alcohol.

The female characters were portrayed as materialistic, but given our extremely wealthy area, it seems the resemblance is very familiar. The men seem sympathetic, attempting to make the moola necessary to fulfill their needs. This does not blame them or excuse the men for their extra-marital conquests, but ask me for my Modern Love column submission where I give my take on the current sad status of men who cater to women’s needs, stuffing their own and then acting out immaturely. This plot adds to my case.

Don’t get me wrong, this is truly a B level movie, yet there was a certain honesty and rawness to it that led me to enjoy most. And of course, given we had one of the three represented to speak after, certainly added to my enjoyment. I root for Tim Donaghy to shop his book, Personal Foul since I think with the right cast and director, and Tim’s personal after prison journey, this could be a blockbuster. Hey PT Anderson, what are you up to?

Ford V. Ferrari…Plastic Bumpers & Loose Screws

Ok, I need a mechanic..ya see, I’ve got this car and it looks great (Christian Bale, Tracy Letts) and has a tremendous history (the life story of Ken Miles is truly compelling), HOWEVER, the freakin’ thing seems to sputter.

Jez and John-Henry Butterworth co-wrote the script and have done super work on Black Mass and Edge of Tomorrow, so maybe perhaps they tried. Jason Keller’s history isn’t as strong (could he be the plastic bumper?), don’t know what his input was. The irony is that the Ford Motor’s problem was too many cooks running the show, perhaps the movie suffers from the same problem. The first ten minutes of the film could have easily been excised.

I don’t think its the director James Mangold’s fault either as his legacy (3:10 to Yuma, for one)…aw wait! Here’s a screw loose…The Greatest Showman…ok the crux of the problem in this film has The Greatest Showman’s corn factor, for one. Bale is such a heavy weight actor, let him get in the dirt more. More anger, more obsession. Yet the movie played it too safe, sanitizing him (as they did Mr. Barnum in Greatest Show) to be a wholesome dude who threw a wrench once in awhile. Not enough.

The Bale marriage was contrived and the couple (sorry Caitriona Balfe) had no chemistry. Give me some sex for goodness sakes.

What’s good: the race scenes were very well done and better than some of the dialogue. Scenes with Ray McKinnon as Phil Remington (Academy Award winner for a short film in 2002!) were genuine. Noah Jupe does his best as the son, but compared to what he did in Honey Boy, he probably felt like saying, ‘can I phone this in (yawn)?’

I was moved by the end when finally Matt Damon was allowed to act rather than just chew gum and look angry. Ken Miles’ life story deserves better writing and a more avant-garde stylistic rendering.

This model, unfortunately, needs a re-call.

My New Number One Movie of the Year: Honey Boy

Results may change after some thought, but after seeing Honey Boy over the weekend in NYC, it’s my number one film of the year. In fact, when you think about it, the film has a great horse name, hence my top three finishers in this year’s ‘race’ are:

1. Honey Boy
2. The Lighthouse
3. Peanut Butter Falcon

If you’re a true buff, you see a two out of three ain’t bad theme running here: Shia LeBouf. And once you see Honey Boy, you’ll have what I now refer to as “Brian Wilson” moment, empathy for those who were traumatized by well meaning, but abusive parents.

Shia wrote the film about his father and chose Israel born music video and film director Alma Har’el to execute direction. Shia happened upon a Ha’rel video a few years back and decided her artistic eye would be perfect for his tweener to mid 20’s slice of life story. This summer smitten by Peanut Butter Falcon, I watched Alma’s Love + True, after seeing it pop up on my X-finity Demand list as a Lebouf project…he merely produced it, which while disappointed not to see his ruggedly handsome face, was a poignant and moving film mixing real and dramatized versions of from memory, a surfer in Hawaii and a stripper from Alaska. I watch at least two movies a week and for me to even be able to conjure up specific scenes as I can easily with this one, speaks highly of Ha’rel’s impact.

The acting in Honey Boy is phenomenal. Every single human in the film is genuine. Shia playing his own father (talk about a mind trip!), Noah Jupe is terrific as the tweener Shia, Lucas Hedges fantastic as the 22 year old Shia. Byron Bowers has one of the funnier (ironic) lines in the film and two tv veterans Laura San Giacomo and Martin Starr are great in their therapists’ roles. Last, but certainly not least, FKA Twigs is super as the equally damaged tweener seductress.

Go see this!! I can’t go again, it’s too traumatizing emotionally, but Shia is a triumph playing a man trying to break the cycle of abuse. I truly believe his film could reach some people locked in a self-abusive cycle.

ASIDE: Angelika Theater (NYC) is definitely worth going to: excellent atmosphere, roomy leg room, excellent popcorn and a staff that treats you like Jim Carey did his constituents in The Majestic. Really.

Pain & Glory: Espera un Minuto

Excuse me Senor, while I respected and ‘enjoyed’ the thorough story telling of Pain & Glory, I have to scream out ‘espera un minuto’ as far as all the accolades the film has received. Willem, Shia and Joaquin all did mucho more acting in The Lighthouse, Peanut Butter Falcon and Joker respectively and deserved the Cannes Best Acting Award more.

And if you wanted to break it down to best male actor in a foreign film, I’d say that without a doubt, Ka-ho Song does more acting in Parasite than Antonio Banderas does here. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fine actor and a handsome, earnest devil, but I’m not sure what politics might have been involved in the voting.

But let’s focus on the good for a moment….Pain & Glory is auto fiction meaning partially based on writer/director Pedro Almodovar’s real life. Perhaps because it is revealing and sometimes sad, the award was given for his ultimate vulnerability.
The story telling is dense, meaning a lot of dialogue. Colors and art are vibrant touches to the cinematography.
The acting is great. Besides Antonio, Asier Etxeandia was great as Salva’s junkie actor/frenemy, Penelope Cruz is gorgeous and competent as Salva aka Pedro’s mother, as is Asier Flores as his younger self.

Yet when I think of meaningful, truly moving moments, I can count them on one hand, and even then they were merely evocative blips.

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.