Corpus Christi, Finding a Positive Mission

In need of distraction, I took in Corpus Christi written by Mateusz Pacewicz and directed by Jan Komasa due to its high Rotten Tomato Score. And sure, the film was like a ripe banana, sweet in spots, but with an emerging brown spot.

Not sure if it’s the nascence of a new movie genre, including now One Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite and Uncut Gems, but add Corpus Christi to the pile of Fourth of July ending fireworks films.

And ok, it certainly makes you go out of the theater saying ‘wow’, but sometimes a tidy ending is much appreciated. We don’t need apocalyptic endings every time.

This isn’t me breaking my spoiler code either because you still have no idea what type of fireworks will happen, could be corkscrew, multi-colored or merely all white lights.

Bartosz Bielenia stars in the film and does an absolute fabulous job and I do understand the symbolism of the story line. But at this point, analogous to my not reading any novels about pandemics, I had hoped for a feel good film.

Don’t get me wrong, Corpus Christi is worth seeing, but I have to wonder about the psyche of the screenwriter. May he find salvation.

In fact, let’s all start loving each other. Right now.

William Nicholson’s Hope Gap, Mega Talent Takes Up All the Spaces

I was about to type William Nicholson where you been all my life, but never seeing The Gladiator #girlwhodoens’tlikeviolence, I did not know that this gent was previously Oscar nominated for best screenplay, as well as for Shadowlands which I did see suckerforalovestorywithanintrovert.

Ok, ok, enough hash tagging. How about a lecture instead? For the love of God, get out of your CNN, David Mueller fear hovel and go to the movies to see Hope Gap written and directed by the aforementioned.

You may not believe me, but ‘check the tape’ as they say in radio, since I spied how special Josh O’Connor was in Emma last week (not knowing he is already an award winner himself). Low and behold, in this film, he was the third leg of a highly talented triumvirate with Bill Nighy and Annette Bening.

This movie is for anyone who has ever been divorced, in fact, while wildly different in tone, (this is a super meditative and pensive film), it could have been called Divorce Story as a counterpoint to Bambauch’s Marriage Story.

I’m not going to ruin anything by giving away plot, suffice to say that this is a couple who divorces and the son is put very unfairly in the middle. I know I can relate to that, as well as trying very hard not to continue the pattern.

Go. See. This. Movie. And I already vote for Annette and Bill to get Oscar noms.

The Way Back(End)

My attitude about writing this blog is probably similar to how Ben Affleck feels, like sure The Way Back, not the greatest script, but hey a Friday matinee is a fun way to pass the time, right?

I think the actual title, The Way Back, might come from a conversation between Gavin O’Connor (director and Captain of the screenplay) and Brad Inglesby (Head Coach) when Brad said, ‘Even though this is the same old story, what if we put the bulk of the reveals of deep seeded problems in the second half of the film?.’ That makes it new-ish, right?

The positives are Ben Affleck can carry a mediocre script. And certainly his real life struggle with alcoholism added to the sincerity. Ben’s basketball team were all talented up and comers, and I’m a sucker Al Madrigal, who nerded up to play Ben’s assistant coach.

Similar to the racing scenes in Ford vs. Ferrari, the basketball game footage was engaging and realistic. My basketball love began in high school with a mixture of hormones and adrenaline watching Coach Dave Gillett strip first his jacket, then aggressively loosen his tie, to finally ripping it off.

Affleck doesn’t strip, though we do get to see an aerial shot of him showering a couple of times. But hey, this isn’t Gone Baby Gone (thank God). This is a sports and redemption flick.

I confess I teared up, yet don’t think they needed to throw so many struggles the characters’ way. Some people, unfortunately, have a gene pre-disposing them to alcoholism. Making the conflict more generic may would have made the film more accessible to common folk going to cinema and more importantly, real.

Make it a Double: 63 Up and The Assistant

Not able to run leads me to get desperate, hence I took in two Burns Court movies yesterday.

First 63 Up, the longitudinal British study turned documentary is directed by Michael Apted, Bafta winner for previous incantations of 28 Up and 35 Up. This is my first foray into this series and I was moved. So moved in fact, that I had to opt out with an hour to go. Sure, I lasted 3 hours for The Irishman, but bored-hoping-for-gold sitting is more tolerable than being shaken by actual real lives flashing before your eyes. 63 Up was akin to a music festival, where you’ve already seen 8 great bands, now you want me to watch 5 more? I’d love to see the last hour TODAY, but could not take it all in one shot. Again, that’s a tribute to how well crafted the stories were done. Go see this film!

In the evening, I took in the contemporary drama The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, a champion of realistic psychological abuse issues regarding children in “Casting JonBenet” and Me, Too abuse in The Assistant.

The film stars Julia Garner (best known from Ozarks and The Americans) as a college educated, yet working poor young woman living in Astoria, grinding out a meager living working at a film production office. The film portrays her as virtual slave; as janitor, waitress, irate wife counselor, and secretary, just to name a few.

The film had many similarities to film festival selection “The Chambermaid” which followed the life of a Mexico City Hotel maid, and in comparison pales due to lack of conflictual topography. HOWEVER, the film is worthy of seeing for Julia’s wispy performance as she stifles winces from her bullying boss, and her rejected visage at model types who are granted privileges to which she is never offered. Not only is her job without perks, she is rarely addressed as a fellow human. She is just ‘there’ to work and her pale pick blouse further helps to establish her invisibility.

I enjoyed some of the visual symbolism; when Julia is cleaning up pastries after a meeting, she puts a knotted donut in her mouth making her appear like a canine with a bone. In the HR office where she attempts to level a concern, the chastising manager, slides a cold metallic Kleenex box her way which again evoked an almost dog bowl like sound.

The film will open your eyes to working class loneliness in New York City and I suspect, every city in America.

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?”.

INT. Oscars 2020 Awards- Night “The Lighthouse”

February 9, 2020 Oscars Night, No Host as Usual. The Best Actor Category is about to be given.

INT. Oscars 2020 Awards Theater- Night
Regina King announces the Best Actor for 2020. The audience applauds. As the actor approaches the stage, ROXANNE, a lithe blonde woman in a satin black jumpsuit she borrowed from Jenny Slate’s Netflix stand up, runs ahead of the actor to grab the statue and microphone.

ROXANNE
Ok, I don’t mean to pull a Kanye, and (looks at actor)
I’m really happy for you, I’m going to let you finish,
but Willem DaFoe’s had one of the best performances in The
Lighthouse of ALL TIME!
(She takes a deep breath)
In fact, no, no, Willem, get up here
I can not let this happen again.
(The audience gasps. Willem starts to get up at the urging
of Robert Pattinson).

ROXANNE (Cont’d)
(to Willem as he approaches stage)
You were ripped off on The Florida Project, At Eternity’s Gate…

(Willem makes it to the stage, chagrined, but hugs Roxanne in gratitude. Audience gives standing ovation. Willem takes the microphone. Crowd cheers louder.)

FADE OUT.

Academy, got the message?

My vow to no spoilers remains intact. Go. See. “The Lighthouse”. A movie written and directed by Robert Eggers. A man so cool, he realizes our best stories are in the past when people had creativity and personalities unglued from cell phones like zombies. Robert’s brother Max had the original Lighthouse idea, and Robert asked to use it once his brother had moved on. Hence, it could be the year of the Brothers: Eggers and Safdie’s (“Uncut Gems”).

I have only had the urge to shout out hurrah to a stage (in this case screen) two times in my life. The first time was on Broadway to “On the Mountain Top” when Angela Bassett gave an impassioned rap version of the entire Civil Rights Movement. I literally couldn’t control myself and uttered a quiet, “Holy Sh$%”. The second time was yesterday at AMC Sarasota when Willem Dafoe had two of these masterwork speeches in “The Lighthouse”.

In addition, the cinematography was off the charts profound. Robert Pattinson, also ripped off without a nomination for Good Time (ARE YOU SERIOUS?) is amazing as well.

Again: Go. See. “The Lighthouse”.
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Booksellers Who Suggest Movies: Ghost Story

Sad as I was to see Barry Rothman move off to Denver, he did leave me with great classic film knowledge, goading me to watch “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”, “Stranger on a Train” and “Top Hat”, just to name a few.
And now as one door closes, another opens with our new bookseller James Mammone. I knew I’d enjoy working with him, when at the staff lunch, I brought up the film “Another Earth”. Somewhat deservedly, the film’s a bit obscure, and everyone at the table turned and looked at me like I was from another Earth, when out of the silence came James’ voice who said, “Great movie, Britt Marling”.
So when James said, you should watch “Ghost Story” after a “Joker” discussion which ended with Rooney Mara, Joaquin’s fiance (today’s the wedding!), I agreed.
My prior knowledge of “Ghost Story” was simply that a few folks and reviewers had said it was odd, hence I avoided it at the theater. But much like many great films, you can’t listen to the critics. David Lowery who wrote and directed this, also wrote The Old Man & the Gun. And while I heavily panned that as boring, there certainly were similarly quiet, important moments.
“Ghost Story” is truly a special film, as quiet as the stillest Terrence Malick, “Ghost Story” weaves its tale through several lifetimes with an evocative score.
Usually I break my own no spoilers for a film that’s two or more years’ old, but in “Ghost Story”‘s case, I want to preserve the surprise. It’s not a spooky horror film, but a hauntingly deep journey. I dare say this movie might be great consolation for anyone suffering from the loss of a loved one.
Acting wise, Rooney Mara is a force to be reckoned with, her expressive eyes and mighty mouse physicality a wonderful combination. I love Casey Affleck no matter what he allegedly did and one other actor of note here is Will Oldham as ‘Prognosticator”.
I’ve now found another reliable film friend in James. Definitely see “Ghost Story”.

Every Which Way But “Luce”

I watched the beginning of “Luce” with a sideways skeptical glance…as in, “Really? Why did I choose this movie? I don’t like dramas, real life holds plenty of drama.”

But dubiousness turned to respect as this intricate story seemed to be 90 percent (see below for the 10% baloney) possible in the real world.
Conversations between students (Kelvin Harrison Jr. being the lead), our society’s addictions to the f’n phones, arguments of spouses (expertly played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) and even school situations (BIG applause for Octavia Spencer’s performance as her character had the most to deal with script wise, minus my 10% exception) seemed very plausible. And in the latter, I have expertise being a school counselor and witnessing nuttiness from all sides (students, parents and yes, even teachers).

Did I love the movie? No, but I did respect the editing, music and aforementioned screenplay. So bravo to director Julius Onah who adapted the original play by J.C. Lee.

My malarkey radar went up at the freshly rehabbed sister subplot and her subsequent breakdown which would never have gotten that far out of control in a school foyer, and the old horror movie trope where no one calls the police about criminal matters wanting to solve it themselves.

The movie promised to have people arguing about moral issues that crop up and sure enough, my friend and I had respectful but different takes on the ‘shoulds and should nots’ of the story.

Sweetest Peanut Butter I’ve Ever Known

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Hyperbole, schmyperbole, I’m jumping on The Peanut Butter Falcon Oscar bandwagon ready to throw non-breakables at the television should it not win several awards.

Best Original Screenplay: Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz are the new Affleck/Damon, great storytelling and not a second of filler in the entire movie. My movie companion was dying to get a popcorn refill, but didn’t dare leave. I’m even more proud I’m his friend since once he realized what we were witnessing, movie magic, there’s no popcorn worth missing a second.

Best Actor: Tie: Zack Gottsagen, the Down syndrome actor is tremendous, such a tender nuanced performance doesn’t happen very often. Shia LaBeouf, hands down the role of a lifetime and he nails it. A la Casey Affleck and Willem DaFoe in Manchester By the Sea and Florida Project respectively. Understated, and real, his guilt ridden life takes on new meaning as he finds a run away Down syndrome man and becomes his caregiver.

And breaking news (to me), Shia has a screenplay he wrote and filmed coming out in November with Lucas Hedges called Honey Boy. I’ll call it now, this is LaBeouf’s year to rake it all in.

Best Picture: Roma certainly was a work of art and deserved the best picture win, and this year it’s time to give to a work of heart. So many small gorgeous moments in this film had me crying midway, a first ever. But a cry that feels good to be human and blessed to be in this world.

The ensemble of actors couldn’t be more perfect: Bruce Dern has had an acting renaissance since Nebraska and just keeps excelling. This year with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and now even bigger and better as Josh’s accomplice in Peanut Butter Falcon.

Best Supporting Actor (almost): If Thomas Hayden Church who I LOVE (Sideways!!!) had had a bit bigger role as the washed up wrestler, he’d be in the running. Here’s where I’ll come down from the soap box and say, great performance, but not large or wide ranged enough for a nomination.

And while I think Dakota Johnson is fantastic (Black Mass especially), I don’t think her character gets enough screen moment time to win an award. Nomination(?) Sure. Win(?), probably a stretch.

I’ll be going to see this again and will be rooting for it for the next six months. This is the best picture of the year, hands down.

Diane…Realism Personified

Kent Jones (known most for his documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut) wrote and directed Diane, the second of what I call noble films I’ve seen this week (For those who don’t read my every critique; Saturday was The Public by Emilio Estevez).

Diane was noble in taking on the true true reality that none of us get out of here (Earth) alive. Mary Kay Place (who I envied as an adolescent ogling over her sexy character Loretta on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman) does a tremendous job as the lead character, who like a Timex watch that keeps on ticking even after being dented again and again.

Her dings come in the form of an abusive drug addicted son (a supporting actor worthy performance by Jake Lacy), a cervical cancer stricken cousin, and other family members who both support and deride each other.

Also pinged by the cold winter of New England, Diane shops, enables her son by doing his laundry and grocery shopping, and works at a low income food co-op. She gives so much of herself, that she has no self left to nourish. Added to her plight is a painful secret (or maybe two) that haunts her and a true love that got away.

The dichotomy of mystery and symbolism (we are in the car with her viewing the winding road at several points) of the journey capture what our real lives truly are. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring (mystery), but we must keep driving the journey (symbolism) to discover. The flip the story takes where instead of mother badgering son, son badgers mother is beautifully portrayed and shows the evolution most of us face in being the givers and subsequent receivers of care.

A tiny bit wonky in parts and a little confusing as far as Diane’s own experimentation and denouement, Diane reminded me of a lesser First Reformed, yet totally worth viewing this thought provoking story.