“The Father”, the Hon and the Holy almost

There’s so much that is moving about The Father. First and foremost, the screenplay adapted by Christopher Hampton (Oscar winner for Dangerous Liaisons, nominated for Atonement) from playwright Florian Zeller’s play, originally billed as a black comedy. In directing this film, Florian Zeller has stripped out comedic elements, simultaneously sharpening the realism of what it must be like to have dementia, reminiscent of what the film “Eternal Beauty” did for schizophrenia.
Brilliant acting accentuates the written word with a pair nonpareil in Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins. Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots are also fantastic. I was less thrilled with Mark Gatiss and Rufuss Sewell, but it could be because their characters were cold and abusive.
While plays turned to film can seem stifling (this year’s model for me was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), The Father’s flat turned nursing home did not feel suffocating, a credit to the writing, acting and cinematography.
The Father will not make my top 10, for all the reasons the other films do, portraying more well rounded universal problems, themes and varied emotions.

Making Room for Pieces of a Woman in my Top Ten

Time to shove over a few selections for the phenomenal Pieces of a Woman directed by Kornel Mundruczo and written by his fellow Hungarian collaborator Kata Weber. But first, I am glad I heard the beginning of a podcast which foretold the difficult scenes in the first 20 minutes, I’d challenge that and say 27 minutes. If this had been in the theater on the big screen, I may have crawled out of my seat with anxiety. But the labor (very bad pun) is worth this sure to be Oscar nominated film.

Weber’s writing, her characters so well drawn that you forget about them as actors. Even Shia LeBouf, the troubled soul in rehab again, is tremendous as the husband who realistically attempts in many ways to bridge (a better pun, you’ll see) the grief. Obviously a different story than Blue Valentine, but just as melancholy.

The two standouts though are the women: Vanessa Kirby, new to me, but played a young Princess Margaret in The Crown. Here she is the raw, grieving mother, who is angry yet sympathetic. Her mother, played by Ellen Burnstyn steals the movie with a monologue so powerful, reminiscent of the caliber of Chadwick Boseman.

The beautiful off kilter shots of Kirby’s neck (just to give an example) help the viewer stay with the emotion rather than get sidetracked by faces. You’ve surely been in a moment where you are so traumatized or outside yourself that you’ve stared at something other than the other people in the room.

Montreal is an incredibly bleak but gorgeous metaphor and backdrop for the story, so kudos also for the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb and the complementary music by Academy Award winner Howard Shore (Hugo and Lord of the Rings). Watch this film on Netflix.

Another Round, Perhaps another run at my top 10

Another Round written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who according to IMDB, is one of the Danish forefounders of “dogme95, a set of rules dedicated to reintroducing the element of risk in film-making,” is best known to me from his direction in the great Thomas Hardy adaptation from “Far From the Maddening Crowd”.
Another Round passes the great movie litmus test of evoking a mood or feeling that reverberates long after the movie ends…in this case a feeling of mindfulness over reckless abandon. After witnessing several men and teenagers lose their control over moderate drinking habits, I was left with the ‘watch what you’re doing’ self-observation even in the reality that I fall under the CDC’s guidelines on healthy average weekly drinks.
The acting is top notch; Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen (four time winner of Best Danish actor), Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe portray a bros before hoes gang who, like my never to be seen or read screenplay “Buck Up” get together and decide to re-claim their identities through a drinking experiment.
A universal truth, for me, and evidently the psychological study’s founder Finn Skarderud, I believe having a tiny buzz certainly adds to my extroversion and ability to speak my mind. It helps shut off my rigid self-consciousness. What I definitely DON’T believe in is doing this 24-7, which also led to the demise (spoiler alert) of the four men.
The film is a scathing look at alcohol misuse and abuse by both young and old, and yet I see dumb asses who are billing this film as a “delightful comedy” (Sean Burns WBUR, and Hollywood Reporter Scott Roxborough). They must also think Leaving Las Vegas was a laugh riot spoof. Lord, send breathalyzers to both these folks.
To end on a positive note, Thomas Vinterberg helps bring up our society’s overuse of alcohol and yet, to give Burns and Roxborough a break, since no children were hurt during the film and since we do collectively like to giggle at drunks-Otis Andy Griffith, your ‘drunk Uncle’, he possibly sanitizes the negative results a little too much.

News of the World, a Mainstream Media Metaphor

You know what your going to get when you turn on or read mainstream news, you choose what makes you feel congratulated with stories that say, ‘you’re right!’ or ‘be afraid’ which in this sense, means, ‘You’re left.’ Ok enough of my political humor…I’m a moderate for the record, wishing everyone could always compromise and be adults…and with that to finish off the metaphor…in my perfect world, the news of the world stories would be more like the truly precise and helpful graphs they (the Times) posts about Covid outbreaks. A factual news paper with the obvious exception of the Op-Ed pages.

And since my m.o. is for everyone to be happy and get along, and since we did sell many copies of Jiles’ book News of the World for that very reason-the ‘nice story aspect,’ a feel good, feel right tale that brings everyone comfort, I was in the mood for a lazy river ride, where I can tell the beats coming up in a story. And who is more of a reassuring actor than Tom Hanks, ground zero Covid celeb?

I guess I raised my hopes for maybe a more complex story given the two who adapted the screenplay were Paul Greenglass (who also directed News of the World and directed the fantastic Captain Phillips) and Luke Davies who wrote both Lion and Beautiful Boy, both complex and very moving films.

And I really do like Tom Hanks (should receive the most handsome beard and mustache set for sure), but maybe it’s that I can’t unsee him in his better films, so everything else now is simply gravy. Or perhaps the story was just too simple…And I really don’t want to hear how profound the young girl (what gives with the Howdy Doody makeup freckles?) as (Helena Zengel) since she didn’t have a lot to do, REALLY, and young actors like Lucas Jaye from Driveways did ten times the acting this year.

Sorry to bring the bad news to the world…News of the World is just mediocre to me.

Sound of Metal, Profound: in upcoming best of 2020

Derek Cianfrance is a great writer, known previously for Blue Valentine and The Place Between the Pines. With Darius Marder, who he worked with on “Pines”, teamed up with Derk to do the new movie “Sound of Metal” which I was lucky enough to see on the big screen before the big shut down at Burns Court Theater. (Fear not, they will re-open in April).
Sound of Metal can be streamed without losing the punch as long as you strap yourself in for an undistracted 2 hours. It’s not an easy task, as the movie moves in what feels like real time, since who the heck would enjoy the experience of going deaf. HOWEVER, the acting and story are worth the bottom barnacles. Riz Ahmed who is on a show I’ve got to watch with Brit Marlin (The OA), does a profound (to use a deaf term) job as the drummer who is losing his hearing.
Olivia Cooke (from Ready Player One, Me Earl and the Dying Girl) is also tremendous as the helpless girlfriend. Paul Raci is amazing as Riz’s sponsor and one of my favorites, Mathieu Amalric rounds out the cast as Olivia’s father.
You will definitely be transplanted into the deaf world thanks to the amazing sound tricks achieved by (I counted) 14 people. Bravo. See this film!

Two-Fer NEW MOVIE Reviews: something light, something heavy

The Fatman and The Life Ahead are two movies I’ve taken in this week; subversive-lite and poignant-beautiful respectively.
The first, The Fat Man is playing for a few more days at Lakewood Ranch (please support them) and probably longer at CineBistro. The movie stars Mel Gibson as Kris Kringle and if the Nelms brother had veered a little more comedic instead of the weakling sibling of violence, it could have been a winner. Either evil within their own twin beings, or within the Hollywood execs that led led them, the film ends Tarantino-essque. Still, the movie did attempt to make some points about the shallowness of the ultra rich and how karma can come back to bite you in the flannel clad fanny.

The second, The Life Ahead, should be a nominee for film of the year, best actor and best actress. The director, Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren’s son, did a great job with the adapted screenplay by Ugo Chiti. The actor who just threw me off my feet (granted I was on a couch watching it streamed on Netflix) is Ibrahima Gueye. He is going places at the young age of, I’m guessing, 14 max (?) as no date is available on the internet. Sophia Loren plays his foster mother and the jist of the film is Loren is a former call girl who now takes in younger call girls’ neglected or abandoned children.
Gorgeously shot in Italy, the movie made me tear up several times. If this isn’t THE film to watch about crossing barriers from race color to we are all of the HUMAN race, I don’t know what is. Essential holiday viewing to mend hearts at the holidays.

God’s Own Country, a must see

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Recently I was asked to co-host a program at our local Independent Theater Burns Court for the movie “Ammonite” which debuts November 13th.

As a dutiful life long learner, I looked into the writer/director Francis Lee. Lo and behold, was a movie on his filmography I’d been meaning to watch starring one of my favorite young actors, Josh O’Connor.

God’s Own Country, from 2017, is by far the best love story between two men that I’ve ever seen. Kudos to Francis Lee for his expert writing and direction. Thank God Sundance and the Chicago Film Fests honored this film. Where in the H-E-double pitchforks (going with the farming theme) were the Oscars or Independent Spirit Awards that year?….asleep at the tractor, I guess.

The harsh Scottish farming setting lends itself to the desperation and loneliness felt by Josh’s character. Romanian actor Alec Secareanu was also outstanding as his out of town gypsy co-worker.

The parents portrayed by Gemma Jones and Ian Hart (playing much older than his actual age and VERY believable) are an absolute duo of acting marvel, beaten down by the weather and farming life.

I was truly moved by this movie to the point where I felt the emotions resonating into the next day. Mark my words, Josh O’Connor SHOULD win an Oscar in his life time and if not, he should at least clink glasses with others who unfortunately have gone without (Willem Dafoe to name one).

And fun fact: Alec Secareanu and Gemma Jones are both cast again in Lee’s upcoming November release.

The Artist’s Wife: Almost 3-D

I really enjoyed The Artist’s Wife, but I have an old man crush on Bruce Dern, so own that bias. Actually I had a young man crush on him, too, even though I saw his younger man movies way after the fact.

Bruce Dern has that amazing charm to be able to be a total verbal barbarian, yet also be lovable (again stamp me ‘biased’). And in The Artist’s Wife, written and directed by Tom Dolby (wrote The Last Weekend which I need to see as a Patricia Clarkson fan) h certainly adds to this talent.

The acting in the film was superb. Lena Olin wins you over in the first five minutes. Her acting is real and her beauty just as genuine. Equally affecting was Juliet Rylance, in Frances Ha, but I was too in love with Greta Gerwig to remember her. Avan Gogia also does a bang up job, no pun intended, but it works (find out for yourself).

Ryan Earl Parker needs a shout out for cinematography for making winter look pretty in the NYC and Long Island area and Jeff Grace’s music complemented the film as well.

My only quibble is that the film was almost too pretty, all were gorgeous and rich. But I still felt the emotions, so in the end, the film definitely won me over.

The Devil All the Time (switch out Violence for Devil)

An often asked interview question is “if you could have four dinner guests, who would they be?” and typically, people name Jesus, Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs and Freud…you get the idea…

Based on my viewing The Devil All the Time, I’d like to dine with Antonio and Paulo Campos (writers and director of said film), the Safdie Brothers (Uncut Gems) and Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things).

Of course, I’d be tricking the Campos to attend what is really an intervention. One where I’d go, “Hey, Campos’ listen to the Safdie’s explain how small bits of violence have much more impact that constant slaughter.”
And Charlie would chime in with, “You realize you’re capable of creeping people out without a lot of bloodshed.”

And the Campos would pensively reply, “Oh yes, now we see, we thought Americans liked a violent waltz where on the three count, we strike with violence and then repeat.”

Luckily I didn’t read anything in advance of viewing except for a snippet that said Robert Pattinson stole the show. Trust me, I’m a huge RB fan every since the Safdie’s Good Time and felt this was probably accurate. However, I disagree. This was an epic acting collaboration and the only reason RB stuck out was, he was the only character not West Virginia slack jaw and depressed. (Note to West Virginia, which I suggest from direct experience since my great grandparents lived there and I visited most summers growing up: put Prozac in the drinking water pronto as 99% of the folks are clinically depressed, including all the characters except RB).

There are so many competent actors to mention, but I’ll just name the standouts: Riley Keough who is proving her acting chops rather than ride on her grandfather (ELVIS, yes, THAT Elvis’s coat tails), Tom Holland, and Jason Clarke.

The screenwriting as a story was well done and intelligent. Kudos should also obviously go to Donald Ray Pollock author of the novel on which the screenplay was based. Worth watching, I guess, as long as you turn your head or squeeze your eyes shut every ten minutes for the duration of two hours and 18 minutes worth. Hence, please Antonio and Paulos, come to my dinner party:)

The Nest Wasn’t Quite Empty Enough

Sean Durkin, director and writer of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” decided to spare us the word count with his latest of sparer title, “The Nest”. I wish his screenwriting could have also been trimmed.

Don’t get me wrong, The Nest is worth seeing, especially if you’re in for a moody, gray foreboding Surrey landscape. Not to mention, superb acting by Carrie Coon, Jude Law and even ‘their children’; Oona Roach and Charlie Shotwell.

So what’s my problem, you ask? Well, have you ever heard the Louis CK method of comedy writing (no not the ‘come into my hotel room’ one-lol), the write your heart out and then use you closer at the beginning and rewrite forward? If Sean had cut the first five, maybe even ten minutes off The Nest, his film’s pacing would have been tighter. Or possibly the ‘beating of the dead horse’….you’ll see.

But even with the bloat, I enjoyed The Nest, in addition, even the message at the end, which as I always promise, I won’t spoil.