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.

You Say Tommaso, I say Too Macho

Ok, I couldn’t resist the title, if anything, I felt for Willem Dafoe’s character to a point…

But first, let me say that Abel Ferrara’s a new director to me. I did not see The Bad Lieutenant, but did love Herzog’s sequel Bad Lieutenant Port of Call. From what I’ve read of Ferrara’s filmography, he’s too rough for me.

Dafoe has worked with Ferrara before and will be in his next project as well (Siberia) and my fandom of Dafoe means even in his dish washing scenes, I’m riveted. The man can do no wrong in my book. To be completely serious check out the Al Anon scene where he professes gratitude for the man who helped save him from drugs and alcohol.

And for the love of God, since the Oscars are going to be gutted anyway, let’s give a tiny white guy award just at the end for someone with a filmography that is so underappreciated in awards: The Lighthouse (come on!!) At Eternity’s Gate (what????) and The Florida Project (get out of town)…for those ALONE, come on up and grab your award Willem.

Back to our regularly scheduled review, Tommaso. Ok, the story is cinema verite’ and it’s tough to feel sorry for a rich director living with his 25 year younger girlfriend who has had his child* . Part of me of course is unsympathetic…a you reap what you sow mentality…meaning when you engage with a woman half your age (portrayed perfectly by Cristina Chiriac) and get verklempt that you have nothing in common, I say, I told ya so…

(*said child played by Abel’s daughter-please get her therapy now for scaring the hell out of her in one screaming scene)

Yet I appreciated the honesty of the film, that Ferrara doesn’t paint Dafoe as innocent. If anything, Dafoe’s character IS trying to insert himself into a family milieu with a woman who grew up without one.

Answer me this? Have you ever had a relationship where you were trying to recreate your parent’s marriage/relationship. My hand is up and in marriage two, I chose a volatile, somewhat infantile, yet extremely intelligent and sexy man, and I filled the role as spoiled woman who enjoyed the highs of occasional trophy boyfriend. I know, gross, you may be saying, but look in your own mirror and perhaps you’ll see where you also, recreated the familial scene (for better or for worse).

In Tommaso the young wife rejects her older companion, thus setting him up to be a enraged without ventilation, though certainly his dalliances with other woman are an outlet, justifiable to him, due to this rejection.

So the movie is deeper in that it makes me wonder, what do we want of our men? Do we really want them involved in child rearing, or would we prefer to have them just as financiers and protectors until the kids are out of the house….and by that time, we find ourselves different people who no longer fit together as we once did?

For this meditative thinking, Tommaso is worthy of watching, as the director allows us the quiet space to decide for ourselves, what is fantasy and intentional.

First Cow, A Friendship Fable

First Cow, directed by Kelly Reichardt, known for her unmistakable ability to capture simple pleasures and universal pain, has another wonder with First Cow (now streaming on Itunes). This time she has re-teamed with Jonathan Raymond (Mildred Pierce, Wendy and Lucy) to bring the latter’s novel “The Half-Life” to cinematic life.

A perfect circular plot, the story is of two men (one American, one Chinese) who find each other lost and on the run in the gold mining craze of centuries yore.

Reichardt makes sure to take her time and in our frenzied world, you really need to release the monkey mind and take the lazy river ride. She’s worth it as well as the two actors chosen to play friends: John Magaro (who was in the cast of thousands in Big Short) plays the American ‘Cookie’ and Orion Lee (who needs more opps than the tv schlock his IMDB details) as King-Lu.

While you’ll know the end of the tale at the movie’s start, you care enough about the pair to travel with them as they succeed in selling their oily cakes (think the first Krispy Kremes).

Again, certainly the Icarus who flies too close to the sun tale is as old as time, yet powerful acting and careful directing and storytelling make it ever so delicious…much like the sweet treats noted in the film.

An Ironic Mutiny: The Ghost of Peter Sellers

Ironically, I abandoned ship on a movie that WASN’T about a ship, since Peter Medak’s doc
The Ghost of Peter Sellers
was poignant enough to keep me engaged. Realize, I rarely give up on a film anyway, but my increasing impatience with the distractions of home cinema is fraying my ability to make it to the finish line.

Peter Mendak idolized Peter Sellers, as anyone with comedic taste would, and was thrilled when he agreed to do a movie with him in 1973. Trouble is, between horrible weather, a budget that got out of control and Peter’s mental health, the movie was an entire unreleased failure. Mendak’s doc is his attempt to reconcile the guilt and to explain his rationale for going forward despite the many red flags or should I say, Jolly Roger flags that appeared.

The movie I DID pull the plug on had a really good review
Sorry I Missed You
and granted, it was well acted and by all rights, I should have done my due diligence of research on director Ken Loach, known for his socialist realism. Mind you, I am all for the working class, and know firsthand that employees can be exploited, especially now in desperate pandemic times, but I could only do 45 of the hour and 41 minutes. I am interested in how the movie ends, but it was just too bleak for me to continue.
The film has garnered BAFTA nominations and I was super impressed by all the actors especially Debbie Honeywood and Kris Hitchen as the married couple working their British fannies off to provide a living for their two children.

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?”.