A Salad Bar is Born

You did read the headline right, a salad bar is born. I wanted to like A Star is Born (directed and starring Bradley Cooper) having a halcyon remembrance of seeing the Kristofferson/Steisand version at Silver Lake Drive Inn many moons ago. I remember thinking that movie was sexy (though I’m sure I didn’t even know what that word meant at 13).

I’m bucking the crowd here in my dislike of the film, but I’ll tell you what I did enjoy first. I liked it for the same reasons it may win awards….the people in it are drop dead gorgeous. Bradley Cooper is downright adorable and Lady Gaga looks prettier without much makeup than she does with. But this is the same reason I didn’t feel for the characters. They weren’t tortured enough (or ever looked to be like anyone who could experience pain).

Another bias against the film is that I’ve seen Lukas Nelson perform (in Nashville by accident). I was there a night early and wanted something to do so thought, why not? Lukas is peripherally in A Star is Born and worked with Cooper on seeming to be a realistic guitar player. Lukas Nelson is ten times as “real” as Cooper and I think it may be telling that he didn’t even get a speaking role, in that, ‘don’t let anyone with genuine talent overshadow ‘the star’ sort of way. Its even strangely coincidental that Lukas’s band name is Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real. If a brave director had cast Lukas in the starring role with a younger Gaga like ingenue, we might have had a film. Lukas Nelson’s performances are entertaining and 3D, whereas Cooper’s were like a cardboard cut out.

My last problem with the movie has to do with my salad bar analogy. You know when you’re in line at a salad bar and you can’t linger too long in choosing because someone’s directly next to you? That’s what the scene length and therefore shallowness was in this film. I’d like to go see it again just to time out the scenes. I bet in the two hours and 17 minutes of the film, there wasn’t a scene longer than 5 minutes. Again, if we don’t linger in any pain or joy for more than that, we don’t feel anything.

So the film was admirable and the music was decent. Both Cooper and obviously Gaga are mega talented. it’s just too bad they’re so pretty and the screenplay was just too fast scene-wise to evoke an emotional response.

The Wife: A Whole Lot of Hand Wringing

The Wife directed by Bjorn Runge is a whole lot of hand wringing. Do we fault his Danish maudlin ways? Or should we go after Jane Anderson who wrote the screenplay based on Meg Wollitzer’s novel? I say Jane.

The dialogue was a bit like a high school chorus practice, at times the singing’s revelatory, at others, as if half of them are experiencing nails on a chalkboard adolescent hormone induced voice changing.

But enough whining, let’s talk about the positives, of which there are many. As I said, at times, this film soars: Close is fantastic, even if I kept waiting for her to pull out an ice pick or boil a rabbit. Equally great was Elizabeth McGovern, stealing a scene that resonates far beyond its short duration. The plot does indeed thicken on a slow burn and was suspenseful and unpredictable.

And the movie was realistic in showing the stickiness of co-dependent relationships. I spent 6 years of my life in one and sometimes wonder what the hell I was doing. Yet my time was chump change compared to the long duration of this marriage.

Not to end a negative, but Jonathan Pryce is a bit precious at times and Jeremy Irons’ son, if you can believe it, shows LESS emotion than his steely dad (hey how’s that for a pun: iron, steely)….ok, go easy on me.

Go see it, especially if you think your partner might be cheating on you. If he or she sweats profusely, you might want to retain an attorney:)

My Love & Hate for the new film First Reformed

I haven’t seen every Ethan Hawke film, but I’ve come pretty darn close. There’s some immense sadness behind his eyes that makes me want to give him a hug. Though I fully realize his persona is that of a cad, a guy who left Uma for the nanny. That said, my favorite film remains Before the Devil Knows Your Dead in spite of the 98% rating of First Reformed which I saw last night as a generous treat from my friend.

I’ve had this experience before, wary of where the film is going, yet willing to jump on for the ride. I was at first bored and depressed by the bleak Upstate New York winter setting, and the stifling repressed religious ministers. But I bought it, as Hawke is an amazing blank slate who takes on the gray coloring of the film written and directed by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). Fun fact I just read about Mr. Schrader is that he grew up in a strict Calvinist family and that his next film is titled The Jesuit. Looks like he’s on a ‘give us this day our daily religious roll of film’.

So there I am, riveted, more so than my friend, who had every right to be turned off due to some spoilers of which I won’t mention that she’s all too familiar. But after offering to leave (movies aren’t worth psychological torture, aka my leaving Thin Red Line which was much too violent for me to take) and my friend saying she was ok due to some vastly different circumstances between her life and the film, I was fully ‘woke’ to experiencing what the culmination would be.

Schrader does a great job of establishing both a menacing foreboding and many foreshadowing red herrings. Where he lost me was at probably an hour and fifteen in, a magical realism sequence cascades into an Aronofskyesque Mother ending. At the conclusion (big question mark), my friend and I looked at each other thinking perhaps Burns Court was sent a bad cut of the film. Or perhaps we’re not ‘deep’ enough to get all the symbolism.

Hence, I’ll be heading to Rotten Tomatoes now to read the trained critics’ unpacking this film which means I was moved enough to care about what the hell it all means. Ethan Hawke definitely deserves fanfare, as does Cedric the Entertainer, who is an ultra serious role, is terrific as the financially minded super preacher. Amanda Seyfried is also fantastic as the emotionally confused pregnant Mary.

The film certainly confirms my opinion of organized religion in that much like any organization that becomes large, power corrupts. And if my life is any indication (my best friend pretty much breaking my heart in her rejection of me once she became full Baptist), religious folks can be some of the coldest. A visceral scene from First Reformed is when Ethan says an inch away from the face of a woman (portrayed by Victoria Hill, also very good) who loves him that he despises her for her petty emotions, you fully get that he is not a man who can heal.

Unfortunately, due to the uneven story, this won’t win Ethan the Oscar, but it was worth seeing for the acting and ‘interesting’ story idea.

Disobedience, Two Rachels Sitting in a Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Don’t you feel proud to remember something before you end up doing an internet search?

Like I was going to pose the question: does Rachel Weisz play the same femme fatale character in every darn movie?….but then I remembered, ‘wait, no! Remember one of your favorite films OF ALL TIME (thanks Kanye) called “Truth” where she played Michael Caine’s loving daughter. A maudlin role, but not a malevolent one. But then came another memory question: why can’t I remember The Constant Gardener for which she won the Academy Award when I adore Ralph Fiennes? And a non-memory question: why did she leave poor Darren Aronofsky (who has now also been left by Jennifer Lawrence)?

As usual, I digress, but at least I left out my wish for the halcyon days, because guess what Disobedience (written and directed by Sebastian Lelio, [Fantastic Woman]) was about? The Jewish culture! I’m on a Hebrew Roll as they say. If you’ve seen the movie poster for Disobedience, you can almost cite the plot to me without ever seeing the film. Rachel Weisz comes home for the funeral of her father only to be tempted back to her true lesbian tendencies that had her excommunicated from the Hasidic culture.

“Fun” fact, wiki Hasidic Jewish Culture and this definition pops up: “The Hasidic movement is unique in its focus on the joyful observance of God’s commandments (mitzvot), heartfelt prayer, and boundless love for God and the world He created.” Which sounds so kind, right? According to the film Disobedience, all’s good as long as you follow the strict rules, which does not include homosexuality or women with fun hairstyles or a sexy sense of fashion.

Rachel Weisz was great as the self-loathing lesbian. I don’t really care for Rachel McAdams as a rule. She was fine in The Notebook, but I don’t see a thing on her IMDB page she’s done since that thrills me. On a Rona Barrett (how’s that for an old reference?) note, she did just have a baby with Jamie Linden and it has to frost her onions that on his IMDB page there are nothing but photos of he and Zoe Deschanel. Anyway, she’s fine for what she had to do in this film; repressed scowling.

Who stole the show for me was Alessandro Nivola, of whom I’ve not had much exposure. His understated, yet moving portrayal of a man scorned was original.

Not a fantastic film, but it held my interest for at least veering from textbook screenwriting in the last half.

Angels and Insects Showing Some Skin in a PPLL from 1996

I came upon Angels and Insects via my manager Kate who is from London. She had mentioned seeing British born Mark Rylance on Broadway and still behind culturally, I had only heard of him visa vie his Academy Award winning performance in Bridge of Spies. So I scoured his IMDB page and there he was in Angels and Insects (novel by A.S. Byatt, directed by Philip Haas, adapted by Belinda Haas) winner of the Palm d”ors at Cannes. By the way, a quick study on the husband wife Haas team doesn’t show any recent work and yet I also don’t see any note of death. Perhaps they are simply retired and enjoying life.

The movie was fantastic and I’m actually surprised it didn’t gain more awards. Mark Rylance is brilliant as the introverted and humble scientist who falls into a wealthy family. Kristin Scott Thomas, as you well know, is one of my favorites. I keep finding films, both old and new, and am always excited. Here, while she was supposed to be playing the underclass science nerd, she can’t help glowing in that sultry way of hers. Patsy Kensit plays the lilting Lily, Rylance falls for (and research on her indicated she has me beat by a marriage or two, all to rockers, and none of which lasted more than 4 years). Douglas Henshall plays the bullying brother and was tremendous. He’s still active in British tv and was nominated recently for a BAFTA in Scotland.

In case you’d want to borrow it from your local library, I won’t say too much about the plot. Suffice to say, it takes some twists and turns and (and picture Groucho Marx and his cigar) speaking to twists and turns, has some of the best filmed sex scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Those Brits don’t mind showing the bodies and why not? They all looked great!

Midnight Cowboy: Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue,

My love for cinema didn’t really begin until 2006 after the breakup of what I thought was the love of my life. I’ll never forget the night my film love affair started at the Dryden Theater at the George Eastman House where I saw Harold and Maude for the first time. I was mesmerized by the black comedy and the beautiful Cat Stevens soundtrack. I was hooked.

In between then and now, I concentrated on both new and old films trying to play catch up. This is a long way around to say that I just had the chance to watch Midnight Cowboy from 1969. Wow! The movie truly is something old, something new (to me), something borrowed (library) and something blue (sad).

What amazed me were both the trivial and the profound:
Trivial first…I both forgot (Leona Hemsley) and didn’t realize (a scene from Midnight Cowboy shows a wealthy woman putting false eye lashes on her dog as well as designer clothing) that pet worship has been around for quite awhile. I witness this often in Sarasota (an observation not a judgment as noted widely as in this Wired article form 2015: https://www.wired.com/2015/04/people-care-pets-humans/).

Profound: John Schlesinger competently moved from flashback to fantasy to reality scenes in a movie made before many high tech editing was available. Hence, why the film (and his direction) won Academy Awards.

More profound: Like my Taste of Honey review, though ten years later, Schlesinger bravely portrayed homosexuality, in America, this time. He also, like the British kitchen sink films, chose to highlight reality over Hollywood endings.

And if I had to choose a song to be looped in my head forever, Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me by Nilsson, which bookends the film, would always be a solid choice.

More trivial: Jon Voight’s perfect baby round face and his full lips are clear paternal lineage to Angleina Jolie’s beauty. Dustin Hoffman was brilliant as Ratzo and proves his acting chops started from the get go. Too bad he, as well a DeNiro, have let their careers slide into “Meet the Fockers Two” caliber flicks. Seeing Brenda Vaccaro as a young woman in a hot sex scene was a blast.

My favorite scenes show my Floridian bias: the fantasy scene where Ratzo dreams of making it big in Miami. His fantasy show how much he wanted simple recognition, not babes. The beach scece where Hoffman races Voight in a white suit is drop dead gorgeous. As my Dad warned me, the end scenes are heartbreaking, but poignant.

Truly a treasure to dig up at your local library if you’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy.