“The Square”, Way Outside the Box

There were many reasons to escape into the cinema today; 11 hours (in two days) of intense retail work (100% friendly customers though), wide angle steer clear of some who haven’t found their zen, and an ice cold message from a former college sweetheart. Need I go on?

I was even willing to go solo to “The Square” knowing how much I loved the director’s (Ruben Ostlund) previous film “Force Majeure” which was nominated for a Golden Globe back in 2015. But to the companionship rescue galloped my friend Dave, who went way outside his box by attending a foreign film of considerable length, 2:22.

And just like Mikey in the old Life commercials, he liked it! And so did I….but….

Ok positives first:
Tremendous screen writing*. This film had that verisimilitude that the phrase “you can’t make this sh*& up” implies. I won’t give away any of the ‘what the bleep just happened’ moments, but three stand out specifically to me.

The acting was top notch: Claes Bang, who rarely leaves the screen, was totally believable as the museum director who slides down the slippery slope of megalomaniac justice seeker. Elisabeth Moss’s character is if the Handmaid (she’s in the Margaret Atwood novel inspired tv series) got revenge by going off the deep end.

Cinematography, again, gorgeous, from the sex scenes to the art work, to the spiral staircases that symbolically end in a square, just fabulous.

And if the *one wild loose end that isn’t tied up is a message that we care more about the impact of fictional work then we do human reality, then let’s give this movie the Academy Award. Though Ruben should really have a flyer ready to explain that to people on their way out.

My only gripe (besides the obscurity of the aforementioned) was the last 15 minutes. If Ruben had ended it at the press conference, hand the Oscar over right now. But to go on and on meandering to a cheerleader’s competition and then a near miss at a dumb ass parent move (never leave your kids in a car in a strange place) which negates character development (like hello, wasn’t that what got you in the mess to begin with?) was a disappointment. Like a Fuji apple I have thoroughly enjoyed only to find a rotten spot on the last bite, that’s “The Square”.

But all is forgiven. One last bite can’t spoil the wonderful surprises, much needed escape, and calm company this experience supplied. Go see this.

Now I Get the Hyperbole: L’Iceberg

Ok, last week I saw Lost in Paris and was unimpressed. Yet I now see this as a Woody Allen analogy after seeing Abel’s earlier film L’Iceberg which was a knockout. So, it’s like seeing Woody Allen’s Match Point and going, ‘what’s the big deal about this guy?” and then seeing “Anne Hall”.

L’Iceberg was from 2005 and is the perfect suburban-neglected-wife-and mother-who-runs-away story. While watching this fun film over the course of two nights (I work a lot), I was also reading Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman. Coincidentally, both the film and book had intriguing sub-plots that kept you involved. In the movie L’Iceberg, the story is bookended by a Inuktitut woman explaining how she met her husband. In Horse Walks Into a Bar, while we watch the stand up comic from the childhood friend’s POV, we are also cognizant of the fact that the friend has lost his wife.

Like Lost in Paris, Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon wrote this film. And now I clearly see the Buster Keaton comparison. The physical comedy in L’Iceberg was phenomenal and I watched with mouth open at how Fiona bent her legs and body (without serious injury). The scenes on the sailing boat were entertaining as well, especially since some of the splashes were clearly produced by a bucket of water thrown in the air. And I’d be remiss not to mention Philippe Martz who plays the sailor in L’Iceberg, an entertaining Peter Boyle in Young Frankensteinesque performance. In Lost in Paris, Philippe is underutilized as the neighbor.

Since this is a foreign film, it may be hard to find on some library systems. I was blessed that Selby Library in Sarasota was able to procure it for me. Next up is Rumba, which I am equally excited about.

I implore Dominque Able and Fiona Gordon to keep writing. Woody Allen kept going after Match Point to find better material and success (Blue Jasmine for example). Keep going, aim higher!

Unsupervised Teens, Always Big Trouble “L.I.E.”

Wow, just finished a recommendation for a PPLL, L.I.E. directed by Michael Cuesta. Was surprised I hadn’t heard of this director considering how well written and how artistically directed this film was from ‘way back’ in 2001. And while an Emmy for Homeland is nothing to sneeze at, I would have expected his subsequent films to be accolade worthy.

A sucker for Paul Dano, I will admit seeing him so young was disconcerting, given the unpleasant obstacles facing his teenage character. Sure, the film is 16 years old, but I’ll bypass plot details, not wanting to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Suffice to say, Paul Dano’s Long Island existence is basically without any supervision.

Tawdry and damn depressing, the movie is compelling due to the verisimilitude of the characters and actors. Not since the film Little Children 2006 with Jackie Earle Haley have I seen a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile. And I realize this film was actually a predecessor (in this case Brian Cox) I simply had not seen.

Much like Philip Seymor Hoffman in Scent of a Woman and Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society, Paul Dano’s teenage performance was surely prescient of his acting brilliance. So much so, that I can forgive him for Swiss Army Men, which is his only clunker. Love & Mercy, 12 Years a Slave and Youth certify him as a favorite of mine no matter what he chooses to do next (which appears to be a mini series of War and Peace).

I’ve been to Long Island’s* suburbia and always seem to see seedy articles about the area’s violence and crime reported in the New York Times. Sad that this area is a fine setting for such a dysfunctional plot. And yes, I realize I’m saying this ironically, from the king nutville of the U.S., Florida:)
*Long Tsland has beautiful areas as well, obviously. The Hamptons and a gorgeous park (Eisenhower) where I saw Soulive with Martin, Medeski and Wood.

The Lives of Others, a PPLL edition

Following my pattern of occasional pre pension library loan reviews, is this Oscar winner for best foreign film in 2007, The Lives of Others. Both a V.I.P and a P.I.P recommended this film which always makes it a bit tenuous to review.

First a bookend coincidence to the day I watched the film: the morning of, I was listening to WSLR while run/walking the Ringling Bridge. Tuesday mornings on WSLR is a show called Soul School with Troy, where r&b tunes from the past make me smile with bittersweet nostalgia throughout my workout.

One of my many random thoughts while running was if only the most recent San Bernadino shooter had been listening to live Luther Vandross or Prince, perhaps he wouldn’t have committed a violent act, which led to a thought about musical chip brain implants to prevent violence…ok Big Brotherish I realize.

The strange coincidence which occurred the same evening following the film happened when I watched the director’s comments (perhaps one of the longest names I’ve ever typed: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) when he described his inspiration after hearing someone ponder whether listening to Bach could have stopped the Stasi from committing some of their evil acts. Spooky, right?

At any rate, I found The Lives of Others moving, but not better than say a more recent German film nominated for an Academy Award: Toni Erdmann. BUT, I believe this is a gender difference and not a fault of the film. And true confession, I was interrupted a few times in viewing, hence my concentration was not 100%. But to my gender difference point, the end sum of The Lives of Others is that one man saved another, so there’s a subtext of a bromance in this film. This is NOT a criticism, but perhaps the reason the film appealed to two men I know. Likewise, Toni Erdmann had a female centric story, and yet did not involve a woman saving another however, which is probably why I liked it, as I’ve always had more comfort in the friendship of men.

What I did love about the film were the three main actors; Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe (my favorite of the three) and Sebastian Koch, the latter of which I am super excited about his participation in a film version of the musically moving Ann Patchett book, Bel Canto. THAT I will see in a heart beat.

What possibly could have moved the movie from good to great for me also smacks of gender bias; I would have liked more love scenes between Martina and Sebastian’s characters increasing my angst if and when they were torn apart (no spoilers, right? though surely the statue of limitations is up on a film this old). The sex montage scene nor the brief affectionate encounters didn’t provide enough of the intimacy I needed to buy in. Though perhaps this simply reveals a subconscious need which until recently has been a deficit, which in turn makes me very much like the character played by Ulrich Muhe. Who needs Freud?:)

My next PPLL review will be of Mildred Pierce, which is in my current Joan Crawford/Bette Davis fixation ever since liking the FX show Feud, inspired by the iconic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”.

Neruda, Who Knew Ya?

So I go to Neruda after work, thinking my cursory review of Rotten Tomatoes said it had a comedic air. Little did I know, I was in for lightening quick subtitles. Holy Chilean speed read!

Well worth it though and while I did not see “No”, Pablo Larrain’s other famous movie also starring Gael Gracia Bernal (referred to hereafter as GG B), I have always been intrigued by GG B, after seeing him in Y Tu Mama Tambien back in 2001, my mere youth as a filmologist (yeh I made that up).

Ok, so Neruda is a rough biographical foraging of Pablo Neruda’s (poet, political activist) joining the Communist Party in the 1940’s. The movie centers on Neruda’s bombastic nature juxtaposed against the over seriousness of an Inspector Clouseau type character played by GG B.

What I enjoyed most was: a. the pacing of the movie, a taut clip that kept me engaged throughout, b. top notch acting, not only by GGB, but also the actors playing both Neruda and his wife (Luis Gnecco and Mercedes Moran respectively). Neruda is made out to be a Svengali and after selling 250 tickets in a flash to a Stephen King book signing at my store this week, I understand the hypnosis authors have over their adoring fans.

Chilean films always remind me of how uptight Americans are (myself included). We’re shy to dance, to sing, to cry as opposed to the free love and emotional outpouring of our South American counterparts.

I won’t spoil the movie’s end, but enjoyed it thoroughly. According to IMBD, it has already been submitted fr next year’s Oscars. This doesn’t mean it’ll be nominated, and to be honest, I wasn’t awestruck, but the film is worthy of a theater or at home movie rental.

What I learned from incidental research:
Neruda may have died from a North Korean type of poison (not from a noxious facial rub at an airport), but from a ‘doctor’s injection) at the age of 69.
And that the show Mozart in the Jungle of which GG B has won Golden Globes, is based on a book that has been compared with one of my faves Kitchen Confidential (now another book on my ‘to be read’ list).

O’ Captain, Middling Captain: Captain Fantastic

Red Box Rental: While my best buddy was here in Ft. Meyers for the last time until the next yule tide, we rented Captain Fantastic (Oscar nominated Viggo Mortensen), after I pulled my movie snob card and outvoted his Melissa McCarthy as girl scout master coach pick. But before you place the Oscar medallion around my neck (let’s pretend they have one of the statuette), please note that I took a turn to the dark side and went with my friend’s policy of “fast forwarding is perfectly ok”. Meaning, this movie was ok, but not worth relishing every moment.

The most fun takeway, which we look for being cut-ups, were two lines that have now surpassed one of the lame Bourne Identity films “We’ve got a situation.”: “Stick it to the Man” and “Power to the People.”

What was the problem, you say? Well, Viggo Mortensen certainly was good, but his character’s actions sometimes didn’t ring true. I won’t divulge the whats and hows to preserve your experience, but I guess I didn’t buy some of the story aspect. Matt Ross (both writer and director) is no slouch at technique. I felt creeped out by the opening scene and the undercurrent of something terrible about t befall the children.

The kids (Viggo has an excess of them in this film) were also decent, the two stand outs being the oldest son, George Mackay and the brooding middle son who’s the non-conformist to non-conformity, Nicholas Hamilton. The female standout of the film is Kathryn Hahn, who, would someone give this girl a nomination? I mean, talk about being able to do both ends of the spectrum. Here she’s the guarded distraught pc sister-in-law to Viggo, there she’s sticking her tongue in the ear of Jennifer Aniston (Meet the Millers). One last person I’d be remiss not to mention is Frank Langella, who has that John Goodman quality of hitting even the smallest roles right out of the park.

I don’t mean to take away from Viggo, he did have to play a fine line between abuser and strict Dad and gain our sympathy which he did by portraying an almost mythical fatherly archetype. But, if I think it’s best to push the FF button, you know something’s not quite right. But see for yourself.

The Salesman Always Rings Twice & Consolation is Not in His BriefCase

The Salesman directed by Asghar Fahredi played at Burns Court for the Cineworld Film Fest on November 9th. I’m sure based on its quality it’ll get a normal run at most independent theaters and I highly recommend this taut tale.

I’m biased of course, having seen and enjoyed his films in two different states. A Separation I saw on an unfairly cruel cold Austin, Texas day. The good news was that the movie was fantastic and the theater adorable (and comfortable-leather recliners, but I digress). His other two films, The Past and About Elly, I saw in my former hometown of Rochester, NY (which is always cruel and cold, but I digress again).

So back to Fahredi’s tremendous writing and directing. He’s not one to care about his audience’s emotional comfort, caring more about making the viewers question, “what would I do?” In fact, after The Salesman, I heard some women disagreeing about what they would have done. Thought provoking movies are few and far between.

Let me get back to the topic of warmth, but this time not outdoor temps, but rather emotional and psychological. Dang are Iranian relationships ice cold. I understand pride and principles, but the lack of embrace and physical touch, might drive a woman like me, mad. I do understand, however, that witholding of that sense of security certainly adds tension to the story and is also somewhat of a cultural standard. It even made me think today, as I walked the Ringling Bridge, listening to a 90’s tune by Mariah Carey (Dream Lover), that perhaps our own country is getting less affectionate in the aughts and now teens, akin to middle schoolers who become aloof adolescents (my musical comparison being Beyonce’s Lemonade). We (women collectively) ‘ain’t askin’ for love any longer, we’re just demanding respect, which I question: do we have to have to give up emotional embrace to achieve such respect?

I wanted to see The Salesman originally because I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Arthur Miller’s play. I remember an epiphany I once had in teaching Drama some years ago, that I finally understood why the play is an iconic father/son psycho drama and not just a depressing saga. Later, after hearing an NPR interview that Philip Seymor Hoffman gave regarding his stint as Willy Loman on Broadway, I wondered if he was fortelling his own demise, in how much inadequacy PSH connected to in his own self, equal to, or even more so, than the Willy Loman experience.

How this connects to the film is still something I’m wrapping my head around. Did the husband in the film feel inadequate in what revenge he sought or better to my previous comment on affection, did he feel so incapable of consoling his emotionally traumatized wife that that equaled inadequacy. I will say no more in keeping with my ‘no spoilers’ promise. But go see The Salesman and comment back. The film is worthy of discussion and thought!

Why the lobster screams: The Lobster

I pulled an Anomalisa with The Lobster, expectations being through the ceiling. I mean John C. Reilly in a bitter satire about couples and the single shaming that occasionally happens to me? I hadn’t heard ‘smug marrieds’ since the original Bridget Jones Diary book (the movies look like schlock) and I was ready for action and laughs.

But oh Yorgus Lanthimos, is it your name that makes you so damn sad? As lonely as I am some days, I’m never The Lobster lonely! Maybe I’m misremembering Dogtooth, maybe that was equally dismal, yet I gave you a pass because I was with a person who’s company I enjoyed. Or maybe because Dogtooth was so different than any other movie I had seen. Certainly there must be a story in your past about being hit in the nose with blunt force (NOT a spoiler, trust me).

But on the positive side, the actors were all amazing. Colin Farrel, who normally plays a tough Irish lad (except for the mermaid movie which I didn’t think i could take), actually played a pudgy, rejected fragile man. Rachel Weisz also was virtually unrecognizable (a poor mans Julianna Marguelis-spelling to be checked later) as Colin’s last attempt at love. And John C Reilly, he might be the most lovable actor of all time. Yo just want to give the guy a hug and make him feel better. He’s the guy in the movie we feel the most empathy for, whether it be Magnolia or Step Brothers.

The movie had the right idea, coincidentally the same idea I had in a ten minute play two man play I wrote called “Matt Ramoney”, but my play didn’t send anyone of the 25 people who watched it in to a deep depression. Goodness Yorgus, lighten up. Though I now know why the lobster screams!

First World Silly, Third World Smart

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that sadly many Americans have a superior attitude about us vs third world countries. But let me tell you, my weekend movie experiences would shatter this myth for anyone with an ounce of intelligence.

First, I saw the super tardy Rochester premiere of 2009’s Iranian film “About Elly” by Asghar Farhadi. I really liked two of his other films: “A Separation” and “The Past”. “About Elly” may have trumped both, both is acting and suspense. If you are a Netflix customer, run, don’t walk to your queue and add this film.

Without any spoilers, let me just say it’s a film about four Iranian couples who go on a weekend to the beach together. While all of the acting was phenomenal, I will make a special mention for Golshifteh Farahani, http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=golshifteh+farahani&view=detailv2&qft=+filterui%3alicense-L2_L3_L4_L5_L6_L7&id=50F7A614EC0BD10B8C5A01C7B919654272CD2CE3&selectedIndex=0&ccid=Gia44K6B&simid=607996803959884415&thid=OIP.M1a26b8e0ae81b0d5bae2f226b4b8fc10H2&ajaxhist=0, who plays the most pivotal female role of Sepideh. Nuances of the Iranian culture are gorgeously portrayed and the uncomfortable moments carry acute verisimilitude.

On the other hand (cue Yankee Doodle Dandy), I also saw “The Martian”. Ugh. I love Matt Damon and he stretched the most out of the cotton candy plot. But shame on him and all the other first rate actors for doing absolute schlock. Literally Jeff Daniels phoned in his role and I think Dumb and Dumber Too truly took more acting chops.

I will definitely join any picket line protesting the lack of African-Americans nominated because both Straight Outta Compton and Dope are FAR (yes capital letters) superior to the ra ra shallow American “The Martian”.

Leviathan, tis the season

I was thinking how depressing a movie Leviathan (direcetd by Andrey Zvyagintsev) is, not depressing in the, ‘Boy do I feel melancholia!”, but more of a super realist/pragmatist life reference.

Yet, isn’t that what our pre-Easter/mid lent period is all about? Suffering and self-denial leading up to the…ta-da!- resurrection.

But I digress. Leviathan was up for an Academy Award for a very good reason; it resonates like a deep headache, reverberating for days after the initial onset.

Think Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead only in Russian. There’s no literal brother vs. brother feuds, but certainly the Ruskies don’t mind offing another fellow man. While I’m now against giving any awards to antagonist figures (sorry JK, enough of your types), I will give a prop to this Putinesque mayor, portrayed by Roman Madyanov.

For me, the stand out performance was by the long suffering Job-like figure of Kolya, played by a David Letterman look alike named Aleksey Serebryakov Aleksey who did win the Russian Guild of Film Critics Award. His distressed vodka swigging persona is no stereotype. His pain and suffering injustice is palpable.

And isn’t it true, that the world can be a horribly cruel place to be, if one does not avoid negativity at all costs, which includes relationships and residences? Isn’t the Buddhist existence of zero expectations a much much more satisfying way to live?
If you struggle with this existential dilemma, see Leviathan. I guarantee you’ll lead a more pure life at least until the reverberations fade away.