You Can’t Handle “The Truth” (2019), especially if you like tight screenplays

I am really confused by “The Truth”. How can the same man (Hirokazu Koreeda) who wrote and directed the BRILLIANT “Shoplifters” move on to a follow up of circuitous drivel like The Truth?

My guess is he has the bank to surround himself with the best actors, so he thought, let’s do this, even if it’s not fantastic.

I mean who doesn’t adore Catherine Deneuve? Or Juliette Binoche? Or Ethan Hawke?

The story has promise addressing a damaged mother and daughter relationship, but never really probes deep enough for impact.

Instead, the drab script just crinkles and falls apart like the dried up autumn leaves shown at the beginning and end of the film.

Rashomon (1950): I Know Nothing, How Invigorating!

I grew up a poor white child…ok, that’s take off on The Jerk, but seriously folks, I’ve got holes in my cinematography education since all my learning has been self-taught. So Covid 19 is a mighty fine time to study some greats of whom I am ignorant.

Kurasawa for Pete’s sake! I started with Rashomon at the direction of a movie guru friend. I feel stupid and relieved at the same time. After all, it is the Buddhist way to admit we really know nothing. This is good advice anytime but it’s especially appropriate as we become bombarded with increasingly venomous and often erroneous, if not entirely false, journalistic renderings.

In fact, I just got off the phone with someone who read the Cliff Notes of Hamlet. Man, was Hamlet a really mentally disturbed human being. Did you know he slept with his mother? This is an analogy of the Live Press Conference last night that someone read ‘highlights’ from. Folks, the truth is only what facts are put through your most objective brain. Do NOT let journalists tell you what is true. Nor politicians. Listen to the doctors who only know what science and data has shown them today. Tomorrow we will know even more. Have hope.

Back to the story/movie which spawned an effect called you guessed it, the Rashomon Effect which basically means that eyewitness testimony is not always objective. Coincidence? In the end, we must believe what we take away from the story. Whose story do I believe?

The bandit? portrayed by the great Toshiro Mifune (so I’ve heard, this is my second Kuroasawa). He obviously has a personal bias to stay out of jail. Hence, he did not rape the girl and felt quite despondent after killing her boyfriend.
The woman? She wants to save her pride and say she wanted to be killed.
The ghost/spirit of the deceased? (Noriko Honma plays the medium through which the deceased speaks in my favorite portion of the film) wishes to move on from purgatory and look noble.
The onlooker? Perhaps he (gorgeously poignant performance by Takashi Shimura) is most reliable having less at stake, yet even he hid facts due to a temptation he could not resist.

The onlooker’s attempt to right his wrong; intervene at the movie’s end instead of just look on, restores his young friend’s hope in humanity. Was this restoration due to: a. his friend’s remorse of stealing a dagger? b. his friend’s attempt to learn from previous mistake, consequently saving someone despite of it possibly backfiring? or c. because his attempts to care for another human when he has so little?

Or does that even matter? Restoration of faith and love for humanity is crucial. Anyone who tries to help and give hope is noble. Anyone who loves and claims to be ignorant of what’s ahead is also heroic. You only know what you see with your own two eyes. Avoid news and love yourself AND your neighbor. Talk positively and realistically. This is all we can hope to do.

Another Adults Home Alone Flick: “Come Undone”, That’s I-talian!

Available for free on Tubi is “Come Undone” written and directed by Silvio Soldini. I happened upon this title after a failed attempt of viewing “The Treat”, a decade plus old film starring my fantasy sister Julia Delphy (the acting was horrific and I lasted less than 10 minutes).

Come Undone, while also a decade old, is far superior and received Italian Golden Globes, so I thought, why not?

The acting is terrific! Alba Rohrwacher is the lead female who cohabitates with the stereotypical nice guy and yet falls for the mysterious bad boy. Not a new plot, but so well acted that you ‘go with it’. Team Nice is portrayed by Giuseppe Battiston and Team Bad by Pierfrancesco Favino (most recently in the Italian gangster flick The Tratiors-no thanks- Godfather and The Soprano are my last mafia meals).

Silvio Soldini is also responsible for “Bread and Tulips” which won a the Cannes CICAE Award which upon my Covid unrestricted research time, is an organization that helps push independent films into the mainstream.

What makes this better than most adultery themed flicks is the cinematography by Ramiro Civita. Pretty blurry night time highway scenes and the sexiest reddish toned dimly lit hotel room I’ve seen in film.

While the title makes it sound like a porno, this was a genuine story with torrid sex in the middle, which I am pretty sure was filmed on a different speed. While disrobing, the frame seems to speed up, possibly to add to the tension/friction. Overall, a realistic and stylistically quality film.

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.

Didn’t Karen Carpenter sang about this flick? “I Long To Be Cloistered You” P.O.A.L.O.F.

Ok people, here’s where I go against the grain, AGAIN, and say reviewers, you are so predictable. Pander to feminists and you’ll get the glory.
If you’re stuck in a castle with two other women, you can guess that two will eventually hook up, hence my blog title about being cloistered.

Don’t get me wrong, Portrait of a Lady on Fire isn’t horrible. As a study of an artist, the film does draw you in (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk). I was intrigued by the concept of the painter owning the image of the muse, when the muse just as equally owns the painter’s attention. This balance of power was novel to me.

I also cared about the painter Marianne (acted with panache Noemie Merlant) and I also felt for the other two female leads; the muse Heloise (portrayed with perfection by Adele Haenel) and Sophie, the servant/waif (Luana Bajrami).

I respect Celine Sciamma’s vision to capture the essence of two people falling in love and did feel the passion to some extent. I also appreciated and was moved by how the women took care of one another.

What was missing was more story for the length and pacing of the film. I was bored in the first five minutes in the creaking castle. There were many dead spaces in the recurrent crackling fires and beach walks.

My First Foray into Luis Bunuel: “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”

This offering was presented to me after an astute lady referenced Bunuel in comparison to Bong Joon Ho. I had heard Bunuel’s name certainly, but not his work. Thus I went for his winner of the 1973 Best Foreign Film, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”.

I like social and economic class satire (a recent book by Stephen Wright Processed Cheese was certainly a hoot) and thought Parasite was very thought provoking especially in its statement on space and housing. We know living in Sarasota that we have a disparity between multi-million dollar and multi home/condo owners and the homeless. Mixed in the middle are people living in the lower number streets and we middle classers sandwiched among what I’ll term, old, golden parachuters, along with the well kept widowed and divorced. types. Point being I’m always up for an undercover look.

Bunuel went further into the sociopolitical nature of wealth and mental health or lack thereof. What struck me most about the absurdist plot was the distractions faced by the three couples. The frenzied nature of dinner interruptions, coitus interruptus, and murder turned dream sequences had a prescient notion to our current technology laden distraction.

Besides that familiarity, and the old adage that wealth protects one from legal trouble, I did not feel this film was special or transcendent. Perhaps once I see his other nominated film The Obscure Object of Desire or Tristana, I will feel differently. Until then, adios and au revoir.

Blame The Film Stage Email: Harmony Kormine’s “Beach Bum”

When searching for yet another movie to get through my holiday enforced work days off, I read a top ten cinematography list on The Film Stage website. As well as The Lighthouse (AMAZING), the site offered up Harmony Kormine’s “Beach Bum” starring Matthew McConaughey.

So I took the bait, choosing the company of my bawdy friend Jack and his 30 something son. Great company for this rather white man’s fantasy where Matthew’s character Moon Dog drinks, screws and smokes his way through marriage, affairs, fatherhood and friendship.

True to The Film Stage’s credit, the film is drop dead gorgeous, the Florida Keys never looked so pretty. And I appreciate McConaughey’s ability to inhabit despicably corrupt, yet handsome men. I also loved Jonah Hill as the Foghorn Leghorn accented uber wealthy publisher and Martin Lawrence as a dolphin excursion captain. Isla Fisher needs to have her head examined as a vapid wife to MM and lover to Snoop Dog, but a pay day is a pay day I guess.

Harmony Kormine is known as a jaded individual. You wonder what happened to him to make him such a nihilist. There really isn’t a redeeming character in the entire flick, but hey if you like Florida landscapes and beautifully nude bodies without, but close to, porn, what the hey, give Beach Bum a whirl.

Promise: No Spoilers, “Joker”‘s Wild

(Public Service Announcement: DO NOT TAKE ANYONE UNDER 17 TO THIS!)

Joker, directed and co-written by Todd Phillips is worth seeing. I don’t usually see super dark films since I’m sensitive to violence, a hide-behind-my-sweater-type, as well as a staunch believer that what we ingest visually has the psychological nutrition equivalent of gorging on a deep dried bologna sandwich with a side of deep fried Twinkie. But considering Mr. Phillips’ previous films were mostly comedy; (Old School, Hangover) AND given that his co-writer, Scott Silver, wrote one of my favorite movies of all time, The Fighter, I took a chance.

As a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan, my two favorite Phoenix performances being “Two Lovers” and “The Master”; I knew the performance would be breathtaking and indeed it was. With ribs protruding from his skinny physique, Joaquin giggles maniacally and dances like a mixture of Fred Astaire meets Justin Timberlake. His poignant performance gives us a slightly similar feeling to the closure of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, emphasis on slightly.

No plot spoilers, but the cinematography in Joker’s dancing scenes, in the public bathroom and on the super tall ascension of outdoor stairs, are mesmerizing. Likewise the multiple subway scenes, both quietly eerie and violently chaotic have a deep impact. I’d like to think that Phillips and Silver wanted to wake our distracted ignorant technology fixated society in one of the most impressionable scenes where a wall of tv screens shout their competing cacophony drowning out human suffering.

A topnotch soundtrack added to the film’s hip milieu: Smile
(Jimmy Durante) written by the great Charlie Chaplin (who gets his own cameo shown on the big screen in one scene), Laughing (The Guess Who), and White Room (Cream) to name a few. My favorite, That’s Life (Frank Sinatra), is used in a Johnny Carson-like late night show (hosted here by Robert DeNiro) that Joker watches religiously, added to the mad mix of emotions I felt leaving the theater. I got in my Uber with that other worldly feeling great movies give you, even if it wasn’t the happy face the Joker’s mom always told him to wear.

As I rode along in the dark, listening to NPR News detail separate stories that President Trump wants Biden and his son investigated since their new business made millions and yet Biden raised ‘only’ 1.5 million far below Elizabeth Warren 4 million….I couldn’t help feel like our political system has become surreal; coincidentally a core foundation of Joker the film, that the fat cat Governor of Gotham, doesn’t truly care about us average Joe’s, I mean, Jokers. The solution isn’t violence, but positive, loving changes to our mental health system AND restrictions on guns meant for warfare.

Tel Aviv on Fire: Firing on All Cylinders

‘Tel Aviv on Fire’, directed by Sameh Zoabi, winner of Best World Cinema at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, provides what movies are made for: the tonic and affability to temporarily assuage real life troubles.

Yet due to Sameh Zoabi and co-writer Dan Kleinman’s complex web of conflicts and sharp dialogue, Tel Aviv on Fire is also an astute person’s film even if romantic comedy is the overarching motif. Savvy audience members will appreciate the movie’s other premises; real love as defined by two people who attentively listen and the question of whether art’s purpose should be to reflect or direct sociopolitical culture.

Individual testimonials would be the true test on the latter question, probably studied by social scientists, but I wonder if mass media, such as Norman Lear’s hit television show All in the Family, a reflection of American’s biased ignorance, actually influenced people to be better, less racist, human beings.

In the case of Tel Aviv on Fire, the argument becomes whether it is naive to think a soap opera could heal or at least ameliorate the centuries old Israeli conflict. Few American rom coms take on such heady issues, yet Seth Rogen’s “Long Shot” this year did in its attempt to convince us that Republican or Democrat, we are all humans searching for love and acceptance. Let’s hope we can keep that in mind as we head into 2020.

The lead actors are all outstanding: a very charming Kais Nashif as the aspiring unfocused writer who eventually reaches out for help with the soap opera’s story within a story.

To the same degree, his girlfriend, portrayed by Maisa Abd Elhhadi, is a competent, not to mention gorgeous, actress as the ambivalent object of Kais’s affection. In the third and fourth layers of conflict, Lubna Azabel is terrific as the fussy t.v actress, and Yaniv Britonover just as good as the check point captain in Kais’s daily life, who becomes the overinvolved director in the serial’s screenwriting as he aims for more adoration from his wife.

So here here for Tel Aviv on Fire, a gift for sapiosexuals who prefer intellectual word play with their flirtation.

Everybody Knows Farhadi’s a Master at Moral Dilemma

I’ve loved every Asghar Farhadi film, specifically four to be exact: About Elly, A Separation (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film), The Past, and The Salesman (Academy Award Winner!). Each as hauntingly memorable in its own right, that try as I might, I can’t choose one that is notably better, they’re all fine films. Feel free to search for my past reviews of those gems by plugging in Asgahr’s name in the search engine.

Signature to Iranian director Farhadi’s style is the moral dilemma. In his newest film Everybody Knows playing at Burns Court, this is no exception. Secrets are revealed that bind people together, in this case the ever gorgeous Penelope Cruz and her real life husband Javier Bardem. Without giving spoilers away, you often hear true life stories where teenage love haunts us well into adulthood. While Cruz and Bardem are not married in the film, Farhadi’s choice of pinning them as star crossed unrequited lovers is a work of genius.

Javier Bardem, in fact, is the Atlas of the film, doing the mountain share of nuanced inner struggle and portraying this beautifully on screen. His exasperation in his line to friend Fernando, “Oh don’ don’t f*** with me Fernando,” is gut wrenchingly real.

Set in Madrid, Farhadi also takes his time in establishing the passionate culture, the duty to family, the wild celebrations. His layering of difficulties, wanton teenage behavior, rain storms and power outages, never seem cliche. His ending as with all his films is a non-ending, meaning there are more moral dilemmas that ripple like a rock thrown in a stream that grant further discussion once you leave the theater.

While not his most superior film, Farhadi’s Everybody Knows is worth seeing and with any smarts other writers and directors will pair Cruz and Bardem together again.