Top Sevens

I had an interesting conversation the other day when a friend who popped out with his top 7 songs and movies…this was a person who I was trying to get to know, but seemed elusive. And because I’m a bit of a chameleon I, too, tend to clam up when with another clam.

Anyway, I thought it was pretty important, being a film blogger that I have a top 7 list of modern films. And why not have 7 songs as well?

So here goes my films, not in any order of importance, they’re just all darn good.

Moon
Whiplash
Saving Private Ryan
Drive
Revolutionary Road
Adaptation
Magnolia

And because I do so many foreign films I am going to add 2 of those:
Toni Erdmann and Avalanche

Songs:

Please Forgive Me David Gray
For the Love of You Whitney Houston
Beautiful Ones Prince
Express Yourself Madonna
You’re Too Early Kenny Loggins
Sweet Reunion Kenny Loggins
Whenever I Call Your Friend Loggins/Nicks

Eye Eye Captain; First Man

Tongue in Cheek: Sure Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but I may be the first to discover there are at least two different movie watching personality types that coincide with five astrological signs. Sagitarius, Virgo, Scorpio and Aquarius folks are intense movie watchers…we don’t talk, and stare at the screen GLADLY for the full movie. Whereas Leo’s are restless types, needing to look at their company, for reassurance perhaps, or in my Dad’s case even inquire, “what did they say?” or my friend last night who needed to comment on an average of once every five minutes. One small primal scream for man, one giant yelp for man kind.

But back to the movie…Damien Chazelle is credited (by me) for one of my favorite seven modern films of all time (Whiplash– see my next blog post for the full list) and one of my most frustrating (LaLaLand). This time with First Man, I’m in the middle, or a little to the right. I didn’t LOVE it, but it certainly satisfied.

Chazelle focuses much of his camera work on close ups, way way close, with a lot of eye concentration on Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (who definitely should get a best supporting actress nod). For Ryan/Neil, eye work makes sense since through his helmet, that’s the the only facial target. But even out of his suit and with his wife, played as I just mentioned expertly by Claire Foy, the eyes have it as it were.

The story (screenplay by Josh Singer is good, but perhaps a tad too long). I do fully appreciate the fact they (the book’s author and subsequently Singer) wanted to show the full sacrifice and missteps along the way, as well as increase the suspense. I mean after all the accidents, who the hell would think a tin can could actually make it to the moon? That’s faith or bravado or a hell a lot of both. I also loved the inner workings of the Armstrong marriage and the honest approach of Neil, who struggled with his daughter’s death and his need to be a workaholic. In his defense, this was the oppressed 50’s and 60’s when men didn’t cry or were shamed into being stoic and thus, manly.

Other supporting actors had minimal coverage, but I will say Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick) and Corey Stoll (I know him from Girls) were solid and stood out as Neil’s co-astronauts.

Chazelle’s directorial work seems to lean toward Terrence Malick and that’s ok for me (and probably my fellow Sagitarians). We hear the odd noises of the rocket, we ‘feel’ the jittery, dizzying shakes, and the frantic pushing of buttons. Chazelle bucks the trend of having everything be neat and pretty and instead, also uses silence, space and different types and lengths of scenes to make a meaningful collage.

Juliet, Naked and Mission Impossible

One of the wackier weeks I’ve had as a Floridian including computer hijack scammers, a move to a place I’d only been able to view twice, and a leaning into the old temptation of barking up the wrong trees.

In the midst of all that, I saw two films: Mission Impossible and Juliet, Naked. It was the worst of times and it was the best of times, respectively.

I wanted to like MI, as Tom Cruise, despite his regimented Scientology, is a good actor. But he phoned this in. Don’t be fooled by the B.O.A.T. (Best of all time) malarkey. This movie was ludicrous. Baby Driver had better and more engaging chase scenes. The two women in Cruise’s life (I guess three counting the blonde villainess) were bland, beyond their enticing accents. If you’re going to do bathos, at least add some more humor to the mix.

All fitting though considering my back story involved. Phoning it in would have been an excellent subtitle for the movie and my life.

Juliet, Naked on the other hand was an unexpected delight. I’m not a big Rose Byrne fan, but here she proves emotional range. Chris O’Dowd is a man I loved, then hated and am now respecting again. He also has a stilted Irish/Scottish reserve that is still capable of leaking enough emotion to be believed.

And Ethan (Hawke that is)…we all know, well maybe you don’t, that he holds a nearly McEnroesque stature in my cinematic life; from the glow he first showed in Dead Poets, to his anxiety ridden brotherhood in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, to his sweet charm in the trilogy of Before Sunrise, etc. Not to mention his profound turn as a pained minister in the recent Reformed (here visualize me in a prayer stance whispering: please give this man a nomination).

In Juliet, Naked, Hawke plays, well probably, Hawke, father to children by different baby mamas, a disheveled ‘artiste’ who goes around saying, aw schucks, did I f up my life again? Not that he’s been in that much ‘trouble’, but he appears to be just enough absent minded professor mixed with a lot of testosterone which we all know leads to stolen kisses and broken hearts. His turn here as a washed up rocker was perfection.

So let this be a lesson to you; be the water and not the grinder. Go with the flow rather than paddle upstream.

Spike Lee’s Signature: Blackkklansman

I enjoy Spike Lee. God Bless him, seriously, every movie he makes really tries to do what his first big film was actually titled, “Do The Right Thing”. And every movie he makes definitely has his signature. Kooky graphics, mystical camera tricks, and ‘hit you over the head morality’. He also has the gift of Scorsese, meaning he’s rich enough that he can pour everything but the kitchen sink into one film, without having to regard any advisers or editors going, “Maybe you could trim back a bit”.

The acting was rock solid. John David Washington, the star of the movie, didn’t have to show great range, yet, he was terrific. Adam Driver, also, isn’t the king of stretching, but can be damn serious and still interestingly watchable all day long. The poor saps that had to play the angry Klansman (Topher Grace as David Duke) were all good, too, even though cringe worthy to watch such hate or even fathoming that type of person existing in the world.

I thought Colorado Springs was an interesting setting choice, being ignorant to the Klan and merely assuming it was mostly south of the Mason Dixon line. And wow, if you check out History vs. Hollywood, you’ll find out just how true the movie is AND, having not read John David Washington’s IMDB bio, I just learned that he is the son of Denzel Washington! Having not seen many interviews or entertainment shows, I think it’s great that they didn’t lead with this, letting JDW stand on his own merit. So a two-fer for me in learning important history as well as trivial movie relationships.

Blackkklansman is definitely worth seeing. Is it a perfect film? No. Spike wraps the plot up too quickly and neatly for deep emotional resonance in order to make his other points, but that’s ok, that’s Spike and I like him. He’s trying to get us to wake up and be nice and there’s nothing ever wrong about that.

Three of Me-Oh: Yikes! Three Identical Strangers

After getting hit up for conversation with two chatty women at the pool this morning before I’ve even had coffee (both lovely ladies), I suddenly thought, ‘if I found out I was one of a set of triplets, I might not like it!’. Lord! But as a documentary, Three Identical Strangers was a 9 and three-quarters of perfection.

This time I really, really can’t say much as to not to spoil your experience, but I beg you to NOT look up any information about this and and to see the film as Madonna, I mean like a virgin, as I did.

I’ll tell you why it’s great; suspense. From the histrionic New York Times reporter to the laconic father to the fantastic background Hitchcockian string music, this documentary was masterful. And having had a crush on Phil Donahue back in the day, I loved seeing clips from his supreme pre-Oprah audience q & a talk show format.

My only tiny complaint, and this happens often with docs (even the recent RBG) is when as filler, they repeat clips. If I heard once, I heard it twice and fitting to this topic, thrice, that the triplets all smoked the same cigarettes and liked older women…ok, ok, got it the first time.

This might be the first big time flash for British director, Tim Wardle, but surely it won’t be his last. I see from his IMDB page that he currently has a documentary series called Flatback Empire about the company IKEA. Surely there can’t be much suspense there, though wait a minute, unless he documents a couple killing each other after a fight as to how to put together a coffee table…come to think of it, this doc may have legs!

Sorry to Bother You: A Movie Ray Bradbury Would Dig

Sorry to Bother You (directed by Boots Riley, writer of Superbad) was a movie Ray Bradbury would love.

I was such a huge Fahrenheit 451 fan having taught it for years and Sorry to Bother You certainly had the dystopian society function on high. In Fahrenheit 451, Midlred is addicted to violent tv shows that everyone thinks are hilarious.

And today, if you watch Highly Questionable (a show that I like except for when they laugh hysterically at people beating each other up) you’ll get an unfortunate sneak preview into the dystopian world of Sorry to Bother You with a tv show called (I believe) I Got the Sh*& Kicked Out of Me where people humiliate themselves and get beat up for fame and possibly fortune.

And that’s just one of the many subversive tricks Boots uses to get our attention. His evil corporation looks eerily like what they already have in China, whereby people live like sardines in dormitories attached to their work places.

If it couldn’t actually happen someday, Sorry To Bother You would be knee slapping science fiction. However, due to the fact that we have become a stupid society praising big wealth, numb to social issues that matter, rather obsessing about who the ruler is instead of caring about the issues, and that act like we are helplessly hooked to our devices and violent images makes Sorry To Bother You maybe the most relevant movie of our times, a social satire to wake us up, if it’s not too late.

I am happy to say that I am living life, and thank God, right? Because who knows if our society isn’t on the border of the violent revolution Boots predicts since people have stopped loving each other based on whether you like donkeys or elephants, meanwhile being brainwashed by a vile media. And anyway, my dermatologist may find some deadly mole on my next visit this week. So why not Carpe diem Baby. Crank up the R.E.M. I say, “It’s the End of the World as We Know it.” But seriously, I hope it’s not.

I promise if you see Sorry to Bother You, you’ll surely laugh and then think the same as me. Acting cred goes to the main actor: Lakeith Stanfield, a relative newbie whose biggest known role is probably the hit show Atlanta. And I can’t help but mention that handsome hunk of a man Armie Hammer, who got even sexier in this film by sporting a beard all while playing the most despicably funny role in the film.

What a great way to end a weekend.

The Truth Will Set You Free: Whitney

Leave it to a brilliant Scot, Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) to do a top quality documentary on Whitney Houston. While you may think you know everything you could possibly know or suspect, this doc has a dramatic arc to which I (a huge Whitney fan) was riveted. Macdonald names names and pulls no punches. I do believe even Whitney would be sighing relief at the truth coming out.

Suffice to say, she was not so much an ignorant drug addict and neglectful mother, but a person broken spiritually by abuse.

Does she have culpability in her own demise? Absolutely. However, her parents are just as much to blame. Whitney was better made than the award winning doc on Amy Winehouse. Macdonald was neat and tight in detail, yet thorough in its history telling.

Despite the following distractions, can I just say that while Mr. Rogers can not be beat for his outpouring of love, Whitney the documentary slays Mr. R in that it has much more revealing details than the Won’t You Be My Neighbor including never before seen footage of many of Whitney’s performances including highlights and low lights. I learned a LOT I didn’t know that I won’t spoil. Let’s just say that you wonder whether the root of Whitney’s trouble (and of many people I know personally) doesn’t deserve center stage in research and development of cures/counseling techniques and places designed to help folks heal.

Here’s a news flash for folks approaching a movie theater:
A movie theater is NOT:

a parade. I sat in the front row on purpose, yet out of the corner of my eye I mush have seen at least 10 people walking up an down the stairs. Perhaps they were breaking in a Fitbit, but sit the hell down. Follow my lead, as I think I probably acquired a bladder infection having to urinate after the 35 minutes of previews, but toughed it out not to miss a second of Whitney, the tremendous documentary by .

a chat room. Why can’t you shut the hell up for 120 minutes. Consider it vocal rest. Who would want to utter a sound as Whitney Houston belts her her iconic National Anthem? Apparently the idiots behind me who also had to recline or decline their chairs at least 5 times during the film adding the nails on chalk board flatulence sound they make, leather hitting leather.

a fashion walkway. Some dame had to come in 20 minutes late and instead of ducking under the Disney World maze of walkway to the front row, paraded by us two and half times before landing like a lab trying to find a comfy position on the mantle rug.

Hearts Beat Loud, Perfection

Hearts Beat Loud (written and directed Brett Haley and Marc Basch who wrote another great indie called The Hero in which Nick Offerman also starred) is the perfect movie for many generations, especially millennials headed off to college and middle aged parents. It’s also an uplifting movie for anyone with dreams or conflicts that Robert Frost approached in The Road Not Taken.

The acting by Nick Offerman in an almost entirely dramatic role was terrific. Is there anything this guy can’t do? Comedy, drama, wood working, music…Come on man, you must be the photo that pops up first when someone does an internet search for the term renaissance man. Kiersey Klemons has the potential to be the next Whitney Houston, with a million dollar voice and much better acting ability.

While I love Ted Danson, his character was a bit of a throwaway, but who cares, he’s so good and seeing him behind a bar serving drinks again was like his career going full circle. Toni Collette is always a doll.

Definitely worth seeing on the big screen, an ode to brick and mortar record stores and a feel good movie about living your dreams, Hearts Beat Loud was very well done.

Mr. Rogers was a Wonder, But If We Take It Down a Notch We Can All Be Him

Won’t You Be My Neighbor is just what you would expect it to be, which is great for the collective us who all need optimism and love at this point in history. And Won’t You Be My Neighbor the documentary is also a worthy film in that it holds a few surprising insider tidbits.

Director Morgan Neville of 20 Feet From Stardom fame does a great job of weaving show clips, interviews with Mrs. Rogers and former cast members. In looking at Neville’s IMDB page, I wonder why I never heard of Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal and plan to seek that out at Selby Library.

My only quibble with the documentary was the lack of comment on cast member Betty Aberlin who according to IMDB formed a friendship with Kevin Smith and acted in the movies Dogma and Red State. At the risk of sounding like Seinfeld, what’s the deal with not appearing in the doc?

And while Mr. Rogers’ loving nature may seem like a marvel, I’d like to challenge any future protesters on either side of the insipid political strife to literally help a neighbor (meaning impoverished, abused, elderly) in the real time rather than just waste it with bilious talk and sign posts. We can all be Mr. Rogers when you really think about it.

Goodbye Columbus, Goodbye Mr. Roth

My good friend and co-worker Barry suggested Goodbye Columbus a a library loaner last week after Philip Roth died. My experience with Mr. Roth began during my relationship with a Manhattan born handsome devil who encouraged me to read Portnoy’s Complaint.

I had admittedly lost track of Philip Roth except for his announcement a few years back that he was retiring from writing. Then I had heard even more recently that Lisa Halliday had written a roman a clef about her May December affair with Roth in her novel Asymmetry. During the reading of that novel, Mr. Roth passed away at the age of 85.

Hence, I rented Goodbye Columbus that Barry joked was ‘the story of my life’. Did you know that 1969 was a looooong time ago? Meaning, the world has changed leaps and bounds and this film no longer holds up. Sure, there are certainly still conflicts regarding wealth disparity and dating below or above your income status, but the main conflicts no longer exist. The fact that one of the culminating conflicts involved Ali McGraw (and while this was her first movie and she was drop dead gorgeous, let’s face facts, she was not expressive aka had zero range) being verkelmpt over her mother finding her diaphragm while in college isn’t as big of a deal these days as it was in the stubborn repression that the wild 60’s was trying to snuff out. And sure, there were nuances to this conflict, trying to make a relationship work when two people exist in two different realms (one college, one not) rarely works out.

And while Richard Benjamin did a decent job as the middle class outlier, he was an equally flat character. I felt I was watching two actors, almost too nervous and new to really make this film. But then again, it could be I’m just cynical about the outdated plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I needed something somewhat fluffy to get me through Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and it was comforting to see Jack Klugman who I always saw as the ultimate father figure; tough but super caring. And thinking of a younger Barry navigating dating socialites also made me smile.