Concert Review: Making America Abbreviated Again

America played at Van Wezel Hall in Sarasota last night and if America, the country, was analogous to the band’s performance, we’d be short about 10 states. I think it’s a cop out and money grab to play 90 minutes (exactly) when as a band they’ve complied 40+ years of music. At the very least, they should have allowed their two youngest members to each showcase one of their own songs. It’s called paying it forward Dudes. Not to mention, some of us in the audience are part of the shrinking middle class, meaning we don’t have throw away money to spend willy nilly on concert tickets. My friend Dave who graciously took me for a Christmas gift is a hard core fan, and for him alone, I wish the band had extended their play to two hours. I mean really, the set up of all the instruments probably took more time than the actual performance.

Sure I got to hear my three favorite songs; Sister Golden Hair, Tin Man, and Ventura Highway. And thanks to the bass player (who also created the video) was treated to stimulating images of California, celebrities and a metamorphosis of old band photos.

Unfortunately aural and visual stimulation weren’t enough for Twitchy Millennial gal seated to my immediate right(who literally was giving herself a facial and simultaneously checking her phone on average of every 5 minutes) and her bored to death father who also had his nose in his phone during the show. Other stuffed white shirt Caucasians in front me included a husband, their backpack in a separate seat between (who didn’t clap once-that’s a joke) and then S&M wife. S&M is an assumption on my part because she had an accountant look on her top half (severe haircut, conservative sweater) and her bottom half (mini-skirt, patterned panty hose with knee high black boots). She continued to give her husband dirty looks during the first half hour of the show as he couldn’t take his eyes off the woman right next to him, a young Ann Margaret type who was grooving to the music and enjoying herself (as I was) and whose companion looked like a hoody wearing Burgess Meredith from Grumpy Old Men outtakes (you remember, “what day say we go back to my place and I’ll show you my beefy bologna?”). Anyway S&M ended up reaching across the backpack with a slap to hubby’s shoulder which was his indication to move backpack next to Ann Margaret and fall back in cuckolded line. This my friends, is the curse and comedic blessing of being hyper-aware of one’s surroundings.

Another half hour of shenanigans would have helped me round out this essay to novella length. For shame abbreviated America:)

Fantastic Woman, Mediocre Script

There are many reasons to like Fantastic Woman, written and directed by Sebastian Lelio and nominated for best foreign film in both the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

First, the film bravely challenges the stupidity of homophobes. More can and needs to be done to shine the light on cruel intolerance across the globe.

Second, certain scenes in the film were beautifully done: slow dance sequences and dance club sequences were evocative and sexy, Marina trail running with her dog overlooking the city of Santiago exhibited gorgeous cinematography.

Third, the acting was great. The main character (Marina) was portrayed by real life trans and opera singer Daniela Vega who wasn’t originally cast for the role. Lelio hired her on as a consultant, but after hearing the poignancy of her story, decided to use her as the lead. She makes Beyonce’s ‘fierce’ look like a fluffy bunny. Daniela Vega is truly a fantastic woman.

Francisco Reyes, though only on the screen for a short time, was also great. And back up!!! Doing my due diligent research, I discovered he also starred in The Club, a mind blowing Golden Globe foreign film from 2015.

Even the minor characters were portrayed with realistic subtlety of special note being the female police detective, Amparo Noguera and Francisco’s wife, Antonia Zegers, also nominated from the aforementioned The Club.

Ok, so what’s the problem, you ask? In a word (ok 5): Loose ends and sloppy editing. The screenplay could have easily tied up one of at least two loose ends. The fact that Marina was training for opera and the vacation Francisco proposes are never addressed. We also see the end result of a demand Marina made, but do not know how the transfer occurs. Supernatural scenes are ok, but some seemed to be non-sequitur.

Too bad, because had these small fixes been accomplished, this ‘coulda been a contender’.

One last note, Sebastian Lelio also directed Gloria from a few years back which was uplifting and fun. I see it’s being remade for American audiences with Julianne Moore. Let’s hope the originality doesn’t get lost in translation.

Molly’s Game; Great Inspiration, Twin Peaks

I thoroughly enjoyed Aaron Sorkin‘s Molly’s Game. And no kidding, right? This guy can write, having penned other such gems as Steve Jobs and Moneyball. Molly’s Game was smart, fast (especially given its long running time) and entertaining almost throughout and Sorkin’s directorial first.

The only cringe worthy scenes were some corny bits of flashback to Molly’s childhood, the overly long mafiaso punch out scene and the worst (which is major deduction of point since it was sooo stupidly flawed) was the ice skating scene where she just happens to run into her estranged father. And one last chagrin that’s legit given the characterization was fit to the real life ‘Cinemax dressed’ Molly; but in case you weren’t aware, Jessica Chastain has cleavage (hence, my coy mountain skier double entendre subtitle twin peaks). This is on display in virtually every scene but three or four when in flashbacks pre-boob job Molly or an end scene where she finally covered up for her judge sentencing.

The best part of the film, besides the pro-female empowerment story line played expertly by the always steely Jessica Chastain, dare I say, was the male lead of Idris Elba. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to applaud his monologue at the end. In any lawyer film worth its mettle, is the upstanding lawyer who gives an impassioned speech on behalf of his client. I heard people tittering in the audience after Idris presented his, too shy to clap, but certainly impressed. Let’s find this guy a worthy part, shall we? Instead of crap like The Mountain Between Us. Idris deserves first billing!

Two other side roles played by Michael Cera and Chris O’Dowd made me sad in a way. Two more gents who are consistently great and probably working their fannies off for lead roles that are probably tough to land. And of course I have to mention Kevin Costner because he’s a rock solid actor even in the film’s corniest role AND because he wins my award for Best Man Ageing Well. Find out what his diet and vitamin regimen is, stat!

Besides the Directing Oscar nom for Sorkin (no small feat), I’m not sure why this film didn’t get more attention and not to repeat myself, but Idris got snubbed. Still Molly’s Game is a film certainly worth seeing.

“Happy End”, an Equally Fitting Description to a Single Gal’s Evening

“Happy End” is dark, but not in a violent way, more akin to the relative darkness of a movie theater. Just as you can still see the goodness of even the most selfish characters in Michael Haneke‘s new film, I could still see the other movie goers around me. And I could certainly hear the movie goers around me as there were: knuckle crackers, Junior Mint box shakers, horn (nose) blowers and audible sighers. What would normally annoy the bleep out of me was zen-fully equalized by the fact that there were three other loners in the theater besides me. Hence, the movie plot, albeit dark (snobbery, adultery, poor parenting, poisoning, etc.) made me feel as normal as the demographics in the room.

Granted, I could hear more of my noisy neighbors since this film is super quiet, there is no sound track. The film opens with at least 3 to 5 minutes of silent snapchat screens and continues with equally hushed scenes of a woman on her laptop, a man wheeling himself down a city street, only the natural sound of keyboard typing and city street racket (respectively) bleeds through.

I really enjoyed Haneke’s Amour which he was Oscar nominated for both screenplay and best foreign film. Yet there was no way in hell I was ever going to see the sadistic Funny Games. Still, I have to hand it to Haneke for covering uncomfortable situations in Happy End without making me feel like I have to have a mind flush at the end of the film. In fact, the loner a seat away from me and I both laughed at the same time when we figured out the ending which true to my caption I will not spoil.

The acting was spot on. As much as I abhorred the fact that Isabelle Huppert won awards for that piece of dung film Elle, I guess I’ll chalk that up to what will now be retroactively referred to as the Jeff Bridges/Crazy Heart-Sam Rockwell/Three Billboards syndrome, where a great actor/actress gets an award for a junk film. And long aside now over, Huppert was fantastic as the female lead. Equally super were: Jean-Louis Trintignant, star of Amour (aside: my blood just boiled researching realizing he didn’t get a nomination for best actor, like you must be kidding me!), Mathieu Kassovitz, and Franz Rogowski (a dead ringer for Joaquin Phoenix).

Definitely worth the price of admission, though the any synopsis you read of ‘backdrop of refugee crises’ is a bit misleading (percentage-wise only 20% of the film’s focus).

Circus Peanuts and Ice Skating Blunders: Wiseau’s “The Room”

Ok, let me say that mixed feelings is an understatement after watching Tommy Wiseau‘s “The Room” which James Franco so lovingly made into something bigger and better than its initial notoriety.

My first kooky analogy is to the difficulty I had even finishing this film:

Imagine being on a desert island and after days of not eating, you find a bag of those gross peach colored circus peanuts (in fact do they even sell them any longer?). You’re starved, so you gorge on half a bag, then the next day you realize you still have nothing else to eat, so you finish the remainder, feeling full, yet nauseous. That was my experience watching The Room. I couldn’t even watch the entire movie in one sitting, but forced myself to go the distance the following day.

Kooky analogy number two:

You’re watching Olympic figure skating, fully aware that someone has trained his keister off to get to this moment and then see him on tumble on his first double toe loop, then tip over during a simple spin, etc. You feel total empathy for his utter despair. Knowing the passion Tommy had for acting made me sad for his inability to possess the skill necessary for greatness.

So I felt disgusted by how bad this film was (circus peanuts) (couldn’t get to the funny it’s so bad feeling) because I knew how much Tommy thought and wanted this to be great (fumbling ice skater).

What else can I say? All the acting was bad if that’s any consolation for Tommy. All the writing was incredibly silly and simplistic. If any good can be said about this film is that the cheesey r&b tunes played during the soft porn scenes wasn’t half bad.

Until I read a full fledged legitimate story of harassment committed by James Franco, I think he’s downright Mother Theresa for caring enough about Tommy to shed him some light/resdiuals/money. James must know that Tommy is broken at some level (flat affect usually equals depression, ptsd or autism) and wanted to give him some props.

Rent The Disaster Artist, you’ll see.

You Can Get More Flies with “A Taste Of Honey”

Granted it’s a (PPLL) Pre Pension Library Loaner, but A Taste of Honey is worth a borrow and the film equivalent to Ray Bradbury’s literary prescient Fahrenheit 451.

Based on a play in 1958, this British film from 1961 broke barriers for addressing inter-racial relationships and homosexuality.

An aside of how I was introduced to the film: two Saturdays ago I was skipping out to meet some British folks I was to meet for the first time. And here’s where I do a public service announcement: don’t skip, especially on uneven brick sidewalks. Without any drop of alcohol in my veins and with only my clumsy feet to blame, I did a face plant. The spirit of Memphis still inside me from my recent ABA conference, I stubbornly continued to my destination fat lip and scraped elbows (not to mention bruised knees) to meet my new acquaintances. Fast forward and we shared fun conversation and favorite movies, hence, A Taste Of Honey.

A Taste of Honey was directed by Tony Richardson (winner of an Oscar for Tom Jones, ex-husband to Vanessa Redgrave and father of the two actress daughters). The stars of the movie, namely four, were all fantastic. Rita Tushingham who was 19 at the time of filming was truly awesome as a neglected pregnant teen. Equally good was her homosexual buddy Murray Melvin. I watched the second dvd of interviews and was inspired by his moxy, saying, “I was the face of gay pride in 1958!” (he also starred in the dramatic version). Rita’s immature mother was brilliantly played by Dora Bryan, so cute that you almost couldn’t hate her (emphasis on ‘almost’). Her ninkampoop of a boyfriend/husband was played by Robert Stephens, ex-husband of Maggie Smith.

From the scant research I have time for, it appears that the director and Robert Stephens have much in common (both died in their 60’s after unsuccessful marriages to successful actresses).

An interesting psychological question is can two broken people (Rita and Melvin) ever have a whole relationship or would their neediness end up destructing their marriage (as did mine). Another psychological question is whether non-sexual relationships are more sustainable and more fulfilling in the long run (as mine seems to be).

A cultural question is whether all British folks are both abusive and loving and do they also vary their moods so drastically moment to moment. In the film they could equally hate and love their partner/relative all in one breath as well as be suicidal and then gay (meaning happy).

At any rate, A Taste Of Honey was a kick to watch, for its honesty and to get a glimpse into British culture.
And an update on my tripping, I healed in a week, proof that I’m leading a healthy life.

A Stunning End to Meandering Gymnast Floor Event: “Call Me By Your Name”

I know I choose strange analogies, but go with this quirky mind for a minute or two.

Imagine watching a gymnast begin the floor exercise, wander all over the mat in fits and starts, yet end on the most gorgeous on point performance…it’s tough not to score it highly because the finale was so damn good. That, my friends, is Call Me By Your Name directed by Luca Guadagnino who directed on of my favorite films of 2015, A Bigger Splash!

And I can take meandering given such a gorgeous setting as Italy, lush apricots, sensuous sculptures, and a hip 80’s soundtrack. Musically speaking I was also introduced to someone new (to me) Sufjan Stevens, an eclectic muti-genre singer and musician whose songs are haunting and gorgeous. Think a combo of Cat Stevens/Simon&Garfunkel/Brian Wilson…and one “Mystery of Love” nominated for this year’s Oscar.

Call Me By Your Name maybe one of the first mainstream movies (besides obviously last years Oscar winner “Moonlight”) to tackle gay romance dynamics. I find this both refreshing and intriguing.

Performances were all spot on, with special shout outs to Armie Hammer (a Tom Bradyesque pretty man), Timothy Chalamet (equally good in Lady Bird) and maybe the scene stealer of the film, Micahel Stuhlbarg, who got tortureed (in his role, not in real life) in The Shape of Water. The latter of these two gents are certainly landing the roles this year as I see Chalamet is also in The Hostiles, which I also want to see. And speaking of landing, this movie stuck the landing to go back to my gymnast analogy. Bravo!

Sew Your Own Way: Phantom Thread

This may be one of the toughest movies I’ve ever reviewed as far as spoilers. I’d love to be able to spill the beans, but will refrain.

Suffice to say, that Phantom Thread certainly bodes well with the Time’s Up Movement. Funny thing is, while I totally support women who have had the courage to come out against true assault, I don’t think our society needs to castrate the entire male population. In fact, BEFORE the film, I was lamenting to myself, how I feel like I am on the worst relationship musical chairs experiment. Meaning, because I opted to grow as an individual (marriage 1) and not be in an abusive relationship (marriage 2), I am now left without a ‘chair’, meaning a range of choices as far as mature, ambitious, passionate about their own self-growth, men. Meanwhile, some men feel tethered to marriages being the good soldiers that they’ve outgrown, but are too wimpy (or downright afraid) to leave. I would dare say there are many men in abusive relationships who don’t dare speak up either, feeling powerless or emasculated. This is the state of affairs of 2018, I guess.

In Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis, as usual, is simply mesmerizing. His intense stare and ever intense characters (this time expertly written by PT Anderson) are always riveting to watch. While Tom Hanks can do anything, DD Lewis IS EVERYTHING and this is not hyperbole. He truly is the greatest actor of our generation.

His mate in this film is a relatively unknown actress, Vicky Krieps, but who is certainly on her way to the big time. Her understated beginning crescendos into intensity equal to, or perhaps greater (but not necessarily better -see the 2018 paragraph). Lesley Manville, a British actress of whom I’m also not that familiar with was equally fascinating.

I enjoyed the film, but feel the ending was anticlimactic. I thought the film would have convinced me that staying in a relationship that confines is worth the companionship and durability, yet by film’s end, I simply felt bad about how one spouse has to be the winner, the other loser. Maybe it’s best to, to manipulate a Fleetwood Mac lyric, “sew your own way”.

Esquire’s Top Ten Albums of 2017

If you’re still with me, ARE YOU?:) here’s my take on some of the Esquire‘s top 10 albums of 2017 (courtesy of critic Ben Ratliffe). I did this last year, too, in an attempt to stay hip.

But first R.I.P. to Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan. I hadn’t taken much notice of them back in the day, but then my summer after college sweetheart put her song “Linger” on a post break up cd (or was it still a cassette?) and I became a fan. Today on WSLR 96.5 Sarasota), Mr. Boombastic (the d.j.) played three songs of her ethereal voice. I appreciated hearing these. Speaking of the s.a.c.s., always have a fantasy I’ll see him in Atlanta airport (Monday will be there around 1130-noon, Delta), but actually he may be in D.C. at this point.

But back to Esquire’s Top 10, Jlin ‘Black Oragami’ and Kendrick Lamar are two of the stronger worth a mention. Tyler the Creator was eqaully skilled in the r&b category, especially the song “Boredom” featuring Rex Orange County and Anna of the North.

Jlin is a techno genre and of course you know K.L. and Tyler the Creator are r&b.

I enjoyed Ryuichi Sakamato for ambient massage type music.

The only two of the 10 that I almost had to shut down the preview of were Protomartyr (holy heavy metal flashback, yuck) and Jay Som.

The best of the ten was another r&b bass player, Thundercat. Such a fun surprise because two of my favorite singers of all-time! (Loggins and McDonald) were on a track “Show You the Way”. And songs like “Lava Lamp” were so peaceful, yet original and complex.

Richard Jenkins bonus The Hollars and My Top Ten Revised AGAIN

I decided to watch a bonus movie with Richard Jenkins after really enjoying his role in The Shape of Water. So I chose the semi-recent The Hollars, written and directed by the guy from The Office (John K.). Yes, I’m a lazy blogger for not looking up the spelling of his name, but to be honest, to my son’s chagrin as well as The Office cult army, I was never thrilled with that mean spirited show, nor was I that impressed with The Hollars.

Richard Jenkins plays the husband to a woman stricken with a brain tumor, and though the film started out with great unique promise, it devolved into a glorified music video (music from Josh Ritter for the most part). Sadly, I liked the music better than the actual script (as well as Richard Jenkins role) which turned into a Hallmark movie (and character) of the week.

The best acting I witnessed in the film was by an actor I hadn’t seen before: and whoa! YES, I HAVE! Sharlto Copley was the guy I thought I hadn’t taken notice of, but indeed I did! And then some as the hero of District 9, a fantastic foreign sci fi film. Nice to see you again Sharlto Copley and glad to know you’re a fellow Sagitarian creative type, born one decade and one day after me. I’m cocky since I did open mic comedy last night and didn’t totally choke.

Top Ten Update

Well, out goes Greatest Showman, in goes I, Tonya (previously reviewed) and who knows? Stronger might be at risk after I see see Phantom Thread Saturday evening. And then even Columbus, once Call Me By Your Name. Stay tuned.

10. I, Tonya, made me feel tough and grateful to have made it out of a one horse town.
9. Stronger, realistic couple strife.
8. The Big Sick. Well written, love Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.
7. Columbus, meditative, gorgeous.
6. Ingrid Goes West, Aubrey deserves something, for God’s sakes!
5. The Shape of Water, 4 great actors (Hawkins, Shannon, Jenkins, Spencer) and a whale, I mean, sea creature of a tale!
4. The Square, so unique!
3. Lady Bird: Saoirse for Best Actress, Metcalf for Best Supporting.
2. The Disaster Artist (a neck and neck race for number 1). Franco deserves an award.
1. The Florida Project. Please. Give Willem the Award. And Sean Baker, too!