The Way Back(End)

My attitude about writing this blog is probably similar to how Ben Affleck feels, like sure The Way Back, not the greatest script, but hey a Friday matinee is a fun way to pass the time, right?

I think the actual title, The Way Back, might come from a conversation between Gavin O’Connor (director and Captain of the screenplay) and Brad Inglesby (Head Coach) when Brad said, ‘Even though this is the same old story, what if we put the bulk of the reveals of deep seeded problems in the second half of the film?.’ That makes it new-ish, right?

The positives are Ben Affleck can carry a mediocre script. And certainly his real life struggle with alcoholism added to the sincerity. Ben’s basketball team were all talented up and comers, and I’m a sucker Al Madrigal, who nerded up to play Ben’s assistant coach.

Similar to the racing scenes in Ford vs. Ferrari, the basketball game footage was engaging and realistic. My basketball love began in high school with a mixture of hormones and adrenaline watching Coach Dave Gillett strip first his jacket, then aggressively loosen his tie, to finally ripping it off.

Affleck doesn’t strip, though we do get to see an aerial shot of him showering a couple of times. But hey, this isn’t Gone Baby Gone (thank God). This is a sports and redemption flick.

I confess I teared up, yet don’t think they needed to throw so many struggles the characters’ way. Some people, unfortunately, have a gene pre-disposing them to alcoholism. Making the conflict more generic may would have made the film more accessible to common folk going to cinema and more importantly, real.

Seberg, A Worthy Attempt

Seberg, directed by Benedict Andrews, is a worthy effort that could have been more effective had the pacing been sped up. Watching the film was like playing a record on a speed too slow.

Editing of one scene would have quickened its stride; a totally superfluous NYC scene in which Jean Seberg, portrayed expertly by Kristen Stewart, explains a fact to her husband that was obvious to him, and all of us in the audience, in the previous LA scene.

And I understood what the writers Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel were going for in a handful of moments suggesting Seberg was emotionally unstable, but they also should have shown her erratic love life a little more clearly. After some research, it is obvious that part of her demise could easily be attributed to the volatile types with whom she chose as lovers. In fact, the person who saw her last was her final lover, playboy Ahmed Hasni. Seberg’s maid stated she had heard them fighting before her disappearance. Not the first time an emotionally delicate person goes missing and people chalk it up to her ‘condition’.

Besides Kristen Stewart, a fine performance was clocked in by Jack O’Connell, who played an FBI agent character with a moral dilemma over his assignment. Anthony Mackie and Zazie Beetz also round out the cast with strong moments as the African Americans who the FBI was targeting, using Seberg as their pawn.

Above all, the people in charge of costuming should be nominated, since I drooled over every outfit Stewart donned.

Worth seeing for an honest assessment of the USA in the late 60’s and 70’s and for Stewart’s heart felt performance.

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.

Once We Were Brothers: RR & The Band

Not sure how reviewers can give this film anything lower than a 95. What on God’s Earth do they want?

So dog gone it, I’ll be the sales woman:
In Once We Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, written and directed by Daniel Roher, you’ll be rewarded with:

*a gorgeous history invoked by Robbie Robertson who appears to be a cross between Captain Kangaroo (meaning innocent passion) and Ron Howard (straight laced, but still super hip).
*extraordinary stock photos of the entire band and also precious family photos

(Here’s where I digress to a deja vu I had of my 3/16/2009 concert venture with my sweet son Liam Enright, in the 9th row of Fleetwood Mac, where I repeated at least three times, “Lindsey Buckingham is a very sexy man”, to which Liam eventually said, “Mom, please!”
I had the same heat generating at Burns Court over Levon Helms, who was drop dead gorgeous in his prime.)

*a cautionary tale of the havoc and chaos alcohol and especially heroin can do to one’s creativity and obvious health: Helms (age 71 throat cancer), Richard Manuel (age 42 suicide), and Rick Danko (age 55 heart failure)
*tremendous film footage of Dylan back in the day. And man, do I admire his fashion sense!
*great film footage of The Last Waltz, probably one of, if not THE most important concert of our lifetime (ok, tied with Live Aid)
*Scorsese’s genius re-establishment (in my mind after the abysmal The Irishman), capturing The Last Waltz for film and music history

The only trouble I can see is the odd absence of present day commentary from Garth Hudson (83), who, along with Robbie Robertson, is the last living member. Does this put a question mark on Robbie’s point of view? Did Robbie really take more credit than his due, as Levon emphasized?

In truth, the last man standing gets the final say, but I’d love to know Hudson’s take.

Yet even with that lingering question, you’ll walk out of this doc in a buzz of musical euphoria.

Make it a Double: 63 Up and The Assistant

Not able to run leads me to get desperate, hence I took in two Burns Court movies yesterday.

First 63 Up, the longitudinal British study turned documentary is directed by Michael Apted, Bafta winner for previous incantations of 28 Up and 35 Up. This is my first foray into this series and I was moved. So moved in fact, that I had to opt out with an hour to go. Sure, I lasted 3 hours for The Irishman, but bored-hoping-for-gold sitting is more tolerable than being shaken by actual real lives flashing before your eyes. 63 Up was akin to a music festival, where you’ve already seen 8 great bands, now you want me to watch 5 more? I’d love to see the last hour TODAY, but could not take it all in one shot. Again, that’s a tribute to how well crafted the stories were done. Go see this film!

In the evening, I took in the contemporary drama The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, a champion of realistic psychological abuse issues regarding children in “Casting JonBenet” and Me, Too abuse in The Assistant.

The film stars Julia Garner (best known from Ozarks and The Americans) as a college educated, yet working poor young woman living in Astoria, grinding out a meager living working at a film production office. The film portrays her as virtual slave; as janitor, waitress, irate wife counselor, and secretary, just to name a few.

The film had many similarities to film festival selection “The Chambermaid” which followed the life of a Mexico City Hotel maid, and in comparison pales due to lack of conflictual topography. HOWEVER, the film is worthy of seeing for Julia’s wispy performance as she stifles winces from her bullying boss, and her rejected visage at model types who are granted privileges to which she is never offered. Not only is her job without perks, she is rarely addressed as a fellow human. She is just ‘there’ to work and her pale pick blouse further helps to establish her invisibility.

I enjoyed some of the visual symbolism; when Julia is cleaning up pastries after a meeting, she puts a knotted donut in her mouth making her appear like a canine with a bone. In the HR office where she attempts to level a concern, the chastising manager, slides a cold metallic Kleenex box her way which again evoked an almost dog bowl like sound.

The film will open your eyes to working class loneliness in New York City and I suspect, every city in America.

The Graduate, a Wonder

Seeing The Graduate on the big screen today at Burns Court Theater was a delight. Despite the two chatty Kathy’s sitting behind me, “This is too much!” exclamations through the first third of the film, this film was So good that it shut them up! Miracles never cease.

I just wanted to mention a few details in the film that I appreciated:
Dustin Hoffman’s wet suit scene seemed so symbolic of him being the trained seal for his parents. They wanted him to do ‘tricks’ for them, as do many overzealous parents. Pool scenes have certainly had an impact in other more recent films as well, most notably Love & Mercy (Paul Dano!) and Booksmart (thank you Olivia Wilde).

Part of the pool charm was due to the cinematographer/director of photography’s name was Robert Suertees, a three time Oscar winner for Ben Hur, The Bad and the Beautiful and King Solomon’s Mines. He also did other great films such as The Last Picture Show.

Proof that a movie takes a team, Sound Department Maestro Jack Solomon (winner for the Oscar in Hello Dolly) was a genius in the same wet suit scene. We hear Dustin breathing, while seeing his parents mouth their excitement at his upcoming ‘stupid pet trick’.

Mike Nichols, winner of the Oscar as Best Director in this film, was a former comedic partner with Elaine May. In this film, he showed his comedic chops, along with Buck Henry (screenwriter’s Oscar nominee) in an s & m type of humor. We laugh, but understand the dramatic undertones as well.

The late 60’s and early 70’s was a hot bed for new contemporary comedy dramas and The Graduate certainly holds up over time.

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.

Genuinely Great: Downhill

Wow, Rotten Tomatoes Reviewers, take it down a notch. I feel like yesterday I was guilty of whining, yet I don’t see a lot of other folks being as self-aware. Both in my personal life and in movie criticism there’s a lot of hair trigger condemnatory folks walking around. When we read a Facebook or Instagram post, can we start with the assumption that everyone has flaws and that most people aren’t out to take anyone down. Please, can we?

Isn’t is also alright that we come from different opinions and perspectives and if we don’t agree, that does not and should not mean we are suddenly not able to care for one another?

With that lament out of the way, let me say, going in to Downhill I worried whether this was another foreign film remake ruined by Americans. In this case, I was the premeditated hypercritical person, since Downhill was very well done. I confess my bias had come from three lesser remakes: Starbuck (turned into Delivery Man) and Intouchables (adapted to The Upside) and the worst Gloria Bell (adapted to the mean spirited Gloria).

I confess, Force Majeure was a tremendous film, but due to bad memory, I just remember being moved in a disturbed “Joker” type of way. Remember, the responsible party, screenwriter Ruben Ostlund, also wrote the ultra wonder called The Square which is equally upsetting.

So why is Downhill worthy on its own? First and foremost the two leads, known for comedy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrel were simply outstanding portraying married folks who have grown apart. I know this won’t go over well in our current populace though since we have glorified marital partnership and villainized singledom. How dare screenwriters try to suggest that sometimes married people have different moral compasses either unaddressed from the get-go unaddressed or those whose personal ethics fork off in different directions? Yet if we were all really honest and self-aware, this would not necessarily be tragic

I stand by Downhill’s writers Jesse Armstrong, Nate Faxon and Jim Rash and hope people can be more open-minded and as a result more loving. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film (NOT a spoiler) is when Julia is riding a chairlift with a 30 year old woman who claims “black and white” judgment on a couples’ issue, and Julia questions if everything is that cut and dry. Let’s hope our human connection has more than two colors: love or hate.

Blonde Backlash: In Defense of Renee Zellweger

Say what you will about the wonder of Parasite winning best picture and best foreign film, many if not most people piled on to Renee Zellweger in our feeding frenzy pile on, jump on the bandwagon hateful culture. These are the reactionary folks who read soundbites or impassioned tweets and without thinking, go YEH! like a crazed Howard Dean.

Let’s look at the organization of Renee Zellweger’s speech taken from the transcript and really assess if it was really ‘rambling’, shall we?

First paragraph honors her fellow nominees and thanks the movie director and co-workers (17 specifically by name which is impressive). She also recognizes her date and family again by name.
*Her only fault here is the use of the colloquial term ‘boy’.

Second paragraph: Celebrates Judy Garland across generations and offers speech theme of heroes unite us, honoring the best people unites us. She names several specific heroes of all nationalities, genders and ethnic backgrounds.
*she uses ‘boy’ again, bringing out her Texas humility
*Her only fault here is she self corrects when she says across genders (proof she is human)
*And that she negates mid paragraph by saying No when she really means ‘additionally’

She goes on to also call the under rewarded first responders and military which is very loving in a room of super privileged folks.

Last paragraph: she returns to Judy Garland and how this award was never given to her in her life time, but her legacy is proof that the memory longevity of an important artist transcends any ‘award’ they may or may not have been given. She ends with gratitude at the opportunity given to help make this happen.
*Again she mistakenly negates her points by saying No at the beginning of this paragraph making her look ‘confused’ in a very poignant and beautiful speech.

Much Needed Downshift: I Lost My Body

I haven’t teared up from an animated flick since “Up” (ok maybe Despicable Me) though mostly because I don’t watch them. I always think of them as lesser preferring truly human forms, but I Lost My Body, an Oscar nominated animated film from France created by Jeremy Clapin has changed my way of thinking.

First, the haunting score by Dan Levy, reminiscent of my favorite Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise”, an apt comparison considering the end of the film ends in a wintery scene, helped put me in the meditative trance for optimal viewing.

Second, my emotional roller coaster of a week opened me up wider to appreciate this; Kobe’s shocking death, my best friend’s Dad dying the very next day and with it my hopes of seeing him* (spoiler alert, happy ending coming), the coldest winter I’ve experienced in Florida (I know ‘don’t cry for me Argentina’)which also diminished my usual tenacity especially when my 1980’s condo’s heating element decided to malfunction, and last but not least, back to back unnecessary drama from two other areas of my life. For the record: I never seek out drama, but like the disembodied hand in I Lost My Body, it seems to track me down.

Third, the amazing animation which I am truly humbled by as I know zippo about 2d and 3d animation. I love to draw, but animation is an entirely different animal. The story, (no big spoilers) is about a disembodied hand’s mission to find its original owner, quite the novel concept written by the director with the help of Guillaume Laurant, Oscar winner for best original screenplay for Amelie (2001, wow how time flies!).

Ok, here’s where I find the foible; an aspect of the story. If you’ve read any of my blogs or had many conversations with me (and if not, welcome!), you know that one of my pet peeves is mean, insensitive women and men who self-destruct when jilted rather than pick themselves up, brush themselves off and hey, Fred Astaire wrote that song! At any rate, THAT happens in this story which annoyed me. I know women aren’t kind to themselves sometimes, but I’m remiss at naming a film off the top of my head. If you think of one, shoot me a note.

Still I appreciated the complexity of the plot and like a good lover, wouldn’t kick this one out of bed for eating crackers/or that small quibble.

Available on Netflix and an easy way to get you film fix before the Oscar Awards.

*Tim’s mom gave her blessing for him to complete his much deserved break, proving she should be Mom of the Year.