By the Grace of God Go “I Tonya”

That’s it. I’m writing a card to my cousin Karen after seeing I, Tonya. To tell her how proud I am of her crawling her way out of a horrific upbringing, inspired by the terrible cards also dealt to Tonya Harding. My dear friend Carrie was nice enough to go to the movie and drive me home (via Jimmy John’s via stupid road closings since I had an intense post movie lettuce wrap craving).

Can I say how much more important I, Tonya is than Liam Neeson’s new stupid, ‘I gotta save the world’ movie is? I, Tonya is about a real human being, flawed due to a white trash upbringing, brought down according the movie by her abusive husband.

The move was disturbing, in a good way, as Carrie and I skipped (figuratively speaking) like we were seeing an elongated “Ice Skaters of Orange County” and what we got was basically The Fighter, only set on the west coast in Portland Oregon, where evidently, as in every city in America, children are abused and made to feel worthless enough to continue the cycle of dysfunction to marry abusive people.

It can happen to the best of us. All it takes is to feel discounted as a youth, to make you choose what feels ‘normal’ aka abuse. Trust me when I say I had to look away several times from the abuse in this film, and definitely had a flashback with the ‘you’re a Queen one day, and worthless the next’ second marriage. Don’t cry for me Argentina, I want no sympathy, only congratulations that I had my limit reached and now look back and wonder who the heck I was…besides a woman in love with a handsome, intelligent athlete who had to self-destruct every two weeks. As lonely as I am now, I know I am at peace.

I hear you saying, “excuse me honey, this is a film review”. Yes, yes, but this movie struck a nerve.

Acting: spot on. Alison Janey can play a mother of all sorts, comedic and in this case demonic. I’d give her an award for best supporting, though I think Laurie Metcalf showed more range in Lady Bird. Margot Robbie finally got my attention as a 3-d person and was excellent. Sebastian Stan came out of nowhere to blow me away as the douche bag husband. Craig Gillespie (though I couldn’t make it through Lars and the Real Girl did a brilliant job of directing) and the cinematographer Nicholas Karakatsanis deserves high high praise for camera work. I, Tonya appears to be his first noteworthy film.

My favorite scene was when you think Tonya is finally leaving her husband and the road trails off to a great 80’sound track cranked to evoke freedom. The soundtrack was a character in itself, everything from ZZ Top, to Fleetwood Mac to Supertramp, just great songs in all the right places.

If you can handle a lot of punching violence you’ll have no problems with I, Tonya. If you grew up in a small town that many people didn’t make it out of, you’ll also truly appreciate this movie. And if you’re a silly girl like me, who fell in love with the bad boy and got stuck in the whirlpool for while, you will definitely cringe and root for Tonya to disengage. I salute Tonya and my cousin Karen, two women who fought tooth and nail to overcome chronic negativity to hopefully live peaceful and happy lives.

Undulous and Evocative Swells: The Shape of Water

I remember the first time I heard Schubert’s Winterreise on NPR, white knuckle driving the snowy commute from home to school. Made more poignant by dancer Bill T Jone’s tale of watching his father’s brutal walk in the bitter cold to make ends meet for his family. (https://www.wabe.org/winter-songs-bill-t-jones-picks-schuberts-winterreise/) The music and memory made me calm.

Much like last night, where I walk-ran from work at 40 degrees to Burns Court Cinema to see The Shape of Water. I could have done stand up comedy last night and had my script prepared, yet the four day run of cold temperatures had frozen any mojo I had mustered. And just like Schubert’s beautiful music soothed, so did the magnificent story telling of Guillermo Del Torro and Vanessa Taylor on a chilly night in Sarasota.

Trust me, it wasn’t ‘just’ the story. This was a family affair, an incredible mixture of acting and music virtuoso. My two tiny complaints I’ll get out of the way right here, in that I can’t say I liked the cinematography. As other reviewers have pointed out, del Torro likes things a little too dark. And speaking of dark, figuratively this time, I really wish the torture scenes were shorter. I know, I know, I can hear screenplay script Gordy Hoffman saying this now, “you have to torture your hero.”

Now what I was amazed at:
the acting: I’ve championed Sally Hawkins forever and see my previous blogs, most recently “Maudie” for which she may have even shown more brilliance. Here she is perfect as the dreamy mute who fantasizes her way into the arms of a sea creature.
Richard Jenkins is also stunning as Sally’s man pal and I had to take a commercial break to research. He was nominated for an Oscar for The Visitor (gorgeous film) and garnered a Golden Globe Award for this film. He has my vote. I also added a library hold on one that I had seen the trailer for called The Hollars for which he also earned praise.
Michael Shannon, well, if you know me, you know I’ve been infatuated with him since Revolutionary Road, was privileged to get to see him in person at a George Eastman House Q&A, and now hope he doesn’t get pigeon holed as the Lurch like villain. He has much more to him than this role, and yet, I can’t say he wasn’t tremendous here.
Octavia Spencer, who I felt sorry for, playing another role of ‘the help’ in the 1950’s, was also so good, that my awe outweighed my shame for how stupid and prejudiced America used to be (though sadly there are obviously still pockets remaining).
The writing and editing spot on, again, except for the violence. The weaving in of water imagery, eggs=birth, implied sex, romance, an homage to cinema past, all beautifully done. Even the nuanced prejudice and male chauvinism added to the film’s verisimilitude making you forget any skepticism about the sea creature. It was almost as if to believe that humans could be so ignorant to each other’s needs then you might as well better believe the creature from the black lagoon could actually exist.

The end of the film literally reminded me of the denouement of a gorgeous piano concerto. Perfection. Watch out Top Ten List, some one’s gotta make way for this water!

My Top Ten of 2017 (revised to include The Shape Of Water!)

It’s tough to write a top ten list when many of this year’s great films have yet to come to Sarasota. The Post, Call Me By Your Name and three of the four Foreign Film noms no where to be seen here. Hey, I’m not complaining, I’d rather wait on a movie than wait for my hands and feet to defrost.

And truth be told, I’m dragging my feet on seeing two that have been nominated: The Sea Creature, oh sorry, The Shape of Water and Another Depressing Movie about World War II, I mean The Darkest Hour. And I’ll go with Matthew Lickona of the San Diego Reader and choose the one he liked best of the two: The Shape of Water soon, I promise. And I’ll update if it needs to slide into my top ten.

AHEM: may I have your attention. K-Mart shoppers, I mean, blog readers, see my humble addition of The Shape of Water and the deposing of Brad’s Status, sorry Ben Stiller, you’re now #11.

So without further ado, here we go in descending order:

10. The Greatest Showman, come on, live a little!
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!

So will The Shape of Water bump someone? Stay tuned!

The Greatest Showman, The Second Time Around

What a gift my Christmas Day was! I got to spend an hour or two ONE ON ONE with my Grandma, amazing, my Dad (in hospital, but hopefully out Wednesday), and my Mom (for my second viewing of The Greatest Showman).

My mom loved the movie and I have to say, I both liked it better and hated it more, the second time around. Yes, an odd mix. I will explain.

Let’s get the hate out of the way first. This film is super corny and unrealistic. Problems come and go like a Floridian breeze, a fire, an affair, a bankruptcy, but I appreciate this is a musical and not meant to be of the Les Mis caliber. My other pet peeve is that I’d like to see an entire dance sequence. The dances for each song look very technical in choreography, but the plot zips by so fast that the dances are all cut up. Perhaps the editors need the book I’m reading Meditation for Fidgety People by Dan Hill.

Now let’s talk about the LOVE shall we?, on the Christmas 2017. This is a guilty pleasure a la mode and I couldn’t help but notice this time that each scene s carefully crafted. Michelle Williams looking longingly at an empty theater seat, means she gets that her husband is straying, Zac Efron locking eyes with Zendaya on the trapeze means they’re going to wind up together. So as much as the fast pace bugged me, I respect how tight it was.

I’d love for this show to be produced on Broadway, yet fully realize there was already a musical named Barnum. But now that the circus has closed in Sarasota, it might just be time for a musical. If it happens, I’m there with bells on, waiting to see some great dance numbers in total and listen to the very uplifting music.

And dare I say, if I gt a chance to see it again for free, I’d probably go, I love, and think our society is in desperate need of, positive vibes.

Film Blog Written at the HYPER speed of The Greatest Showman…zippppppp!

Ok, not the greatest of all weeks, Dad in hospital, my back out, each chiropractor visit is 5 hours of work at the book store……

Anywho, I saw a great film (wahoo to song writers Justin Paul and Benj Pasek-SO much better than your Lala Land) that literally whipped faster across the screen than the one they use to crack at the poor elephants….
A ridiculous film beginning which showed what happens to kids without child labor laws which literally twirls into a dance routine which my friend Dave whispered, ‘Guess you can get pregnant dancing’. This was part of the stress relieving laugh I needed after the week I’ve had.

But no more laughs were needed as this film was fantastically upbeat. The Greatest Showman directed by Michael Gracey(great job with the dance scenes!) is the exact opposite of Wonder Wheel, an upper, a chant to let your freak flag fly (the original circus idea was based on the deformed getting some attention, supposedly, according to this film, positive).

As 99% of white males, PT Barnum (damn is Hugh Jackman talented, so much so I literally want to slap him if he does anymore stupid Wolverine movies, unless he donates the movie to my chiropractic care), goes astray, but all is forgiven at a beach side chat.

Acting wise, bravo to Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya. Michelle Williams? Ugh, seemed like a bit out of order here, she’s more drama than she is musical material.

If they had sold soundtrack copies outside the cinema, I would have bought one post haste. Instead, I’ll have to battle with my Itunes library who (yes I’m humanizing their web program) wouldn’t allow me to buy a Baby Face song awhile back because my payment hadn’t been updated, which I did, over and over again. I believe it’s a passive aggressive program mad that I won’t download the ‘new’ Itunes, sorry go f yourself Apple and happy holidays.

My tea beeps at me and shoppers need my help at the book store. Hence, this is the Fastest Blog Ever Written.

Is it any Wonder? Wheel

Here’s what I know; my feelings on Woody Allen are that he belongs in that genius trilogy camp few have achieved: brilliant writer, tremendous comedian and excellent musician. I don’t want to believe he molested his children and stand by my stance that Mia Farrow is a manipulative woman scorned. Was it ‘right’ that Woody fell in love with his adoptive daughter? No, but sometimes feelings aren’t ‘right’. Had the Soon-Yi relationship blown itself out, I may be suspect, but how can you argue with enduring love? Alec Baldwin is 25 years older than his current wife, hence he could have been her adoptive ‘dad’.

My son feels polar opposite to me on this issue, so this is for him: Liam, don’t hate me for being an optimist.

And I think Woody indirectly tries to explain that in Wonder Wheel. You may think this is a stretch, and in that case, the film should be called Wonder Oval, but in the film, Justin Timberlake has a monologue where he discusses how little control we have over fate or feelings. Aka, was it Woody’s idea to adopt 9 kids and that due to this an affinity to one of them would develop and ascended the paternal? Sure, Woody could have divorced Mia and moved to Timbuktu (off the coast of Mali, first time in my life when I had time to ask, ‘Where the hell is Timbukto?’), to avoid this ordeal.

And now you’re asking, honey, isn’t this a movie review?

Ok, ok, so I’m avoiding the fact that Wonder Wheel was downright depressing. It’s a story of a family trapped in impoverished conditions making poor choices. And my son might say, Woody Allen is a rich man who made poor choices….but is he miserable? If Wonder Wheel is a scope into his life, perhaps he is…to which all the Allen haters should rejoice. If this theory is true, Allen is downright despondent.

The best thing about the movie, which is a marvel, is the color and lighting, cinematography at its finest. If only some of this beauty could have bled into just one character. It’s pretty sad when the happiest character in the movie is a neglected boy who’s a pyromaniac.

The acting is as good as it can be. I’m a huge Kate Winslet fan, but both her character and Jim Belushi’s were both desperate 2-d material. I never forgot who they were as celebrities. Same with Justin Timberlake, he was too pretentious for me to forget who he is. The highlight of the actors was Juno Temple, who was given a character with the most layers.

So I have requests now: Woody, please make one more comedy, don’t end on this tragic note. And Soon-Yi, please write a memoir defending your husband and setting the record straight.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Perfect Comedy: The Disaster Artist

Have you ever eaten a really decadent dessert and after every bite, you can’t help yourself, but exclaim out loud, “oh this is so good!’. Well, that was Carrie and I last night during The Disaster Artist. Each one of us exclaimed at some point, ‘oh my God this is so good’. Not to mention, we realized another thing we have in common (besides being introverted Sagitarians), we both love Nathan Fielder. So an aside for a quick commercial: if you’ve never seen Nathan for You on Comedy Central, seek it out for God’s sake, it’s a classic.

Ok, back to the review: The Disaster Artist is chock full of great cameos, from Melanie Griffith to Sharon Stone, Judd Apatow to Seth Rogen, Nick Kroll to Jacki Weaver…absolute perfection!

Best, best of all is James Franco who, if the Academy Awards honored comedy, would and should get the Oscar. He not only mastered a Polish accent though the character (based on a real man named Tommy Wiseau) insists he’s from New Orleans, but he also did some crazy cosmetic accoutrements to his eyes, one lazy, both a strange color of blue gray.

Not to mention, James Franco, actually has had a Tommy Wiseau experience, meaning he made a passion project film based on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury which bombed. Hence, James could own this part in more ways than one.

I can really only think of one minor problem and yet I wouldn’t even change this picayune trifle; let me explain. I’m not a big Dave Franco fan. There’s something just a little too doofy about him to make me believe his role. He just reeks of silly to me. However, having him play James’ muse while knowing that their brothers in real life, has to be one of the sweetest double entendre’s since Ryan O’Neal and Tatum were together in Paper Moon.

You’ll laugh in this movie and also be moved. I really can’t say enough about it other than bravo to James Franco for direction and acting (Oscar! Or at the very least Golden Globe!) and props also to the screenwriters: Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (5oo Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, also great stuff they’ve done). Go. See. This. Film!

“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.

Two’s Company, Three Billboards a Crowd

There’s some aspects to appreciate about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Mo. Martin McDonagh is a proven writer (In Bruges, The Pillow Man), but while Three Billboards has some unique qualities; a snapshot of small town America, some complex characters, and lot of twists, I couldn’t love it.

First, the positives: my incredible bias for Sam Rockwell. If you’ve read my blog, you know he’s one of my top five actors of all time. Unfortunately in this film, he’s a despicable character, but I appreciate he can’t always wear the white hat and I’m also amazed at how young the guy can look with a super short hair cut (he’s 49, but looks 30 here).

Second, two scenes were gorgeously done. One, the orange juice scene which I won’t go into due to spoilers, but this was almost Magnoliaesque (Magnolia is a movie by PT Anderson with MANY memorable poignant vignettes). In this scene, props to Caleb Landry Jones (who was also impressive recently in American Made). Two, the comeuppance lecture Frances gives to the priest that comes to console was priceless and should be tweeted to the world.

And of course the star of the show, Frances McDormand. There’s not much this lady can’t do, though she hasn’t mastered Streepian epic tales or dialects (besides North Dakota), she can do no wrong in the dramedy department. She deserves a nomination, but not the win for this. Sorry, the Lady Bird still soars higher. Or even Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West.

A minor character who stood out for me was John Hawkes who looks so much like Chris Cooper that they could be brothers. He really glows as Frances’s ner do well ex-husband. But again, because he is written as an over the top cad, it’s a turn off.

Who else? Woody Harrelson is solid as ever, but not given much to play with, here. And the actress choice for the wife seemed weird-a wine drunk with a British accent telling her husband with cancer to go shovel the horse barn? What kind of vicious c word does that? And the kids, equally unbelievable. I see where McDonaugh was going, showing Woody as forgivable foil, but better actor choices and writing in this subplot would have helped a lot.

Lucas Hedges is over saturated now. Let’s give some other young adult actors a chance.

Peter Dinkler does a great job, but watching rude behavior toward little people is not funny, nor is using the word retard or the n-word. Don’t get me wrong, McDonaugh was attempting to show these folks as buffoons, but it’s so crass to watch these days in light of the actual idiots that still remain in the U.S. that it’s tough to watch. God help us if there’s a small town and police department actually in existence with such ignorance.

The violence was also over the top. Yes, I know this is McDonaugh’s trademark, but I don’t care. No one survives being beaten and thrown out a second floor window, nor receiving third degree burns…let’s start portraying violence as truly harmful so kids brought in stupidly by ignorant parents don’t get the desensitized impression you just bounce back from these type of injuries.

I enjoyed the moral arc of the characters and the theme of hope. But the aforementioned unrealistic characters and plot did not impress me. In Bruges brought a tear to my eye, but Three Billboards just made me chagrin.

A “Lady Bird” in the Hand…is Worth 3 in the Oscars

Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, has nested three more nominations for my Academy Award picks: Gerwig for best original screenplay, Laurie Metcalf for best supporting actress and Saoirse Ronan for best actress. I say nominations obviously because the film season is just getting warmed up.

Great attributes of Lady Bird are many. First, a super sharp dialogue and a realistic plot. Most women will relate to the mother daughter struggle that is beautifully portrayed between Metcalf and Ronan. I love Laurie Metcalf and was fortunate enough to see her in New York City play opposite Jeff Goldblum in “Domesticated”. She has the perfect timing to play dramatic, with a pinch of ironic humor. Ronan had me at Brooklyn, a corny epic that I should have groaned at, but instead bought in hook line and sinker. Here in Lady Bird, she is unrecognizable, meaning a genius at owning the part of a senior straining to get the hell away from her family of origin.

And now let’s talk about Greta Gerwig…and what’s weirdly coincidental is that right now as I simultaneously listen to Greta’s Fresh Air interview, where God Bless her, Terry Gross, is asking pointed questions regarding men with whom Greta has worked. And may I just muddy my review further by an error of Terry’s: she is saying that Ronan Farrow has stood by his step sister’s abuse claims, when I read that he’s quite the contrarily said he believes his mother, Mia, coached her daughter to make these allegations.

I can appreciate Greta Gerwig, though I am skeptical about her kindness, from her relationship with Noah Baumbach which probably is more about my projecting the past rejection I can’t get rid myself of by Mr. Saturday Night, the smart, sporty Jewish man who doesn’t seem to miss me. This isn’t immaturity, just honesty. Check yourself right now in the figurative mirror and tell me there isn’t some former romantic pain still in your heart. If you can claim freedom, God Bless you or perhaps, you don’t pass the “I’m Not a Robot” test(smiley face).

Anyway, when reviewing the movie Good Time with Jennifer Jason Leigh, I keyed into the fact that Greta and Noah fell in love on the set of Margot at the Wedding, a movie they did with then Baumbach wife JJ Leigh. I feel for JJL, what can I say? And while I loved Greta’s role in Greenberg and Frances Ha (which she also wrote), I thought she was terrible (or was it the writing?) in Maggie’s Plan. No matter, she is a great writer and a competent director, so here here to that!

The entire cast was just incredible, let me count the ways:

The men: Tracy Letts, plays an excellent detached dad, but I’m rooting for an even bigger acting comeback after the horrrrrrrrrrible movie he did called The Lovers. Lucas Hedges, while a genius in Manchester By the Sea, seemed to be overacting in a few scenes as the anguished Catholic school student. Timothee Chalamet was perfect as the Jack Kerouacesque boy toy.

A notable pair who play Lady Bird’s brother and sister-in’law were Jordan Rodrigues and Marielle Scott, fantastic as the dull-eyed underachievers who post college still reside at home.

Other notable females were: Beanie Feldstein and Odeya Rush who couldn’t be more genuine as the (heavy sweet and slutty worldly) Catholic gals respectively.

And now I’ll listen to the remainder of the Gerwig interview and see how she squirms under the question of ‘how do you feel about working with men accused of sexual harassment?’. I’ll be sure to postscript any interesting tidbits. Until then, I root for Gerwig, Metcalf and Ronan at the Academy Awards!

Postscript tidbit: Greta turned the tables and make Terry answer the question, too, so both woemn, in so many words, said or didn’t say how I feel, and that is I think we can appreciate a person’s talent, and yet be disappointed in some f their behavior. Bravo Gerwig (and Gross), I respect you.