Minari, a Sophie’s Choice for my top 10

What do you do when your favorite movie of the year “Driveways” (directed by Andrew Ahn) is upstaged by a grander (action-wise) movie “Minari” (directed by Lee Isaac Chung)? I guess both could be in my top ten, but it’s a difficult choice. Both films by Asian and Korean directors are masterpieces in my book.
Minari’s tralier was a bit suspect…it looked like it could be a corny affair, meaning here comes an Asian family moving to Arkansas to re-start their lives after menial jobs in California were driving them mad. The movie’s conflict seemed quite poignant and real (until the end-no spoilers, but will be in my upcoming quibbles paragraph). Which helps me make up my mind that Driveways stands as my number one, there wasn’t one false move in the entire film and the music was delectable (though don’t get me wrong Emile Mosseri’s soundtrack is very good).
Before I tear the movie down a bit, let me explain what got me…marital strife between two people who loved each other initially is always an emotion grabber for me, as are elderly Grandma’s who try, but are never going to beat the devil of mortality. In addition, cute little kids, however precocious, always make me smile.
Here are my problems with the film: any woman who still bitches after receiving great news is a beeatch. That does not ring true with reality. If you are with a woman who is not grateful, get rid of her asap! Second, if you’re a mother allegedly worried about your son’s heart murmur, you don’t allow him to stay over night at some rando kid’s house or let your elderly mother take charge.
In a head to head match up between little kid actors (mind you I’m still way ticked off that Noah Jupe didn’t get more accolades for Honey Boy) Lucas Jaye from Driveways wins over Alan S. Kim from Minari. And while I was wringing my hands during the first paragraph, trust me when I say that while Driveways doesn’t have the ‘fireworks’ that Minari does, it is a better movie. Email me with disagreements at irun2eatpizza@hotmail.com

Malcolm & Marie, Ladies Before Gentlemen

Ok, I made a choice this weekend to avoid cancer (as in Our Friend) and instead chose a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf one percenter first world problems debate in Malcom and Marie. Why you ask? Sam Levinson, who produced Pieces of a Woman, wrote and directed Malcolm & Marie, that’s why.

And I both relished and cringed at his evening long battle royale between a gorgeous couple: John David Washington (Black Klansman) and Zendaya (Spiderman and Euphoria neither of which I was hip to). The film’s second saving grace, after watching gorgeous people get figuratively ugly, was the fetching black and white (Kodak, yeah Rochester) film. Like Mank, the black and white choice leads to a more intimate experience with characters, there’s not the distraction of ‘impediment’ of color.

As realistic as the debate was (a woman scorned is never good optics for a man and also never a dignified look for the victim either) it’s basically a lose-lose situation. Yet try as they might this very equal and eloquent couple battles back in forth in one of those fights that we’ve all had…one that ebbs and flows and just when you think a resolution has occurred, up comes more grievances and resentments.
One scene that bothered me was the parallel brushing of teeth…I’m not an oral hygiene watching fan, hence think that was wasted time. Beyond that the movie was worth watching on the big screen at CineBistro. I highly doubt I would have hung in there simply watching on my Netflix big screen. Thanks Jack!

Sometimes ya gotta go back to a French classic…Purple Noon, not a typo for Rain, but there could have been a raspberry beret

I’ll take a movie recommendation from anyone who says one of his favorites is Before the Devil Knows Your Dead…SOLD. so I took in a couple of lazy stay out of the melanoma hours of sun to watch Purple Noon, directed by Rene Clement. Yes, it was in French with subtitles, but good for the soul.
In French, but filmed gorgeously in Italy, Purple Noon stands the test of time 40 years later. The cinematography was off the charts and almost off the boat…I can’t believe there weren’t serious injuries filming the rough sea and mano a mano action. This movie required the stars to have tremendous agility and physicality.
As one of the original Mr. Ripley’s, Alain Delon is a combo Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen (young healthy Charlie) with a crafted tanned six pack, who is/was a serious actor. Even nominated way back three years after this film for a Promising Newcomer Golden Globe in The Leopard. the other male in this greed triangle was Maurice Ronet who came to an early end at 55 of cancer, but fortunately made the most of his years by acting and marrying Charlie Chaplin’s daughter. The female part of the triad was played by Marie Laforet who reminded me so much of one of my former students it was eerie. She has a sad, ruminative face, and no doubt after you read about her traumatic upbringing.
Purple Noon held my attention to the bitter end and was worth the 3.99 amazon rental. I’ll never get to Italy, but felt like I ‘got the picture’ from the gorgeous fish market scene and wonderful historic buildings.

“Down Goes Frazier!” in this case “Mank”, “One Night in Miami” moves into the Top Ten

A true case of “it ain’t over till it’s over”, One Night in Miami just moved into my Top 10 of 2020.

But first, this positive race relations commentary….six Caucasians (actually 4 parties, 2 separate solo single females and two couples) walked into the CineBistro Siesta Key to pay acknowledgement to not only the four great real life men, but also the four tremendous actors who portrayed them AND the brilliant woman who directed (Regina King) AND the man who wrote the script based on the play (Kemp Powers). Not looking for any trophy, just pointing out that there are kind well meaning white Floridians.
The movie began as a newborn calf, kinda clunky, but once I understood the premise that each on these guys: Muhammed Ali, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Malcom X had incurred their own unfortunate racist moments, the movie was off to the races. Where Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom play to movie cellar scene seemed stifling, One Night in Miami’s hotel room seemed roomy enough to hold tighter interest. The choreography of movement of four restless males may have had much to do with this higher level of excitement. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for how more (though in desperate need of more OBVIOUSLY) 1964 was evolved than 1927, but whatever the case, I was fully engaged in their philosophical wranglings. What does ‘freedom’ mean? Is economic freedom more important than proper racial respect? That seems to be the crux of the argument between Malcom X and Sam Cooke.
Let’s talk about the fantastic acting…I would be super pleased to see Kingsley Ben-Adir win the Oscar for Best Actor. You can not show concern and inner turmoil for nearly two hours and make it interesting unless you’re an A+ actor and this man did it handly. Bravo! The other actors were also supreme, Eli Goree scoring the most extroverted part of Cassius Clay. Leslie Odom Jr was fantastic as Sam Cooke who handles Malcom X’s debates with sly intellect. and I can’t leave out Aldis Hodge, while least animated as Jim Brown, he still had to reign in masculinity to hang and be king empathizer to Malcolm X, not an easy task.
At any rate, as pretty and smart as Mank was, this movie represents a piece of history far more important in my book. And it shows that grown men (and women) can disagree politely and lovingly….advice we can all use about now.

Funyuns and Hip Hop, A great film combination!

“The 40 Year Old Version”, Rhada Blank’s amazingly creative new film of which she both wrote and directed had the freshness of ‘Clerks’ and the ‘woke-ness’ of ‘Sorry To Bother You’.
The story of a woman at 40 trying to re-invent herself is as real as any midlife crisis story. Here, Rhada, a teacher by day and former 30 under 30 stand out playwright struggles with what will be her much belated next creative success.
Mix in the comic Greek Chorus of bodega owner, homeless man, and an outspoken naysaying neighbor and you have yourself a charming tale.
Supporting cast members were terrific; Peter Kim as her long time friend and agent, beat mixer and possible cougar fling guy Oswin Benjamin and students Imani Lewis and Haskiri Velazquez all help round out a realistic and refreshingly UN-sermonizing narrative.
Blank’s black and white film choice punctuated with color segues and asides are brilliant. This is definitely a film in need of a re-watch to catch all of her delicate layers.

Some Kind of Heaven, Some Kind of Mediocrity

I fully appreciate Lance Oppenheim’s interest in humans and the choices they make, never having seen his other pieces, among one about a man who got on a cruise and stayed on cruises for twenty years.
Yet, he has a ways to go in making a doc that titillates.
Let me school you just a bit:
First, quiet is fine, but it can also be tedious, especially at the beginning of a film when you’re already a bit discombobulated. This was so quiet (here’s where you yell, HOW QUIET WAS IT?) that I dared not eat my popcorn.
A simple fix is have some type of groovy music, even ambient if you want the sounds of a golf course sprinkler (not exactly riveting) to still come through.
Second, it’s perfectly fine to zero in on three topics that intrigue you, but at least one of the three has to have more comic relief. Oppenheim chooses three depressed souls which is unfair to The Villages. Surely there are some happy folks there who could have added balance to the film.
Third, I’m sure this wasn’t made yesterday (since no one was masked up), so how about an interesting tidbit at the end about how they’re doing during the pandemic?
So, to conclude….interesting yes, imaginative, no. Probably a lot like living at The Villages.
IN HINDSIGHT, I did ponder long after about the theory that when you choose a relationship for comfort that you lose your freedom…a conflict deeply felt by the vagabond man story which was part of the trio. Certainly this also applied to the married couple as well, since her life was affected immensely by her spouse’s legal kerfluffle.

Making Room for Pieces of a Woman in my Top Ten

Time to shove over a few selections for the phenomenal Pieces of a Woman directed by Kornel Mundruczo and written by his fellow Hungarian collaborator Kata Weber. But first, I am glad I heard the beginning of a podcast which foretold the difficult scenes in the first 20 minutes, I’d challenge that and say 27 minutes. If this had been in the theater on the big screen, I may have crawled out of my seat with anxiety. But the labor (very bad pun) is worth this sure to be Oscar nominated film.

Weber’s writing, her characters so well drawn that you forget about them as actors. Even Shia LeBouf, the troubled soul in rehab again, is tremendous as the husband who realistically attempts in many ways to bridge (a better pun, you’ll see) the grief. Obviously a different story than Blue Valentine, but just as melancholy.

The two standouts though are the women: Vanessa Kirby, new to me, but played a young Princess Margaret in The Crown. Here she is the raw, grieving mother, who is angry yet sympathetic. Her mother, played by Ellen Burnstyn steals the movie with a monologue so powerful, reminiscent of the caliber of Chadwick Boseman.

The beautiful off kilter shots of Kirby’s neck (just to give an example) help the viewer stay with the emotion rather than get sidetracked by faces. You’ve surely been in a moment where you are so traumatized or outside yourself that you’ve stared at something other than the other people in the room.

Montreal is an incredibly bleak but gorgeous metaphor and backdrop for the story, so kudos also for the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb and the complementary music by Academy Award winner Howard Shore (Hugo and Lord of the Rings). Watch this film on Netflix.

Three Summers, Like a Tres Leches Cake, Tres Veroes

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Pardon my bad Spanish analogy, but since I love Tres Leches cake, I thought I’d compare Tres Veroes, a fine movie written and directed by Sandra Kogut.
First the perfect three part structure: Decembers of 2015, 2016, and 2017.
2015 begins with Mada, played brilliantly by Regina Case, as housekeeper/family caretaker to a wealthy Brazilian family. Add in holy Cell phone interruptus which reeks of shady, an ailing patriarch and lavish parties.
Mada through it all is a brash, hopeful woman who truly wants to start her own ‘kiosk’, think roadside food stand and appears to be getting a loan from her boss to make this dream come true.
2016 begins with the wealthy family apparently unable to make it back from ‘vacation’ and Mada calling folks to tell them that Secret Santa and their annual celebration are cancelled. Characters, including the ailing patriarch seem to have new life blood, in light of new developments and the ‘help’ is also able to pivot to other pursuits to make ends meet.
2017 begins with further business excursions; the filming of a commercial within the home from what I gather is selling either mixers, or other small appliances and using the house as an airbnb. I won’t spoil the ending.
Well written and well acted, I liked the frenetic pace and the outspoken passion of the characters. Americans certainly look like stiffs in comparison. I found the end catharthis to be a bit stunted, but the structure, cinematography and joy of the main character made up for that tiny glitch. Worth the 10$ rental fee from Sarasota Film Society’s virtual cinema.

Sub ‘Twisted’ for ‘Promising’ Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s written and directed Promising Young Woman is worth seeing. Good twists, scant violence, bravo on both counts. Now let’s talk about assuming your audience is intelligent, a demographic of which I guess Emerald doesn’t care to appeal.
Much like Fincher’s Gone Girl, the characters are rather 2-D, there’s bad frat boys, there’s disgraced, vengeful women, women who just care about marrying for status and then there’s smarmy coffee shop employees and customers. Yawn.
There’s also the old stupid movie trope where no one goes through the proper channels for justice; police, legal teams, nor is there any ramifications for the ‘hero’s’ tawdry Robin Hood type ways.
And let’s get another item ballyhooed about among some dumber critics; this is NOT Carey Mulligan’s most demanding role: see “Drive’ or “Far From the Madding Crowd” for better quality acting and writing.
I love Jennifer Coolidge in everything she does, even here as Carey’s mom. Ditto Molly Shannon as Carey’s best friend’s mother. Since Alison Bree bugs the tar out of me, I was fine with her being the shallow gold digger. Bo Burnham was perfect as the old college alum who comes back to woo her, anyone else would have ruined the movie for sure.

The Twentieth Century, Oh Canada! Air Kiss!

The Twentieth Century is a satire that makes getting older a breeze…why you ask? Because I learn more about former my upstairs neighbor (me-Rochester, them-Canada). Who knew they had a famous prime minister (or any prime minister) named Mackenzie King who lacked charisma, but made up for that in spades in eccentricity.
If you happened on this movie without knowing a thing….you’d say, ‘hmm, look at this kooky flick from the 1970’s when people could get away with avant-garde.’
The magically hilarious writer/director is Matthew Rankin, who is a newbie in full length films. Encore, encore! The stars, totally commit to their wacky roles, and I’ll name the actors who had to show the most range or captured the most screen time: Dan Beirne as King, Sarianne Cormier as the Nurse, and Emmanuel Schwartz as Lady Violet.
You have to see this film to believe it. It had the subversive charm of Death Race 2000, Sylvester Stallone’s very first film.