King of Staten Island, Dethroned

Sorry pals, this is not Apatow’s best film yet, though the movie starred many of my favorites. The reasons are varied, but primary may be the fact that Pete Davidson’s recent stand up special contained many of the anecdotes found in this based on his real life film. And because Pete is such an honest, self-deprecating story teller, I’d rather here his real personal take, than a fictionalized watered down, and I’ll even go so far as saying bloated (2 hours and 16 minutes) version.

Which is too bad since I love Bill Burr (as Pete’s mom’s first boyfriend post 9-11 widowdom) and thought his performance was off the charts. With his cheesy ginger mustache, I bought he was a hard ass fireman. Bel Powley was excellent as Pete’s assertive girl friend. Ricky Valez was cool as Pete’s bros before ho’s friend. Kevin Corrigan who does not get enough parts, has his typical cameo here. And another underrated stand up comedian, Lynne Koplitz, who I saw at McCurdy’s in Sarasota, FL, should be a regular in any comedy, had two to three scenes in this, but yet not enough leash to show her comedic talents. Pamela Adlon is great as Bill Burr’s jaded ex, though she appears to be suffering from bad Louis CK karma. And while I hate nepotism, Maude Apatow was solid as Pete’s sister.

Ok, and here’s the saddest part of King Of Staten Island, Marisa Tomei is one of my favorite actresses of all time: In the Bedroom, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and The Wrestler to name my top three, is not believable as Pete’s mom, nor Bill’s love interest. I saw through every scene and didn’t once feel for her.

I did like the movie, but it’s no 40 Year Old Virgin, Trainwreck nor even Funny People.

Gratitude and Genuflection for Driveways

My my my I felt sad when Brian Dennehy died, not that I was even that hip to his filmography, but he reminded me of my former father-in-law, a hard shelled exterior soft hearted interior Irish guy. And after seeing Driveways (fantastic screenplay written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) directed by Andrew Ahn, I am in a combination of awe and mourning.

Driveways has already garnered a nomination for the Independent Spirit Best First Script Award. And I am hoping, flattening the curve willing, that Driveways will get a big screen release, not because the Hudson Valley shots are all that profound as this movie is more about the relationships among humans, yet the emotions are so large, they deserve a big screen to let them breathe. Jay Wadley’s poignant original music is also worth theater sized speakers.

Suffice to say I was teary eyed in the first 10 minutes as Lucas Jaye is an absolute marvel as the 9 year old boy who forms a friendship with neighbor Brian Dennehy. Likewise, Hong Chau, already nominated for a Golden Globe in Downsizing, portrays Lucas’s single mom with a realistic tenderness.

I am rooting for this film as I did last year’s Peanut Butter Falcon. For a mere 3.99 on Amazon Prime, watch it now, and then go see it again when it hits the cinema.

Shirley, Surely Moss is Due an Oscar Nomination

I’ve seen Elisabeth Moss now in two truly amazing performances, Her Smell and now Shirley, directed by Josephine Decker and written by Sarah Gubbins. Gubbins has written for two of my other favorites, I Love Dick and Better Things.

But Moss, while she’s nominated up the wazoo for Mad Men and won for Handmaid’s Tale (aside, love the article I just saw questioning it’s readers whether they’d stand up against an oppressive regime…let’s see we have a good percentage of the population wearing masks alone in their car or out alone in open air, clearly, we already have our answer…sadness!), she’s yet to break into Oscar nomination territory.

Hopefully Shirley may be another opportunity, though goodness knows how any of that is going to work this year.

The movie Shirley is based on a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell which contains the mere true to life portion portraying her dysfunctional marriage (my opinion), otherwise known as loosey goosey, open relationship between Jackson and her husband, a Bennington College Professor. The aforementioned is played by another acting power house, Michael Stuhlbarg, who absolutely blew me away in Call Me By Your Name. In Shirley, I totally believe his and Moss’s cat and mouse flip flop relationship.

Likewise, I also bought the chemistry between Odessa Young and Logan Lerman (who won awards and praise for The Perks of a Wallflower), the young couple who comes to stay with Jackson and become enmeshed in the psychodrama of her tortured writing schedule and their mixed up marriage.

Two special aspects of the film were the cinematography and sound. The former arrested my interest with shots of Shirley through other people or crowds, as well as verdant shots of Vermont. And the latter struck me with sounds of a rushing train, blues music, and typewriter keys (just to name a few) that gave a pronounced impression. I’d be willing to bet an hour’s salary that Decker has been influenced by Yorgos Lanthimos, a master of fraught sound effects.

Definitely worth a watch, and someone, give this woman an Oscar Nom!

Coogan + Brydon=Bliss: A Trip to Greece

Here’s a first: I rented the new, fourth and unfortunately last of Michael Winterbottom’s Trip series with the delectable Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon AND was enjoying it so intensely, I watched it in spurts in purpose. Their impersonations, singing, sound effects are so dizzying, their conversations so witty and fun, that why you would you want to gobble it all down in one sitting?

While the middle two movies were more basic, the first and last of this series are home run hits. Part travelogue; in this a gorgeously shot trip to Greece and part foodie paradise, the men allegedly are orchestrating a chronicle for the UK Observer amongst all this hedonism.

What’s special about this series is the men play a fictionalized version of themselves: their names are their real names, they have their acting careers as fodder (here for instance, Coogan’s 7 Bafta’s) and their personal lives are a close facsimile to reality (Coogan is single, Brydon married). This last contrast adds poignancy to each movie, this one especially.

I love these two men and am sad this is the last. I could watch them talk, eat, banter forever.

For rent now from IFC for a mere 7.99. Worth the over 90 minute smile I had on my face.

Here’s my own coming attractions: Did you know I also write book reviews? Here’s the link to my recent review posted on Goodreads and feel free to support the book shop I work for at www.bookshop.org/shop/book1 ! Here’s the review link:
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Three (new films) for the Road (Couch): Arkansas, The Wrong Missy, & Deerskin

I’m slipping folks, between Covid 19 c blocking my movie theater experience and a new temp job, my review writing has gone out the window like a worn out mask.

But here’s three new films I watched this week from the old couch or recliner:

Arkansas: I’ve come to adore Vince Vaughn, in fact, gosh darn it, I’m going to go to his filmography and try to catch up. There’s something about his dark side and hapless demeanor that makes me sympathize more with him than his machismo contemporary Ben Affleck. In Arkansas, he plays a no nonsense drug runner. The cast is also supported by the genius John Malkovich, another guy, akin to Jeff Goldblum or John Goodman, whose performance, you know, can make even a bad movie, great. Rounding out the cast were lesser knowns (Liam Helmsworth, formerly Mr. Miley Cyrus and CLARK DUKE, in caps since he directed the movie and actually hails from Arkansas). Definitely worth a rental and much better than the lame 49% Rotten Tomatoes.

The Wrong Missy: I also confess to love David Spade’s humor. I could watch the guy eat toast and find it funny, so Adam Sandler’s produced The Wrong Missy, while hideously dumb in parts, had me in the over ten fingers worth of laugh out louds. Lauren Lapkus is a comedic genius and I predict she’ll be the next Melissa McCarthy as far as star power. Directed by Harvard grad/stand up comedian (how’s that for oxymoron?) Tyler Spindel, the movie’s tropical hotel cinematography is quite grand. I also have to mention a minor character who really made me laugh, Nick Swardson.

Deerskin: Last, but not least, those crazy French…written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, starring Jean Dujardin (Academy Award Winner for The Artist) is a comedy horror flick about a guy unhinged after a marital break up. And wow, knew she looked familiar but Adele Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) plays his side kick. A great movie for PETA folks seeking vengeance, this film is well written and acted.

He makes you work for it: Clint Eastwood’s Bird

I decided watching Bird from 1988 was a lot of work. And then I thought, wait, so was his most recent The Mule, as was Million Dollar Baby. Let’s face it, Clint is one of those Dad’s who made you do chores, lots of them.

Written by Joel Oliansky, Bird is darkly lit, with many a rainy night car ride. I understand that much of the jazz world lived in the night, and certainly Bird’s life contained more darkness than light, still, at a bloated 2 hours plus, at times I felt a The Irishman falshback.

Also, the chemistry between Forest Whitaker (Charlie Bird) and (his common law wife Chan) Diane Venora (who I liked in the modern day take on Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke) was uneven at first. But eventually their union grew on me when I realized that were two eccentric people trying to cobble a relationship all the while one was a jazz genius/heroin junkie/drinker were bound to seem wobbly.

Forest Whtiaker is an amazing actor and I just realized I’ve never seen his academy Award winning performance in The Lat King of Scotland. I am also glad I got to learn about Charlie Parker via biopic.

Extra Ordinary, How ‘Bout Above Average Ordinary

Extra Ordinary is the feature length directorial debut of the creative duo Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. And while it wasn’t ‘extra’ (I love that term spoken in Uncut Gems by Julia Fox to describe “Howard” Adam Sandler), it was pretty original and entertaining.

Here’s why:
The dead pan jokes mostly landed….there were a few clunkers and some of it a little cliche, BUT because the story was so original and the cast s innocently convincing, the humor gelled.

The actors were ordinarily real…Maeve Higgins (who co-wrote the film) stars and while a lesser version of Olivia Colman, does a good job as the lonely spinster driving instructor. Barry Ward who plays the widower love interest is almost too hot for the lost puppy role, but he fits the bill channeling different ghosts’ personalities. Claudia O’Doherty who played the clueless roommate in Netflix’s great comedy called Love, is perfect as ‘Satan’s Servant’s the angry wife. And last but certainly not least, was the creme de la creme, Will Forte as the aforementioned demon seed.

To elaborate, Will Forte has carved the perfect niche of playing lovable and lame. He did it in The Last Man on Earth, way back in his SNL days creating the character of Mac Gruber, and of course, as the fallible human in Nebraska.

One other bonus of this comedy/sci fi is the gross out factor was kept to a minimum. During the one fight scene at the end, I easily turned my head for a minute or two to avoid and any other violence was my speed, comic book level.

The movie was written well enough I’m willing to watch another Maeve Higgins screenplay and watch The Rainbow Bridge Hotel, especially since my senior thesis was on Love Canal, as this comedy set next to chemical plants near Niagara Falls.

An A+ for Makowsky’s Bad Education

I love when I find a screenwriter who captures the essence of a story and without any fluff, builds a well told narrative. Well this week, Mike Makowsky’s Bad Education came out on HBO and Mr. Makowsky, you made high honor roll!

Being a retired vet of the NYS Education’s Public School System, I can attest that Makowsky’s tale was spot on. Of course there’s no screenplay if you don’t have the right director and here newish guy Cory Finley filled the bill stylistically painting small town Long Island yearning to be as opulent as its Big Brother-Big Apple mover and shaker.

And talk about a perfect cast!!! Can we please sneak this in as a major motion picture contender and give Hugh Jackman a Oscar nomination? The guy is multi-talented and willing to take risks, so what do you say? Come on HBO, gather your inner Long Island chutzpah and stand up to Netflix! Equally great and already an Oscar winner, Allison Janney always nails her acting mark. Other solid performances came from Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan (anyone in something called Emo the Musical sounds fun to me), Annaleigh Ashford (about to star in the next Woody Allen project) and last but not least, Pat Healy, I love this man and evidently Makowsky does, too, as he’s in another one of his movies, Take Me, which is not on my watch list. Makowksy’s one other IMDB listed movie for writing is I think We’re Alone Now with Dinklage and Gainsbourg, so yes please, sing me up for a future viewing of that as well.

Can’t recommend this enough!

Shirkers, Halcyon Days

Shirkers is a 2018 documentary written and directed by Sandi Tan which made the short list for Oscars Best Docs of 2019. As much as I talk smack against Amanda of The Big Picture Podcast (mainly because she has not given Shia LaBouef nor Robert Pattinson the credit they deserve), I am blessed to have watched this doc at her encouragement.

Shirkers tells the story of Sandi’s young adult infatuation with an exotic American film director living in her native country of Singapore. Sandi’s shaky upbringing and non-conformist personality led her to seek out charismatic mentors.

Without giving spoilers, Sandi becomes estranged from her man of admiration and attempts to discover the murky parts of the man’s life of which she was unaware.

The music by Ishai Adar and Brad Dutz set the a dreamy atmosphere. Movie clips from classics like Fitzcarraldo and Sex, Lies, and Videotape add to the intrigue. Last, any woman who had an older man crush as a youth will appreciate Tan’s halcyon view of her past, and her attempt to recapture the naive innocence we all once had of the world.

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

If I can recommend one fun adult movie during these quarantine times, ‘ it’s A Good Old Fashioned Orgy written and directed by Alex Gregory and Peter Hyuck, a dynamic comedy duo also known for their work on Veep and King of the Hill.

Rotten Tomatoes critics are pretty harsh at their 39% and this is from a girl who doesn’t care for American Pie type movies (or even-brace yourself-Something About Mary), BUT A Good Old Fashioned Orgy had that sweet spot (dirty pun intended) of a near perfect cast and really funny AND smart writing.

Let’s discuss the titillating cast: Jason Sudeikis is always a wise ass we can love, and if you didn’t like We’re the Millers, get the heck out of here. Lake Bell may be one of my favorite modern comedic actresses (I highly recommend her movie In A World). A ‘new’ guy to me and a great surprise was Tyler Labine who plays the chubby funny guy (I’m going to seek out Someone Marry Barry starring same). I have an interesting attraction-repulsion for Nick Kroll who is excellent as the blackberry obsessed financial analyst and last, I really like Will Forte and Lucy Punch who play a nerdy just married couple.

So give it a chance! It’s not as raunchy as the title might lead you to believe. Guess that makes it a bit of a tease, wink, wink.