Annihilation of My Cynical Ways

People, am I getting soft on my film criticism? From enjoying Greatest Showman to giving Killing of a Sacred Deer a positive review, here I go again with Annihilation, written (from a Jeff VanderMeer novel) and directed by Alex Garland.

During the flick, in the multiple sweater wrapped comfort of the refrigerator known as Siesta Key CineBistro, I was dying to start snarky Mystery Science Theater like comments. Annihilation takes itself waaay too seriously. The monotone dialogue reminded me of Killing of a Sacred Deer (could this be a new trend? Like the musical shoe gazing genre of cinema?).

But here’s the thing: because the movie is a one tone wonder, the reincarnation, dust to dust motif is able to take root and make an impact that really didn’t hit me (or should I say ‘seed’ until the day after). That last comment will only seem brilliantly creative after you’ve seen the film.

In addition to the theme’s strength, the acting, again while monotone, is mesmerizing to watch because of its relentlessness. Natalie Portman is always interesting to watch, furrowed brow and all. One of my all time actress faves (see my previous Good Time review) is Jennifer Jason Leigh and here she ascends fantastically as the cancer stricken leader. Gina Rodriguez is also a stand out and has the most emotionally expressive role in the entire film.

A pressing scene was one of my favorite’s due to its intensity and personal flashback provocation to a sensation I have had in the past.

The soundtrack (Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury-aside: why do I have to dig for this info? Soundtrack composers get ripped off on accolades!) which I’ll go back and re-listen to on Itunes preview, was indeed a piece of art which crescendos to a gorgeous climax at the end. And Garland obviously possesses enough of an old soul to use an old CSNY song, “Helplessly Hoping” that I had never heard before, so come on, he’s my kind of guy.

Still, there were some annoying aspects:
1. I just don’t like Oscar Isaac, he just bores me to tears no matter what he does.
2. The editing could have been much tighter, in fact take out a lot of fluff and add more about an extra-marital affair that NP’s character was having. I mean even bread (monotone) needs a little pepper and olive oil sometimes.
3. The two extra actresses on the mission were superfluous on the mission and made the film seem more banal. Though I do understand you have to have someone to kill off. Perhaps better writing or acting could have helped.
4. Special effects were on the weak side up until the end. The ‘shimmer’ (mawkish name) looked like the film seen on the utensil used to blow bubbles out of the bottle.

Being thrifty due to ye old pension still nine months away, I probably would not have spoken so positively about it had it not been for the gift card (thank you Steve Ralph) of which I spent the remainder. Hence, Annihilation not only reflects the theme of the film, but also a descriptor of my gift card balance.

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.

Midnight Cowboy: Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue,

My love for cinema didn’t really begin until 2006 after the breakup of what I thought was the love of my life. I’ll never forget the night my film love affair started at the Dryden Theater at the George Eastman House where I saw Harold and Maude for the first time. I was mesmerized by the black comedy and the beautiful Cat Stevens soundtrack. I was hooked.

In between then and now, I concentrated on both new and old films trying to play catch up. This is a long way around to say that I just had the chance to watch Midnight Cowboy from 1969. Wow! The movie truly is something old, something new (to me), something borrowed (library) and something blue (sad).

What amazed me were both the trivial and the profound:
Trivial first…I both forgot (Leona Hemsley) and didn’t realize (a scene from Midnight Cowboy shows a wealthy woman putting false eye lashes on her dog as well as designer clothing) that pet worship has been around for quite awhile. I witness this often in Sarasota (an observation not a judgment as noted widely as in this Wired article form 2015: https://www.wired.com/2015/04/people-care-pets-humans/).

Profound: John Schlesinger competently moved from flashback to fantasy to reality scenes in a movie made before many high tech editing was available. Hence, why the film (and his direction) won Academy Awards.

More profound: Like my Taste of Honey review, though ten years later, Schlesinger bravely portrayed homosexuality, in America, this time. He also, like the British kitchen sink films, chose to highlight reality over Hollywood endings.

And if I had to choose a song to be looped in my head forever, Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me by Nilsson, which bookends the film, would always be a solid choice.

More trivial: Jon Voight’s perfect baby round face and his full lips are clear paternal lineage to Angleina Jolie’s beauty. Dustin Hoffman was brilliant as Ratzo and proves his acting chops started from the get go. Too bad he, as well a DeNiro, have let their careers slide into “Meet the Fockers Two” caliber flicks. Seeing Brenda Vaccaro as a young woman in a hot sex scene was a blast.

My favorite scenes show my Floridian bias: the fantasy scene where Ratzo dreams of making it big in Miami. His fantasy show how much he wanted simple recognition, not babes. The beach scece where Hoffman races Voight in a white suit is drop dead gorgeous. As my Dad warned me, the end scenes are heartbreaking, but poignant.

Truly a treasure to dig up at your local library if you’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy.

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.

Killing of a Sacred Deer, Communal Grousing Fun

Immediately following (and actually many times during) my friend Tim and I derisively mocked the film Killing of a Sacred Deer. “Implausible”, “Who cares about these non-emotional people?”, “No mother is ever going to say (with the exception in this silly classic horror film trope), ‘Don’t involve the cops'”.

But there I was the following day in Ft. Myers, defending the film. “Wasn’t it fun to mock?” “Isn’t it a film we won’t forget?” “Did it not hold our suspense?” Hence, I suggest renting it when you really need a distraction from reality.

What was well done, besides the aforementioned suspense? Well, the actors were top notch: you can’t get much bigger or better than Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell for Pete’s sakes. And if they can be monotone for the entire script (with one or two scenes of rare exception) then doggone it, we gotta hand it to them for consistency.

And if some deranged parents convinced their children to act in such bizzaro roles and they’re not scarred (or scared) for life, well, then you’ve got some good family therapists.

Probably who stole the show was Barry Keoghan who from my research had a pretty bizarre upbringing of his own (mother deceased, IMDB implying drug or alcohol abuse) raised by a tough Grandma. Perhaps he has a second career opportunity in figure skating (that’s a bad Tonya Harding joke). Barry was also in Dunkirk which I did not see, unable to do a war movie, since Saving Private Ryan pretty much did me in. But this guy’s going places, hopefully at least out of Grandma’s house.

Of the three Yorgo Lanthimos (writer/director) films I’ve seen, I’d say Dogtooth was my favorite, this one second, followed very closely by The Lobster. And due to the beauty of IMDB, I am now in search of one more Yorgo film I have not seen, Alps. Get it at Redbox and live a little.

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”.