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.

Over the Story Board Shuffle Limit: Little Women

I’m standing by my original review below, but do like the story of Little Women more now that I’ve learned some context. I didn’t grow up with reading this story and now understand the narrative is part of many family’s (especially New Englanders) tradition. Having said that though, the film lover in me still had problems.

Dear Greta,

I’m sorry I didn’t love “Little Women”, I wanted to, trust me.

I’ll be positive first: Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet should be in every movie you ever do. When they are on screen, I’m in hook, line and sinker.

Beyond them, though, your film was too bloated and yes, by that I mean probably the original was, too. Leave Chris Cooper (an acting God), Meryl as well, but ix nay all the others. And come on, you’ve been an innovator before and The Favourite should have given you courage that old stories can be modernized. The cloying speech of the 1800’s just sounds silly coming out of Laura Dern’s mouth.

The flashbacks were way too numerous and you needn’t bother showing us someone almost dying if you’ve already showed us later times when the character survived. I also don’t need to see schmaltzy dance and play scenes that are self-congratulatory in a look how cute we all are.

The biggest sin was a pivotal scene near the end between Saoirse and Timothee, when the camera could not sit still on Timothee. What’s up with that? The bouncing stole some of the crucial and worthy emotion Mr. Chalamet does so well.

And everyone loooved the ending. Oh really? So we want women to sell out and marry which is exactly what Jo was against?

I enjoyed and appreciated Jo’s argument of needing to be loved more than feeling love, but I guess as soon as her intellectual equal came back to town, she found her heart. Ironically, I cancelled a second date due to being easily spooked combined with men in their enthusiasm who overly complicate or use high pressure sales.

Oh how I yearn for the oxymoron, a complex man who doesn’t need to say too much. The cherry on top of a frustrating film and my disappointing date dissolution (I was as disappointed in myself as I was at him) was the phone ringing and for me to find one of the men for whom I have the utmost regard (unfortunately he’s married and states away). Even with those obstacles, my fun conversation with him made my afternoon. I almost felt like Saoirse when Louis Garrel knocks on the door.

Blame The Film Stage Email: Harmony Kormine’s “Beach Bum”

When searching for yet another movie to get through my holiday enforced work days off, I read a top ten cinematography list on The Film Stage website. As well as The Lighthouse (AMAZING), the site offered up Harmony Kormine’s “Beach Bum” starring Matthew McConaughey.

So I took the bait, choosing the company of my bawdy friend Jack and his 30 something son. Great company for this rather white man’s fantasy where Matthew’s character Moon Dog drinks, screws and smokes his way through marriage, affairs, fatherhood and friendship.

True to The Film Stage’s credit, the film is drop dead gorgeous, the Florida Keys never looked so pretty. And I appreciate McConaughey’s ability to inhabit despicably corrupt, yet handsome men. I also loved Jonah Hill as the Foghorn Leghorn accented uber wealthy publisher and Martin Lawrence as a dolphin excursion captain. Isla Fisher needs to have her head examined as a vapid wife to MM and lover to Snoop Dog, but a pay day is a pay day I guess.

Harmony Kormine is known as a jaded individual. You wonder what happened to him to make him such a nihilist. There really isn’t a redeeming character in the entire flick, but hey if you like Florida landscapes and beautifully nude bodies without, but close to, porn, what the hey, give Beach Bum a whirl.

The Bees’ Knees: Honeyland

I looked at several movies to watch this afternoon trying to fit in one more film that was ‘in the conversation’ as the hipsters say, so I chose Honeyland, which has been Oscar shortlisted for both best doc and best foreign film. Additionally, Honeyland’s been nominated for the Independent Spirit Award and won prizes at both Sundance and even the little ol’ Sarasota Film Fest.

Part The Gods Must Be Crazy and Ulee’s Gold (sorry the last beekeeper movie I’ve seen), Honeyland is a survival of the fittest story that makes Biggest Little Farm look like Disneyland.

Set in Macedonia (geographically, think of it like the toilet paper that Italy kicked off it’s heel) the story follows a 50 something female beekeeper and her relationship with the noisy neighbors that move in next door.

Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, the film is a miracle in the cold hard truths about life in the Macedonian frontier. The neighbors who come with five children and herd of cattle, are the European Grapes of Wrath. The children are fundamentally uninsured employees, kicked by cows, injuring each other in play and work, at times refusing their abusive existence.

Meanwhile the main character, Hatidze Muraova, beekeeper and dedicated daughter to an sick elderly mother, had made out adequately by caring for bees and selling honey at local markets. Even in the primitive world, Hatidze tries to improve herself by buying chestnut hair color. I marveled at the fact that our first world and her third world have some of the same preoccupations.

Yet, without giving any spoilers, suffice to say, her world is turned upside down by the interlopers. Morally, I wonder how film makers justify filming families in chaos and suffering just as I wonder how dispassionate reporters detail the afflictions of other third world countries. On the one hand, it’s good to bring awareness to the needs on our collective human planet. And true, I’ve read that the documentarians did share their awards income with Hatidze, so I guess good karma does outweigh exploitation.

A Girl Walks Into a Movie Theater…

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A girl walks into a movie theater, intent on seeing Little Women, but just as I veer towards the men’s group at any Super Bowl party, the minute I heard a woman say how Little Women dripped a little too much maudlin, I spun and drove for a power lay up back into Uncut Gems.

Before the opening jump shot, I had second row ‘court seats’. With two hipsters behind me, I struck up a conversation with one after his pal went to retrieve some popcorn. I had heard them jiving Safdie and turned to agree on how tremendous Good Time is/was. Like the enthusiastic school marm I’ll always be, I cheered, ‘buckle up’ in delicious anticipation.

While I harangue bad movie behavior, this viewing entailed a magic moment where out of the corner of my eye during the last 10 minutes of the film, the two hipsters were LITERALLY on the edge of their seats, as if they, too, were at game 7 with the bet of their lives at stake.

THIS is what movies are for, the vicarious thrill and off the planet escape that brings such joy.

My second viewing was better than the first. I laughed harder at the Sandlerisms, his “NO” to his flirty mistress, his grabbing a pillow out of his office filing cabinet in order to sleep on the couch, his calling his son, over the top excited to be wearing Garnett’s NBA championship ring. THIS MOVIE WILL ROCK YOU in a far different way than my muscial allusion to Bohemian Rhapsody, but equally fun.

Finishing the Safdie Iron Man: “Heaven Knows What”

I can now place the Safdie full length narrative film Iron Man medallion around my neck after watching “Heaven Knows What” from 2014. Here’s some tried and true Safdie-isms based on the fill complement of narratives (Daddy Longlegs, Good Time, Heaven Knows What, and Uncut Gems):

1. eerie soundtrack music with a mixture of futuristic organ, baroque, hard rock and classical numbers
2. a begging forgiveness or love scene between lovers
3. shocking brutality and sadness at the conclusion with an added ending scene that scales back with an understanding that we are only specks in the universe and/or the everyday world moves on with or without you

“Heaven Knows What” is the darkest and roughest of the quad of Safdie narratives and deals with the real life story of a New York City homeless junkie. Reminiscent of Midnight Cowboy, the couple attempt to bus to Florida and while no one dies on the bus this time, there certainly are some plot twists. Arielle Holmes, not only wrote the book about her lover, Ilya, she stars as herself in the film.

A poignant, but gritty portrayal of the NYC homeless drug addled populace.

Uncut Gems: Sparkling!

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Not sure how to write a review about a revelation without spoiling this film written by my cherished Safdie brothers (Good Time, Daddy Long Legs) and their writing partner Ronald Bronstein. BUT I will keep my promise!!

Suffice to say it’s a must see and certainly breaks into my top ten at ‘lucky’ number 7 (a call back to gambling which Uncut Gems is all about). Scroll down for the rest of the top ten.

I will briefly mention magic moments that do not give away major plot points:
*Adam (Howard) Sandler wheeling and dealing in his jewelry store
*The frenetic sound of the magnetic locked door
*Camera work on Adam’s fingers on is telephone (researched and discovered famous and seasoned Tehran born cinematographer Darius Khondji did the work (Okja, Evita, Amour)
*Judd Hirsch and the auction scene
*the closet texting scene
*Weekend concert scene (and another closet!)
*suspenseful moments that came to nothing but were fun exactly because they were unfulfilled
*John Amos (funny cameo and call back to Good Times (with an s) and the Safdie movie without the s
*the bat mitzvah dress scene with Idina Menzel
*the unfeeling atmosphere of NYC
*Daniel Lopatin’s eerie soundtrack

The acting is HUGE: Adam Sandler deserves a nomination.
Julia Fox has come out of nowhere, but fantastic!
Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Lakeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnet and Idina Menzel were magic.

I almost liked Good Time a tiny bit better, but need to re-watch to figure out why. Perhaps time has warped my perception.

And, I would doctor this script in two tiny ways:
Add maybe one more moment with Adam and his youngest son, some bonding or lack thereof
Add a scene at the beginning where Adam talks to his aquarium fish or defends them against an insult by basketball players
With just a dash more soft side of Adam would have heightened the emotion.

But overall, BRAVO. Safdie and Bronstein are my favorite writers!

My top 10 (can Little Women usurp anyone?)

Marriage Story
Honey Boy
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Lighthouse
Peanut Butter Falcon
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Uncut Gems
Her Smell
Parasite
Judy