The Mustang: They Punch Horses, Don’t They?

As usual, I was glad for Gus Mollasis‘s film class to force me to eat the proverbial film equivalent of spinach. I’m not a prison movie fan, yes, even Shawshank Redemption is not something I’m going to seek out, but The Mustang, written and directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre was definitely worth getting in the saddle for.

First it included one of my old man crushes, Bruce Dern. Truth be told, I had a crush on this actor young, The King of Marvin Gardens, continuing into his ‘experienced’ years, Nebraska. In this, he plays a crusty horse wrangler, perfect for his wagon wheel house.

Second, the writer/director Cleremont-Tonnerre, starred in one of my favorite movies of all time The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The real star of the film, Matthias Scheonaerts, plays a violent inmate with boiling rage. In a perfect parallel, he is placed to tame wild mustangs. He’s been in a few of my favorite films as well, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Bigger Splash.

What I loved about this film were the many co-existing symbols: Schoenaerts (his character’s name is Roman) being told not to look the horse in the eye, the prison visiting room camera man who tells Roman and his daughter not look in the lens (eye) rather look at his finger. The fact that “Roman’s” daughter will not allow her father to be close to her, correlated to the mustang not trusting Roman in the pen.

Connie Britton, the prison psychologist does a magnificent job as the understated no nonsense anger management counselor. I first became a fan of hers in the film Beatriz at Dinner. And while I could only take one episode of the soap operatic Dirty John, appreciated her role.

Best of all, The Mustang taught me information: First, 100,000 wild mustangs roam the northwest and occasionally some are rounded up, tamed and trained to be auctioned off to police agencies. Second: the movie made me realize (once again) how tragic prisoners’ lives are, in the most profound group counseling scenes, Britton asks the men how long the pre-meditation of their crimes was, to which many of them answered mere minutes, contrasted to the decades duration of their sentences (and rightly so for the most part considering death and destruction caused). Having a cousin who spent time in Attica for a violent crime, when his upbringing was abusive and lacking to say the least, re-broke, for lack of a better word, my heart again for his trajectory.

I certainly could have done without the violence and yet it was not gratuitous, just sad realism. Great story writing and tremendous acting!

Gloria Bell, Julianne or Paulina: Who Wore it (the screenplay) Better?

Oy, I thought up so many titles for this blog:

Americans Can Sure ‘F’ Up a Screenplay
Gloria Bell: At Least I Liked the Soundtrack
What a (Bad) Difference Five Years Can Make

Can you tell my opinion? Ok, I saw the original Gloria back in 2013 written and directed by Sebastion Lelio and after I’m done here I’ll search and see if it’s in my blog history. I know, for a fact, that I liked the movie a lot and remember telling my son to even go see it.

And after seeing such an empowering female lead last week in Woman at War, I couldn’t help but walk out of the ‘new’ Gloria Bell defeated. Not exactly the attitude you want going into happy hour on a Friday. Was it Alice Johnson Boher’s butchering (my perjorative verb) of Sebastian’s screenplay? Was it Julianne Moore playing the role much too understated? Was it that we can forgive and appreciate passion in Spanish culture and not American? Was John Turturro‘s character simply too sympathetic? Probably a combo of all these factors.

Or simply I’m tired of the extremes our culture has gone to rectify Me, Too to the point where abusive females are cheered instead of taken to task. Can we all agree putting someone’s cell phone in soup is immature and rude under any circumstances? Or when taking a significant other to a family celebration to which the S.O. is clearly an outsider and has even forewarned you that he/she is not comfortable with functional families and then is summarily ignored that the said hostess/host who ignored the S.O. is at fault. Perhaps I relate too closely to this scenario having happened to me at Thanksgiving (the straw breaking the camel’s back was the hostess saying, “Well, maybe we’ll see you next year and maybe *** will be back with his ex-girlfriend”). And while I didn’t do a full Turturro, I made it to the hallway ready to get an Uber back to my hotel.

Back to my “Me, Too Much” rant, can we also agree that women are responsible for their own actions, whether they’ve been hurt emotionally or physically, the help or action you take after is up to the individual? If you feel like punishing yourself further by getting drunk and hooking up with more dirt bags, get some help because that’s on you. But in Gloria Bell, Julianne does just that. She smokes a bag of unknown weed from a suicidal man who lives in the apartment above her—stupid and then goes on a drinking binge after Turturro leaves her in Vegas. Dumb. How about going to see a movie or a show or, I know, getting on a plane and going home?

In fairness to Gloria Bell, I do believe the male lead in the original Gloria was more of a cad, which made the Paulina Garcia less pathetic. Here, Turturro is simply a mixed up guy who should be left until he finds some therapy, not pummeled by Julianne Moore.

And on a positive, I did love the soundtrack. The music of the seventies sparked joy on one side (Earth Wind and Fire) and sang of pathos on the other (Air Supply). I wish we could back to feeling things in 2019 rather than celebrate vengeance and bad behavior.

My Favorite “The Godfather” Scene

The year 2019 has been a bell ringer year for my film experience. Having considered myself pretty adept as far as breadth of viewing (50’s goodies like Double Indemnity, 70’s dark humor obscurities Death Watch 2000, Harld and Maude to modern gems both foreign The Square, Toni Erdmann and domestic Sean Baker’s Tangerine), I had not seen some of the top ten of AFI’s best movies.

So after checking off Citizen Kane, I watched The Godfather.I know, I know, I had always considered this a man’s movie all the while being mighty fine with other masculine films like Drive, Revenant and Die Hard. So I realize I’m a walking cinema contradiction.

Let’s get one thing straight: Citizen Kane is more profound than The Godfather. I’d even go so far and say that McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Shining were both on par with The Godfather. That being said, I totally understand that The Godfather was the first epic (in length and production) Italian mafia motion picture.

I fully realize that seeing it almost five decades after its debut is nothing like seeing it in 1972, but hey, I was 9! But I can’t imagine, seeing the bedroom horse head scene on the big screen without any spoilers and not jumping out of my skin.

My favorite scene was the hospital scene, when Pacino goes in to the creepy night to see his father, only to find the reception desk empty, waiting room empty, heels echoing off the walls, Christmas record eerily skipping…now that’s tension!

Ditto the beauty and pathos of Marlon Brando playing with his grandson, then suffering a heart attack in the tomato garden…genius film making.

And Talia Shire was a wonder as the abused and emotionally ballistic darling sister.

So while I feel one step further toward movie expertise, I know I have a long and fun way to go!!

Captain Marvel Schmarvel, Meet Woman at War

Winner of the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes this year, Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War certainly has it charms.

Erlingsson and Olafur Eglisson’s screenwriting is tried and true 101 stuff, meaning the film provides repetition of unique and endearing items: a three piece band, a trio of traditional singers, and a recurring vacationer on a bike.

So while part of me enjoyed these items, like I do occasionally watching Kramer slide sock feet into Seinfeld’s apartment, I think the movie would have been more moving with more of a back story on the main character Halla (and her twin sister Asa) played by Halldora Geirharosdottir. I understand caring about the environment and feeling passionate about a topic (mine is child abuse), yet I could have used more information on her reason d’etre to fully be moved.

On the other hand, these Icelandic writers put our American formulaic, overly violent and pointless action movie plots to shame. Halla doesn’t need any super powers, she merely needs a crossbow, sturdy saw and some great hiking shoes.

The movie also has the best ending of 2019; thus far, I realize its early. And while i can’t give it away, I certainly felt gender empowerment as I left the theater, a strong feminine, “I Got This!”.

The Invisibles: Better Title, A New Term Perhaps: Tenacitators

Tenacitators might be a strange term, but something about the title The Invisibles makes this film sound like a new Marvel movie or animated deal. And when I think of the four principle characters, real humans who survived hiding during Hitler’s last desperate days, invisible is the furthest word from my mind, rather they are tenacious people who just kept moving until rescue finally came via the Russian and American troops.

In this post Oscar movie drought, how did director Claus Rafle know that I was fatigued with both historical reenactment films and also straight documentaries? Yet here was his film, miraculously braiding the two genres into a moving piece about, can I use my new word? The Tenacitators. Ok, does the tator suffix make it sound too tater totty? (yet another new phrase)

In all seriousness, The Invisibles made a poignant case for those brave enough to resist the Nazis; in one case a brave man typing up letters to send business mail in rallying people to rise up at the risk of his and his family’s life. In the most moving case of the movie, a man thanks the woman who saved him by hiding him and thus forsaking herself.

Claus Rafle is co-credited with Alejandro Lopez for the screenplay which also included well edited stock film footage of bombed out Germany. So perfectly woven, I was never confused going between the three threads: doc, film and real film. The four actors: Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Ruby O. Fee and Aaron Altaras, while not ‘big stars’, were serious and believable.

Looking back, the film was strongest in these candid interviews of the two women and two men who lived to tell. Each beautiful in their own right, not preaching or whining, but simply grateful for the literal ‘it takes a village’ salvation. Reading Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles the same day as seeing The Invisibles, I couldn’t help but notice a similar theme in that our ‘family’ ends up being those who care for us daily. Fleeting relationships or those we are lucky enough to see endure are equally important in keeping us alive and well.

Everybody Knows Farhadi’s a Master at Moral Dilemma

I’ve loved every Asghar Farhadi film, specifically four to be exact: About Elly, A Separation (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film), The Past, and The Salesman (Academy Award Winner!). Each as hauntingly memorable in its own right, that try as I might, I can’t choose one that is notably better, they’re all fine films. Feel free to search for my past reviews of those gems by plugging in Asgahr’s name in the search engine.

Signature to Iranian director Farhadi’s style is the moral dilemma. In his newest film Everybody Knows playing at Burns Court, this is no exception. Secrets are revealed that bind people together, in this case the ever gorgeous Penelope Cruz and her real life husband Javier Bardem. Without giving spoilers away, you often hear true life stories where teenage love haunts us well into adulthood. While Cruz and Bardem are not married in the film, Farhadi’s choice of pinning them as star crossed unrequited lovers is a work of genius.

Javier Bardem, in fact, is the Atlas of the film, doing the mountain share of nuanced inner struggle and portraying this beautifully on screen. His exasperation in his line to friend Fernando, “Oh don’ don’t f*** with me Fernando,” is gut wrenchingly real.

Set in Madrid, Farhadi also takes his time in establishing the passionate culture, the duty to family, the wild celebrations. His layering of difficulties, wanton teenage behavior, rain storms and power outages, never seem cliche. His ending as with all his films is a non-ending, meaning there are more moral dilemmas that ripple like a rock thrown in a stream that grant further discussion once you leave the theater.

While not his most superior film, Farhadi’s Everybody Knows is worth seeing and with any smarts other writers and directors will pair Cruz and Bardem together again.

Still Hot After All These Years: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Vertigo

Consider this review a ‘cleanse the palate course’ after the Oscars (which I thoroughly enjoyed and was pleased about) and the new movie season.

Two films I saw last week were McCabe and Mrs. Miller at my very close confidant’s big screen and then Vertigo on an even bigger screen at the hip Sarasota Cinmeatechue space.

And while they were made 13 years apart (1971 and 1958 respectively), they do have commonalities. First, both directors (Robert Altman/Alfred Hitchcock) while nominated, never received an Oscar.

Perhaps another similarity and larger slight is that neither cinematographer even received an Oscar nomination for these films. Vilmos Zsigmond DID win for Close Encounters, yet in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I was mesmerized by the snowy landscape and the ending scene with Warren Beatty becoming one with the snow. Pure fascination!

Likewise, in Vertigo, I was transfixed by the camera angles. And yes, I realize a lot of this was ‘Hitch’, but Robert Burks must have had something to do with it as well. Another gripping scene (pun intended and not) came at the film’s end, as Jimmy Stewart, way out of his good guy type casting, man handles Kim Novak up the stairs of the mission to recreate the crime. Even more orgasmically suspenseful is the creepy black shrouded nun at the top of the stairs. Watching this, I totally forgot the creation’s year was 1958, the suspense felt new.

Both films also built the physical and romantic desire to titillating heights. In McCabe and Mrs. Miller, we witness Warren Beatty spellbound by Julie Christie’s voracious appetite, his mutterings of how enervating she is (yet his angst proof that he loves her) and her imploring that he settle affairs or at least seek safe shelter. In Vertigo, Kim Novak utters the sultry film noiresque line, “One person can wander around, but two people doing that are going places.” Hummina, hummina.

So if you’ve got nothing to do, wander over to your tv and rent one of these classic beauties. Or if you’re on a date that’s ‘going places’, both McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Vertigo are pretty darn good foreplay.

Shoplifters (a Foreign Film up for Best Oscar) Will Steal Your Heart

If Shoplifters directed by Hirokazu Koreeda does not bring you to tears, can you call me? Because I’ll bet if you’re not moved, the next time you check the box “I’m Not a Robot”, you’ll be discovered for your cold internal wires.

I’m not saying Shoplifters is perfect (editing definitely was an issue), HOWEVER, seeing this make shift family navigate the sometimes brutally cold Japan (both in temperature and social/economic climate) and sweltering (you’ll see pitted sweat shirts and sweaty post coital nudity) will make your heart ache.

It’s about who really is your family, how titles such as biological mom and dad are not always accurate or healthy. Best of all, you’ll feel for this family and forgive them their trespasses.

Shoplifting doesn’t look so bad when loving human bonds and play bring joy. Lily Franky is a genius as the loving but wayward father as is Sakura Ando as his romantic (and the children’s maternal) counter part.

In preparation for my Oscars guest role on Gus Mollasis’s At the Movies Facebook Live show (airing tonight at 630 pm EST 2/21/19), I decided to count the poignant beats in my favorite movie of the year (tune in to find out which one it was that scored 7). In Shoplifters, I’ll list the same:

1. Lily Frank’s sweet “we’re connected here (heart) not just here (crotch)”
2. the subtle nuanced love making scene and shower scene
3. the beach scene (“grandma telling her she’s turned out to be beautiful)
4. women’s fitting room scene
5. sex trade woman hugging the mute customer, sharing self-abuse stories
6. Lily Frank and his ‘son’ played so well by child actor Jyo Kari in the ocean and at the movie’s end

Just a fantastic film that you need to have patience wading in slowly, but you’ll come out awash in emotion and tenderness….if you’re really not a robot (smiley face). American film makers should start taking notes!

Cold War(s), Worm Heart

Shakespeare’s noted for the Hamlet proverb, ‘brevity is the soul of wit,” and Cold War, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski is certainly a film of which The Bard would be proud. Briskly paced at 90 minutes, we’re taken on a European musical escapade through starkly frigid Poland, austere Yugoslavia and comparatively freewheeling Paris.

Shot in black and white, star crossed lovers Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are genuine and tortured by the confines of post-World War 2 communism. The monochrome film adds not only to the nostalgia of lost love, but also to the bleak surroundings. The cinematography moves like a stately photo album filled with clips; the couple’s cloaked embraces, a wind-swept field tiff, and raucous bar gyrations.

Much like many Shakespearean plays, characters Zula and Wiktor do not live happily ever after, or do they? Depending on your level of faith and ability to identify with unrequited love, may determine your adoration or lack thereof for Cold War. If nothing else, the film is tremendous eye and ear candy with conversational inspiration about the nature and duration of true love.

Perhaps our modern day’s frenetic speed has me craving more constructive and redemptive stories since in total Cold War did not impress me and wasn’t what the media had my ‘hype’ it would be.

Stan & Ollie Needed a (Script) Fluffer

I wrote a play about five years ago about a conversation between two old friends. Feedback repeatedly came back that I needed to move the conflict sooner in the script. Stubbornly, I held fast until recently and Stan & Ollie‘s led weighted script is definitely a good slapstick kick in the arse to that same point.

What could have been a blockbuster; poignant friendship between to men starring two outstanding actors, ends up stumbling and fumbling as much as the real pair’s schtick use to include.

I couldn’t help but feel for Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, titans in my list for Philomena (and Jeff Pope helped write that AND this??? A mystery.), The Trip (the former) and Magnolia and Chicago (the latter). They had to have loudly gulped at the script which leaves out ‘coulda been scenes, LIKE:

what about sailing with a bevy of actresses?
what about Stan’s drinking or Oliver’s gambling?
or either’s failed relationships?

In all three circumstances we’re told the information instead of shown. Instead, we’re smothered entirely by their vaudeville scenes and hotel rooms, and even the music which seems cloistered.

One character who could have been written at least with some charisma is their manager, who again limps through bland writing without leaving a mark.

Ok, so it did receive a Rotten Tomatoes 92% so let’s switch hats to the positive, a la Nicki Minaj, and say, “Myley, what’s good?”

The make up and superior acting of the two male leads are certainly worth seeing. The scene where Stan visits Ollie in his post heart attack bed, and blathers on about a new bit where Ollie cries, is projecting Stan’s deep feelings for his friend. Here, Coogan’s watery eyes made the movie soar to Oscar worthy, again, had that type of depth or visual been allowed in the film’s entirety. Likewise the actresses who portrayed their wives were very good. Had they been able to let loose a little more in their scenes (Nina Arianda as Stan’s fiercely independent Russian wife and Shirley Henderson as Ollie’s straight out of central casting 50’s wife) the movie would have been livelier.

So what we’re left with is a semi boring movie with a halcyon look back at two vaudeville originals. Stan & Ollie deserved better, as did Steve and John.