Inventive Back Stories: An odd comparison of Joy and Melancholia

Ok, maybe the most oddly contrasted movies in history, like comparing apples and oranges, but because I watched the films on the same day, I claim emotional license to do so.

“Ask Dr. Ruth”, currently showing at Burns Court was absolute rapturous joy. To paraphrase my movie friend Gus Mollasis, who hosted an enlivened talk back after Tuesday’s showing, this movie kicks all the contenders for last year’s Oscar to the curb and is therefore, an obvious contender (if I can speak for both of us) for this year’s Oscar.

If you think you know anything about Dr. Ruth, be humbled by watching her life story, beautifully directed by Ryan White (also of The Case Against 8 and Good Ol’ Freda). Ryan knows how to unreel a story. The animated back story adds a poignant human element to the Holocaust driven trauma which could have driven her to a jaded adulthood, as Dr. Ruth went at the age of 10 to being unwanted and underappreciated for the remainder of her formative years. The quality of the animation is key here as anything but truly human looking depictions would have totally ruined the emotion.

In contrast, RBG, while I loved her as a subject, was told with mainly just a repetition of stock photos which didn’t evoke any moments of solitary fear and agony.

My favorite scenes in Ask Dr. Ruth were watching her intense listening to callers’ questions (from heart wrenching to naive) and her lovely empathetic answers.

Now my weirdo comparison…I also watched “Godfather 2” yesterday after my son (and others) claimed it was better than the original. And while I realize I’m way late to this partito, the back story of Vito diluted the power of the ‘contemporary’ Michael story which was truly powerful on its own. My defense is that I think 99% of us get that mafia wars (or any gang wars) begin in the long distance past, as decade after decade racks up new grudges and retaliation.

The scenes I loved from GF2 were the following (using the actors’names to give them props): the moment Pacino realize Cazales was in on his house attack, when Keaton tells Pacino it was an abortion, when Cazales is fishing with Pacino’s son. Tremendous acting and the grandeur of GF2 is certainly larger than the original, but as Sade sings, “Its never as good as the first time…”.

Fortunately Ryan White did such a thorough and moving job of Ruth’s life, we’ll never need a sequel, nor could there ever be a replica as beautiful as Dr. Ruth.

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!!

Aging Al Pacino (Danny Collins)vs. Female Robot (Ex Machina)and the winner is…

You would think that an aging Al Pacino in Danny Collins (directed by Dan Fogelman) couldn’t hold a candle to a futuristic Ex Machina robot (directed by Alex Garland), but you would be wrong.

Ex Machina makes Under the Skin look like an action flick. A more appropriate title might be “Pregnant Pause”. Conceptually it’s great, and I’ve never liked Oscar Isaac more, oddly enough, as he’s the one who usually makes me yawn (Inside Llewyn Da-snore). But the script, ah, jeepers, no life and not enough creep factor. At least Under the Skin had pounding suspenseful music and Scotland’s miserable woods and cold. But inside Ex Machina’s compound with only the old red light power outage to scare us, I just wasn’t moved. On a positive note, there is a kooky scene with Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno, where Isaac’s Dr. Frankenstein character encourages Domhnall Gleeson to blow off steam by dancing. The disco type dance in the middle of a sterile sci-fi flick reminded me of the oft times kookiness of Star Trek (the original series). A laugh in the oasis of ennui was quite welcome.

The night before I had seen Danny Collins and while it was certainly August in its surplus of corn, I have to say at least I cared about Bobby Cannavale’s character (good in everything he does!) and felt nostalgia for the Dog Day Afternoon vitality of Al Pacino. I also felt mixed feelings of embarrassment (like you would for your mom wearing a neon pink frock) and respect (God love her for saying yes to this) for Annette Bening who plays the geekiest hotel manager I have ever seen. Christopher Plummer should still be a leading man (and I know he is, Beginners, for instance, but not often enough). His sarcastic manager was a breath of fresh air in what was a little predictable. Based on a true story about a man who receives a letter from John Lennon decades after his death, may make us change the saying, ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ to ‘truth is more mawkish than fiction’.