20th Century Women: At least one Goddess

Please listen to one of my favorite Jazz singer’s Gregory Porter as you read this blog:
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=gregroy+porter+time+is+ticking&view=detail&mid=C79BF22AB3363629ABC9C79BF22AB3363629ABC9&FORM=VIRE

The best thing a movie can do to you is make you realize, as Gregory Porter sings, that time is ticking. And 20th Century Women does just that, quietly sneaking up on you to say, “Pssst, what are you waiting for?”

20th Century Women was so great that it took a day to fully appreciate the film’s entirety. Truth be told, I went straight to work after and then on to a dinner meeting, but I’m glad the writing locomotive was slowed to give 20th Century Women its proper adoration.

20th Century Women was deeply moving. My friend Carrie and I were both in joyful appreciative tears at the film’s finale. And as a pseudo single mom of one son, I truly related to Annette Bening’s relationship with her son, young actor Lucas Jade Zumann.

Mike Mills, who basically wrote this from an autobiographical viewpoint, (as he also did with his relationship with his father in The Beginners)(see the recent New Yorker profile article, an exhibition of him as the man I most want to meet; sensitive, nerdy, but creatively courageous) does a very inventive job of portraying the late 70’s by using still photographs of punk bands along with real footage of such 70’s events like Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “Crisis of Confidence Speech”, of which I say, where was I? Oh yes, an ignorant 9th grader in a small American town in an apolitical household.

The speech interestingly parallels Annettes’s single mom, a woman without a backup as to whether she is providing her son with the best and well rounded child rearing experience. Just as Jimmy asks for America’s support, Annette seeks out others for help:
“Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.”

Annette Bening‘s search for outsiders lead her to two females for this tutelage. And while they were good, they were not fantastic. I was a huge Greta Gerwig fan to start, but now find her in that Ellen Degenres/Lena Dunham camp…meaning whatever candid part of them I appreciated has seemingly been washed away by their stardom and subsequent shallowness. And while Greta’s character seemed real enough, I just couldn’t buy it. Likewise, Elle Fanning was cute and believable as the teenage nymph, but again, I was not amazed.

Or it could be very possible that Billy Crudup just out shone them both, in his understated, but truly powerful rendition of a sensitive man, afraid to give his heart away, as he indeed gives his heart every day to the gaggle of women and children with whom he takes shelter.

There was a split second where I thought, ok Annette plays a competent woman with doubts…is that such a stretch from the real Annette Bening? And then I thought, nah! She’s the woman who ‘bagged’ Warren Beatty and got him to commit to a marriage and family. It is Annette Bening acting after all in a beautifully nuanced script that allows this vulnerability to shine through.

A great film makes you want to re-visit others. I’ll definitely revisit The Beginners and also look up some Crudup films that fell by the wayside.

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’.