Juliet, Naked and Mission Impossible

One of the wackier weeks I’ve had as a Floridian including computer hijack scammers, a move to a place I’d only been able to view twice, and a leaning into the old temptation of barking up the wrong trees.

In the midst of all that, I saw two films: Mission Impossible and Juliet, Naked. It was the worst of times and it was the best of times, respectively.

I wanted to like MI, as Tom Cruise, despite his regimented Scientology, is a good actor. But he phoned this in. Don’t be fooled by the B.O.A.T. (Best of all time) malarkey. This movie was ludicrous. Baby Driver had better and more engaging chase scenes. The two women in Cruise’s life (I guess three counting the blonde villainess) were bland, beyond their enticing accents. If you’re going to do bathos, at least add some more humor to the mix.

All fitting though considering my back story involved. Phoning it in would have been an excellent subtitle for the movie and my life.

Juliet, Naked on the other hand was an unexpected delight. I’m not a big Rose Byrne fan, but here she proves emotional range. Chris O’Dowd is a man I loved, then hated and am now respecting again. He also has a stilted Irish/Scottish reserve that is still capable of leaking enough emotion to be believed.

And Ethan (Hawke that is)…we all know, well maybe you don’t, that he holds a nearly McEnroesque stature in my cinematic life; from the glow he first showed in Dead Poets, to his anxiety ridden brotherhood in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, to his sweet charm in the trilogy of Before Sunrise, etc. Not to mention his profound turn as a pained minister in the recent Reformed (here visualize me in a prayer stance whispering: please give this man a nomination).

In Juliet, Naked, Hawke plays, well probably, Hawke, father to children by different baby mamas, a disheveled ‘artiste’ who goes around saying, aw schucks, did I f up my life again? Not that he’s been in that much ‘trouble’, but he appears to be just enough absent minded professor mixed with a lot of testosterone which we all know leads to stolen kisses and broken hearts. His turn here as a washed up rocker was perfection.

So let this be a lesson to you; be the water and not the grinder. Go with the flow rather than paddle upstream.

My Love & Hate for the new film First Reformed

I haven’t seen every Ethan Hawke film, but I’ve come pretty darn close. There’s some immense sadness behind his eyes that makes me want to give him a hug. Though I fully realize his persona is that of a cad, a guy who left Uma for the nanny. That said, my favorite film remains Before the Devil Knows Your Dead in spite of the 98% rating of First Reformed which I saw last night as a generous treat from my friend.

I’ve had this experience before, wary of where the film is going, yet willing to jump on for the ride. I was at first bored and depressed by the bleak Upstate New York winter setting, and the stifling repressed religious ministers. But I bought it, as Hawke is an amazing blank slate who takes on the gray coloring of the film written and directed by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). Fun fact I just read about Mr. Schrader is that he grew up in a strict Calvinist family and that his next film is titled The Jesuit. Looks like he’s on a ‘give us this day our daily religious roll of film’.

So there I am, riveted, more so than my friend, who had every right to be turned off due to some spoilers of which I won’t mention that she’s all too familiar. But after offering to leave (movies aren’t worth psychological torture, aka my leaving Thin Red Line which was much too violent for me to take) and my friend saying she was ok due to some vastly different circumstances between her life and the film, I was fully ‘woke’ to experiencing what the culmination would be.

Schrader does a great job of establishing both a menacing foreboding and many foreshadowing red herrings. Where he lost me was at probably an hour and fifteen in, a magical realism sequence cascades into an Aronofskyesque Mother ending. At the conclusion (big question mark), my friend and I looked at each other thinking perhaps Burns Court was sent a bad cut of the film. Or perhaps we’re not ‘deep’ enough to get all the symbolism.

Hence, I’ll be heading to Rotten Tomatoes now to read the trained critics’ unpacking this film which means I was moved enough to care about what the hell it all means. Ethan Hawke definitely deserves fanfare, as does Cedric the Entertainer, who is an ultra serious role, is terrific as the financially minded super preacher. Amanda Seyfried is also fantastic as the emotionally confused pregnant Mary.

The film certainly confirms my opinion of organized religion in that much like any organization that becomes large, power corrupts. And if my life is any indication (my best friend pretty much breaking my heart in her rejection of me once she became full Baptist), religious folks can be some of the coldest. A visceral scene from First Reformed is when Ethan says an inch away from the face of a woman (portrayed by Victoria Hill, also very good) who loves him that he despises her for her petty emotions, you fully get that he is not a man who can heal.

Unfortunately, due to the uneven story, this won’t win Ethan the Oscar, but it was worth seeing for the acting and ‘interesting’ story idea.

What I’d give for the simple life: Maudie

First of all, my hats off to Trace Hardman who has to be one of the sweetest people in Sarasota. Not only was he kind enough to treat me out for a birthday lunch last year, but he treated me this week to Maudie directed by Aisling Walsh.

PLOT (without spoilers of course):

And Trace, Maudie (as in a major theme of this film based on the true story of Maud Lewis) and I have something in common; a wish for simpler times. For instance, we both agree that going out on a weeknight to a low key place is better than some raucous Saturday evening.

Through a halcyon lens, Maudie had a great low key life with her husband Everett Lewis. From a realistic perspective, her life could also be viewed as cloistered and Everett abusive. Yet, Maudie’s artistic ability evened out the power struggle enabling them to form a close partnership.

Trying not to have any regrets in life, I still do wonder if I had had more patience with either husband if bumps in the road would have evened out. Yet in the first case, I truly believe my self-esteem, (still somewhat shoddy) would have withered, and the restraints on travel surely would have hindered my son’s trajectory. In the second case, his philanderings I could have tolerated (given he didn’t bring back any disease or illness), but his manic temper would have continued a stress I grew up with my first 18 years of life and may have cut my life shorter. So I am back to thinking I have no regrets.

Actors:

While researching the 8 wins and 2 nominations for Maudie, I was shocked and appalled that Sally Hawkins wasn’t named in any of the ten. Here’s where I have to pull a McEnroe, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!!!!!!!!!” Again this year, I may have to throw things at the t.v. if Sally Hawkins isn’t AT LEAST nominated for best actress. She is phenomenal here, not only emotionally capturing this woman, but in the physicality of her performance (Maudie suffers from debilitating arthritis).

If you’ve never seen Sally Hawkins, go out immediately and rent Happy-Go-Lucky (which I saw alone on my birthday in Rochester one year and WASN’T sad, which tells you how good the movie was). And if possible, get a hold of the short film The Phone Call where she’ll knock your socks off. Not to mention Blue Jasmine for which she was nominated for an Oscar.

Ethan Hawke is one of those guys I could watch eat toast so I enjoyed him as Maudie’s husband. But I can totally get people saying he is Ethan Hawke first, the character second. I wondered if that’s why his character wasn’t shown facially until I’m approximating 20 minutes into the movie. Perhaps the director wanted us to get his overall physical aggression before we see Ethan’s face. But I’ll always be a EH fanatic, from Dead Poet’s Society to Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, to the Before Sunset trilogy, Ethan Hawke is great!

So I wish I lived in a world with less choices, a simpler time, where people were stuck together and hence their love grew deeper. But then again, perhaps the sacrifices would be detrimental to life’s longevity. Just like Robert Frost pondered, one of life’s unanswered mysteries.

Maggie’s Plan, Nothing Novel

Maggie’s Plan (written and directed by Rebecca Miller) was nothing novel, though the film did have a few highlights.
Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first. Actually, no, let me change that view to optimism since I could have written this easily (sorry Rebecca). In fact, my screenplay Buck Up has more laughs and wittier dialogue, covering roughly the same territory. So given the right eyes and ears, even I could be a screenwriter. But wait, I just remembered, my dad wasn’t Arthur Miller. Oh, I’m blessed, fear not.

I have enjoyed Greta Gerwig, first seeing and loving her in Greenberg. Here, however, she seemed like marshmallow fluff and when she cries at one point, I felt the emotional pull equivalent of a mannequin crying. Not that she didn’t have any grand moments, in fact, there was a truism I could relate to when she said, “Is it true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the cactus gets nothing?” Julianne Moore, same story, fake German accent plus histrionic personality equals zero audience empathy.

Bill Hader, should have his romantic comedy license revoked, being a repeat dud offender (first in Trainwreck and now this). Bill is at his best in the humor zone, though I know full well this cold be debated with Skeleton Twins. Chalk it up to quality writing. (Again, sorry Rebecca.)

Ethan Hawke, I’ve already revealed in previous blogs, I’m a sucker for. Even when he seems to be reaching, he’s good. This role possibly strikes closest to home (man who commits affairs and winds up with younger wife and more children) and the pinnacle of the film is his rant at being manipulated. Though watch out Ethan, equally as strong was a minor character, the pickle factory owner Travis Fiimmel. Let me call it now, he’ll win an Academy Award in the next 5 years. Take it to Vegas. He was the most realistic character of the entire film, vulnerable, yet masculine. Someone give this man a role beyond Warcraft (major eye roll).

Born to Be Blue

While I love Uma (she’s one of the few reasons to suffer VonTrier’s Nymphomania) and I have her back re. being dumped for the nanny, I find it very difficult not to be enamored by Ethan Hawke.

His finest performance in my book is Before the Devil Knows our Dead (also containing two of my other faves-Hoffman, Tomei). But a very close second, 3rd and 4th are the Linklater “Before” trilogy films.

I can’t also not mention a recent Netflix rental called “Seymour An Introduction”, a documentary film made by Hawke as a tribute to a dinner party companion he sought advice from regarding stage fright. I even used a clip of it to show my 7th Graders what students reactions to constructive criticism should look like (which isn’t pouting or attitude). Seymour, an inspirational NYC piano instructor has a loving but intensive style of instruction.

Boy, have I digressed….are you getting the impression that “Born to Be Blue” wasn’t that fantastic? You are quite perceptive, I must say. Ethan was great and the strongest link, besides the spot on a-hole of a dad portrayed with Giamatti-like precision by Stephen McHattie.

But the story was, even if more true than the Miles Davis flick, cliche~ and I didn’t really feel for Chet other than, ‘darn, he deserves a more gut wrenching portrayal. Instead I just rented “Let’s Get Lost” (Chet Baker doc), which although I remember seeing many moons ago, I believe I was distracted, and hence will revisit, the next time network tv disgusts me.

So Born to Be Blue, a decent rental.

Boyhood, My How Time Flies

I put off writing this blog, thinking I was going to watch the film for a second time, but alas my best movie friend has been occupied as of late, so here it goes:

Boyhood was an oxymoron of a film, and this comes from a fanatic of the Before Midnight, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset trilogy, so much so I was depressed each time those movies ended.

Boyhood is another matter. It is both profound and mundane; exactly why it captures life on film. As promised on one of my pages, I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, but will mention who will probably relate most if you:

*were raised by an alcoholic
*dealt with divorce (either as an adult or child)
*wanted a career in art despite a society that would rather honor finance and athletics
*changed high schools and found difficulty in the transition
*people who repeat relationship patterns

I was not sad when the film ended, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, but at three hours plus, it’s time to stand up and stretch. I love, love, love Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as well as the two ‘child’ actors, the female of whom is Linklater’s real life daughter and of course, Ellar Coltrane, the boy who is the movie’s anchor.

To see it with my 21 year old son was an immense blessing and his growing up certainly seems to have whipped by in less than three hours. If you have kids, cherish them! They’ll be adults too soon!

POST SCRIPT: On a blog advertisement display, I said I had a comparison with Paul George and Richard Linklater. Full confession: I’ve been known to be the Yogi Berra of comparisons, but the night Paul George was injured playing on the USA basketball team, the gravity of the ESPN coverage was akin to a fatal plane crash. Is it horrible that one of the best NBA players broke his leg in a freak accident? YES! Is it wildly difficult to make a movie over 12 years with the same 4 main actors? YES!
Have other athletes injured themselves and come back? Yes!
Have other directors’ films been overhyped to the point that when you actually see the real deal, it could never live up to said hype? YES!
I rest my case.