Marriage Story Busts into My Top Three of the Year, Easily!

As if my birthday wasn’t fun enough in NYC with my beautiful son Liam, yesterday thanks to my-friend-who-treats-me-like-gold Jack Guren, I was privileged enough to see a screener of Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach’s take on the gut wrenching process of divorce.

You’d think the way our jaded culture (and myself in colder moments) throws the D-word around like it was simply dust we sweep under the rug that Marriage Story would be a so what story. HOWEVER, anyone who’s gone through the process knows those initial daily disrupting moments are much more than a carpet can hide AND Noah B. captures these awkward and painful moments in true movie magic.

BUT WAIT! There’s more! Not only does he capture the pathos, he articulated this with humor and love. AND THEN he chose the best of the best to portray even the minor characters. The two stars (Scar Jo and Driver) who I’ve adored and then despised, won me over as they escaped into these two human characters. And dare I say, I was convinced by the end that Adam Driver does have more to him than a dead stare, especially after he belts out “Being Alive” at a NYC bar.

Other fantastic performances were executed by: Ray Liotta (GREAT!), Laura Dern who almost always feels to me like she’s overreaching or perhaps is merely a bitch in real life was also great, ALAN ALDA (can I give you a hug-PLEASE nominate this man, I LOVE HIM), and my ever awkward cutie from Baskets, Martha Kelly. Also super were Julie Hagerty and Merritt Weaver….and Merritt is where my heart sank as it did last night, upon coming back to the quiet of my condo, I remembered Noah’s the guy who left Jennifer Jason-Leigh for Greta Gerwig…ok you’re wondering, ‘what’s Merritt got to do with it?’ Merritt was in Greenberg, another fantastic Baumbauch film CO-WRITTEN by Jason-Leigh at which point, Noah fell for Greta and now I’m sad…which, in the end, only adds to the depth of this film.

I’m so glad I got to see this now as the various podcasts I listen to (and yell at for their occasional lack of taste: you LIKED Hustlers AND The Irishman, blech!) were beginning to drip out spoilers on Marriage Story. But not here folks.

I’ll just say after you get through the annoying (yes I was scared) opening 10 minutes of cliche-ish montage (necessary for back story I am aware and pivotal by story’s end), you settle into moment after moment of cinematic genius. Emotion, Laughs and Atmosphere, the stuff of which every great life should accomplish.

I will see this again. FOR SURE.

Annihilation of My Cynical Ways

People, am I getting soft on my film criticism? From enjoying Greatest Showman to giving Killing of a Sacred Deer a positive review, here I go again with Annihilation, written (from a Jeff VanderMeer novel) and directed by Alex Garland.

During the flick, in the multiple sweater wrapped comfort of the refrigerator known as Siesta Key CineBistro, I was dying to start snarky Mystery Science Theater like comments. Annihilation takes itself waaay too seriously. The monotone dialogue reminded me of Killing of a Sacred Deer (could this be a new trend? Like the musical shoe gazing genre of cinema?).

But here’s the thing: because the movie is a one tone wonder, the reincarnation, dust to dust motif is able to take root and make an impact that really didn’t hit me (or should I say ‘seed’ until the day after). That last comment will only seem brilliantly creative after you’ve seen the film.

In addition to the theme’s strength, the acting, again while monotone, is mesmerizing to watch because of its relentlessness. Natalie Portman is always interesting to watch, furrowed brow and all. One of my all time actress faves (see my previous Good Time review) is Jennifer Jason Leigh and here she ascends fantastically as the cancer stricken leader. Gina Rodriguez is also a stand out and has the most emotionally expressive role in the entire film.

A pressing scene was one of my favorite’s due to its intensity and personal flashback provocation to a sensation I have had in the past.

The soundtrack (Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury-aside: why do I have to dig for this info? Soundtrack composers get ripped off on accolades!) which I’ll go back and re-listen to on Itunes preview, was indeed a piece of art which crescendos to a gorgeous climax at the end. And Garland obviously possesses enough of an old soul to use an old CSNY song, “Helplessly Hoping” that I had never heard before, so come on, he’s my kind of guy.

Still, there were some annoying aspects:
1. I just don’t like Oscar Isaac, he just bores me to tears no matter what he does.
2. The editing could have been much tighter, in fact take out a lot of fluff and add more about an extra-marital affair that NP’s character was having. I mean even bread (monotone) needs a little pepper and olive oil sometimes.
3. The two extra actresses on the mission were superfluous on the mission and made the film seem more banal. Though I do understand you have to have someone to kill off. Perhaps better writing or acting could have helped.
4. Special effects were on the weak side up until the end. The ‘shimmer’ (mawkish name) looked like the film seen on the utensil used to blow bubbles out of the bottle.

Being thrifty due to ye old pension still nine months away, I probably would not have spoken so positively about it had it not been for the gift card (thank you Steve Ralph) of which I spent the remainder. Hence, Annihilation not only reflects the theme of the film, but also a descriptor of my gift card balance.

Twilight is Broken and thank goodness: Good Time

If it hadn’t been for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s interview on Marc Maron’s podcast, I would have been very reluctant to see Good Time. I mean a crime drama starring the dude from Twilight isn’t exactly in my wheel house of interests.

But JJ Leigh interested me, even more so her back story, her dad Vic Morrow killed in the Twilight (wait Twilight again, holy coincidence) Zone movie accident, her husband Noah Baumbach leaving her for Greta Gerwig, etc.

JJ Leigh’s only in Good Time for ten minutes max, but she definitely causes a stir. Those with the most screen time are equally magnetic, especially the star, Robert Pattinson. In Good Time, he looks so different from his plain white milk vampire films that he seemed brand new. His performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination, but the character lacks the range for a trophy. This isn’t the actor’s fault, but just a tiny flaw in the writing. Without more back story, we’re left as an audience to wonder. Not a bad thing, and certainly intriguing, but not deep enough then to be a tko of a film.

Two other male leads are also fantastic, one of whom co-wrote and co-directed the film, Josh Safdie. His performance as a hearing impaired brother of Robert Pattinson had an Of Mice and Men Lennie and George quality and was equally poignant and elusive due to the plot. The third ‘stooge’ who garners screen time is a very good question that I need to research further. He’s not on the top of the imdb list, but I will keep searching as he plays a very believable thug rendition.

Minor characters added to the film’s verisimilitude which really felt like a director’s cut of a Cops episode, a Paul Harvey’s ‘the rest of the story’, which is even alluded to in scenes where characters are watching the Time Warner 24 hour news program.

This film was so real, I was frightened for my son’s safety in NYC, as any one of these characters and situations could harm an innocent bystander. Akin to lifting a blanket up and discovering your bed infested by bed bugs or the human equivalent thereof. Good Time is thus best seen in the cinema as you need to put your seat belt on without distractions to really enjoy the suspense and ironic subtlety of the film’s performances.

I am grateful for my friend Dave who picked me up in the pouring rain and who not only understands the art of conversation (meaning he didn’t lecture or bludgeon my ears with his life expertise) as have my last few encounters. Bless Dave with good karma this week as he undergoes some medical testing.