The Graduate, a Wonder

Seeing The Graduate on the big screen today at Burns Court Theater was a delight. Despite the two chatty Kathy’s sitting behind me, “This is too much!” exclamations through the first third of the film, this film was So good that it shut them up! Miracles never cease.

I just wanted to mention a few details in the film that I appreciated:
Dustin Hoffman’s wet suit scene seemed so symbolic of him being the trained seal for his parents. They wanted him to do ‘tricks’ for them, as do many overzealous parents. Pool scenes have certainly had an impact in other more recent films as well, most notably Love & Mercy (Paul Dano!) and Booksmart (thank you Olivia Wilde).

Part of the pool charm was due to the cinematographer/director of photography’s name was Robert Suertees, a three time Oscar winner for Ben Hur, The Bad and the Beautiful and King Solomon’s Mines. He also did other great films such as The Last Picture Show.

Proof that a movie takes a team, Sound Department Maestro Jack Solomon (winner for the Oscar in Hello Dolly) was a genius in the same wet suit scene. We hear Dustin breathing, while seeing his parents mouth their excitement at his upcoming ‘stupid pet trick’.

Mike Nichols, winner of the Oscar as Best Director in this film, was a former comedic partner with Elaine May. In this film, he showed his comedic chops, along with Buck Henry (screenwriter’s Oscar nominee) in an s & m type of humor. We laugh, but understand the dramatic undertones as well.

The late 60’s and early 70’s was a hot bed for new contemporary comedy dramas and The Graduate certainly holds up over time.

Unsupervised Teens, Always Big Trouble “L.I.E.”

Wow, just finished a recommendation for a PPLL, L.I.E. directed by Michael Cuesta. Was surprised I hadn’t heard of this director considering how well written and how artistically directed this film was from ‘way back’ in 2001. And while an Emmy for Homeland is nothing to sneeze at, I would have expected his subsequent films to be accolade worthy.

A sucker for Paul Dano, I will admit seeing him so young was disconcerting, given the unpleasant obstacles facing his teenage character. Sure, the film is 16 years old, but I’ll bypass plot details, not wanting to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Suffice to say, Paul Dano’s Long Island existence is basically without any supervision.

Tawdry and damn depressing, the movie is compelling due to the verisimilitude of the characters and actors. Not since the film Little Children 2006 with Jackie Earle Haley have I seen a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile. And I realize this film was actually a predecessor (in this case Brian Cox) I simply had not seen.

Much like Philip Seymor Hoffman in Scent of a Woman and Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society, Paul Dano’s teenage performance was surely prescient of his acting brilliance. So much so, that I can forgive him for Swiss Army Men, which is his only clunker. Love & Mercy, 12 Years a Slave and Youth certify him as a favorite of mine no matter what he chooses to do next (which appears to be a mini series of War and Peace).

I’ve been to Long Island’s* suburbia and always seem to see seedy articles about the area’s violence and crime reported in the New York Times. Sad that this area is a fine setting for such a dysfunctional plot. And yes, I realize I’m saying this ironically, from the king nutville of the U.S., Florida:)
*Long Tsland has beautiful areas as well, obviously. The Hamptons and a gorgeous park (Eisenhower) where I saw Soulive with Martin, Medeski and Wood.

Swiss Army Man: Sartre’s Back!

Sartre’s been reincarnated and come back as the film writing and directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinhert. Swiss Army Man reminded me a lot of the play No Exit in that I kept thinking, when in the hell are we getting out of the woods? I suggested the film to my mom and her beau for a fun family night, knowing Paul Dano never fails, expecting a quirky more high brow Weekend at Bernie’s…definitely not the outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s not horrible and actually won the directing prize and was nominated for the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Fest. Paul Dano can’t do anything wrong in my eyes. He brings such passion and open spirit to each role that I’m willing to take the ride. The bromance reminded me of The Fisher King, but with unfortunately far less impact than Bridges and Williams.

On the other hand, I’ve been to Gordy Hoffman’s inspirational Blue Cat Screenwriting Workshops and could hear his voice going, “Wait, we’re a minute 9, still in a cave and the corpse is just laying there?” The fundamental problem with movies these days is lack of editing, plain and simple. In writing we’re taught to ‘kill your darlings’, meaning cut, excise, tighten. This film was bloated which actually is the perfect analogy to end on as I picture Daniel Radcliffe’s body washed up on shore.

Swiss Army Men, prepare for darkness. There is no exit.

Youth surpasses Joy (Not an adage for real life!)

I snuck in two more films before the ball dropped and only one is squeezing into my top ten.
While “Joy” had all the ingredients of a master class film-O’Russell and his wrecking crew of actors and actresses, a few clunky scenes took the charge out of the true story of a poor housewife makes a multi-million dollar invention.

One of the problems was the maudlin narration by Dianne Ladd which I think took away from the life of the film. The other hardship was that two outstanding actors/characters were never allowed to let it loose. Specifically, Virginia Madsen as the bedridden soap opera addict mother of Joy and Isabella Rosselini as the rich second step mom. I’m sure some precious stuff wound up on the cutting room floor. And why leave untidy questions, like; she had two children, yet all we see is the daughter in her later life? This wouldn’t be so troubling, but there was a scene in which the boy had a bad cough and yet there was never any tie in. Only when we found out about a death in the family (which ended up being Grandma ‘Ladd’), did I wonder momentarily, if it was the son.

Now ‘YOUTH’ (directed by Paulo Sorrentino) was MOVIE. If I have one tiny complaint, it was the numerous philosophical ideas that were all jammed into one film: 1. emotions are important to a full life, 2. productivity is crucial to a happy life, 3. hashing out problems is healthy, 4. simple love, simple songs can be prolific, 5. age is a state of mind, 6. depending on people for your happiness leads to misery.

Sorrentino shows his Felinni influence in a gorgeously visual film set at a affluent spa. Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz all give stand out performances.

Especially though, may I plead the case to Golden Globe and Oscar Judges for a Paul Dano a trophy, not only was he brilliant as Brian Wilson, but he was excellent in Youth. Additionally this would also be redemption for his lack of accolades for his super crazed role in 12 Years a Slave. His presence raises the bar of whatever film he’s in.Paul Dano

Hail Hail Cusack’s Back and Dano’s Better Than Ever

John Cusak

I was blown away by Love and Mercy and I never liked the Beach Boys. But now I do! An engaging screenplay, co-written by Oren Moverman, who also wrote The Messenger and I’m Not There is the deepest I’ve seen in trying to capture the long term effects of child abuse.

The director, Bill Pohlad, is most known for his big budget productions (12 years a Slave, Into the Wild).

And thank the good Lord that John Cusack got a decent script. Let’s kick his Abe Lincoln Vampire Slayer days to the curb, shall we, and add Hot Tub Time Machine as well. Even he had the good sense to say no to Hot Tub round two. Cusack’s phenomenal nuanced performance of depressed and uber eccentric older Brian Wilson is award worthy. Paul Dano’s terrific portrayal shows the mad genius behind every great songwriter.

I admit that I was skeptical going in about how Paul Dano and John Cusak were going to play the younger and older versions of Wilson when they don’t look too much alike. But alas, I never even thought twice about it.

And Paul Giamatti, not only was I on a high from his knock out performance as the angriest juror in Amy Schumer’s take off on Twelve Angry Men, but then he shows up in Love and Mercy as the creepiest sadist I’ve seen in some time.

Absolutely, go see this film.