Archive

2021

The French Dispatch (2021) - IMDb

Wes Anderson has always injected enough feeling and pathos into his films to temper their quirky veneer. In Bottle Rocket, we cheered for the ambitious loser, Dignan. In Rushmore, there were true relationships formed between Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Olivia Williams, and to see them hurt, well . . . it hurt. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson allowed for familial connections, and the payoff was a semi-reconciliation with a bear of father, Gene Hackman. Hell, even in the zany The Life Aquatic, there was something built between Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray.

There is no such emotional draw here. Rather, the film is a series of charming, amusing vignettes, four articles from the last issue of a fictional art and culture magazine.

As stories go, in Anderson’s hands, they are funny and often ingenious.

But untethered to anything other than his novel direction, they are also unengaging. The picture is brilliant to look at but lacks any depth or resonance.

Another fear. Anderson’s style, shorn of any real requirement of character, lends itself to the “Mamet-ization” of his films, where the cadence and form are so unique, the actors become victim to caricature. There is some of that here and it is a harbinger that should be heeded.

Tick, Tick...Boom | Official Website | November 19 2021

Let’s first start with Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which was at its very best, catchy and urgent, and at its worst, cheezy, inbred, bombastic and cloying.  Its’ influence, the greater rock/popification of Broadway, is undeniable, if not universally acclaimed.  But it is what it is, and I always found it to be meh.  

As did the South Park guys.

tick tick  . . . BOOM! is Larson’s solo work just before Rent, as directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and tells Larson’s story as he tries to get a musical off-the-ground.

The picture is a love letter to theater and theater kids. It is populated by scads of Broadway regulars and icons, in what comes off as a tribute to Larson, who tragically passed away from an aortic aneurysm before his triumph Rent opened.  

The film’s exuberance is near-irresistible. As Larson, Andrew Garfield is so winning, so all-encompassing in his love and enthusiasm for the character and the numbers, that even without Miranda’s clever and engaging staging, he would have carried this thing on his back and across the goal line.      

Of greater moment is the dawning that his one-man musical before Rent was better, in total. The numbers are strong, less gloppy and a little more introspective, and Larson has a better handle on communicating his own artistic struggle than in conveying the plight of the East Village bohemians. For example, this clever, Sondheim-esque ditty is better than most of Rent.

The film suffers from some of the same moral simplicity and noxious casualness that Rent evinced at its worst (who can stand La Vie Boheme when all the self-satisfied, insular riff-raff take up an entire table and “never buy” – Fuck you, waiter! We’re artists!) but it is brief and unobtrusive. In tick tick . . . BOOM!, Larson writes a funny, fantasy piece about escaping the miseries of the City and all of its indignities. In Rent, he has a bunch of pretty, smug faces ennoble the crud.

Great fun. On Netflix.

The Power of the Dog - The Rough Cut

Jane Campion’s The Piano was released 28 years ago and it put her on the map, garnering her an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Director and a statuette for screenplay. It was beautiful but I found it sluggish and, given the stagey performances of Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel, even a little tiresome. It screamed gothic arty.

Still, there was no denying Campion’s eye. For the last 12 years, she has directed exactly one project, the television series Top of the Lake. But now she is back, and again, she has produced a film breathtaking in its visual scope. But she has also remedied some of the infirmity of The Piano. Her latest is intensely personal and after perhaps too methodical of a start, weaves a stunning tale of abandonment and devotion.

Two brothers (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemmons) run a Montana ranch in the 1920s. The former is a sadistic bully plagued by his own demons and the latter, a sweet, formal character who finally goes his own way to marry a local widow (Kirsten Dunst). In the marrying, he announces his independence from his insecure, brutalizing sibling. But Cumberbatch is not done, because Dunst and her effeminate and quirky son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are soon ensconced in the family manor. Cumberbatch’s domineering brings each to different breaking points. 

This is ultimately a haunted house film, with its secrets strewn about the surrounding property, Cumberbatch the malevolent force of the manor. But Campion is interested in more, and at the moment of the greatest dread, we learn of Cumberbatch’s past pain and longing, which is surprisingly resurrected by Smit-McPhee. The villain is humanized, and redemption seems possible.

I can’t rave enough about the performances. Cumberbatch simmers with frustration as his world is shattered by the disaffection of his brother. Plemmons is poignant in his utter joy at getting out from under Cumberbatch, and his simple resolve to love is almost aching in its insistence. Dunst is affecting as she is worn down, and her feeble attempts to strike back are studies in anguish. And the performance of Smit-McPhee is a revelation. He is the embodiment of sweet sensitivity but it masks a courage and cunning that you don’t quite suspect but then realize was always there.

As for the look, New Zealand is Montana and it matters not a whit. Campion is every bit as accomplished in the dark crevices of the great house, where Cumberbatch is always waiting to deliver psychological punishment, and outdoors in the vistas and valleys of the ranch and mountains.

One of the best of the year. On Netflix.

Peter Jackson Reveals How Paul and Ringo Feel About 'Get Back' - Variety

Peter Jackson’s Get Back on Apple TV is a fastidious, thorough, fascinating look at how the band worked and communicated. Apart from being a monumental technical achievement, this 7+ hour flick is a gift to hard-core Beatles fans and maybe fans of pop music, in terms of seeing how the sausage is made by the greats. For everyone else, I suspect it will be Sominex with a laudanum chaser, but I’m a Beatles fan, so I totally dug it.

There is not much more to be said about the documentary, save for the live-blogging of the first two episodes (third to follow) by Xmastime blogspot, which is the funniest, most engaging thing I’ve read all year.

Licorice Pizza' Review: Blossoms & Waterbeds | We Live Entertainment

When I was in grade school, I had a crush on a girl in my class. I learned that she rode horses down at stables about 3 or 4 miles from my house. Such was my infatuation, and obviously unable to share my feelings in the unforgiving world of Catholic grade school, during the school year on the weekends, I would regularly take my bike down to where the stables were, an area completely unfamiliar to me in Rock Creek Park D.C., on the minor chance that I might see her. As a testament to my persistence, this behavior continued into the summer months. I never did see her, but I never lost hope, and I met scads of other people in my travels and got into many adventures.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is a nostalgic delight, and watching the movie, I felt the feelings of that time. Not only did it touch this old crusty heart and its buried 5th grade crush, but it also evoked the freedom I had in the 1970s. I could do pretty much anything. My parents were tangential to my daily life. I was an unsupervised Huck Finn, floating from place to place and not expected to be seen until dinner time, if then.

I recently got together with a friend of mine (he was one of thirteen kids, I was one of five), someone who I grew up with through grade school and high school, and we were laughing about the stupid stuff that we did as rudderless vagabonds. One thing seems small, but if it occurred today, it would probably involve investigations, the police, and the local news jamming a camera in some guy’s face as he was hustled, handcuffed, to the paddy wagon.

My friend and I would regularly walk the streets and in to schools and buildings and any old place that had an open door (we’d also dig through trash, searching for the Holy Grail of a Playboy magazine or something cooler). As we ambled into one church school, we met a janitor, and we just started to walk around with him. We returned the next day and then most late afternoons to help him clean up, and then he would buy us a Coke or a candy bar from the machine. We didn’t know him and he seemed like a bit of a hippie. He didn’t think to say, “Get out of here, this is my job.” He was a pretty nice guy and there were no shenanigans. And for the life of me, I can’t remember why we stopped, but we probably just moved onto the next thing.

But that was standard. I had other grade school friends who would sing with me in front of the Hamburger Hamlet – and none of us could sing – hoping someone would throw us change. When one of their streets was blocked off for a traffic rerouting, at night, we would drape our bodies over the barricades as if we had been murdered, just to get people out of their cars when they hit the dead end. Stupid stuff, pre-booze. You were on your own and unfettered with no one to evaluate the logic or wisdom of your choices.

Licorice Pizza brought those days back. We are introduced to 15 year old child actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and 25 year old Alana Kane (Alana Haim), both of whom live in Southern California in the era of the oil embargo. Valentine is a minor celebrity, but his acting star is waning as he develops into the ungainly teen in all of us. He is, however, nothing if not persistent (he winningly describes himself as a “song and dance man”), and soon, after establishing a connection he believes is true love with Alana, he establishes a waterbed business and then a pinball palace, all with a troupe of young acolytes, including his brother, and mainly with the participation, if not direction, of Alana.

Theirs is a beautiful love story, mostly unrequited, with both protagonists suffering the pain of watching the other flirt or more with others. Gary is a mature 15-year-old, a fiercely independent romantic who loves Alana and at the outset, has no problem saying it. Alana is an immature young woman, constantly beleaguered by her surroundings and her family, who fiercely fights the fact that she is bound to Gary. When you see them hurt each other, and Thomas Anderson subtly places you in the frame, you watch their expressions when they see the other with someone else. Again, I was transported to my youth. I felt the pain when someone you really “loved” in grade school or high school hurt you, almost assuredly unconsciously, but sometimes, with purpose. Your armor wasn’t there, your “cool” undeveloped. It stung. A scene where Gary calls Alana knowing that she has been out on a date with his older friend, where his breathing communicates his anguish, is a beautiful and piercing reminder.

The film is a joy. A breezy, journey through 1973 Southern California, where Alana and Gary come to terms with their attraction, while essentially getting into adventures, including not only the aforementioned businesses, but run-ins with, of all people, Hollywood producer and former Barbra Streisand boyfriend Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper, demolishing his scenes) and who appears to be a very close facsimile to William Holden, Jack Holden (Sean Penn) (the film’s Jack Holden starred in the film The Bridges at Toko-San rather than The Bridges at Toko-Ri).

The look of the film is so spot on your jaw drops. Little things, like the old fancy neighborhood restaurant and pub, The Tale o’ the Cock, feel exactly like the restaurants and bars that populated my old neighborhood growing up, and I did not grow up in the San Fernando Valley. The dark wood, the wine bottle glass windows, the lattice. Perfect.

The performances are relentlessly good. Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, has a presence that you could see in his father as early as Scent of a Woman and Nobody’s Fool. Haim, a member of the band Haim, it’s so raw and natural it may be difficult for her to expand. I’m just having difficulty seeing her in another role.

tt’s almost inconceivable, but this is the first film role for both actors.

The best film of the year and one of the best I’ve seen in some time.

Don't Look Up (2021) - Spoilers and Bloopers - IMDb

Alternate title.

“I Am Smarter Than You.”

Adam McKay, the talent who brought you Anchorman and Talladega Nights, is indeed smarter than you and the cross he must bear is that he is cursed to live in a nation of Luddites and buffoons. If you chortle and nudge your partner knowingly during this ball of crap, and maybe even raise an “it’s funny because it’s so true” eyebrow, there is an 87% chance you have a “ If you are not appalled, you are not paying attention” bumper sticker on your car.  So, if you have that message, or its kin (“Hate Has No Home Here”), on your car, or lawn, or in your head, this is a must watch!

And the bonus with McKay?

Now, he’s not funny.

Two scientists, a clueless Leonardo DiCaprio and a droll Jennifer Lawrence, learn that a meteor is hurtling to earth and when they sound the alarm, every caricature of the fevered dreams of a rich Hollywood do-gooder are introduced, each dumber or more racist or venal or crass than the next, all in service to an obvious, endless sermon poorly masquerading as a black satire.

McKay is the whingy douchebag who used to tack on political messages to films like The Campaign, where Will Ferrell punched a baby and a dog, and The Other Guys, where Will Ferrell played a fastidious NYC detective who was given a wooden gun. It was a fey conceit you could overlook because it occurred during the credits and you were walking out of the theater after watching some boffo fart humor (and here, I kid not – McKay’s Step Brothers is a modern classic, and a lot of McKay’s earlier stuff is the creme de la creme of fart humor).

But now, after some success outside the realm of farts (The Big Short, Vice), he’s made his hobby the main course.

Cringe bad. On Netflix.

West Side Story' Is Not for Puerto Ricans Like Me

Steven Spielberg‘s vibrant, fluid update subtly modernizes but stays traditional to the original in all the right places.  The “daddy-o” is largely excised but the film still feels like a night at the most expansive Broadway theater.

To be fair, it’s hard to miss the mark too wide with such rich source material. Unlike most musicals, in West Side Story, no number is unmemorable. There isn’t even one that is weak.

The dance at the gym and “America” are particularly good. In the first, Tony and Maria do not melt into the frantic gyrations of the Jets and Sharks, but rather are drawn beneath the bleachers, where, smitten, they have a charming conversation. Before the scene becomes too standard, a snap of Maria’s fingers beautifully cements their attraction and we are returned to the fantasy of dance. In the latter, the call and refrain of the Sharks as to the merits and drawbacks of their new home starts small in an apartment and blossoms in a wondrous, joyful romp culminating in the intersection of a city street.

Screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America) makes several changes to the original, placing the gangs in the peril of urban renewal, beefing up the role of Chino, humanizing Officer Krupke, and providing a critical backstory for Tony which tempers his infatuation with an internal struggle that explodes at the rumble. While more talky, none of the updating is balky or detracts from the music and choreography, which remains front and center.

Three nits. First, Tony (Ansel Elgort) takes a while to imprint. His first number (“Something’s Coming”) doesn’t help. It is geographically limited, stuck as he is in the basement of the drugstore, and Tony just feels a bit muted. It is only until he meets Maria that he starts to connect with the audience.

Second, Spielberg gives us a sparse “Cool”, and moves the song back to before the rumble. It feels like a missed opportunity.  The 1961 film placed the number after the killings, smartly delaying it from the stage play so the Jets could exercise their frustration and hate after the murders in a bravura ensemble dance. Here, the song is a little bit lackluster, and you pine for the highly stylized original, Worse, it’s Tony and Riff, a couple of Jets relegated to onlookers, gymnastically squaring off over a gun. 

Finally, the placement of “I Feel Pretty” is awkward, falling right after the rumble. It’s a delicate, ingenious number, but you are jarred to be placed into such a moment of hope and beauty given where Spielberg has taken you tonally just seconds before. 

Everyone is good and despite my fears, Rita Moreno as Doc’s widow never nears gimmick (she’s a lock for best supporting actress ). The picture is perhaps not doing as well as it would with a marquee name (Elgort is the best known of the young troupe and that ain’t saying much). But one can hope it makes stars, in particular, Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ariana DeBose as Anita. It is difficult to take your eyes off of either. Zegler was selected from over 30,000 applicants for the role and invests Maria’s innocence with a blossoming independence and steel that pays off ten-fold in “A Boy Like That.” DeBose is never less than commanding. And, unlike the original, they, like all the actors, expertly do their own singing.

House of Gucci Release Date: All You Need To Know

Ridley Scott would not seem to be the first choice to helm this story of an Italian fashion family’s tragica fine, but he does quite nicely, even without a canvas that would more naturally fit his visual talents. The Gucci empire, such as it is introduced to us, is a lucrative endeavor, but held in check by the natural infirmities of family and conservative stewardship. Enter the middle-class ambition of Lady Gaga, who marries Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and then systematically steers him into fratricidal maneuvering. She opens the doors for massive expansion and wealth while also inviting the germ that will ensure no one in the family, including her, shares in it. It’s sad, sometimes very funny and black, and well-acted.

On the “well-acted” part, there may be some pushback, primarily because 1) none of the characters are Italian and 2) all of them give an Italian accent that sometimes nears Chef Boyardee (or, in the case of Jeremy Irons, lapses into Downton Abbey). Eh, it’s fine, and often, hilarious; there’s not a moment Jared Leto is butchering his accent that you aren’t transfixed (his comic turn nearly steals the film).

Apparently, Lady Gaga worked with a dialect coach to help her perfect the Northern Italian accent, which is ridiculous, because for the most part, she’s not speaking Italian, but rather, English with an Italian flair. No matter. She has advanced leaps and bounds beyond her energetic yet balky performance in A Star is Born. She’s the heart of this picture and as Lady Macbeth of the fashion industry, she’s ferocious and indelible.

You don’t have to rush to the theater for this one. There are no sweeping Scott battles, sea voyages or other vistas that must be viewed on the big screen. The film is made for streaming release and take-out pasta.