Sunday, January 14, 2018

WHEN FRIENDS ACT LIKE FOES





We've all been there:

The BFF who doesn't come to your holiday party, and when you call her on it, rebuffs you because she says she's sick of your "wallowing" in anxiety and depression after your husband abruptly left you two weeks before the previous Christmas. 

The friend who invites you over to dinner, but only because the date she was cooking for cancelled.

The best bud who really wants to read the screenplay that you've spent a year and a half working on, but admits to having skimmed it late at night, then tells you he was confused by a number of things and had basically skipped over the stage directions.


Hurtful and/or insulting, right?

The group of friends who choose your ex over you.  (That's a common one.)

The group of friends who ostracize you because they all went to college together and one of them has a beef with you because you made the mistake of hiring him and it didn't work out.  Juvenile, but it's happened.  Apparently blood is thicker than water applies to college cliques as well.


I'm sure there must have been episodes of Friends in which they got pissed off at each other, but what stays with one and why we watch the re-runs are for their ties that bind, at least on the telly, forever. 

Sometimes we can move beyond these slights...unless they're more than slights, unless they deeply wound, unless the friend has become truly toxic or simply isn't someone you recognize anymore, or perhaps is more of an acquaintance whom you decide isn't a very nice person.

But for the slighted or hurt party, nothing can move forward without the Apology from the other.

But then there are the BFFs who respond to being told they've hurt you by becoming defensive and attacking, listing all of your sins and grievances going back to who knows when.  And then you understand their recent instances of passive aggression.

William Blake wrote a poem about this called "A Poison Tree."  The gist of it is that unspoken wrath grows until it kills.

But we don't want our deep friendships to be killed.  What we want is connection.  What we want, what we always want, is to love and be loved.  Take it from Jack White's latest song, "Connected by Love."  Its wonderful video is below:



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Monday, January 1, 2018

MY BEST OF 2017

My favorite films of the year, in the order I saw them:



PERSONAL SHOPPER
Written & Directed by Olivier Assayas

Kristen Stewart on a scooter in Paris hitting designer boutiques and trying on sexy harnesses!  But she hates it; she's actually a medium holding out for a sign from her deceased male twin, being haunted by him or other malevolent forces--who relentlessly text her on a train, making for the most improbably tense and suspenseful scenes ever involving a smartphone.  Everyone has a different interpretation of, or puzzles over, the ending, but the ambiguity rather appropriately works in the story's favor.  It's both a psychological thriller and a ghost story.




GET OUT
Written & Directed by Jordan Peele

All I can say is, beware the GIRLfriend who pops Froot Loops dry, one by one, Dude, with a side of white milk.  Terrific mashup of horror, social satire, and comic relief.





BABY DRIVER
Written & Directed by Edgar Wright

Action scenes directed and edited to excellent pop and rock tunes?  A maximalist homage to Walter Hill's classic, minimalist THE DRIVER?  Hell, yes!  




DUNKIRK
Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan

1. Three story lines (on land, sea, and air) on different time lines that converge!  2. A Chris Nolan film shot in 65mm IMAX!  3.  Tom Hardy and Harry Styles!  In short, not just another WWII movie.




BLADE RUNNER 2049
Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

I'd see and probably "deeply love" anything directed by Denis Villeneuve from SICARIO on, never mind with Ryan Gosling.  If you revered the original BLADE RUNNER, as I do, this probably didn't surpass the original for you.  But on its own merits, it's a sci-fi stunner, IMHO. 




WONDERSTRUCK
Written by Brian Selznick
Directed by Todd Haynes

Past and present converge, and Haynes and his team get the 70s right--screw "The Deuce."   Haynes said at a Q & A, "I just wanted to make a smart, cool movie for kids."  It's also for grown ups.




LADY BIRD
Written & Directed by Greta Gerwig

Who woulda thunk an Irish actress could nail an American teenager in Sacramento?  Well, det's ecting!  Yeah, I wish why the name she chose for herself would have been revealed, and that title sucks and probably hurt the film's box office, since you initially think this movie must be about Lady Bird Johnson.  But it's a gem of a debut from Gerwig.




THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Written & Directed by Martin McDonagh

A sheriff dying of cancer, a racist cop who thinks he's Serpico or something, and a "midget" who has the hots for a mad-as-hell middle-aged mother (Frances McDormand) who's projecting her guilt and grief onto everyone.  AND it's a comedy.   McDonagh, who brought us IN BRUGES, is a  flat-out brilliant writer.  Plus, he loves Nic Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW as much as I do, evidenced by the nods to it here and more overtly in IN BRUGES.




THE SHAPE OF WATER
Written by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

GDT is a treasure--he makes films like a kid set loose in a candy shop.  They revel in his passions, obsessions, memories...everything that converges in his conscious and unconscious, past and present.  He made the creature from the black lagoon sexy, liberating the Sally Hawkins character from her lonely three-minute morning masturbations.  Need I say more?




CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Written by James Ivory (from the novel by André Aciman)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Guadagnino made two films with Tilda Swinton, the Brilliant Actress with Impeccable Taste.  She's not in this one, alas, but we do have a star-making performance from Timothée Chalamet (who's in at least three films this year), the towering, perfectly handsome Armie Hammer ("Later!"--his version of Gatsby's "Old Sport"), and a monologue from Michael Stuhlbarg (also in three pics this year) that floored me.  Languid, sublime.  A sabbatical in an Italian village  with a highly cultured, empathic family who speak four languages.  Wish they'd adopt me for a summer.  Sigh.  




THE DISASTER ARTIST
Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (based on a book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell)
Directed by James Franco

Franco directs himself as Tommy Wiseau, auteur of THE ROOM, widely regarded as the CITIZEN KANE of bad movies.  See this film and the phrase "Oh hi, Mark" is all you'll need to get you out of your deepest funk.  Right?  




PHANTOM THREAD
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

PTA said in an interview that he thought he'd be making "pretty good" movies for the rest of his life.  "Pretty good" is such an understatement for the most outstanding filmmaker we have--a true auteur.  Here, influenced by Hitchcock and Losey, the film (which must be seen in its 70mm glory) stuns with some very unique (psycho)sexual politics.  Plus a great piano score from Jonny Greenwood.  Tense and breathtaking--it left me with palpitations!


RUNNERS UP:  The Beguild; Detroit; The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected); The Big Sick, A Ghost Story; Wind River; Atomic Blonde; The Florida Project; Molly's Game; I, Tonya; Hostiles; Darkest Hour, The Post, Columbus.



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Friday, December 15, 2017

ZEITGEIST CINEMA




In grad school, a boyfriend and fellow cinephile was fond of saying that the reason we go to the movies is to see "rich people having fun." (The above opulent funfest is from Baz Luhrmann's version of THE GREAT GATSBY.)  Despite this, on our first date said boyfriend had taken me to a midnight showing of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (a fortuitous choice, because he didn't yet know I used to love 50s and early 60s horror films as a kid.) 


But I could see his point, because as a pre-teen I'd loved watching Delmer Daves movies for their cool production design, and specifically for classy people living in stunning houses like the Frank Lloyd Wright Walker house in Carmel above, from A SUMMER PLACE, or Connie Stevens' Japanese-style guest house in SUSAN SLADE. Coming from a blue-collar family and living in "rents," I lusted after those lifestyles--I loved those movies because they showed me another way to live.

Yet these were not urbane comedies; despite showing how the other half lived, the stories had their requisite tragedies.  In SUSAN SLADE, Susan's rich secret fiancé is killed in a mountain-climbing fall, leaving her pregnant and--the horror!--single.  Reflecting the times (1961), in the film Susan's parents whisk the family off to Guatemala (her father's been offered a job there, conveniently), where Susan has her baby; when they return, Susan's mother passes off the child as her own.  Susan and the baby secretly reside together in the Japanese guest house on the property.  One day in the main house, the baby catches fire (no, not spontaneous combustion; the kid was playing with a lighter) while Susan and potential new flame (pardon the pun) played by Troy Donahue are in another room, but all ends well because he's a struggling writer from a lower class working as the stable boy (very D. H. Lawrence, no?), and he's a stand up guy as well as dreamy, so, when he finds out Susan's the mom, he wants to marry her anyway. 


This is the awesome climactic scene in the hospital waiting room when the doctor comes out and says that the baby will live, but only the mother can go in and see little Rogey at present.  So that's when Susan gets up and makes the Big Reveal to Hoyt (Troy) and family friends--including the new rich guy (to her right) who's proposed to her but subsequently drops her like a hot potato.


Cut to the present.  This week I was at a screening of writer-director Scott Cooper's  latest film, 
HOSTILES, starring Wes Studi and Christian Bale, pictured. Cooper introduced the film (with a little help from T-Bone Burnett!), commented on Doug Jones winning in Alabama, and said that he felt cinema has always been about bringing people together.  

In HOSTILES, Bale plays a captain who has brutally killed a ton of Indians and is loathe to escort a cancer-ridden chief (Studi) and his family back to his homeland to die, per the orders of President Harrison (the times they were a changin').  The mostly white soldiers, the Native Americans, and Rosamund Pike, whom they come across on the way, are forced to work together in order to survive their journey.  I won't say more so as not to spoil the plot, but it's a revisionist Western that very much reflects the current racial and gender divides in the country.  Cooper uses genres (48 HRS., any Western, the hero's journey) to craft a minimalist, eloquent film that also makes a quietly relevant humanistic statement.



This year, movies seem to be more political, reflective of, and reactive to the alt-right zeitgeist than ever.  To wit, Jordan Peele's GET OUT, above, a mashup of horror and social/racial drama, with a soupçon of comic relief (not all that different, really, from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). 



Guillermo Del Toro's THE SHAPE OF WATER takes the creature-feature genre and melds it with fable, romance, and Cold War paranoia in a stunning and profoundly affecting piece of pure cinema.  It promotes peace, love, and understanding better than any other film this year.  It's the ultimate anti-MOTHER! movie.


And then there's Luca Gudagnino's CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, with a final scene that's so compassionate, empathic, and forward-thinking that it will blow you away.

I don't think anyone would argue that there's something wonderful and holy about the communal experience of watching a film with a full audience in a (hopefully quiet*) theater.  As Noah Baumbach said in a recent Vanity Fair interview, "That vulnerability in a theater is so important.  At home, you don't get that.  No matter how good your viewing system is, you're distracted, no matter what."

That vulnerability fosters receptivity, I believe, reinforcing cinema as a subversive/transformative art form that, at least for a couple of hours, can bring us together literally and figuratively.

* There are acceptable exceptions to silence, natch.  I recall seeing the original HALLOWEEN with a packed audience, and after Jamie Lee Curtis had finally killed off Michael Myers, she collapsed on the couch and tossed the knife on the floor in disgust.  We were all thinking NO!! when a woman behind us called out, "Don't even give him the benefit of a doubt!"  The entire audience burst into laughter at the same moment as Myers sprung from behind the sofa and tried to kill our heroine again; our laughter turned to screams and then laughter again.  It was exhilarating in addition to being cathartic. 



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