Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Movies Page 2 of 28

Scorsese’s “The Irishman” Is One of the Best of the Year

Martin Scorsese, at 77, still has it. He had a film at the Chicago International Film Festival 52 years ago (“Who’s That Knocking At My Door?”) in 1967. Now, he’s the undisputed master of this sort of crime drama, sharing the throne with Francis Ford Coppola. The fact that you can be so thoroughly interested in “The Irishman” for 3 hours and 20 minutes is proof that he’s still in top form.

Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and a host of other great actors appear in “The Irishman,” which airs on Netflix beginning November 27th   and will play in select Chicago theaters beginning November 1st. This is Pacino’s first collaboration with Scorsese, although not his first pairing with DeNiro.

When you see DeNiro and Pacino in scenes together, it’s like a Master class in acting. The film is about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, according to the hitman who, late in life, claimed credit for killing him. The film is based on the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, comprised of interviews with the hitman, Frank Sheeran. Proving it’s all true is up to somebody above my pay grade, but it’s a fascinating story.

Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) is a World War II veteran who spent 411 days in combat with the 45th infantry and 122 days at Anzio. He learned to kill efficiently. That skill becomes his calling in life once he throws in with Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) of the Pennsylvania crime family. Prior to becoming the go-to hit man for the Mob, he drove a truck delivering meat and, as he says in court about his job, (when an entire truckload of meat goes missing and ends up in Bobby Cannavale’s restaurant), “I work hard for ‘em when I ain’t stealin’ from them.”

As the movie progresses, each Mob power onscreen has a placard onscreen that tells when and how he met his end. It is fascinating, but also hard to keep up with so many deaths, some of them in slow-motion close-up.

THE PLOT

Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) has a habit of shooting off his mouth. As he admits in Steven Zallion’s screenplay adaptation, “I get that way. I get abrupt.” Mob bosses at the top would like him to dial it back. When Hoffa is newly out of prison after a 4-year stretch for fraud, he plans to take the Teamsters Union back from former sidekick and incumbent president Frank Fitzsimmons, saying, “At the end there’s only one thing that’s real. This is my union.”

Although Hoffa is repeatedly warned that he should just take his $1.5 million pension and retire , he won’t budge. He seems to think he is invincible, that the Mob bosses (Joe Pesci as Russ Bufalino of the Pennsylvania crime family and the under-used Harvey Keitel as Mob kingpin Angelo Bruno) wouldn’t dare put out a hit on him. His attitude towards the capos In the Mafia who want him to shut up and stop making waves is a little like his attitude towards the Attorney General (Robert F. Kennedy) who is prosecuting mobsters: “He’s (RFK’s) not gonna’ get what he wants. I don’t care what he wants, he’s not gonna’ get it.” There is one last attempt to talk sense to the hot-headed Hoffa, one last try at a sit-down with the gangster known as Tony Pro, Tony Provo, the Union City, New Jersey capo. Unfortunately, Hoffa and Pro can’t stand each another and their meetings don’t go well.

THE GOOD

The acting is great. The cast includes DeNiro, Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemmons, Bobby Cannavale, Joe Pesci (who came out of retirement to make the film), Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s daughter Peggy, and Steven Van Zandt as a lounge singer. Everyone is good, although Pacino tends to chew the scenery a bit in a few scenes.

The cinematography is compelling; Thelma Schoonover’s editing over the years has made Scorsese’s films masterpieces. It is hard to believe that three hours and twenty minutes could go by so quickly without unnecessary draggy baggage in these days of 200 minute-plus movies, but this one was so well-done that I saw no one exit early. I even had a ticket for a late-night film that would have meant leaving slightly early, but the film was too well done and  interesting to leave.

The story starts out in the nursing home where Frank Sheeran now lives in old age;  it ends in the same nursing home. There is a valedictory feeling, as though Scorsese is saluting his own illustrious career, and also those of the great actors who have brought the movie characters in his classic films to life. The old-timers in the cast were excellent. This longest (3 hrs. 20 mins) and most expensive ($150 to $200 million) of Scorsese’s many movies is one of his best.

The screenplay by Steven Zallion makes use of the phrase “It is what it is” frequently and creates a scene in a car that will rival Tarantino’s scene where Le Grand Royale as terminology for a cheeseburger in Paris is debated. This time, it is a discussion about fish, with Jessie Plemons (“Breaking Bad,” “Fargo”) driving and the others talking about what kind of fish Chuckie (Hoffa’s surrogate son) had in the car earlier. (“Never put a fish in your car. You’ll never get the smell out.”)

There is also a scene discussing how you have to “spill a little beer along the way” that showcases DeNiro and Pacino, once again, and another in a restaurant where they await the tardy Tony Pro that is great. It’s such a pleasure to see these two talents  onscreen together in good material crafted by a master.

The music by Robbie Roberson is spot-on, with “In the Still of the Night” still echoing in my ears. (I would have liked to have heard the Chairman of the Board crooning “My Way” at some point, but nevermind.) The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is wonderful. The visual de-aging work by Industrial Light and Magic worked  well.

THE BAD

While it is a pleasure to watch DeNiro and Pacino onscreen together, there are a few scenes, especially one in his office where Hoffa rants about RFK, where Al tends to go slightly overboard and off the rails. There’s even a line spoken by Joe Pesci, regarding Hoffa, that could apply to Pacino.  Russ Bufalino (Joe Pesci) says of Hoffa, “He likes to talk, don’t he?”

Pacino was never physically “right” to play Hoffa, who was a big man, but what Al lacks in stature he makes up for in sheer bluster. However, in the RFK office scene Pacino risks portraying Hoffa as a total buffoon. Still, when Zallion gives a talent like Al Pacino this line: “There’s only one point. I don’t wanna’ do it and I’m not gonna’ do it” you can’t really fault Al for taking his hot-head character and making the most of the script and the characterization. Pacino’s in some pretty awesome company, after all, and working for Scorsese for the first time.

I was delighted to see that Scorsese (et. al.) can still deliver the goods. Spielberg’s last outing in “Ready Player One” was underwhelming, but Marty Scorsese is still hitting it out of the park while treading familiar terrain. Clint Eastwood, now 90, says he is going to hang it up. Brian DePalma, William Friedkin, George Lucas and Peter Bogdanovich are gone from the scene. Even Quentin Tarantino is saying he may direct only one or two more films. Yes, there are good new talent(s) coming up, but many of us still miss the brilliance of Hitchcock, so seeing that Scorsese, 3 years shy of 80, is still in fine form is satisfying and reassuring. The audience will have a ball with Scorsese’s latest, and even if we are saluting the end of an era, it’s a good film to do so.

THE VERDICT:

It’s a great movie, a classic. It drives home this message from the script, “You don’t know how fast time goes by until it goes by.”

Genre: Crime drama

Director:  Martin Scorsese

Actors:  Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons.

Writer: Steven Zallion, from the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt

Length: 210 minutes

 

 

Greta Fernandez Makes Sara Sensational in “A Thief’s Daughter” at CIFF

Living in public housing with her infant son, Joel, in tow, Sara hustles to string together enough part-time work in menial jobs to move out. The 22-year-old is determined to make a better life for herself and her child and to rescue her kid brother, Martin, who is crippled and living in a social services group home.

Sara’s love interest, Dani (Alex Monner) is supportive of young Joel, but is unwilling to commit. Sara also has a hearing loss and wears a hearing aid. Just as things are starting to look up and a new job in a food service firm that makes 800 meals a day offers her a permanent contract, her ex-convict father Manuel turns up.

Greta Fernandez in “A Thief’s Daughter” Q&A on October 21st at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival.

A First Communion party for Martin is a turning point in the film. Young Martin locks himself in the bathroom, asking his older sister to call their father to come to the party. Although Sara had made up her mind to challenge Manuel in court for custody of Martin and resist Martin’s suggestion, she finally relents in the face of the young boy’s desire to see his father. That lets trouble back into Sara’s life.

Greta Fernandez, Spanish actress and star of “A Thief’s Daughter,” at the Chicago International Film Festival.

The ending, where Sara is in court, after all the troubles she has endured, reminded me, in tone and intensity, of the gut-wrenching scenes in “Monster’s Ball” that ultimately won Halle Berry an Oscar. Beautifully acted by Greta Fernandez (her acting was recognized by the San Sebastian Film Festival) the part of her father, Manuel, is well-played by Greta’s actual real-life father, Eduard Fernandez, who is a big star in Spain. (33 wins; 38 nominations).

In the Q&A following this Spanish-language film, Greta shared with us that not only was her father playing her father, but the young man playing her love interest Dani , Alex Monner, is her best friend. Director Belan Fumes worked on the script for the film (with Marcel Cebrian) for two years. Shooting, as is customary in Spanish language productions, took about 2 weeks. (She shared with us that her work on a Netflix film, by contrast, was over 4 weeks.) Neus Olle handled the cinematography quite well, for the most part (especially in the final scene), but it is Greta Fernandez who shines through in her part as the strong yet sensitive young woman who has been kept down by society for far too long and is struggling mightily to rise up.

“The Song of Names” Is Canadian Entry at Chicago International Film Festival

The program notes for the Canadian film “The Song of Names,” directed by Francois Girard, read as follows:  “Martin Simmonds (Tim Roth) has been haunted throughout his life by the mysterious ‘disappearance’ of his ‘brother’ and extraordinary best friend, a Polish Jewish virtuoso violinist, David Rapoport, who vanished shortly before the 1951 London debut concert that would have launched his brilliant career. Thirty-five years later, Martin (Tim Roth) discovers that David (Clive Owen) may still be alive and sets out on an obsessive intercontinental search to find him and learn why he left.”

Sounded promising. Tim Roth is good in everything he does, and I’m sure he would have been good in this had he been given more to do. I haven’t seen Roth with so little business to conduct in a starring role since he lay on the floor bleeding out in “Reservoir Dogs.”

THE BAD

Then there’s the matter of Clive Owen, a handsome fellow if there ever was one. Except when he is depicted wearing a beard that would make modern-day retired David Letterman proud. The explanation, in David Rapoport’s case, is his Jewish faith, which he rejects early in the film, saying, “Ethnicity is a skin you’re born in and will wear until the day you die.  Religion is a coat that, if it gets too hot, you can take it off.”

And take it off he does, with a grand flourish and a mock ceremony witnessed by his good friend Martin. The story arc we are then asked to accept changes a great deal from this point, where a “teen-aged” David is anti-religion, to the later point in the story, when David has become a religious zealot. Unfortunately, David never becomes likable or admirable and his treatment of others continues to spiral downward.

David came to be Martin’s good friend when David’s Polish father took him to London as a boy genius violinist at the tender age of 13, and Martin’s generous musician promoter father offered to raise the boy alongside his own same-aged son Martin. This temporary guardianship included making sure that David would be brought up in his Jewish faith and receive additional training on the violin.

It is not initially a marriage made in heaven between Martin and David. That is partially because young David (and, truth be told, old David) is an intrinsically unlikable fellow. He is vain, pompous, full of himself, narcissistic, a bit of a thief and rogue, and constantly telling people he is a genius. Think Donald Trump turned musician. As (bad) luck would have it, the Germans sweep into Poland while David is living with Martin’s family and the entire Rapoport family—parents and 2 younger sisters—are killed at Treblinka—although David does not learn this for certain immediately.

David, therefore, lives with Martin and his family for 12 full years, but apparently his allegiance to these kind-hearted surrogate family members is not strong, since, by film’s end, he wants no further contact with Martin, telling him so in a note. (At that point, each boy has lost all original family members, so the note that David leaves, post-concert, is quite brutal, begging Martin not to try to find him again. Martin’s wife Helen sums it up this way: “It’s probably the only unselfish thing he ever did.”)

Throughout the film I looked forward to the arrival on the scene of Clive Owen as the much-sought-after David, because at least the slow-moving scenes of violin-playing might give way to some masculine eye candy. There was one interesting and entertaining violin-playing scene staged in a bunker during the blitzkrieg, where David and another promising virtuoso violinist play. Think “Dueling Banjos,” only with violins. Musically, an “A.” Visually, most of the time with the violins,  not so much.

Imagine the disappointment when David is found after a 35-year search covering 3 continents and:

(1) his beard makes him appear to be a woodsman who has felled one too many trees

(2) he is an even bigger SOB than when he left Martin’s father in the lurch, which may (or may not) have led to Martin’s father’s death 2 months later from a stroke and financial losses incurred

(3) David does not even invite Martin into his home, after 35 years, and

(4) David takes Martin to a synagogue where we learn the true story of why David didn’t show up for the concert on that fateful 1951 evening. Later, after delivering on the 35-year-old debt of a subsequent concert (which we also watch onscreen), David disappears again, leaving behind his violin and a note asking that he never be contacted again.

So that’s the kind of treatment one hopes to receive from their last living relative on the planet. Right?

The true story of where Martin went instead of the concert hall explains the film’s title, “The Song of Names,” which has to do with a Jewish tradition where 5 rabbis memorized the names of all those who died at the German prison camps and, through oral tradition, pass them down first through singing the names and, later, by writing them down. The time required by 5 rabbis to read the many names of those killed in the concentration camps is 5 days, singing around the clock. There is also a bit of a twist in the story that David reveals to Martin, but it is revealed too late to save us from boredom consisting of watching people play the violin for 113 minutes.

THE GOOD

The solo virtuoso violin playing for real, done by Ray Chen, is excellent. The Budapest Symphony sounds wonderful. You can hear Eddie Izzard for a nano-second, pretending to be a BBC broadcaster covering the night of the first concert. The film is based on the acclaimed novel by Norman Lebrecht.

“Waves” Directed by Trey Edward Shults Premieres in Chicago on Oct. 20th

Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., stars of “Waves” at the Chicago Premiere. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Acclaimed Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults brings “Waves” to the screen with a cast that includes both new and seasoned performers, all in top-notch form. The film’s camera work is beautiful, which makes sense when it is Shults, who learned so much working with the legendary Terrence Malick. (Shults gave huge props to his D.P., True Daniels.

The screen goes  black  5 times, as though the film was over, a la the film “At Eternity’s Gate” (Julian Schmabel). The film is beautiful, whether it is the two leads frolicking in a sprinkler or a sunset or a party scene.

(L to R) Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults, Chicago Cinema Artistic Director Mimi Plauche, Taylor Russell, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., at the Chicago Premiere of “Waves” on Oct. 20th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).  

“Waves” is really two films in one. You can’t tell what the movie is really about from the trailer. Suffice it to say that w become vitally interested in young athlete Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) as he tries to live up to his father’s dreams for him to go to state as a wrestler and to succeed  in life. The romance between Tyler and Alexis (Alexa Demie of “Euphoria”) comprises the first half of the film. As the song used put it, “What a difference a day makes.” The Wiliams family (Father Ron, Step-mother Catharine, sister Emily and Tyler) will never be the same following the Tyler/Alexis storyline. A line of dialogue: “All we have is now.” (Clifton Collins, Jr., is wasted in a very small role as Alexis’ father). The cast includes Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”) as the demanding father and Oscar-nominee Lucas Hedges as Luke, the boyfriend of Emily. (Fellow director Harmony Korine of “The Beach Bum” is listed in the credits are Mr. Stanley. His films are image-heavy and story-light and he listed painting and art as major parts of his career.)

The first half of the film focuses on Tyler and Alexis.

Writer/Director Trey Shults, and stars Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., are interviewed on the Red Carpet in Chicago on Oct. 20th at the Chicago Premiere of “Waves.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The second half focuses on Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell). Her budding romance with Lucas Hedges as Luke includes a touching scene with Luke’s dying, estranged father. But the entire Williams family unit is affected by what occurs earlier between Tyler and Alexis.  Losing sight of Tyler almost completely in the second half doesn’t benefit the film’s plot, which director Trey Edward Shults said was largely autobiographical and/or “personal,” in that it had happened to people close to him.

The film is a cinematic  tour de force, which has been true of the films with which Shults has been associated, including “It Comes At Night,” which also featured Kelvin Harrison, Jr. in its cast. In the Q&A following the film, audience members got a crash course in aspect ratios. (185, 133, 240, 266, native anamorphic et. al) and there’ll be more from the Q&A in a more complete review. Opens November 15th.

Genre: Drama

Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults

Stars:  Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Alexa Demie, Renee Elise Goldsberry.

Length: 135 minutes

 

“Zombieland: Double Tap” Out Now

“Zombieland: Double Tap” opens today in theaters. Right from the opening credits, you know you’re in for more  irreverent humor a la 2009’s “Zombieland”. It starts with the Columbia lady on her pedestal using the torch to beat down two zombies attacking her. There is also a voice-over from Jesse Eisenberg, thanking audiences for choosing this form of zombie viewing from all those available.

The bar is set low enough in this sequel, as one critic put it, to step over it handily. This is a continuation of the fearsome foursome that roamed the Apocalyptic land in 2009, with Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) as Little Rock, Emma Stone as Wichita and Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus. To that original cast, add Rosario Dawson as Nevada, new girl Zoey Deutch (“The Politician”) as Madison, Avan Jogia as Berkeley, Luke Wilson as Albuquerque and Thomas Middleditch as Flagstaff. The cast even includes WWW fighter Michael Wilkerson as a T800 zombie (“new and improved” zombies). Keep in mind that in the intervening 10 years, Emma Stone has actually won an Oscar (“La La Land”) and all three of her partners in this film (Harrelson, Breslin and Eisenberg) were Oscar nominees.

The film is basically a straightforward road trip, with stops along the way at the abandoned White House, a similarly abandoned mall, Graceland, an Elvis-themed motel near Graceland, and a hippie compound called Babylon, where all guns are melted down to make peace symbols. The search is on for Abigail Breslin’s character, who has split with a Berkeley musician who is a pacifist (much humor mined there via Avan Jogia’s character.) There’s even a cameo post-film with Bill Murray being Bill Murray in a room full of zombies, armed only with a metal folding chair. (Don’t leave before it screens). More tongue-in-cheek humor.

THE GOOD

Newcomer Madison, the blonde Valley Girl played by Zoey Deutch, is a welcome comic relief addition. The screenwriters (Dave Callahan, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) previously scripted the snarky dialogue for Ryan Reynolds in the “Deadpool” franchise; and the director of “Zombieland: Double Tap,” Ruben Fleischer, reprises his directing duties from the first 2009 film. When Madison is first encountered at an abandoned mall, Harrelson asks her if she lives there. Her answer? “No, Paul Blart.”

On Opening Night of the Chicago International Film Festival after-hours offerings the theater was sold out; the audience left satisfied. For those who want a steady diet of head-bashing, there are plenty of fights to keep them entertained. This night there was even a zombie costume contest, with a Tallahassee look-alike winning from among five local entries.

Some of the lines that the addition of the new blonde airhead enables were priceless. Most viewers will have seen the trailer clip where Woody tells Eisenberg that they should hit the road again and leave Madison behind (she had been hiding out in a freezer in the abandoned mall). When Eisenberg protests that Madison shouldn’t be left behind because the zombies will get her, Woody responds, “Zombies eat brains and she ain’t got any.” The scene where Woody gets out of the mini-van that he loathes, ostensibly to load massive quantities of Madison’s pink luggage into the back is great. He waits until she re-enters the car, then gets behind the wheel and drives off, leaving all Madison’s luggage on the road, while the “rule” that Columbus has created about “traveling light” is flashed on the screen. Woody, in typical Harrelson manner, says, “Rules are for pussies.” There is also this line, “If you love something, you shoot it in the face so it doesn’t become a blood-sucking monster.”

THE BAD

The airhead blonde worked well, thanks to new-comer Zooey Deutch (television’s “The Politician”), but the new duo of Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff were not as amusing. The joke is this: the two, who drive a gigantic vehicle referenced as Big Fat Death, are doppelgangers of Woody and Jesse’s characters. They have the same annoying mannerisms, down to a close resemblance, physically, of Middleditch to Eisenberg. (They don’t last long in the plot, so there’s that.)

This is not a movie that requires advanced degrees to understand, nor does it have any connection to reality. The zombie genre, complete with television’s “The Walking Dead,” was just beginning to become ubiquitous in 2009 (“The Walking Dead” premiered in 2010), but the market has become considerably more saturated in the ensuing ten years. Some viewers enjoy the zombie head-bashing more than others. But it is a genre that is now entering season 10 on television, so it’s  well-established. (And, yes, I realize that “Night of the Living Dead” goes all the way back to 1968 and George Romero—who died in 2017—mined this vein long before anyone else.)

Overall, fans of the original film and the zombie genre in general will be pleased. You don’t have to think very hard as you enjoy this salute to brain-dead zombie lore. It’s a quintessential popcorn movie and that is what a lot of folks in this country seem to need right now.

Genre:  Comedy/Action/Horror

Actors:  Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenberg, Luke Wilson, Zooey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Avan Jogia, Thomas Middleditch

Length:  99 minutes

Director:  Ruben Fleischer

Screenwriters:  Dave Callahan, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Cinematography:  Chung-hoon Chung

 

55th Chicago International Film Festival Begins October 16th

The 55th Chicago International Film Festival starts Wednesday, October 16th, opening with Edward Norton directing and starring in the film adaptation of “Motherless Brooklyn” (with Bruce Willis co-starring). The book, by Jonathan Lethem, won the New York Book Circle Award some years back and it has been a long time coming to the screen. “Motherless Brooklyn” will open the 55th year for America’s longest-running film competition, which runs from October 16th through October 27th.

THE WHISTLERS
It hasn’t opened to the public yet, but critics have already had the opportunity to see the new film from Corneliu Porumboiu, “The Whistlers,” which will be the Czech Republic’s entry for the Academy Awards. The involved noir tale follows the adventures of a corrupt, middle-aged policeman named Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) who travels from Bucharest to the Canary islands to study the ancient Aboriginal whistling language, which allows criminals to communicate clandestinely. Director Porumboiu, in interviews from Cannes, says he became interested in this authentic language after seeing a piece on television describing it. There’s a femme fatale named Gilad (homage to Rita Hayworth intentional), quick clips of “The Searchers” (which is one reason the original title, “La Gomera,” was changed to “The Whistlers”) and a gorgeous opportunity to see lighted garden display in Singapore, which runs 12 minutes and shows two times a night. It’s a complicated caper plot. When asked about the finale Hong Kong Gardens light show and how he knew about it, Porumboiu said, “YouTube.” (Romanian English with subtitles, 97 minutes).

8 – A SOUTH AFRICAN HORROR STORY
This film from director Harold Holscher has a wonderfully moody, menacing, supernatural plot and the South African cinematography is gorgeous. It revolves around a black man named Lazarus (aptly named) and his interaction with a South African family returning to their family farm after many years. A little girl named Mary will be the focus of the film and the spine-tingling, creepy, well-acted central performance by Tahamano Sebe as Lazarus holds the film together. The female performances, especially the ingenue, Mary, are not as impressive, but there are visceral scares and a heartbreaking plot. (98 minutes)


FORMAN vs FORMAN
This documentary traces the life and achievements of Milos Forman, who won Oscars for directing both “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975 and “Amadeus” in 1984. There are a multitude of film clips of young Milos, his parents, Prague where he grew up, and some personal shots from his widow. Forman died on April 13, 2018, and this documentary about his life, directed by Helena Trestikova and Jakub Hejna is a treasure trove of archival footage that traces Forman’s life and career. Both of Forman’s parents are taken away to concentration camps when he was young, leaving him feeling like an outsider in the world. (His mother died in Auschwitz and his father in Buchenwald.) It’s well worth a look. (78 minutes)

JUST 6.5
Saving the best of those I’ve seen so far for last, from Iran comes this riveting story of detective Samad (Peyman Maadi, of “A Separation”), whose mission is to bring down powerful drug kingpin Nasser Khakzad. The first 8 minutes of this film is as riveting and intense as the opening of “Shallow Grave.” There is a foot chase through winding alleyways that forces the runner over a fence and (inadvertently) into a deep hole where he is buried alive. The film was a hit in its native land and it’s easy to see why. It’s a high-octane look at the drug trade and the criminal justice system in Iran. (Farsi with subtitles, 135 minutes)

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” Is Great for “Breaking Bad” Fans

Robert Forster, who passed away on Oct. 11, 2019. Photo taken on Oct. 15, 2018 at the Chicago International Film Festival by Connie Wilson at 9 p.m. at the showing of “What They Had.” (Who knew Robert had only 361 days left on the planet?)

We watched “El Camino: The Breaking Bad Movie” last night and liked it very much

.There are numerous flashbacks that provide some “Walt” for those who have to have Walt with their Jessie.

Since the original series had been off the air for 6 years, I confess to being hazy on some of the finer TV plot points. For example, I did remember that Jessie was kept in a cage and tortured and forced to make crystal meth, but the contraption used to give him mobility was totally forgotten by me, until it re-emerges in this film.

The “shoot-out at the O.K. Corral” part is quite good. (See it to find out what I mean).

Jessie’s desperate attempt to get money to finance his “disappearing” act was well done, with a run-in with “police” that is very creative. This part involves Robert Forster, who helped Walt hide out in the TV series.

Yesterday Robert Forster, 78, known as “the Disappearer” in the original TV series and the long-ago star of “Medium Cool” back in the sixties (one of the few—-perhaps only—-examples of cinema verite in the U.S.) unexpectedly died of brain cancer. I met Forster in October of 2018 as he made the film festival rounds on behalf of “What They Had,” a very good film with Michael Shannon, Vera Farmigia and Blythe Danner co-starring about an elderly couple coping with the wife’s encroaching Alzheimer’s disease.

Forster was perfect in the part of her devoted elderly husband, but when I saw him standing in the aisle as I walked to my seat (he was leaning against the wall at the time, in preparation for the post showing Q&A) I had to go over and introduce myself and tell him how much I admired his work in “Medium Cool” and many other projects. He was genuinely warm and friendly, and we chatted briefly for a few moments before I took my seat. Then, he talked about his career, both in an interview in the Chicago “Tribune” but also onstage, and, once again, cemented my admiration.

This is Forster’s final film role. I was struck, when he first came onscreen, by how much he had aged in just one year, as it was October of 2018 when I met him in person. It is one year later, I am about to leave for the October film festival again, but Robert looked like 5 years had passed. I assumed it was make-up. And then I heard that he had died, of brain cancer.

I found the arc that Jessie traverses in this film believable and well-acted and another reason it rang a particularly intense bell with me, besides the information in the paragraph above, is that we just returned from a tour of Alaska and Alaska has an important role in the plot.

I definitely recommend the film for fans of “Breaking Bad.”

“Joker” May Bring Joaquin an Oscar

JOKER

Joaquin Phoenix has turned in another riveting, intense performance in “Joker,” this time as Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill young man who lives with his invalid mother and works as a clown. In the opening scene, he is twirling a sign on the rat-infested, garbage-strewn streets of Gotham (1970s New York City) when 5 young men steal his “Everything must go!” sign and beat him up in an alley.

If you think this is grim, just wait.

Joaquin has pretty much made a career out of playing character parts that Bruce Dern of 30 years ago, Crispin Glover of 20 years ago, or Michael Shannon of today might play. He is intense and strange, excelling, as one critic put it, in films that depict “exquisite isolation.” In this film, for which he lost 15 pounds, he looks emaciated, like Christian Bale in “The Mechanic.” He claims it helped him with his weirdly artistic dance moves to be lighter on his feet. Arthur (Phoenix) laughs inappropriately and compulsively and may suffer from pseudobulbar affect disorder (or any of a series of ailments often related to traumatic brain injury and/or schizophrenia). It is off-putting and uncomfortable; he even carries a small card explaining his condition to strangers, much like the deaf have used.

The tour-de-force part of Arthur Fleck is eerily reminiscent of Travis Bickle in 1976’s “Taxi Driver.” This part also builds on Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight Rises” and gives us a back story for Joker that is different from the ones in other “Batman” films. Oscar history could repeat itself with a gold statuette for Joaquin, but the film, itself, does not seem Oscar-worthy, to me.

Joaquin has been acting since the early eighties. Many of his best performances have utilized his personal projection of a sense of strange intensity. I remember seeing him on David Letterman’s show on February 11th, 2009, when he claimed he was giving up acting for good to become a rapper. He acted weird, strange and was monosyllabic. Letterman played off that, as he used to do when Crispin Glover came on the show and acted like a World Class Weirdo. (Remember the kicking sequence with Glover on the show?)

At the time, Joaquin was making the movie “I’m Still Here” with his then brother-in-law (Casey Affleck). As it turned out, they thought it would be a good promotional stunt to have Joaquin claim he was quitting acting to become a rapper. Later, on September 22, 2010, Joaquin returned to Letterman’s “Tonight” show to admit that he was actually not finished with acting. Each time, Phoenix came across as supremely weird, strange, and intense. He’s supposed to be engaged to frequent co-star Mara Rooney now, so perhaps both of those television appearances were just good examples of his acting ability.

Whatever. He fooled most of us, and, therefore, his persona with the public and the press has been close to that of Arthur Fleck. The part of “Joker” was perfect for him.  Director/Writer Todd Phillips (the “Hangover” movies) said that he never wanted to develop a Plan B for any other casting, because he always intended to cast Phoenix in the part.

When New York Times writer David Itzkoff pointed out while interviewing Phoenix that he seemed to be the “go to” character actor for such over-the-top intense performances  and that Phoenix could continue acting characters like this for a very long time, the actor responded, “Oh, really?” in a sarcastic voice as dry as sandpaper. “Well, good. Thank you so much. That’s great. I was worried.”

Then, said Itzkoff, “he grinned and let out a laugh to let me know he was kidding. (Or was he?”)

THE GOOD

The Acting

Joaquin Phoenix is a good bet for an Oscar nomination and, potentially, for a win, although it’s still early for making those predictions.

The film is powerful, but about as grim a film as you can find. Still, there were many great supporting turns from the rest of the cast including Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under,” “American Horror Story”) as his mother, Robert DeNiro as  talk show host Murray Franklin and Zazee Beetz as his next-door neighbor Sophie Dumond. The use of DeNiro as the late night talk show host modeled on Johnny Carson elicited echoes of Jerry Lewis’ 1982 film “King of Comedy,” where DeNiro played Rupert Pupkin.

Cinematography & Editing:

Director/Writer Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver) has used an interesting mix of “Is this really happening?” cinema, woven together to leave it up to the audience to determine whether what Arthur Fleck is experiencing is wishful thinking or really happening. Audiences today are fairly savvy. We are used to having to figure out some of the connecting tissue of a film on our own, and Phillips handles that beautifully, along with the assistance of cinematographer Lawrence Sher, who seems to love to dwell on Phoenix in close-up. Phillips does a good job of incorporating the seamy, rat-infested city of Gotham as almost a character in itself, and the many nods to Scorsese’s classic films show that, “Hangover” or no “Hangover,” Phillips recognizes a modern-day cinematic icon’s quality work when he sees it. All nice touches.

THE BAD:

Music:

I was not a fan of the cello-heavy score by the 31 people listed as being in charge of the music for the film. It was overpoweringly dark, screaming, “Feel sorry for Arthur” at every plot turn.

Plot:

That last remark brings me to the fact that we are primed to feel sorry for/excuse Arthur for his misdeeds. There isn’t a single murder that takes place (and there are plenty, most of them bloody) that some rationale or excuse as to why Arthur would have committed the bloodthirsty crime can’t be ginned up to defend or excuse this poor mentally-ill man (who seems completely amoral by film’s end, if not before).

When Arthur first turns homicidal on a subway train,  he has acted in self defense. The plot channels Bernard Goetz, who shot and wounded four African-American youths on a Manhattan subway train in 1984. Only this time “the enemy” is Wall Street and it is three young white Wall Street brokers, insensitive louts all, who abuse and mistreat poor Arthur before he snaps. That brings about the violence. The viewer does feel that the audience is supposed to sympathize with the poor beaten-down loser that Joaquin is portraying so well. We’re rooting for “the little guy” standing up for himself, even if you feel that a sane person would have taken his chances with the NYPD, since the subway shootings seem justified.

After that, while excuses/rationales/reasons are still given for every single murder, feeling sorry for poor Arthur goes downhill fast.

The entire idea of the poor versus the rich is elevated to new heights when portions of Arthur’s comedy act showing him laughing hysterically and uncontrollably are broadcast on Murray Franklin’s show. Arthur becomes a lightning rod for the general sense of malaise and unrest abroad in the land. “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Arthur, at one point.

It’s not just you, Arthur. It IS getting crazier out there, and most of us know why.

It is interesting to have a homicidal, mentally-ill killer elevated, by film’s end, almost to the point of “leader of the pack,” but maybe not such a great idea. We can always bring back Steve Bannon, who wants to tear down everything in order to create “the Fourth Turning” (as he himself articulated in the Erroll Morris “American Dharma” documentary).

Permissive nods towards out-of-control violence of any kind should be quickly squelched, whenever and wherever they crop up. Arthur’s sad plight illustrates many of the issues this country is facing. Indeed, problems that the entire world is facing: the ‘haves vs have nots” battle, etc. But letting anarchy rule doesn’t seem like the best solution, regardless of our emotional empathy for Arthur Fleck and embattled little people the world over.

Fun Facts About Madonna

(https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099422/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1)

Renee Zellweger Lights Up Screen in “Judy” Bio-Pic

“I don’t know how these stories get started, but I do not approve nor sanction the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way. Any reports to the contrary are 100% fiction.” So said the largely MIA Liza Minelli about the bio-pic “Judy”, which focuses on her mother, Judy Garland. The performance should earn Renee Zellwegger an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Zellwegger’s singing is good, too, complete with the awkward, nervous, arm-flailing delivery that those of us old enough to remember the real Garland associate with her.

“Judy” focuses on Judy Garland’s final shows in London at the Talk of the Town nightclub in 1969. She appeared for a five-week run that paid her $2,500 pounds weekly ($3,085 in dollars).

At that point in time Judy was considered unreliable and her life-long addiction to uppers and downers, dating from her childhood studio days, was contributing to her quickly failing health. She would be dead three months after these appearances, on June 22, 1969, at the age of 47.

THE GOOD

Acting: Renee Zellweger’s performance inhabiting the neurotic Judy Garland is the best thing about this bio-pic. It was nice seeing Finn Wittrock (“Write When You Get Work,” “American Horror Story”) finally get a chance at a “big” film, playing her last husband Mickey Deans, although the chemistry he and Zellweger generate was muted, at best; the film is very chaste in terms of depicting Judy Garland’s long history as a sexual being. The studio forced Garland to abort Tyrone Powers’ child in 1943 and, earlier, to end an “unapproved” pregnancy in 1941. We get no sense of Judy’s first 3 husbands. Vincent Minnelli (father of Liza) is omitted. Only Sid Luft and the 12-years-younger Mickey Deans are depicted, even though Deans was married to her for less than 3 months. Others deserving praise for their performances would include Darci Shaw as the young Judy Garland, and Jessie Buckley as Rosalyn Wilder, who is assigned to ride herd on the unreliable songstress during her London run.

Music: The quintessential Garland classics tell the story through familiar lyrics.”I’ll go my way by myself, I’m by myself, alone. I’ll have to deny myself love and laughter and friends…No one knows better than I myself know.”  Or, later: “For once in my life I won’t let sorrow hurt me” or “As long as I know I have love in my life I can make it.” Zellweger has not sung since “Chicago” in 2002; she is terrific.

Costuming & Make-Up: Jany Temime does a fantastic job of dressing Renee  as Judy. I did wonder how an actress who is supposed to be so broke found the money for such elaborate outfits and furs. The make-up and hair folks deserve plaudits for transforming Zellweger into a passable Garland. There were about 13 credited make-up folks and it took them 2 hours. It wouldn’t surprise me if they, too,  snagged Oscar nominations on February 9, 2020.

THE BAD

Unnecessary Backstory: The opening “set up” of Judy speaking with L.B. Mayer on the set of “The Wizard of Oz” is used to establish the pattern that most of us already knew. The studio forced the 4’ 11 ½” Garland to diet and plied her with pills to keep her performing in good voice. Then it was barbiturates to help her to sleep. In her adult years, Judy became an insomniac, an alcoholic, and  died of a barbiturate overdose that was deemed accidental, despite a couple of earlier documented suicide attempts.

Doting mother? The film insists that Judy was a devoted mother and depicts her traveling in a cab late at night with her two children by Sid Luft, Lorna and Joseph. They are turned away from their hotel for non-payment of the bill and end up going to Sid Luft’s house. The children appear to be of elementary school age—certainly not more than junior high school age—yet the setting for the film is 1968-1969.  At that time, the two Luft children would have been about 13 and 16.  Liza Minnelli, age 22 or 23 then, is shown only in a brief party scene where Judy “meets cute” with Mickey Dean (he actually met her while delivering illicit drugs.)

With the ages of her offspring much older than what is portrayed, the heart-rending conversation from an old-style red British phone booth where Judy more-or-less “gives up” her children becomes less touching. Judy stayed in London for three more months after her run at the Talk of the Town ended, ultimately dying at a rented house on Cadogan Lane, Belgravia, London, found by her fifth husband of only 3 months, Mickey Deans, in the bathroom on June 22, 1969. There is also a suggestion that ex-husband Sid Luft lost much of Judy’s money at the race track. Other sources say that subsequent managers after Luft mismanaged and embezzled her earnings. (One of them was Freddy Fields, husband of Polly Bergen).

This Rupert Goold adaptation of the stage play “End of the Rainbow” scripted by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter has been called “bland” by some critics and “melodramatic” by others. The scene with Judy befriending a gay couple was praised by some and castigated by others as implausible. The film really is most alive and engrossing whenever “Judy” sings. It soars in those scenes.One thing is certain: Renee Zellweger does a fantastic job of inhabiting and interpreting the trials and tribulations of a troubled icon.

 

Page 2 of 28

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén