11/22/18

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Well, HERE'S an unusual little change of pace! If you are in the mood for something different, I've got just the ticket! Joel and Ethan Coen (we can always depend on them for something different), have assembled six vignettes for your viewing pleasure. I saw this on Netflix but it opened today at a Landmark Theater here in the Seattle area, so see what you can find.

This anthology illustrates six different aspects of life in the old American West. They have a sterling cast of actors willing to take a shot at it. ...smile... There are many, many guns in the American West! The opening credits play to a rendition of "The Streets of Laredo." (The Coens unerringly hit American musical paydirt; this is stuff I can relate to!)

Let me give you an overview:
  • "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" (Tim Blake Nelson). This episode starts with him riding along on his horse Dan as he sings "Cool Water." He is in a long scenic canyon, so the echoes are a natural effect. He is proud of his reputation as a gunslinger.
  • "Bank Robbery" (James Franco) This one contains every cliché known to a western. But I will say, this guy can't catch a break even though his first hanging is interrupted by an Indian attack.
  • "Meal Ticket" (Liam Neeson) This traveling show stops at every tiny hamlet it runs across. An armless, legless actor does well-known soliloquies while Neeson collects contributions. Then they see a chicken...
  • "All Gold Canyon" (Tom Waits) Singing "Mother Machree," our dauntless prospector comes into view with his faithful donkey lugging all of his equipment. We see his technique for finding gold and salute his success. Turns out finding gold isn't the only thing he has to be smart about.
  • "The Gal Who Got Rattled" (Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck) This follows a wagon train on its way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Beset by typhoid and Indians, things are tough, but the assistant wagon master proposes to the sweet gal on her way to a (maybe) fiancé. That little dog (Franklin Pierce) just won't quit yapping.
  • "The Mortal Remains" (Brendan Gleeson, Tyne Daly, Saul Rubinek) Five occupants in a stage coach, with a corpse packed on top, philosophize about love. Gleeson closes the vignettes by singing the traditional Irish ballad upon which "Streets of Laredo" is based. Nice wrap!
Make no mistake, this is NOT all comedy, although the Coens usually have us smiling. This is billed as an R-rated comedy, drama, musical. Some things are tragic, some unsettling, some slyly funny. The scenery is absolutely spectacular and the American West was never so lovingly replicated.
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Here is a sample:
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11/20/18

Green Book

Are you ready for a really satisfying road movie? My definition of a Road Movie is: Two very different people who must travel together to strange places, with unfamiliar customs, foods and traditions. During the trials and tribulations of travel, these people learn that they must solve their problems together.

Some background: In 1936 a book was published to provide any Black traveler with information about how to safely navigate the highways and byways of the Jim Crow South. "The Negro Motorist Green-Book" is used in this highly entertaining and interesting true story about a touring classical pianist and his driver/bodyguard. The script is inspired by a story from the son of the bodyguard and it shows us a true and lasting friendship. (Stay for the ending credits.)

Writer/Director Peter Farrelly ("Cuckoo") is a director who both entertains AND educates his audience; he uses a PG-13 script he created with Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie. It is a bit of a contradiction, because it contains racial slurs, profanity, some adult sexuality and a lot of heart-warming humor.

Part of Farrelly's wonderful cast:
  • Viggo Mortensen ("The Two Faces of January") is Tony Lip, a wise guy from the Bronx who serves as both driver and bodyguard for the talented artist. Those two men have miles to go before they understand each other. We see right away that Tony was not only a waiter, but a bouncer at that restaurant. He has very little respect for rules. 
  • Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight") Dr. Don Shirley has a schedule to meet and rigid standards. Tony was expecting a very different sort of doctor when he meets Dr. Shirley for his interview. He says his driving experience was working for the Department of Sanitation. 
  • Linda Cardellini ("A Simple Favor") Dolores is the rock that Tony leans on. She is a great mother, a wonderful wife, and a fully involved member of his big Italian family! She asks him to write letters to her while he is gone. (You'll love them!) 
This is the Beauty and the Beast. Dr. Shirley is correct in every way, impeccably groomed with carefully articulated speech. Tony talks with his mouth full, smokes in the car (and at the table!); he proudly describes Dr. Shirley's piano playing as "Bettah dan Liberace!" I know we will be forgiven for our moments of smug satisfaction when "our guys" prevail.

This upbeat story brings human insight into America's struggles (and some victories) with racism, along with wonderful piano playing, a few noisy Italian meals, and some villains to loathe. This is one of the best movies I have seen this year; I have already ordered my DVD.
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See what I mean:
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11/15/18

The Front Runner

You may not remember when U.S. Representative Gary Hart threw down a challenge to the press in 1987: "Put a tail on me!" Well, I remember! And guess what happened? Going in, Hart had the edge, AND, according to some accounts, he also had the hair. SPOILER: this is based on real life, so don't expect a Hollywood ending.

Writer/Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking") working with Matt Bai and Jay Carson toss our hats into a presidential campaign, with a charismatic front runner and his genial relationship with the main-stream press. Ever since the Watergate Scandal in 1972, journalists want their own Pulitzer. We had already seen the advent of "Gotcha!" journalism but here we get to watch the old guard agonize over it. They admit they had covered up for LBJ and JFK but weren't expecting a greenhorn journalist to test their resolve.

Part of Reitman's outstanding cast:
  • Hugh Jackman ("The Greatest Showman") Gary Hart is the quintessential politician, handsome, articulate and photogenic; but like so many before him and since, he has "A Zipper Problem." (His pants won't stay zipped!) He is convinced that paparazzi only cover Hollywood, not the old boy's club in D.C.
  • Vera Farmiga ("Skin") Lee Hart has the quintessential politician's wife problem...how does it go? Oh yeah, "Stand by Your Man!" This wonderful pianist had only asked that her husband never embarrass her.
  • J.K. Simmons ("American Dad") Bill Dixon has the thankless task of trying to talk some sense into his volatile candidate.
  • Sara Paxton ("Sundown") Donna Rice was just going along for the ride. She "liked Hart's positions!"
  • Alfred Molina ("Red") Ben Bradlee has had first-hand experience with "Gotcha!" journalism. He's the executive editor of The Washington Post and states their rationale very clearly.
  • R.J. Brown ("The Carrie Diaries") Bill Martin is the tabloid reporter who starts Hart down that slippery slope. He's polite, but relentless.
This R-rated outing clocks in at under two hours, but expect profanity and political maneuvering; just wait'll you see who gets thrown under the bus. If you don't remember, you'll be disappointed, but not surprised.

I would be surprised AND disappointed if Jackman doesn't get an Academy Award nomination for this one. He is beyond terrific!
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Check out this preview:
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Widows

Honor among thieves? Well...sometimes. Here we get to see how it works. Writer/Director Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), collaborating with Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl"), sets the stage by showing us four women who have nothing in common except that their men have died. They realize they must find a way to take charge of their own futures on their own terms. First step: Trust.

We are in Chicago and it's a dark, dark world. We see a violent vehicular chase, a cold-blooded murder, a spell-binding evangelist, a smooth politician and a tough-talking mobster. We are in a place and time where ignorance is the new normal.

Part of McQueen's enormous cast:
  • Viola Davis ("Fences" and she was stunning in "Ender's Game") Veronica wants to stop the pain of loss. Her little dog also grieves. Finally she says, "We have a lot of work to do. Crying isn't on the list."
  • Liam Neeson ("Silence") Harry intended for Veronica to use what he left her.
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("The Fate of the Furious") Linda wants her little store back; she didn't even know it was at risk. She asks, "Guns? From where?" Alice states the obvious, "It's America!"
  • Elizabeth Debicki ("Guardians of the Galaxy") Alice wants her mom to stop pimping her out. This lanky lady is not only gorgeous, she's smart!
  • Jacki Weaver ("Out of the Blue") Agnieska is that mom we love to hate!
  • Cynthia Erivo ("Bad Times at the El Royale") Belle is exactly the person for the job...and can she RUN!
  • Robert Duvall ("Wild Horses") Tom Mulligan has a tendency to oversimplify the situation. Like yelling will make it so!
  • Colin Farrell ("Roman J. Israel, Esq.") Tom's son Jack is a smooth operator who likes the wheels to be well greased.
  • Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out") Jatemme is chilling. That's all I'm gonna say.
  • Bryan Tyree Henry ("Atlanta") Jamal often finds himself in over his head. This time, maybe he can get elected.
This R-rated thriller throws us into a brutal world, so expect gunplay, fisticuffs, nudity, blowie uppie stuff and lots of plots. Also expect Nina Simone on the soundtrack. Our screening audience was excited as we left the theater.
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Take a look:
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11/8/18

The Girl in the Spider's Web

Ready to try again? First of all: Suspend disbelief. If you read or watched Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, set it aside and don't start nitpicking. Let's pretend this is a stand-alone thriller that features characters with whom we are familiar. Claire Foy makes a memorable Liz Salander, the unique character we know from "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Horror/Thriller director Fede Alvarez ("Don't Breathe") collaborating with screenwriters Jay Basu and Steven Knight, keeps us on the edge of our seats as our favorite hacker goes up against government corruption and cyber spies.

Part of the cast:
  • Claire Foy ("The Crown") Lizbeth punishes men who are cruel to females, young or old. She is still a hacker, extraordinaire, who never met a security system she couldn't defeat.
  • Sylvia Hooks ("Blade Runner 2049") Camila will never forgive Liz for leaving her with their father.
  • Stephen Merchant ("Logan") Franz is concerned about a powerful program he wrote. He wants Liz to steal it back so he can destroy it, but he has relentless enemies who will have it no matter what.
  • Christopher Convery ("Gotham") August and his dad came to Stockholm from California. Now he wants to go home!
  • Cameron Britton ("Stitchers") Plague is Liz Salander's most trusted wingman.
  • Lakeith Stanfield ("Atlanta") Edwin can tell that the system his employer wants is in Stockholm. Problem is, the NSA is not welcome in Sweden, so how can he retrieve it? (But Plague recognizes his name.)
  • Synnøve Macody Lund ("Black Widows") This powerful Swedish agent tells Edwin to "go back to Disneyland!"
  • Sverrir Gudnason ("A Serious Game") Mikael Blomkvist wants to be clear, he sold the magazine, not respect. He needs to write about Liz to advance his career.
This R-rated thriller will take you from Stockholm to the forest, from government facilities to a derelict old home. Expect physical violence, gun shots, vehicular chases, blowie uppie stuff and threats of torture. There is one "Don't go in the basement!" scene, and one laugh-out-loud moment.

The screening audience was upbeat and excited as we exited the theater.
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Please see the trailer:
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