Uncut Gems


I wish they would have cut it.

It felt twice as long as Gone with the Wind with a tenth of the integrity and interest. I feel somehow personally disappointed by Adam Sandler, not like I know him, but I did have a late night dinner at the Denny’s on Sunset Blvd and he was sitting next to me. He seemed like a great guy. Now this. Who green lights these things for their clients? I just can’t believe Sandler thought this was a good idea.

And Judd Hirsch. Why? If you are interested in climbing a mountain of stereotypes then this film is a great first step in your journey.

Not to mention the fact that there is not so much as even an anti-hero. There is a no hero here. And there is a simple thematic note that is delivered for hours and hours. The film is essentially a cheap card trick, similar to Joker and Midsommar.  Look, says the director, “I can make you feel uncomfortable, on edge and ill for a very long time. Isn’t this a cool trick.?”

No. No it’s not.

In general, the film is uneven. There are scenes with characters that go nowhere, serve no purpose. Simple dead ends. And whichever reviewer said that this was Adam Sandler’s greatest role never saw Punch-Drunk Love plus whatever other character or role he has ever played. And finally, what the hell executive producer Martin Scorsese, I’m still not sure why you stood up for that rat fink Kazan at the Oscars but producing this really isn’t forgivable. Marty, stick to preserving movies from Africa, that’s something you can actually be proud of. This film should be forgotten as soon as possible. —If only I could erase it from my brain. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fun ride. Like the latest Terminator, the response to this film will fall into two camps. The overly analytical who claim not to be and the rest of us. For the overly analytical there will be major time ellipses, plot flaws and random disparities that they will never get over. For the rest of us there will be some great special effects, action and nostalgia which we will enjoy.

For those who have a hard time living in our multicultural and gender equality leaning world, you will not like this Star Wars chapter, as you haven’t liked the last few. The heroine is an independent woman. You might already feel burn out from the “strong woman character” archetype. However, as far as I am concerned, in general there are nowhere near enough strong, independent women characters in films. So I think Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is awesome in these regards. Of course, there is a beating heart inside of Rey (Daisy Ridley). She isn’t one of these cold and aloof Jedi like Luke, for example. But so what if she was, would it make the film any different? It shouldn’t. Towards the end of the film, Rey’s somewhat plodding storyline had a hard time competing with the epic battle that was raging around her. However, all told, for a 2 hour and 21 minute film, the plot held together remarkably well. 

I thought Oscar Isaac was a solid General Poe. If you’d like to see him do some serious acting, check him out as Paul Gauguin opposite Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh in the 2018, already classic, At Eternity’s Gate.

If you keep your expectations reasonable, you will enjoy this final installment. At least what tries to put a bow on this most timeless of sagas.  

Richard Jewell


I was mesmerized by the performances and by this standard alone I recommend Richard Jewell.  It’s satisfying to see a film that can rely and succeed almost entirely on the great work of its actors. Richard Jewell boasts some of the best actors in the world including Cathy Bates and Sam Rockwell, laying their talents and hearts on the line for us. 

I didn’t know the story of Richard Jewell or any of the details in the 1996 Summer Olympic bombing in Atlanta, so that was intriguing in and of itself. Furthermore the film is pertinent in terms of the FBIs’ abuse of power. When a secret court system like one we have here in the U.S., called FISA, calls you out in the press, like it did to the FBI this week, you know you have some issues. But hasn’t the FBI always had issues? How about the executive branch and Congress? Another great story from this week that got very little attention was how since at least 2003 the government has lied about how the war in Vietnam, I mean Afghanistan has been going. The film does not let the press off the hook either. Though the director of this film famously married and then divorced a reporter so who knows, maybe he has a personal axe to grind? One of the main takeaways from Richard Jewell is how little things have changed in U.S. society in the past 23 years. This is the system we live in and this is our human nature, so only the players change as the situations must by and large remain relatively the same. It’s nevertheless a cautionary tale worth heeding. 



LnD Playing Catch Up


Life has gotten in the way of writing for LnD but as a way to play catch up here are a few reactions to films we’ve recently watched. 

If you loved Zombieland, which I thought was a great movie, then you really have no reason to miss Zombieland: Double Tap. It’s a fun movie whose stars get to let their hair down from their more demanding roles and just pull the trigger (twice). If zombie killing really isn’t your cup of tea, then no amount of humor is going to help this medicine go down. Zombieland: Double Tap, essentially being a continuation of the original, made me think about original films we have seen this year. If you are looking for a fantastic performance based on a true story, look no further than The Mustang. Executive Produced by Robert Redford this film chronicles the real life prison rehab program that trains inmates on how to break wild mustangs. The horses are then, during one yearly auction, sold to police departments around the country.  It was a powerful film with a stand out performance by Matthias Schoenaerts. 

We saw several house location (if that is not already a genre it is now) based dramas involving the wealthy. One was the forgettable Ready or Not with a clunky plot that took its two dimensional characters nowhere but to absurdity.  And the other was Knives Out with a refreshing storyline and amazing performances by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. If you are into whodunits, do yourself a favor and check out this movie.

The other standout in this invented genre is Parasite. This movie essentially blew my mind and will easily land in my top 5 films of the year. The fact that it only screened here in Appleton, WI at 4:pm for a day is just a shame. We were lucky that D is all over scheduling like a claw in a sprocket (obscure film projector terminology) and caught it. My own film Anger (shameless plug) played at the Weyauwega International Film Fest and was followed by Parasite — but those were the only screenings of this gem in this area.  If it comes down to a fight for screen space around here then I say Frozen II be damned. I’m not actually going to write about Parasite because I would hate to give anything away plot-wise. It is a home based story as I mentioned, and we noted how infrastructure is ingeniously used as metaphor in the film. I’m guessing that like Moonlight, after it wins the Academy Award the multiplex bean counters (biting the hand that feeds me) will decide it’s time to bring it back to Appleton. Parasite is a fascinating work and an instant cinema classic. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Ferrari vs Ford, or is it Ford vs Ferrari? The Cinematogtaphy in this racing film was astonishing and I was riveted by the fantastic performances of Matt Damon — who is at his best here — and Christan Bale. The cars are shiny and fast but what makes this film memorable is that it is really about the great bond of two friends hell-bent on making history and pushing the envelope of the human experience. 

Terminator: Dark Fate was entertaining. I think it got a bad rap and was underestimated for not being historically correct in terms of previous films in this series. But at some point in a series with time travel you get into a Back to the Future scenario and if you can’t suspend disbelief then you will never enjoy the film. It is a movie after all and not a documentary on artificial intelligence and the time/space continuum.  If you want an entertaining movie with lots of action and strong female leads who know how to kick- ass, this film will not let you down. 

I happened to catch The Laundromat on Netflix. I watched it without knowing what it was about and I think you should watch it that way too. There are great performances here by Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman and it’s certainly worth checking out if you are looking for some great acting and a thought provoking story. 

We are all caught up now. Our best films of the year list is coming right up.



Jexi is the slapstick comedy version of Her and if you go into it with low expectations you will be surprisingly pleased. I don’t know what’s crazier, that a smartphone would hijack your life, that Cate (Alexandra Shipp) would be interested in Phil (Adam DeVine) or that they would go mountain biking without wearing helmets. One thing the film has going for it is the backdrop of San Francisco, which plays a central role. One of my favorite scenes was a night time bike ride that goes sideways. I lived in San Francisco for 6 years and rode a bike everyday. It’s fun and it doesn’t hurt if you are a little fearless — at least about bike riding on hills. That scene did a great job capturing the adventure that zooming around The City at night can be. 

In general the film was amicably helmed by John Lucas and Scott Moore. It also had some decent cameos by Wanda Sykes, Kid Cudi and Michael Peña. There are also strong supporting roles by Ron Funches and Charlyne Yi as Phil’s supportive coworkers. Well, supportive until Jexi decides to …

So overall I enjoyed this film. It’s a decent cautionary tale with some blue comedy that I found amusing. It’s not as funny, deep or blue as the sleeper hit Good Boys but it still surprised me with how funny it actually was and certainly passed the six dollar Thursday night movie bar.

Powering off. 

Ad Astra

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L & D were graced with the presence of our friend F. for the highly anticipated screening of Ad Astra. In this film Producer/Actor Brad Pitt plays an astronaut in a not so distant future who is on a once in a lifetime mission to Neptune. 

Some great lines from F. included when he picked up on a direct quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey, who this film owes everything to. His line about there being “too many stars in this movie” — when Donald Sutherland shows up. And also his parting salvo, during the credits, which was, “It took two idiots to write this?” 

The film also reminded me of some other recent filmic space junk, First Man, the biopic on Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Gosling. For a leading man or woman in Hollywood, an astronaut movie is par for the course. If you were an actor and owned a production company like Brad Pitt does, you would certainly put yourself in the drivers seat of a rocket to Neptune. It makes sense. 

In terms of production value, Ad Astra is out of its mind. Technically and aesthetically, it is really a film that the filmmakers can be proud of. And it has a few memorable suspense and action sequences which I won’t spoil for you. Let’s just say there is a shoot out and a strange thing happens with monkeys. And Tommy Lee Jones. Actually, Tommy Lee Jones does laudable acting work here. He is one of those actors I love on the screen but would terrify me in real life. Like if I had to do anything with Tommy Lee Jones. Like if we were related and had Thanksgiving together, I would have to have a Xanax. Not because he is famous but because he is so intense. Can you imagine? Tommy Lee to L at the table: “Pass the candied yams.” I shudder. And forget about being anywhere near him on set. I would definitely not want to sit by him at lunch. But he would probably sit next to me and start asking me personal questions. This has happened to me during film shoots with celebs. Mostly it’s fine but you never know with intense, method actors. One second it’s, “Have you listened to any good music lately?”  The next is, “Get out of my eyeline!!” I mean, rarely does that happen —but I wouldn’t trust him. Maybe he is just that good of an actor and he is actually the nicest guy you ever met. Maybe. So if you love Tommy Lee Jones, even though he, like Sutherland, is in a minor supporting role here, it’s a strong performance.

One thing about this film is that the plot is absolutely absurd. You have to suspend disbelief almost immediately. And the only way to understand this movie is through the cross references of psychology and Greek tragedy. As an Oedipal story. As an allegory. Ultimately, the grinding pace of this film, the self-reflectiveness and indulgence, bury it. I think if the filmmakers had stuck to a more traditional narrative structure, added just a little more humor and quickened the pace of the story, this could have been a much more engaging and thought provoking film. On the other hand, I’m sure Brad Pitt is satisfied and feels like he said what he needed to say about outer space, humanity and Dads. You could watch Ad Astra or perhaps better yet, launch a laser disc and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again. 


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I hope my wife doesn’t read this review. …Jennifer Lopez plays a street wise stripper with a heart of well…cubic zirconia in the entertaining crime drama Hustlers. Most notable to me was the standout performance of Constance Wu. Her multi-dimensional portrayal of Destiny, a struggling exotic dancer in a toxic relationship, steals the movie. Constance Wu could give Leo DiCaprio a master class on crying in film. J. Lo on the other hand, with her understated performance as queen of a lucrative drug and fraud ring comes off flat in the face of Wu’s transformations. 

The plot reminds me of recent films where women take over a criminal enterprise as men fail or abandon them, for example Widows. It also reminds me of the story structure of Annie Hall, including a montage of good times these buddies have had at the end of the film in reverse chronological order. It’s at times tough to feel empathy for the main characters in Hustlers. They certainly had their fun. And their excuse for the crime spree, “If it wasn’t us it would be someone else.” strains credulity. Two wrongs and all that. However, as a portrait of the power of personality or of a life that spirals as if its moral compass is demagnetized, the film works.

Hustlers has a high production value. Technically, it’s a strong film with impressive makeup, hair, costume, sound design and cinematography. It’s also cast extremely well. Overall, Lorene Scafaria did an excellent job co-producing, writing the screenplay and directing.

I know you are waiting for me to say something about J. Lo. Let’s just say that during the end credits Usher ends up grabbing J. Lo’s famous gluteus maximus (also known collectively as her bootay). I’m sure in a less constrained audience than ours shock waves and audible eruptions occurred. We of course took it all in stride after our most recent viewing of the 3 hour director’s cut of Midsommar. 

There were a few things I really enjoyed about the film and Scafaria’s writing. The backstage banter of the ladies bemoaning their poor sex lives, lack of meaningful relationships, reliance on “massage” units (vibrators, people!) dealing with jealous boyfriends and rip-off managers all made for believable dialogue. Strippers have everyday problems too, it’s not all makin’ it rain and glitter rainbows.  

However most of the characters get a cursory treatment at best. And although the stakes are raised and raised there never is a true payoff. The film just sputters to a close. Esentially Wu carries Hustlers on her back but luckily for us she is more than up to the task. As a side note, you will also learn about the shady practices and ethics of Russian exotic dancers. This film easily vaulted and spun upside down with one leg hooked over the 6 dollar bar. 

The Farewell


The Farewell is a haunting and personal story from Writer \ Director Lulu Wang. I’m sorry that I didn’t immediately come home and write a review but maybe I was hoping that our guests H & A would take me up on the offer of an Official L & D t-shirt for writing a guest review. Also, I was busy editing my own film. Then I was busy alternately vegging out and processing The Farewell. 

I don’t know how many of you have been in the situation, I have, where a loved one is dying and your family is telling you not to say anything to the dying person. Or perhaps you found yourself on the other side of that equation and your counsel was to keep the truth from the dying person and to instruct everyone, out of an old world sense of sympathy and responsibility, to not say a word. Maybe it’s even decorum. Maybe the person knows very well what is happening but they want to pretend not to know, so you can pretend not to know. So you can all hang out at the hospital room and speak nostalgically about the past and about a future that will never be. That’s not exactly what happens in The Farewell but it’s an example of how this type of situation can go down. 

In The Farewell, starring Awkwafina, who I have already gushed over in this blog, flys to China from NYC to say goodbye to her dying Grandmother —though she is not allowed to say goodbye. Her entire family is visiting China under the guise of being there for a wedding. A wedding that’s a ruse. And this plot device works absolutely well as a point of comedic pain. 

Ok, I’m going to gush a little. Awkwafina, who has the gait and delivery and comedic timing of Larry David, here eschews the easy Queens cranky laughs for a truly profound performance. One of my favorite radio shows is called De Película, it’s a two hour movie review and interview show on RNE, aka Radio Nacional de España aka the NPR of Spain. This show, whose title is a double entendre for “about movies” or more often an exclamation of disbelief that an event occurred, literally “Like a movie!” The show has been around for many years and they host a film fest too. Last week they were interviewing the judges, esteemed technicians and above-the-line players in Spanish Cinema. They all pretty much said the same thing. They weren’t concerned with a films’ technical achievement or in considering how well their own specialty was executed. They cared about if the film had soul. A heart. And that’s not something that can simply be conjured by mixing certain elements. There is still a magic to movies, even in this digi-tech age, success is pure alchemy. As a creator, to give a film a soul? …Well, you can at least create the conditions (to steal a little from Meisner) for something like that to occur in a narrative film but the movie has to create a soul for itself. Then one of the radio show interviewees said that a particular performance had transcended the screen. And that gave me chills because I felt that with Awkwafina in this film. It’s still the greatest magical power of this art form. The ability for actors and at times scenes or more rarely for entire films to transcend the medium. End of gush. 

Another thing. The Farewell is funny. In the middle of the poignancy, there’s always a nod to absurd behaviors, situations and the wacky things people do and say. I would watch it again but it’s out of the theater.  You should catch it when it’s streaming. I can’t recommend it enough. 

One actor in the film, Tzi Ma, seemed familiar to me. I was asked to be the cinematographer for 5 days of principal photography on a controversial film called #1 Serial Killer (not its original title and I’ll leave it at that). This film starred the insanely talented Jason Tobin and was directed by Stanley Yung, a fellow Bruin who I have a lot of admiration for. As the title hints, there was a lot of fake blood and somehow I ended up filming most if not all of the deaths in this slasher film over the course of a few evenings. Tzi Ma, who plays a mean boss, is one target for the ire of the killer. Overall it was a great experience for me as a cinematographer and I went on to shoot other pieces for this active Asian-American coterie in Los Angeles. There’s not a lot of representation for Latinos in Hollywood so I appreciated that the Asian community there took me under its wing. I do sometimes miss being part of all that insanity. On the other hand I can confidently say that I am the only person in Appleton, Wisconsin who goes to the movies and actually knows the people in the credits on a fairly regular basis! (Note: It has been brought to my attention by someone other than Frank, that my friend Frank L. Anderson, a constant L & D reader no less, would give me a run for my money in this category. I see you Frank!). I think D gets a kick out of that. In any case, yeah, #1 Serial Killer is not the height of cinema, but I believe The Farewell truly is. I hope the Academy has its eyes open and Awkwafina can take home some well deserved hardware.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette


In Where’d You Go, Bernadette a complex character, her motivations, fears and aspirations are all revealed in a powerful and funny story that takes us to the end of the Earth. Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a MacArthur Fellowship winner, a genius in her own time. But she has an especially hard time with human interaction, even using a virtual personal assistant in lieu of an actual therapist. There were many times during this film where I laughed out loud, which possibly was made easier by the fact that we were the only people in the theater. However, some of the best films we have watched were in sparse to empty theaters, like Death of Stalin and Free Solo. 

I didn’t realize this movie was made by Richard Linklater but since Slacker, his films have impressed me. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he doesn’t hit you over the head with the minutia of everything from pop culture to haute couture that he knows. He just carries you along for the ride, you get the references — which D always did — or you don’t.  At the same time, you wonder how in this day and age when there is a clamor and need for more women directors, a strong female driven drama like this is still green-lighted for a guy. Do you think that if a woman had directed this film that the opening and closing moments would be the voice over of a child? It takes the punch and power away from the protagonist. And I would say the use of that voice over is my strongest critique of this film. In spite of that, I did thoroughly enjoy the movie. I’d love to see Cate Blanchett nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. She is truly a genius, playing a genius here. And for the cafe scene alone, I would give Laurence Fishburne a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.  He gives us some of the best lines ever and certainly in this movie, “People like you must create.” He says to Bernadette, “If you don’t create, you will become a menace to society.”

There is also a great Rashomon Effect in the film as we the audience are able to jump back and forth from various points of view, like Bernadette’s husband Elgie, played strongly by Billy Cruddup and her neighbor Audrey played by Kristen Wiig, who shows off her dramatic range. 

All in all, even though the film grinds through a predictable and not that enthralling third act, it’s still mostly entertaining and interesting. I would recommend it to anyone looking for great performances, an intelligent screenplay and some fine Antarctic cinematography to boot. 

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (L)


I could really get into it and write a review for next two hours and forty five minutes but I have already scarificed enough of my time for this movie. If I did the review in the style of this movie, it would go something like this: ……………………………………….I got up early ……………………………………….I decided to get a muffin and a chai latte ……………………………………….I was early so I had to sit at the coffee drive thru, waiting for them to open ……………………………………….I sat with the car on and a cool song blasting ……………………………………….The coffee guy shows up. I turn off my car. The song cuts out abruptly. I say, “I got up early.”  Coffee guy says, “I did too.” 

And that’s basically it. D nailed it on the drive afterwards, where at lot of our shared post-movie analysis takes place. And this is how he described it, “self-indulgent”. Now, yes, I could spend the rest of my life trying to perfect directing a scene where someone with a flamethrower gruesomely chars another person to death in a swimming pool, but luckily I have been spared that fate. 

At one point I was thinking to myself. “This movie will never end.” And then it ended about two minutes later. 

Another D note, it’s really two films in one. Neither is really compelling and nothing interesting to speak of happens unless you think a shirtless Brad Pitt on a rooftop is interesting. Which, I’m sure that will be true for a lot of people but it’s not a circus side show, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s 9th feature or at least that’s what the poster claims. 

I tried having low expectations, I really did. But I just couldn’t and now the disappointment has arrived.  Al Pacino is in this film. He is totally wasted. There is a part of the story where the DiCaprio character, a fading 50s star now doing bit parts in 60s episodic TV, goes to Rome to star in Spaghetti Westerns. But you never see any of that. Another missed opportunity. There is plenty of meandering, driving on empty freeways and smoking by holding the pack up to your mouth and plucking a cig out. Plenty of that.  DiCaprio cries a lot. So what, I was crying too, on the inside. 

Another great D note. (This entire review is basically me, transcribing his thoughts)…Tarantino knows how to create tension. And he really does. The scene where Pitt goes to Manson’s cult compound is truly ominous and well done. The scene where Pitt’s character, a stuntman, fights Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee works. The scene where the DiCaprio character is schooled by a child actress is effective. But are these scenes enough to save this Gone with the Wind run time movie? If you saw Us and are looking for an interesting period piece about people who break into homes in order to kill them, don’t watch this movie, just watch Us again. Us is really a brilliant film that has a lot to say. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is a well-crafted whole lot of nothing to see here unless you like watching people look at themselves in the mirror. 

If the young Tarantino found this new Tarantino he would slap him…or shoot him, cut off his finger, stuff a red ball in his mouth…you understand what I mean.