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Simon Boccanegra

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  1. I caught up with this last night. It was one of those "tier two" new movies I was curious about, but not enough to see in the theatrical-release window. Background: I've seen the Kubrick The Shining several times, I read King's The Shining two or three times as a young person, and I saw the forgettable 1997 miniseries once. I've never read Doctor Sleep because, while I have enduring respect for King as a writer, I disembarked somewhere around Needful Things. So this was an all-new story to me. All I knew was that it picked up with Danny Torrance as an adult. I give the writer/director, Mike Flanagan, a lot of credit on a degree-of-difficulty level. He managed to make a respectful, even reverent sequel to both the book and the film, bridging the distance between them. The reverence is not always in Doctor Sleep's best interests. The weakest scenes were the ones with new actors impersonating Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers circa 1980. They were good impersonations, sometimes eerily good (Alex Essoe's Wendy running toward the park bench, frantic, yelling out to Danny), but it was hard to react to them as anything but impersonations. Those scenes had a waxwork or tribute-band quality. The film following or surrounding those scenes was better. Something I found special and unusual about it, for a horror thriller, is that we got to see the "villains" being terrified too. There were mutual stalking and terror tactics going on. It was a real psychic war. The sympathetic characters of Abra, Dan and Billy got to get their own licks in, not just in the climax. As satisfying as that element was, I found I didn't even hate the members of True Knot, despite the gruesome things they did onscreen. When I thought about it, I realized they were like obligate carnivores. They didn't think of what they were doing as evil. They wanted to keep living as much as their victims did, they were facing extinction with their dwindling supplies, and they were long past being emotionally affected by the necessary sacrifices. This is a credit to King, Flanagan and the True Knot actors. I'm a little surprised not to read more effusive praise for Kyliegh Curran in the reactions I've seen so far. I thought she showed the presence and strength of someone who could become an important actor in adulthood. The same goes for Jacob Tremblay, whom I knew going in from Room. His big scene here is so excruciating that the viewer has to recover from it to get back into the film. Rebecca Ferguson, whom Doctor Sleep probably helped more than it did anyone else, is as great a principal antagonist as everyone said, magnetic and complex, reminding me of a beautiful Swede of an earlier generation, Lena Olin. But Ewan McGregor was only workmanlike, Some actors deepen in middle age, as the youthful glamour falls away; others grow paler, less interesting. Unfortunately, I have McGregor in the second category. He was overshadowed here, much as he was in Beginners and The Impossible. This is not a horror classic. It's slow, dense and deliberate without completely making that pay off, and it was hard for me to buy something integral to the premise: that an intact Overlook would have been shuttered after the events of Kubrick's film. In that version of the Overlook's history, would one more crazy caretaker who only successfully committed a single murder really get the place closed down? And in nearly 40 years, it was neither reopened under new owners nor demolished with something else on the site; it just sat there in a very mild state of dilapidation? But a solid effort, well worth seeing.
  2. I didn't think this was a great season of CYE. But I don't think the highs of season 3 can ever be achieved again. When a show has been on this long, with so many of the same characters and actors, sometimes it's just a matter of the low-hanging fruit long having been picked. I think CYE successfully reinvented itself in seasons 6, 7, and 8, after showing the first signs of staleness in the mid-aughts, and not every great sitcom gets a new lease on life like that. My expectations now are modest. I just enjoy it now for what I can get -- catching up with these people and seeing what minor variations on the formulas can be wrought. There was a lot of retreading. I'm being sporting; I'm not counting as retreading things it's impossible to imagine CYE without, like Larry being asked to leave dinner parties, Larry getting into arguments with doctors and wait staff, or plots involving golf. I mean more specific retreading. Racist dog (season 5). Bizarrely ambitious ideas for the bathrooms of a new business (season 3). Larry getting "the help" fired because of high-maintenance bathroom ways, and then being prevailed upon to make it right (Cheri Oteri in season 3, Adrien Martinez here). Bad behavior at a stage play showcasing a prickly English actor (Ricky Gervais in season 8, now Clive Owen). The "insensitivity to a widow" plot with Jane Krakowski was somewhat reminiscent of one with Caroline Aaron. However, I thought the season rallied for a great final trio of episodes, and so it peaked where it should have. Jon Hamm was one of the best "celebrity playing himself/herself" guests ever, and Hill, Penn and Kunis really lifted the finale. Also, one of my least favorite recurring characters, Cheryl's sister Becky played by Kaitlin Olson, had her best episode ever, and was used in a way I never saw coming. So, I haven't moved from my previous position. If there is another season, I'll hope to be around for it.
  3. And cousin Randy, who was competing with him in the Score category this year, has won two (out of 22 nominations). Neither was for his best work, but they're quite an illustrious movie-music family. An acting addition to the topic: There are always performances that, as years go by, look like more egregious snubs for their lack of even a nomination. One that comes to mind from the past decade is Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis. I think that when it's all said and done, he'll be recognized as one of the greats of his generation, and that was a commanding hard-sell performance in which he was in every scene. I suppose in 2013-14, he just didn't have a high enough profile. Four of the five in the category were very famous people, and the fifth, Chiwetel Ejiofor, was in the ultimate Best Picture winner.
  4. Same. In my case, I've spent so much of my adult life seeing stage performances of standard-repertory works in which the "how" (the artistry with which we get from one point to another) is everything. Almost everyone will go in already knowing the "what." So I'm just wired that way. If what I'm seeing is almost entirely plot-dependent, like a mystery in which the whole point is finding out which of the people in the house committed the murder, then I'll try to avoid them. But very little of what I care to watch can be described that way anyway. I do think that's a good strategy with Parasite. It isn't entirely dependent on plot, but it does have some delicious turns. I think we've gone too far in the direction of spoiler hysteria and rage. A few years ago, I saw people ripping into Amy Adams on YouTube because she gave an interview about Arrival and said the hardest part was the death of the daughter, as she (Adams) is the real-life mother of a daughter. People were writing "NOW I DON'T NEED TO SEE THE MOVIE! THANKS A LOT!" over something that happens in the first few minutes. Even when told it happens in the first few minutes and is part of the movie's setup/premise, they weren't backing down. It used to be a different world. I've read reviews of the book Gone with the Wind, from when it was newly published, that blithely give away the terms on which Scarlett and Rhett end the story. Or you see old trailers for classic films like Chinatown and they show you most of the final scene, including the last line.
  5. What I got was not that she was afraid of him, but that she was the kind of person who goes along with whatever a more forceful personality says. She's very suggestible, which is one reason she's an easy mark and entry point for the Kims. She doesn't seem to have much of an inner life or a point of view on things. Before she was married, she was probably assuming her parents must be right about everything. Now it's her husband and her household staff. This is one reason I was impressed with the actress (Cho Yeo-jeong). That kind of character can just be a nothing, but she made something memorable of it.
  6. I'm the other way around. Loved Waves; thought Harriet was not worthy of its subject. That is not a judgment I'm happy about reaching, because Kasi Lemmons's first film (Eve's Bayou) is a minor classic. I remember seeing it when it was new in 1997 and being excited about this actress I knew from Silence of the Lambs and other films making such an assured writing/directing debut. Harriet, more than 20 years later...not so assured. I think it was a good idea in Waves to elide the legal business, taking us directly from the arrest to the family going to hear the sentencing. But damn. He entered a guilty plea and he still got life without possibility of parole until he had served 30 years? Teenagers who have actually planned and committed murders that followed torturing the victim for hours have done better than that (all four of Shanda Sharer's killers are free now). So I think the (possible) racial element was effectively unstated there. They don't dwell on it, but it was in my mind.
  7. Another factor not getting talked about as much as the reaction to the smell: Mr. Park bristles at Mr. Kim's attempts to relate to him as a person, on a topic they have in common, the love of family. Twice, once in the car and another time in the backyard, Mr. Kim has asked or mused that Mr. Park loves his wife and/or children very much. Mr. Park clearly did not like the comment/question the first time. The second time, he is firmer in response: he reminds Mr. Kim that he's working. In the couch scene for the Parks, Mr. Park remarks that Mr. Kim has come close to crossing a line but has not yet. The question about Mr. Park's love for Mrs. Park (and maybe other things like it) is what he means. He considers this presumptuous. Mr. Kim is not his friend, and not really even his fellow man. He's the help. The other.
  8. What I believe kept it from breaking into the acting categories: The actors were unfamiliar names/faces and it was an ensemble film in which everyone was good, no one was bad, and no one really stood out and had "that scene." In such cases, it's often the cast's fate to fall together. People will talk about the uniformly excellent acting rather than looking up the name of the woman who played Mrs. Park or the young man who played Ki-woo and giving her or him a moment. If Bong Joon-ho had made an English-language film on a similar theme, and the same "everyone was good; no obvious standout" reading applied, it still might have been so. Maybe some veteran actress would have got into Supporting via one of the mother roles or the housekeeper. especially if she was someone well liked who had not won already. Unfortunately, the phrase "It's who you know" does apply in these industry awards. While listening to everyone's case against, and acknowledging that there are other good movies from 2019 (I'll take the opportunity to plug Waves, which I posted about down below), I'm still of the opinion that the Academy got it resoundingly right this time. It was both the best in the category and the best I saw from this year. And I don't think it's going to fade with the passage of time. It's entertaining, it's precise, and it's substantive.
  9. He is, yes, but I think the way the scene is shot and acted, it's clear enough that he isn't going to be able to go through with it. That's also the way it reads in BJH's script.
  10. I'd be more against them if they had done that, but while there is a violent frenzy, it's more desperate and confused than murderous. The mother doesn't intentionally kill the housekeeper with that kick; she's just trying to prevent her from getting out of the basement. In a later scene, it's clear they think both members of the couple are still alive. The references in the Kim mother/daughter conversation at the party are in the plural. KI-JUNG: Shouldn’t we try to talk to them? Try to reach an agreement? CHUNG-SOOK: I think so too. We all got too emotional yesterday. KI-JUNG I’ll go down there and see how they’re doing. That isn't to say I think your read is all wrong. The Kims do a lot of things that are not "good." They are not straightforward heroes. I don't think Bong Joon-Ho wants us to feel the Parks deserve everything they're getting. It's in part a satire or black comedy, but it has some texture and moral ambiguity as well. I do think the unpleasant smell is a real thing. The little boy comments on it too. Once they're made aware of it, the Kims consider using different detergents so they won't all have the same smell, but then rule out that plan ("It won’t work. It’s the basement smell. The smell won’t go away unless we leave this place").
  11. This is one I hope finds more of an audience over time. It was very well reviewed but had a microscopic box-office take. I think it's a better film than some other intimate dramas of 2019 that had a similar critic/audience trajectory. It is an ambitious movie and an unusual one in style and structure. The song that plays over the closing credits is called "Sound & Color," and that could be an alternate title for the film, which is aesthetically beautiful apart from everything else. Shults's camera is very restless, often revolving 360 degrees to take in a scene, like the beam of a lighthouse. The use of music is nearly symphonic in its continuity, between the electronic score by Reznor and Ross (of The Social Network) and a boatload of popular songs, from Dinah Washington to Animal Collective, many of them used diegetically on car radios or at parties. The carefully plotted moments of stillness and silence thus stand out starkly. The script throws a lot of heavy issues at the viewer: domestic violence, grave sports injuries, toxic masculinity, prescription drug abuse, teenage drinking, unplanned pregnancy and reproductive rights, harsh sentencing for African-Americans, online bullying, marital discord, terminal illness, grief. Even for a 135-minute film, it's a very full plate. The interesting thing about it is that it doesn't push for emotional catharsis. It's a well-worked-out script that is directed with a certain observant distance. I could imagine someone else finding it too cool or detached, but I actually appreciated that it was just showing me, in a plausible way, a string of misfortunes and bad decisions that culminate in a tragedy, and then a recovery that is equally plausible, not all better but life going on. There is grist for two or three melodramas here, but the director and actors aren't exhorting us to cry. There is wonderful work from the whole ensemble, with special praise for Russell, luminous as the family's quiet daughter, who takes over the film halfway through and brings it and herself back to life, and Brown as the loving but overwhelming father. In his early scenes as the daughter's new love interest, Hedges nails a particular kind of naturally sweet person who, attempting to make the best possible impression on someone new, almost overshoots the mark.
  12. Oh, a lot of people found Nolan's Dunkirk incomprehensible or at least uninvolving because of the way he chose to tell the story, and said so. That was a widely expressed minority view. I couldn't get into it at all myself, and I still think Nolan's best movie is Insomnia, which was a remake. Also, she did a great job of mimicking Garland's style, specifically the style of late-career Garland. The timbre of her voice wasn't the same, because that's biology, but she got the mannerisms down, even the imperfections. I'm not saying hers is my favorite performance of the five nominees, but I won't think it's an unworthy win. Judy is very much a "star movie," about a deceased one and showcasing a living one, and Zellweger fills it. I'm sorry to say I've seen it three times. I didn't like it in the theater when it was making its awards laps, I didn't like it when it first made it to HBO, and I still didn't like it a few years ago on Netflix. It has that literary patina about it, it's beautifully mounted, and a lot of talented people are involved, but it's a slog. It passes like a sentence. With The King's Speech, I never had the slightest desire to see it a second time. I was sure I had the measure of that one on a single viewing. I could see both why it hit the sweet spot for the Academy and why it did nothing for me.
  13. The prevailing sentiment is that "The Actress" in the EW piece -- the past nominee who always supports her friends, is close with Diane Ladd and has known Laura Dern since she was a baby, wants to be in a Tarantino film, etc. -- is Sally Kirkland. They say she had a "memorable" previous nomination, implying it was just one and that she didn't win. Kirkland's nomination for 1987's little-seen Anna, up against heavy hitters Cher, Close, Hunter, and Streep, was definitely memorable. It could be someone else, of course, but the rest of the personal details match up too. Not to be confused with the actress in the Hollywood Reporter piece, who doesn't want foreign films up for Best Picture and doesn't want non-Americans playing Americans (except for Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, which somehow was fine).
  14. One more anonymous-ballot piece from IndieWire, from an executive. See if you can guess to which Best Picture nominees these descriptions correspond: (1) "I had an intense spiritual experience watching the movie, it’s such a large point that it makes so eloquently. It was such a flat-out brilliant idea. And to pull that off in the midst of all the other stories [...] They got it so right. It was a knockout punch. I walked out of the theater and said, 'I don’t know what could possibly beat this movie for me this year.'" (2) "I was never going to see the movie. When I finally saw it, I thought it was one of the best movies of the year! It’s so misconstrued, the whole conversation on what it was about. It reminded me that you can’t pay attention to what anyone says. You have to see it for yourself. The movie is a sad, tough, meaningful, devastating indictment, and it’s sophisticated in the way it’s told, not manipulative." (3) "It was cold in a way that set me back. The characters were all so creepy, they all deserved shit, you know? I didn’t think any one of them deserved anything good to happen to them. I admire the craft, the filmmaking, but I was turned away by the fact that you aren’t supposed to root for anybody." https://www.indiewire.com/2020/02/anonymous-oscar-ballot-2020-executive-tarantino-1202209671/
  15. That's definitely the most f-bomb-filled Honest Oscar piece I've ever read. Do we still say "Whoosh!" or is that too '90s? It's reasonable to criticize The Irishman for several things. It's only my sixth-favorite Best Picture choice this year, and it's not Scorsese's best on mobsters and hoods. But this producer zeroes in on one of its strengths and describes it as a weakness. It's intended to be a sad, mournful movie about corruption, as if a trap is slowly closing on the main character from the first. Nothing Sheeran does ultimately means anything or gets him anywhere. He ends up just another lonely, enfeebled old man, boring a young nurse with stories about a once-famous person who's no more than a name to her. It's just about the least glamorized portrayal of the mob I've ever seen. Yes, in some of his other movies, Scorsese dwelt more on the fun of getting away with things and living it up before the bills came due, but it doesn't mean he has to make that choice every time.
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