Here is a list I made on IMDB.com (Internet Movie Database) awhile ago. I want to use this as a checklist for reviews to write on this blog. I have already done some, but hope to get to all of them eventually.
The portion I wrote (which are all short summaries) for each film is surrounded in quotation marks and in bold faced italics.
David O. Russell’s new film Joy is a biopic showing us the journey Joy Mangano took from broke (and in debt) single mother to multi millionaire queen of QVC and HSN. Jennifer Lawrence plays the titular role making this the third time she and Russell have collaborated. Lawrence starred in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook for which she took home the Best Actress Oscar, and also in Russell’s followup American Hustle for which Lawrence was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and you can bet the farm we will be hearing Lawrence’s name listed as a Best Actress nominee for her wonderful turn in Joy.
Some movie fans do not like David O. Russell as a director. These people will tell you that he is all style and no substance. That is certainly a valid argument, but one with which I disagree. I happen to like his style as it pertains to his storytelling and I think it worked best in Silver Linings… and American Hustle. Say what you want about Russell’s style, but you certainly must call it unique! At the beginning of Joy, as the studio logo is displayed to some light sounding bells, on to the opening (out of focus) camera shot, you can tell right away you’re in a David O. Russell Production! And I am here to tell you it is the right style for this wonderful biopic about an extraordinary woman.
To tell Mangano’s story as a straight drama would be almost too depressing to watch. She has a mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) living in her house who is so afraid of men and the outside world that she confines herself to her bed watching her soap operas in glorious agoraphobic fashion! Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramierez) lives in the basement practicing his singing in to a cheap P.A. system while their two kids are being watched upstairs by Joy’s grandma (Diane Ladd) who also narrates the story with obsequious praise of Joy, always reassuring her that one day she will do great great things. Joy’s father, Rudy (Robert DeNiro – another multiple Russell collaborator), who was once married to Terry, owns a body shop that his daughter Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) helps him run. Peggy is always there to let Joy know she has done something wrong and how she would have done it better! OH!! And when we pick up the story, Rudy moves in to the house as well after being kicked out of the house of his longtime girlfriend, and since there is no room left in the house, Joy is forced to put him in the basement with her ex Tony, who does not get along with Rudy! It should also be noted that Joy is broke bordering on in debt, and soon to actually be in debt, but as played by Lawrence, she remains so cute cuddly and calm….
Russell does some fun things like showing us the fake soap opera that Terry is always watching and actually uses some iconic soap opera stars like Susan Lucci to play the fake characters. Russell intercuts the soap sequences with the plot scenes of the real movie. He does this to show how Joy’s life is just like a ridiculous soap opera and how living a life like this can lead to you inventing the world’s first self ringing mop! Which is what she did….
Rudy meets a lady named Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) through a dating service for widows and widowers (even though he isn’t a widower himself). They begin a romantic relationship. It is Trudy who ends up lending Joy the money to start her business to build and sell these mops. Part of the fun of this film is to watch all of the great struggles Joy endures to become a success, so I will not spoil it for you.
One of the things I like most about the film is the way Russell’s screenplay strips down a lot of the business minutiae and leaves in a bunch of phrases and bureaucratic nonsense (from the real world) that keeps many big and good ideas from coming to fruition in this country. Over and over and OVER again we hear Trudy say to Joy in some form, “That’s the cost of doing business…” when something goes wrong for her. This becomes a turn of phrase for Joy’s bad luck and misfortune. The screenplay does a nice job as well to take us on the roller coaster ride that is Joy’s journey to selling her Miracle Mop to the country – how apropos a name!!
My fovorite parts of the film are with Bradleey Cooper as QVC sales executive Neil Walker. We get so use to the craziness that is Joy’s life and the zaniness of her family and their little manic tics, that when we see Walker as Cooper plays him – calm, cool, steady and collected – we can feel how Joy herself is calmed by him as well. There is a moment in the film (my absolute favorite) at the QVC headquarters where Joan Rivers (played by her daughter Melissa Rivers) is selling her jewelry with a pretty female QVC host. Walker is taking Joy on a tour of the studio when they begin watching the live broadcast with Joan. The way Russell makes it look as if Cooper is conducting a large orchestra during this scene as he is showing Joy the connection between the movement of the host’s hands to the numbers of calls coming in is nothing short of enthralling!
I want to once again talk about how stripped down a lot of the screenplay is regarding the business side of things. Russell does a great thing here to oversimplify the business terms and strategies; he instead uses these simple terms to give an overarching theme of how ridiculous people sound when they say (complicated/wordy version of) these things. I believe Russell is trying to show a story of a brave woman with little to no business acumen who made it to the top because she had guts and a good idea! By stripping down the language, Russell is rendering these traditional methods insensitive and superfluous. This point is further emboldened when we learn Joy’s best friend Jackie and her ex Tony are her business consultants (even well after she bcomes rich).
Russell is also showing how it was this type of behavior from others that made Joy Mangano in to not only a successful business woman, but an empathetic one who is willing to take chances on other people’s ideas and also take care of her family long after they maybe didn’t deserve it.
Joy Mangano’s story is truly an American one! A lot of people these days are losing sight what that really means. It is an interesting and challenging choice for Russell to write and direct a film about this extraordinary woman. I do not know what made him decide to do it, but in many of his films, non-fiction or otherwise, he likes the story of the underdog – the one everyone is counting out. We all feel like that person at times in our lives, and Russell is showing us stories that say anything is possible – especially if we reach for our inner Joy….
This is one of the best films of the year…
Here is an old review I wrote on facebook back in 2010 for the movie Moonstruck.
Kinda short, but it’s fun to revisit….
Oh what a movie! This 1987 Best Picture Nominee is so true to life, you’ll swear it is a satire. But instead of satire, what you will see is a warm film, that realizes life’s little moments, whether sad or happy (and even the self-important “tragedies”) deserve to be looked upon as humorous. Several Oscar nominations were doled out to “Moonstruck” including wins for Cher (Best Actress), Olympia Dukakis (Best Supporting Actress), and John Patrick Shanley for his screenplay.
Loretta (Cher) is set to marry Johnny (Danny Aiello), but ends up falling for Ronny (Nicolas Cage), Johnny’s brother. Rose (Dukakis) is married to Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia, Best Supporting Actor nominee), Cosmo has a gal on the side. Johnny is at his mother’s death bed in Cicily, awaiting her death so he can marry Loretta. Johnny and Rony have not spoken in five years since a bread slicer accident…
All of this, plus many other great performances and stories, provides a unique cinematic experience, which is all the more amazing since the characters are so recognizable and normal.
It should be noted that this is one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances; he plays an eccentric baker, who with sincere honesty and persistence, is able to sweep Loretta off her feet. He is also the reason we get to see Cher take the greatest “Walk of Shame” of all time which makes us all yearn that one day we can be so lucky!
I must admit this is definitely one of my favorite films of all time. I say this in hopes it will make you watch it if you have not already. I truly think it is a film everyone needs to see for themselves. It holds such a profound meaning for me every single time I watch it, that I can only hope you’ll feel the same type of thing when you witness it for yourself. And once again, we can all strive to float down the street in the clothes we wore the night before as happily and obliviously as Cher does. ENJOY!!!!
The best procedural film on investigative journalism is All the President’s Men. All procedural films made after that one garner comparisons to it as All the President’s Men is the standard bearer for the genre. It is a risky thing to trust your ability as a filmmaker to put a movie out there that you expect moviegoers to enjoy which basically follows newspaper writers around watching them interview people and taking notes for two hours. If the subject matter is compelling enough for the audience then they will be more likely to enjoy the finer points of the film as they pertain to the procedural aspects. Tom McCarthy’s new film Spotlight not only keeps the audience’s attention, but is worthy of being compared to All the President’s Men as one of the best procedural films of all time.
Based on a true story, Spotlight begins in early July of 2001 at the Boston Globe when they brought on a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schriber); Baron was a journeyman editor brought to the Boston Globe from his second stint at the Miami Herald. Schreiber portrays Baron as an earnest yet quietly driven man who tasks the Spotlight section of the paper to start investigating the alleged Catholic priests child molestation scandal and the church’s alleged coverup of the events. In order to eventually gain some tread with the likely findings of his reporters, Baron asks the Globe’s publisher Richard Gilman (Michael Countryman) if the paper may challenge a court ruling that ordered previous investigations to this matter sealed. Gilman gives his blessing and that is only the beginning of where we realize how bold of an investigation this will be given the city and the power the Catholic church holds over it.
The Spotlight team at the Globe consists of four members: Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo); Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams); Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James); and the team leader, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), all of whom are portrayed brilliantly by the actors who make us believe they are genuine investigative reporters. Robby (as played by Keaton) is a mellow guy who grew up in the Boston area and was educated in the Catholic school system that he has been tasked with investigating. He explains to his team what it is they need to do, and they set out to do it. Tom McCarthy directs the scenes between Robby and his (three) reporters with careful attention to the subtle construct of their hierarchy; Keaton holds the staff’s attention and commands respect without histrionics or waving an iron fist. McCarthy’s handling of these scenes is the most important aspect of this film, because this construct is the through line for the rest of the movie; it makes the reporters actions throughout the film all the more believable and defines them as important cogs in the investigation and not just ancillary characters added for symmetrical depth.
When the writers all begin their respective investigating on the assignment they do so with professionalism and a steadfast sense of duty like they would any story. McCarthy’s direction enriches Spotlight beyond (just) its procedural foundation. What the reporters find out is stuff we as viewers already know given that this is a story most of us have read/heard about before seeing the film. But what McCarthy does to implicate the viewers as a part of the scandal is nothing short of masterful and should net him a Best Director nomination – more on that in a moment.
It should be noted that given its subject matter, Spotlight is in no way an anti-religion film nor is it an anti-Catholic movie. If someone feels this way after viewing the film, I think they have missed the point entirely. Things of this nature are often (conveniently) given the out of sight out of mind brush off. This type of scandal is not the ordinary celebrity gossip type of thing that serves as a distraction to Americans. Sure it has the allure of a tabloid scandal, but it’s dealing with adults molesting children – bottom line! The only thing that gives it a gossipy fervor is that it is connected to the Catholic Church. McCarthy goes to great pains with his direction to point this out. He understands that the priests who committed these acts did so by using their standing as priests to molest children. As stated, McCarthy wants to make this clear; but what I believe to be the underlying theme of the film is that most Americans are guilty of standing blithely by while horrible things go on. We are more apt to hope that someone else (whose job it is) will get rid of this bad thing and pick up the pieces left behind. McCarthy is not blaming anyone for this necessarily, I believe he is imploring us to be more aware of our surroundings and to not be afraifd to take a stand where one is needed….
There is a scene that I feel serves as an allegorical moment to this theme:
During the investigation one day Robby and Mike (Keaton & Ruffalo) are walking down many hallways and stairs in the Boston Globe office building which eventually leads them to a dingy room in the basement where Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) is looking through many books for researching purposes. When the two men enter the room one of them exclaims, “What is that smell?!” Matt answers, “There’s a dead rat in the corner of the room.”
This is a small moment, yes, but it says a mouthful. These three men (and apparently any other people who have gone in to the room while the rat was decaying) have chosen to ignore the problem of the dead rat and put up with the smell for the short while they are in this room. Once they leave, they;ll no longer have to deal with the smell (or the decaying rodent’s body).
McCarthy is not saying these are bad men for ignoring the rat and perhaps leaving it to the janitor to clean up; he is simply giving a common example of man’s propensity to ignore with what they do not have to deal. In doing so, McCarthy is NOT comparing dead rats to priests molesting children. He is allowing for the audience to make the connection in a relatable way as to how someone can ignore something that is clearly a big problem and is happening in close proximity to where you work and live?
McCarthy performs a masterstroke of direction to answer this question, and also in establishing the church’s intoxicating power and influence in the city of Boston. In mostly every scene that takes place amidst the city, we see (different) beautiful church steeples towering over the background, which serves as a stark reminder of the Catholic church and its heavy influence throughout the community. He is not absolving anyone, mind you, but rather providing an artful reason as to how this scandal could’ve been ignored. This is done at several different locations. I feel not only is McCarthy trying to say it was difficult for people who knew about this scandal to say anything, but also the victims themselves.
One other element of Spotlight that also serves to establish an elephant in the room motif is the horrible events of 9/11. The beginning of the film shows subtitles indicating it is July of 2001. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the first thing I thought when I saw that is, how will the film handle 9/11? I know I already sound the like I am the president of the Tom McCarthy Fan Club (you should all see his film Win Win btw), but he handles these events with a grace and ease allowing for the events (as they pertain to the Spotlight staff) to act as a transition back to the investigation of the Catholic Church. McCarthy trusts the viewers’ collective memories of that day and its fallout to provide its own subnarrative to this section of the film. Needless to say 9/11 became the top reporting priority at The Boston Globe and therefore brought the current Spotlight investigation of the Church scandal to a halt. The Spotlight team stopped what they were doing to cover their portion of 9/11 as diligently as any other story. There is a scene where Mike has been sent to Florida to investigate the flight school where some of the 9/11 terrorists took flying lessons. What McCarthy does here to link the plot back to the Catholic Church investigation is so brilliant, yet so subtle, that if you blink you may miss it.
So we have a great (true) story, wonderful ensemble cast and all in all an entertaining film. What I think makes Spotlight special (once again) is the careful direction by Thomas McCarthy. He does a great job in establishing the hierarchy of the Boston Globe and also the Spotlight department. The performances are all great and the parts so well written that when we see one of the Globe writers maybe overstep their bounds (on the hierarchy), we understand how it makes sense or it is not inappropriate. I really enjoyed how we get to see all of the four main characters at one point or another treat this investigation with personal emotion. Yes, it is their job to do their unbiased investigating; so it is with great joy as a viewer watching them step out of their occupation for a moment to respectively take on the full magnitude of what it is they are actually trying to report. Spotlight reminds us to once in awhile allow for emotion to be our guide towards an earnest cause. This is the year’s best film….!!
This is less a review and more a fun explanation of why this is my favorite all time film.
This entry contains a timeline SPOILER.
If you don’t want to be spolied, please see film first….
For those who know me best, they can tell you without hesitation that No Country for Old Men is my favorite film of all time. Directed by the Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan), No Country… came out in 2007 which incidently was overall a GREAT year for cinema. NCFOM won the Best Picture Oscar and was up against four incredibly good films in the same category (Juno, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton and Atonement). I mention this because I saw a lot of great films that year and it was as if NCFOM kept the ball rolling nicely. As I mentioned, I saw a TON of films that year, but I saw No Country for Old Men an alarming 15 times in the theater!! I guess one could say I was a bit obsessed; in fact, some of you did! But how could I not!? Everything in this film was quietly spectacular, and is one of the most perfectly executed films from page to screen I have ever seen!
From the foreboding opening narration by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) to the menacing bounty hunter (or whatever he was) Anton Chigurh (Best Supporting Actor, Javier Bardem) to the everyman Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) trying to secure his future with drug money that was not his, this film is rich with character, scenery and story.
Let’s get back to the narration for a moment: Sheriff Bell tells us about himself and his job. He brings up other Sheriffs who came before him including his father (“…me and him was sherrifs at the same time.”). He talks about the importance of history and how in order to judge yourself you must first compare yourself to the “ol’timers.” This narration sets up the entire film, parenthetically laying out the plot for us, but also showing us Ed Tom is a man who has the capacity to be consumed by guilt.
The unflinching performance delivered by Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is one for the ages! Patiently making his way to find Moss and the money; always prepared for anything, knowing that the path he takes will lead him to where he needs to go because that is what fate has in store (“CALL IT!”). He also has a disdain for the weak willed. He feels humans (and birds apparently) are born of free will and that anything is possible, so when he sees a living thing not forcing its will upon its potential, let’s just say he may want to kill it….
All of this is set to extraordinary cinematography by veteran Roger Deakins, a long time collaborator with the Coen Brothers. His work on the film offers a bleak subnarrative to the cat and mouse arc, intimating that all the people in this world are in this mess together.
A lot of people share the opinion that No Country… is a wonderfully suspenseful film that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and they really enjoyed it…except for the ending. Now, those people are correct about everything save for the part about the ending. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, let’s just assume they all experienced mental paralysis during the end where Tommy Lee Jones explains the two dreams he had the night before.
I always get a chuckle out of people saying that they hated this ending! Not to wax rhetorically about it, but if you did not like this ending, what conclusion would you have rather seen? The opening narration sets up the entire film for the viewer, and Ed Tom’s dreams answer a lot of questions Ed Tom has about himself. I admit: The first time I saw it, I was not ready for the ending. I did not pay as much attention to what Ed Tom was saying as I should have, so when the credits started rolling I wanted to run my head in to a wall! I thought to myself, “Oh no! What have I done!?” Now having seen the film 20 times, I can recite the ending out loud, so….
Two days later my best friend Mike (I call him Wheats – long story) was in town from Los Angeles. Wheats is a big reason I like cinema as much as I do. He also had already seen NCFOM a week earlier, but due to an unfortunate movie theater bathroom incident, he missed a portion of the film. We both had unfinished business with this movie that we both had been looking forward to seeing (together) for so so long!
So on a Sunday in early November of 2007, Wheats and I headed to the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak, Michigan to finally watch this film with focused eyes, determined to soak it all in with ZERO distractions! Well my friends, I am happy to report this was the very BEST film going experience of my life! We both paid attention to every second of the film (especially the ending) and this time as I listened to Ed Tom discuss his dreams I realized the importance of what he was saying and it was downright enthralling! As Wheats and I exited through the theater doors I felt like I was floating (not walking) and as I looked straight ahead waliking side by side with Mike I said with great confidence, “Wheats, that is the best film I have ever seen in my life…..”
Then I was off and running! Like I said, I saw the film 13 more times in the theater alone! Some of those times were normal enough; I would go with family & friends who I thought would like it. Other times, however, were less normal; I’d buy tickets to other movies playing at the Main Art and fully intended on seeing them, but as I was about to pass the double doors to the theater playing No Country… I found myself compelled to go in and watch it again…so I did!
I think what compelled me to see it so much and so often is that it showed characters who lifted themselves to high places without the fear of consequences. Javier Bardem’s character certainly displayed this characterisric the most, so I do understand that I am appreciaitng the actions of cinematic murderer, please don’t think I do not.
There are plenty of themes to be discussed about this film and believe me I will do further entries about these themes. But for now I thought it necessary to simply write about my favorite film of all time and share little anecdotes regarding my obsession for it.
I would love to discuss this with y’all, so please, if there are any questions you have about No Country for Old Men, post them in the comments section and I will address them.
More to come later…FRIENDO!