February 15, 2020

FORD V FERRARI

Ford_v_ferrariExhilarating, hilarious, and soulful to the bone, this fast car rollercoaster of a drama runs like a legendary Shelby Cobra hitting top speed. Power plays between strong-willed men pitted at diametrically opposed angles, provides brutally funny depictions of ego, determination, and one-upmanship. Audience laughs come fast and often.

The racing sequences are stunning. The 1966 Le Mans makes for one hell of a centerpiece. You really get a feel for how fast these guys were driving in supremely unsafe conditions. Catching on fire is no joke regardless of how fireproof the driver’s suits are. For many fast car lovers Ford v Ferrari will be be a must-own Blu-ray. This is one fun thrill ride of a movie that commands repeated viewings. Emotional and physical gravity tear out like rubber peeling on hot asphalt.  

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Here is an addictively entertaining true-life drama that focuses on how gifted and less-gifted men communicate and jockey for position. What takes place on the racetrack comes down from corporate orders above. We love the drivers, the corporate bean-counters not so much. Multiple antagonists loom large over races that send your heart racing.

Caitriona-balfe-ford-v-ferrari

Caitriona Balfe steals the movie as auto engineer Ken Miles’s (Bale) super cool wife Mollie. For his part Christian Bale chews up every beat and line with a romantic sense of purpose. Christian Bale playing a hot tempered race car driver and mechanic, sign me up.

Damon

Matt Damon carries his ineffable charm with such humility that you almost feel sorry for him having to balance intention and motivation with such ease. “Ford v Ferrari” is an example of Hollywood living up to half of its promise. It might not be a perfect movie, but it is a pretty damn good one.  

Rated PG-13. 152 mins. (A)

Five Stars

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February 12, 2020

MODEL SHOP

Model_shopSomewhere between Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” and Andrew Slater’s essential Laurel Canyon music scene documentary “Echo In The Canyon,” sits Nouvelle Vague reject Jacques Demy’s time-capsule of the romanticized, and sexualized, Viet Nam War era of Los Angeles, circa 1968. “Model Shop” is a subtle anti-war film for the ages. L.A. might be sunny, but the filter of War turns the brightest colors gray. This is a movie you can dream into, even as nightmare glimpses of American sexual repression and capitalist culture of greed and war come and go.  

Hitchhiking, pot smoking, and a handsome lead throwing around a green-and-red 1952 MG convertible like a scattered rug, contribute to Demy’s uncanny study of shifting cultural moods that the city inspired before 1969 came crashing down on hippie culture like a mousetrap. Watergate finished the job a few years later.

Model-shop

Jacques Demy exhibits poetic affection for the sprawling beachside town where an oil rig sits only a few feet away from our rudderless protagonist George Matthews’s ramshackle bungalow that he shares with a shameless would-be actress Gloria (Alexandra Hay). Gloria wants to break up; George (Gary Lockwood) isn’t surprised and doesn’t care. Gloria wants to build a family, George wants to build a career, but doesn’t want to wait the 15 years it will take to develop a reputation that will have him designing gas stations. Then a draft notice arrives for George.

Nouvelle vague-inspired Leos Carax’s 1984 “Boy Meets Girl” shares “Model Shop’s” sense of existential dread for young male characters whose pending military duty colors their emotional interactions with the women they fall in love in short circumstances. Forget “meet-cute,” this is meet-horny-and-depressed, in that order. 

Model Shop 6
The “Model shops” of the film’s title offer men an opportunity to pay to take Polaroid pictures of women in, or out, of their negligées in the privacy of a gaudy-colored room in a shady district of the Sunset Strip. Want to know more? I know you do.

George gets along much better with his male friends than he does with the fairer sex. In one of the film’s most inspired scenes, George visits the Laurel Canyon home of a musician pal. The two friends go into a home studio where George’s friend plays the music for a song he’s writing on a piano while his wife takes care of their baby elsewhere in the house. George silently grooves while sitting peacefully listening to his friend’s work-in-progress. However, when comes to communicating with women, George isn’t socialized nearly as well.

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When George sees a lovely woman in white (Anouk Aimée as Lola), he’s inspired to follow her. Discovering that Lola works at a model shop doesn’t dissuade him. Commodification of sexuality can’t be all bad, can it? George takes the bait and takes photos of her in a frilly nothing gown. Once home with the erotic photos and a joint in his hand in bed, George’s live-in girlfriend interrupts his would-be masturbation session. George can’t get a break but on this day of all days, he really needs one. Demy makes George’s inevitable sexual release a suspense element that increases in tension as the picture goes along.

Model Shop 5

Gary Lockwood (he played Dr. Frank Poole in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) carries the same world-weary vibe of Robert Forster’s news cameraman in character Haskell Wexler’s similarly timed drama “Medium Cool” (1969). The two men look enough alike to have been brothers. Like Brad Pitt’s stunt double Cliff Booth in “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” Gary Lockwood worked in Hollywood as a stunt man. And similar to Leonardo Di Caprio’s Rick Dalton character, Gary Lockwood was a would-be leading man relegated to doing supporting roles on television.

Model Shop 2

When he made “Model Shop,” Jacques Demy lived in L.A. with his wife, the great French New Wave maverick Agnes Varda. Overlapping storylines from Demy’s previous movies enter into the narrative at key points. Demy allows his personal history with French filmmaking to weave into the story at hand. Social commentary arrives via LA’s west side locations and streets, such as Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards, that hold aromatic nostalgic importance for a pre-internet world when you didn’t have a cell phone crutch to rely on for information, human interaction, and social guidance. The war that rages in Viet Nam reverberates through L.A. like an invisible gas. America’s militarized corporate structure have put George in a maze full of dead-ends. At least he can appreciate the beauty and promise of Los Angeles for all of the good it will do him.   

Model Shop 3

Rated PG. 97 mins. (B+) Three Stars
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January 30, 2020

MARRIAGE STORY

Marriage StoryI regret every second I spent watching Noah Baumbach’s latest attempt at being Woody Allen. I should know better by now than to think Noah Baumbach will ever create a film that isn’t tiresome at best. The only thing worse than suffering through a real divorce is watching “Marriage Story.” This movie might portray itself as a romantic comedy, but there isn’t a single laugh to be had. If you take it as a romantic drama, you’ll also be disappointed by virtue of the insufferable couple on display.

Adam Driver’s status as Hollywood’s current it-boy, loses more than a little credibility in a movie more appropriately entitled Divorce Story. Driver plays Baumbach’s alter ego Charlie, a Manhattan off-off Broadway director of avant-garde plays in a theatrical milieu that never existed in New York City. Ding. Baumbach’s ridiculous vision of theater people is pejorative at best. Bedwetters get more love.

Scarlett Johansson

Husband Charlie good, wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) bad. During their separation mediation Nicole refuses to read from her list of things she appreciates about Charlie, while he is only too willing to heap praise on his soon-to-be-ex. Nicole storms out of the session so that the therapist and Charlie can, “suck each other’s dicks.” Classy. You wonder why Johansson would sign on for such a thankless role as that of Nicole.

Oh, but for their poor entitled young son Henry (Azhy Robertson). What is to become of the child of frivolous artsy New York parents. Baumbach goes full Woody Allen when he grinds the story into an East Coast vs. West Coast legal tirade about blood-sucking attorneys who milk as much money as possible from the train wreck opportunity before them. Message, Californians are phony, New Yorkers are authentic. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda elevate the movie as the film’s vulture lawyer characters, but to no satisfying design.

The subtext, that Noah Baumbach is a thoughtful auteur whose divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2010 was all her fault, is a tedious bit of dental floss that breaks in this film’s first 10 minutes. If watching people say stuff they will regret for the rest of their lives as they ugly-cry, you might get a kick later on in the movie.

Adam Driver

Slack editing delivers us to Adam Driver singing a Broadway-styled melancholy ballad for his New York theatre pals in a cozy restaurant that doesn’t exist anywhere in Manhattan. Oh what inspired feeling, oh what cheesy heart-on-sleeve emotion. Baumbach could have at least cut the movie after the song, and spared his audience 13 minutes of post-divorce child wrangling but that wouldn’t have giving him the opportunity to twist the knife a little more in Scarlett Johansson’s character. Jennifer Jason Leigh will never watch this movie, and neither should she.

Rated R. 137 mins. (F)

Zero Stars

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