Bliss

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 5:50 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for drug content, language, some sexual material and violence
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and some violence including an accidental homicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2021

Copyright Amazon Prime 2021
If you could, if it was possible, would you smooth all of life’s rough spots? Would you remove all worry, all fear, all sadness, all pain? Would you want to live in a world of perpetual bliss?

That is the question raised provocatively but very imperfectly in “Bliss,” with Owen Wilson as greg, a gray-spirited low-level worker failing in a soul-killing dead-end job apologizing to customers who call tech support. Our own anxiety levels rise as we see him seemingly not aware of the pressure he is under. The boss wants to see him immediately. But instead of leaving his office, he talks on the phone — to a daughter reminding him of the details of her graduation and to a pharmacy that refuses refill his pain-killer prescription. We learn from this that his marriage is over due to failures on his part, that his promises are not reliable, that he has a drug problem, and that he is in trouble at work. And we see him obsessively drawing pictures of place and a woman he has never seen, like Richard Dreyfuss sculpting mashed potatoes in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

But then it turns out our assumptions and his may be wrong. We find ourselves in a blue-or-red-pill situation, “The Matrix” without the bullet time, or the bullets. After things go even more terribly wrong, Greg finds himself in a bar, where a mysterious woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek) tells him he is “real” in a way the others in the room are not. There may be another reality or, perhaps, just one real reality, which is not the one with the office and the phone calls.

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to have to spoil a few things in order to be able to talk about the movie, so if you do not want any spoilers, stop reading now, watch “Bliss,” and then if you want to know more about what I think about it, you can come back. Isabel does not give Greg the whole story. She just takes him to stay with her at a makeshift shelter in an area where homeless people camp out. It turns out she and Greg are not just part of but responsible for an experiment in re-calibration for people who have found the idyllic life of the future so blissful the only thing they have to complain about is the temperature of the pool water. It just might be that even in a world supposedly free from stress there still remain concerns (about the legitimacy and success of one’s research in absolute terms and in the way it is perceived by others). It may also be that worry and fear are inextricably linked to creativity, imagination, and an innate human inclination to problem solving and some notion of progress.

These are wonderful questions to explore and there are moments of real emotion in the film along with superb design work by Kasra Farahani (“Captain Marvel”). But the script gets tangled up in its own perameters of the world or worlds it creates. The internal logic of the storyline is inconsistent enough to undermine our connection to the characters and to the issues it raises. In case you’re looking around wondering which reality you’re in, my advice is to bet on the one with Bill Nye the Science Guy in it.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, peril, and an apparent accidental homicide.

Family discussion: Which reality would you chose and why? What would happen if all trouble, stress, and worry was removed from our lives?

If you like this, try: “The Matrix,” “The Black Box,” “Black Mirror,” and “Passion of Mind”

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The Right One

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and sexual references
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to tragic death of a child, child abuse, mental illness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2021
Copyright 2021 Lionsgate

A short story by Kurt Vonnegut was turned into a television film for PBS starring Christopher Walken as a shy man who only came alive when he was assigned a part in a play. Susan Sarandon played a woman who fell in love with him and they ended up happily inhabiting roles that kept their relationship exciting. I thought of that when I watched “The Right One,” about a young writer who is drawn to a man who seems to have a dozen different personalities.

Godfrey (Nick Thune) does not conform to the expectations of Bob (David Koechner), an executive sent to improve productivity at his office. But before Bob can begin to express any concerns, Godfrey completely wins him over through a shared dedication to the 90s garage band Blues Traveler. Bob is utterly disarmed. And we soon see why Godfrey is far and away the most successful salesman in his office by far, so successful that everyone overlooks his strange looks and behavior. Just as he did with Bob, he is able to connect to people, even over the phone, finding some link to make them feel comfortable, understood, and open to buying something. We might think of it as code-switching, shifting frames of reference and modes of speech to fit the audience. But this is an extreme version, so extreme that the “real” Godfrey, if there is one, is invisible.

Sara (Cleopatra Coleman) is struggling with writer’s block. Her brash and outspoken agent, Kelly (Iliza Shlesinger) is pushing her to finish a book she has not even started. At an art gallery opening, Sara sees Godfrey in two different personas, and she is intrigued enough to start writing about a character based on him.

And so, she begins to hang out with him, seeing him as an EDM DJ and dancing the tango him. He avoids her at first, but begins to invite her to join him. He thinks they are starting a friendship. She thinks he is material for her book.

Godfrey’s brother Shad (standout M.J. Kokolis) warns Sara to stay away from him, but she ignores him. Finally, Shad tells her something of Godfrey’s background. And Godfrey finds out what Sara is doing.

The script is cluttered and inconsistent in tone and in the quality of the performances. Thune and Coleman do not have a lot of chemistry. It does not have the heft to support its more emotional beats. But like its main character, it has a rakish, if amateurish charm.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, crude sexual humor, and references to child abuse and neglect, mental illness, and a tragic death.

Family discussion: Which personality is the “real” Godfrey? If you were going to create different personas, what would they be?  Should Sara have told Godfrey what she was doing?

If you like this, try: “Benny and Joon” and Thune’s “Dave Made a Maze”

 

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Malcolm and Marie

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 5:14 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Struggles, arguments
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2021

Copyright Netflix 2021
When I interviewed John David Washington about “BlackKklansman,” he told me his dream was a film of “The Taming of the Shrew.” His new film, “Malcolm and Marie” could be an audition for that project and based on the results, someone should cast him and his co-star Zendaya right this minute and start filming it tomorrow.

There’s a lot wrong or maybe it is more accurate to say missing in “Malcolm and Marie,” but given the way it was made, it is remarkable how much is right and it is never less than watchable thanks to the palpable magnetism and chemistry of its two stars, who make up the entire cast. This was a pandemic project, made by writer/director Sam Levinson, as he and Zendaya were on hiatus from their “Euphoria” series due to COVID-19 restrictions. So, this film preserves the classical unities of time and space and action, not as a tribute to Aristotle’s Poetics but as a way to keep everyone safe. The cast and crew quarantined together and the entire film takes place in real time during one late evening in one beautiful beach house. It is filmed in gorgeous black and white by Marcell Rév. And it has a script that could have used a couple more drafts.

Malcolm (Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) come home from a big, glittery event in very different moods, so different that they do not at first notice what is happening with each other. Malcolm is proud, happy, relieved, and excited. He pours himself a drink, cranks up the music, starts to dance, and asks Marie to make some mac and cheese.

Marie boils the water and cuts the butter, but she is quiet, reflective, possibly seething underneath.

Malcolm is an up-and-coming film director and they have just come from the premiere of his latest, the story of a young woman struggling with drug addiction. The premiere was a triumph, the kind that may have moved him from up-and-coming to arrived. Following the screening, he was complimented by everyone, even “the white lady critic from the LA Times.” He is delighted with the reaction, but it stings that her compliment compared him to directors like Spike Lee and Barry Jenkins, all Black filmmakers, and not to, say, William Wyler, a white director from the 1940s and 50s. Marie is feeling left out, partly for reasons we will discover, but initially because in his speech at the reception, he thanked a lot of people, including the star of the film, but did not thank her. He apologized in the car on the way home, but it still bothers her.

The rest of the film is up and down and back and forth as they argue, make up, argue, make up, argue, and possibly make up again. There are elements of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” as their arguments strip away the boundaries enduring couples are careful to protect, but in this case there is no bewildered, meek, and tipsy other couple to perform for; there is just us. Washington and Zendaya are never less than utterly present, utterly vulnerable, and utterly in control of the constantly shifting moods, challenging and matching each other in every beat as characters and as performers. It is a wonder to watch.

And it is impossible not to be sympathetic to the movie’s failures because they are the faults of daring too much, when too many movies fail for the opposite reason. “Malcolm and Marie” tries to bring a lot into the world of these two people in two hours, with issues of race and culture and the relationship of the critic to the artist and who gets credit for what and when and probably also what art is for in the first place. A lot a lot a lot, all from two people talking. It is unlikely that it would have been made this way without the restrictions of a pandemic, including the claustrophobia of the entire crew quarantining together. What other conditions could create this work? How else could we explore these issues in this way? Think of other movies about two people talking. “My Dinner with Andre” was constructed, with everyone going home after a day of shooting, and “Before Sunrise” and “Columbus” had whole cities to explore.

“Malcolm and Marie” may end up as a footnote in what are sure to be long and rich careers for the filmmakers. But it is well worth seeing as an example of what can be done when it seems like nothing is possible, indeed what can be inspired by a moment that seems stuck. I came away hoping the characters go on together and looking forward to whatever Washington and Zendaya do next.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language, explicit sexual references and situations, tense confrontations, and discussions of drug addiction.

Family questions: Do your sympathies shift back and forth over the course of the movie? When? Why?

If you like this, try: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “My Dinner with Andre” as well as other films from Washington and Zendaya and the works of William Wyler

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movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Race and Diversity Romance

Golden Globe Nominations 2021: Netflix, AppleTV+, Amazon and some Old Hollywood, Too

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 8:40 am

The Golden GLobes get a lot of attention because they have a big, glittery award show, but their nominations are not always consistent with the choices of critics and industry groups. They are decided by a small group of international journalists living in Los Angeles. This year’s nominees reflect our pandemic viewing, with streaming services getting the majority of nods, Netflix with 22 and Amazon with 7. They have been criticized already for overlooking outstanding Black performers and for some quirky choices like “Music,” and Jared Leto in “The Little Things.” The best news about the Golden Globes is that the show will be hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It won’t be the same without the chance to see the biggest stars of Hollywood and television getting tipsy during the broadcast, but it will still be a lot of fun.

MOTION PICTURES
BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

THE FATHER (Trademark Films; Sony Pictures Classics)

MANK (Netflix; Netflix)

NOMADLAND (Highwayman / Hear/Say / Cor Cordium; Searchlight Pictures)

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (LuckyChap Entertainment / FilmNation Entertainment; Focus Features)

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (Marc Platt Productions / Dreamworks Pictures; Netflix)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

VIOLA DAVIS
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

ANDRA DAY
THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY

VANESSA KIRBY
PIECES OF A WOMAN

FRANCES MCDORMAND
NOMADLAND

CAREY MULLIGAN
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

RIZ AHMED
SOUND OF METAL

CHADWICK BOSEMAN
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

ANTHONY HOPKINS
THE FATHER

GARY OLDMAN
MANK

TAHAR RAHIM
THE MAURITANIAN

BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
(Four By Two Films; Amazon Studios)

HAMILTON
(Walt Disney Pictures / RadicalMedia / 5000 Broadway Productions / NEVIS Productions / Old 320 Sycamore Pictures; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

MUSIC
(Pineapple Lasagne Productions / Landay Entertainment; Vertical Entertainment / IMAX)

PALM SPRINGS
(Party Over Here / Limelight Productions; NEON / Hulu)

THE PROM
(Netflix / Dramatic Forces / Storykey Entertainment; Netflix)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

MARIA BAKALOVA
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM

KATE HUDSON
MUSIC

MICHELLE PFEIFFER
FRENCH EXIT

ROSAMUND PIKE
I CARE A LOT

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY
EMMA

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

SACHA BARON COHEN
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM

JAMES CORDEN
THE PROM

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA
HAMILTON

DEV PATEL
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD

ANDY SAMBERG
PALM SPRINGS

Copyright 2020 Netflix
BEST MOTION PICTURE – ANIMATED

THE CROODS: A NEW AGE
(DreamWorks Animation; Universal Pictures)

ONWARD
(Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

OVER THE MOON
(Netflix / Pearl Studio / Glen Keane Productions; Netflix)

SOUL
(Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

WOLFWALKERS
(Cartoon Saloon / Melusine; Apple / GKIDS)

BEST MOTION PICTURE – FOREIGN LANGUAGE

ANOTHER ROUND (DENMARK)
(Zentropa Entertainments; Samuel Goldwyn Films)

LA LLORONA (GUATEMALA / FRANCE)
(La Casa de Producción / Les Films du Volcan; Shudder)

THE LIFE AHEAD (ITALY)
(Palomar; Netflix)

MINARI (USA)
(Plan B; A24)

TWO OF US (FRANCE / USA)
(Paprika Films; Magnolia Pictures)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

GLENN CLOSE
HILLBILLY ELEGY

OLIVIA COLMAN
THE FATHER

JODIE FOSTER
THE MAURITANIAN

AMANDA SEYFRIED
MANK

HELENA ZENGEL
NEWS OF THE WORLD

Copyright Netflix 2020
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

SACHA BARON COHEN
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

DANIEL KALUUYA
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

JARED LETO
THE LITTLE THINGS

BILL MURRAY
ON THE ROCKS

LESLIE ODOM JR
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE

EMERALD FENNELL
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

DAVID FINCHER
MANK

REGINA KING
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

AARON SORKIN
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

CHLOÉ ZHAO
NOMADLAND

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE

EMERALD FENNELL
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

JACK FINCHER
MANK

AARON SORKIN
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

FLORIAN ZELLER, CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON
THE FATHER

CHLOÉ ZHAO
NOMADLAND

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE

ALEXANDRE DESPLAT
THE MIDNIGHT SKY

LUDWIG GÖRANSSON
TENET

JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
NEWS OF THE WORLD

TRENT REZNOR, ATTICUS ROSS
MANK

TRENT REZNOR, ATTICUS ROSS, JON BATISTE
SOUL

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE

“FIGHT FOR YOU” — JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Music by: H.E.R., Dernst Emile II
Lyrics by: H.E.R., Tiara Thomas

“HEAR MY VOICE” — THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Music by: Daniel Pemberton
Lyrics by: Daniel Pemberton, Celeste Waite

“IO SÌ (SEEN)” — THE LIFE AHEAD
Music by: Diane Warren
Lyrics by: Diane Warren, Laura Pausini, Niccolò Agliardi

“SPEAK NOW” — ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
Music by: Leslie Odom Jr, Sam Ashworth
Lyrics by:vLeslie Odom Jr, Sam Ashworth

“TIGRESS & TWEED” — THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY
Music by: Andra Day, Raphael Saadiq
Lyrics by:vAndra Day, Raphael Saadiq

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

THE CROWN – NETFLIX
(Left Bank Pictures / Sony Pictures Television)

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY – HBO
(HBO / Afemme / Monkeypaw / Bad Robot / Warner Bros. Television)

THE MANDALORIAN – DISNEY+
(Lucasfilm Ltd.)

OZARK – NETFLIX
(MRC Television)

RATCHED – NETFLIX
(Fox21 Television Studios)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

OLIVIA COLMAN
THE CROWN

JODIE COMER
KILLING EVE

EMMA CORRIN
THE CROWN

LAURA LINNEY
OZARK

SARAH PAULSON
RATCHED

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

JASON BATEMAN
OZARK

JOSH O’CONNOR
THE CROWN

BOB ODENKIRK
BETTER CALL SAUL

AL PACINO
HUNTERS

MATTHEW RHYS
PERRY MASON

Copyright Pop TV 2019
BEST TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

EMILY IN PARIS – NETFLIX
(Darren Star Productions / Jax Media / MTV Studios)

THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT – HBO MAX
(HBO Max / Berlanti Productions / Yes, Norman Productions / Warner Bros. Television)

THE GREAT – HULU
(Hulu / Civic Center Media / MRC)

SCHITT’S CREEK – POP TV
(Not A Real Company Productions / Canadian Broadcast Company / Pop TV)

TED LASSO – APPLE TV+
(Apple / Doozer Productions / Warner Bros. Television / Universal Television)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

LILY COLLINS
EMILY IN PARIS

KALEY CUOCO
THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

ELLE FANNING
THE GREAT

JANE LEVY
ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST

CATHERINE O’HARA
SCHITT’S CREEK

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

DON CHEADLE
BLACK MONDAY

NICHOLAS HOULT
THE GREAT

EUGENE LEVY
SCHITT’S CREEK

JASON SUDEIKIS
TED LASSO

RAMY YOUSSEF
RAMY

BEST TELEVISION LIMITED SERIES, ANTHOLOGY SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

NORMAL PEOPLE – HULU
(Hulu / BBC / Element Pictures)

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT – NETFLIX
(Netflix)

SMALL AXE – AMAZON STUDIOS
(BBC Studios Americas, Inc / Amazon Studios)

THE UNDOING – HBO
(HBO / Made Up Stories / Blossom Films/David E. Kelley Productions)

UNORTHODOX – NETFLIX
(Studio Airlift / RealFilm)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES, ANTHOLOGY SERIES OR A MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

CATE BLANCHETT
MRS. AMERICA

DAISY EDGAR-JONES
NORMAL PEOPLE

SHIRA HAAS
UNORTHODOX

NICOLE KIDMAN
THE UNDOING

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY
THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES, ANTHOLOGY SERIES OR A MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

BRYAN CRANSTON
YOUR HONOR

JEFF DANIELS
THE COMEY RULE

HUGH GRANT
THE UNDOING

ETHAN HAWKE
THE GOOD LORD BIRD

MARK RUFFALO
I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SUPPORTING ROLE

GILLIAN ANDERSON
THE CROWN

HELENA BONHAM CARTER
THE CROWN

JULIA GARNER
OZARK

ANNIE MURPHY
SCHITT’S CREEK

CYNTHIA NIXON
RATCHED

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SUPPORTING ROLE

JOHN BOYEGA
SMALL AXE

BRENDAN GLEESON
THE COMEY RULE

DANIEL LEVY
SCHITT’S CREEK

JIM PARSONS
HOLLYWOOD

DONALD SUTHERLAND
THE UNDOING

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