Friday, January 8, 2021

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Writer-Directors and Ron Howard: 2020, Day Seventeen

Last five for this week - we'll be back Monday. Until then:
A Rainy Day in New York
dir/scr: Woody Allen
pr: Erika Aronson / Letty Aronson
cin: Vittorio Storaro

A young couple spends the day apart in Manhattan. Light directorial touch and some real clunkers in the dialogue (Arafat jokes? in 2020? from college kids?) bely Allen's comedy of self-image and the narratives we give ourselves (there's a reason the lead is Gatsby Welles!). Gatsby hates the heavy hand of his wealthy family and their expectations, but doesn't reject the lifestyle their money affords him, nor is he above trying to mold his girlfriend to his expectations. And she doesn't seem to mind being molded, until three men try to get her to fill a void in each of their lives: muse, confidante, distraction. Too inconsistently written and performed to be among his best, it's still a thoughtful attempt to examine how young people find their identity. 

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
dir/scr: David E. Talbert
pr: Kristin Burr / Mike Jackson / John Legend / David McIlvain / David E. Talbert
cin: Remi Adefarasin

A disillusioned toymaker gets a second chance with the arrival of his estranged granddaughter. A lovely tale of taking chances not just on new ideas, but on new ideas of yourself. Forest Whitaker, he's got an Oscar, we know he's good, we expect it, but newcomer Madalen Mills holds her own opposite him, commanding the audience's attention. Gosh, and what a visual joy, from the VFX creating the villainous sentient doll to the colorful costumes to Ashley wallen's choreography. There's pure joy emanating from every element of this film, and who, I ask, could dislike that? On Netflix.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
dir/scr: Charlie Kaufman
pr: Stefanie Azpiazu / Anthony Bregman / Charlie Kaufman / Robert Salerno
cin: Lukasz Zal

Young man brings girlfriend home to meet the folks...doesn't he? I don't know what anyone sees in this collage of poorly-articulated ideas. Fine as a showcase for Jessie Buckley's versatility and Jesse Plemons' melancholy musicality (could he do an actual remake of Oklahoma!?). Otherwise, tedious. On Netflix.

Hillbilly Elegy
dir: Ron Howard
pr: Brian Grazer / Ron Howard / Karen Lunder
scr: Vanessa Taylor
cin: Maryse Alberti

A Yale hopeful returns home to care for his addict mother, reminding him of his tough childhood. A dull hero well-acted is still dull, and our hero is so built to suffer nobly that there's nothing about him to actually like. Amy Adams, as the mother, is betrayed by erratic filmmaking, so focused on manufacturing intensity in editing, music, and camerawork, it undercuts the actual notes she's playing. Glenn Close, as grandma, is undoubtedly the movie's greatest strength: her eyes, her stiff quickness, her determined warmth. As a whole, half-there, half-not, could be worse, could be better. On Netflix.

Uncle Frank
dir/scr: Alan Ball
pr: Alan Ball / Bill Block / Michael Costigan / Peter Macdissi / Stephanie Meurer / Jay Van Hoy
cin: Khalid Mohtaseb

A college student and her gay uncle road trip back to their southern hometown after the death of the family patriarch. Paul Bettany's subdued performance is among his best: just watch his physicality, laconic in New York, tense in South Carolina, always a little guarded. Family scenes feel vague, feeling less like kin and more...well, more like actors sharing a set. Struggles with tone. Still, heart's in the right place. On Amazon Prime.

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