“I’ll See You In My Dreams”

      When more than three fourths of our life is over, “So What?” may be a sobering question. Somehow the film “I’ll See You In My Dreams” makes mortality, at least the idea of it, a no brainer. One lives like one always has lived with daily rituals in place and friends in one’s corner. Blythe Danner is matter-of-fact, practical, and no nonsense as she has an aged and ailing pet put down, deals with a rat in her house, bouts of loneliness, and the quirks of friends.

Set in Southern California, this is a slow, low budget, slice-of-life film that empathizes with rather insulated and well-off seventy-year-old white women,who find themselves bored with golf and bridge. Sally (Rhea Perlman) longingly jokes how sexual the “tee” vocabulary is what with “ball”, “hole” and “stroke”. The retirement home Speed Dating and the medical marijuana forays seem contrived and equally pathetic. The pool boy relationship Carol (Blythe Danner) invests in is more realistically linked to her teacher/songstress background. Poor souls looking for support and connection is thematically here as Lloyd (Martin Starr) needs Carol’s attention and support as badly as she needs his.

In one scene, Lloyd takes Carol to a karaoke bar after being impressed with her East Village club history.
Danner’s rendition of Julie London’s “Cry Me A River” is pretty weak,while throaty. The best part of this Indie film is in the details.The bouquet of daisies replaced by the bowl of lemons,the dog’s leash, the digital clock’s red numerals, and the endless wine guzzling leave their mark.The cemetery urns,dust and the left cigar and the small trowl door knocker all leave us knowing that Carol will keep living each day and dreaming about tomorrow.

Brett Haley,director and writer, does a good job with Cath ( Malin Akerman) ,Carol’s daughter’s role~just enough love,concern and tension. Enjoy Danner’s blue,gray,and accented yellow wardrobe as you learn about her husband’s death twenty years ago. Her raised eyebrow,her classic trench coat and Riedel clinks make us know what she is thinking when one has “30 seconds to shift”. Georgina ( June Squibb) and Rona  (Mary Kay Place) complete the cast of  girl friends.

Sam Elliott’s Texas charmer role did surprise and his remark,”Hard to lose somebody no matter how many legs they have,” later has ironic resonance as his fate is learned. The song lyrics of the young pool cleaner/cum poet make the title of this film make sense.

“Spy” and “Pitch Perfect 2”

After a week of scholarship and insight at Indiana University’s Mini-U, it is time for a balance by reviewing summer comedy and snarky spoofs.A fellow friend and film blogger had seen “Spy” and enjoyed it enough to wish to see it again. My husband had seen a review on “Pitch Perfect 2” and asked me to join him even though we had not seen the original. Below are my thoughts on both films.

Never really a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I must say I loved her in “Spy”. She is more vulnerable here and less vulgar,even in a wait-until-the-credits-roll-by outtake. (Worth waiting for because McCarthy can’t even believe she allowed her ad lib to be included.)Let’s just call it her thumb review! Likewise,Jude Law is stellar: the perfect stance,facial expressions and timing. In his James Bond role,as Bradley Fine, he looks mighty fine,too!
I thought the entire cast with the exception of Allyson Janney was top notch. Janney was too
one dimensional for me~never wavering from the hard boss. While Rose Bryne,Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart and Jason Statham brought a natural and balanced vigor to their roles. Loved the creative name-calling and word play from “Shits Carlton” to you dress like “a slutty dolphin trainer”. I consider Paul Feig’s “Spy” most summer-comedy worthy with double agent action to keep you guessing.

“Pitch Perfect 2” bored me with the use of the divided screen highlighting pillow-fight hijinxs and campfire singalongs. I liked the word play in this comedy as much as the a cappella singing. “Deutsche bag” and “treblemakers” struck me as creative.By the way,the German singers had the staging and the voices. Das Sound Machine out did the generations of Bellas in my estimation. The contest co-hosts Elizabeth Banks And John Michael Higgins were less than hysterical.The Christmas album with Snoop Dog was inspired as was the “songs about butts ” category and the gift card to Dave and Busters. Product placement advertising is rampant in “Pitch Perfect 2”: Cover girl and Pantene star.

One of the most beautiful shots is in Copenhagen with drizzle and sun rays on the colored facades and umbrellas mirroring all. Fat Amy and “muffingate”, or Southern exposure to the Commander-in-Chief was as silly as “sucking vodka from a maxi-pad”, sophomoric at best.I did not much care for Anna Kendrick or Rebel Wilson. Skyler Astin was energetic more than memorable.Fans of “The Voice” may find this film “the kicker of the ass”,I just didn’t.

“The Connection”

This is the French “French Connection” with subtitles, two intensely handsome foils, Cote Azur scenery and a focus on the human aspects of the circa 1970 international drug wars.The fast cars,trendy motorcycles,guns,and discos are all here,but so are the family scenes and drudge work involved in fighting for justice and in keeping one’s henchmen in line.

Director Cedric Jimenez co-wrote “The Connection” screenplay with Audrey Diwan. A woman’s touch is evident in drawing out the humanity in each of the prime adversaries. Based on real characters and a handful of real events,we are made to care what happens to both judge and gangster. Both are family men, devoted to their wives and both are seen reading and playing with their children. Magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) and Gatean Zampa (Gilles Lellouch) will fight it out,the overly zealous enforcer and the untouchable drug king pin. Their staged meeting is thrilling. Two super egos and two opposing world views respecting each other in a way. The women (Marie,Christianne and Dora)are forces that motivate,persuade and add meaning to their men’s lives.

We meet the magistrate before we meet the Marseille Mob. Pierre Michel is counseling and coaxing a teen,Lily, to look hard at her needle tracks and to please name her pusher. He gently tells her mother to be “tough,but strong”. We see the celebration as this self-possessed, side-burned junior judge is promoted to The Organized Crime Division.

The veteran drug squad boss enlightens us with the image of an octopus,its tentacles every place: bars, casinos, slots. “They don’t stop at Bingo”! We learn when Lily returns to give the magistrate the name of her pusher that Pierre was once a gambler,who pulled himself out. Lily later dies,and the grief on Pierre’s face is Oscar-worthy. It is in this sequence that my favorite frames of a hyped and newly charged Pierre are shown. The video speed is ramped up as Dujardin walks to his car and the speed of the car is super paced next. His beginner zeal is racing in case we had any doubts what a “mad dog” he will become.

Zampa is celebrating next. He is hosting his private anniversary party, and he wants to know who a woman is that he does not recognize. He is a man aware that many are after him and that he must keep in control if he is going to maintain his untouchable status.The tailing,watching and logistics of his enterprise are shown. Labs,deliveries and associates are displayed to drum beats. We see Zampa,or Tandy as he is called,starting to wear bullet- proof vests and to drive armored cars. The war is on, and the film’s tension builds. Proud that his drugs are pure,Zampa has has met men like his adversary before. He smiles ,in one harrowing chase scene, Zampa sends Michel bottled water And a frayed glass with the message that this zealot will need it. Michel counters by taking bribe money and giving it to the drug rehab center. It is like chess is being played and your opponent is respected for his vigor.

One of the key scenes is script-orchestrated. It never really occurred. Michel has been surveiling and arresting a score of Zampa’s men. Zampa wants Michel wasted. Zampa and his sidekick tail Michel’s car. Michel stops his vehicle, gets out and walks back to Zampa with cowboy nerve. Zampa looks at him and says,”No woman ever did as much”. Michel banters back, ” I’m not into thugs”. The dialogue is good, and the massacres are score settling. “High Noon” tension is accomplished.

The cynical tenor of this film does not come from the bribes offered,but from those taken.So many higher-ups profit from the status-quo. They are never outted. Michel is taken from the case and must wait for a regime change before he can ask to be returned to it. When Michel asks the mayor of twenty-five years why he allows a rotten aide to stay,he replies,”I have a life,Pierre.”

The laudable tenor of this film is that Michel will not give up. Marital problems ensue.Marie is tired of being afraid all the time.Michel feels she is selfish. He is fighting for the Lilys of the world. She feels he is king-pin obsessed. She leaves;he cries and begs;she returns. Much happens. There are many set-ups. Michel leaves for the U.S. to help the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) take testimony from a French drug runner. The Corsican Mob retailiates as Marie puts well-dressed haricots verts on the family table. This version of the war on drugs is worth seeing,though this film is not for dreamers. Here believing that nothing is impossible has its costs.

“In The Name of My Daughter”

Like a Greek tragedy where the story is half told by the Greek chorus,the French film “In The Name Of My Daughter” tells a tale of greed and obsessive love without showing key plot elements. I found this fable-like, with the catharsis centered on child and parental relationships. The protective and powerful parent and the yearning-for-freedom-child, in this case a twenty-nine year old divorcee, plays out well. In France, mother/daughter relationships are close.The age old mantras of “I’m not a little girl, anymore” and “My job is to protect you” are here. The sub-theme of the film could be “children can be one’s undoing” ,for ironically,the son of the accused killer finds his loyalty on the side of the righteous,while the wealthy mother loses everything in her daughter’s betrayal.

All of my sympathy went to Renee de Roux,the mother played by Catherine Devenue. Perhaps, this is because the screenplay was based on her memoirs,”Une Femme Face A La Mafia”. Perhaps, because my own daughter was rebellious and is still willful. In any case,Catherine Devenue, the the face of Chanel perfume in the ’70’s, goes through hell. She is not immediately sympathetic. Renee Le Roux is a powerful workaholic~controlling and consumed with keeping her casino palace out of the hands of the Italian Mafia. “The Palais de la Mediterranee” has kept her from giving her daughter the attention she wants. Yet,Devenue’s face radiates love and joyful amusement at her daughter’s independent strivings.

Under the direction of Andre Techine, we see Devenue lose five million francs in one night to crooks. We see her lawyer and personal advisor succumb to her daughter’s flirtations and worse. We see her daughter’s attempted suicide and her refusal to see her mother.

Renee’s own refusal to release her daughter Agnes’s three-million-dollar inheritance seems reasonable given the circumstances. She asks Agnes to wait two years,and offers to financially front a desired bookstore and artisan-textile shop. Agnes wants to “be free”and rejects all to foolishly allow her love-interest and her mother’s former advisor to co-sign a joint account.

Devenue is splendid as she uses cigarette- holder,trench-coat and those eyes and that voice to portray a woman betrayed but still able to sing “Stand By Me”. She understands her daughter,and spends thirty years trying to bring closure to her dissapearance. This mother-love may be the obsessive love to match her daughter’s. When Renee’s driver,Mario, speaks badly about her daughter,she is so pained that she must lie down. She explains that her daughter betrayed her only because she was manipulated. We know she is right.

There is a sophistication in expecting the viewers to know something about the so-called “baize-wars” of the 1970’s. The film’s narrative is not particularly logical. Life relationships are like this; everyone has their reasons. Some reasons are more self-serving than others.

All of my loathing goes to Maurice Agnelet,superbly acted by Guillaume Canet. As the lawyer and family advisor he is the most narcissistic, revengeful and scheming, greedy charmer to appear on screen in quite some time. Even Sergeant Troy in Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd” could blame his villainy on character flaws.

Maurice’s humiliation of the La Roux family is sick. When he tells Agnes,”You will find a new pal,I’m sure”. Goodbye.”, the audience wanted to jump on the screen. Maurice tells Agnes that he is with his mistress until midnight,but he asks if he can “visit her” afterward. His famous cad words are “Don’t love me too much. I panic.” Maurice is not concerned with the fallout from the liquidation of the Palais casino either. Three hundred and fifty families will lose their livelihood, but he cares not. When Maurice yells at Renee with, “You piss me off. Devotion has its limits!” I screamed,”Right back at you” to the screen.

In extended flashbacks,Agnes, played beautifully by Adele Haenel,reminds me of Isabelle Adjani in her portrayal of Victor Hugo’s daughter in Truffaut’s “Adele H”. Both stalk their lovers,both write endlessly in their journals, and both swim or dream of swimming.The water scenes especially were a metaphor for drowning souls. Agnes’ wish to not stay at the villa,her little-girl “jumping on the bed” in her own apartment , and especially the African,hair-splaying,orgasmic dance were all intimate manifestations of independence and longing. Haenel does her nude scenes as only the French can do,both naturally and feverishly.”Don’t you fancy me?” and “I’m no coward” was as masterfully spoken as “I can’t be content with what you give me.” Whether hysterically crying, accepting bullish behavior or examining herself in the mirror,Haenal shows she can act with the best. Her look and tears as she recited,”I vote against” are Oscar worthy.

This story was the stuff of tabloids,and basically I love how the actors,screenwriters and director elevated it to Greek tragedy. Coastal shots and music are praiseworthy. It is the prolonged shot of the water spout and the story of Maurice’s brother and of his parents neither of whom attended their son’s funeral that stump me. Can someone enlighten?

“Iris”

This week a teacher and friend posted a placard touting the acronym STEAM. Enhancing the education of STEM students ( science,technology,engineering and math) by adding art is seen as a practical advancement, for “what good is any education if one can’t creatively use it”. The “steam metaphor” can be extended. Steam dissipates and reaches:it flows further; whereas, a stem holds one beautiful thing up, steam opens all pores. The documentary “Iris” illustrates how art and hand-crafted trades deepen our lives by polishing our individuality and connecting us to the art of show. “Iris” is also a love story and a peek at personal history.

Iris Apfel is a “rare bird” who for over seventy-five years  influenced interior design and fashion with her personal style. She is engaging and pulsing with life and mission. While not everyone grew up reading back issues of “Women’s Wear Daily”, I ,too, find the intersection of design,verve and collection fun. As director,Albert Mayles (87 himself) films Iris twirling and bowing Ungaro-clad ,we see her as legendary.

How many of us look for a fabric that doesn’t exist? And how many of us seekers would decide to weave our fantasy fabrics ourselves? This is just what the “nonagenerian starlet” Iris Apfel does when she opens Old World Weavers with her husband Carl. The textile company which ran from 1950 through 1992 restored a handcrafted fashion trade. Reproducing fabrics from the past led Iris to restoration projects at the White House. From Truman through Clinton,nine administrations called for her expertise.

In her own words,Iris is a ” busy bee”. From her wheelchair we see her in the process of collecting,haggling with street vendors and playing the bargain hunting game. Her whisky voice announces “I need a scotch after this”. Her renown collection of costume jewelry is a key part of her accessorizing process. As she layers one necklace on top of another she states, ” Do something like this and you start to get a look”. Mayles takes us to the Apfel’s Long Island storage loft as Iris starts to unload her travel acquisitions. Much, I learned , will be sold on “One King’s Lane” this year. Every piece has a memory.

At 90, we see Iris lecturing as visiting professor at the University of Texas,Austin. We see her gifting costumes to museums with exhibitions at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan, The Norton Museum at West Palm Beach, and The Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. A museum dedicated to displaying her clothing is in the works. From her middle class Queens up-bringing during the Depression to her background in art history through her gut level improvisations,we see a practical business woman who does not compose her visions in designer speak. Her “very Voguey” is almost snarky. As we see her beloved husband blow out his 100 year birthday candles, we hear her “kind of like the eternal flame”wit. He is her “pussycat~cool,cuddly,and he cooks Chinese…couldn’t do any better!”

Bill Cunningham makes a cameo appearance in this film and reminds me of Iris’ quip, “Color can raise the dead”. It would be fun to see the Diane Vreeland,Cunningham and Apfel documentaries together.Curiosity and humor seem to be the attributes of these style holders.Whimsy and elegance pulse through business acumen and aging in this documentary. We are happy that this fashion maven is as she likes to say,”still vertical and sailing into her second century.”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

In this George Miller film, the characters’ brains have morphed from gray matter to black matter. To survive is the single instinct left. The film could be derided as “Chains, Cranes and High-Octane-Thrown-Together-War-Mobiles”, but this dystopian mayhem has some creative must sees. The Pole-Cat Gang is impressive in their leaps and sways, and the re-purposed junk is as imaginative being jerry-rigged as it is falling apart. The standard shoe-fitting Brannock device as gas pedal, the tea strainer nose guard, the skull steering wheel and groin-protector codpiece, and baby-doll-head necklace are cooler than the two-headed lizard.Throw in a car door warrior’s shield, and a souped-up guitar spewing sperm-like fire, and you can see how anger can fuel innovation.

Running from the living and the dead, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) believes as he says:”Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what is broken, you will go insane”. Like Hannibal Lector of “Silence of The Lambs “fame, Max is harnessed with a steel grill mask. He eats things. As he teams up with Furiosa (Charlize Theron),she looks at him and says,”You want that thing off your face?” Theron is the head-shaven ,rogue driver of War Rig. Her job was to transport fuel, but now she has joined the women, or Vuvalini (one knows that one will transpose a few letters here) and deliver her female cargo to safety. Five beautiful breeders are attempting freedom. And all the women are keen on keeping their babies from becoming warlords.

The setting is absent of anything green. Water~known as Aqua-Cola~is used by the powerful Immortan Joe at whim. His little boys are all coated in whitewash once the breeders deliver. Mother-milking contraptions add to the craziness. Everything is a souped-up machine. He engineers cranks that turn waterfalls on and off. He barks nonsense to his subjects:”Don’t become addicted to water or you will resent its absence.” Sandblasted tornadoes of dust cover everything.

I was bored with the reddish canyons and the driving to and from salt flats a few times in this action movie. I longed for the green place,too. I thought the change to blue night scenes was ingenious,and I did like the huge image of Mad Max’s head in its beetle-like emergence from a sand hill.

Furiosa is to break every female stereotype of the fifties. This gal gives “grease-paint” a new meaning,and she is great at compass direction and vehicle mechanics,exhorting lines like,”I think it is the fuel pod.” With three war parties following her, she kicks and shoots, once using Max’s shoulder as a cushion as she tells him not to breathe.

I will say loudly that the dialogue is horrendous. “She is hurt.She is hurt real bad.” may be the worst. “By the way,my name is Max,” a close second. One longs for the plains of silence. The film’s nomenclature hints at comedy:my “neck mates”, Larry and Barry;”guzzaline” for gasoline,”bullet farmers”; and “booty” for the round-rumpled breeders.

With salutations to Tolkien’s orcs and Rome’s Coliseum crowds,Miller’s sequel is not “perfect in every way”, but it is his baby, just not my “cup of tea”.

“Kumiko The Treasure Hunter”

“We all have our own paths” is one of the few sentences spoken by our deluded dreamer protagonist, Kumiko. That some paths are hopelessly crazy yet understandable seems to be the theme. That a determined twenty-nine year old Japanese girl rebels in fantasy and demands privileged status because she “has important things to do” is the storyline. I came away from this film annoyed. Place an unhinged black girl in the script and we would have a different tale.

Everyone is so nice to Kumiko with the exception of her mother,whom our treasure hunter calls three times during her journey to escape life’s expectations of marriage by twenty-five and children by twenty-nine.Kumiko blames her work strife on jealous co-workers. And mom pipes up with ” why would they be jealous of you!”. In truth, her boss Sakigami has her buying his wife’s anniversary gifts, taking his trousers to the cleaners,and making him tea. He complains of her poor disposition.But Kumiko spits in his tea cups,tosses his pants in the trash,and steals his credit card. Her mother asks her if she got a promotion,if she is dating anyone or if she is pregnant. Everyone laughs at grounded mother’s ” why don’t you” suggestive pressure”!

Kumiko’s cold determination and ill preparation is counterbalanced by everyone’s hospitality and warmth. The film’s humor is always laced at the good souls’ expense ,as if aid to Kumiko is foolish and self-serving. I loved the old woman who offered to take her to the Mall of America! Our directors are poking fun at the dreamers in U.S. all. Taken that the Zellner brothers use the Coen brothers’ film “Fargo” as the crux of Kumiko’s “discovery” and the Johnny Merzer lyrics, “Dream when you are blue..dream, dream, dream”, the tone for nihilistic snarkiness is set. Human striving is reduced to a woman walking around in the Minnesota- cold with a stolen bedspread wrapped arround her and a policeman trying to entertain a foreign visitor with American-folklore about Paul Bunyon and Babe minus an appendage.

The overscored music does a good job in mimicking  brain cell distress and addlednessin Kumiko. Sean Porter as Director of Photography captures Rinko Kikuchi’s lovely face and loping walk, her disheveled apartment,and her otherworldly longing with aplomb. She is meek. She is stubborn. She is simple as she steals a library reference book and bribes the guard for only page seventy-five,needed for her destiny. Much is made in this film of maps. I think it is a guy thing. The misfoldings,the careful embroidering of the x marking the spot, the male tourist aids suggesting a yellow markered trip tic state map, all contribute to the making fun with quirky asides.

As I write this,I marvel at all that does happen:the religious guidance,the flat tire,the carpel tunnel joke,the Chinese dinner and bogus translation of all things Asian, and the stiffing of a deaf cabbie and an Indian motel owner for This movie often moves and sounds like brain freeze.

I’ll remember the slurping noodles scene and Bunzo,the bunny,abandoned on a high speed train. “Freedom is an excuse for nothing left to lose” Janis Joplin lyrics don’t play here. Kumiko thinks money,her treasure, will raise her up. She lies,cheats, and steals and her consciousness never rises to ski-lift heights. Her precision is lost in the New World’s snow banks and on the flushed,unspooled tape and flash forward whizz and backward clicks of an old video machine.

Kumiko tries to escape life by modeling herself after the Spanish Conquistadors with her charts and notebook of clues.She sadly succeeds in her escape. You may feel like you have,too,as you leave the theater.