Emily Blunt

Sorry for the bait and switch. If I had entitled this review Arthur Newman, there’s a distinct likelihood that no one would read the review.

As it is, no one is seeing the movie either. The film opened in 248 theaters across the country on Friday the 26th. The film took in just $108K – an average of $435 per theater. That’s not per day, that for the weekend. In fact, I was one of just three people to see it in the 11:00 AM show. Three people!

Arthur Newman stars Academy Award winner Colin Firth and Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt. While I did like Firth in The King’s Speech, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and A Summer in Genoa – he’s not an actor that I feel I would have to rush out and see any thing he does.

On the other hand, Emily Blunt is something else entirely. This is the sixth film I’ve seen her in over the last few years; The Adjustment Bureau, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Five Year Engagement, Your Sister’s Sister, Looper, and now this one. I guess she’s some one I would pay to see act , and have done so often.

Firth plays Wallace Avery – a man quite dissatisfied with his current life. He was good enough to become a pro golfer, but wasn’t able to make much of an impact, at least as far as winning. Too many of his putts spun out – the word on the tour was that he lacked heart. His desk job at FedEx wasn’t to his liking either. He wasn’t much of a husband or a father. His wife divorced him six years ago and his son despises him. Arthur is miserable.

So he decides to fake his own death, assume a new identity, Arthur Newman, with forged documents, and make a new life for himself. So off he goes heading for Terre Haute, Indiana for a job as a golf pro at a country club. Soon enough he runs into Michaela (Mike) Fitzgerald, played by the winsome Ms Blunt. She hasn’t much of a resume either – she’s a drifter, a thief, and has a family with a history of paranoid schizophrenia.

Now don’t these two sound like a fun couple?

From the trailer (below) you might think so. They break into people’s homes, sleep in the beds of those homes, try on the clothes they find in those homes, all on their slow journey toward Terre Haute and personal discovery. So you’re expecting a road movie, a romantic comedy, a good-looking couple of tricksters, and more. Basically what you get is the road. And just the road.

Wallace Avery/Arthur Newman is a guy at odds with himself. He’s made mistakes in his life and apparently nothing excites him (not even a current girl friend played by Anne Heche). As he sees it: why not start over – what exactly do I have now?

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Top of the Lake Closes Its Run: Did It Work for You?

Now that Top of the Lake, the seven episode dramatic series has finished its run on the Sundance Channel – I’m left with more questions in the ‘post resolution aftermath’ than I had before the series ended. Whether or not this was the intent of the series creators Jane Campion and Gerard Lee is a question I can’t answer.

Though the questions of what happened to Tui did get resolved, there’s a whole slew of other head-scratchers for we viewers to ponder. Reader FD and I are going to sit down to discuss the show, and with no specific agenda in mind – we will just see where our talks take us.

***** MAJOR SPOILER WARNINGS GOING FORWARD*****

JMM: In the last three minutes there a number of questions left unanswered. The first one is what actually happened at Al’s house, 2) what was Robin rinsing out in the lake (was it Al’s blood?), and 3) GJ walks off as the show ends. Without specifically tackling those questions, were you happy with the way the show ended?

FD: I was impressed by the cinematography and the cast, particularly Elizabeth Moss (Robin), Holly Hunter (GJ) and Peter Mullan (Matt), but I was unimpressed with the plot and the editing. Even though I guessed who the villain was early on, each episode made less sense to me than the previous one. And like you, I have a shipping container full of unanswered questions.

Here’s a few of them: 1)Were Robin and Johnno really related or was Al also lying about their DNA test? 2) Why did Matt whip himself repeatedly at his mother’s grave site? 3) Why didn’t Matt suspect Al might have been involved with Tui getting pregnant? 4) Why did Matt try to shoot Tui’s baby if it wasn’t his? 5) Why did GJ decide to go to Reykjavik? (to get as far away from this story as possible?) I could list a lot more questions, but, my biggest question is: What was Ms. Campion thinking? Didn’t she notice any of these loopholes?

JMM: To respond about the five questions you just listed: 1) Matt told Robin that he was her father making Johnno her half-brother. Johnno said that was a Matt mind game. Then Al told Johnno that Matt wasn’t his father – making it even more of a puzzle. 2) I have no idea about why Matt whipped himself – guilt I suppose. Because surely he had so much to be guilty about. 3) & 4) Not sure about either of these – need an explanation. 5) GJ was all about money – at least in the closing episode. Seems like that was tossed in as an after-thought. However it all seemed so extraneous. And what was the point of her leaving – especially as the closing image.

Tui intercepts GJ, but moment later, GJ will walk off anyway as the closing shot

Tui intercepts GJ, but moments later, GJ will walk off anyway as the closing shot

Maybe it was all symbolic – NZ: bottom of the world, Iceland: top of the world. Maybe GJ was a stylization of Campion herself – you know, in it for the money. Big emphasis on the maybe. So the key element must be the program Al was running to rehabilitate the kids – because it was clearly something else entirely at least below the surface.

FD: I don’t think there’s a way to perfectly explain this story. Some things were purposely left ambiguous. Other aspects seem to have been inadequately tied up at the climax. But, here’s my quick attempt to summarize. 1) Al was involved in child porn/prostitution, which paid for his two million dollar home. 2) Al also ran a training program for the local kids getting them employment at the cafe/restaurant. April Stephens was a child sex victim who became a murder victim when she knew too much. Al investigated and declared Stephens’ death a suicide. Bob Platt saw the videos made at Al’s house (the terrible thing his wife talked about) and wound up dead (this could have been done by Matt when he dragged him behind his boat but Al’s investigation failed so he may have been involved in the second murder). When Tui disappeared, Al made Wolfie his third victim (scapegoat for Tui’s disappearance/pregnancy).

Tui said “no one” got her pregnant because she was drugged and didn’t remember any sexual encounter (this is supported by Tui later saying she didn’t know how the baby got insider her). This is the basic plot line, but there were many subplots and diversions, most of which undermined the central story’s power. Before we discuss these, do you buy my analysis?

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42

 “Rounding third, Jackie Robinson heads for home, sweet, home”Red Barber, the Dodgers radio announcer calling a home run hit by Jackie Robinson on September 17th, 1947.

While this home run didn’t have the historical impact of the famous Bobby Thomson HR, called ‘the shot heard around the world’, that would be hit 4 years later, or the cinematic thunder of the HR hit by Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in the 1984 film called The Natural – the Robinson HR was no less majestic. And if not quite the pennant clincher for the Dodgers, it was the climatic scene of the new bio-film 42.

We should point out that the film 42 is not to be taken to task for the few liberties taken that aren’t quite historically accurate. Because Robinson, had so many accomplishments as a player, but none were greater than the fact of being the first Negro to play in baseball’s Major Leagues. Thereby changing the game forever. This far overrides anything else. The film does not depict his whole life and we learning nothing of his successful collegiate athletic career or even anything more than he served as an Army officer in WWII. You can only do so much in a two hour film.

The film begins with Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) telling his stunned office staff that he was going to go against the grain, against the code, and against the unwritten rules and have the Dodgers be the first MLB club to have a black player. While Rickey was certainly brave and a bit idealistic, he was also a business man. He figured a black player would be a draw and as George Steinbrenner of the Yankees would mention some 35 years later – Rickey knew that having a black player on the team would ‘put fannies in the seats‘, and money into the Dodger’s bank account.

What he didn’t know at the time was just who that player would be.

Robinson, at that time, was playing shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro baseball league. So Rickey had Robinson come in for an interview prior to the 1946 season. He liked what he saw and he signed Robinson a contract with the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate in Montreal. Robinson played that whole season in Montreal and in the spring of 1947 he competed for a spot on the Brooklyn Dodgers and won a job.

And as they say, the rest is history. And that’s the key element to the film. We’ve seen the man enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. We’ve read the accounts of his playing career. But what I am sure of, is that most of us aren’t old enough to know what it must have been like for Robinson.

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When Rickey tried to race-bait Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers’ office in downtown Brooklyn during that interview, his goal was to see what the man was made of.

Jackie Robinson: You think I’m a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?
Branch Rickey: No. I want a player who’s got the guts *not* to fight back.
Jackie Robinson: You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.

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The Forgotten Kingdom – @ 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

The Forgotten Kingdom was screened at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival on Thursday April 11th, and Saturday, April 13th. Set in Johannesburg South Africa, and then mostly in the country of Lesotho, this is a remarkable film. Directed by Andrew Mudge, this film won the SFF’s Audience Award as Best Narrative Feature. This means that by post-screening paper ballots handed in by those who just saw the screening, The Forgotten Kingdom got the best score of all those films in the Narrative Feature Film category. This was not a Jury Selection award given by industry people selected as the Jury.

Mudge told the audience at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday night that he lived in Lesotho for two years while making the film.

The film is visually gorgeous, and behind the visuals we often hear some wonderful African Reggae, while in Jo’berg, or some more traditional African vocals while in Lesotho. But this film is so much more than pretty images and foot tapping music.

There’s a strong narrative story in this film. In fact there are two stories which merge and become one unified and dramatic tale.

Joseph also known as Ateng, lives in rough and tumble downtown Johannesburg. He lives in a high-rise. The streets are active, alive, noisy, dirty, and dangerous. From a helicopter view we also see that Jo’berg is a very big city. Joseph is recognized by a local merchant who knew Joseph’s father back in the day when they worked together as miners. This merchant makes a point of telling Joseph that he recognized Joseph not only because of the facial similarities but also by the anger in Joseph’s eyes which was so similar to that of his father. He tells Joseph that he had heard that Joseph’s father was sick.

Joseph and his friends drive out to a township, an area that is more accurately described as a shantytown. But Joseph is too late. His father has already passed on. He finds a document and discovers that his father had already arranged and prepaid for a funeral back in his homeland, Lesotho.

Joseph is obliged to take his father’s body back to a small town in Lesotho. This is where Joseph grew up – only to have been uprooted when his father decided to get Joseph out of Lesotho as a small boy and get him set up in Jo’berg. Only Joseph did not live with his father. He was shunted from home to home, from this uncle to that aunt. He felt abandoned by his own father. And he was. But as Joseph would find out as an adult, the reason wasn’t just abandonment. It was the disease, known in the area as the virus, and known in the rest of the world as AIDS.

Joseph returns to Lesotho for the burial. He stands out with his worn city clothes, a threadbare suit and tie, and a leather jacket. The villagers all wear locally crafted blankets. Joseph will meet a girl, Dineo, who he went to school with long ago. She’s now a teacher at the very same school.

What Joseph experiences is the strong pull of the traditional life he had left so long ago. The clothes, the customs, the attractive girl Dineo. But he resists and decides the country life isn’t what he wants.

But the country life isn’t all that you might have thought. There, deep in the country, they have to come to grips with this very same virus, the AIDS virus. Dineo’s sister has contracted the virus and has brought deep shame to her father. He keeps her in seclusion at his home, but he’d do anything rather than care for her.

And this brings up to the second story of The Forgotten Kingdom – old Africa and the new modern Africa collide over the AIDS disease right there in this small Lesotho town.

There’s your set up.

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Frances Ha – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival – The Closing Night Film

Frances-Ha_510x800Guy at Dinner: What do you do?
Frances: It’s kind of hard to explain …
Guy at Dinner: Because what you do is complicated?
Frances: Because I don’t really do it …

And that my friends, is the essence of Frances Ha. As IFC Films tells us:

Frances lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness.

Later Frances will tell us: Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.

That’s our girl, Frances Ha. She’s wonderfully portrayed by Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach who also produced and directed this gem of a film in pure black and white. With Frances – awkward is the new beautiful. Putting her foot in her mouth is an every day event with her, and guess what – from the beginning of the film to the end – and even when you go WTF – it’s still endearing.

Remember when you were a kid, and your aunt or your uncle asked you, What do you want to be when you grow up? Well Frances is 27 and even now, she has no more idea about what the answer to that question might be than she did when she was 7.

The hits, or should I say the laughs just keep on coming at you. Frances and her best friend Sophie have shared an apartment since their college days. They describe themselves as “an old lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex any more,” and they’re straight not gay. Or “the two of us are like one person only with different hair.” Or the best one – Frances describes herself as being “almost a real person.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the premise. While her friends make plans, make decisions, struggle and ultimately find their way, Frances isn’t even able to hold her present position. While others succeed and move forward, she’s slowly and surely slipping backward.

But despite all of her all too obvious shortcomings, her awkwardness, (she even says that she’s too tall to get married) the fact she’s frustrating and embarrassing, Frances, as well as the film, keep their heads up. Gerwig’s smiles are infectious. Frances has this zest and the positive outlook that keeps her going. No apartment – no problem. No money? She’ll still pick up the check at dinner. No job, no worries – she’s working on it.

You’ll just love her.

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Pasadena – Day 9 – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

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Pasadena is a brand new film from Director Will Slocombe. It is so new, that they called its screening at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival its World Premier. So new that they don’t even have a trailer out yet. How new is it Mike? So new that they don’t even have a full-fledged movie poster out yet either. What you see is more akin to a graphic design than a movie poster.

Starring Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Witt, Sonya Walger, Amy Ferguson, Ashton Holmes, Ross Partridge, and Wilson Bethel, the film is best described as being about an hour and a half of emotional terrorism, the kind that can only happen within a family, over a series of days around the time of the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. People sit down for dinner, but what is served at this dinner is not an overcooked turkey, or some poorly prepared food – instead, what we are served is nonstop nastiness.

Your cast

Your cast

It’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie only without the surreal overtones. It is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf but with eight people instead of four.

Peter Bogdanovich plays Poppy, the family patriarch. He’s married to Cheryl Hines who is his second wife. They have one young son. Poppy has two grown daughters from his first marriage – Lindsay and Nina who is the black sheep of the family and no one has seen her in 15 years. Hines as Poppy’s wife Deborah has her own adult son and he’s there with his wife. Lindsay is there with her husband and son. And when Nina arrives, dreadfully late, with her boyfriend and dog in tow, only then do they sit down for dinner. But things go downhill rather quickly.

This is one hell of a dysfunctional family. Poppy’s wife Deborah snores like you wouldn’t believe. Poor Poppy wakes up at the crack of dawn only too eager to leave his marital bed, and escape the din of Deborah’s snores. And to pour himself a nice tall vodka on the rocks.Yes, even at the crack of dawn. This is a running theme for Poppy – he always has a drink in his hands. Always.

Pretty soon Nina and Lindsay start sniping at each other. There is some humor here and there in all of this, but it is spread out so thinly, and so infrequently, that you might miss it, and it seemed that most of the time, when some folks laughed, they were in a distinct minority.

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Nor’easter – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival – Day 9

If you live in the Northeast of the USA, then you are familiar with the term nor’easter. A Nor’easter is a storm condition that occurs when there is a convergence of the warmer Gulf Stream ocean currents and the cold air masses coming down from NE Canada. Without going into the technical side of meteorology, we can simply describe a Nor’easter as an area of vorticity, or a collision of strong elemental forces, or a bad storm.

In the film Nor’easter, written and directed by Andrew Brotzman, which was screened at the 15th Sarasota Film Festival on April 13th and 14th, we see another convergence. This time the storm generated is on a much smaller scale – we might call it a crisis of faith.

As the story opens, we learn about a family that suffered the loss of their son Josh. It was five years ago, and he simply vanished. Did he runaway? Was he abducted? There are no answers. No body. No clues. His family still grieves. At least the boy’s father still grieves and simultaneously clings to the belief that his son is alive. The boy’s mother wants to move on. This has caused a rift in the family.

[Voice Over] My son was kidnapped five years ago...

[Voice Over] My son was kidnapped five years ago…

Josh is alive...

Josh is alive…

The former parish priest, Fr. Michael had disappointed the family by not being able to provide the solace (and answers) they sought. And we will find out that Fr. Michael had his own spiritual crisis before him.

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The new priest, Fr. Erik, played by David Call (NBC’s Smash, Dead Man’s Burden), is a relatively new priest, and is quite young. In fact, this is his first assignment. So Erik conceives of a plan. They will hold a formal funeral mass for the boy, to send his soul heavenward. Then there would be a funeral, including a casket. The only thing missing was a corpse.

Of course, an obituary is run in the town paper with an unexpected result. The boy returns. He’s upset about reading about his own funeral, and he’s back.

We were everywhere. You knew we were looking for you. Why now?

We were everywhere. You knew we were looking for you. Why now?

Only it isn’t that simple. The boy refuses to tell his parents, the police, or anyone – anything about where he has been, or what happened to him, or why or if he had a choice about whether or not to leave them. So while the boy’s return doesn’t advance the story, it does remove the question – is he alive or not?

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Did anyone care for you? Just tell me that...

Did anyone care for you? Just tell me that…

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My Name is Faith – Day Nine at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

Ever hear of Attachment Disorder?

According to WikipediA: Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe the disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood, resulting in problematic social expectations and behaviors. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers after about 6 months of age but before about three years of age, frequent change of caregivers or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder.

Now that’s ‘textbook’.

In the documentary film, My Name is Faith, which screened on April 13th, 2013 at the Sarasota Film Festival, we saw the struggles of a real child, and we watched as a young couple adopted her and her younger brother, giving everything they had toward raising these children.

Directed by Jason Banker, Tiffany Sudela Junker, and Jorge Torres-Torres, My Name is Faith is a powerful and moving look at one family dealing with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The actor Adrian Grenier, best known from the HBO series Entourage, is the film’s Executive Producer.

We’re going to take this child into our home, and we’re going to rescue them.

Faith, formerly Brianna, was born into a home that was more of a meth-lab than an actual home. Her birth mother was a drug addict, and Faith and her younger brother slept only a few feet from a known sexual offender. Ultimately, these children were removed from this abuse and neglect by CPS (Child Protective Services) and placed into a foster home. Later, the Junkers entered the story and adopted these children.

The Junkers not only took ‘Faith’ into their home, they are also the parents in the film.

Tiffany Sudela Junker has stated: I never set out to produce and direct a film. As a mother, I just wanted to tell Faith’s story and make people aware of what so many families are going through.This film is my effort to honor my daughter’s hard work to overcome pain. It’s a way to pay homage to every person that has had to work hard to overcome a traumatic experience.

It’s not our fault, what happened to our children, before they became our children, at all.

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Day Nine – A Very Busy Day at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

Let’s see. It is April 13th, and I’ve got a lot on my plate today. Really.

1) My Name is Faith – a documentary about Reactive Attachment Disorder.

2) The Forgotten Kingdom – From the streets of a crime infested neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, a man returns to his ancestral home in Lesotho to bury his father.  There, it is a far different pace than the hurly-burly, rough and tumble life style he experienced in Jo’berg. He will revisit the place of his childhood and rediscover the power of the past that he had left behind.

3) Nor’easter – a feature film set on a small island off the coast of Maine, where a young priest brings about an answer to a local mystery – a boy has been missing for five years – and what follows brings on a crisis of faith for this priest.

4) Pasadena – The Word Premiere of this film directed by Will Slocombe is being screened as a Special Spotlight Film by the SFF. Starring Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, and Alicia Witt. Like Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the film takes place over a series of meals. But rather than being surreal as was the Bunuel film, this film is about the emotional terrorism than can only exist between family members.

5) The Filmmaker Awards Ceremonies and the Closing Night Film – Frances Ha starring and written by Greta Gerwig, and directed and written by Noah Baumbach. This event will be held at the Sarasota Opera House. The film also stars Mickey Sumner and Adam Driver.

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