Review: The Wife

The Wife (2018)
Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater. Written by Jane Anderson. Directed by Björn Runge.

At first I didn’t quite see what the critics were reporting, that Glenn Close’s performance in The Wife was sure to earn her a nomination for a Best Actress Oscar. Close is pretty much always very good, and this role of Joan Castleman didn’t seem to stretch her at all. Sure, there are some pretty fiery moments where Joan and her husband Joe Castleman argue almost to the point of throwing blows or objects, but this stuff is a cakewalk to someone of Close’s talent.

Then there’s the last act of the film, where Joan’s barely controlled fury threatens to blow everything in the room to pieces, and it’s an amazing thing to witness. She is certain to be nominated for best actress, and she’s going to be among the favorites to win.

Joe is informed in the first scene that he is this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The movie then alternates between its present day and the early days of the Castlemans’ relationship. This is a movie about Joan’s role in Joe’s literary career, which includes the raising of two children—a well-adjusted adult daughter and a troubled adult son, who accompanies his parents to Stockholm for the awards ceremony.

It’s a pretty good story, but the reason to see it is the acting, which is excellent without being especially pyrotechnic. I was really pleased to see Christian Slater as a wanna-be biographer tailing the Castlemans despite their open dislike of him. Slater brings his slimiest best, all the sneaky, sleazy acting that made him a Gen X icon, minus the rebellious self-righteousness. I won’t be surprised if there’s some supporting actor love for him at Oscar time.

Close’s real-life daughter Annie Stark is a nice discovery as young Joan.

I’m giving it a few extra points for being a literary-themed movie, one of my admitted biases. Worth a look even if it’s not one of yours.

8/10
80/100

Friday 5: Over Under Sideways Down

Jessica being towed six days after I bought her.

From here.

  1. What are you so over?
    Besides the hill, which I don’t think answers the intended question, I’m so over being a bus commuter, and thanks to Jessica (the name of my new car), I don’t have to think about it anymore.  I’ve gone though periods in my adult life when I’ve been a bus rider, and for the most part I don’t mind it much, but this last time it was four years, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I’ve been trying to ramp up my side work, and the three hours of commuting were hampering my hustle ability.
  2. What’s something you’ve got under wraps?
    Not totally under wraps, but it looks like my company is sending me on a trip to a writers conference.  Details later, I promise, but it’s almost as far away from home as you can go and still be in this country, and I’m pretty excited.  I was always mildly annoyed that when I was teaching, other teachers were asked to travel to conferences on the schools’ dimes, and I got sent to stuff on weekends at local schools.  Those were pretty great, but man did that seem somewhat unjust.  So yeah, this will be my first trip for work on which I wasn’t accompanying a hundred seventeen-year-olds.
  3. What does it take to get you sideways, and what’s your preferred method?
    I’ve never been sloshed, mostly because alcohol makes me morose.  After a couple of beers I decide I’m sad enough and don’t need any more.  As a result, I’m a horrible lightweight.  At my goodbye get-together when I left my last school, I had a beer and then a mind eraser, and I had to walk around the park a few times before driving home.  I wasn’t drunk but I was pretty woozy.  I’d say my preferred method is frozen strawberry margaritas, but usually I just have a couple of brews.
  4. What’s coming down the pike?
    New Order concert this Friday, and Def Leppard concert two weeks later!  I’m seeing Def Leppard alone (I go to most of my concerts alone), but I’m seeing New Order with one of my HS classmates, a friend for a million years whose BF doesn’t want to see New Order.  I think of all my female classmates, nobody makes me laugh as much as this one, so it’s going to be fun.
  5. What’s the last thing you read directions for?
    Is a recipe directions?  If so, I read directions a couple of hours ago when I wondered how difficult it is to make cabbage tsukemono.  If not, I had to read directions Friday for filling out some paperwork for this work trip.

Review: Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked (2018)
Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Dodds.  Written by Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, and Evgenia Peretz (based on the novel by Nick Hornby).  Directed by Jesse Peretz.

Tucker Carlson released one moderately successful album called Juliet and then disappeared.  Decades later, his fans dedicate their free time to deconstructing the album and speculating on Carlson’s whereabouts in an online forum run by Duncan Thomson, a college lecturer in a small town in England.  Duncan’s live-in girlfriend and the central character in Juliet, Naked is Annie Platt, the curator and director of the town’s museum.

Juliet, Naked is the title of a new release of the classic album, but stripped down to its essential vocals and acoustic guitar, perhaps demo recordings of the songs before they were recorded and mixed for the final product.  It seems to appear out of nowhere, and of course the rabid fanbase is ecstatic.

Annie is less so, and when she expresses her feelings about the album, she sets into motion a weird sequence of events leading to Annie’s serious questioning about her life choices.  She knows exactly how she got to where she is, but is she satisfied? Is it too late for a redo on some of it?

It would be easy to call this film a romance, and there are romantic elements here.  Yet Annie’s relationship with Duncan is only part of her reflection, merely representative of many choices she never pursued or opportunities she let go.  The possibility of a new relationship simply provides the catalyst for this self-evaluation.

What I love most about Juliet, Naked besides Rose Byrne’s excellent performance is how correspondence by email and in text messages with an unexpected friend forces Annie to articulate the specifics of her life and how she feels about them.  Annie deconstructs her relationship, her family, her job, and her small town in what becomes essentially a journal with an audience.

When Annie is finally ready to do or not do something about where she finds herself, it isn’t because some guy walks into her life, or some other guy sees the error of his ways and redeems himself.  She makes her choices because self-examination empowers her.

Ethan Hawke can be an annoying actor.  I find myself demanding he prove his sincerity with every performance, even in those great sequels to Before Sunrise.  Here is a film where he mostly wins me over (despite one suspiciously gratuitous piano performance), one of the best roles I’ve seen him in.  Byrne has what I think of as the Emily Blunt role, which used to be the Minnie Driver role, but she does it in the sweetest, most relatable way that makes me wish she had more starring vehicles.

My only real problem with the movie is the Nick Hornby effect.  I care about Annie and don’t want her mixed up with any of the men in Nick Hornby stories.  Not John Cusack, not Hugh Grant, not Ethan Hawke, and certainly not Nick Hornby. None of these guys can be trusted, and I left the theater confident in Annie’s ability to deal with whatever comes her way, but I don’t want a Nick Hornby to be one of those things.

8/10
83/100

Review: The Bookshop

The Bookshop (2018)
Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance. Written by Isabel Coixet, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Directed by Isabel Coixet.

Florence Green is a middle-aged widow living in a very damp coastal English town. She opens a bookshop, despite reservations by (and condescending advice from) supposedly smarter men like her banker and her solicitor, and despite strong discouragement from Violet Gamart, an elder socialite who envisions a community arts center in the space Florence purchases for her shop.

A smart, young farm girl works for Florence after school, and the two ladies form a nice mentor-apprentice relationship. A wealthy recluse (played by Bill Nighy, one of my favorites) is one of her steadiest clients, and the bookshop seems to take hold in its little corner of this town among other residents as well, but Violet still wants her arts center.

The Bookshop is a wonderfully moody film, colored with the grayish blues and grayish grays a lot of post-WWII films set in England seem to favor. England, like the rest of the world, still feels the effects of the war, and people seem to want connections where connections may be elusive. Florence’s tenuous but intriguing connections, made through the drawing power of her bookshop, seem to bring together people who have difficulty connecting otherwise.

Like her bookshop, Florence may not belong in this place among these people, but like her bookshop, she appeals to the people who need these connections even if maybe they never realized it.

I love this movie. I love Emily Mortimer’s quirky but dignified performance as Florence, and of course I love Bill Nighy whose Edmund Brundish has all kinds of locks begging to be sprung.

I imagine this is the film people are thinking of when they say they dislike British films (it’s Spanish, but whatever). For me, it’s a desperately needed scratch of my long-neglected Merchant-Ivory itch and I can’t wait to see it again.

9/10
91/100

Review: Peppermint

Peppermint (2018)
Jennifer Garner. Written by Chad St. John. Directed by Pierre Morel.

Riley North witnesses the horrible murder of her husband and young daughter. A crooked system lets the perpetrators get off with no punishment, so Riley disappears for a few years, showing up in time to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the murder, but this time with Jason-Bourne-like skills. And she’s not back to offer second chances.

A movie like this is pretty much review-proof. It’s Jennifer Garner in badass mode, as she was in her Alias TV program. I was aware of its terrible reviews before I went in, but whatever. It’s Jennifer Garner.

Even the bad reviews acknowledge that Garner is pretty good in it, and she is. I think only Julia Roberts among current actresses holds a screen better than Garner, and as long as the script keeps finding new ways for her to exact her revenge, I’m unlikely to find any of it boring.

I dislike the concept of a vigilante, but I do enjoy vigilante movies, and how many have female leads? Seriously, you can put Riley right up there with any of them. I like her better than Charles Bronson in Death Wish or Clint Eastwood in those westerns. I don’t care that there is nary an explanation to be found for her quickly attained super-amazing death-machine skills. I just want more Peppermint.

Predictable, formulaic, incredible? Yes, all of those. But fun, too. Sequel, please!

6/10
63/100

Review: Searching

Searching (2018)
John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La. Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty.

Searching is the second movie I’ve seen in September 2018 that’s marketed as a thriller but is really a mystery. So if you are not thrilled by thrillers (as I am not), don’t let the trailer keep you away. There are a couple of dark episodes, but the film stays away from edge-of-your-seat suspense or immediate peril for the main character. The main character’s teenaged daughter disappears and may be dead, and very sensitive parents may wish to skip it for this reason, but even with this major plot element, the film is really not at all scary.

Some viewers, however, may find it gimmicky. The entire movie is seen on electronic screens of some sort, usually computer screens and smartphone screens. Even when we’re looking at live news reports, we see them not on television, but via streaming through a web browser. There’s a good reason for the gimmick, and although this device forces the filmmakers to resort to some unrealistic exposition by way of news reporters who say things they would never say (and televise things they would never televise), it’s worth this bit of tradeoff for the social issues they explore. In this way, Searching is not a bad partner for Eighth Grade.

Cho is David Kim, the recently widowed father of Margot, a high-achieving high-school senior. Margot disappears one night when she’s supposed to be at a study group. As police detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) and her team trace the evidence, they ask David to contact all of Margot’s friends to try and figure out where she might have gone. The more David looks, the clearer it is that he really doesn’t know his daughter.

It’s pretty cool to see Cho carry a film pretty much entirely on his own. Messing is a supporting actor at best here, and Cho is more than up to the task. The film has a few flaws best left for the viewer to discover (or not care about). I’m willing to look the other way because the story is engaging and surprisingly not preachy about the things it wishes us to consider. In my own writing, I frequently ask, “How does any of us survive childhood?” Searching proposes another side of the question I’ve honestly never considered: How does any of us survive parenthood?

7/10
73/100

Review: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor (2018)
Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding.  Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell).  Directed by Paul Feig.

A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back.  When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.

She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate.  Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship.  Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself.  She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.

Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.

It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict.  Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.

Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors.  This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.

Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film.  If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.

79/100
7/10

Friday 5: “Nine times?” “Nine times!”

you shoot a lot of photos before lucking into this.

From here.

  1. If you were to play hooky on your next regular work day with no negative consequences, and if you could only spend the day by yourself, what out-of-the-house fun activities would you pursue?
    Well it happens that I took a vacation day today.  My brain’s been a little fried at work lately, and I had a big deadline to take care of recently so I couldn’t take a day off when I really needed it.  Then I got these wheels, but the weather’s been terrible.  Even when the weather cleared up a bit, it was too soon after some serious rain, which means the near-shore waters were teeming with nasty little things that get washed out of the watersheds and down the streams into the Pacific.  It’s part of living on a small island.  Thursday was the day.  Long enough from the big rain that the water was probably okay, and forecasted to be clear and sunny.  So first I slept in (that’s not an out-of-the-house activity, but I needed it!) then went to Ala Moana for a swim.  It was wonderful and exhausting.  Then I drove counter-clockwise around the island to try out the new wheels.  Stopped at Waimanalo, my favorite beach, and sat in the sand for a little while, playing with the camera on my phone.  I had a feeling I wouldn’t get to go in, and I was right.  Portuguese man o’ war flags were up.  Then I stopped for brunch in Kailua at Boots & Kimo’s.  Their famous macadamia nut pancakes never really did it for me, but this time I had the blueberry macadamia nut pancakes and *ding* we had a winner.  Delicious.  I was in need of a nap, so I found a shady spot in a park and slept about twenty minutes in my car.  It was warm.  The nap was partly to help me decide whether I wanted to continue around the island or call it a nice, fun day already.  I would have been fine going home, but I really wanted to get to the north shore and didn’t see myself taking another day off in the near future.  The car handled wonderfully on the twisty road to the north shore.  It’s pretty fun to drive.  Dinner at Romy’s (I was the last customer before closing) was wonderful as always.  I continued through Kahuku and Waimea, then stopped at the beach in Haleiwa just to watch the ocean.  There were three young European women mimicking model poses in bikinis near a sand castle.  That was amusing for a while.  I stopped at a boba cafe (after filling the tank and getting a car wash) to get some work done and do this meme.  I’m really tired, in one of those good ways.  I keep looking at the time because I’m used to having to get the bus home.  It’s preventing me from fully relaxing, but I imagine it won’t be long before I get over that.
  2. In the same situation, what stay-home fun activities would you pursue?
    Definitely reading and watching some of the movies that have been piling up.  I’m midway through Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, on which a recent film is based.  The movie is rather wonderful (with one of my favorites, Bill Nighy the Acting Guy) and the book may be slightly better.  I still haven’t watched any of those earlier A Star Is Born films, so I would work at least one of those in as well.  And napping!  Napping is fun when it’s not escapist behavior, which for me it often is but wouldn’t be this week.   I mean not totally.
  3. If you played hooky specifically because someone else needed the time off, who in your life would be your accomplice and what would be first on the agenda?
    I’m going to say Grace needs it the most, even though she’s been only working part time.  She’s working a new(ish) IT help desk job and she’s been too tired to do anything fun.  Too tired to sit in a dark, air-conditioned movie theater, even.  Now that she has a co-worker I think she’s not quite as tired, but she’s still a good candidate.  So we’d see a movie and drive to a library and get lunch somewhere.  Grace collects visits to public libraries, and I know there are a few remote libraries she hasn’t seen yet.  Waimanalo, maybe.  My friend Julie has a baby less than a year old.  If Grace begged out, Julie would probably be game.  I don’t think I’ve ever been out with just Julie, though, so I might have to steal Suzanne or Cindy to come along.
  4. When did you last visit a museum, and what item on exhibit impressed you?
    I took the day off from work on my birthday in January and spent some time at the Hawaii State Art museum.  There was an interesting piece by a guy who graduated from my high school about ten years before me.
  5. What’s something you’ve recently gotten away with?
    This is kind of a small thing, but between the evening when I purchased the new car and the time I registered it the next afternoon, I was driving an unregistered vehicle.  It would have been an uninsured vehicle too, but the guy I bought it from offered to keep it on his policy until mine kicked in at midnight the next day.
I think this is the painting.

Friday 5: Stay and Let Me Look at You

I’ve been crazy busy but things are calming down.  Sometime this weekend I’ll write about my new wheels, and what led to my being a bus commuter lo these past four years.

I hope to get an early start Friday morning, and it’s getting late Thursday night, so a quick Friday 5 from here.

  1. (Earth, Wind & Fire) Why are you dancing in September?
    I want to be more interesting than this, but honestly it’s really the beginning of the NFL season.  Despite my team sucking this year, I embrace the non-political conversations football brings with my friends and with my father.
  2. (Neil Diamond) September morning still can make you feel what way?
    It still fills me with tension about new school years even though I’ve been out of the classroom for some time.  I wake up Saturday mornings asking myself what I need to get done before Monday, a feeling I don’t need to have anymore but was a constant, eternal concern every Saturday morning for sixteen years teaching.
  3. (Green Day) What are some things you have to endure until September ends?
    The lunch spots on campus become noticeably less busy even during the lunch hour sometime in October.  Parking (woo!  I get to be concerned about parking again!) is also somewhat less competitive.  So, longer lines in the food court and longer lines into the parking structure.
  4. (Kool & the Gang) What place or thing is your September love?
    There was a time when Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes were a two-a-day habit.  I’m way, way down now, and almost never drink coffee, but I’m allowing myself a PSL here and there, and have had two so far since they showed up at the beginning of the month.  My September love this year is pumpkin spice lattes.
  5. (Willie Nelson) What is your September song for the rest of the month?
    So far, songs in the heaviest rotation have been Katherine Ho’s “Yellow” cover from the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack, “Mama Africa” by Peter Tosh (really, the whole Mama Africa album, which I only recently discovered and am in love with), Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” (autumn always has me grooving on Elvis for some reason), and a bunch of John Mellencamp.  I recently picked up a bunch of his recent albums but I couldn’t spin them because I was doing this silly BTS experiment I’ll explain later.  I expect the second half of September to be tons of Mellencamp.

 

Labor

I’m three fourths of the way through the Labor Day weekend and just taking a few moments to write whatever pops into my head.

My mother’s birthday was Saturday, so half of my day was dedicated to hanging out with the family.  We had lunch together at Outback in Waipio, a family favorite mostly because it’s a couple of blocks from my sister’s house and therefore easier for half the family (counting niece, nephew, and sister’s boyfriend) to get to, but also because the food is quite good.  I had a lovely ribeye and we all had some pretty good conversation.

My mom was mostly pleased just to spend the time with her family.

Friday I worked a little late but also spent some time preparing for the annual fantasy football draft.  My high-school classmates and I have been playing for more than twenty years, and I have a feeling only a couple of us play seriously anymore, which is probably why I won the title two years in a row and then took second last year.  Everyone’s gotten married and had kids.  The guy who beat me for the title last year, Marshall, was a first-year empty-nester, which might explain that.

Sunday is my usual day to hang out with my folks.  I’m usually there from around 2:30 until 8:00, which means I get home kind of late, with just enough time to get things ready for the new work week and get to bed.  Because the fantasy draft is Monday afternoon and because I have deadlines for the side gigs Monday as well, I went over early this Sunday and got home early-ish.

Then crashed for nearly four hours.  Yikes.  I naively thought I might get the work done and have time for a late movie, but I woke up from my nap at 11 in the evening.

Which means I have to wake up early so I can get the work done and still get to the draft, which will be at Don’s condo in Kakaako.

It’s all a lot of socializing for me for a long weekend, which might explain the long nap.  I was feeling drained and the nap was a pretty good way to recharge.

I’ve said “explain” a lot in these past fifteen minutes.

I swear this is the last thing I’ll say about fantasy football for the next twenty-four hours at least.  I got permission at work to run an out-in-the-open, just-for-fun fantasy football league in the office.  Seven sign-ups so far, with at least one more for-sure going to play.  This would be best with at least ten participants, but eight will work, so I’m pretty excited.  I’m all about team-building at work, and this kind of thing can go a long way toward that!  I directly asked some of our C-level leadership to play, and I have at least one already signed up.

I have borrowing privileges at the library on the university campus where I work, and the a/v library had DVDs of all three versions of A Star is Born, none of which I’ve seen.  So I borrowed them all in anticipation of this new remake with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.  I’m determined to make time for at least the 1937 Janet Gaynor / Fredric March version.

I’m up to chapter 13 in China Rich Girlfriend, which so far has managed to be funnier and more fun than Crazy Rich Asians.  I think it’s the familiarity with characters that does it (ha!  no “explain” there), especially the characters I like.  The setup also feels a bit fresher than in the first novel.

In fact I will wrap this up now so I can spend a little time with the book before bed.  It’s nearly two in the morning and I have to get up early!