Greenberg (2010)

Directed by Noah Baumbach, who also created The Squid and the Whale (2005). He wrote the story along with Jennifer Jason Leigh. She is one of my favorites. This film had some quality that reminded me of an earlier JJL film, The Anniversary Party (2001). This story features Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) as he visits L.A. to housesit his brother's home while he and his family are out of the country. Roger is recovering after a nervous breakdown that landed him in a psychiatric hospital. Returning to L.A. is also a return to see old bandmates after many years away. They have each arrived at forty already. Roger remains single and works as a carpenter, while the others have found work and family.

The film refers back to a moment when their rock band was offered a record deal, an event that could have changed the course of their lives. Roger walked away from the deal, leaving the others to make sense of the lost opportunity. He has remained somewhat stuck in the self-identity of that former version of himself and tells people he encounters in L.A. that he is presently focused on doing nothing.

The film seems to ask what is a life without career and family? A bit lost now and coming to terms with the choices he has made, Roger's main housesitting duty is the care of the family dog and a project to build a doghouse, but when the dog become ill, more is required of him and pressures begin to mount. A non-driver in the large spread out city, he relies on the kindness of his brother's assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), a young aspiring singer. They seem to like each other, but continually give one another mixed signals. He remains a bit hung up on Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the girlfriend from back in the day. She is married with children and going through a divorce. Roger wonders if he is meant to reconnect with her now. She clearly does not share this fantasy.

He spends a lot of time re-visiting with his old buddy, Ivan, who has a troubled marriage and young son. Ivan works as a computer technician after giving his rock star dreams when Roger turned down the record deal. A web of complex relationships evolve as Roger holds onto the past. "Hurt people hurt people," is a theme that comes up again and again, as Roger acts out his demons. He is forced to explore himself more deeply than ever before as we see him stuggle to embrace the life he never expected. This is a very genuine kind of film. Not a fantasy romance where all the loose ends get tied up. Instead, the difficult moments are laid out for for us to contemplate and personal growth is inevitable.


Chloe (2009)

Set in Toronto, Catherine (Julianne Moore) is a successful doctor with a handsome professor husband, David ( Liam Neesan) and sexually curious teenage son, Michael (Max Thieriot). The Film opens as she entertains a house full of guests about to surprise her husband with a birthday party. When he calls to say he missed his flight home and will not arrive until late, Catherine begins to wonder.

The next day she notices a picture text on his phone showing him with a female student. As her suspicion rises, Catherine feels the need to test him. She hires an alluring young escort to present herself to him in order to report back on his response. Chloe (Amanda Segfried) is a fresh blend of youthful wide-eyed beauty and skillful seductress.

We learn more about the path of Catherine's marriage, a scenario common to many. Once inseparable passionate lovers, Catherine and David have grown apart. Even this appealing woman who seems to have it all feels unable to capture the attention of her husband, who has a tendency to flirt boldly with a variety of women he encounters right in front of Catherine. The experiment to catch her husband cheating becomes an obsession that involves her with Chloe more than she ever intended. Along the way Chloe proves to be less than professional as she attaches herself to Catherine and hits on her son, Michael, whose girlfriend just dumped him.

The foursome become intertwined in a very different kind of family drama...a thriller that leads us to some surprise unfoldings. Like turning the pages of a glossy magazine, the characters inhabit a metropolitan life of stylish surroundings and attractiveness as they discover their passions and desires.


Night Of The Iguana (1964)

There is too much to say about this John Huston film, based on the Tennessee Williams play, a meditation on human need. The first part of the story is not entirely engaging, but it does come to life after awhile. Richard Burton's Shannon character is a defrocked alcoholic minister working as a tour guide in Mexico with a busload of tightly-wound church women from Texas visiting historic religious sites. Charlotte is an attractive teen who has been sent on the trip by her wealthy father in an attempt to separate her from the attentions of boy back home. Chaperoning her is Miss Fellowes, who has her hands full as Charlotte takes a liking to the handsome Reverend Shannon. He calls her emotionally precocious as he tries to defend himself when accused of seducing her.

Shannon is man on the edge of collapse, trying to stay on the wagon and keep his job after a lifetime of setbacks. Miss Fellows is determined to get him fired, but he hi-jacks the bus to a remote location in Puerta Vallerta where his friend, Maxine (Ava Gardner), runs a funky hotel on a hilltop high above the sea. She is closed for business after losing her husband, but Shannon convinces her to open up to accommodate his group of women. This is where the film gained my interest. Maxine feisty and alive, managing alone in the desolate place with a little help from her native beach boys, who appear at her command...tan and bare-chested, wearing nothing but thin white cotton pants...wiggling their hips to marachas. This film is full of stereotypes.

The party of women is joined by painter, Hannah (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly wheelchairbound grandfather who she claims is the oldest living poet. Are they artistic mytics or cons? Nobody is quite sure. She makes watercolor paintings and caricature sketches as the pair travel about and offering art to the tourists in exchange for whatever donations and sales they can muster. At present, they are flat broke and she must plead with Maxine to allow them to stay on. About her economic status, she calmly explains..."I am neither proud nor ashamed--it is just what happpened to us." Prim and proper, she wears a cliche white-collared "artist" smock with just a touch of smeared paint as she talks about her paintings to the raised eyebrows of the ladies. Grandfather calls the sea the "cradle of life" so he was eager to perch himself in this high spot to find that final bit of inspiration he had been seeking...a leathery, lined and bent-over gentleman with a mop of white hair who perks up now and then to recite his poetic words.

Meanwhile, Maxine tries to be a good host, offering drinks that the teetotalers refuse. The story's location is a dense rain forest populated with iguana that the locals catch with their bare hands. Maxine orders the beach boys to grab one..."tie it up, fatten it up, cook it up." Chinese cook appears stoned in the kitchen with the meal burning on the stove, but he offers his usual words of wisdom...Mei yoo guanchi, loosely translated to mean "no sweat," his typical response. Frustrated and wanting to offer a nice meal, Hannah helps by offering to cook up some fish, claiming her years on Nantucket taught her to prepare a nice meal with any fish.

Miss Fellowes files a statuatory rape complaint against Shannon and discovers his long history of similar accusations. The stress of this delivers him back to the bottle and we see him desparately snapping on his white collar, insisting that he has not been defrocked. Hannah describes herself as a spinster pushing forty as Shannon chips away at to learn more about her odd chaste lifestyle and she continues to reveal a deep nature and wisdom that stir his attention. She explains her lifestyle to him..."I don't regard a home as a place, but something two people have between them--a place to rest and nest. When one builds a nest in the heart of another the question of permanence and propagation are not so imporatant. What's important is that one is never alone."

Charlotte turns her interest from Shannon to Hank, the driver of the bus. They end up driving off with the church ladies, leaving Shannon to sort out his troubles with Maxine and Hannah. His dark demons drive him to crack up, something Maxine claims he does a couple times a year. The beach boys rescue him from a drunken dive into the sea after telling everyone he would swim to China. They tie him up restrained in a hammock while Hannah suggests poppy tea to calm him. The tonic seems to work as more of their souls are bared. He explains his problem..."When you live on the fantastic level as I have more and more lately but have to operate on the realistic level you get spooked." Hannah reveals her demons and claims..."Some take a drink--others take a pill. I just take a few deep breaths." Her gentle insights seem to heal Shannons troubles, as Maxine becomes a little jealous to observe this happening under her roof.

The iguana never does end up on the kitchen stove. Hannah instructs Shannon to liberate it. Lots of symbolism here and loose ends tied up nicely. Grandfather completes his final poem and solemnly offers the words to his companions at the hotel, a beautiful moment to watch, as he dies moments later. Hannah has anticipated this moment, free at last to move on in her life. Maxine, Hannah, and Shannon are left to unwind a complex emotional entanglement. The film is wonderful and the extra features tell how the film was made during a time when this location choice presented John Huston with a huge challenge. Richard Burton has Elizabeth Taylor with him on the set, a major distraction for the all, as she was still married to Eddie Fisher. John F. Kennedy was shot just before concluding the shoot.


Adam (2009)

After my trip to Damages, I became interested in actress, Rose Byrne, who is so compelling in that drama. I found this indie film (made after the television series) about Adam (Hugh Dancy), a man with aspergers as he meets up with New York City apartment neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne). She is teaches kids and writes children's books. He is an electrical engineer with a job arranged by his over-protective father. Brilliant in many ways, Adam is a good-looking young man with a passion for astronomy and nature, but he manages in life by staying close to a rigid lifestyle. Rose helps to have a bit more fun in life and teaches him how to do better in his life, such as improve his diet. "You can't eat macaroni and cheese every night--it lacks stimulation."

Adam was adapting to life after his father died, on his own for the first time. He seems to have one friend, an older man named Harlan who talks with him and gives him some pointers on how to live in the world, but the loss of his father leaves him adrift. Rose growns quite fond of Adam's uniqueness. Harlan encourages him to make an effort to be with her. Early on, he calls her outside late at night to show her racoons living in Central Park. They began to share a quirky world together and love blossoms. She helps him to thrive despite his condition and seems enjoy the caretaking role.

Rose's parents, Marty (handsome Peter Gallagher) and Rebecca (sweet Amy Irving) Buckman are perplexed about their promising and lovely only child's choice of boyfriend. He is fired from his job for poor performance and learns that his father had been the one to arrange it in the first place, something that was kept a secret from him. This sends him on a downward spiral. Although Rose's parents are intially tolerant of the relationship, they intervene when Adam has a meltdown in front of their home that scares them all. Dad tells Rose "He's not for you."

Adam suffers without Rose and this inspires him to rise to the occasion...find a way to gain her attention. He lands a high-tech job in Silicon Valley and invites Rose to move out there with him. She is still in love with him and considers this. Dad warns her that she will always have to look after him. Meanwhile, Beth's Dad has been charged with a white collar crime that sends him to prison for two years. He bargains with Beth to return home with the mother, assuring her that they have been well-provided for financially. Mom is more sensitive to the dilemma of the heart and tells her "Feeling loved is very important, but loving is the necessity."

Beth struggles to make a decision and asks Adam straight out why he wants her to go with him. His answer is revealing. "You are like a part of me--I could not go without you--I need you to help me get to work and understand the people around me." He finally did say he loved her, but she knew this was not the future she wanted for herself. Adam takes a leap and goes anyway. We see him months at his new job with new friends appearing to be happy. The experience with Rose launched him to this next level. He receives a package in the mail from her one year after his move, a children's book titled Adam, about a family of racoons living in Central Park. Of course, he is pleased and all is well. This is more like a movie on the Lifetime channel, but the cast is quite good. It's kind of a relief to see Rose out of the hardcore world of Damages.


Damages Season 2 (2007)

I am a season behind on this, but I watch it like a movie...one episode after the next withing a few days. First, I love the soundtrack...especially the opening song "When I am Through With You," written by Jason Rabe and Ravi Subramanian, performed by VLA. Why do I enjoy a show with a tagline such as "Win at all costs"????? Despite the abundance of plot, I'm in this for the characters, of course.

Created by Daniel Zelman, brothers Glenn and Todd Kessler, the writing production trio had some involvement previously with The Sopranos. No wonder. Here hiigh-power attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her protege Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) are central to this story of good against evil, corporate corruption, relationship, power and money....greed. Patty tells Ellen early on "You're a lawyer--get used to lying." Patty is married to investment king, Phil Gray...played by Michael Nouri, who just have been in dozens of made for tv movies on the Lifetime channel as the handsome love interest. Industry pollution, mergers, contrived stock trades, revenge and scandel...it's all so real and unreal.

Arthur Frobischer (Ted Danson) is the likable bad guy with company trouble and a wife out to divorce him. He recovers from being shot and wants to change his ways. He once said things like "Take her out," but transforms through the help of his Deepak Chopra-like personal healer who tells Frobischer "Every gesture has two sides--one faces the sun and one faces the darkness." The two join forces to build a healing arts center on the site where he buries the bullet that nearly did him in.was shot. Charges against him mount. There are hits, makes, FBI and investigators at every turn.

Ellen escapes a murder attempt, but her fiancee does not. Patty is watching Ellen and Ellen is watching Patty. Their partner, family man Tom Shayes is played by Tate Donovan who is known previously on Seinfeld. He finds himself in for more than he ever bargained for. Daniel Purcell (William Hurt), world-weary scientist gone bad, is Patty's former love interest and father of her teenage son. My favorite this season is Claire Maddox (Marcia Gay Harden), attorney for Patty's opposition. The only child of hopeful parents, by mid-life she is the top of her game...one of the boys, but outwardly sexy in her low-cut suits and mile-high heels. She wears stockings and garters, drinks vodka martinis (dirty)....won't let her lover light her post-sex cigarette. "I smoke one at the end of the day and I smoke it alone." She sums up the state of the economy and contemporary life..."There is no one more endangered than the american caucasian male." Independent and childfree, she answers her elderly father's lament about no grandchildren with "If you wanted grandchildren, Dad, you should have had a lot more kids." There are so many more interesting characters, but one really has to start at the beginning of this saga and watch it all unfold.


August Rush (2007)

I noticed this listed as somebody's favorite film. Another story about musical genius...part fairytale, part reality. Lyla (Keri Russell) is serious-minded cellist living in New York. She falls for Louis (Jonathan Rhy Meyers), a charming Irish rock musician. Their brief romance ends in pregnancy, but Lyla's overprotective father makes sure that the man and baby do not sidetrack her from the promising career. Lyla is told the baby died in birth. She settles into life as a music teacher in Chicago. Louis moves on to a more ordinary life and puts aside his music.

Meanwhile, we learn about Evan (Freddie Highmore), a sensitive boy growing up at a home for boys. Kindly social worker, Richard (Terrance Howard) takes a special interest in him as he tries to understand Evan's refusal to be adopted, convinced that his real family will find him someday. Evan runs away from the home, where he meets up with band of children living in an abandon building with Maxwell, "The Wizard" (Robin Williams) who uses the kids to earn money. He is full of philosophy, music, and street. Evan picks up a guitar and uncovers a surprising talent. Maxwell gives him the stage name August Rush and enforces in him the belief that "the music is all around...you just need to listen."

On his deathbed, Lyla's father confesses that he had forged her name on adoption papers twelve years ago...for her own good. This news sends her on a mission to New York to find her son. Richard, from Child Services begins to help her. Meanwhile, Louis faces his own demons and begins dwelling on thoughts of Lyla. He quits his job and takes out his guitar. August Rush breaks free of Maxwell long enough for others to notice his talents and the stars align for him. The course of their journies becomes predictable, but the road to the conclusion is so much fun.

Lyla returns to her cello for a symphony concert in Central Park. Louis is in town reconnecting with his rock band. You can guess the rest, but it doesn't matter. This film is touching and thought-provoking. Is our path in life unavoidable?


Heartbreakers (1984)

I was looking for an old Peter Coyote movie called Paint It Black. Did I imagine that one? Never did find it, but I came upon this one that is full of 1980s sound and style. Peter Coyote is in his prime of handsomeness as (Arthur) Blue, a thirty-five year old struggling artist who makes large paintings of fetish model, Candy Cane (Carole Wayne), reminiscent Betty Page. He lives in a stark white L.A. loft (complete with mattress on the floor and Laurie Anderson poster in the kitchen) with Cyd (Kathryn Harrold), who supports them with her steady job in commercial art until she begins wanting more...such as a bed. She pleads with him "you have to live in the world in order to be an artist" and soon takes up with a successful painter, Chuck (Max Gail), who actually "lives like a grown-up." In Blue's opinion, the man is a whore who sells pretty decorative art.

Losing Cyd sparks Blue to look more seriously at his work. He quits his job working the graveyard shift at a porn printshop where he runs the press, determined to find success as a painter. His persistance lands him a show at the T. Ray Gallery, with just six weeks to produce twelve large paintings. The movie centers around his life as a painter and his friendship with Eli, who runs the family garment business. We learn that it was Eli who was first to date Cyd...it seems that sooner or later the women end up with Blue. Eli falls in love with the gallery assistant, Liliane (Carole Laure), who is never quite available for the kind of romance Eli hopes for. Blue tries to win back Cyd with his new gallery success. There is a lot to this story beside the L.A. attractiveness. There are a lot of nightclub scenes...men on the prowl, sexy dancing to 1980s techno pop...jeaousy and fierce competion. In the end, though, it is the men in this film who truly support one another.

Antichrist (2009)

This Lars Von Trier film is categorized as "Horror." Full of symbolism and primal material, this is a wild movie...quite shocking in many ways. I wrote about Lemming back in January, where I first discovered Charlotte Gainsbourg. Like the character in that film, we see her again as another disturbed woman. CG was born into a family of performers and has some kind of cult-status a singer/songwriter of "dream pop."

This film begins quite dreamily as we see a couple making love while their toddler child awakens in the night and climbs up to the ledge of a window that has blown open in a winter storm. He falls to his death and the man and woman are left to deal with enormous grief. She collapses into a dysfunctional state and is hospitalized for a month. He therapist husband finally takes matters into his own hands. Back home, he begins practicing therapy on her himself and discovers an underlying fear for a place called "Eden," where they have a cabin in the woods. Though unconventional for a therapist to treat his own wife, he feels nobody else is capable of the task. He makes her flush the medications, and they take off to spend time at the cabin in the woods where he begins exercises in exposure therapy. There is lots of nudity and in your face sexual moments.

The film is sectioned into chapters titled, Grief, Pain, Despair. The primal forces of nature begin to reveal themselves. The cabin is pelleted with falling acorns. As he assists his wife to unravel her inner life, he also discovers her unfinished thesis on Gynocide that the wife was supposed to have completed the previous summer she spent the cabin with the young child. He also begins to see that her growing fear the woods not only compromised her ability to do her work, but she may have neglected the child during that time. She comments at one point that "nature is Satan's church." We begin to believe his therapy is working when the wife admits she is feeling happy again, but deeper darker events unfold. In some ways, this film is like a long unrelenting nightmare, yet thought-provoking...and yes, horrifying.