NINE DAYS (2021)

August 5, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The meaning of Life is an ambitious topic to tackle for any filmmaker, but certainly as a first feature film. Japanese-Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda not only doesn’t shy away from existential questions, he has found a creative way of exploring these, leaving us with plenty to discuss after viewing. His approach is often bleak and slow-moving, yet his film excels in pushing us to examine our own attitude and appreciation for the gift of life.

Winston Duke (US, 2019) stars as Will, a kind of guardian angel charged with selecting the replacement souls after deaths occur on his watch. Will has a wall of old-style tube TVs, each with its own VCR wired up. He spends his time watching folks go about their lives. He takes notes and maintains files. See, those he watches are the ones Will previously selected for life. He picks his team, but he no longer plays the game (although he was once alive). His job now is to tweak humanity in the right direction by selecting “good” souls who are tough enough to handle life – not overly sensitive types, and certainly not those too self-centered.

There is no denying Oda’s film is high-concept, and some may outright dismiss his premise. What if pre-life was a competition to determine worthiness?  Will sets up nine days of interviews for the next round of souls. Of course, some won’t last the full nine days, but the process involves a series of quizzes as the candidates watch the wall of TVs and offer up their answers to Will’s questions. Well, all but one, that is. Emma (Zazie Beetz, JOKER, 2019) is a free-spirited soul who sees Will for what he is and what he was. She answers his questions with her own questions, or simply states that she can’t answer. He is intrigued and frustrated by her willingness to play this out in her own way.

Tony Hale (“Veep”) and Bill Skarsgard (IT, 2017) are a couple of the other candidates, and each has their moments to shine. Benedict Wong (DOCTOR STRANGE, 2015) plays Kyo, Will’s co-worker and the one who assists him with the interview process. Kyo also strives to make sure Will maintains some humanity, despite a recent event that shook him to his core, and now has Will second-guessing himself. As Emma slowly gets Will to open up about his ‘alive’ time, we also see how Will recreates a special moment for the candidates as they are dismissed … providing them with a taste of life.

A ‘taste of life’ is fitting because the point Oda is trying to make is that the best parts of life are emotions and sensations – the intangibles that bring joy, fear, and sadness. It’s not all cupcakes and unicorns, and being so tough to block out the senses is not the best way of living. Without him realizing, Emma helps Will re-connect with his inner-being of when he was alive. His re-awakening is a highlight.

The candidates are informed that, if chosen, their memories will be wiped clean, yet “you’ll still be you”. This conforms to the theory that much of who we are is inherent at birth. Again, some may disagree. Oda’s film will inspire thought and debate. If each of us aced our pre-life interviews, let’s make the most of it!  This is a terrific film with a unique look and style, and a standout performance from Winston Duke. We can only hope enough folks take the time to watch and think about the message.

WATCH THE TRAILER


TOY STORY 4 (2019)

June 17, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Yes, it’s another instant classic from Pixar. No, we shouldn’t be surprised. Their track record is beyond compare. But I can’t help it. How the heck do they do it time after time, movie after movie? We have known (most of) the characters for 25 years now, and this fourth entry seems every bit as fresh and creative as the first one. We like these characters, and it doesn’t matter that they are animated. We laugh and cry and worry about them as if they are our friends.

Tom Hanks returns as our favorite cowboy Woody (yes, he still has a snake in his boot), and Tim Allen is back as Buzz Lightyear (still unable to grasp that he’s not a real space ranger). Also returning is Annie Potts as Bo Peep, now a strong, independent “lost” toy with excellent survival and scavenging skills. Some new toys and voices inject real pizazz to the adventures. Christina Hendricks charms as Gabby Gabby, a doll quite desperate for her own kid; Keanu Reeves shines as Duke Caboom, a showboating motorcycle stunt rider who may not be as daring as his big talk; and Tony Hale turns Forky into a lovable little cockeyed spork-toy. Also bringing fun and a new comedic element are the hilarious team of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as Bunny and Ducky, respectively.

The opening sequence takes place 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep became separated from the others, and how the toys transitioned to Bonnie and how Bonnie transitioned to Kindergarten, and how Forky transitioned from trash to toy. And fear not, the old favorite toys are all here: Wallace Shawn as Rex, Joan Cusack as Jessie (I expected a bigger role for her), Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger as Hamm, Blake Clark as Slinky Dog, and courtesy of archival recordings, two posthumous appearances by Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, and Bud Luckey as Chuckles the Clown.

With his first feature film as director, Josh Cooley follows up his screenplay for the brilliant INSIDE OUT with a touching and superbly funny film. The screenplay comes from Andrew Stanton (2 time Oscar winner, FINDING NEMO, WALL-E) and Stephany Folsom, while the original story credits are many, including John Lasseter in his last project with Pixar. Even though the film is Rated G, it should be noted that it’s a pretty complex story for youngsters, and the Charlie McCarthy dolls are kind of terrifying – at least to me and Forky. TOY STORY (1995), TOY STORY 2 (1998), TOY STORY 3 (2010) get the send-off they deserve, so “move your plush” and go see it! Randy Newman is back with a new song, as well as the familiar melody and lyrics from his Oscar nominated “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” … a friend indeed.

watch the trailer:


HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE

March 14, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Yes, that really is the title of the film.  If such a thing existed in Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if Woody Allen brought a Trademark Infringement suit against writer/director Josh Radnor. There is even a clear reference to Mr. Allen, who must be one of Radnor’s idols. Of course, similar ideas and approaches happen frequently in movies, so really what we have is a snapshot in time of what it’s like to be a young (late 20’s to early 30’s) New Yorker trying to figure out life.

Radnor is one of the stars of “How I Met Your Mother” and this is his filmmaking debut. He does show some promise, despite some weakness in the script and too dang many close-ups – talking heads, as I call them. His goal was to take an intimate look at relationships and the road to maturity, which is often filled with potholes. This seems especially true for these artistic types who are convinced New York is the only land of opportunity in existence.

There are 4 stories going on: Sam (Josh Radnor) is a struggling writer who meets Mississippi (Kate Mara), a cabaret singer/waitress; Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) have their relationship tested by a proposed move to L.A.; Annie (Malin Akerman) suffers from a self-image problem and faces off against a true romantic in Sam #2 (Tony Hale); and an on-going interwoven story line involves Sam’s character making an asinine decision when a young boy gets separated from his family on the subway.

 The best of the stories is Annie’s. Suffering from an auto-immune disease which leaves her hairless, she has a real self-image problem in thinking that she is not worthy of love. On the ironic other hand, she is put off by the advances of nice guy Sam #2 because he isn’t the physical specimen she had dreamed of. Akerman and Hale make these characters believable and we actually pull for them to figure it out.

Kazan’s Mary Catherine just had me hoping Charlie would slap her and take off to LA on his own. Kazan (granddaughter of the great director Elia Kazan) actually does a nice job capturing the suffering that so many females put themselves through. Kate Mara’s Mississippi is the perky on the outside, defensive on the inside type who should probably never get mixed up with the self-centered mess that is Sam (Radnor). Still, Mara’s talent is on full display (she first leaped off the screen in Brokeback Mountain as Heath Ledger‘s 19 yr old daughter).

 One thing the script reminds us is that this generation still believes the world revolves around their every decision. They have been a bit slow on the uptake here, but it makes for easy pickings in script writing. My favorite line in the film is when Mara tells Radnor that he likes living his life like the short stories he writes, but she is ready for the novel.  There are some terrific individual scenes, but some of the larger plot lines are not treated fairly or completely. Maybe Radnor tackled a bit too much for his first outing. Still, a decent effort and I look forward to more from him

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy “little” films that focus on life intricacies

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: narcissistic, young New Yorkers make you want to run screaming from the theater