REVIEW: “MARRIAGE STORY” (2019) Netflix

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As with some of Bambach other films, “MARRIAGE STORY” is long on talk and short on cinema. While most are at least a good watch, this one tricks you into thinking you’re getting a marriage story for the first five minutes, but it’s got a little trick up it’s sleeve and you soon find out that what you almost fell for, is nothing of the sort. With its sorta jokey NY/LA rivalry theme, and in certain LA frames giving us the “Annie Hall” feels, (along with other films in the same vein appear to be evoked here) but the mere mention of these kinds films only highlights the weakness of this one.

There is however, some passing enjoyment to be had.  Laura Dern turns in a stellar performance as Nora Fanshaw, a vicious divorce lawyer camouflaged in California nuances, and there are some fine cameos from Ray Liotta as Jay, opposing lawyer to Dern’s character.  Alan Alda also steps in as Bert Spitz, and is probably the best bit of comedy the film is given, though we are also given a true moment of sadness when you can’t help but notice the wonderful Mr. Alda’s tremors/shaking during this performance.  The wonderful Wallace Shawn, Merritt Weaver as Nicole’s sister Cassie, her mother Sandra (Julie Haggerty) are fun as well.  On the other hand, our two leads: Nicole & Charlie (Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver respectively), are as bland and uninteresting to watch as is paint drying. With such a lack of chemistry the film soon grinds to a plod and therein leaves us with absolutely no feeling towards them – no matter how much they talk about it, it’s hard to fathom that they have any kind of shared history (even their son, used as a bargaining chip throughout the messy divorce, has about as much appeal as a potato).

During one particularly lengthy argument, which was right on the level with that of a Real Housewives scenario and about as well acted as such, Johannson tries, but can’t strike a spark from herself nor her co-star, the dead-eyed and apparently sedated Driver. I’ll admit, his appeal escapes me, but he can sing — as at one point he inexplicably gets to sing an entire number from “Company” at a piano bar, and pulls it off admirably well. But Baumbach remains firmly within his context setting of affluent, if not wealthy, Brooklyn and L.A. showbiz people and their neuroses. It’s all very narcissistic and more than a little contrived — as it could be said, this is more theatre, with its elaborate, paced plotting intended as build-up to the leads’ Big Scene, which then leaves us no great effect.

In fact, Bambauch makes an unforced error in a courtroom scene where, for the first time, ordinary and everyday people are seen waiting their turn before a judge, who makes a welcome comment to the effect that he is adjourning the case around which the film revolves as there are plenty of people with far fewer resources awaiting their turn. Indeed. And so the inevitable question arises: why should we care about these particular privileged, undoubtedly smart, but politically and socially dull people as they go through the predictable phases in the break-up of a marriage whose reality was never very convincing to begin with? Why should we spend our time watching what amounts to a modernized version of a drawing-room comedy, updated to take account certain contemporary sensibilities. Well that’s for someone else to figure out. The sheer fact that they list this as a ‘comedy’ is truly baffling as our leads provide none of it and if it weren’t for some great supporting roles here, this film would be a complete sham. It also should really be titled ‘Divorce Story’ as the ‘Marriage Story’ title invokes a much happier tune than what is given.

This movie is no joy ride and I tend to say that it should have been 30min shorter. Especially the musical scenes in the end felt like “to much”. Sure, I get it, it’s a reference to the Broadway theme, but it just felt out of place. Maybe this movie is a bit to long by design, to make you feel the dread and despair as a divorce, especially when it gets so dirty, is a process that goes on for much longer than you think it should. They gave us a cute little package of tissues upon entry of the film and I thought I would be using them in an emotional tense, instead the only tears to be shed were the ones of wanting the movie to just end.

 

In the end, this film is overlong, over shouty and brings absolutely nothing new to the table. I think I’ll watch “Annie Hall” again, thanks.

Grade: D+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

“MARRIAGE STORY NOW OUT IN SELECT THEATERS // ON NETFLIX DECEMBER 6, 2019

REVIEW: “SIN CITY 2 ~ A DAME TO KILL FOR” (PREMIERE 2014)

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Ohhhh Robert Rodriguez..what happened to you since the days of “El Mariachi?” I loved that movie and the sheer basic-ness of it.  Even “Desperado” though somewhat amped up with bigger stars and all, showed you still had spirit.  “Spy Kids” was fun!! Then,..well somehow it became all green screen & well..’film noir’ if that’s what you would like to call it.  “Sin City”  a movie with so much art direction, enough decapitations to make the Roman’s say WOW! yet so very dull and uninvolving.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” seeks to pay homage to the graphic novel  by re-imagining it as a feature film; unfortunately, the big screen and the 3D merely call attention to the aspects of the book that either don’t work or don’t translate easily from one to another because I got lost & a bit bored somewhere in there.  First of all, there’s the narration..ohhhhh so, so much narration, with so many monologues laid over soooo many scenes of people drinking, driving, grimacing or stripping without taking their bras off. (The latter being “Nancy” (Jessica Alba).  Add to all this a ridiculously thick layer of sexism, with every woman in the film portrayed as a prostitute, stripper or man-trap. There’s a policeman’s wife who dares to be over the age of 40, and is well then of course cheated on because ya know..that’s what happens to all women at that age (yawn),  a vengeance-driven dancer who has to mutilate herself to get a man to help her carry out her vendetta. Heaven forbid she do it on her own in a story like this. It seems to try to be a bit self-parody, but completely lacks the sense of humour required.

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As with its the first “Sin City”, which was a whole (gasp!) 9 years ago, this sequel sees directors Frank Miller, who also wrote the novels, and previously mentioned Rodriguez shooting their actors on green-screen and surrounding them with so much animation, hyper-stylized lighting and art direction to make the movie look as much like a comic book as possible.  It’s a clever gimmick for about 10 minutes, but then you start noticing how the actors have been directed not to move their faces much, so that they’ll look more characters on a page.  The blank expressions (and again!! that crushing narration) merely point out the fact that lines like “She didn’t deserve a second thought — and I couldn’t get her out of my mind,” probably work much better on the page than they do when said out loud as they don’t work well.

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The new hero is gambler “Johnny” (Joseph Gordon Levitt) beats corrupt politician “Senator Rourke” (Powers Boothe) in a big game at the poker table but comes to regret it. Rourke becomes a target for Nancy, because the senator killed her lover “Hartigan”(Bruce Willis) who appears periodically as a kinda passive-aggressive ghost, private eye “Dwight” (Josh Brolin) finds himself trapped by the over dramatic manipulation of his ex “Ava” (Eva Green), a femme fatale with a rich husband and a wicked soul.  While I’ve still yet to figure out what makes some think Green is so wonderful all of a sudden in the acting world because I’ve only seen some very mediocre acting, I will give it that she is the only female in this movie who seems to see through this movie’s ludicrousness and dares to one-up it. Her and Brolin’s nudity feels like it should be and they show a lot more skin than any of the strippers (thank you Josh!!:))  and she turns Ava’s greed into one of the few tangible objects in this movie made up principally of special effects. “Marv” (Mickey Rourke) brings a bit of soul to his role, a bit tough-guy with a heart.

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This being Rodriguez’s second sequel in a row now, Machete Kills being the first, in which he turns sex, violence and general exploitation into a rather dull movies at best with yes, stars galore in it.  All either movie had to be was entertaining, but neither accomplished that task; so for a film loaded with decapitations and gun-toting ladies in bondage gear, Sin City 2 gets really tedious really quickly. But this genre definitely has it’s fans and they will probably love it whether it was good or bad.  On a side note: Did anyone else notice or be a bit well..skeeved out by the fact that Rodriguez once cast 13-year-old Alexa PenaVega as a spunky little Spy Kid but now gives the 26-year-old actress roles as a stripper or a whore…hmmm..maybe that’s just weird to me and yes I know. we all grow up..but this..I dunno..was just weird for me.  So as my friend Fisher said to me when I invited him to the premiere on Tuesday…”nah..the premiere party will be a blast with all those different people showing up, but the movie won’t be” and that my friends summed it up completely. Premiere party where I got to meet Demian Bichir who happened to be there and I am such a fan though he’s not even in the movie, was my most exciting moment, the movie…was not.

Grade: C-

 

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Grading Scale: A = Oscar worthy;  B = Above average – must see;  C =  Average  D = Don’t waste time or money  F = Just don’t see  (+ or – gives it a edge up or down)