Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! This week’s batch covers relationships, truffle hunters, horror light, the real horror, and a plea for trees. Which ones look good to you?
On the Rocks (2020)
Starring: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate
Director: Sofia Coppola
Genres: drama, comedy
Synopsis: Laura (Jones) is a writer with writer’s block, a work-from-home mom with a small child she carts all over the city for school and other things. Her gorgeous husband, Dean (Wayans) is getting his company going and is gone a lot, hobnobbing with the jet-setting beautiful people. Laura gets suspicious that her husband may be cheating on her and wants to know one way or the other and so she contacts the one person she knows who is an expert in the art of cheating – her own father, Felix (Murray.)
Impressions: I like the premise of the movie. Bill Murray is always a draw. It didn’t take long before I realized how much of a downer this movie was going to be. I think it could have been much more of a comedy with a different choice in actress for Laura. Jones ground this comedy into dust. She is a total downer in it; which is either a testament to her acting skills in portraying a total downer personality, or a poor casting choice. Bill Murray was first class in his role as the philandering father. I liked Wayans, but he basically played more of a cameo role in it. The relationship being highlighted is that of daughter and father, where it explores the dynamics of her not forgiving her dad for cheating on her mom; and his trying to feel bad — but not, as it is who he is– yet wanting to make things right with his daughter and his relationship. The overall impression of the film isn’t awful; yet it is disappointing in knowing how much better it could have been with someone else in the daughter role.
Etc.: from imdb, filmed in NYC; A picture of Bill Murray’s character and Barack Obama playing mini-golf in the film is a real photo. It was taken when Bill Murray was presented with The Mark Twain Prize; Rashida Jones’ mother, actress Peggy Lipton, sadly passed away from cancer only 11 days before filming started.
Awards: 2 wins and 40 nominations
The Truffle Hunters (2020)
Starring: Piero Botto, Sergio Cauda, Maria Cicciù, Aurelio Conterno, Enrico Crippa, Gianfranco Curti, Angelo Gagliardi, Egidio Gagliardi, Carlo Gondola, Carlo Gonella, Paolo Stacchini
Director: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
Synopsis: blurb from imdb:
Deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, a handful of men, seventy or eighty years old, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle-which to date has resisted all of modern science’s efforts at cultivation.
It is a slow-paced documentary, but that is understandable as truffle-hunting is a slow-paced activity. Not only does it spend time at home with each of the truffle hunters, it shows them out in the forest with their trusty companions, the unassuming-looking dogs that they share a special bond with. Unfortunately the art and the peace of their trade is under attack from several directions (which I won’t detail here.)
Impressions: If you are fascinated by the art of truffle-hunting and are ok with a slow pace, you will enjoy it.
Etc.: filmed in Italy, in Italian language, with English subtitles. Official website of the film is here.
Awards: 7 wins and 21 nominations
Willy’s Wonderland (2021)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner, Kai Kadlec
Director: Kevin Lewis
Genres: action, comedy, horror light
Synopsis: A man with a fast car and a trunk full of beer is racing down an old highway and comes up with a flat in a small berg of a town. The wrecker-repair service driver tows his car to the fixit shop and says he can fix it overnight but takes only cash as payment. As the man has no money, the fixit shop man says he knows where he can do janitor work overnight as barter for payment. The man, aka The Janitor (Cage) agrees to the barter and is taken –with his beer– to the now-closed Willy’s Wonderland (think Disneyland without rides or Chuck E Cheese. He is told by the owner that the place is getting prepared to re-open. What he doesn’t see is Willy’s Wonderland’s owner padlocking him inside of the business when he leaves. The Janitor has such a mess to clean up, along with having to deal with murderous animatronic characters who are determined to kill him before dawn. The Janitor is expected to be one of a long line of “sacrifices” that will be made to appease certain forces of evil. What those forces don’t expect is a pinball-playing, beer-guzzling badass that stops evil in its tracks.
Impressions: I enjoyed this low-budget “bad b horror” flick. It has cult classic written all over it. Cage has no dialogue, and that’s ok as he doesn’t need it to do what needs to be done. There are some pesky teenagers in here as well that actually want to do right, but who listens to teenagers anyway?
Etc.: from imdb, Nicolas Cage produced as he was very protective of the script. This is Nic’s 8th horror movie since 1988’s, “Vampire’s Kiss.”
Awards: none known
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Cassini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bose, Barbara Magnolfi, Udo Kier, Joan Bennett
Director: Dario Argento
Synopsis: Suzy (Harper) is an American ballet student who is invited to become a resident student at the prestigious Tanz Dance Academy in Germany. Her arrival at the imposing castle-like building late at night in a pouring thunderstorm sets the forboding tone for a full-fledged fight- for-her-life experience she may never escape from.
Impressions: Modern horror movies pale in comparison to the atmospheric horror of Suspiria by Dario Argento. A remake was made recently but I haven’t been able to see it yet. I’m giving a warning with much emphasis on it that there are graphic, ghastly, and disturbing images of violence permeating the film. They are the type that aren’t easily washed from your mind. They are so bad that I have to wonder at the state of mind of the person who concocted them. Technically this film is firing on all cylinders for soundtrack, cinematography, special effects, clarity of plot, and atmosphere conjuring. I’m sure horror movie makers study this one as to learn from it. I haven’t mentioned it yet but there are demonic elements to it that could also be disturbing to many viewers. This is one of the scariest horror films I’ve ever seen.
Etc.: filmed in 17 locations in Italy and Germany; there is a wealth of trivia on the film at imdb, including:
Rudolf Schündler, the West German actor who played the role of Professor Milius, could not speak any English or Italian, so in the scene where he talks with Jessica Harper (Suzy) about witches, she could not understand him as he was speaking in German. Harper later quoted that she tried very hard to keep a straight face as not to flub her lines and that also, he would lightly tap on one of her legs with his foot just out of frame to cue her to speak when he was done finishing his own lines.
Awards: 1 win and 3 nominations
The Hidden Life of Trees (2020) Das geheime Leben der Bäume (original title)
Starring: Peter, Miriam, and Carina Wohlleben, Achim Bogdahn, Markus Lanz, Hubertus Meyer-Burckhardt
Directors: Jörg Adolph, Jan Haft
Synopsis: based on the eponymous book by Peter Wohlleben, there is a wealth of information in here about the wisdom of trees and forests and how it can be reasoned that trees are sentient life forms. Peter travels over the world doing lectures and walking through forests with people. His message is clear: leave old growth forests alone and stop clear cutting.
Impressions: I learned so much from watching this 101-minute documentary. The more we learn about trees the more we realize how vital they are to our continued survival on earth. At the same time, old growth forest is in increasing, and some would say imminent, danger. Included in the film is really disturbing video footage of walking through virgin forests in Canada or Alaska (I forgot which) where the Indigenous population appears to have been rendered impotent to stop the corporations from destroying their sacred forests. (What else is new!?)
Grade: 7 (but the message contained in it is a much higher rating)
Etc.: German film with dubbed English narration track
Awards: 1 win and 1 nomination