Happy New Year (2023) & Life Update

Hey wonderful readers,

Can y’all believe this blog started 15 yrs ago (when I was still in my 20s)!? Whoa… Also, it has been almost 3 yrs since the COVID-19 pandemic began (March 13, 2020). I even lost my pandemic weight (12 lbs.) in 2.5 mos- YAY! I got another vaccine (bivalent booster) in mid-NOV 2022. Are some of you continuing to work from home (WFH)? My team voted to ALL do WFH; a few had been doing the hybrid work. We met for lunch (OCT 2022); it was V nice to see some of work team (esp. those who were hired in the middle of the pandemic).

Are you more comfortable being social (indoors)? I’ve been out in the past 4 mos. for a few events, mainly b-days of friends. I went to Arizona (Scottsdale) for Thanksgiving; my nephews are growing up SO fast (and looking cute, as always)! As I noted before, I was at the Noir City DC film fest (OCT 2022) in AFI Silver Spring (my neighborhood). Going to new movies about 2x/mo. (as I did for several yrs.) is NOT common anymore! Since 2019, I’ve noticed that MANY new movies have a (short) theatrical release, then go over to a streaming service. What is your fave streaming service?

You can follow me on IG and Twitter at knightleyemma. On IG, I’ve posted mostly re: beauty and food (in the past), BUT am branching off into other topics. Lately, I tweet (or retweet) re: Adam Driver’s work and related matters. The actor was shooting Megalopolis in Atlanta before the Christmas holidays; this is a movie dir. (and financed) by Francis Ford Coppola. The trailer for 65 (a sci-fi movie out in March 2023) was released recently, so do check that out (below). There will be a new podcast out soon re: Driver’s work.

Thanks for reading, subscribing to, and sharing my blog!

Best wishes,

Emma.

UPCOMING REVIEWS (2022 Releases):

Everything Everywhere All at Once (rent: Amazon Prime)

See How They Run (HBO Max)

The Menu (HBO Max)

White Noise (Netflix)

UPCOMING REVIEWS (Film Noir):

Impact (1949) (rent: Amazon Prime)

Niagara (1953) (rent: Amazon Prime)

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) (HBO Max)

UPCOMING REVIEWS (TV/Streaming Shows):

House of the Dragon (all eps NOT previously covered on blog)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (S4 & S5; Amazon Prime: Paramount+ Channel)

The White Lotus (S1 & S2: HBO Max)

CURRENTLY WATCHING:

Doctor Who (S6; HBO Max): Starring Matt Smith (recently on House of the Dragon).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (S6): 2nd re-watch of this season.

Trailer for “65” starring Adam Driver

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megalopolis” in Peril Amid Ballooning Budget, Crew Exodus (Exclusive): https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-features/francis-ford-coppolas-megalopolis-in-peril-1235284875/

Francis Ford Coppola: No Truth To Apocalypse On “Megalopolis” (includes response from Driver): https://deadline.com/2023/01/francis-ford-coppola-no-truth-to-apocalypse-on-megalopolis-1235216222/

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Last Duel” (2021) starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, & Ben Affleck

The film (based on a book by UCLA English prof Eric Jager) gets its title from the fact that the duel depicted was the last (judicially-sanctioned) trial by combat in France. Originally, two of the three writers of the project (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) were to play the two leading roles. However, Adam Driver took over from Affleck (as he had another movie to do), and Affleck stepped into a smaller/supporting role. The third screenwriter is Nicole Holofcener; she previously wrote Can You Every Forgive Me? (2018), Enough Said (2013), and Friends with Money (2006). Both Driver and British actress Jodie Comer (best known for Killing Eve) played a small role in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019), although they didn’t share a scene.

The true story of a woman who defied a nation and made history. -Tagline for the film

On March13, 2020, production was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming in France was finished; the production had moved to Ireland. Director Ridley Scott had already filmed for 4 wks; he had 1 hr. completed. There was a (brief) time when it was in theaters (NOV 2021). Before its streaming release, I recall seeing the opening (7 mins.) on YouTube. The filmmakers were inspired by the structure of Akira Kurosawa’s Roshomon (1950); I saw that classic (1st time) a few mos. ago. The Last Duel was recently listed as one of former Pres. Obama’s Favorite Films of 2021.

This movie is divided into 3 chapters w/ shorter bookends depicting the duel. At this time, rape was NOT considered a crime against a woman, BUT a crime against a man (EX: her father or husband) as a violation of his property rights. The duel in this case is NOT about showing the men’s skill in fighting, it’s a process of trial and judgment. First, we see events from the POV of a knight- Jean de Carrouges (Damon); then from the POV of a squire- Jacques Le Gris (Driver); finally, the POV of Jean’s young wife- Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer). There are scenes depicting the Battle of Limoges (1370); the enemy are the Britons. The Black Death (and tragedies this plague caused) is mentioned. In 1377, the Jean and Jacques become vassals of Count Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck), one of the wealthiest barons in France and a cousin of King Charles VI.

Some have called this a “medieval #MeToo” story showing “toxic masculinity.” This is NOT for more sensitive viewers; there is strong language, nudity, violence (in various settings), sexual assault, and misogyny (reflective of the time depicted). The running time (2 hr. 32 mins.) could also be a turn-off for others, though it looks like movies (of ALL genres) are getting long these days. The duel takes up about 20 mins. of the story; it’s exciting, bloody, and V brutal. I was on the edge of my seat, as Jean and Jacques made (unexpected) moves at some moments. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones, then the fighting/action here won’t be shocking.

The acting and the dialogue are the main reasons to see this film, IF you haven’t been put-off by now! I thought that most of the actors did a fine job. The accents used are NOT all quite British; one viewer thought they sounded like those at a Renaissance fair (LOL)! I watched this movie mainly for Driver, as he is my (current) fave actor; he continues to impress (and NOT just w/ the muscles, which we see in one scene). Comer (tall, beautiful, strong, yet able to also be vulnerable) is the stand-out; she is under 30 (and deserves to have a big career). I don’t know why she wasn’t recognized w/ any awards! I think Damon is a good actor, though here his look is more modern than medieval. Many viewers complained re: Damon’s (mullet-like) hairstyle and the scar on one side of his face. Others thought Affleck was miscast. Affleck’s personal life has been in the media a LOT; this will (no doubt) influence viewers. I can’t forget veteran character actress Harriet Walter (Jean’s mother); she does V well w/ in her scenes.

The locations, settings (incl. real castles- V cool), wigs, costumes, armor, and ALL of the production design elements looked great to me. Of course, we’d expect the highest standards from a team working w/ Scott. I esp. liked the huge fireplaces, use of candlelight, and the capes/furs. When he has the shorter style, it’s Driver’s real hair; the longer hair is a lace-front wig. Costume designer Janty Yates said that 6 sets of armor (in different states of damage) were created for the duel- wow! Let me know what you think; I feel like this didn’t have a big audience.

[1] Ultimately a very well made, intelligent, highly original film with multiple layers and themes. Production values are excellent

[2] …this movie is dialogue-heavy. However, with credentials like “The Gladiator”, Ridley Scott did not disappoint with the climactic, long duel finale.

[3] …a movie for grown-ups that deserves a grown-up audience. Let’s hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Spoiler-Free Review: “House of Gucci” (2021) starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, & Jared Leto

A name to die for. -A tag line for the film

This is inspired by the family empire behind the Italian fashion house of Gucci. When Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately… murder. -Synopsis

While it’s based on factual events, the story told in House of Gucci has significant parallels to Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie (1901). Mann’s chronicle of the decline of a wealthy German merchant family over 4 generations also deals w/ themes of decadence, social class, family image, the search for happiness, destructive relationships and disappointing children, the conflict between art and business and capitalist society at large. The acting style of the ensemble was in part inspired by the Commedia dell’arte, an Italian comedic theatre style popular in the 16th, 17th and 18th century. This style goes for comedic effect through exaggeration and sharply-drawn character types, also sometimes using colorful costumes and masks.

Paolo: You picked a real firecracker.

Maurizio: She’s a handful.

Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Margot Robbie, and Natalie Portman were all considered for the role of Patrizia. Christian Bale was considered for the role of Maurizio. While Scott wanted Driver for Maurizio, there were some scheduling issues at first. Chris Evans was considered as a back-up, in case Driver couldn’t free up his schedule. Robert De Niro was originally announced as being in talks to play Rodolfo Gucci, but Jeremy Irons was cast instead. Huston- who plays lawyer/advisor Domenico De Sole- was born and raised in England, and naturally speaks w/ an English accent. On his Hollywood (paternal) side, he’s the nephew of Angelica and Danny Huston and grandson of John Huston. Monica Bellucci was considered to play Pina, but turned down the part. Salma Hayek took on Pina; she’s married to François-Henri Pinault (founder/CEO of French multi-national company- Kering- which owns Gucci as of 2021).

Paolo: Never confuse sh*t with chocolate. They may look the same, but the taste is very different. Trust me I know.

Yes, the above are real lines written by an (experienced) screenwriter- LOL! To put it bluntly, this movie is a hot mess! I wasn’t shocked to see this, as I’d read much about it (on social media) long before viewing it. No amount of realistic wigs, glam clothes, or fancy sets/beautiful locations can ever make up for lackluster writing and uneven acting. Comedian Wanda Sykes referred to it during the Oscars as “House of Random Accents.” Many viewers commented that they enjoyed the 1st act, which is focused on the budding romance of Maurizio (a law student) and Patrizia (a secretary at her father’s trucking biz). Some critics noted that Driver gets the “boring” role; his acting is naturalistic (unlike several others here). Lady Gaga said she worked long and hard on her role; she shows the (unabashed) ambition of Patrizia. Her famous line: “Father, Son, and House of Gucci” was improvised. Irons (using his British accent) is the intimidating/snobby Gucci patriarch, Rodolfo. Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) is the one who helps the young couple when Maurizio’s father disowns him (temporarily). Pacino looks V tame when compared to onscreen son, Paolo (Jared Leto). I don’t know where Leto got his accent and those mannerisms, BUT wow- is he annoying! Many felt that Paolo was a stereotype of an Italian man.

Aldo: Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.

Music is a big part of this movie. Early in the film (1978), we see a big party w/ crowd dancing to Donna Summer’s On the Radio (which wasn’t released until 1980). Another song at this party- Bad Girls– wasn’t released until 1979. Patrizia is shown using a Sony Walkman cassette player (which didn’t come out until 1979). During the wedding, which in the timeline of movie happens before 1983, Faith by George Michael plays (but it wasn’t released until 1987). Some viewers wanted to hear the vows and see more of the actual wedding. In reality, Patrizia and Maurizio Gucci were married in 1972; they had 2 daughters- Alessandra (shown in the film) and Allegra (not shown).

[1] Adam Driver and Lady Gaga can leave with their reputations relatively unscathed, even if perhaps Gaga hones an accent that’s a bit more Transylvanian than Milanese. Al Pacino and Jared Leto though are in a different film, with broad comedic performances...

I could, perhaps, forgive their choices if the overall film hung together better, but alas it doesn’t. The story is glacial at some points, but at others either skips over or brushes through sections that are required to make the story make sense.

In lesser hands, this might be more forgivable, but this is Ridley Scott and we’ve come to expect more. This was, in no uncertain terms, a shambles.

[2] Ridley Scott’s filmography is hit and miss, brilliant at his best like with ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ though some of his films, such as GI Jane and Robin Hood (Legend is underrated in my view), are not too great.

As far as Scott’s films go, it’s a middling effort. Neither one of his best or worst.

House of Gucci has a lot that is good in my view. Have very little to complain about when it comes to how it looks, apart from some editing being in need of a tightening in the final act. The Italian scenery and the costumes are truly stunning though and the camerawork is similarly sumptuous. Scott’s direction is uneven dramatically, but is very impressive on a technical level, especially in his use of multiple cameras (which must make it easy for actors to know where to look).

[3] For me, this is all about the accent. Everybody is speaking English but in an overt Italian accent. It’s distracting. […] Maybe this needs to be a limited series on a streaming service. The acting seems to be getting accolades. I don’t mind that. They’re doing good work. The accent is just not my preference. All in all, this is a functional biopic with interesting actors doing a specific choice.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Re-watching Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” (2019) starring Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

Marriage Story (the 10th feature film by Noah Baumbach) was given a theatrical release of 30 days. It was the 1st film to be distributed primarily by a streaming service (Netflix) to win an Academy Award in an acting category. Also, it’s the first streaming film to win a BAFTA and a Golden Globe in acting categories. The budget was less than $19M and it was shot over only 47 days. Marriage Story premiered at the Venice Film Festival. This film is part of the Criterion Collection; there is a behind-the-scenes (BTS) documentary included. As many critics/viewers have noted, this is a mix of genres: drama (domestic, legal); comedy (incl. the kitchen scene at grandma’s house); and musical. For inspiration, Baumbach looked to screwball comedies from the 1930s- 40s, such as Twentieth Century (1934) and To Be or Not to Be (1942). The close-ups were inspired by Scenes from a Marriage by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. One of the framed items seen at grandma’s house is The New Yorker mag article titled Scenes From A Marriage featuring Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson).

Nicole: I never really came alive for myself; I was only feeding his aliveness.

Writer/director Baumbach brought in 3 of his actors (“collaborators”) before he wrote the script for this film: Driver (a close friend), Johansson, and Laura Dern. He interviewed many individuals, from friends to those involved in the business of divorce. It was Driver’s idea for Charlie Barber to be a theatre director. Charlie lived in Indiana before moving to NYC; Driver grew up in that state. The toys Nicole and Henry (Azhy Robertson) play w/ during the opening montage are from the Star Wars franchise, a reference to Driver’s role as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in the sequels. Sheets w/ Guardians of the Galaxy characters can be seen in Henry’s bed in the NYC apt. That movie is from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as is Johansson’s character Black Widow. Early in her career, Nicole starred in a hit teen sex comedy called All Over the Girl; Baumbach’s ex-wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was one of the young stars of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Ted: Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.

Some viewers asked: “Who is the bad guy in this story?” Well, Charlie had a brief affair w/ his co-worker, Mary Anne (Brook Bloom), so he’s NOT blameless. Nicole describes Charlie as being selfish and wanting things his way, at home and in the theater. The true bad guys could be the divorce lawyers (aside from Bert, played by veteran actor Alan Alda). I esp. liked Driver and Alda’s scenes together; Bert also serves as an empathetic father-figure to Charlie (I noticed on this re-watch). Nora Fanshaw (Dern) is based loosely on celeb attorney Laura Wasser; she represented Dern, Johansson and Baumbach during their respective divorces. The mediation scenes were filmed in Wasser’s office building. Ted (Ray Liotta- who passed away recently) is a shark who fights w/ Nora in court.

Due to location availability, the LA scenes were filmed before the main cast moved to NYC. Charlie’s LA apt is an actual apt; the production rented it, along w/ the unit directly upstairs. No dialogue or moments of hesitation are improvised in this scene; everything was scripted. Driver ended up punching the wall 15 times (ouch); Baumbach famously likes to shoot many takes. At one point, Driver punched so hard that he almost punched through the wall behind the breakaway wall. Over 2 days, Driver and Johansson did 50 takes of the fight- wow! The juice box that Nicole sips on, then sets down before the fight remains on the floor until the final shot of the scene. Baumbach explained: “The juice box is [their son’s] presence in their lives… he’s not here… he’s really powerless in this situation.”

The world of the theater plays a big part in this story; Charlie was directing Nicole’s acting for several years. Nicole’s name recognition brought in much of the audience in the early years; during the separation, Charlie is awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant. The diverse group of actors in Charlie’s troupe serve as his chosen family. You may recognize a few of their faces: veteran theater actor Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Hamilton; guest star on S6 of Girls), and Mary Wiseman (Star Trek: Discovery). In an interview, Driver said that he and Baumbach discussed making a film version of Company (long before this film). Driver’s performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Being Alive from Company was recorded live and done in one take. Both Baumbach and Driver were fans of the 1970 Broadway musical. Nicole, her mom, and older sister sing You Could Drive a Person Crazy (another song from Company).

Charlie: [Reading Nicole’s letter to Henry] I fell in love with him two seconds after I saw him. And I’ll never stop loving him, even though it doesn’t make sense anymore.

I’ve seen Marriage Story 5x over the past 3 yrs; I don’t re-watch shows/movies much (unless it’s an Austen or Shakespeare adaptation or maybe holiday film). For me, the dialogue (writing) in a film is the most important element. Another element I admire is realism, or real-world themes. On a recent re-watch, I noticed that Baumbach also knows how to make the silence powerful. My fave moments are silent: Charlie sleeping side-by-side w/ Henry when the boy is worried; Charlie and Nicole pull the gate of her LA house shut; and Nicole tying Charlie’s shoe (the last scene; perhaps also a homage to The Way We Were).


[1] Overall, you see Johansson and Driver put on some amazing performances….so amazing that I’d be shocked if they aren’t at least Oscar-nominated for this film. Well done in every way…and one of the better movies of 2019.

[2] There is some humour in this movie, at times it is sad and raw.

[3] Marriage Story is a beautiful and heartbreaking film about the end of a marriage. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson have magnificent performances and chemistry and the direction of Noah Baumbach is top-notch. This film is not to be described by words but watched.

[4] The movie is brutally honest and feels brutally real. I don’t condone everything being said or done. By neither of the two main characters. But motivations are clear and the story is really well told. The drama unfolds and it does not seem to be made up, rather really slow burning and quite reasonable (well as reasonable as some of the things can be).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” (2018) starring Adam Driver & Jonathan Pryce

Toby (Adam Driver- looking tan and toned), a cynical commercial director, is in Spain shooting an insurance commercial that has a take on Don Quixote. At dinner, a Gypsy peddler has a copy of his student film for sale, a B&W adaptation of Don Quixote. Toby is fascinated by the journey back in time and decides that, since he’s staying so close to where he’d filmed this student project, he’s going to go go back for a visit. The town feels depressing; the girl (who played Dulcinea) has left, and her father is angry at Toby for it. The old cobbler (played by veteran actor Jonathan Pryce) he’d hired to play the lead has gone mad- thinking himself to be Quixote! Through a series of accidents and bits of craziness, Toby finds himself as Sancho Panza, a role he takes up reluctantly. The supporting cast include: veteran character actor Stellan Skarsgard, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, Spanish actor Jordi Molla, and a beautiful ingenue from Portugal- Joana Ribeiro.

Fantasy and reality begin to mix (which I learned is a common theme for director Terry Gilliam). He has also directed Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985- starring Pryce), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). I haven’t yet see any of these movies. Gilliam (raised in US, but later became a British citizen) may be best known as member of “Monty Python” along w/ John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman. I watched this movie (once- so far) b/c t was on the list of Driver’s work. Fans know that Driver chooses his projects based on the director and the script. I thought the acting was (mostly) well-done, though I was confused by the presence of some minor characters and the purposed of a few scenes. Critics/viewers either loved or hated it, from what I’ve read (so far). I’ll try to watch it again and see if I can figure out more- LOL! This isn’t a movie for a wide audience. I think some of you’d enjoy the music from the musical- Man of La Mancha.

The film is dedicated to the memory of John Hurt and Jean Rochefort. Gilliam had chosen both to play Don Quixote in past versions, and both died before the film was completed. After eight attempts since 1989, production finally wrapped in June 2017; it has been called the most cursed film in cinema history! Gilliam started working on the film in 1989, but was unable to secure funding until 1998, when it entered full pre-production with a budget of $32.1M (w/o American financing), w/ Rochefort as Quixote, Johnny Depp as Toby, and French actress Vanessa Paradis (Depp’s ex-wife) as the female lead. Shooting began in 2000 in Navarre (the Basque region of Spain), but a significant number of difficulties, such as floods destroying sets and equipment, Rochefort leaving due to illness, and problems obtaining insurance for the production led to a sudden suspension of the production, and then cancellation. The original production was the subject of the documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002).

If you’re going to play with Quixote you really got to play with Quixote. And those were windmills that came along. Those were giants, they killed us once but we’re going to come back. Everybody says ‘Oh, forget about it, put it in the past. Move on.’ No, I won’t because that all sounds so reasonable and I don’t think films should be reasonable. The business we’re in is about exciting people, stimulating people, doing things, changing them, outraging them — it’s not a reasonable business. Especially when you’re spending the gross national product of a country to make a silly movie — this is not reasonable.

-Gilliam, on finishing this movie

[1] This movie is weird and wonderful. Adam Driver is absolutely hilarious. The scenery is fantastic. It’s like a story within a story within a commercial within a movie. It’s creative and wacky and fun.

[2] A metaphor. An analogy. An intricate story that blends fantasy and real, history and present, fact and fiction. […] It is similar to films such as Holy Motors (2012), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), so if these ring a bell, please give this film a chance.

[3] As visual art, the film is superb. But as a story, it is confusing. With all its bizarre references self-reflexivity, the central story becomes a side plot. It was visually beautiful, well-acted, great costumes and music, but thoroughly disjointed and confusing for much of the time. It had me thinking “this movie wasn’t made for an audience.”

[4] I can’t shake the feeling that the movie wants to be much more that how it ultimately gets on the road. It’s treading water and not making any progress. Does the movie simply want to be funny or does it also want to depict a kind of self-discovering process? Maybe both. But here you can already see the main problem. The movie can’t decide what it wants and as a result can’t transport it to the viewer.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews