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Marcianne Miller

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  1. Released in the U.S. in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Extra Ordinary is a totally bonkers gem, a low-budget Ghostbusters, Emerald Isle style. If you’re slightly deranged, you’ll love it. If you cling to logic, well, you might not give it the 5 stars that most of the critics did. Rose Dooley (County Cork-born, New York-based standup comic Maeve Higgins) is a small-town driving teacher, trying to find happiness despite her tragic past. Self-deprecating, pleasant but frumpy and oh dear, still unmarried, she’s what you might call extra ordinary. That’s because she refuses to use her real talent. Her father, the famous ghost chaser Vincent Dooley, told her when she was a child— “Rose, you are a ‘paranormal facilitator’ of extraordinary talent.” Alas, that’s before she fumbled a spell and he got splattered by a speeding truck. These days Rose cheerfully acknowledges all the happy spirits she sees in town, but refuses to engage with the many living neighbors who beg her to get rid of their annoying ghosts. While Rose plods through her lonely life, across town is troubled widower and single father Martin Martin (Dublin-born Barry Ward). His wife, dead for 8 years now, is still nagging him and makes his life, well, makes it hell. His fed-up teenage daughter Sara (Emma Coleman) demands he get rid of Mom or she’s going to leave home. Meanwhile, not far away (at Charleville Castle, a renovated Gothic splendor), one-hit wonder rock star Christian Winter (American comic Will Forte) has made a pact with Satan to re-kindle his career. After performing numerous spells and burning hundreds of candles, chewing up the scenery and having entirely too much fun, all Winter needs now is a virgin to sacrifice. Of course, he’s chosen Sara Martin, who he spies working at the local housewares shop. The goofy plot thickens (and occasionally sickens, I must admit), careening from quirkiness to violence and whirling unapologetically around utter absurdity. It skewers spiritualism, witchcraft, tax haven-bound celebrities, the island’s awful food and its even more terrible sexual repression. Extra Ordinary is not a spiritual powerhouse, but, being Irish, it has plenty of laughs that remind you of what is good about being alive. “I’m always with you,” Rose’s dead father reminds her--isn’t that something we all want to know from our parents who have passed on? For me, the main spiritual message of Extra Ordinary is that you can make a perfectly wonderful film about heroes who are ordinary and decent. It seems these days more films are being directed by teams. A previous film I reviewed, the epic sci-fi film based on an epic poem, Aniara, was co-directed by two Swedish filmmakers. Extra Ordinary was helmed by two creative Irishmen, Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. It’s a promising debut, since all the performances are outstanding, and tech credits are accomplished, especially the simple special effects. Shot on locations in central Ireland (such as counties Wicklow and Offaly), Extra Ordinary doesn’t make any use of the spectacular landscapes tourists crave (though it did cooperate with the country’s Tidy Town efforts, no kidding.) It’s a gentle world, where the worst thing a person can do is use bad language. (“Language, language,” everyone is being reminded.) But the film does offer an endless string of weird curiosities to write home about – bloating goats, floating virgins, flying French-fries, a cawing magpie, a killer cuckoo clock, and a surprise ending that recaps Daddy Dooley’s message from beyond the grave -- “Love defeats evil.” Rated R for language, sexual content and some horror violence. Time: 94 minutes. Language: Irish-accented English.
  2. Marcianne Miller

    Aniara

    Aniara May include Spoilers I divide science fiction movies into two categories…there are the high-budget unapologetic Trashy Fun Action Adventures-- or others that lay claim, truthfully or not, to being Significant. Avengers: Endgame is planted firmly on the first list. Despite being a hypnotic extravaganza with A-list actors and cardiac-arrest action, it’s totally forgettable. Yep, I loved it, and can’t remember a thing about it. The “Significant” sci-fi movies are the ones that make you think too much (uh oh!), they’re usually (God forbid) downers, and none of your friends want to see them. The characters have no spirituality to speak of, grace doesn’t exist and neither, eventually, does hope. An example is last year’s (2019) much-touted (but in my opinion repulsive) Claire Denis film, High Life, starring Juliette Binoche (as a deranged doctor) and Robert Pattison (as a father trying to raise his daughter). All the hapless prisoners are on a ship headed into in the sun. Another recent “Significant” sci-fi film is Aniara, (2018 but getting released last year). It’s the only film I know of based on a poem. The nine-chapter poem Aniara (which comes from the Greek word meaning “despairing”) was written in 1956 by Sweden’s beloved Noble Laureate, Harry Martinson. With such inspiration, you’d assume the film would be epic (it is), beautiful (yes, often), meaningful (usually), quotable (yes, subtitled in English) and important (yes—but the question eventually becomes--who cares?) It’s also terrifying. As it should be--since Aniara’s theme is how insignificant are the yearnings of human beings compared to the vastness of space. Even so, despite getting nightmares from the movie, you might, as I did, see it more than once. That fact is tribute to the talents of first-time Swedish writer/directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja who formed a superb creative team, so the cinematography, set design, efx, and music are all glorious. Less glowing is, honestly, the forlorn story itself, and the fact that, like the poem, it’s not the characters who drive the story, but chance—random, cruel, unforgiving chance. Aniara thus becomes the kind of science fiction film that people who believe in the presence of Spirit should be familiar with--to know how to discuss it coherently, argue if need be, with those who are convinced that the future of mankind holds no memory or hope of salvation. Global warming is destroying Earth and refugees are fleeing to Mars. Aniara is a colossal, luxurious transport ship on a 3-week journey to the Red Planet with 8,000 passengers. “Say goodbye to Earth,” a mother tells her toddler. Like a luxury cruise liner, Aniara has everything consumer-obsessed Earthlings could want-- 21 restaurants, an algae farm, fashion shopping, a bowling alley, an Olympic pool, video arcades, etc. etc. It also has Mima, a narcotic-like image scanner that reads people’s minds and plays back beautiful memories of Earth. The gal who runs Mima is a Mimarobe, known as MR (Emilie Garbers), and it is her personal story that unravels the tale of the whole ship. MR has longings for Isagel, (Bianca Cruizero), a tall lanky pilot, who works on the ship’s command team under imperious Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian). Everything is hypnotically happy--then a piece of space junk no bigger than a nail pierces the ship’s hull and all the fuel is lost. At first there’s anticipation that in only two years they’ll run into a celestial body whose pull will allow the ship to get back on course. “Once the passengers get used to eating algae,” the Captain says, “we’ll go public with the situation…” Then a few years later it’s the belief that that a rescue ship is on the way. More years later it’s confidence that the children, who have by now become trained scientists, might come up with something… and the ship floats on …and on, on and on…a godless sarcophagus. Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing images, and drug use. Color, 106 minutes, Swedish with English subtitles.
  3. Marcianne Miller

    Downhill

    Downhill Though it’s freezing on-screen, Downhill is a scorcher of a tale. As the American remake of Sweden’s Force Majeure (2014), it shares a similar trajectory with the Oscar-nominated original. But different creative elements--masterful writing and directing, gorgeous cinematography, A-list lead actors as well as ebullient supporting players—make the new version distinctly American, fresh and exciting. Though desperately sad in many ways, by allowing comic icons to expand their normal parameters, Downhill is remembered, mercifully, with plenty of laughs. From the U.S., the Stauntons-- Mom, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld, Veep and more), and Dad, Peter (Will Ferrell, SNL and morel) and their two middle-grade sons – have travelled, at great expense, to spend a week in the Austrian Alps. It’s more awesome than all the publicity brochures--the resort is architecturally stunning, surrounded by sky-kissed mountains, with scrumptious food day and night, and a hotel staff whose customer service leans more to encouraging libidos than lugging luggage. One morning, among dozens of other skiers, the family is relaxing on a sprawling open-air deck. Suddenly, there’s a thunderous “crack” --and a massive avalanche speeds down the mountain and heads for the deck. Terrified, Billie grabs the boys and buries them in her arms. Equally terrified, Peter leaps up, grabs his cell phone and runs off to save himself. For agonizing minutes, the screen goes deathly white. Then the snow clears. Everyone has survived. Peter marches back on the deck, as if nothing happened. Billie and the boys stare at him in disbelief – Good Lord – he ran off to save himself and left them to die! He denies it, of course, and proceeds to limp on an aching travail of lies and excuses, which Billie and the boys are not buying. Scene by scene, with broad strokes and telling details, the writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rush (Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay The Descendants, 2011) unravel an exquisitely layered tale. Each family member, even the boys, is hiding something. No one sees “family” in the same way. Silence is killing them. “Every day is all we have!” Peter begs them. But forgiveness doesn’t come quickly--in fact it takes a whole movie. Not until the end will we know if the Stauntons will speed downhill to destruction or if grace, somehow,will soft-land them to salvation. Recommendation: see Downhill with friends, so you can discuss it at length – and decide for yourself if the film was painfully true-to-life—or cautiously optimistic. Rated R for language and some sexual material. Time: 86 minutes.
  4. RED JOAN GENRE: Biopic/WWII spy drama Director: Trevor Nunn Starring: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Treza Srbova, Ted Hughes, Stephen Campbell Moore Rating: Rated R for brief sexuality/nudity Women are the spies in Red Joan, an engrossing WWII British tale that proves a country’s worst deeds can be accomplished by its meekest members. Fictionalized (from a novel) and dramatized (by the filmmakers), it’s based on the true story of Melita Norwood (1912-2005), who Stalin considered his most important spy in Britain. Helmed by legendary Royal Shakespeare company stage director Trevor Nunn, telling details impel the story—mink coats, Spanish Civil War rallies, B&W newsreels, claustrophobic bunkers, blackboards covered with scientific equations that will change the world. Red Joan is not action-packed, but rich in compelling performances, fantastic vintage costumes and “dark fairytale” music that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Like a provocateur, the film also raises essential questions about the nature of heroism, but won't answer them. The film story: In 2000, one day after a knighted Foreign Office official dies and the press uncovers his tawdry secrets, MI-5 investigators arrest widow Joan Stanley (85-year old Judi Dench, glorious in her frumpy hair and deep wrinkles) for 27 breaches against the Official Secrets Act. Ridiculous, her outraged lawyer son protests. (Ah, yet another child who doesn’t really know his mother.) But soon the mind-boggling truth comes out. In flashbacks, the “Granny Spy” remembers… It’s 1938 in England, in the terrifying years of WWII and shifting international alignments. Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Germany are competing to develop the nuclear bomb, and to prevent the U.S. from claiming that dubious honor. Though Russia is now fighting Nazi Germany, the Brits refuse to share research with their new ally. Into this political chaos comes a brilliant, idealistic physics graduate student (played by the marvelous Sophie Cookson.) Joan becomes an assistant in the top secret Tube Alloy project, headed by patriotic genius Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore). In wonderfully historic and sometimes sexy scenes, Joan falls under the hypnotic glamour of Russian/German refugees Sonya (Treza Srbova) and her dashing cousin Leo (Ted Hughes), who makes Joan his “beloved comrade.” In the often hilarious sexist behavior of the times, no one pays Joan much attention—thus allowing her to act with impunity. Horrified that the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Japan – two times—without warning, Joan becomes convinced that the nuclear playing field should be leveled so that no one government will ever again have the sole power to kill so many people. For almost 35 years, the KGB knows her as "Agent Hola." Was she a high-minded ultra-civilized humanitarian, working to prevent another nightmare war--yet blind to the truth of Stalinism? Or a narrow-minded traitor? Or both? As a classic example of someone who thinks they are doing good, even if it’s criminal, Joan’s actions reverberate to today. Is she any different from conscientious objectors? Or an information dumper like Julian Assange? Or Trump administration leakers? Where is the line between good and evil in these world-wide and speed-of-light conundrums? Too bad Agent Hola and her successors never learned Dorothy Day's advice: "The greatest challenge of the day is: How to bring about a revolution of the heart,, a reovolution which has to start with each one of us? Marcianne Miller has reviewed films in Los Angeles and Asheville. She is a member of SEFCA and NCFCA.
  5. No, there's no plot. There's no logic whatsoever to why Gloria has been alone for so long. And it has little if anything to say about the realities of late-life dating. The film to me, is merely a character study about a woman who keeps getting up and dusting herself off in the face of overwhelming loneliness. There's nothing really wrong with her, nor with men her age. She doesn't change her behavior, or get any insight. She just revives herself and keeps on going. It's a fairy tale.
  6. Let's meet! Alas, Scott was shabbily let go recently from Xpress and a new crew is in charge. Contact me off line for info. Best, mm
  7. My short review of Gloria Bell for Mountain Xpress, Asheville... Gloria Bell charms us with a rare movie heroine--a gutsy, infuriating, totally human woman who happens to be both single—and in her late 50s. Played by Julianne Moore (in a brilliant, mesmerizing performance), Gloria is stunning, of course, even with her silly over-sized eye glasses. But she’s not a cute young thing, she’s a mature beauty, who must pluck hairs on her chin and style her hair to draw attention away from her wrinkles. Gloria’s been divorced for over a decade, so you can’t help but wonder why she’s still single. Perhaps because she doesn’t join a church or get involved in politics where she might meet suitable men. She doesn’t even have a hobby. Instead, dance-crazy, Gloria tries to find love in a neon lit adult dance club. One night, she clicks with newly divorced Arnold (a surprisingly appealing John Turturro). They dive into a passionate affair, with plenty of frontal nudity of the lovely Ms. Moore. And then Gloria has to deal with that horrible bugaboo of all romances--reality. Gloria Bell is an almost identical remake of director Sebastian Lelio’s 2013 film, Gloria, set in his homeland, Chile, and starring Paulina Garcia. He’s a director who loves women characters (2018 Best Foreign Language Oscar for A Fantastic Woman). He feels no need to rush their stories—this doesn’t mean his films are boring, exactly, just subtle and slow. For me, Gloria Bell unfurled like a long pale chiffon scarf captured by a breeze—it snagged often on the relentless thorns of friends’ constant reminders to Gloria that life is short, balled up in the lives of her two independent grown children (Michael Cera and, Caren Pistorius), then ripped to shreds on the flimsy new branch with Arnold. But Gloria’s spirit is powerful. Like all goddesses, she can revive herself, especially if she has a strong potion like Laura Branigan’s rousing dance song. Gloria Bell will make you sad, and glad, and really mad, which is why it’s good to remember that sometimes the only solution to a broken heart is a well-aimed act of revenge.
  8. Keen to support women filmmakers, I was eager to review High Life. It’s the 14th feature film, the first in English, from 73-year-old darling-auteur of French cinema, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In). The early reviews were raves. Happy me. Then I found its rating: Rated R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and language. Uh oh… A baby squeals in a playpen set up in a space ship that has seen better days. Making repairs outside the ship, her space-suited father coos to her. Lovely, eh? Haunting, unforgettable. Only after suffering through the entire film, do you realize these endearing early images anesthetized you to the horrid images that follow. Was such numbness, God forbid, the purpose of the film? The premise of High Life is classic sci-fi: The Government offered a deal to death row inmates: they won’t be executed if they go into space as medical guinea pigs and then head into a black hole to see what happens. Surely a mission with a low potential for success. The positives: Cinematography, sound and music are top-notch. All actors, including the international supporting cast, are terrific. Monte, played by Robert Pattison (the five Twilight films), is outstanding as the solitary prisoner who finds hope in raising his daughter Willow (14-month old Scarlett Lindsey and teenager Jessie Ross). Unfortunately, you do wish you could forget the brilliant performance of Juliette Binoche (my favorite actress, Oscar for The English Patient), who is too-convincing as Dr. Dibs, the insidious reproduction-obsessed crew doctor. Director/co-writer Denis claims High Life is about what it means to be human. (Life in really High places, get it?) The loving father/daughter thread exquisitely portrays humanity at its best. But the surrounding story is humanity wallowing in its worst. Unending isolation means life is nothing more than maintaining existence. It’s 24 hours a day of being a hopeless victim, insanely seeking relief in drug addiction, endless exploration of bodily fluids, masturbation, rape, murder, and suicide. Without even one ounce of humor, High Life is 110 minutes of emotional pummeling. You’ve been warned. Marcianne Miller has reviewed films in Los Angeles and Asheville. She is a member of SEFCA and NCFCA.
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