Six Autumn Films

Private Life, directed by Tamara Jenkins

The subject of infertility has been a ticklish one for decades.  Most don't realize that the incidence is increasing for decades, a function of people getting married later, putting off having children, the perception that medicine and science can solve any problem – and a not understood rise in male infertility that seemingly has to do with environmental contaminants, smoking, PCBs, and you-name-it drugs used without much thought to consequences down the line.  Or other factors still to be documented. 

The effort to create a child being thwarted by nature brings up wells of self-doubt connected to femininity, as well as machismo for men.  It is of course more complicated than self-image.

In any case, the subject of this film is sure to resonate with millions of couples on the brim-edge of "trying."  Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play a couple in their 40s who have been efforting for years, as friends and relatives all know with a smirk.  The story has enormous warmth, as a busy professional metropolitan couple work on the final frontier, surrogacy, amid the many unknowns of that somewhat dicey arena of child-harvesting.  Will the surrogate be a match?  Will she take care of her health during the gestation?  Will she in fact carry to term and...not disappear with the sizable investment made by the prospective parents?

Director Jenkins, in an interview post-film, invests the insights of many, along with the advice of filmmaker Sophia Coppola, in crafting this dramedy.  Veterans Hahn and Giamatti lend significant humanity and situational humor to the subject that is so fraught for so many.  A worthy two hours.

A Little Favor, directed by Paul Feig

Adapted from the page-turner novel by Darcey Bell, the film changes some of the variables in the book – a quick and non-taxing read – but the majority of the details remain in place.  The husband of Blake Lively, in a role similar to Gone Girl (2014), is a Eurasian for no discernible reason (maybe because the director found a talented child who happened to be Eurasian to play the 5-year-old?) – and his profession changes from architect to literary panjandrum.  The slick, brightly colored drama poses the often unasked question of friendship: how well do we really know our "friends"?

Single mother and recent widow Stephanie, with a parenting vlog, befriends Emily, secretive alpha female, unpredictable upper-class and to the manor born.  Each has a beloved son of 6 at the same elementary school.  When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to care for her son's pal and to investigate.

Em has a slightly non-U (naughty) backstory – of course – and runs a vlog on her homemaking, recipes, childrearing, and suburban life.  Emily, über-sophisticated to the point of icy hauteur and condescension, sleek and perfectly dressed, is a top exec of a mega-icon style emporium, Dennis Nylon (think Ralph Lauren or Prada) in Manhattan.  She asks breezily if Steph might take care of her son for a bit while she has an errand.  Or something.  Tiny favor.

Emily goes missing.  No one knows what has happened to her.  Husband returns from London.  Son yearns for his mother, though he's fed and taken care of for weeks with his best pal in Stephanie's modest little suburban house.

With the gorgeous Blake somewhere, perhaps dead, perhaps not, Stephanie and handsome husband spend...time together.  Comfort food.  Mutual need.  Y'know.

There's a Greek chorus at the boys' upscale school to snipe and gossip helpfully.  The plot is intriguing to a point, thanks to the leads, and the film is enjoyable if low-calorie eye-candy.  Gluten-free.

The film ties up loose ends much more gratifyingly than does the book, which left readers annoyed at the innate injustice of the denouement.  Happily, there is lots of snark but little politicking, a relief for a product of Hollywood.

Wildlife, Directed by Paul Dano

New York Film Festival, 56th season

Wildlife is an amazing directorial debut piece for the intense, respected actor Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, 2007).  Taking place in the state of Wyoming in the mid-1950s, a small family struggles when the father, played by sturdy Jake Gyllenhaal, loses his job as a golf go-fer, leaving his wife (the kaleidoscopic Carey Mulligan, with dark brown locks) and their 14-year-old son, played by young Aussie Bill Camp, though he works a perfect affectless American, and is in fact, the ideal cast for this role.  At the Q&A afterward, we remark that Bill looks a lot like what Dano must have looked like as a teen.  Dano, in his cashmere-soft voice: "That pisses me off."  We all laugh.  (Bill isn't an overwhelmingly handsome lad.)  The cast is perfect.

As the father goes away to battle fires, the mother hardens, seeking security elsewhere.  We see the tragic drama through the eyes of the soulful face of the boy, as he recoils from what is happening to his once loving family.  Rotten tomatoes gives it 100%. 

Fire Music, directed by Mark Surgal

N.Y. Film Festival

This sizzling B/W documentary chronicles with archival clips and interviews the new-style jazz greats of the mid-20th century, separate from the happy-sound jazz of the musical forbears of the earlier decades; the sound was angrier, more emotional, more turbulent, reflecting the zeitgeist surrounding it.  Because the mainstream musicians outside these artists largely ignored what these black players produced, they were free to improvise their own sound, their own genre.  Fire Music is among the first tributes to document the sights and sounds of this powerful, now immensely respected and popular, innovative revolution.  Today, this jazz has its largest audience, worldwide, in its 70-year history.  We needn't be reminded that jazz is the sole true musical innovation of the United States.  It includes...everyone in the hot NYC scene.  Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sun Ra, Mingus, Miles Davis, Rashid Ali, Max Roach...

It omits tales of drugs and drink, for the most part, in favor of analysis of the style and artistry of these magic players, so often denigrated until they were almost past their greatest moments.  I noted, sadly, that one of the jazz icons memorialized toward the end of the doc was a man I know to be the father of a friend's elder child: Noah Howard, who told me, back when, that New York could not support many black jazz musicians, so he moved to Paris, where they did.

22 July, directed by Paul Greenglass

From the first two minutes in, where the screen showed a suburb of Oslo, 2011, and the stony-faced male loading weapons and explosives into his white van, I knew this was Breivik, the quasi-Nazi who on 22 July, 2011 set out to kill children of the "elite ruling class of Europe" in a twisted "gift to Norway," as he wrote in his 1,500-page manifesto, made available to the authorities after he was apprehended, having bombed Oslo center, killing eight, and shooting at point-blank range 69 happy teens at a campsite.  Two hundred more were wounded.

The film is intense, not blinking the determination and resolve of this 25-year-old Nazi sympathizer.  His views were not secret: he wanted a strict curb on the importation of Muslim immigrants and an end to the Norwegian affection for multiculturalism.

The film brings up thoughts of Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, where that Nazi figure of Jew-hatred underwent many weeks of trial, his face betraying no remorse at his fell acts.

I took issue with the director, after the screening, at not pointing at all to the true scourge arising in Europe today, which is not "Alt-Right" extremism, but the vandalism, upsurge in crime, and astronomical numbers of rapes resulting from humongous immigration of refugees from Arab countries, unassimilated, undigested, un-ameliorated by cultural gentling.  I complimented the director for his study of the months and years needed to recover from such onslaughts, which I compared to the terrorist attacks visited on Israel too often, and where the numbers of "injured" are somehow sloughed off as not so serious.  They are indeed serious.  But I also pointed out that Greenglass was showing only "half the picture" in showing none of the valid other side to his pet notion of Alt-Rightism.

He denied no-go zones in the U.K., where he resides.  He had to acknowledge the "grooming" scandals of England, where thousands of young British girls have been abducted and raped and "converted" to serving as prostitutes for Muslim men living in various townships in Great Britain.  He could not deny the scathing no-go ghettoes of France, the wreckage of Sweden's once great Malmö, the mess of Italy, Merkel's falling-down broke and devastated Germany.

He is, as my colleague pointed out as I at kept the director to remind him of what he had omitted in his endless-spiel Q-and-A session, a dyed in the wool leftist of the old school.  He wasn't paying attention to anything other than the narrow and ugly limitations of his new offering.

Most interesting to me, aside from the verisimilitude of the film, harrowing indeed, was the modernity of Norway's judicial and constabulary systems.  Democracy was championed in the remarkable politeness and rigor of the police holding Breivik, how they did not abuse him physically, though so many parents were deprived of their lovely young.  The women and men shown had remarkably equitable marriages.  In fact, the mother of the protagonist recovering from five bullets was elected mayor of Oslo during the proceedings.  The father was attentive and supportive.  The latest meds and technologies were on show to save the lives of those who were salvageable.

An important film, even granting the significant objections.

Little Italy, directed by Daniel Petrie

Here is a Petri dish that, although it features veteran comedic actors Andrea Martin and Danny Aiello, as well as Emma Roberts and Alyssa Milano (irritating anti-presence at the Kavanaugh hearings), fakes everything.  Lazy, illiterate, and simple-minded script.  Clueless direction.  Even the eponymous Little Italy is...faked.  It is unrecognizable for anyone who knows the Village.  The sole benefit of this possibly worst movie of the year is that because it highlights a familial feud of two pizza "dynastic" emporia supposedly in a traditional tight-knit ethnic Italian community, it makes you feel a yen for cheesy carbs the minute you leave the premises.

But you know what?  Who cares?  We all love pizza, this Alyssa Milano tangle of a stereotyped dopey-listening tale or no.

Low guilt at missing this lowest common denominator fizzle.  Only four viewers at the start, an hour and a half later, only two of us remained.

Private Life, directed by Tamara Jenkins

The subject of infertility has been a ticklish one for decades.  Most don't realize that the incidence is increasing for decades, a function of people getting married later, putting off having children, the perception that medicine and science can solve any problem – and a not understood rise in male infertility that seemingly has to do with environmental contaminants, smoking, PCBs, and you-name-it drugs used without much thought to consequences down the line.  Or other factors still to be documented. 

The effort to create a child being thwarted by nature brings up wells of self-doubt connected to femininity, as well as machismo for men.  It is of course more complicated than self-image.

In any case, the subject of this film is sure to resonate with millions of couples on the brim-edge of "trying."  Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play a couple in their 40s who have been efforting for years, as friends and relatives all know with a smirk.  The story has enormous warmth, as a busy professional metropolitan couple work on the final frontier, surrogacy, amid the many unknowns of that somewhat dicey arena of child-harvesting.  Will the surrogate be a match?  Will she take care of her health during the gestation?  Will she in fact carry to term and...not disappear with the sizable investment made by the prospective parents?

Director Jenkins, in an interview post-film, invests the insights of many, along with the advice of filmmaker Sophia Coppola, in crafting this dramedy.  Veterans Hahn and Giamatti lend significant humanity and situational humor to the subject that is so fraught for so many.  A worthy two hours.

A Little Favor, directed by Paul Feig

Adapted from the page-turner novel by Darcey Bell, the film changes some of the variables in the book – a quick and non-taxing read – but the majority of the details remain in place.  The husband of Blake Lively, in a role similar to Gone Girl (2014), is a Eurasian for no discernible reason (maybe because the director found a talented child who happened to be Eurasian to play the 5-year-old?) – and his profession changes from architect to literary panjandrum.  The slick, brightly colored drama poses the often unasked question of friendship: how well do we really know our "friends"?

Single mother and recent widow Stephanie, with a parenting vlog, befriends Emily, secretive alpha female, unpredictable upper-class and to the manor born.  Each has a beloved son of 6 at the same elementary school.  When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to care for her son's pal and to investigate.

Em has a slightly non-U (naughty) backstory – of course – and runs a vlog on her homemaking, recipes, childrearing, and suburban life.  Emily, über-sophisticated to the point of icy hauteur and condescension, sleek and perfectly dressed, is a top exec of a mega-icon style emporium, Dennis Nylon (think Ralph Lauren or Prada) in Manhattan.  She asks breezily if Steph might take care of her son for a bit while she has an errand.  Or something.  Tiny favor.

Emily goes missing.  No one knows what has happened to her.  Husband returns from London.  Son yearns for his mother, though he's fed and taken care of for weeks with his best pal in Stephanie's modest little suburban house.

With the gorgeous Blake somewhere, perhaps dead, perhaps not, Stephanie and handsome husband spend...time together.  Comfort food.  Mutual need.  Y'know.

There's a Greek chorus at the boys' upscale school to snipe and gossip helpfully.  The plot is intriguing to a point, thanks to the leads, and the film is enjoyable if low-calorie eye-candy.  Gluten-free.

The film ties up loose ends much more gratifyingly than does the book, which left readers annoyed at the innate injustice of the denouement.  Happily, there is lots of snark but little politicking, a relief for a product of Hollywood.

Wildlife, Directed by Paul Dano

New York Film Festival, 56th season

Wildlife is an amazing directorial debut piece for the intense, respected actor Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, 2007).  Taking place in the state of Wyoming in the mid-1950s, a small family struggles when the father, played by sturdy Jake Gyllenhaal, loses his job as a golf go-fer, leaving his wife (the kaleidoscopic Carey Mulligan, with dark brown locks) and their 14-year-old son, played by young Aussie Bill Camp, though he works a perfect affectless American, and is in fact, the ideal cast for this role.  At the Q&A afterward, we remark that Bill looks a lot like what Dano must have looked like as a teen.  Dano, in his cashmere-soft voice: "That pisses me off."  We all laugh.  (Bill isn't an overwhelmingly handsome lad.)  The cast is perfect.

As the father goes away to battle fires, the mother hardens, seeking security elsewhere.  We see the tragic drama through the eyes of the soulful face of the boy, as he recoils from what is happening to his once loving family.  Rotten tomatoes gives it 100%. 

Fire Music, directed by Mark Surgal

N.Y. Film Festival

This sizzling B/W documentary chronicles with archival clips and interviews the new-style jazz greats of the mid-20th century, separate from the happy-sound jazz of the musical forbears of the earlier decades; the sound was angrier, more emotional, more turbulent, reflecting the zeitgeist surrounding it.  Because the mainstream musicians outside these artists largely ignored what these black players produced, they were free to improvise their own sound, their own genre.  Fire Music is among the first tributes to document the sights and sounds of this powerful, now immensely respected and popular, innovative revolution.  Today, this jazz has its largest audience, worldwide, in its 70-year history.  We needn't be reminded that jazz is the sole true musical innovation of the United States.  It includes...everyone in the hot NYC scene.  Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sun Ra, Mingus, Miles Davis, Rashid Ali, Max Roach...

It omits tales of drugs and drink, for the most part, in favor of analysis of the style and artistry of these magic players, so often denigrated until they were almost past their greatest moments.  I noted, sadly, that one of the jazz icons memorialized toward the end of the doc was a man I know to be the father of a friend's elder child: Noah Howard, who told me, back when, that New York could not support many black jazz musicians, so he moved to Paris, where they did.

22 July, directed by Paul Greenglass

From the first two minutes in, where the screen showed a suburb of Oslo, 2011, and the stony-faced male loading weapons and explosives into his white van, I knew this was Breivik, the quasi-Nazi who on 22 July, 2011 set out to kill children of the "elite ruling class of Europe" in a twisted "gift to Norway," as he wrote in his 1,500-page manifesto, made available to the authorities after he was apprehended, having bombed Oslo center, killing eight, and shooting at point-blank range 69 happy teens at a campsite.  Two hundred more were wounded.

The film is intense, not blinking the determination and resolve of this 25-year-old Nazi sympathizer.  His views were not secret: he wanted a strict curb on the importation of Muslim immigrants and an end to the Norwegian affection for multiculturalism.

The film brings up thoughts of Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, where that Nazi figure of Jew-hatred underwent many weeks of trial, his face betraying no remorse at his fell acts.

I took issue with the director, after the screening, at not pointing at all to the true scourge arising in Europe today, which is not "Alt-Right" extremism, but the vandalism, upsurge in crime, and astronomical numbers of rapes resulting from humongous immigration of refugees from Arab countries, unassimilated, undigested, un-ameliorated by cultural gentling.  I complimented the director for his study of the months and years needed to recover from such onslaughts, which I compared to the terrorist attacks visited on Israel too often, and where the numbers of "injured" are somehow sloughed off as not so serious.  They are indeed serious.  But I also pointed out that Greenglass was showing only "half the picture" in showing none of the valid other side to his pet notion of Alt-Rightism.

He denied no-go zones in the U.K., where he resides.  He had to acknowledge the "grooming" scandals of England, where thousands of young British girls have been abducted and raped and "converted" to serving as prostitutes for Muslim men living in various townships in Great Britain.  He could not deny the scathing no-go ghettoes of France, the wreckage of Sweden's once great Malmö, the mess of Italy, Merkel's falling-down broke and devastated Germany.

He is, as my colleague pointed out as I at kept the director to remind him of what he had omitted in his endless-spiel Q-and-A session, a dyed in the wool leftist of the old school.  He wasn't paying attention to anything other than the narrow and ugly limitations of his new offering.

Most interesting to me, aside from the verisimilitude of the film, harrowing indeed, was the modernity of Norway's judicial and constabulary systems.  Democracy was championed in the remarkable politeness and rigor of the police holding Breivik, how they did not abuse him physically, though so many parents were deprived of their lovely young.  The women and men shown had remarkably equitable marriages.  In fact, the mother of the protagonist recovering from five bullets was elected mayor of Oslo during the proceedings.  The father was attentive and supportive.  The latest meds and technologies were on show to save the lives of those who were salvageable.

An important film, even granting the significant objections.

Little Italy, directed by Daniel Petrie

Here is a Petri dish that, although it features veteran comedic actors Andrea Martin and Danny Aiello, as well as Emma Roberts and Alyssa Milano (irritating anti-presence at the Kavanaugh hearings), fakes everything.  Lazy, illiterate, and simple-minded script.  Clueless direction.  Even the eponymous Little Italy is...faked.  It is unrecognizable for anyone who knows the Village.  The sole benefit of this possibly worst movie of the year is that because it highlights a familial feud of two pizza "dynastic" emporia supposedly in a traditional tight-knit ethnic Italian community, it makes you feel a yen for cheesy carbs the minute you leave the premises.

But you know what?  Who cares?  We all love pizza, this Alyssa Milano tangle of a stereotyped dopey-listening tale or no.

Low guilt at missing this lowest common denominator fizzle.  Only four viewers at the start, an hour and a half later, only two of us remained.