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Gloria Bell

Posted March 31, 2019 By Curiosity Inc.

Back in 2013, there was a Chilean movie called Gloria, directed and co-written by Sebastian Lelio. The movie racked up great critical acclaim and was chosen as Chile’s candidate for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars that year, but didn’t get nominated. Six years later, we’ve got Gloria Bell, an English-language remake of that movie, directed by Lelio himself. He also cowrote the adaptation, alongside Alice Johnson Boher, with star Julianne Moore exec-producing.

Naturally, my first thought went to the male/female ratio of creative talent behind the scenes of this overtly female-centric movie, and how that was complicated by the adaptation process of a director remaking his own movie in another language. But in the end, untangling all of that was nowhere near worth the effort.

Gloria Bell is a straightforward slice-of-life story about the eponymous Gloria, played by Moore. She’s got a stable job as an auto insurance claims adjuster, though her retirement “benefits” are such that she may never work long enough that she can afford to retire. She lives in an apartment below someone prone to dangerously loud psychotic breaks, and there’s a freaky hairless cat that routinely sneaks into her apartment through unknown means. She’s got two grown children, one grandson, and an ex-husband that she divorced over a decade ago.

Our male lead is Arnold Tenner, played by John Turturro. He’s an older man who runs a kind of park out in the desert where customers can play at paintball and run simulated missions (Capture the Flag, for example). Arnold is a recent divorcee with two grown children, though he’s still paying for support of some kind — the details are never made entirely clear. Anyway, Gloria and Arnold meet up at a singles bar and thus we have our romantic dramedy.

Right off the bat, this film has a serious drawback: It’s a movie about boring old white people with perfectly stable lives and no real problems of their own. Nobody’s in any danger of losing their home or livelihood, nobody is sick, and there’s not a single death — or even a risk of a single death — in the entire movie. From start to finish, this whole movie is basically nothing but our characters moping around about post-middle-age burnout because they don’t have anything better to worry about. That isn’t even getting started on all the plot threads that end up going nowhere.

In terms of stakes, this picture has precisely nada. So why should we care about anything that happens, and why should we watch it?

Well, for starters, the cast is all aces. Julianne Moore’s performance is utterly fearless, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s never been one to shy away from onscreen sex or nudity. Meanwhile, John Turturro puts in what may be the most vulnerable, compelling, authentically human performance of his entire career. We’ve also got solid supporting turns from Brad Garrett, Michael Cena, and Caren Pistorius. Rita Wilson, Chris Mulkey, Barbara Sukowa, Holland Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and even Sean freaking Astin all turn in memorable work with very little runtime. There is seriously not a single dud in this cast.

A serious benefit of all this talent is that it lends the movie an overabundance of charm, and that’s the movie’s true selling point. The story may be overwhelmingly basic and I know I have no reason to give the first shit about what happens, but God help me, I genuinely liked spending time with these characters.

Moreover, this is a movie all about finding love and happiness later in life. That’s a surprisingly common theme in cinema (They made two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, for Christ’s sake.), but this one is made unique by its particular brand of infectious optimism and fun. To say nothing of the feminist streak that becomes especially prominent near the end.

Underneath the sweet facade, what really makes this movie work is the question of how to build a future when you’ve got more years behind you than in front of you. How do you find new friends and lovers at an age when all your old friends and loved ones are dying or moving away at a steady pace? When you’ve spent so many years building up a career and a family, juggling all of that responsibility with your baggage and your steadily growing medical needs, how do you slot someone else into all of that? And when someone else’s life is just as long and accomplished, how do you fit yourself into theirs?

Oh, and of course we can’t forget all the standard questions that come with love and romance. How to see if someone’s the real deal, how to work past disagreements and squabbles, when you’re better off single, and so on. These are all mundane questions, but ones that we all have to grapple with, and the filmmakers dive in with gusto.

Gloria Bell is the kind of movie that I cautiously want to recommend without overhyping. The near-perfect Tomatometer might lead you to the mistaken impression that this is some innovative, mind-blowing, genre-redefining instant classic destined for massive awards success. It’s not even close to all of that, but I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers wanted it to be. Instead, it’s just a pleasant and solidly made yet disposable 100-minute trifle that just happens to feature Julianne Moore and John Turturro leading a phenomenal cast of actors.

It might be worth checking out on the big screen if it’s playing near you and you’ve already seen everything else. But when this one hits video, be sure to give it a watch ASAP.

The Beach Bum

Posted March 31, 2019 By Curiosity Inc.

My pirate stage musical finally wrapped (It was awesome beyond all my wildest dreams, by the way!) and I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands. For so long, I’ve only had the time to check out the A-list release of the weekend at whatever multiplex was in easy reach, and now I’ve got an appetite for something more obscure and less orthodox. So of course Harmony Korine is the order of the day.

I never fully recovered from seeing Spring Breakers on the big screen, and my knowledge about Trash Humpers by reputation is as much as I ever want to know about that movie. Suffice to say that if Harmony Korine is making a film, you know it’s going to be a neon-colored oddity with no-holds-barred debauchery and batshit hedonism, probably with a dash of satire against capitalist excess. And now he’s made a stoner comedy with Matthew McConaughey and Snoop Dogg.

God help me, I just had to see this.

The Beach Bum tells the story of Moondog, played by McConaughey. A few years back, he was a counter-culture writer who defined a generation with his poetry. Now he’s a washed-up barfly trawling the Florida coast;  banging anything with a pulse; subsisting pretty much entirely on cocaine, marijuana, and PBR.

(Side note: The movie cost a reported budget of $5 million, and the Pabst Blue Ribbon product placement in this movie had to be worth at least twice that. And this is coming from a Portlander, for fuck’s sake!)

Meanwhile, as Moondog blows through all his money, his wife (Minnie, played by Isla Fisher — I don’t know why she’s playing this role instead of Korine’s wife and recurring collaborator, but I’m not complaining) has clearly been investing her money very wisely. She’s built up an extraordinary mansion back in the civilization that Moondog hates so much, all while banging Moondog’s best friend (rapper/pot dealer Lingerie, played by Snoop Dogg) on the side. It’s kind of an open marriage, to be clear.

Then there’s the matter of their daughter. Heather (played by Stephania LaVie Owen) evidently learned from her father’s outrageous drunkenness and got herself engaged to someone so straight-laced and dependably boring that the rest of the cast primarily refers to him as “Limpdick” (played by Joshua Ritter). Moondog is there for his daughter’s wedding and hilarity ensues.

I could go into his literary agent (played by Jonah Hill), the rehab patient who becomes Moondog’s partner in crime (played to the cheap seats by Zac Efron), the tragically inept boatsman played by Martin Lawrence, Jimmy freaking Buffett playing himself in a prominent supporting role, and so on and so forth. But really, that would be giving any of them more time in this review than they get in the movie. Moreover, any attempt to recap the plot would be moot.

The bottom line is, it’s a Harmony Korine picture. The visuals are garish and neon-colored. The plot is deliberately non-existent. It’s a totally amoral movie about an immoral protagonist who just wants to be free and have a good time, in spite of a system that insists on rules and responsibilities, with little if any regard to the occasional collateral damage.

The difference is that in Spring Breakers, at least our main characters faced consequences and very real danger for their actions. In this picture, when there’s even a rare and remote possibility that Moondog could face any kind of reprisal for the shit he pulls (and he should absolutely be doing serious federal prison time for some of the shit he pulls in this movie), it’s quickly either forgotten or hand-waved away. The stated reason is that Moondog is a genius author who needs all of this insanity to fuel his creative process, but the filmmakers never really sell that. I personally found it more likely that Moondog got away with all this crap because he’s a charismatic old white man on the godforsaken Florida coast.

The issue of white privilege is never once brought up, even with all the people of color in the cast. Then again, I’m not sure I would trust Korine to do the subject justice. No, instead Korine screws up the notion of money as freedom. It’s bizarre how Moondog and his friends can only live such extravagant lifestyles because they’re rich, and yet the movie ultimately seems to come down on the side of rejecting wealth. I’m not sure I get the overall message here, and I don’t know if trying to sort through all the mixed messages would be worth the effort.

The Beach Bum is pure chaos, for better and for worse. All of the performances are charismatic (especially McConaughey, of course), the visuals are mesmerizing, and I was genuinely fascinated to know what would happen next. Yes, the movie can be contradictory and nonsensical, but at least it’s never boring and it’s totally unlike anything else out there. Chaos is like that.

This one gets a solid rental recommendation.

(P.S. If you’d like to throw a tax-deductible donation toward my next project and maybe spread the word about it, I’d be more than grateful.)