Thursday, September 26, 2019

Zellweger does justice to ‘Judy’

Judy isn't great, but Zellweger's performance carries the show.
Judy, a drama about the final months of Judy Garland's all-too-brief life, turns the iconic entertainer into a kind of prisoner of her pubic image. Garland's life fell prey to studio tyrants, drugs, bad marriages, and her own need to connect with audiences. Judy already is being hailed as an Oscar showcase for a transformed Renee Zellweger. Fair enough. Judy derives most of its power from Zellweger's performance.

Based on End of the Rainbow, a musical play by Peter Quilter, Judy survives a series of sometimes wooden flashbacks and an overly familiar story arc to reach an emotional conclusion that pays tribute to Garland's enormous capacity to entertain while recognizing the deep sadness that could pervade her life.

I don't think it qualifies as a spoiler to tell you that the movie's finale involves a deeply felt rendition of Garland's signature tune, Over the Rainbow. If you don't see that coming when the movie enters its third -- and best act -- you probably need to see more movies.

Set mostly in 1968, the story places Garland in a swirl of trouble, notably a battle with former husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) over custody of their two children. Garland loved her kids but she couldn't give them the stability they needed.

Problems constantly threat to drag Garland down. Broke and hardly in demand, Garland takes a job in London to play the Talk of the Town nightclub. Not surprisingly, her appearance is marked by difficulties: She refuses to rehearse; she drinks too much; she can't sleep; she barely makes it to performances on time, and in the middle of all that, she decides to marry Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), her fifth and last husband.

It's obvious to us, if not to the love-starved Garland, that the marriage will be brief and bad.

In London, Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) receives a tough assignment; she's supposed to look after Garland, who misses few opportunities to test Rosalyn's ample patience. As the impresario who brings Garland to London, Michael Gambon is given little to do aside from looking dyspeptic and skeptical. Underutilizing Gambon must always be regarded as a mistake.

In the flashbacks to her MGM days and The Wizard of Oz, Garland (Darci Shaw) finds herself in painful encounters with the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery), the mogul who controlled her with threats and humiliation. Garland eventually claimed that Mayer groped her, as well, something the movie hints at.

An effort to acknowledge Garland's importance in gay culture feels both necessary and yet forced. Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira play a gay couple who meet Garland when she's leaving Talk of the Town after a performance. They wind up taking her to their apartment. She's lonely and their company proves welcome.

The two fans also figure in the movie's appropriately sentimental ending, which suggests that the only true love Garland ever experienced (aside from that of her children) was given by audiences.

Aided by prosthetics including a false nose, Zellweger's performance gathers the necessary force. A collection of tics, outbursts, displays of sincerity and vulnerability create a character who spent a lifetime taking morning pick-me-up drugs that she would counter with late-night sleeping pills.

The mannerisms that Zellweger employs make sense; they become Garland's mannerisms; her sometimes sharp motions suggest a person buffeted by ferocious gusts of inner turbulence.

Director Rupert Goold makes the most of Zellweger's transformation and the movie also benefits from the fact that Zellweger does her own singing. She's not Garland, but Zellweger works hard to sell Garland numbers such as Get Happy and puts brassy, entertaining showmanship into the musical numbers that she performs.

Make-up and singing aside, Zellweger hits home when it counts. When Garland calls young Lorna Luft (Bella Ramsey) from a London phone booth, Zellweger joins Garland's vulnerability to a level of self-realization that's heartbreaking.

Maybe this small and sometimes limited movie was inevitable. The figure of Garland was destined to dwarf any story about her and that happens here. Judy stands as a portrait of Garland at the end of a rainbow, one in which the promised pot of gold wound up being empty. You wonder whether the woman who had played Dorothy Gale, a character who awakened the dreams of so many, had lost the capacity to wish for herself.

Intriguing setup, limited payoff

Peter Sarsgaard headlines a story about a man who's obsessed with sound.

I’ve always been interested in obsessive characters who operate within a narrow range of behavior. In The Sound of Silence, we find one such character, a New York City man who calls himself a house tuner. Peter Lucien (Peter Sarsgaard) examines homes and tries to find the noise responsible for debilitations such as insomnia and depression.

A good night’s sleep might depend on something as simple as junking an old toaster and purchasing a newer model.

When he's not working with clients, Peter embarks on a far more ambitious project. Armed with tuning forks, he travels around the city to create a sound map. He's obsessed with searching for patterns. He's looking to see how sound shapes the lives of residents of a particular area.

Contrary to what you might expect, there’s nothing obviously freakish about Peter. He dresses neatly, treats his clients with respect and seems devoted to helping people.

Director Michael Tyburski brings a lonely woman (Rashida Jones) into the mix. Newly single, Jones's character asks Peter to help her deal with her insomnia.

Does she want something more from him? If so, is Peter capable of giving her more or is he too wrapped up in his pursuit of sonic revelations?

Tyburski widens the movie’s scope with other developments: At one point, Peter is courted by a tech firm that tries to convince people it can help bring harmony to their lives. He also struggles to find acceptance in the academic world, where he hopes the purity of his ambitions will earn him respect.

Despite a smart start, Tyburski and screenwriter Ben Nabors aren’t able to develop their movie into something rich and satisfying. Like the sound of the tuning forks Peter uses, the drama in The Sound of Silence starts strong and then fades out.

‘Dick Long’ harbors a bizarre secret

Two Alabama dimwits find themselves at the center of a comedy with a very weird twist.
Three Alabama dimwits are supposed to be rehearsing with their band, the oddly named Pink Freud. The rehearsal might be an occasion for the men to drink and smoke pot, but there's something more afoot. These good ole boys decide that it's time to "get weird."

It takes quite a while to learn what director Daniel Scheinert means by getting weird and when you find out, you may greet the newly acquired knowledge with a mixture of revulsion and disbelief.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Death of Dick Long serves up a low-life comedy about backward folks who reside in a small Alabama town.

As a result of that night of partying, one of them turns up dead, even though his buddies dump him (literally) at the doorstep of the local hospital. One the man's surviving pals is Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), a shaggy looking fellow with a wife and a daughter.

Zeke's running buddy Earl (Andre Hyland) seems detached from most everything, greeting just about any situation with a shrug as he vapes and blows out thick clouds of smoke. Perhaps intentionally, Zeke sports a haircut that evokes memories of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.

Scheinert treats the residents of this small town in a relaxed manner that allows them to make fun of themselves as the hapless Zeke and Earl try to cover their tracks to avoid being accused of murdering their friend.

But wait. A physician at the local hospital (Roy wood Jr.) has discovered something odd: The deceased man (Dick Long of the title) died from rectal hemorrhaging. Weirdness looms.

As his life falls apart, an increasingly nervous Zeke tries to deal with his wife (Virginia Newcomb), making up stories to ward off her suspicions.

At the same time, the local police chief (Janelle Cochrane) and her deputy (Sarah Baker) enter the story. They want to find out what happened to poor Dick Long.

No fair saying more, but know that the movie's big reveal is so off-putting and bizarre it challenges an audience to stay with these benighted characters as Scheinert begins to introduce a few serious touches to an otherwise wacky concoction that provides laughs while its characters squirm.

Abbott and Hyland make a good comic duo, but The Death of Dick Long eventually becomes a kind of kinky version of Dumb and Dumber. There are chuckles along the way but it's difficult not to wonder whether Scheinert wasn't trying too hard to sing in the weirdest possible key. The movie's big twist really is twisted.

Friday, September 20, 2019

'Ad Astra' proves weirdly involving

Brad Pitt travels deep into space -- both inner and outer.

Director James Gray's Ad Astra qualifies as a true oddity, a movie that manages to be both interesting and not entirely successful at the same time. Gray, who has made movies such as The Lost City of Z, Little Odessa and We Own the Night, this time dreams really big, setting his story amid the deep emptiness of space.

As astronaut Roy McBride, Brad Pitt takes a journey to Neptune where he must, roughly in this order, find the father who left him so that he could galavant around the galaxy, stop a powerful electric surge that has sent lethal shock waves to Earth, and, perhaps most importantly, commune with his emotionally wounded inner self so that he might finally be able to connect with someone else.

Pitt provides an offscreen narration in which he reveals Roy's thoughts, which come across as a dissertation on isolation; Roy tells us he's cut off from everyone. He does, however, sometimes confide with an unseen psychologist (an off-screen voice) who conducts a series of psychological evaluations. Roy generally passes -- although you might be tempted to think his answers feel a little too practiced, the speech of someone who's unable to connect his emotions to his thoughts.

The best parts of Ad Astra involve the set pieces that Gray stages with excitement and surprise: These include Roy's free-fall from an antenna that has been constructed at the atmosphere's outer limits, a chase sequence involving rovers on the surface of the moon, and a mission in which Roy and a colleague answer a distress call from a crippled vehicle.

En route to Neptune, Roy makes stops on the moon and on Mars. On Mars, he learns more about his father's fate from Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga), the woman who manages the space outpost.

Along the way, Gray offers commentary on the commercialism of humanity's great adventure. The moon, for example, boasts a dreary mall. No wonder Roy's outlook feels mired in futility: He does his duty; he's calm; his pulse never rises above 80 beats per minute; he screws up relationships; he makes mistakes; he's miserable.

Liv Tyler, who I believe never speaks, is used to suggest Roy's failures with women, but she's more like a vapor than a physical presence in the movie.

You should know that Roy's father -- presumed dead for years but possibly still alive on a spacecraft that floats above Neptune -- is played by Tommy Lee Jones, a bit of casting that tells us that Roy's journey to find his rogue dad needs a lalapalooza of a payoff. It's the dynamic Francis Ford Coppola set up in Apocalypse Now when he sent Martin Sheen up a river in search of Captain Kurtz.

It takes guts for a filmmaker to give his film such singular focus; we're being set up to be blown away should Roy and his father ever meet. If we're not ... well ... let's just say, it's not a good thing.

I'm simplifying Roy's story for the sake of brevity, but -- in the end -- it doesn't prove especially complex. The movie's message (it has one) puts an aphoristic gloss on its promise of something vast, cosmic and mysteriously profound. We're set up to expect Kubrick and Gray gives us daddy issues.

Still, I found myself breathing the thin air Gray creates and moving along with a movie that takes us on a trip that's weirdly arresting -- at least most of the time. Hey, as we're always being told; it's not the destination but the journey that matters.

Gray splays Roy's inner voyage across vast spaces, turning his movie into a metaphor with mythic and psychological overtones centering on absentee fathers (take that where you will) and what it means to be a man. You'll have lots of opportunities to study Pitt's face, as Roy burrows deep into his own psyche. Pitt pulls it off.

I can't say too much more without spoilers, but it's possible that Gray may have made a space adventure that can be read as a critique of every other space adventure, as well as of our desire to watch them. This is either brave or a little crazy -- or some mixture of both.

All I can say is that when I emerged from the auditorium where I saw Ad Astra, the lights in the corridor seemed to emit an eerie glow. Ad Astra teeters on the brink of something awe-inspiring without quite falling over. Can a movie be "nearly" visionary?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

'Downton Abbey,' a royal serving for fans

The popular series results in a big-screen effort that doesn’t make for a great movie but gives fans their money's worth.

In its final going, Downton Abbey —- the big-screen version of a six-season PBS smash-- began to feel like a six-season feature, at least it did for me. I'm saying the movie felt long. But, and it’s a major "but," Downton Abbey wasn't made for me. I'm a series slacker who only recently caught up with the first season in preparation for seeing the new movie. I owe my wife, an avid Downton enthusiast, for filling me in on the major plot points of ensuing seasons.

So, if you have a severe case of Downtonitis — stop here. Go see the movie. You will happily reacquaint yourself with most of the series’ characters and you’ll be able to indulge in the luxuriance of the fabled estate that imposes itself on the Yorkshire countryside.

If you love period-piece pleasures, Downton Abbey provides the season's most reliable overdose.

As you probably know, Downton Abbey also provides a home for bickering, scheming aristocrats who employ a cadre of bickering, scheming servants — almost all of whom are deeply committed to maintaining the estate and everything for which it stands.

Best not to think too deeply about what that estate stands for, notably class division and political stagnation that even the show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, can't present without showing a few cracks.

On TV, characters married downward or upward. The movie includes an assassination attempt and a bit of talk about British/Irish tensions. Mostly, though, characters ponder whether it's worth sacrificing personal fulfillment on the altar of propriety. Most vote for the propriety of the prevailing order.

Now because the movie is a mere 122 minutes long, not all the characters are given the kind of attention they received during six seasons. For some, it must have taken longer to don their costumes —- corsets for women, starched fronts for men — than to learn their lines.

Still, it can be rewarding simply to immerse in the carefully appointed aristocratic theme park that director Michael Engler and his production team create and, let’s be honest, celebrate. And, to be even fairer, I’ll say that Downton Abbey arrives on the big screen without too many visible signs of strain for having made the transition.

So what’s new about any of this? Well, there’s an episode in which a slightly more agreeable Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier), the gay footman promoted to the post of chief butler, openly and almost disastrously explores his gayness.

A fresh battle over inherited wealth breaks out, allowing cousin Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) and her maid Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) to arrive at Downton. Did I mention that the whole business centers on a visit from the King and Queen (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) that throws the entire Crawley household into a tizzy?

The pending arrival of royalty prompts Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) to bring retired head butler, a.k.a., Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), back to Downton so that he can enforce the standards to which he has dedicated his life.

The royal visit seems more important to the servants than those who dwell upstairs. They help is gravely offended when told that the royal party travels with its own staff and that the services of the locals will not be required or, worse, desired. What? Miss an opportunity to grovel at the feet of monarchs? Disasters don’t get much bigger, do they?

To heighten the snootiness brought by a team of royal servants, a traveling French chef (Philippe Spall) has been added, much to the dismay of down-to-earth Downton chef (Lesley Nicol).

The royal visit also provides a reason to introduce Princess Mary (Kate Phillips), daughter of the King and Queen. She's having marital difficulties and provides a reason for the story to take a brief side trip.

Written by Fellowes, the movie employs a farcical twist to deal with tensions between dueling groups of servants. It might be said that on-screen, Downton Abbey is more reliant on plot twists than on the kind of character issues the series more freely could explore.

I know. You’ve been waiting for me to say something about Maggie Smith. She's onboard of course as the imperious Violet Crawley, self-described as the old lady who frightens everyone, a role that she relishes. Smith fires a fair number of caustic darts and, in this telling, becomes part of a comic duo in which Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton) plays counterpoint by insisting on empathy over insult.

I was a little disappointed that Lady Mary didn’t have more to do, that her sister, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) has lost some of her edginess, having settled into something approximating happiness and that Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), the American-born mistress of the manor, had no crucial scenes.

You'll notice that I've omitted some characters but going any further risks turning this review into a scorecard -- if I haven't done that already.

If you have Downtonitis and you’ve read this far, you’ll be happy to know that I’m nearly finished.

Part reunion and part lovefest, Downton Abbey's reliance on the affection its audience brings to the theater struck me as near-total. I'd guess that Fellowes and his cohorts have done nothing that's likely to diminish the devotion of Downton fans. I wonder, though, whether those who've never seen a Downton episode will feel quite so welcome in the Crawley household -- or whether they'll even feel as if they've been invited.

Bob's Cinema Diary: 9/20/19 -- Fantastic Fungi and Running with the Devil

If you watch a lot of movies, your consciousness often inevitably fragments to the breaking point. It’s possible, in the span of two films, to go from the generally overlooked world of fungi (yes, you read that right) to the massively over-observed (at least in movies) world of cocaine smuggling. I’m talking about Louie Schwartzberg’s documentary Fantastic Fungi and director Jason Cabell’s Running With The Devil, films that have no business being mentioned in the same breath, which is why I couldn't resist putting them together.

Let’s start with the healthy side of the ledger and a confession. What I know about mushrooms (magic or otherwise) is precisely nothing -- and, at the moment, I'm not especially fond of them. Mushrooms have mounted a late-summer invasion of my lawn, and some of them are not pleasing to the eye, protruding from the earth in a form that resembles a rotting phallus.

Of course, I’m not giving mushrooms their due -- as those who spend their time studying them, appreciating them and sometimes eating them would attest.

Narrated by Brie Larson (who occasionally speaks for the usually silent mushrooms), Fantastic Fungi includes commentary from authors such as Michael Pollan and Andrew Weil. It also focuses on the work of Paul Stamets, a mycologist who has made mushrooms his life and who runs a business cultivating, finding and selling all manner of mushrooms, which evidently come in an astonishing variety, 1.5 million species worth. Judging by the movie, it might be wise to think of Stamets as a human ambassador to the fungi world.

The movie is designed to provide information about the essential role that mycelium, part of a fungus, plays in keeping the planet balanced. Mycelium helps the earth digest decaying, carbon-based matter, keeping the earth’s life cycle — birth/decay/death/more birth —- humming.

Schwartzberg offers time-lapse views of mushroom growth and introduces us to the staggering array of mushrooms that grow in the earth’s forests. He also includes commentary from psychologists who suggest that ingesting certain kinds of mushrooms in controlled dosages can play an important role in coping with depression and dealing with other psychiatric issues.

In short, we may not be paying enough attention to the psilocybin mushroom, which can take us on a trip without having to go through airport security. The documentary shows psilocybin being taken in pill form under supervised conditions.

A bit of a commercial for mushrooms, Fantastic Fungi nonetheless should please those who ascribe to the idea, as the film does, that nature is intelligent.

Now, for a different drug:

In the age of opioids, a movie about the cocaine trade immediately and perhaps inevitably feels passe.

Running With the Devil functions as a kind of primer about how cocaine moves from Columbia to the US market, increasing in price with each step of its illicit journey. A strong cast — led by Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne — can’t do much to elevate a by-the-numbers movie steeped in the violence and debauchery surrounding the drug trade.

The characters who populate Running With the Devil all have generic names. Cage, for example, portrays The Cook, a pizza chef who supplements his income in the cocaine trade -- or maybe it's the other way around. Fishburne portrays a character called The Man, an ambitious participant in the trade who’s gotten too deeply involved in sampling the merchandise and cavorting with hookers. Barry Pepper plays The Boss, a character who needs no further explanation. Cole Hauser appears as The Executioner. Can you guess his occupation? I thought you might.

The movie eventually finds Cage and Fishburne hiking through the North American wilderness en route to their final destination.

A mostly male production, Running With the Devil does include one major female character. Leslie Bibb portrays the DEA agent who’s trying to stop the drug trade.

With big money involved betrayals can’t be far behind and the screenplay, also by Cabell, has them.

Hints of Tarantino blow through a story which includes a surprise ending that you should see coming. Looking bookish and scholarly, Cage puts on an all-business front, with traces of madness, of course. His performance contrasts to Fishburne’s display of wanton carelessness.

I can't recall seeing Fishburne play a character such as this, but Running With the Devil stumbles as it laboriously works its way through the familiar piles of white-powder crime.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Hard times in Los Angeles’s Koreatown

Director Justin Chon tackles cultural dislocation in Ms. Purple, the story of Kasie (Tiffany Chu), a young woman trapped in a life that revolves around men, notably her dying, comatose father and the abusive, demanding customers at the karaoke bar where she works. An affluent boyfriend (Tony Kim) -- also a karaoke bar patron -- gives Kasie money but treats her like a pet. Kasie lives a life of desperation in Los Angeles's Koreatown. Her mother long ago left to pursue a more affluent life. Kasie grew up with an immigrant father who called her a princess but did little to prepare her for adulthood in America. Now in a coma, Dad (James Kang) requires so much care that Kasie must call on her wayward brother Carey (Teddy Lee) for help. Flashbacks tell us that Carey's difficult relationship with his father explains, at least partially, why the young man remains shiftless and unemployed. At times, Carey pushes his father's bed -- with dad in it -- through the neighborhood, an act that's both amusing and hostile. Who does that to an unconscious man? Ms. Purple draws us into the multi-cultural environment of LA, sometimes using Mexican music in the background. Chon also introduces an under-developed Mexican-American character (Octavio Pizano). A guy who parks cars for a living, Pizano's character takes a liking to Kasie and invites her to his sister's quinceanera. Perhaps Chu wants to contrast a more rooted part of LA's diverse population with the more unsettled Korean enclave he depicts. Chon gets a lot out of his cast and he deglamorizes life among a segment of LA's Korean population. The story of second-generation alienation and exploitation can seem disjointed, but amid the chaos of Kasie’s life, Chon finds enough heartbreak to make his movie stick with you.

A documentary about Molly Ivins

Columnist Molly Ivins had a big career and a personality to match.

I didn’t know the late Molly Ivins personally, but I met her a couple of times, once in the newsroom of the Rocky Mountain News and once on a hilltop near Taos. At the time, Ivins was covering the West for The New York Times. As was often the case with journalists who landed regional assignments, Ivins occasionally dropped into the News to commandeer a desk, write and talk to reporters.

When Ivins was around the newsroom, you couldn’t miss her. She was big-boned, tall and imposing without being intimidating, what you might call a woman with a major personality.

In 1980, I attended an event called the D.H. Lawrence Festival. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, irresistible cultural eruptions that any reporter would have killed to cover: An inharmonious blend of experts, celebrities and Lawrence enthusiasts who invaded Santa Fe for several days.

Academics delivered papers, poets read poems and those of us who were privileged to be there were exposed to a range of names that could wear-out a bold-faced font. From literary critic Leslie Fiedler to mega-star Elizabeth Taylor to poet Allen Ginsberg, it seemed everyone showed up. That's not to say that anyone really grasped exactly what the event signified -- other than a chance to mark the 50th anniversary of Lawrence's death and to remember the author in his adopted New Mexican setting.

Ivins, of course, was there, and, on a sunny afternoon, I found myself standing next to her at a ceremonial event that took place at the D.H. Lawrence ranch. It's all a bit fuzzy now, but I remember young women -- clad in white and portraying vestal virgins -- tossing flower petals to each side of a path as they approached the Lawrence Memorial chapel.

We were in the days before reporters traveled with computers. There was no tweeting or bleating taking place as events unfolded. We were expected to watch or, to put it in more high falutin' terms, to observe. In those days, writing kept a respectful distance from reporting until the point when deadlines intruded.

As the strange ceremony unfolded, Ivins — speaking in what I presume was an uncharacteristically low voice — began describing it. She offered a running account and she did it with style, grace, and an enviable amount of humor. I later came to think that she was writing her story out loud as this odd bit of theater unfolded. I'd bet she remembered it when she got back to a typewriter.

Although I can’t recall precisely what Ivins said, I knew I was watching a big-time talent reveal itself.

If you want to know what kind of woman Ivins was — and you should — you’d do well to spend some time with the documentary Raise Hell:: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins. Directed by Janice Engel, Raise Hell moves quickly, offering interviews with Ivins, as well as excerpts from public addresses she gave.

Fellow Texan Dan Rather adds a note of seriousness and other talking heads talk, helping to put Ivins’s personal and journalistic lives into context.

Watching Raising Hell, it's difficult not to wish that Ivins had lived well beyond 2007. She died of cancer at the age of 63, drastically depleting the national supply of irreverence that she sometimes served with a side order of bile.

For much of her life, Ivins was a hard-drinking, pickup-driving woman who, by not taking politicians seriously, managed to write seriously and engagingly about the political scene. Ivins famously referred to Geroge W. Bush — the younger and many would say "lesser" of the two Bush presidents — as “Shrub."

When she returned to Texas, she found her best subject. Ivins and the Texas legislature were made for each other, as were some of the state’s upper-echelon politicians. She was a whip-smart woman with a generous appreciation for elected officials who sometimes said and did things that were dumber than dirt.

She could spit in their eyes and get a chuckle out of them at the same time -- or so goes the mythology. Whether she left politicians laughing or not, Ivins remained an invaluable voice until the end of her life.

As I said, you had to take notice.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Jennifer Lopez dominates ‘Hustlers’

Flashy surfaces and energized performances keep this look at pole dancers on track — but it’s a narrow track.

Jennifer Lopez headlines Hustlers, an inside look at the world of pole dancers — in this case, pole dancers who scam Wall Street hotshots who wantonly spend money on booze, ego-indulgence and lap dances.

Director Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler) includes enough pole dancing and body exposure to keep the movie solidly in R-rated territory as she tells a story that revolves around the developing friendship between Lopez’s Romona and a fledgling dancer who goes by the name Destiny (Constance Wu).

Early on, Romona takes an eager-to-learn Destiny underwing, teaches her the rules of the pole, and offers to partner with her. When two women offer lap dances to drunken finance guys in the private rooms of clubs, the work proves more lucrative (and probably safer) than solo efforts.

Much of the movie consists of energetic sequences that gleefully chronicle the economic ascent of the two women. We also learn a little about each woman. Romona has a daughter. Destiny supports an aging grandmother who doesn’t offer much resistance when presented with thick wads of cash.

Mimicking the rush of a downed shot of vodka and buoyed by the abandon of the big-ticket shopping sprees in which the women indulge, Hustlers wastes no time getting down to business, drama on speed-dial. Written by Scafaria and inspired by a magazine article by Jessica Pressler, the screenplay races across a familiar dramatic arc.

In this case, the intoxications of the movie's early scenes receive sober comeuppance in 2008 when the market collapses. As stocks sink, so do the fortunes of the night clubs and strippers who have become part of the lower Manhattan scene.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to land day jobs, Romana and Destiny strike out on their own, pursuing an activity they call “fishing.”

They lure prosperous businessmen into nights of clubbing, drug their drinks with a combination of Ketamine and MDMA, and pretend to keep pace. The women then proceed to relieve the mark of his credit cards. Said cards get pushed to their limit. Romona and Destiny earn big bucks while ensuring that the clubs and any assistants receive their cuts.

It all seems too good to be true, crime with a safety net. These supposedly savvy sharks aren’t likely to admit they’ve been fleeced out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their pursuit of a good time.

Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer play strippers who join Romona and Destiny in their felonious enterprise. Neither character is especially well-developed but the movie gives them each comic moments. Reinhart's Annabelle, for example, tends to throw up under stress; i.e., at the worst possible moments.

I’m not sure that it adds much, but the movie employs a framing device. Destiny narrates the story as she’s being interviewed by a journalist (Julia Stiles) who plans to write a magazine article about how the women raked in money, did a fair amount of high living and ultimately got caught. The bond between them eventually eroded.

It’s worth noting that Hustlers adopts the women’s point of view in depicting men, nearly all of whom seem to be class-A jerks who deserve what they get. Many are married men who lord it over the lap dancers, often throwing money at them in a demeaning fashion. Hustlers is a movie about women -- not about the men who think they're entitled to exploit them.

I wasn’t looking at my watch, but my impression was that Wu receives more screen time than Lopez. If so, there's still no question that Lopez is the movie’s star. Her Romona exudes confidence and entrepreneurial savvy. When she teaches Destiny how to pole dance, you can tell that, no matter what anyone thinks, Romona controls her body. Smart enough to use her physicality to dominate any situation, Romona remains unscathed by her line of work. She's a force.

The women are motivated by a simple equation: Economic self-sufficiency equals freedom. So what if what they do is illegal? The whole country’s nothing more than a rigged game anyway. Why shouldn't they get their share?

Although deeply embedded in the fabric of the movie, this simplistically cynical ethos never seems entirely convincing. To paraphrase Romona: Some people have the money; others dance for it. Pole dancing as a metaphor for the way society works? I didn't buy it.

Full of flash and performance verve, Hustlers nonetheless remains a showcase for Lopez -- with entertaining cameo help from rappers Cardi B and Lizzo. I don't what it has to do with anything, but it seems worth noting: Cardi B's Bronx accent is thick enough to strip the pretension off just about anything.

'The Goldfinch': a lengthy letdown

The big-screen adaptation of Donna Tartt's popular novel only intermittently clicks.

Many years ago, Bob Rafelson, the writer-director of movies such as Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens and Blood and Wine, told me something I've never forgotten. In an interview, Rafelson said that the best approach for screenwriters who adapt novels is to concentrate on what he or she most loves about the book and jettison everything else.

As is often the case with sage advice, Rafelson's mostly goes unheeded. If you're looking for evidence, search no further than The Goldfinch, the big-screen adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 novel by Donna Tartt.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins and mounted with a clear respect for nearly all other aspects of cinema craft, The Goldfinch nonetheless connects only intermittently. It's possible that director John Crowley and screenwriter Peter Straughan had too much respect for the material. Their movie plays like a dutifully illustrated version of Tartt's novel, a two-hour and 29-minute work that has the look of a prestige offering with built-in Oscar glow that the story never really matches.

The movie's pivotal event occurs when young Theodore Decker (Oakes Fegley) visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother. As luck would have it, Theodore and his mom happen to be at the museum when it's struck by terrorist bombs. Mom dies, Theodore's odyssey begins, and the source of the story's title is revealed.

Theodore leaves the museum with a small 17th-century painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt. The painting depicts a pet goldfinch that has been chained to its perch. Ironically -- with a capital "I" -- Fabritius perished in an explosion.

The painting becomes the movie's McGuffin, a literary conceit that pushes Theodore into a world that's not always kind to him and which some reviewers of the novel aptly called Dickensian.

The movie contains a ton of plot and many characters. These include the Babours (Nicole Kidman and Boyd Gaines), the Park Avenue couple who take the newly motherless Theodore underwing until the boy's wayward father (Luke Wilson) and his trashy girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) turn up. They drag the boy off to Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, Theodore meets Boris (Finn Wolfhard), an abused wild child who becomes his only friend and who also introduces him to alcohol and drugs.

Flashbacks to the fateful explosion gradually reveal precisely what happened on the day of the attack, but these hazy backward glances begin to feel tiresome. Crowley also alternates scenes of Theodore as a child with scenes in which Theodore has become a young man played by Ansel Elgort. Boris also crops up as an adult, portrayed by Aneurin Barnard.

Two potential love interests for Theodore also are included: Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings) was in the museum on the day the bombs went off and seems his obvious soulmate. In his early adulthood, Theodore becomes engaged to the Barbours' daughter (Willa Fitzgerald).

Jeffrey Wright gives the movie's most memorable performance as Hobie, an antique dealer who becomes Theodore's mentor. Hobie delivers the speech that announces the movie's theme, a reverence for the immortality of art as contrasted with the fragile mortality of those who create, save and respect it -- and, of course, the rejection of anything that might be considered fake.

Not all the performances come into sharp focus: Kidman portrays a decorous, emotionally reserved woman who also seems to have a genuine affection for Theodore. Wolfhard's Boris enters the movie with the force of a tossed grenade; it's as if he has been added to enliven the proceedings. Fegley's young Theodore can be impish, wounded or rebellious.

And Elgort's tormented and guilt-ridden character (he blames himself for his mother's death) isn't as interesting as his childhood version.

So what to make of all this? Good question and one that the movie's arduous length allows ample time to consider, even when the pace picks up in a third act that's overburdened with thriller-like plot developtments revolving around the painting.

Watchable without being compelling, The Goldfinch leaves us to ponder what this movie, at its deepest level, is all about. If you can't answer that question, you may be forced to consider a sobering possibility: Perhaps that deepest level wasn't reached.

A whistleblower tries to stop the Iraq war

The filmmaking isn't flashy, but Official Secrets tells a compelling story.

In 2003, Katherine Gun did her best to stop Britain from entering the Iraq war. As a British intelligence employee with a specialty in translation, Gun violated the country's Secrets Act so that she could reveal a controversial email. The email instructed those working at Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to look for information that could be used to pressure U.N. Security Council members to vote for a resolution authorizing the war.

Although Gun's leaked email was published by The Observer, it obviously didn't stop British participation in a war that was being carefully engineered and for which the "intelligence'' books were being cooked.

Directed by Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky) and starring Keira Knightley, Official Secrets tells Gun's story in straightforward fashion, taking us inside a whistleblower's anxiety-riddled world. Things don't go smoothly for Gun, who eventually was put on trial for violating the Official Secrets Act of 1989.

Knightley and Hood don't add much by way of over-dramatized flourish to the portrayal of Gun, a woman who lived with her Muslim husband (Adam Bakri) in London. After making her momentous decision, Gun tormented herself. Would she get caught? Had she done the right thing?

Written by Sara and Gregory Bernstein, Official Secrets boasts a strong supporting cast. Matt Smith appears as Observer reporter Martin Bright, the journalist who fights to publish the explosive email. Matthew Goode portrays one of Bright's colleagues and Rhys Ifans signs on as the Observer's wild-eyed U.S. correspondent, a reporter who works hard to confirm the authenticity of the email Gun leaked.

Conleth Hill portrays the editor who struggles about publishing a story that could derail a war effort his paper previously supported. Late in the movie, an understated (what else?) Ralph Fiennes shows up as Ben Emmerson, the barrister who defends Katharine.

Official Secrets doesn't always make for rousing cinema but it serves as an important reminder of what can happen to those who realize that secret government objectives sometimes should be subordinated to higher values, one of them being the truth.

Bob's Cinema Diary: 9/13/'19 -- Two views of youth in Mexico

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Director Issa Lopez takes a semi-surreal plunge into the world of Mexico city street kids in Tigers Are Not Afraid. Juxtaposing hard-core realism with revealing fantasies, Lopez gives her film its own special flavor. Lopez sets her story against a drug-riddled backdrop. Early on we're told that 160,000 people have been murdered in Mexico's drug wars and 53,000 are missing. The dangers of rampant lawlessness rule the life of 10-year-old Estrella (Paola Lara), who lives in a world of gunshots and fatalities and must try to survive after her mother goes missing. Much of Lopez's story takes place among kids in similar straits as Estrella. El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez) commands a gang of boys who are striving to kill Caco, one of the villains who helped turn their neighborhood into a war zone. El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), an even bigger thug than Caco, sets out to eliminate these pesky kids. Lopez offers imagery -- the dead congregated in a sewer, for example -- that reflect and magnify the frightful world in which these kids are forced to live. Ambitious to the point of folly, Tigers Are Not Afraid nonetheless stands as a powerful scream of a movie, a harrowing look at the dangers, bonding, and horror that kids face when thrust into environments so violent that no one is safe.

This Is Not Berlin

Director Hari Sama immerses his movie in the life of Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de Leon), a 17-year-old who, in 1986, discovers a world of drugs, sex and artistic ambition in Mexico City. The characters in This is Not Berlin eagerly explore a world that sometimes proves too unstable for them to manage, particularly when it comes to sex, drugs and artistic expression. Skilled in electronics, Carlos wangles his way into an artistic subculture that's inhabited by the sister (Ximena Romo) of his best friend (Jose Antonio Toledano). Carlos also discovers the excitement that awaits him at The Aztec, a club where gays, straights and those who wish to experiment find one another. Major partying takes place against the backdrop of AIDS proliferation and failed government policies. Adults do turn up: Carlos's mother (Marina de Tavira) can't seem to get out of bed. She's too depressed. Carlos makes his main connection with the adult world through an uncle (played by Sama), an aging hippie who feels a sense of responsibility for his nephew. A young gay man (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) becomes Carlos's guide in this new world. Throbbing dance scenes can be wearing and the basic story -- libidinous liberation leads to near tragedy -- hardly feels groundbreaking. The movie's instructive title tells us that we're looking at an attempt by young people to invent their own culture in ways that are uniquely Mexican. That's an interesting enough reason to make a movie, but This Is Not Berlin didn't quite convince me that it had captured a pivotal moment. The movie may be more meaningful for Mexican audiences who are familiar with the scene that Sama depicts or for those who came of age in the 1980s elsewhere. Me? I was at work.

Friday, September 6, 2019

‘Aquarela’ rides waves of visual power

The movie's title might suggest an animated feature about some winsome Disney sea nymph, but Aquarela is anything but. Russian director Victor Kossakovsky has made a mesmerizing documentary about the power of water and his movie brims with "wow" moments. To create an atmosphere conducive to awe, Kossakovsky eliminates narration and explanation. He decontextualizes his imagery in ways that make us feel as if we're seeing anew. Kossakovsky doesn’t even tell us where on the globe we are, although we can guess. (Russia, Miami, and Venezuela, for example). Aquarela asks an audience to believe that potent images create their own message. Still, it's probably safe to say that Kossakovsky wants us to consider the devastating impact humans have had on the natural environment. In an opening sequence, men work on a thin sheet of ice located off a grim-looking coastline. As the movie unfolds, we’ll see (and hear) giant chunks of ice breaking from glaciers, rising and falling like monsters that have emerged from depths we know nothing about. Watching a couple navigating rough waters in a sailboat proves as harrowing and gripping as any action sequence you've seen. Kossakovsky marries natural sound with occasional infusions of discordant music that augments the sense that he's in tune with forces beyond our control. When Aquarela moves from frozen waters to a tropical setting, the movie makes a tonal shift that's initially jarring, but Kossakovsky recovers and we begin to understand that he’s water shows its power regardless of setting. Aquarela ends somewhat abruptly, but the movie contains some of the year’s most arresting sights; it stands as a towering tribute to Kossakovsky's eye, to the bravery of the camera operators who shot it and, most importantly, to the power of water and to the ocean home from which life emerged and which now may be roiling at our disrespect for its authority.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

More 'It' proves less than rewarding

The second chapter of Stephen King's massive novel has high points, but, overall, qualifies as a miss.

It Chapter Two, the eagerly awaited second half of the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1,000-page novel, feels more like a hundred chapters than the single, concluding act of a drama based on teen bonding and supernatural terror.

Not surprisingly, given the movie's nearly three-hour length and King’s pedigree, Chapter Two has high points (the psychology that brings adults in touch with their worst childhood memories) and low points (a bloated finale that’s so effects-oriented, it puts one in mind of second-rate sci-fi.

Normally, I don’t care about a movie’s length, but in the case of Chapter Two, length fatigue sets in, overwhelming the movie’s virtues. Moreover, last-minute attempts to add sentiment and uplifting instruction doesn’t connect emotionally.

The first movie, popular but very much over-rated, created enough of a fan base to ensure that this second helping will succeed at the box office. Moreover, a cast that includes Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Isaiah Mustafa, and James Ransone) adds to the movie’s appeal, suggesting that this is no cynically motivated knockoff.

The story takes place 27 years after the first installment. As it turns out, Pennywise -- the lethal clown played by Bill Skarsgard -- returns in 27-year intervals, which means he's again ready to terrorize the idyllic town of Derry, Me.

Director Andy Muschietti, who also directed the first installment, skillfully uses the original’s young cast in flashbacks that help enrich the darkly hued adventures experienced by the now-adult characters of the first installment. Most of these adults don't want to travel to their hometown and only one of them (Mustafa's Mike) remembers exactly what happened 27 years ago.

Not a bad set-up, but Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman can't solve structural problems inherent in a story that doesn't flow smoothly through its various episodes. Instead, Muschietti lays out chapter after chapter, as each of the returnees confronts an individual horror before the group can unite for a meaningful stand against Pennywise.

I suppose one major question emerges: Is the movie scary?

The answer depends on what you consider frightening. For me, the scares arrive in the form of fun-house attractions augmented by lots of high-end CGI. Muschietti takes full advantage of Pennywise’s shape-shifting abilities, sometimes to comic effect, as the clown transforms into a variety of bizarre creatures and desiccated demons with skin problems.

There are jump scares, to be sure, but it almost feels as if Chapter Two has been designed around the “horror” sequences rather than allowing the horror to emerge naturally (or supernaturally, if you will) from the story.

No faulting the performances, I suppose. Some care has been taken to ensure that the young actors evoke their adult counterparts (except possibly for McAvoy). Among the adults, Hader makes the strongest impression as a stand-up comic in the midst of a mid-level career.

I could go on and talk about the insight (yes, there is some) exhibited in Chapter Two, particularly in the way it understands the humiliations, fears, abuses, missed opportunities and embarrassments of childhood. I also could mention a gratuitous and very cruel prologue in which town bullies attack two gay men at a carnival.

I suppose you'll also want to know that Stephen King and director Peter Bogdanovich make cameo appearances.

But I’m going to put Chapter Two to rest by saying that the movie might have been more entertaining at two hours. Put another way, I’ll ask this question: Does anyone really want to take a three-hour theme-park ride? If you do, you’ll probably be happy with Chapter Two.

Otherwise, you may find a movie that wears you out before it has the sense to conclude.

Brittany runs, but there’s a bit more to it

Some weeks before I saw it, I recall reading that Brittany Runs a Marathon might be the sleeper hit of summer. Well, we’re on the cusp of fall and the movie is just now making its way around the country and I have no idea whether it will be a breakthrough hit.

Still, Brittany has plenty to recommend it. Not the least of the movie’s triumphs revolves around the performance of Jillian Bell, who plays the title character, a 27-year-old overweight New York woman whose doctor tells her that it’s time to shed 50 pounds. Her excesses -- food, alcohol, and hard-partying -- have put her on an early death track.

Initially resistant, the dissolute Brittany decides to become a runner. Given Brittany’s penchant for excess, it's not surprising that she becomes an addicted runner who plans to enter the grueling New York City marathon. She begins to lose weight.

Writer/director Paul Downs Collaizo primes the audience for a feel-good comedy about an acerbic, frequently dislikable woman, who changes her life so that she can become a beacon of self-transformation.

Thankfully, Collaizo follows a slightly different path. A complex character, Brittany takes herself and her running seriously but not everyone else does. As her roommate (Alice Lee) discovers, the reformed Brittany isn’t nearly as much fun as she was when she was drinking, staying out all night, and strafing others with sarcasm.

After Brittany gets crosswise with her roommate, she lands a job at an upscale Manhattan home, where she’s supposed to look after the vacationing owners’ dog. Lacking a place to stay, Brittany moves in and meets Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), an unashamed slacker who has taken the same house-minding job. He uses the home as his personal squat.

Brittany also acquires a support system for her running, notably a former neighbor (Michaela Watkins), a photographer who’s going through a tough divorce. Watkins character flirts with cliche, reminding us —- in case we didn’t already know — that a person’s surface seldom tells the whole story. Apparently, people who seem healthy and well-adjusted have problems, too.

Brittany also convinces a gay friend (Micah Stock) to join her running regimen. Kate Arrington portrays Brittany’s sister, who lives with her husband (Lil Rel Howery) in Brittany’s hometown, Philadelphia.

Bell can be funny and, in the movie’s final going, really annoying. That's because Brittany doesn’t deal with all the obstacles she faces with humility and grace. A scene in which she confronts and insults a heavy woman taps a little too deeply into Brittany's sour side.

Collaizo can't quite accommodate all the movie's tonal shifts (from hip comedy to serious drama) but he should be credited with trying to add some nuance to what could have been high-concept formula job: overweight woman sheds pounds, gain self-confidence and becomes a better person.

As it turns out, Brittany's greatest victory involves her realization that her weight and her capacity to love and be loved aren’t irrevocably linked. Fair enough, but I wondered whether such a conclusion might be a little too pat for a character who's smart and tough enough not to care whether her story has a spirit-lifting message.

Bob's Cinema Diary: 9/6/19 -- Satanic Panic, Vita & Virginia

I'm never sure whether films have real-world impact, but if Satanic Panic does alter anyone's behavior, it probably will be America's legion of pizza delivery people. In this case, a pizza delivery girl (Hayley Griffith) makes a delivery to a wealthy area that's way out of her normal zone. When the recipient disappears after refusing to tip, she bangs on the door, hoping to shame the stony-faced jerk who stiffed her. Our heroine might normally have gone on her way, but her moped’s nearly out-of-gas and she's afraid she won't make it home. Entering the house through a conveniently open side door, the pizza girl quickly becomes ensnared in a meeting of devil worshipers who want to turn her into a human sacrifice. Purposely overstated performances, particularly by the group's head witch (Rebecca Romijn) seem intended to give a comic spin to the proceedings, but this kind of acting also can create an amateurish feeling that may not have been what director Chelsea Stardust hoped to achieve. Gore gluttons will find enough plasma to satisfy, but too much of the movie simply doesn't work, either as straight-ahead horror or macabre comedy. Ruby Modine supplies a witty spark that's otherwise missing from a movie that aims to produce crowd-pleasing moments for horror buffs who are well enough versed in genre tropes to recognize when the movie is poking fun at them. All else aside, it may be reassuring to know that even Satanists are sensible enough to crave pizza, thus prompting the movie's most intriguing aside: Ritual sacrifices of young virgins never should be performed on an empty stomach.

Vita & Virginia

Vita & Virginia, a well-appointed look at the lesbian relationship between Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), too often fails to break its period-piece shackles. The Bloomsbury scene depicted by director Chanya Button doesn't prove interesting or eccentric enough to shock us with its rejection of bourgeois convention. Both Vita and Virginia are married, Vita to a husband (Darren Dixon) who indulges his own same-sex interests but fears that his boldly flirtatious wife will jeopardize his public standing. Virginia's husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinando) shows more tolerance for his wife's inclinations. He publishes her books, loves her and even believes that she might benefit from a fling with Sackville-West. Isabella Rossellini shows up as Lady Sackville, a woman who clearly disapproves of Vita's undisguised recklessness. Arterton approaches her role with crisply delivered openness; Debicki's Virginia seems depressed and dreary, perhaps to suggest the despair that ultimately led Woolf to suicide. There's nothing wrong with Vita & Virginia that more unruliness wouldn't have cured. But Vita & Virginia seems too intent on becoming a movie of certifiable cultural significance to feel as if it's full of new insights.

The story of a much-loved musical

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles traces the history of a play that has become enormously popular.
Fiddler on the Roof, a musical of enormous popularity, made its Broadway debut 55 years ago with Zero Mostel in the lead role of Tevye. By now, most musical fans know that Tevye earned his living as a dairy man who spent his days talking to God and wishing he weren't poor. Tevye also had six daughters with minds of their own.

Happily, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles -- a documentary about the origins and continued life of a play that has been staged throughout the world -- acknowledges that the show has meaning beyond nostalgia or romanticized views of shtetl life.

Made into a musical by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler retains some of the pathos found in the work of the great Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem, who wrote the Tevye stories. Aleichem illuminated the lives of Eastern European Jews in a fast-changing world that, unbeknownst to them, was on the brink of Holocaust extinction.

But the documentary's explanation of Fiddler’s popularity turns out to be overly broad, a celebration of the universality of Fiddler's themes, notably the clash between established tradition and creeping modernity.

But, at least as I see it, Aleichem’s genius involved finding universality in the particular. After all, Aleichem wrote in Yiddish, a language that never was widely spoken or read outside Jewish communities. (A Yiddish-language production of Fiddler currently is being staged in New York.) Aleichem captured the idiosyncratic flavors of the Yiddish-speaking world. Without that, there are no noodles in the story's universal soup.

Of course, the themes of parenting, poverty, and anti-semitism have wide resonance, but, in Aleichem's work, they’re irrevocably rooted in the Jewish world. I’m still working out how I feel about what I viewed as the documentary’s over-emphasis on universality, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it.

Director Max Lewkowicz notes that the show wasn’t particularly well-received when it opened. Despite a lukewarm NY Times review, lines formed. Fiddler became a monster hit and later, a 1971 movie directed by Norman Jewison, who, name aside, is not Jewish.

The movie’s star — Israeli actor Topol — now 83 — talks insightfully about playing Tevye and we hear from many other actors who have appeared in Fiddler over the years.

A variety of other personalities emerge, most notably the brilliant choreographer Jerome Robbins, who brought an authoritarian approach to his direction of the stage production but remained widely admired by those he tyrannized.

Among the film’s more interesting wrinkles are glimpses of productions of Fiddler from around the world. Interestingly, all of these productions — in costume and ambiance — honor the particularity of Fiddler in ways that the film might have spent more time exploring.

Entertaining, informative and sure to please the legions who love the show, Miracle of Miracles makes one thing clear. To borrow (and distort) a line from one of the play’s many memorable songs: The sun that rose on Fiddler likely never will set.