Friday, June 23, 2023

Piss-Takes, Hurt Feelings, and Vamping

What I’m Watching

Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre (2023). “Piss-take” is too good a term to be used solely by our cousins across the pond. For me, a piss-take isn’t a parody so much as a clear-eyed version of a story, one that says, “Yeah, here’s how that would actually work.” In Guy Ritchie’s gleeful savaging of globe-trotting action thrillers, the caper springs from ignorance and is motivated by greed. His version of an elite operative isn’t a square-jawed do-gooder like Ethan Hunt, but a prickly oddball with expensive tastes. Plus he’s blessed with the singular handle of Orson Fortune, and he’s played by Jason Statham.

Fortune is tasked—only elite operatives are “tasked,” nobody else is—with recovering … well, something. The British government doesn’t know what has been stolen, only that billionaire arms trader Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, a welcome addition to the Ritchie company of players) is brokering its sale. How to access the man who has (almost) everything? Give him what he craves, the friendship of his favorite movie star. Josh Harnett is winning as the actor strongarmed into espionage and uncertain about his ability to play the role in which he has been cast: himself. Aubrey Plaza is also on hand to mercilessly mock the gun-wielding hacker babe archetype that always turns up in these movies.

As is frequently the case with Ritchie, the entire enterprise is filled with fine clothes. Ritchie is one of the filmmakers whose work I watch for the wardrobe. See: Exhibits A and B, his still underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Colin Farrell’s coordinated track suits in The Gentlemen (2019). Operation Fortune keeps the streak alive.

My Twitter ramblings about the movie convinced Ethan Iverson to watch it, and I love his take.

You Hurt My Feelings (2023). You don’t have to be married to a writer to enjoy Nicole Holofcener’s latest film, but boy, does it help. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies play one of those perpetually fretful, well-to-do Manhattan couples. But at least they’re happily married—until she overhears him telling a friend that he doesn’t care for her work in progress, despite the encouragement he’s offered her. It’s the funny hook on which Holofcener hangs a deeper look at the many kinds of honesty required in meaningful relationships. I’ll watch it again to wrap myself in the deep, fuzzy blanket of Menzies’ voice. If he was actually a therapist, I’d see him three times a week.

The Innocent
(US 2023). Louis Garrel’s crime comedy is exclusively on the Criterion Channel, yet another reason to sign up for the best streaming service there is. Garrel’s Abel, a still-grieving widower, tries to put the best face on his mother’s latest impulsive act, marrying one of her students in a prison acting class. When new stepdad Michel (Roschdy Zem) is released, Abel starts following him—and soon finds himself roped into Michel’s next job for the sake of family unity. Anouk Grinberg is fantastic as Abel’s impetuous maman, a character worlds away from the no-nonsense jurist she played in The Night of the 12th. And Noémie Merlant deservedly won a César Award for her turn as Abel’s surprisingly encouraging friend.

John Early: Now More Than Ever. When I first saw John Early in the TV series Search Party, I thought, “If there’s ever a Mike Nichols biopic, he’s the guy.” His new HBO special blends comedy and music. The pseudo-documentary framework doesn’t add much, but the material—especially a brutal analysis of his generation’s spotty education and their resulting contributions to the English language—is strong, as is the “Wait, he’s not really gonna sing that, is he?” closing number.

What I’m Drinking

The latest issue of Imbibe magazine spotlights clear spirits in summer drinks. I’m already partial to the Three of a Kind, created by Weisi Basore for Bar Cleeta in Bentonville, Arkansas. Maraschino liqueur is typically used sparingly—even a scant quarter-ounce will boldly declare its presence in a cocktail—so the generous pour here surprised me. But it plays beautifully. I expect to call this complex cooler in from the bullpen often as the season progresses.

1 oz. London dry gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano bianco
1 oz. maraschino liqueur
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Stir. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, June 12, 2023

What I’m Watching: All-SIFF Edition

The Seattle International Film Festival ended on May 28, and I’m only getting around to it now. Which may be just as well, considering that my two favorite movies from this year’s fest are already turning up in theaters.

Chile ’76. The title of this piercing political thriller gives us the where and, more pointedly, the when: the Pinochet years. Retired stewardess Carmen (Aline Küppenheim in a powerhouse performance) is largely insulated from political unrest; her physician husband affords her a comfortable life, with grandchildren and a summer house remodel to occupy her time. But when a priest asks her to tend to a wounded young activist sought by the government, the fragile order of her world comes apart. Directed and cowritten by Manuela Martelli, it’s a look at how normal life can seem under a dictatorship—and how much effort even the smallest act of compassion takes under those circumstances. Mention must be made of Mariá Portugal’s moody and effective score, like something out of a 1970s giallo.

The Night of the 12th. This policier from director Dominik Moll (With a Friend Like Harry), which won France’s César Award for Best Picture, takes a big swing early. It tells you up front that the real-life case that inspired it will not be solved, and is only more compelling because of it. Tense and atmospheric, it follows a young detective (Bastien Bouillon) whose first assignment as the head of an investigative unit is an uncommonly brutal murder in the incongruously beautiful setting of Grenoble at the foot of the French Alps. As the years pass without a solution, he realizes he only knows two things for certain: “Something’s amiss between men and women,” and he’ll have to find a way to carry on in the face of never knowing the truth. It will be playing at Seattle’s Grand Illusion later this month as part of the theater’s “… before the case cracks you” series alongside Zodiac and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, and it deserves to be in their company.

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes, a solid documentary about the jazz musician, educator, and activist, will air on PBS’s American Masters in October. And fingers crossed that the Irish/UK science fiction film Lola reaches a broad audience. Its 79-minute running time contains an impressive amount of story, about two charismatic orphaned sisters in the 1940s, one of whom constructs a machine that receives radio and TV signals from the future. They use this knowledge first to change their own lives, then the course of World War II. The found-footage conceit is initially hard to swallow, but director Andrew Legge ultimately makes it work through adept manipulation of historical images.

What I’m Drinking

Call me a convert to the French Manhattan, taken from David Lebovitz’s book Drinking French: The Iconic Cocktails, Aperitifs, and Café Traditions of France, with 100 Recipes (2020). This version of the classic is made with cognac and orange liqueur. My next experiment, as I don’t have any of France’s orange-based Amer Picon, is to try one with one of my go-to Picon substitutes: Amer Boudreau, Bigallet China-China Amer, or Amaro CioCiaro. Will report back.

The French Manhattan

1 ½ oz. cognac
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 dash orange or Angostura bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a cherry.