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.