Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Cakemaker and Puzzle

                                               Family Affairs

                                                        Reviews by Ken Burke
                            The Cakemaker (Ofir Raul Grazier)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Thomas, a Berlin baker, finds himself in a regular affair with Oren, a businessman from Jerusalem who’s often in Germany for his job, allowing him to be with this new lover on a regular-but-short-term-basis, easily keeping the secret from his wife and young son back home.  Tragedy strikes, though, when Oren’s killed in an auto accident in Israel, leaving Thomas shocked and despondent.  He moves to Jerusalem, takes a menial job in the café run by Anat, Oren’s widow, with, of course, no mention of even having known her husband.  Gradually, she encourages his mastery of delicious baked goods which increases her clientele, stabilizing the financial needs for her and son Itai, despite concerns from her brother-in-law, Moti, that Thomas’ presence in her café kitchen will jeopardize the valuable kosher approval of her establishment.  In another complication, Anat starts finding herself attracted to Thomas, putting him in an identity-quandary, despite the fact he’s being increasingly welcomed by her family, including Moti and his mother.  You’ll see from the trailer below these dilemmas lead to hostile situations for Thomas, although if you want to know more you’ll just have to read my spoiler-filled-review because there’s only a small chance (until video availability) you’ll have an opportunity to find this film as it’s been out for quite awhile, now playing in only a handful of theaters.  However you might choose to encounter more about it, I highly encourage such a response because it’s a unique, beautiful story; you won’t see much like it, so find it wherever you can, one of this year's best-reviewed-releases.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Oren (Roy Miller) is a Jewish businessman living in Jerusalem with his wife, Anat (Sarah Adler), and 6-year-old-boy, Itai (Tamir Ben Yehuda); frequently he travels to Berlin for his job, always visiting a specific bakery because he’s so fond of their cakes (if they taste as good as they look on camera, they’d be worth a trip to Berlin even if there were no official reasons for the journey).  As this story begins, he enters the shop, has a brief conversation with the on-duty-baker, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), eats a slice of German chocolate cake, then asks for suggestions on where he could buy a toy for his son.  Thomas suggests a nearby store, offers to accompany Oren to it, then we cut to the 2 men sharing a toast which tells us quickly that heterosexual marriage or not, Oren’s easily open to an affair with Thomas which they carry on for a few days every month over the next year.  Oren’s quite content with this, although Thomas is alternately testy their relationship has to be so restricted, yet curious about how Oren goes about making love with his wife, asking him details regarding their sex acts, even as the men enjoy their own passions.  Tragically, Thomas’ hopes for something better in their relationship are dashed when Oren leaves for his latest return to Jerusalem, mistakenly leaving behind his keys and a box of cookies for Itai.  Thomas quickly calls him, expecting a rapid return to retrieve these items, but despite persistent, repeated messages there’s no reply.  Eventually, he goes to Oren’s local office to discreetly inquire about his lover’s location only to find out Oren’s been killed in a car accident back in his home country 6 weeks ago.

 A short time later, Thomas has relocated to Jerusalem, visits the café Anat’s attempting (not fully successfully) to run to provide a living for herself and her son, asks if there’s any job possibility (they converse in English; her other conversations with locals are all in Hebrew) which she hesitantly accepts on another day when she has to leave for awhile in order to attend to a situation at Itai’s school.  Thomas is just supposed to clean up the place, but he takes the opportunity to make a large batch of cookies as a surprise for the boy.  He’s the one who gets surprised, though, because when Anat returns with Oren’s brother, Moti (Zohar Strauss)—who tries to help where he can with the needs of his sister-in-law and nephew—he’s frantic Thomas used the stove in violation of the kosher certification Anat needs to keep the café in regular business.  Later, things go better for Thomas when Moti finds him an apartment (although he has to observe kosher restrictions there as well, even though he can use the stove), then Anat calls to tell him the cookies are delicious (she’s not religious, keeps kosher only to meet public requirements), wants to sell them at the café, so soon Thomas’ baking skills lead to considerably more patrons as well as a growing fondness toward Thomas by Anat.  Thomas keeps his past with Oren secret, although he uses those forgotten keys to open Oren’s locker at a gym, then wears his swim trunks in a tender scene of lost love.  Despite his melancholy yearnings for Oren, Thomas is accepted by the family, getting along well with Itai, invited by Moti to the weekly Shabbat (known to Gentile-me as the Sabbath) dinner, where he’s also embraced by Moti’s mother who seems to know more than Thomas is willing to admit about his past connection to Oren, giving us the constant sense of a love triangle with a missing side, especially as Anat becomes attracted enough to Thomas to become affectionate; he pulls back at first, then makes sexual moves toward her like he learned from his questions to Oren.

 Obviously, things are now going too well in this narrative progression to continue this way in what we know from trailer-ripoffs will be a tense drama, so everything quickly falls apart when Anat’s café suddenly loses its kosher certificate (no explanation I understood, but obviously it concerns Thomas), leading to a customer refusing to pay for a huge pastry order that involved a lot of expense putting Anat in financial jeopardy, followed by curiosity which leads her to examine a box of Oren’s belongings after the wreck (he was in the process of leaving her, moving to an apartment with the eventual goal of relocating to Berlin to—she assumed—be with another woman) which includes many receipts from Thomas’ German bakery (she looks it up on the Internet, finds him in a photo) and his cellphone with all those concerned messages (including love declarations) from Thomas.  This all wraps up with Anat in sorrowful shock, Moti angrily demanding Thomas leave Israel within the next hour (he provides the now-assumed-intruder with a one-way-ticket back to Berlin), months passing as Anat’s business becomes stable again (she still has many customers for the pastries which are now made from Thomas’ recipes, after he taught her some baking fundamentals) even though she has no official kosher certification (she assures potential customers the place adheres to those laws, with individuals then choosing for themselves whether to eat there or not).  Yet, after all the trauma, this story ends with Anat traveling to Berlin, locating Thomas’ bakery, watching from an unseen location to verify he’s working there again, letting him leave after his shift without making contact, but smiling in a way that indicates they'll soon be reconnected.

So What? As you’ll read in the next review below (of course you read everything I write, right?), my persistent wife, Nina, was determined enough to see this film even after it kept losing out to other choices in our usual San Francisco East Bay art-house theaters over the last month that she encouraged me to go with her to locate it in the only place it seemed to still be playing anywhere near us, in SF (ironically, it’s now opened in another gathering place for independent cinema in Berkeley, which would have been considerably closer, but we had a nice BART train ride over to The City—as the locals insist it be called—walked past some fascinating African-inspired-sculptures behind massive City Hall [which is impressive itself, especially the towering central rotunda], spent some time in an extensive local bookstore, then caught an afternoon matinee, followed by a tasty dinner so all in all it was a great excursion, especially in seeing the film).  Sadly, given how much I want to recommend The Cakemaker to you, it’s now playing in only 31 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters, 3 of them here in the overall SF Bay Area, so if you’ve got enough spare time and money to fly to northern CA do it quickly before this film’s finally withdrawn from its Landmark Opera Plaza (SF), Rialto Elmwood (Berkeley), or Christopher B. Smith Film Center (San Rafael) locations (although there are many people here from out of state already, farther to the north of us, heroically working with our in-state-first-responders fighting the intense wildfires destroying so much of what was once extensive woodland or residential areas, but they won’t likely be going to any films unless they’re on leave for a couple of days from their dangerous, salvation-based work, for which those of us who live here will be forever grateful).  You may be too late already to fly here by the time you read this, so please consider The Cakemaker for your video queues through whatever method you watch at home, but, following the director’s hopes (discussed in the interview with him noted in the Related Links section of this posting farther below), please watch it on the largest screen you can (not a cellphone, Millennials!) especially to appreciate the visual power of the closeups of faces he frequently uses, which need a large enough format to be seen as he intended.

 Despite my almost-unconditional-admiration for this film, though, I must admit there are 3 plot points that don’t fully satisfy me as a viewer (assuming I haven’t missed something that should have been more obvious to me): (1) While I’m not well-versed on how quick a gay relationship can begin between 2 strangers (although “love at first sight” is not something I reject as romantic twaddle, given how fast I was attracted to Nina when we first met over 31 years ago) as they connect by a chance meeting—odd simply (to me) because one of the pair’s already in what we’re given to understand is a stable, loving marriage—it does seem rushed (although likely dramatically-necessary to quickly move the plot along) how fast Thomas and Oren become so invested; (2) When Oren leaves his keys and the cookies in Thomas’ apartment as he’s off once again for Israel it seems to me Thomas is aware of this almost immediately, begins calling incessantly trying to make contact with no result ultimately because Oren died in the car crash back home; so, did Oren have his phone off, never to notice that even when he’s back in Jerusalem until his fatal accident?  Again, this is a necessary plot device, but I don’t fully follow its presentation; (3) I’m sure religious Jews easily understand what kosher dietary laws Moti’s concerned about regarding Thomas not using the stove at Anat’s café, but for a clueless outsider such as me I could have used some further explanation (as could Thomas) as to whether it’s just using the stove that’s the problem or is it the presence of a non-kosher-cook in Anat’s kitchen?  If it’s the former, why could Thomas use the stove in his kosher apartment, while needing to observe other restrictions such as separation of various foods?  If the latter, why does Moti tolerate Thomas’ presence in Anat’s kitchen at all?  I’m inclined to go with the latter here, given how Thomas’ extensive baking seems to be the reason for the withdrawal of the café’s kosher certification, but I’d have benefited while watching the film to know more about what specific aspects of Thomas’ presence regarding food (or its preparation) constituted the kosher crisis, which I think could have been worked into the film’s dialogue as cultural explanations from Moti or Anat to Thomas, although, again, I admit I’m just uninformed on intricacies of this issue so maybe this isn’t a problem for most audiences of this Israeli-German-film.

This image is indicative of many intriguing shots through windows used in The Cakemaker.
Bottom Line Final Comments: Even though The Cakemaker’s been out for 8 weeks it’s now in only a few domestic theaters (as noted above), so it’s taken in only $704,770 at the box-office so far.  (Which is only about $50 thousand more than Crazy Rich Asians [Jon Chu] made in its overseas debut last weekend, to go along with its $38.9 million in domestic revenues, while The Meg [Jon Turteltaub—seemingly no relation to Marc Turtletaub, director of Puzzle, reviewed below] about a giant, prehistoric shark has racked up about $318.1 million in global ticket sales over 2 weeks, showing how terribly unbalanced in viewer response the worlds of art and entertainment cinema are when something as sensitive, challenging, and intriguing as The Cakemaker barely survives in the marketplace while explorations in escapism [particularly The Meg; I get the sense there’s a good bit of solid story intention behind the surface satire of Crazy Rich Asians, which Nina’s just gotten the original book version of so we’ll see if she can really read it in a few rushed days before we see the big-screen-adaptation] wallow in money like it was just printed in the basement).  Oh well, at least there are filmmakers willing to explore what might be seen as obscure story ideas, although director Grazier says The Cakemaker speaks to the widely-existent (if not discussed in public too much) phenomenon of people living “double lives” of all sorts in the process of their various liaisons, dual/multiple families, etc., including a married male friend of his who had an affair with another man with the wife only learning about it after her husband died unexpectedly, all of which became a direct influence on this compelling film.  Limited-audience-exposure aside, critics are overjoyed with The Cakemaker, as 35 of them at Rotten Tomatoes give it an astounding 100% positive response, although the folks at Metacritic are their usual-more-reserved-selves with just a respectable 74% average score (you can find more details in the Related Links down below).

 That’s about all I can say on The Cakemaker, so I’ll finish this commentary with my usual Musical Metaphor device, offering one last viewpoint but from the perspective of my also-beloved-aural-arts.  In this case, I’ll drop back several decades to The Beatles’ “I Call Your Name” (written mostly by John Lennon, even before the Fab Four were official; on the 1964 U.S. The Beatles’ Second Album, originally in the U.K. only on the 1964 Long Tall Sally EP record) at com/watch?v=r5mzQHQxoSg&frags=, which could easily be sung by Thomas in his remorse over the loss of Oren:I call your name but you’re not there Was I to blame for being unfair [complaining about their infrequent meetings] Oh I can’t sleep at night Since you’ve been gone I never weep at night I can’t go on.”  But I can go on—no hesitation—so let’s continue with another story featuring a major overlap with this one, a seemingly stable marriage undone by the appearance of someone offering even more appeal to a lead character, an essential component of Puzzle's unfolding drama.
                                           Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Agnes, a 40s-ish woman in the suburbs of NYC, is essentially the stereotypical-bored-but-tolerant-housewife, in her case with a car-repair-shop-owner husband, 2 teenage sons (also working with Dad), but really nothing much else in her life until she discovers a fascination with putting jigsaw puzzles together.  This interest ultimately leads her into Manhattan to a shop where she sees an ad for a partner for the upcoming National Championships, an option she decides to explore but with the excuse to her family she’s spending time caring for her aunt with an injured foot (husband Louie’s not even supportive of that bit of altruistic-homestead-freedom, as he loves his wife but has generations-old-ideas of what a marriage partnership amounts to).  As Agnes sees she’s a natural at finding strategies for collecting tiny pieces of cardboard into their intended finished arrangement, she also finds she’s becoming attracted to partner Robert, an engineer who’s wealthy from one previous successful invention but currently low on motivation for anything except puzzle-conquests, to which he attaches a sense of philosophical/spiritual purpose.  From there, things get complicated (even though you can easily see where the conflicts are going by watching the trailer just below), so I’ll leave further revelations to either your limited-success-options in finding Puzzle in the few theaters where it’s playing or the more-accessible-strategy of simply reading my spoiler-filled-review, following after this visual teaser.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
What Happens: Based on the previous Argentinian Rompecabezas (Natalia Smirnoff, 2010)—about which I know nothing except that small nugget—Puzzle explores the slow awakening of Agnes (Kelly Macdonald), an early-40s-woman, living in the outer realm of NYC (Bridgeport, CT) with her car-mechanic husband, Louie (David Denman), who runs a shop where their teenage (?) sons, Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams), also work (Gabe’s a teenager for sure finishing high school, considering college—even though this hard-working, blue-collar, Catholic family really can’t afford it—while Ziggy could already be in his early 20s, begrudgingly working on cars but truly interested in attending a culinary school where he could learn to be a chef).  Agnes knows she’s not happy with her current situation but has no idea what to do about it until she finds some inspiration in a 1,000-piece-puzzle given to her as a birthday gift (probably not because anyone thought she had a particular interest in such a pastime but, more likely, what else do you give someone who stays home all day with nothing much to do between the time she cleans up after breakfast, tidies up the house, then cooks dinner?; Gabe tried to help bring her into the 21st century with a cellphone, but she wasn’t very interested) at the event where we first meet her, not realizing as she scuttles around serving and cleaning up after everyone else this event’s supposedly in her honor (she had to bake her own cake, finally enjoys a glass of wine by herself when it’s all over).  Surprisingly, Agnes finds she has an innate talent for quickly taking visual-assembly-command of this project, learns where the puzzle was purchased, takes the train into Manhattan to look over other options, then considers a small ad from a guy looking for a puzzle partner to compete in the locally-based National Championship (apparently, speed-puzzling is a thing for the truly devoted; I can’t imagine such [although I do remember the sense of triumph in getting one of those difficult things together, although it’s been a long time ago], but then speed-chess [there’s no way I can strategize that fast] nor speed-hot-dog-eating [the very though of cramming that much bulk down my throat offers absolutely no appeal] never fascinated me either, so to each their own).  

 Finally, she succumbs to the temptation, calls the partner-seeker, Robert (Irrfan Khan), meets him in Manhattan in what’s initially a bit of a bristly encounter at his swanky home, then agrees to team up with him, but that requires a few hours of practice a couple of days a week which Agnes claims will be spent with Aunt Emily (Audrie Neenan), laid up with an injured foot.  Louie’s not at all supportive of such voluntary-care-giving, telling Agnes she’s too easily taken advantage of (he should know).

 As Agnes continues to meet clandestinely with Robert (often racing away to catch her train home just in time to perform her domestic duties, sometimes coming in a bit late) she begins to feel sympathy for how his gifts as an engineer (his one big invention brought him wealth and fame) have gone into hibernation as he’s despondent over his previous-puzzle-partner, his ex-wife, having left him so he has no inspiration toward his profession, just the puzzles which give him satisfaction in their completion, a victory over “the random chaos of life.”  Soon, this sympathy’s beginning to develop into something more like romantic attraction, even as Agnes aggressively denies such feelings in herself while finding somewhat better connection with Louis who’s agreed to sell his prized lakefront property in the countryside (he’s an avid fisherman) in order to provide their boys with better financial support for their futures (until Gabe creates discord by wanting to use his cash to travel to Tibet to “find himself”—probably to please his vegan Buddhist girlfriend, Ezter [Helen Piper Coxe], who gets little respect from Louie, but Dad’s full anger’s directed toward Ziggy’s chef aspirations rather than continuing to help run the garage [Agnes privately learns both boys are anxious to leave this dysfunctional family but they find it hard to confront Louie]).  To Mom’s disgust, Dad agrees his generosity’s been defined as a gift, not a specific college requirement, so tension continues to grow within the family (she’s also mad he didn’t consult her about selling the property, although it’s what she wanted him to do so he’s steamed as well) just as Agnes finds herself moving closer to Robert, enough so she declares herself a puzzle-contest-contestant, to her family’s surprise (although they do support this newfound interest, as long as it doesn’t distract from their timely dinner) ⇒As this movie’s pace picks up, we find neither son thinks Mom’s happy with Dad, Agnes allows herself to make satisfying love with Robert, they win the Nationals which guarantees them a trip to Brussels for the World Championship, but as Agnes decides to leave Louie it’s not to be with Robert (or go to Europe) but instead to travel by herself to her long-desired-destination of Montreal, even though we’re given no sense of what she’s going to do next when she gets there.⇐

So What? There’s a lot in this film deserving to be seen, especially by any spouse/partner in any type of relationship and/or any child (of any age, but preferably old enough to break out on his/her own because I’m not trying to advocate runaway youngsters or teenagers [unless they’re in an abusive home, needing an escape]) trapped in a suffocating family situation who needs to escape what’s holding them back, find the courage to open a too-long-closed-door in order to breathe better than in a claustrophobic-equivalent of prison's solitary confinement.  Puzzle’s certainly not the first story to encourage leaving the past behind in favor of breaking through social stereotypes/expectations (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore [Martin Scorsese, 1974] and An Unmarried Woman [Paul Mazursky, 1978] immediately come to [my aging] mind, although others could be cited—feel free to do so in the Comments section at the very end of this posting—including, from a more drastic perspective, Thelma and Louise [Ridley Scott, 1991]), although it’s one that successfully continues a tradition of encouraging the downtrodden within a family to "Go Your Own Way" (slipping in an early Musical Metaphor here, from Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours, with an even-more-powerful official Metaphor to come just below), just as I hope Ziggy’s able to follow his chef dreams (he and Thomas might even open a restaurant somewhere, if this kid learns to make entrées that match the quality of those luscious German desserts).  However, assuming Ziggy finds himself able to truly separate from Dad (I just hope it’s not as traumatic as Cal’s [James Dean] conflicts with his father, Adam [Raymond Massey], in East of Eden [Elia Kazan, 1955]), life should improve over watching himself stagnate into an old, dissatisfied auto mechanic.  

 Yet, maybe I'm an old, somewhat-dissatisfied critic, giving this film only 3½ stars when comparing it to the one above, despite acknowledging I often find it very moving in its slow-but-effective-liberation of Agnes, while also admitting, in regard to how I wasn’t quite as touched by it as my wife was (see the next section just below), any evaluation of any work in any of the arts will depend on a complex of factors including, in this case, knowledge of the filmmaker, his/her intentions with the narrative (see the 2nd listings in Related Links farther below for both of this posting's reviewed subjects for insights on such), personal experiences and tastes of the critic, even emotional or digestive issues that day which can easily impact the reception of the screening, so it’s ultimately the case here for whatever complex of reasons I’m just more in tune with the 66% average score from MC than the 83% positive responses at RT (more details on both also found in Related Links).

 Maybe I’m also reacting to an after-the-screening-realization I’ve seen a similar exploration of almost this exact theme before in The Bridges of Madison County (Clint Eastwood, 1995) where we also encounter a faithful-but-not-truly-content-housewife, with children, who gets an unexpected opportunity to experience an emotional-awakening with a prosperous, socially-acknowledged man which could lead to a new, more-engaged-life than she’s currently sharing with a well-meaning-but-limited-vision-husband.  The result’s a bit different in Puzzle, though, because in The Bridges … farmwife Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) seriously considers suddenly running off with noted photographer Robert Kincaid (Eastwood), but, in a tension-filled-rainy-scene, just can’t bring herself to open her car door and spontaneously leave with a man whom she was clearly more connected with, even after just a few days, than the mate she’d lived with for years. ⇒In Puzzle we’re given every reason, especially after Agnes goes so far as to make love with Robert, to think she’ll actually make a break from Louie to her new partner but when she does, instead, she goes alone to Montreal, not clear at all what might await for her there yet seemingly determined not to get caught up with another man who’d likely be her sole support (even if he is her soulmate in these puzzle competitions).⇐   Thus, Puzzle takes us to the opposite end of the plot-resolution-spectrum from … Madison County where commitment (obligation?) wins out over passion to this place where self-discovery wins out over romantic expectation (with a possible midpoint being The Graduate [Mike Nichols, 1967] where Benjamin Braddock [Dustin Hoffman] and Elaine Robinson [Katharine Ross] thwart her family-determined-wedding to a guy with seemingly-greater-financial-prospects than Ben but are left in an ambiguous state of post-jubilation where their “triumph” gives them less of a future direction than does Agnes’ journey-with-an-emerging-purpose to a new life in Montreal).  I also feel, except for the unexpected ending, coming just a few minutes before the final credits, you can anticipate much of the impactful aspects of Puzzle by watching the trailer, leaving me with the sense in many ways it’s all-too-predictable, despite the emotional satisfaction it may impart in the process.  (Of course, you could say the same about The Cakemaker, so I’ll speculate that the difference is having seen Puzzle's trailer a lot recently while the one for The Cakemaker had largely faded from my memory so its dramatic events probably felt so much more subjectively engaging.)

Bottom Line Final Comments: Both of these current review choices were actively encouraged by my wife, Nina, much to her credit for getting me to see them before they disappeared from our local theaters rather than going with a more-expansive-debut-triumph (such as Crazy Rich Asians, which will likely appear in our next posting, worthy in its own right for giving such extensive exposure to people long a part of U.S. society but seemingly apart from it in Hollywood products where they mostly show up only as tech wizards, servants in rich households, or martial-arts warriors), although I admit Puzzle impacted her a bit more so than me.  Nina and one of our regular viewing companions, also female, both agree this could easily be seen as a ”woman’s movie,”* which doesn’t mean men can’t enjoy/appreciate it, just that it speaks more directly than most of what we now see on screen (and have for decades) to the eons of social conditioning encouraging women in our society (along with so many others around the globe) to see their own fulfillments as being only in the realms of wife/mother/helpful agent (nurse, teacher, social worker, office worker, or—from some perspectives—nuns) rather than assuming any career in the vast spectrum of human activities is open to them.  This may not be the case with younger females today, certainly wasn’t during my years from 1987-2013 teaching at Oakland’s Mills College (one of the very few women’s colleges left in the U.S), but to so many women of Nina’s age (67, to my 70) we’ve known, along with our mothers and older female relatives, this is clearly a reality I can only try to appreciate because as a White male Southerner, surrounded by such attitudes but not subject to them, I can remember only one girl I dated in high school, maybe a couple from my undergrad college years (spanning 1963-’70) who didn’t fit, as well as accept, these limitation-expectations where women constantly saw their futures as being some form of wife or “old maid,” with the understanding some level of satisfaction should emerge from what these social “norms” presented.

*Justo to play with this idea I tallied the positive and negative reviews from RT and MC on Puzzle, based on gender of the critics.  What I found is of the 56 males at RT 43 (77%) offer positive reviews, 13 (23%) are negative while 27 of the 29 females (93%) are positive, only 2 (7%) are negative.  At MC 15 of the 23 males are positive (65%), 8 (35%) are negative, while 9 of 9 females (100%) are positive, so I can see some truth in what my viewing companions are saying.  Of course, that also shows RT surveyed 66% males to 34% females as MC provided 72% commentary from men, 28% from women so clearly we’re still lacking in gender balance among film critics, at least the ones cited in this compilation (although I’ve found similar results in previous analyses of this sort, with omission either by RT/MC managerial-choice or marketplace-availability of female critics).

 After a month in release Puzzle’s still on a path of slow growth, having climbed to a total of only 108 domestic venues so far (we saw it in Albany, CA [near Berkeley] in an almost-empty-theater, even on a Friday night]), with an accompanying box-office-return in the tiny amount of $728,323, which is just about $26 million less than Crazy Rich Asians took in just for its debut weekend, so even if you’re not someone who defines yourself as an immediate fan of “women’s movies,” I do encourage you to seek out Puzzle (possibly through some form of video if its distribution remains so limited), which I did enjoy (despite feeling like I knew exactly where it was going all the time, until the somewhat-surprise-ending).  In the press notes, Turtletaub (making his directorial debut, after producing such hits as Little Miss Sunshine [Jonathan Dayton, 2006]) says of his offering: “This is a story so rarely seen in film, one about a woman over 40 finding her true self. Agnes is a suburban woman who has spent her entire life attending to her father, husband, and sons until she discovers - in the most unlikely of ways - her own voice. I grew up in New Jersey with a mother who doted on her husband and son and didn’t get to live the life she would have liked to live. To discover such a story in a screenplay [written by Oren Moverman, Polly Mann] as powerful as this was irresistible.”  
 To conclude these comments I’ll make my own offering, of a Musical Metaphor, that I think speaks directly to how Agnes learns to feel about herself (with this triumphant song also joining in on the worldwide tributes to our recently-departed, beloved Queen of Soul) with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (written by Carol King [with Gerry Goffin, Jerry Wexler], on her 1971 Tapestry album [for awhile, the all-time-best-seller, then overtaken by a couple of others, most notably Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller, which now drops to #2 behind ongoing-accumulated-sales of the Eagles’ 1976 compilation, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)]) sung marvelously by Aretha Franklin at, a tribute at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors where King was being celebrated, here by Aretha (whose own 1967 hit version of this song is on her 1968 Lady Soul album [however, CBS has already yanked one version of this King-tribute-video from when I began compiling this review so if this intended link's also gone, here's an earlier performance as a backup; the images are poor but the voice is as strong as ever]).  Agnes certainly epitomized someone who “used to feel so uninspired And when I knew I had to face another day Lord, it made me feel so tired [… then, regarding Robert] When my soul was in the lost and found You came along to claim it I didn’t know just what was wrong with me Till your kiss helped me name it [… yet, even though he makes her] feel like a natural woman” she goes off on her own to continue redefining herself rather than once again needing a man to help her “feel so alive.”  Whatever comes of Agnes after that we’ll just have to optimistically speculate.
SHORT TAKES (truly short for a change; don't panic)
 Something that we don’t have to speculate on, though, is the surprising criticism of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (review in our August 16, 2018 posting)—despite being lauded by just about everyone else you can imagine (RT, 96% positive reviews [but "down" from the 97% last week]; MC follows suit with an 82% average score, which is one of their highest I’m aware of this year)—receiving some scathing commentary from Boots Riley, director of Sorry to Bother You (review in our July 12, 2018 posting) who says Lee’s protagonist, Ron Stallworth, an actual Colorado Springs, CO cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s, spent more of his career infiltrating Black anti-establishment groups so their actions could be thwarted—thus he was more villain than hero to African-Americans, according to Boots—along with the complaint Lee’s depiction of White cops in league with Stallworth to combat racism is too fictitious to accept, further arguing Black cops are just as hard on Black people as White cops are.  I’ve yet to see a reply from Spike on these charges, but I’d encourage you to stay tuned to whatever entertainment/social-commentary news outlets you keep up with to see if anything further comes of this.  However, because I’ve now made
mention of 2 of the 3 current Black filmmakers with features in theaters which are drumming up solid business even while garnering many excellent reviews, I’ll leave you with a minor note about the third one, Daveed Diggs, who's the co-screenwriter and co-star (with Rafael Casal) of Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada; review in our August 9, 2018 posting), although there’s not any sense of controversy here, just an interesting footnote to my Mills College (Oakland, CA—the setting of both Riley’s and Diggs’ films) 26-year-teaching career.  Lisa Kremer (on the right in this very recent photo), former student (class of 1990), now partner in the Tacoma, WA offices of law film Gordon Thomas Honeywell LLP but then editor of the student newspaper, The Mills Weekly (now called The Campanil), in responding to my review of Blindspotting noted to me her classmate, Barbara Needell, is Diggs’ mother who often brought him to campus when he was a youngster (roughly 6-8) so I might have seen him wandering around in those long-ago-years without knowing either him or his Mom (neither Lisa nor Barbara were in my classes, although I did work with Lisa in my role as Faculty Advisor to the Weekly).  Lisa was also a major voice in the 1990 student strike against the Trustees’ short-lived-decision to go coed; in this photo she's with her daughter, Nora, who's wearing a T-shirt inscribed with David Letterman’s "Top 10 Reasons Why Mills Women Don't Want Men Attending," an example of one of many national media outlets taking up the cause on behalf of this successful student action.  (Not the best-quality-photo, but you work with what you've got, just as I have to accept the extra-added-space breaking up this paragraph is a "gift" from Google Blogspot that I can't overcome so I hope you appreciate their contribution to my layout; at least with the photo you can more-or-less zoom in on it with your View tool [and/or use a magnifying glass] to sort of read what the shirt says.)
 OK, enough from me for awhile; however, I'll surely be back soon, probably with Crazy Rich Asians (referring to a family that’s extremely wealthy—“crazy rich”—not wacky but also wealthy—“crazy, rich”—which shows how meaning can be created/distorted by something as simple as a comma).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about The Cakemaker: (22:43 interview with director Ofir Raul Graizer)

Here’s more information about Puzzle: (28:35 interview with director Marc Turtletaub and actor Kelly Macdonald [begins, as all these Build interviews do, with the same trailer I’ve used above in the review])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 6,844 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

No comments:

Post a Comment