Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Gloria Bell and Short Takes on Us

Double Indemnity (of various sorts)

Reviews by Ken Burke

                            Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio)   rated R

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): A woman of a certain age is gainfully employed but divorced, not as involved in her grown children’s lives as she’d like to be, finds most of her pleasure at an L.A. dance club with music and patrons who’d likely listen to my local radio station (that she’d be singing along with) priding itself on playing “all 80s all the time” (the same station launched a few years ago with a playlist covering 1950s-‘70s pop, then slowly worked its way later into the 20th century as my cohort has obviously aged out enough to no longer be a desirable demographic).  Singing, dancing, drinking—topped off by some occasional free-market-sex—keep Gloria content enough until she meets Arnold (also divorced but much more invested in the nagging needs of his adult daughters than Gloria would prefer), sparks fly, the future looks great for both of them, until suddenly it doesn’t after an evening spent with Gloria’s kids, her ex, his new wife, and too many memories for Arnold to dismiss, so he quietly leaves, infuriating Gloria enough she refuses to even acknowledge his attempts at apology—until she suddenly changes her mind, leading into plot territory unspeakable in this no-spoilers-segment of the posting.  If you wish to know more you might first search your memory to see if you saw this Chilean director’s Gloria (2013) because his remake here is virtually identical except for location (Los Angeles instead of Santiago), language (English rather than Spanish), and cast (with top-flight-performances from Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, and Jeanne Tripplehorn among others, the first 2 gamely carrying the primary load of the story).  Maybe it’s just I see no reason (except more income) for this remake, maybe I liked the Latina version of Gloria a bit better (because of how she’s presented, not that there’s anything lacking in Moore’s characterization), maybe I should have seen Us first (although I really didn’t relish fighting those crowds on opening night), but for me this remake of Gloria isn’t nearly as endearing as the critical community as a whole now praises it to be.

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: Gloria Bell (Jullianne Moore) is an insurance agent, divorced, pushing the upper limits of middle-aged, with 2 grown kids, Anne (Caren Pistorius)—in love with a Swedish surfer who travels the world seeking humongous waves—and Peter (Michael Cera), now with a baby son of his own, taking full responsibility for the kid while unseen-wife-Rachel’s off in the desert somewhere “finding herself.”  Early on we see Gloria leaving phone messages for each of her children, noting she hasn’t seen much of them lately, signing off each call with the funny-but-pathetic-note of “This is your mother” (they don’t recognize her voice yet?).  We also see Gloria in her office commiserating with coworker Melinda (Barbara Sukowa) who’s worried about possible termination with her finances not in shape to survive the layoff; driving around the L.A. metropolis singing along with radio tunes from when she and I were younger (although I have [false?] memories of being a bit more on-pitch then than she is now); smoking; attending a yoga class run by Anne; calling her landlord about how noisy his son in the upstairs apartment is, ranting in a manner that’s a desperate call for help; more smoking; putting out one of those (creepy to me) hairless Sphinx cats who somehow keeps finding his way into her flat; having lunch with her worried-about-aging/inheritance-spending-mother, Hillary Bell (Holland Taylor); attending some sort of laugh-therapy-group (we get a lot of days-in-the-life-of-Gloria established early on through a series of quick scenes of such activities); but seemingly most important for Gloria are her nights in a disco catering to her-age-clientele where she immerses herself in drink, dancing, and the occasional after-hours-tryst with random men also just looking for a 1-night-stand (nice opening shot of the movie, slowly dollying in on her from behind as she stands at the club’s bar, then turns to us, presenting herself as the focus of our interest in what proves to be her natural environment).  As all of this gets established we see Gloria fretting about how Anne’s beau could easily die in his extreme sport (Anne’s more of the “live for today” sort), being pushed away by Peter in her attempts to offer grandma-help with the baby, and (the crux of our story) Gloria finding herself quite attracted to Arnold (John Turturro), another disco pickup but—a divorced man himself (not as long as Gloria; he also has 2 adult kids, still living with their mother)—someone she feels kinship with (despite the foreshadowing in their first conversation: [him] “Are you always this happy?” [her] “No.”), even to the point of finding interest in the paint-gun-park he runs.  However, when she decides to introduce him to her family in a celebration of Peter’s birthday, their hot relationship quickly goes off the rails.

 At the party along with Peter and Anne are Gloria’s ex, Dustin Mason (Brad Garrett)—so we learn Gloria retained her original surname after the divorce, making a clean break from Dustin (but I can’t say I got a clear sense of what caused their marriage to sour)—and his new wife, Fiona Mason (Jeanne Tripplehorn).  As the night goes on, the wine finds its usual friend in Gloria encouraging her to first blurt out Anne’s pregnant—Dustin’s not too happy to learn the news in this manner (with the further revelation Anne's moving to Sweden, leaving Gloria with little ongoing interaction with her kids)then she and Mason start reminiscing about their wedding, looking at old photos while Arnold’s feeling so left out he departs without saying anything.  At first, Gloria’s concerned about him (he recently had gastric-bypass-surgery, lost a lot of weight, so his digestion’s problematic at times), then becomes furious to the point of not answering/returning his many phone calls.  Finally, he meets up with her in the parking lot by her office, trying to explain he felt completely cut off from her that night, but she’s in no mood to hear it (she’s also steamed he’s let those not-truly-adult-daughters command too much of his life, constantly calling him with requests to come do some meaningless task for them).  ⇒However, at some point she relents, takes his call, followed by us quickly finding them flown off to Las Vegas Caesar’s Palace for a romantic getaway; nevertheless, the daughters call again with news Mom’s injured herself by walking through a glass door (so clean she didn't see it!), but he resists abandoning Gloria who starts to leave anyway, then abruptly jumps into bed with him.  That night at dinner, though, he excuses himself, packs up and goes home without a word, leaving her, in indignation, to pick up another guy in the casino, party with him all night, then wake up the next morning poolside at another hotel a long walk away.  She calls Mom to come get her, they fly home (the cat’s gotten in again, although this time Gloria lets him stay), she takes the paint gun Arnold gave her, goes to his daughters’ house (where he’s either living or bringing them something), goes into action when he drives up spattering paint on the house, then on him before going to the wedding reception of her friends’ daughter where she turns down a dance request from an unknown man but then throws herself into action when “Gloria” is the DJ’s next choice (she starts by just singing along with it, showing us clearly she’s reviving her old self as we’ve seen her troubled in recent scenes driving around in silence, sans radio accompaniment).⇐

So What? Over the past decades of moviemaking into today (just like with many formerly-popular TV series being revived with all-new casts, sometimes extended premises) remakes of previous cinema releases have often found their way into American theaters, either as more contemporary takes on homegrown product (e.g. The Postman Always Rings Twice [Tay Garnett, 1946] comes back again under the same title [Bob Rafelson, 1981]—both adapted from the 1934 James M. Cain novel; Double Indemnity [Billy Wilder, 1944]—likewise adapted from a 1943 Cain novella—clearly inspires Body Heat [Lawrence Kasdan, 1981]), even as the most-notable-recent-example is A Star Is Born (William A. Wellman, 1937; George Cukor, 1954; Frank Pierson, 1976; Bradley Cooper, 2018—this last one reviewed in our October 11, 2018 posting) or as American adaptations of foreign-language-movies (e.g. the French Trois homes et un couffin [Coline Serreau, 1985] transforms into Three Men and a Baby [Leonard Nimoy, 1987]; the Swedish powerhouse about LIsbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [Niels Arden Oplev, 2009] comes back under the same name [both based on the 2005 book by Stieg Larsson] directed by David Fincher [2011; review in our December 28, 2011 posting, one of the very first from Two Guys in the Dark—which certainly could have used more photos in those days as the layout got overwhelmed with text while this blog was slowly working through its struggling-infancy]); Hong Kong’s Internal Affairs [Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, 2002] becomes the Best Picture Oscar winner as The Departed [Martin Scorsese, 2006]).

 More rare, though, is a remake of the same story by the same director (2 of of the most notable in American movies are Cecil B. DeMille re-addressing The Ten Commandments [1923, 1956] and Alfred Hitchcock’s retelling of The Man Who Knew Too Much [1934, 1956]) with the very unlikely situation of a director from one country (in this case, Chile) remaking his earlier work in another language (Spanish then, English now), aimed mostly at a different audience as Lelio has done here with this new version of Gloria based very precisely on his earlier work of that name (2013; review in our February 24, 2014 posting [layout’s even worse here with William Faulkner-esque paragraphs—in length, not necessarily quality; my apologies, with hopes our presentation’s improved in more recent years]).  Upon re-reading my earlier review (5 years since seeing that film almost totally erased it from my memory except I thought it deserved 4 of my 5 stars, while the acting by Paulina Garcia was superb), I was struck by how many of the plot details (except character names) are the same, so the essential question become: Why do this again with no essential difference (sure, the location’s changed to mostly L.A., the brief getaway by the trying-again-lovers is to Las Vegas rather than a seaside resort, but otherwise this is a remake in the purest sense).  Sadly, the only answer I can come up with—beyond getting a chance to see some fine actors take command of their roles in a situation where we’d rarely see them cast together—is another attempt at squeezing cash flow from an established product, likely hoping to gather more revenue in the English-speaking-world than the original was able to accomplish (after 16 weeks back then in domestic [U.S.-Canada] release it brought in only $2.1 million in ticket sales [no worldwide figures available]).

Bottom Line Final Comments: If a financial windfall was the hope of the filmmakers and their distributors the goal may be realized but not in the manner they anticipated, because after its 3 weeks in release (admittedly, so far in only 654 domestic theaters so it’s had no chance of competing with Captain Marvel’s [Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; review in our March 14, 2019 posting] thousands of screens offering a continuing-box-office-onslaught [$911.7 million worldwide, with $320.7 million as the domestic haul]) Gloria Bell’s brought in just $2.9 million globally ($2.3 million domestically), although that can improve somewhat if its release spreads some in coming weeks (but it’d better hurry before the debut of Avengers: Endgame [Anthony and Joe Russo; release set for April 26, 2019] when the superpowerful Ms. Capt. returns), helped as much as possible by excellent critical support of 94% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (“Certified Fresh”), an 80% average score at Metacritic (“Generally favorable reviews”)—details in the Related Links section farther below—revealing me to be once again a critical anomaly seemingly unable to appreciate the grandeur of what I must have seen (at least by this pattern of evaluative-logic).  One thing I know I saw, though, is another round of fine acting by both Moore and Turturro, even though I didn’t care much for either of their characters, with Gloria as a combination (at various times) of needy of reassurance from her family, knee-jerk angry at the world around her, or irrationally caught up in emotions of the moment while Arnold’s a doormat to his family, irrationally unable to hold firm to his commitments to Gloria, seemingly devoid of self-esteem.  These actors offer solid accounts of these less-than-desirable star-crossed-lovers, although the roles they’ve portrayed offer little to connect with, while Gloria Cumplido (in that great performance by Paulina García) in Lelio’s original was much more self-assured in her life situation despite the similar hardships she endured (I was also lured to the theater by my interest in seeing what Lelio would do with his own remake, given I’d appreciated Gloria so much [4 stars] as well as A Fantastic Woman [2017; review in our March 7, 2018 posting—another 4 stars; also won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar], although I wasn’t as impressed with Disobedience [2017; review in our June 14, 2018 posting—3 stars], so his overall batting average with me is strong but could stand some improvement [as if he cares what I'd think]).

 Now, as for the choice for my usual tactic of a Musical Metaphor to cap off this review, I'll again at least note "Gloria" (written by Umberto Tozzi and Giancarlo Bigazzi, providing an international hit for Tozzi [on his 1979 album Gloria] but becomes an even bigger success with co-rewritten lyrics by Laura Branigan [on her 1982 Branigan album] so I’ll use her video* for this movie's titular/ concluding song) just because it’s so intentionally connected to Gloria Bell’s lead role (“Gloria, you’re always on the run now Running after somebody You gotta get him somehow I think you’ve got to slow down Before you start to blow it I think you’re headed for a breakdown So be careful not to show it”) but my official Metaphor is another tune used briefly in this remake’s soundtrack, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler (written by Jim Steinman for her, on the 1983 Faster Than the Speed of Night album), at (the official music video, a work definitely of its time presenting quite a cinematic extravaganza of surrealistic semi-erotica) because to me it speaks more to me about how Gloria Bell thinks she’s in command of her life but really is struggling to rise above her own insecurities (“Once upon a time I was falling in love Now I’m only falling apart There’s nothing I can do A total eclipse of the heart Once upon a time there was light in my life But now there’s only love in the dark Nothing I can say A total eclipse of the heart”).  Obviously, all those other critics who are singing their songs of praise for Gloria Bell would disagree with me on how I’m characterizing this Gloria (Manohla Dargis in The New York Times calls her “a restless life force”), but as I see her she constantly trying to force her life into not being restless, so I’ll agree that Julianne Moore is “transcendent” as always, but the second time around for this story just feels to me to be a bit out of tune, just like Gloria’s usual radio sing-alongs.

*Besides, Tozzi’s version’s in Italian, same music different lyrics (but here's a version translated into English); to complete this circle, how about a duet with Tozzi and Branigan on another song entirely (she joins him about 2:40 into this video; following the duet she again belts out her “Gloria”).
(another not-so-short-version of) SHORT TAKES 
(please note that spoilers also appear here)

                               Us (Jordan Peele)   rated R

A young girl has a disturbing incident at an amusement park, 1986; present day, she’s traveling back to this place with her husband and 2 kids when they’re confronted with unexplained murderous doubles of themselves forcing fight and flight as the situation grows more dangerous, concluding with a twist providing an even-more-disturbing result.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
 You’ll get no complaints from me if you loudly wonder “Why’d he devote so much space to a movie he doesn’t even like that much, then reduce a huge box-office-hit to his realm of Short Takes?”  Certainly, such queries are valid with Peale’s follow-up to his hugely-successful Get Out (2017; review in our May 11, 2017 posting [worldwide gross of $255.4 million—$176 million domestically—vs. a production budget of a mere $4.5 million]), Us, knocking Captain Marvel out of the domestic top-spot with an astounding $71.1 million in its debut weekend ($88 million worldwide), but you can find info about/reviews of Us just about anywhere you turn so I chose to put my emphasis on Gloria Bell, something not as likely to get such constant coverage (especially for the benefit of those who’d choose to see it, maybe like it more than I did) while keeping my comments on Us to somewhat-more-concise-necessities because you’ve probably seen it already (my early Sunday afternoon matinee screening was quite full), will see it soon, or will avoid it anyway because you don’t care for horror movies (although, as this genre goes—despite some hand-to-hand-combat-related-body-counts—the gore’s not all that graphic [even my usually-squeamish-at-the-sight-of-blood-wife, Nina, liked it, didn’t have to close her eyes all that often as various characters went down]) so I’ll honor my standing spoiler-alerts-policy while recounting the major events of this spooky story for as far as you want to know them.  We begin in 1986, referencing the “Hands Across America” event (contributions intended to help the needy and/or homeless, which more-or-less stretched from Santa Monica, CA to NYC [I took part in Santa Clara, CA, but we weren’t part of the main link along the continent]) as very-young Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) is vacationing with her family at the Santa Cruz, CA beach boardwalk (I’ve been there a few times also), chooses a Michael Jackson Thriller T-shirt (connected to his 1982 album) as a prize when her Dad succeeds at a carnival challenge (this reasonably-included-reference may end up being the most horrific aspect of Us, given the chilling molestation accusations against Jackson in Leaving Neverland [Dan Reed, HBO]), then wanders into Merlin’s Forest house of mirrors where she has a disturbing encounter, referenced later in this story in several flashbacks.  As we return to the present, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), has a teenage daughter, Zora (Shahdi Wright Joseph), and a young son, Jason (Evan Alex), with the family on vacation at a cabin in the woods near Santa Cruz where they meet up with their friends, the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker), then head home where the power goes off, a disturbing family of dopplegängers shows up outside the house, and their lives change forever (Peale narrates this encounter in an anatomy of a scene).

 While these “shadow” doubles of their upper-world-originals are somewhat zombie-like (none of them can talk except for the hoarse speech of Adelaide’s dopplegänger, named in the cast list as Red [also played by Nyong’o—Oscar-caliber in both roles, despite the genre-limitations—just as the other actors also portray their doubles]), referred to as the Tethered in writings about this movie (although I don’t recall hearing that term when watching it, but that's probably just me), their goal seems to be to kill their upper-world-originals with the sharp scissors all of them carry, so the Wilsons’ first task is to dispatch their hunters which happens (after a lot of tension, violence, and quick-thinking), except for Red who survives into the climax.  ⇒The Wilsons try to take refuge with the Tylers, but they’ve already been killed by their doubles so Zora and Jason drum up some courage to retaliate against this latest collection of attackers, after which our fleeing family finds themselves back at the Santa Cruz beach (dead human bodies everywhere) as Jason’s taken away by Red (all of these dopplegängers wear red jumpsuits, so it’s arbitrary she gets the name), with Adelaide steeling herself to enter Merlin’s Forest again where she finds a large underground facility now empty except for rabbits wandering everywhere; she ultimately must confront Red which she does, killing her in order to rescue Jason, but even as the Wilsons drive away looking for stability somewhere else (Mexico?) we get the visual revelation of innumerable doppelgängers with hands linked spreading out from the Pacific Ocean across the USA along with chilling flashbacks revealing Adelaide was choked/knocked out by young Red years ago, chained in the doubles’ dorms, so the little girl (part of a failed government project to create these creatures as a means of controlling surface humans, then abandoned by their makers) we understood as growing into the violent adult version of Red is actually revenge-seeking Adelaide while the surface-doppelgänger-version of herself has apparently forgotten who she really is (I can’t say I got that from my viewing of Us, but several “tell-all” Internet sites are consistent in this interpretation).  Thus, it’s the double who kills the original human in their final confrontation, realizing her actual existence as she rides away with the family she now has a new relationship to, although little Jason seems to understand the truth.⇐

 However, there’s plenty I don’t fully understand here (as is the case with many who’ve reviewed this movie, despite being generally supportive of it, allowing it to achieve 95 % positive reviews at RT, an average MC score of 81% [more details not too far below]) with the most important being:  (1) When the government was running this atrocious project how many surface-dwellers did they recreate? (Seems to have been nationwide.)  (2) Once they stopped the project how did others continue to come into existence? (Red seems to have given birth to her "monstrous" kids, so did Abraham—her doubled-husband of Gabe—grow up with her underground?)  (3) If these are flesh-and-blood-creatures (as well as being “America," as Red explains to Adelaide), how have they sustained themselves all these years?  (Red speaks of eating a rabbit one Christmas dinner, but was there ever any other food available?  And, what did the rabbits eat?) (4) Red speaks (in her disturbingly-spooky-voice) of planning for years for this assault on the upper-world, but how did these doubles break away from their inherent imitation of the actions of their human originals as we see in freaky movements when Adelaide is first dragged down into the doppelgänger depths? (For that matter, why is Jason’s double, the fire-damaged/obsessed Pluto, still so tied to Jason’s movements when none of the rest of these underground-dwellers continues to act this way?  Further, if young Red was able to come up to the surface-world why hadn't any of the others done so over all the intervening years?)⇐   There’s clearly a lot of intriguing stuff going on in Us, but I’m afraid I must agree with those who question just what all this is intended to represent.  Are the doppelgängers the downtrodden of our society desperate to avenge themselves on us who have ignored/shunned them?  Are they the cruel aspects of ourselves—our Ids in Freudian terms—determined to assert themselves over our more-controlled-Superegos?  Are they some symbolic presence of “the Other,” like those some of our countrymen are willing to bar from our society by building a formidable wall?  Peale’s produced an intriguing cluster of concepts here (including the strange guy Adelaide sees as a young girl at the boardwalk, then sees him again when her family returns to Santa Cruz but he’s now being hauled off in an ambulance, still with his “Jeremiah 11:11” sign, referring to the Bible verse "Therefore thus saith the Lord, ‘Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.’" [King James Version]), but they just aren't fully coalesced so well as they ideally should be.

 There are a lot of creepy scenes in this movie, managing to combine aspects of psychological horror stories—home invasion from Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971), an unexplained disruption of the natural order as we see in The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)—with terrifying aspects of the supernatural, as seen in the zombie apocalypse of Night of the Living Dead (George Romano, 1968) and its sequels (other reviews have also noted aspects of The Shining [Stanley Kubrick, 1980]), well supported with effective soundtrack disturbances, effective editing to allow needed surprises to jump out at us, along with some intentional humor (Adelaide yells for their Alexa-like-device to call the cops; instead “she” plays N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” [from their 1988 Straight Outta Compton album]).  Yet, the whole thing, interesting as it is to contemplate/discuss later, does seem to be too dense in its implications to be fully effective in terms of what it’s trying to communicate.  As for the requisite Musical Metaphor, then, what comes most naturally for me about this tale of unresolved identities is The Who with “Who Are You” (from the 1978 album of the same name) at https://www. where we, along with those surface-dwelling-characters in Us when confronted with their underground doubles now on the rampage must ask: “Well, who are you I really want to know […] My heart is like a broken cup I only feel right on my knees I spit out like a sewer hole Yet still receive your kiss How can I measure up to anyone now After such a love as this […]  Oh, who the fuck are you Who are you Oh, tell me who are you I really wanna know.”  Although, once we find out, especially given the huge numbers of these alternative-Americans who seem to feel it’s now time for them to be in command of our society, we may not want to know anything else about them after all, as there seems to be one of them for each of us, ready and willing to take over.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Gloria Bell: (21:32 interview with director Lelio and actors Julianne Moore, John Turturro)

Here’s more information about Us: (you can play with the main image here by dragging the ink blots around; you can also click the 3 little lines in the upper left to reveal more features) (7:44 discussion of the secrets in this movie [spoilers run rampart here but are useful in understanding what’s going on in the plot])

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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 30,942 (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:

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