Friday, December 12, 2014

"Hector and the Search for Happiness" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Hector and the Search for Happiness," the DVD's "A Summer's Tale and "Wish I Was Here" and Gail Sheehy's new book "Daring, My Personal Passages."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project,"  tell you about a great new Seattle restaurant (Hecho) and share this week's "A-Ha Moment."

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a London psychiatrist.  He has a predictable, tidy life and predictable, tidy girlfriend, but when he no longer thinks he is helping his patients, and, in fact, thinks they are just whingeing (he staves off his boredom by doodling pictures on his notepad while they prattle on), he decides it is time to go on a journey to discover what happiness is.
Hector leaves his girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike, who since "Gone Girl" seems to like to play strange) and hightails it off to China (why China was never explained).  Clara has given him a diary in which to chronicle his journey so after each experience he asks those he encounters, "What makes you happy?"
In China, he has a "happy" experience with a "student" and notes that "Freedom is loving two women at the same time," until he discovers the "student" is really a prostitute.  He makes friends with a monk in a monastery far up in the mountains (he helps the monk put up his satellite dish) and then continues on to Africa where a scary plane ride makes him write "Fear is an impediment to happiness."  In Africa, he befriends a drug lord (JeanReno, a recognizable Spanish actor) and gets himself kidnapped by some gun-toting bad guys, and on the plane to L.A. he helps a dying woman suffering the effects of brain surgery and she tells him "Listening is Loving."  In L.A. he meets up with an old love, Toni Collette, and her colleague who is a "expert" on happiness.
Let's just say that "The Wizard of Oz" had it right all along.
This is an adaptation of Francois LeLord's French novel "Le Voyage d'Hector ou la Recherche du Bonheur," directed by PeterChelsom.
This is very Walter Mitty-ish, but in the James Thurber way with little cartoons and drawings expressing Hector's journey and thoughts.
This film is a departure for Pegg who we have come to love in "Shaun of the Dead" and the rest of his "CornettoTrilogy," where his character is a smarmy nebbish.  Though here he is still a nebbish, he's a kind nebbish.
I was surprised to see this little gem playing at my local multiplex theatre at the mall amidst the Hollywood blockbusters.
Many critics have not been kind to this film saying it is too pat and glorifies rich people finding their happiness by dabbling in the lives of people who are poor, likening it to "Eat, Pray, Love," in a bad way.
I, however, disagree.
Despite how it may appear to some, I think the film's intent was in the right place.  I found it to be the story of a person learning to live in the present moment, and thus finding happiness and that is something that transcends being rich or poor.  That's something we all need to be reminded of.  And, hey, I liked "Eat, Pray, Love," too, so there.
Rosy the Reviewer say...if you want some relief from the holiday blockbusters, this charming little film could do the trick.

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)

A Summer's Tale (Conte D'ete)  (1996)

A quiet math student visiting Dinard, France finds himself in a triad of relationships.

Gaspard is on vacation in a Breton seaside town right before starting a new job. He is also waiting to meet his girlfriend, Lena. In the meantime, he becomes friends with Margot, a local young woman who works at her aunt's creperie in town.  They do a lot of walking and talking where Gaspard shares that he isn't sure about this new job.  He really wants to be a musician. And he isn't really sure about Lena either.  Margot, who is also in a relationship, in turn introduces Gaspard to Solene.  When Lena finally does arrive, Gaspard must figure out who and what he wants.

Gaspard doesn't really know what he wants. There is some homage to "The Graduate" when a man tells Gaspard he should get into "plastics."

Gaspard and Margot do most of the walking and talking with gorgeous French seascapes as their backdrop, very reminisicent of Richard Linklater's "Before Trilogy" ("Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight") where Celine (Julie Delpey) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) explore their relationship as they walk around Vienna, Paris and a Greek peninsula respectively.

This film, directed by French auteur Eric Rohmer, is also part of a series, Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons," which in addition to this one (Summer) includes "A Tale of Springtime (1990)," "A Tale of Winter (1992)," and "Autumn Tale (1998)."  Though  this film preceded "Autumn Tale," it was oddly never released in the United States until this year.

Rohmer's films are character studies where not much happens, well, not overtly, anyway.  What he captures is real life. You feel as if you are a fly on the wall, eavesdropping on the most personal conversations and human emotions, all beautifully photographed and eloquently paced.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Rohmer is a master filmmaker and if you liked the "Before Trilogy," you will like this.


Wish I Was Here (2014)

Aiden Bloom (Zach Braff) is 35, an unemployed actor with a wage-earning wife who hates her job (Kate Hudson) and a dying father.

Aiden doesn't have a job but is following his dream, his wife is being sexually harassed at work, his kids are more Orthodox than their parents and therein lies the comedy.

Or not. 

Aiden's Dad (Mandy Patinkin) would pay for private school for Aiden's kids as long it was Jewish Orthodox school.  Now Aiden's Dad is dying and Aiden has to pull his kids out of that school.  However, they are very entrenched, even to the point where his daughter is already fantasizing about shaving her head and wearing a wig once she is married, as Orthodox women do.  So because Aiden is an unemployed actor, he decides to homeschool the kids.  Aiden's brother (played by Josh Gad, who is a sort of indie Jack Black) is a hermit living in a trailer above Pacific Palisades (not a bad life) on money his mother left him and obsessed with Comic-con and his female neighbor, who has embraced the "furry" thing.

Zach Braff and his brother Adam wrote this film about their relationship with their Dad.  There is a reference to "Star Wars" as when Aiden is stressed, he imagines himself a superhero following a dark Darth Vader-like character ("Luke, I am your father.")

Though the film is earnest and well-meaning, it's all over the place.

The film raises issues of death and dying, raising kids in faith, family, following your dream, the meaning of life, how do you reconcile your faith with living your life.  This movie is all over the place and therein lies the rub.  It's well meaning, but not very good.  It's schmaltzy and earnest with a touch of Woody Allen.  I think Braff would like to be Woody.  But he's not there yet.

Zach Braff actually financed this film using Kickstarter.  He put it out there and within 48 hours had the money to fund this film, which shows how many fans he has from "Scrubs."

Rosy the Reviewer says...obviously a labor of love on Braff's part, but love does not a good film make.  Not a bad movie, but not a very good one either.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

295 to go!

Bruce Lee plays a martial artist who is asked to attend a tournament in order to spy on a suspected drug lord.

Why it's a Must See:  "...the action still delivers nonstop astonishment as, without the aid of the wires or effected used in the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Lee goes magnificently through the motions, twirling his signature nunchaku, flexing his oiled torso.  Influential on an entire genre of subsequent martial arts movies and a template for every beat-'em up computer game, Enter The Dragon wins its place in film history purely on the strength of Lee's charismatic presence and literally inimitable fighting moves."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Lee is not what I would call a great actor and the dubbing didn't help, but the fight scenes were indeed impressive.  Lee designed all of the fight scenes himself.

And I can see evidence of influence on Quentin Tarantino too and definitely the Chinese films to come as mentioned by "1001 Movies..". 

However, this film also bears some influences and appears to be borrowing heavily from the James Bond films, especially "Dr. No (the villain even has a white cat)" and the climactic scene in the hall of mirrors is reminiscent of Orson Welles' similar scene in "The Lady from Shanghai."   (1947)

This was Lee's last film before his untimely death.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Despite its ground breaking fight scenes, this film is very 70's - the music, the clothes, the dialogue - and doesn't hold up well by today's standards, despite Lee's martial arts prowess.  It reminded me of the "Mod Squad" and blaxsploitation films and is more of a reminder of Lee than a great movie.

Within Our Gates (1920)

Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer), a Southern black teacher travels north to raise money for her school in this silent film about prejudice in the early part of the 20th century. 

In flashbacks, we see Sylvia's story: her adoptive parents lynched and an attempted rape.

This film was banned in many theatres of the time.

Why it's a Must See: Successful author, publisher, homesteader, and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux is widely considered the father of African American cinema; only his second effort, Within Our Gates is one of forty films Micheaux wrote, directed, and independently produced between 1919 and 1948.  Besides it's gripping narrative and artistic merits, [this film] has immense historical value as the earliest surviving feature by an African American director. Powerful, controversial, and still haunting in its depiction of the atrocities committed by white Americans against blacks during this era, the film remains, in the words of one critic, 'a powerful and enlightening cultural document {that} is no less relevant today than it was in 1920'"
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Melodramatic and at times stereotypic, still, Micheaux was heroic in his film-making. He affirmed education and equality.
This film was lost for 70 years and rediscovered at the Filmoteca Espanola in Madrid in 1990 and restored.  Despite restoration, the film is still rough.  Silent films are not easy, either, these days. 
Rosy the Reviewer says...I knew nothing of Micheaux and as a film lover, am glad to see this film and to get a glimpse of early African-American films.  But it was not an easy watch.

***Book of the Week***

Daring: My Passages by Gail Sheehy (2014)

Gail Sheehy made her mark with her landmark book "Passages" in 1976, named by the Library of Congress as one of the ten "most influential books of our times." This is a memoir about her personal "passages."

Before she hit it big with "Passages," she was an early contributor to "New York Magazine" and after a long and rocky courtship famously married its founder and much older, Clay Felker.  She chronicles his struggle with cancer, her caregiving and his eventual death.
Sheehy's style of journalism fell into what Tom Wolfe called "New Journalism," a style that was literary and unconventional for the time.  Think Joan Dideon and Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." Since "Passages," she followed up with several other books to help us understand how the years take their toll, a book on the "silent passage (menopause), "new" passages and passages in caregiving.

She was a trail-blazing journalist and was one of the women who paved the way for the rest of us feminists, though she didn't know it at the time.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you have enjoyed the "Passages" books and stories of career women of the 1950's and 60's, you will enjoy this.

***Restaurant of the Week***


Where Carmelita used to be in Phinney Ridge, we now have a Mexican restaurant featuring delicious street food.

Hubby was kvelling over the fried plantains with black bean sauce and his carne asada was cooked perfectly.  If you like soft tacos, there are many to choose from on fresh made tortillas. Speaking of which, the tortilla chips were to die for - deliciously homemade and fresh as was the salsa, though the salsa could have used a bit more spice and heatStaff is noticeably very friendly, always a welcome aspect.

Rosy the Reviewer says...there is always room in Seattle for a good Mexican restaurant (they are hard to come by) so welcome, Hecho!

***My A-HA Moment of the Week***

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship."  Brene Brown said that.
 Everyone needs to feel seen and heard.  I said that.



Thanks for Reading!


That's it for this week.


See you Tuesday for

"My Favorite Movies, DVDs, and Books of the Year
(And Some I Hated)" 



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