Friday, January 16, 2015

"Big Eyes" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Big Eyes," the DVDs "The Trip to Italy," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and the documentary on Roger Ebert, "Life Itself."  The Book of the Week is "On the Road with Janis Joplin," and I report on how I am doing with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" by reviewing "Ariel" and "The World of Apu"]

Before I get into this week's reviews, I must weigh in on Sunday's Golden Globes and the Oscar nominations that were announced yesterday.

If you read my blog post last week on my "Early Oscar Picks," and if you watched the Golden Globes, you will know that the Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Picture I had slated for getting Oscar nominations and for winning, did win Golden Globes.

However, I missed a few when it came to the Oscar nominations. 

For Best Picture, I missed "Grand Budapest Hotel," "Whiplash (which to me, came out of nowhere)," and "American Sniper." "Gone Girl," "Unbroken" and "Nightcrawler" were snubbed, but they only nominated eight films this year instead of ten, so let's just pretend I didn't list those. As for those I didn't have on my list, I loved "Grand Budapest Hotel," but thought it was released too early in the year and would be forgotten, and I haven't seen the other two.  I predicted the Best Actress nominations correctly except for Marion Cotillard.  I thought Jennifer Aniston would get a Best Actress nomination for "Cake," and for Best Actor, I went with Jake Gyllenhaal for "Nightcrawler" and Bill Murray for "St. Vincent" but they were snubbed for Bradley Cooper ("American Sniper") and Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher").

I have to add, that worst of all, the women directors were snubbed:  Angelina's movie "Unbroken" was completely snubbed and, though "Selma" was nominated, the WOMAN director (Ava DuVernay) was not.  What's THAT all about?  I would imagine Oprah is fuming about that.

Oh, and one more thing - the Roger Ebert documentary, "Life Itself," was not nominated in the documentary category at all.  A TRAVESTY!  See my review below.

On my part, not too bad for a stab in the dark, but I am still going with who and what I think will win the Oscar: 

Best Picture -    "Boyhood." 
Best Actor -       Eddie Redmayne. 
Best Actress:     Julianne Moore

We shall see.

Now on to the Week in Reviews.



Big Eyes


The true story of Margaret and Walter Keane and the art empire they built during the 1960's with those big-eyed waifs with Walter taking credit for Margaret's work.

Walter (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret (Amy Adams) meet just after Margaret has left an abusive marriage.  She is living in San Francisco with her young daughter trying to make ends meet painting furniture in a furniture factory and selling her paintings on the side, when she meets Walter at an art fair where Walter is also selling his paintings. Margaret paints children with huge, pleading eyes and Walter paints Parisian street scenes.  Walter charms Margaret and they marry. Walter is a master at sales and marketing and negotiates a deal with the owner of the nightclub, the hungry I, to hang his paintings there, but it is Margaret's paintings that finally take off and Walter manages to take credit for them.  Walter is high energy and domineering; Margaret is quiet and insecure.  She agrees to let Walter take credit for her work ("No one is going to buy a painting from a lady painter," he tells her) and for years hides away in her studio, putting out painting after painting until finally she has had enough and seeks to take her name back.

One may wonder how Margaret Keane could put up with letting her husband take all of the credit for her work, because these days it's difficult to remember that women in the 50's and 60's often believed their husbands were the head of the household and leaving them wasn't usually an option.  Even today it's not difficult for domineering husbands to control their wives.  For Margaret to finally take control of her own legacy was quite a feat. Realizing that, Burton has made a feminist film, of sorts.

The film opens with a quote from Andy Warhol:  "I think what Keane has done is terrific!  If it were bad, so many people wouldn't like it!" 

That quote was in response to the fact that though Keane's paintings and posters were wildly popular during the 60's and 70's, the art world was aghast, thinking them commercial and vulgar.  And this film and Warhol's quote (despite sounding like one of Yogi Berra's head scratchers), does bring up the issue of what is "art?"  Is it art if we like it or do we have to be told by the experts that it's art?  I certainly fell for the fad.  I even had a Keane doll complete with tear drop.



This drama is a departure for director Tim Burton, who we have come to associate with quirky films like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice."   Here he beautifully evokes the San Francisco of the 50's and 60's (the cinematography is gorgeous) in telling the story of a woman's talent subjugated by her husband's arrogance.  Amy Adams gives a bravura performance as Margaret.  It's a quiet but powerful one, whereas Waltz plays Walter as loud and high energy. Walter wasn't an evil man, just a typical know-it-all man who figured out how to control his wife. Waltz played that well, though a bit over the top in the courtroom scenes.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating true tale of a woman's talent subverted by a domineering husband beautifully mounted by Burton and played by Adams and Waltz.



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



The Trip to Italy (2014)



Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves while taking a road trip around Italy, driving and dining.

Rob has been commissioned by a newspaper to go on a road trip in Italy following in the footsteps of Shelley and Byron and eating scruptuous food in gorgeous restaurants.  He invites his old friend Steve to go with him. Who could say no?

This is the sequel to director Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip," where Brydon and Coogan toured the Lake District.   Here Coogan and Brydon drive a Mini Cooper around Italy (Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Capri) listening to Alanis Morisette, riffing on any topic that comes into their heads, visiting sites of importance to poets Shelley and Byron and dining at fabulous restaurants. They amuse us and each other by trying to best each other with imitations of Michael Caine, Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in Batman, Woody Allen, Hugh Grant and others.  Their enjoyment of each other and cracking each other up is infectious.

There is no drama and not a lot happens, but the scenery is spectacular, the food is mouth-watering and these two guys are having a great time.  It's a story of friendship and we are lucky to be able to join in. This kind of movie is an acquired taste but it's a taste I savor.  It feeds my love of documentaries while at the same time my love of travel and witty repartee.

They eat gorgeous food and stay in beautiful hotels.  The film is part travelogue, part food show, part comedy stand-up, part road movie.

Steve Coogan is well known in the UK for his alter ego, Alan Partridge.  He is lesser known in the U.S. but starred along side Judy Dench in "Philomena."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a funny and literary road trip showcasing some of Italy's most beautiful spots.




Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)



After a deadly disease, some apes have survived and a small group of humans.

Ten years after a simian flu epidemic kills most of civilization, the human survivors living in what's left of San Francisco must get to a dam in order to get power for their outpost and to see if there are any other survivors.  Apes are now the dominant species and those living across the Golden Gate Bridge haven't seen humans in years and are not thrilled when they suddenly show up.

This film takes place ten years after the film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Jason Clarke, our hero, Malcolm, ventures into the ape's world to get permission to work on the dam.  He gains their trust by giving them his guns. Gary Oldman stars as Dreyfus, the leader of the human stronghold who is trying to rebuild civiliation and Keri Russell as Malcolm's wife.

Caesar (Andy Serkis who seems to have a lock on CGI characters - he was Gollum) is still the leader of the apes, but he has hardened and is mistrustful of the humans but gives his permission.  He trusts Malcolm but the other apes are suspicious especially Caesar's second in command, Koba (Toby Kebbell).  Things start out OK but like many cultures that don't understand each other, misunderstandings lead to fights and eventually war.  But it's the infighting among the apes that is the biggest problem for Caesar. He utters the fateful line, "Caesar always thought apes better.  We apes no better than humans."

The film hints at issues of race and the Middle East as well as embracing human issues such as family, loyalty and betrayal, issues that both the humans and the apes must deal with.

Lots of holes:

How have the humans survived for ten years with what appears to be no way of raising food?

After ten years, how come the humans don't know if there are other survivors and that apes are living just across the Golden Gate Bridge?

How did Malcolm know Caesar's name?

Where did the apes get so many guns?

I like San Francisco, I like thrillers, I liked "Planet of the Apes (the original one)," but I had to suspend too much disbelief here for this to be a satisfying experience.

But director Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield," which I really loved) gives us plenty of action, plenty of impressive CGI, visual effects and loud sound.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you liked "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," this is a worthy sequel and you can expect more to come, but if you don't like subtitles, beware.  The Apes speak "Ape" so need to be subtitled.


Life Itself (2014)



The life and career of movie critic, Roger Ebert, based on his memoir of the same name.

Ebert had a persistent need to write and publish even as a young boy.  He worked full-time at a newspaper when he was 15.  He became editor of his college newspaper and started his career as a reporter and journalist.  He started part-time at the Chicago Sun Times and six months later the resident film critic quit and Roger was given that job without even asking for it.

Gene Siskel was the film critic for the Chicago Tribune and they were professional enemies, even when they started working together on their television show which started as "Opening Soon," and morphed into "Sneak Previews" on PBS and eventually in syndication as "At the Movies."  Siskel and Ebert were probably the most widely-recognized film critics in the world with rock star status and brought the art of film criticism to the masses, but they also fought prodigiously both on the show and off, which for the viewers was half the fun!  Film critics having hissy fits was great television!

We learned things about Ebert we didn't know:  he was an alcoholic and proponent of AA, why the show was called "Siskel and Ebert" instead of "Ebert and Siskel" and his bouts of depression and loneliness.

A strange dichotomy was Ebert's job as a film critic where he might criticize some of the most serious films and his Pulitzer (at the time, he was the only film critic to ever win one) versus his writing the campy, VERY over-the-top "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" and collaborating with cult and soft porn director Russ Meyer.  The story goes that Ebert liked boobs.

Roger won a Pulitzer, but he was a populist.  He thought everyone should be able to understand the film.  He was never mean and never talked down to his readers.

In the film, it is startling to see how ravaged Ebert was from his thyroid cancer. In addition to the physical disfigurement of his face, he couldn't talk, drink or eat, but his will to be alive kept him writing and blogging.

This is also a love story.  Ebert found love late in life with wife Chaz who lovingly cared for him to the end.

The title of this film reminds me of my son and the first time he told me he loved me more than "life itself."  He was only about three or four and I was overcome with emotion that he would say something like that.  It wasn't until much later I realized he had gotten that from the Disney animated film, "Robin Hood (Robin says that to Maid Marian)."  But in the end, that did not diminish the power those words had for me, even if my little son was repeating the words of an animated fox.  Likewise, the power of those words override Ebert's condition during this film. Despite it all, he still wanted to live because he loved life and he loved writing about films more than "life itself."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a beautiful heart-wrenching, touching and inspiring tribute to an exceptional human being and probably the most popular film critic of all time.  A MUST SEE!  



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

 
 
 
286 To Go!
 
Have YOU Seen these?
 


Ariel  (1988)
 
 

A Finnish mine closes and everyone loses their job.  When his father commits suicide, Taisto Kasurinen (Turo Pajala) makes his way to the city where things don't go so well for him.

In the dead of winter, Taisto heads for the city in his father's classic Cadillac with the top down because he doesn't know how to put it up.  He gets robbed and is basically homeless.  He meets Irmili (Susanna Haavisto), a meter maid who quits her job on the spot to go off with Taisto.  Taisto sees the man who robs him and when he tries to get his money back, he is arrested and imprisoned for murder.  Things aren't going so well for our Taisto.

Pajala reminds one of a young Dirk Bogarde and the film is reminiscent of "Stranger than Paradise," Jim Jarmusch's little masterpiece, in its tongue in cheek tone as these characters go through problem after problem with an "Oh,well..." attitude. 

 Why it's a Must See:  "If anyone has perfected the cinematic language to express drollness, it is Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.  His films have a sardonic, deadpan, couldn't-care-less air that belies the real depth of their commitment to society's marginals...[this] makes for hypnotic viewing, forecasting he greatness that Kaurismaki would achieve in his 2002 film Man Without a Past."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...Droll and slow, but mesmerizing (subtitles).






World of Apu (Apur Sansar) (1959)

 
The third installment of Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy" which made Ray's name and introduced Indian cinema to the world. 
 
We followed Apu from his youth in his country village and the death of his father ("Pather Pachali" 1955) to the beginning of his schooling and the death of his mother ("Aparajito" 1956) to the last film where we find Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) living in poverty in Calcutta, trying to make a name for himself as a writer.  He is invited to a wedding in a small Bengali village but when the bridegroom goes mad on the way to the wedding, Apu is pressed to marry the bride (Aparna played by Sharmila Tagore) because if she doesn't marry at the appointed hour, she will be disgraced.  Amazingly, the marriage is a happy one but when Aparna goes home to have a baby, she dies in childbirth.  Apu is so devastated he wants nothing to do with his son but when the boy is five, Apu goes to see him and is rejected.  Eventually, though, they reunite in a wonderfully poignant scene as they go off  together, Apu with his son riding on his shoulders.
 
Why it's a Must See:  At the heart of [this film] lies teh brief marriage of  Apu and Aparna...Chatterjee and Tagore, making their screen debuts, [showed] astonishing depth and conviction; no wonder that both went on to become major stars of Indian cinema...Thanks to their performances and the encompassing warmth and subtlety of Ray's direction, this rates as one of the most ouching and intimate depictions of married love in all cinema."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...a beautiful ending to a masterful trilogy.



***Book of the Week***
 
 
 
On the Road with Janis Joplin by John Byrne Cooke (2014)
 
 
 
Cooke was on the film crew for the documentary "Monterey Pop" and became the road manager for Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin's subsequent bands.
 
Cooke takes us up close and personal at the Monterey Pop Festival as he was on D.A Pennebaker's film crew as he documented the Festival which became the film "Monterey Pop."  He was enlisted to be the road manager for Big Brother and the Holding Company and followed Janis when she made the decision to leave Big Brother and go off on her own.  He was there at Janis'  infamous 10th high school reunion and he discovered her body when she died of an overdose.
 
Surprisingly, despite his proximity to Janis, this book does not have the intimate feel of someone who was there.  I didn't really learn anything new about Janis.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...disappointing.
 
 

 
 
Thanks for Reading!
 
That's it for this week!
 
See you Tuesday for
 
"Five Things I Know For Sure"
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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