Friday, July 17, 2015

"Amy" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Amy," an extraordinary documentary about singer Amy Winehouse and the DVDs "Gett:  The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" and Kristen Wiig's "Welcome to Me." The Book of the Week is "After Perfect: A Daughter's Memoir."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project:" with Kurasawa's masterpiece "Throne of Blood"]


A documentary on the short life of singer Amy Winehouse, yet another member of the "27 Club."

If ever there was a film about someone who died and came back to tell her story in her own words, this is it. 

Using incredible footage of home movies, filmed interviews and performances, and using lyrics from her songs like subtitles to the film, Amy's life unfolds.  She's right there talking to you from the screen.  The film captures Amy's brash personality, but also her funny side, sweetness and heart.  You don't need to have been a Winehouse fan to be affected by this film.

The film begins with a home movie of Amy (age 14) at a friend's 13th birthday party.  As she sings "Happy Birthday," it is apparent she has an amazing, big voice. Growing up she loved jazz singers Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn.  

Amy's talent was recognized early and by the time she was 18, her career had started.  She moved out of the house at 18 because of "family issues," and so she could write songs and smoke weed all day (her words). She talks about suffering from depression as a young girl and says that picking up a guitar and writing music was a good antidote. She also liked to drink and was bulimic.  Not a good combo.

She met the love of her life, Blake Fielder, and the two of them weren't good for each other to say the least. He introduced her to crack and heroin.  But Amy's love for Fielder also seemed to be a drug for her. She had some hits in the U.K. but when Blake broke up with her to return to his girlfriend, that's when the album "Back to Black" was born, which led to Amy's incredible stardom. 

And a Grammy for "Rehab."

Unfortunately, Amy didn't really want fame.  Several times in the film she is heard saying that fame would drive her mad.  And so it did.  And as she fell, her meltdowns became the fodder for comedians' jokes and pictures for the tabloids and no one helped her.

What is it with musicians and the age of 27?  Winehouse joins Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain as yet another musician who didn't make it past 27 due to drug and alcohol abuse.

I can certainly see why Amy's family was not happy with this film, especially her Dad.  It paints a bleak picture of her Dad, who is seen as someone who didn't believe she needed rehab back before she hit it big, the point in the film being if she had gotten help before fame hit, she might have had a chance.  As she says in her song "Rehab," "My Daddy thinks I'm fine..." He is also seen as someone who kept her touring and recording even though it was obvious she was in bad shape.  Early in the film he also says Amy didn't seem to mind his divorcing her mother when Amy was nine.  Not too self aware, Dad.  In Amy's words, that's when all the bad stuff started for her.

Directed by Asif Kapadia ("Senna"), I see an Oscar in his future for Best Documentary.

There is a very poignant scene near the end of the film when Amy gets to sing a duet with her idol, Tony Bennett (which you can hear on his album "Duets II," where they sing "Body and Soul" together). She is nervous and adoring and he is sweet and charming to her.  But he knows her struggles and says in a voiceover "Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough."

Sadly she didn't and we are robbed of what her gift might have looked like as she matured and now, in this documentary, forever young, she haunts us from her grave.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is an extraordinary documentary, though a sad commentary on the price of fame on one too young to handle it and no one there to help her.

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
But not this week!


Viviane wants a divorce but in Israel, that is only possible if her husband consent and he does not want to let her go.

In Israel, there is no civil marriage or divorce

Marriage and divorce are legitimized in religious courts.  Only rabbis can legitimize a marriage or dissolve it and if there are no grounds, the husband makes the decision whether or not to grant his wife the divorce.  If he does, a "gett" is written that says "You are hereby permitted to all men," thus saying she is no longer married and free to marry again without the stigma of adultery. It is a physical act whereby the husband literally places the "gett" into his wife's hand, thus releasing her.  The husband needs no grounds for refusal and if he refuses the wife does not get her divorce.  And if a wife lives apart from her husband without a "gett," she is automatically treated as a lesser being.

Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) has been trying to divorce her husband for three years and her husband Elisha will not agree.  No longer loving your husband is not grounds for a divorce in Israel.

Elisha holds all of the power.  For one and a half years, he didn't even show up for court.  The rabbis did not want to force him. The rabbis, whose main goal is to preserve the family, keep telling Viviane to move back home and try to work things out.  Viviane keeps returning to the court and is caught in a series of Kafka-esque Catch-22s.   It's a man's world.

As the years tick by, Viviane's appearance starts to change from a modest black dress with hair tied back to flowing hair, red dress and sandals, a physical representation of one of the problems in their marriage.  Elisha is very religious and Viviane is more secular.  And her transformation also shows her resolve to get this damn divorce!

Through a series of witnesses, Viviane's and Elisha's marriage unfolds and we see the hatred that can come of 20 years of marriage.  We hear about their fights and that Viviane sometimes yells and throws things. When Viviane testifies that "It's easy to blame the one who yells," she is speaking for every woman with a withholding and non-communicative husband.

Elisha's witnesses say he never laid a hand on her.  "He lets her go out alone." One witness for Elisha talks about his own wife when he says:  "Who cares if they are compatible?  Is my wife right for me?  Who cares?  I make her right for me and that's it.  No nonsense."

Is all we can expect from marriage that our husband doesn't raise a hand to us and lets us go out alone?

Reminiscent of the Palestinian film "A Separation," which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2012 but more powerful, its an ironic reminder that despite the fact that Israel and most of the Arab nations are at war with each other, they hold one thing in common: subjugating women.

This is one of the most provocative films about the disintegration of a marriage ever.  

The film takes place completely in the courtroom and when I read that, I thought, that sounds kind of boring.  I almost didn't watch.  But I promise you, it is mesmerizing.  You won't be able to stop watching as you see what Viviane has to listen to and go through to get away from a man she no longer loves.  Think about it, ladies.  If you hated your husband or even decided this marriage wasn't for you, and you could not get a divorce unless three male judges and your husband said yes, what would you do?

This film is maddening and if you don't come away from it hating men, there is something wrong with you (even you men)!  A court of men deciding the fate of a woman, treating her as chattel. Grrrrr.

Ronit Elkabetz plays Viviane.  Her face is beautiful in its resolution to not be brought down.  Simon Abkarian as her husband Elisha is also wonderful, though you just want to slap him.  But I guess that's called good acting.  And Menashe Noy as Viviane's lawyer is also wonderful.

At the end, a deal is made between Viviane and her husband (and you won't guess what it is and just what she is willing to do to get away from this guy), and as the final shot shows her feet, clad in espadrilles, walking I'm not sure where, I cried.

Written and directed by Ronit and her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, this is the third film in a trilogy about Viviane and her marriage, and it is an extraordinary film.  (And you don't have to have seen the other two to appreciate this one).

Rosy the Reviewer of the best films I have seen this year (and now I want to see the other two).
(In Hebrew, Arabic and French with English subtitles)


Welcome to Me (2014)
Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) worships Oprah and when she wins 86 million dollars in the lottery, she buys her own talk show.

Unfortunately, Alice has some mental issues (Borderline Personality Disorder) and takes meds for them.  She is a complete whack job who is on disability, keeps her TV on 24/7 (it's been on nonstop for 11 years) and talks in aphorisms and mnemonics, much like Gary Busey

When she appears on the news after winning the lottery, Alice starts to read a "written statement," but when she veers into the topic of masturbation, she is cut off.  With her winnings, she stops taking her meds and moves into a casino hotel. While sitting in the audience of an infomercial, she gets called up on stage and hijacks the show, once again talking about her life, and other inappropriate topics, including masturbation.

Joan Cusack and James Marsden star as producers of TV shows on one of those little stations no one watches, specializing in infomercials.  They need money because the infomercial that has been funding them so far is not doing as well as it once did.  So when Alice comes along and offers them 15 million to produce one hundred 2-hour talk shows for her, they agree, even though Alice says the show is going to be just her talking about herself. The show will be called "Welcome to Me." 

And talk about herself she does! Her show consists of her riding onto the stage in a swan boat and such strange topics as her making a meatloaf cake and spending air time eating it and acting out a scene with actors so she can publicly shame a woman who wronged her in high school.

Alice says all kinds of inappropriate things because she is a self-absorbed ego-maniac trying to manager her own mental illness and no one steps in to help her, not the producers of her show who are making money off of her and not even her long time therapist (Tim Robbins, who even when counseling her treats her like she is a pain in the ass).  However, when she spends one whole week neutering dogs, the producers know it's gone too far and shut the show down. Plus after all of those reenactments of remembered childhood slights where she calls out people by name, Alice has been served with numerous lawsuits for slander.

Alice finally has a breakdown, but when she recovers, she decides she wants to do one more show to end it with a big bang.

No one does awkward like Wiig and though she was great in "Hateship/Loveship" and "The Skeleton Twins," this film really highlights her acting ability. Despite Alice's narcissistic nature, Wiig is able to show a vulnerability so that no matter what cringeworthy antic Alice gets up to, you are on her side.

The screenplay by Eliot Laurence is original, funny and poignant at the same time, and Shira Piven has directed this film with a sensitivity to the character of Alice.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is Wiig at her best.  See it!

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

254 To Go!

Throne of Blood  (1957)

A Samurai warrior in feudal Japan works, egged on by his wife, to fulfill a prophecy that he would be Lord of the castle, thus setting in motion a series of bloody, tragic events.

Two soldiers, Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Akira Kubo), encounter a witch in the forest.  The witch prophesizes that Washizu will this very day become head of the North Garrison and eventually become the Lord of the Spider Web's Castle.  He also prophesizes that Miki's son will rule after him.  Both laugh this off as impossible because they are both loyal to the current Lord.  But when Washizu indeed gets this promotion, he starts to envision himself Lord and goaded on by his wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) he plots to kill the Great Lord and fulfill the prophecy. 

Akira Kurosawa is considered one of the most influential and important filmmakers in the history of cinema.  Here he adapts Shakespeare's "Macbeth" using a fusion of Noh theatre and Buddhist elements, complete with Kurasawa's adaption of Lady Macbeth's "Out damn spot" scene.

Why it's a Must See:  "Quite rightly, Akira Kurosawa's artfully chilling, formal and extremely close adaption of Macbeth is regarded as one of the most breathtaking screen versions of the play...and [Toshiro] Mifune...furthered his reputation as Japan's preeminent international star with this performance. Washizu's [Mifune's character] brilliantly staged death one of the great iconic images of world cinema."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Kirosawa asks, "Why do people kill one another so often and throughout history? There is no satisfying conclusion to this film because as in Buddhist teachings, there is no answer to this question.

What people will do for power. Shakespeare wrote the original "Game of Thrones" script and here you have it feudal Japan style.

Rosy the Reviewer says....  A classic that should be part of your film repertoire.
(In Japanese with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

After Perfect: A Daughter's Memoir by Christine McDowell (2015 

When Christina's father was arrested as part of the fall-out from Jordan Belfort's ("The Wolf of Wall Street") illegal dealings, her seemingly perfect life falls apart.

This is one of those memoirs where when you think the person is down as far as she can go, she keeps going further and further down. And you have a hard time believing it can really be that bad in real life. Christina is a bit maddening because she keeps whining about what a perfect life she had and how she never had to learn to do anything for herself because her Dad took care of everything so she didn't need to take care of herself.  You just want to shake her and say, Get over it!  Learn some skills then!

If you like memoirs about losing it all and starting over - Gelsey Kirkland's "Dancing on my Grave" or MacKenzie Phillips' "High on Arrival" are more compelling.

Rosy the Reviewer says...difficult to care. 

Thanks for Reading!


That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"Things I Didn't Know I Needed"


If you enjoyed this post, feel free to click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, 
email it to your friends and
LIKE me on Facebook at

Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.


Note:  Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 



Find the page for the movie, click on "Explore More" on the right side panel and then scroll down to "External Reviews."  Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list. Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."



No comments :

Post a Comment