Friday, March 18, 2016

"The Brothers Grimsby" and The Week in Reviews

[I review Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie "The Brothers Grimsby" as well as the DVDs "Our Brand is Crisis" and "Black Mass."  The Book of the Week is a rock & roll memoir "Living Like a Runaway" by Lita Ford.   I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Roberto Rossellini's "Rome: Open City."]

The Brothers Grimsby

When their parents died, the young Butcher brothers of Grimsby, Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Sebastian (Mark Strong), were sent to an orphanage.  They were separated when only Sebastian was adopted and the two hadn't seen each other for 28 years.  When the two finally meet up again, all hell breaks loose.

Nobby was never adopted and stayed in the foster system. He grew up to be a football yob (that's a highly over-the-top soccer fan to us Americans, one that likes to stick fireworks in his bum to celebrate victories).  He got married to Lindsey (Rebel Wilson), had eight kids and two grandkids and he is unemployed.  They all live in one house in Grimsby, a not very picturesque working class part of England.  On the other hand, Sebastian has become a smart, well-dressed MI6 assassin.  Nobby has figured out how to scam the welfare system as a way to make a living and Sebastian has figured out how to make a living out of killing people.

Nobby has been looking for Sebastian ever since they were separated. When he finally finds him, he inadvertently foils Sebastian's mission and Sebastian shoots the wrong person, gets blamed for attempted murder and must go on the run.  And he's on the run and can't shake Nobby who is bound and determined to hang on to his long-lost brother.  Unfortunately, Nobby is a dimwit and pretty much messes everything up.  And to make matters worse, while on the run, the two uncover a lethal plot by a global philanthropist, Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz), so while they are trying to avoid detection, they also must save the world.

Sacha Baron Cohen was a comedian who rose to international fame with his highly successful "Borat" movie after success in the UK for his Ali G character and TV show.  Since then he has created three other characters, Bruno, Admiral General Aladeen ("The Dictator") and now Nobby.  Cohen's comedy usually comes from his socially relevant commentaries on institutions and cultural mores manifested through outrageous stunts and situations, often pulling in unsuspecting members of the public or celebrities.  This film is a departure from that.

This film appears to be nothing more than a spoof of spy films and a framework for Baron Cohen to be as outrageous as possible.

It's fitting that this film was directed by Louis Leterrier, who directed two of the "Transporter" films, because there is lots of action filmed using body cams, which I actually found difficult to follow and, frankly, which made me feel a bit queasy.

Speaking of queasy, what you need to know about Sasha Baron Cohen is that he has absolutely no shame.  He will not only "go there," but go beyond  "there" to shock and get a laugh.  Much of it is cringe worthy and, for some, offensive. But from the guffaws emanating from my "date," a guy, OK, my husband, much of it is a guy thing, I think.  Hubby thought this film was hilarious.  Poop?  Funny.  Nobby having to suck poison out of his brother's scrotum to save his life?  Hilarious?  Hiding inside an elephant's uterus and then a male elephant coming along and wanting to have...OK, you get the idea. It's all very scatological and puerile and, at times, disgusting.

Sasha Baron Cohen is an acquired taste.  You either like this kind of humor or you don't.  You know I am always looking for a comedy that is actually funny.  I have to admit I laughed out loud a few times.  I couldn't help it.  I liked Baron Cohen's imitation of Sean Connery as Bond, but for most of the film, I laughed more out of shock as in "Did he really do that?  Did he really say that?"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are expecting another "Borat," you will be disappointed.  There are laughs to be had here, but I can't recommend it because of how that would make me look.

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

Now Out on DVD

Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

Sandra Bullock plays a political consultant who is lured out of retirement to help re-elect a controversial, unpopular Bolivian ex-President.  She soon learns that the political consultant for the other candidate (Billy Bob Thornton) is a long-time rival, whom she loathes.

May I first say that this has got to be the worst title of a film ever.  There I said it.  I don't need to say it again.  OK, I do.  This has got to be the worst title for a film ever.

That said, it was actually a pretty good film.  It's a good, adult political drama.  Unfortunately, it came out at the same time as "Spotlight," "The Big Short" and "Bridge of Spies," other good, adult dramas.  So this film didn't get much promotion and died a slow death despite the star power of Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton.

Jane Bodine, our political consultant, is also known as Calamity Jane because she was a hard-living, hard-bitten strategist who is just out of rehab and trying to live a quiet life.  She has walked away from her work due to drinking and depression, but is pulled back in to run a presidential campaign in Bolivia for Pedro Castillo, an unpopular ex-President.  Her team includes Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd).  However, Jane is not happy to discover that the political strategist for the opposing candidate is none other than her arch rival, Pat Candy (Thornton).  Now it becomes personal for Jane. This rivalry gives the stars ample opportunities to try to outdo each other, which they do.  Lots of dirty dealings.

Unfortunately when Jane arrives in La Paz, she doesn't make a very good impression on her candidate because as soon as she arrives she gets altitude sickness.  It IS over 15,000 feet, after all.  But she soon gets her mojo back and that's where the title comes into play. 

What seems to work in political campaigns is to sell "crisis."  

Jane is going to sell her candidate by making everyone think there is a crisis that only he can fix.  Sound familiar?  The film provides some insight into how people actually get elected and it ain't pretty. Political strategists work to elect people with apparently no conscience about whether or not they are qualified.  It's just a job. Jane gets some insight of her own when she realizes how cynical that really is. It was a timely film for this election time, but somehow it got buried.

Directed by David Gordon Greene with a script by Peter Straughan and based on an award-winning documentary of the same name by Rachel Boynton, this film is a bit disjointed and doesn't seem to know if it's a comedy or a drama, which is probably why it couldn't compete with the likes of "Spotlight" and "The Big Short."  There was room for more dark comedy considering the cynical subject matter of American politics thrown into a South American arena.

George Clooney, who produced the film (he and Bullock are friends) was originally supposed to play Bullock's part or at least the part was written for a man.  A woman in the part is perfectly believable, though I have a difficult time thinking of Bullock as a hard-as-nails type.  I think I like her better as "Miss Congeniality," but some of her "cute" little mannerisms still come out.  She is a likable screen presence no matter what part she is playing. The combination of a man and woman going head to head allows for humor and snappy dialogue and the back and forth between Bullock and Thornton makes you think of James Carville and Mary Matalin

Sidebar: There is a quote in the film attributed to Warren Beatty - "People don't remember what you say.  They remember how you made them feel."  Sorry folks, that was attributed to Maya Angelou (and some others but I don't see Warren in that mix).  I know, I just can't help myself.

Rosy the Reviewer says...though this is an enjoyable adult comedy/drama that deserves to be seen, as a political film it could have had more teeth.

Black Mass (2015)

James "Whitey" Bulger was a South Boston gangster, part of the Irish Winter Hill Gang, who was a convicted  murderer, but eluded capture for 16 years until his arrest in 2011.  Through a series of testimonies and flashbacks, this film shows Bulger's rise to power and eventual capture.

James "Whitey" Bulger (played by Johnny Depp) was a South Boston gangster who cut a deal with a local FBI agent, John Connelly (Joel Edgerton, who was suitably creepy in "The Gift"), a guy he grew up with in "Southie (Southies are loyal to each other) to team up and be an FBI informant in order to rid South Boston of the Italian Mafia.  With the eradication of the Italians and Whitey's supposed value as a snitch, that deal basically gave Whitey carte blanche to take over the 1970's gangster scene in South Boston.  However, Whitey never really carried out his end of the bargain by giving the FBI any information and out of misguided loyalty to his roots, Connelly covered for Whitey, but when a new guy showed up at the FBI and wondered why no one had nailed Whitey Bulger yet, Connelly's and Whitey's worlds started to crumble.

Whitey is a pretty bad guy, though he has a soft spot for his son with Lindsay (Dakota Johnson in a small part).  A soft spot, yes, but not only his parenting skills but his character are called into question when he counsels the boy that it's ok to punch someone when no one is looking.  "If no one sees it, it didn't happen."

This is not my usual kind of film.  If I watch a gangster film, I prefer the family epics like "The Godfather," which is the godfather of all gangster films.  But Depp's performance is mesmerizing and worth seeing.

Based on a best-selling book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill (script by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk) and directed by Scott Cooper, this film serves as an acting vehicle for Depp who transforms himself into Bulger and gives a mesmerizing performance.  However, I couldn't help but wonder the reason to make this film, other than an acting opp for Depp.  When news of Whitey Bulger's capture came out, no one outside of Boston really knew he was.  Also Bulger doesn't seem to have a redeeming quality in his body so I wonder about glorifying such a guy.  Though he could be very charming...right before he kills you...he was a bad, bad guy.  And that's about it.  Nothing much happens other than people Whitey doesn't like getting whacked. But as a tour de force, it works for Depp who once again inhabits his character and tries to look as unattractive as possible. What is it with beautiful actors wanting to be un-beautiful?

Joel Edgerton is excellent as Connelly.  Benedict Cumberbatch plays Whitey's brother, who at the same time that Whitey is killing and pillaging, is working his way up the Boston and Massachusetts political ladder. Though Cumberbatch's role is not a big one, his character is an excellent counterpoint to Whitey.  This film is one of those "good brother, bad brother" films like "East of Eden," but often the problem with these kinds of films is they don't explore why one brother was a family man and the other goes bad. That can be said of this film too. 

I just wish there had been more about why Whitey turned into Whitey.

Rosy the Reviewer says...see it for Depp's performance.



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

256 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Rome, Open City (1945)

During the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1944, resistance leader Georgio Manfredi tries to elude the Nazis who are looking for him.

Part 1 of Roberto Rosselini's "War Trilogy," this film is a stark portrait of Italian life under Nazi rule. We are used to seeing scenes of Nazis terrorizing Parisians and other Western Europeans, but it is strange to see this taking place in the shadow of St. Peter's, and, when you have Nazis speaking Italian, it is strange indeed.

Georgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero) is a leader of the underground resistance.  The Nazis come to his apartment but he has just made his escape.  He seeks refuge in the apartment of a lithographer but is eventually captured and tortured by the Nazis.  A sympathetic priest (Aldo Fabrizi)  tries to help him but he too is arrested. 

Manfredi's wife, Pina, was played by a young Anna Magnani whose unconventional looks and passion would catapult her to fame after this film and who would become the face of real Italians.  The scene where she is shot chasing after Georgio when he is being taken away in a truck is a classic of film and based on a true event

Why it's a Must See:  "Considered the initiator of an aesthetic revolution in film, Roberto Rossellini's Open City was the first major work of Italian Neorealism, and it managed to explode the conventions of the Mussolinian 'cinema of the white telephones' that was fashionable in Italy at the beginning of the 1940s...The freedom of the camera movements and authenticity of the characters, allied to a new way of storytelling, were among the qualities that made [this film] the revelation of the 1946 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme D'or."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

[This film] is not just a milestone in the history of Italian cinema but possibly, with De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves," one of the most influential and symbolic films of its age, a movie about 'reality' that has left a trace on every film movement since...It was the beginning of 'neorealism' - an opening onto reality, onto the human predicament, which Rossellini would continue with "Paisan" and "Germany Year Zero." - Irene Bignardi

Rosy the Reviewer says...Rossellini is my new favorite foreign film director.  See this one first, then "Paisan."
B & W, in Italian and German, with English subtitles

***Book of the Week***

Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir by Lita Ford (2016)

There are not that many women who play “Heavy metal" guitar.  In fact, I can only think of one:  Lita Ford.

Born in England with an English father and Italian mother, Ford was never a girly girl, and growing up in the 70's, she wanted to play the guitar.  She taught herself and at 16 was recruited to join an all female band - The Runaways, whose story was told in the movie "The Runaways," starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart.  The Runaways was a seminal band that also sparked the career of Joan Jett.

When that band finally fizzled, Ford embarked on a solo career and was called "heavy rock's first female guitar hero (Washington Post)," "one of the greatest female electric players to ever pick up an instrument (Elle Magazine)" and "a legendary metal icon (Guitar World)."  Her albums went platinum.  She toured (not to mention what else she did) with
The Ramones, Van Halen, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Poison and shared a Top 10 hit with Ozzie Osbourne (his first).  Sharon Osbourne managed her career for several years.  Then a bad marriage (that she somehow can't or won't talk about in the book) laid her low for a decade.  She finally left her marriage but lost her sons, again not explained.  However, she pulled herself out of the darkness and she got her career back on track.  She was inducted into Guitar Player's Hall of Fame of Guitar Greats in 2014 along with Joe Perry and Brian May.

The tone of the book is badass all of the way.  This is one tough woman who lived the "Sex, drugs and rock & roll" lifestyle to the hilt.  She pulls no punches and shares her personal stories of hanging out with
Nikki Sixx, Eddie Van Halen (he doesn't like to be called Eddie) and others as she toured and lived the life of a rock star.  However, being a female lead guitarist was not easy and she makes that very clear.

Ford had very close relationships with her parents and there is a particularly poignant chapter about the death of her mother.

This memoir is not in the same league as Carly Simon's recent book ("
Boys in the Trees"), but we Baby Boomers love our rock gods.  This is a true rock and roll odyssey, plainly told, of what it was like for a woman to make it in the man's world of heavy metal.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...Lita Ford fans, fans of The Runaways, girls who dream of being a heavy metal guitarist or those who like reading about the heavy metal shenanigans of the 1980's might enjoy this, but those unfamiliar with her will probably not care that much and will want to take a pass.

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

"A Woman of a Certain Age
Flying Solo"

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  1. I almost was going to see the Cohen movie last week until I saw his name was on it...not a fan. Thanks for confirming I was right not to go.

    I do want to see the Bullock her.

    Been on a movie kick the last few weeks and have seen a few based on your recommendations...stay tuned for more comments.