Friday, June 17, 2016

"Love and Friendship" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Love & Friendship" as well as DVDs "Daddy's Home" and "Gods of Egypt."  The Book of the Week is "If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?"  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the classic film noir "Murder, My Sweet"]

Love & Friendship

A penniless widow in 18th century England tries to find a rich husband for herself and her daughter.

We all learned the plight of women in England in the olden days from "Downton Abbey."  They couldn't inherit the old pile or their father's money.  They had to have a rich husband if they wanted to make their way in the world.

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is just such a person.  She had a rich husband, but he has died and now she finds herself penniless with nowhere to live.  As she complains to her daughter, "We don't live, we visit." She seeks shelter at Churchill, her brother-in-law's (Justin Edwards) estate.  Lady Susan is accompanied by her "friend," Mrs. Cross (Kelly Campbell), who helps her "pack and unpack" and whom Lady Susan would never dream of embarrassing by paying her because of their "friendly" relationship. Lady Susan is that kind of "thoughtful" woman.

However, Lady Susan has made things hard on herself, because she is a bit of a scandalous woman so she is not accepted by polite society.  Her sister-in-law, Catherine Vernon (Emma Greenwell), begrudgingly invites her to stay at Churchill but when Lady Susan strikes up a friendship with Catherine's handsome brother, Reginald de Courcey (Xavier Samuel), the family is horrified and in turmoil as to what to do.  You see, not only is Reginald much younger than Lady Susan, but they certainly don't want Reginald marrying someone with Lady Susan's reputation. But Reginald is bewitched by her and won't listen to any entreaties about her bad reputation. 

Added to the turmoil is Lady Susan's daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who has been kicked out of boarding school. To make matters even more complicated, as these 18th century drawing room comedies often are, enter Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a rich suitor who wants to marry Frederica.  That would solve Lady Susan's monetary dilemma except for the fact that Frederica doesn't want anything to do with him. 

You see, as Reginald describes him, Sir James is a bit of a "blockhead."  He may be a blockhead, but, actually, he provides some of the most delightfully funny scenes in this film.  For example, when introduced to the family at Churchill, he nervously explains his difficulties finding the estate as he thought it was pronounced "Church Hill," so he was looking for a church and a hill.  He also doesn't know the difference between verse and poetry and later, much later, he doesn't know that a woman couldn't possibly know that she was pregnant the day after having marital relations with her husband for the first time.

Written by Whit Stillman from a little known Jane Austen novella "Lady Susan," and directed by him, it all plays out against the beautiful English countryside, in gorgeous country homes and London townhouses and works out to everyone's benefit, as these things usually do.  The device used to introduce each character is reminiscent of silent films and lets you know right away you are in for a light period comedy. There is a lot of walking and talking, but the dialogue is very witty, very British and very funny as Lady Susan uses her wiles to manipulate and get her way.

Kate Beckinsale is lovely and amoral as Lady Susan. She's a bad girl but so charming and good at being one that you actually root for her. Period comedies suit her talents better than that "Underworld" crap she's been doing of late. The rest of the cast is wonderful as you can always expect from veteran British actors: Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet and others. It's all very British, light and frothy.  

The only jarring aspect is Chloe Sevigny. Lady Susan does most of her plotting with her American friend Mrs. Alicia Johnson played by Sevigny. I know Chloe Sevigny was playing an American, but every time she came on screen it was like fingernails on a chalk board to listen to her voice in contrast to her British co-stars speaking the King's English.  I think it's her flat delivery that is the culprit, and it just doesn't fit in a drawing room comedy where everyone else is lively.  Even at the best of times I find her underacting, which is a sort of trademark of hers, flat and lacking in energy.

But all in all, a fast little comedic romp once you get use to the flowery speech.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun little period comedy that will especially delight Jane Austen fans.


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

Now Out on DVD

Daddy's Home (2015)

A not-too-cool stepdad tries too hard to get his step children to love him and call him Dad. It doesn't help when their really cool biological father shows up.

Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is a radio host but he is kind of a nebbish.  He always wanted to be a Dad, but a trip to the dentist where the x-ray machine fell onto his lap did something to his sperm count.  But now he's married to Sara (Linda Cardallini) and has an instant family.  He can be a stepdad to Sara's kids. Unfortunately his step kids don't really like him. 

However, Brad is endlessly optimistic and a big softie.  He is finally making some progress with the kids when Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) shows up.  Dusty is the kids' biological father and where Brad is a straight-arrow shirt-and-tie square who has never done much and hates confrontation, Dusty is a handsome, charismatic, motorcycle-riding, undershirt-wearing, confident cool guy who can do anything and seems to have done everything.  Dusty ingratiates himself back into the family and Brad, wanting to be a good stepdad and thinking he needs to let Dusty into the kids' lives, invites Dusty to stay.  Bad idea, Brad!

Dusty not only makes himself right at home, he starts to take over, making Brad seem irrelevant. When Dusty admits to Brad that he has returned to get his family back, it's game on!  Naturally Brad must now prove to the kids that he can be as cool as Dusty and that's where the humor lies. 

Dusty is a real charmer. Brad takes Dusty to work with him at the radio station and even Brad's boss, Leo (Thomas Haden Church) falls under Dusty's spell and says to Brad:  "If this guy was my wife's ex, I would put a bullet in my skull." As Brad and Dusty try to outdo each other, Brad finally really screws up and Sara kicks him out which is just what Dusty was hoping for.  But when Dusty tries to step up to the plate and replace Brad with the chaperoning, coaching, and basic childcare, guess what? Well, you can figure it out from there.

Though the film is predictable, Will Ferrell can always coax a laugh out of me just by being Will.  The humor lies in Brad's trying too hard and his incompetence as he competes with Dusty, which offers Will the opportunity to do some slapstick at which he is a master. 

One thing that was incredibly annoying, though, was the wife.  I hate movies where the wife just sits by and lets bad things unfold.  Even though she is divorced and she knows Dusty is bad news, she lets Dusty walk all over Brad. There is a scene where Brad is injured and she asks "Who is in charge?" and I scream at the TV, "What is wrong with you?  YOU are in charge!  Why does it have to be a man?"  She was absolutely useless. I couldn't believe she didn't speak up and kick Dusty's ass out. None of the stuff that happened would have happened if she had just said to Dusty "Get out!"  Very frustrating.  I was talking to the screen and had to keep telling myself, "Now remember, this is only a movie."
Directed by Sean Anders and written by him with Brian Burns and John Morris, I was expecting to hate this, as Ferrell's films haven't been that great of late, but there are laughs to be had here.  Ferrell can make me laugh with his facial expressions alone and Haden-Church is hilarious as Brad's boss, Leo, who has a knack for relaying a story that is totally unrelated to what is going on. This film is much funnier than the recent comedies "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" and "Mother's Day."  

And this one is actually a sweet little film about being a father.  When Dusty is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of fatherhood and asks Brad how he does it, Brad replies "It's what Dads do. They take shit."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a funny film with a positive message perfect for watching this Father's Day.

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Set, the God of Darkness, has usurped Egypt's throne and mortal hero, Bek, must join forces with Horus, Set's nephew, to win back the kingdom and save the people from a life of chaos.

According to this film, Egypt was the birthplace of all life so the gods decided to live there along with man, ruling man, of course, because, I mean, they are GODS!  But even gods have family problems.

When Osiris (Bryan Brown) was ready to hand over his crown to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Osiris' brother, Set (Girard Butler), who had been banished to rule over the darkness (Hell, to you and me), is not having it and shows up with an army to become King.  He kills Osirus and pulls Horus's eyeballs out (his eyes are the source of his powers), thus pretty much ruining Horus' life and sending him into exile. (Poor Nikolaj.  First he loses his hand as Jamie Lanister in "Game of Thrones" and now this!)  Under Set's rule, all of the mortals go from living a happy prosperus life under Osiris to becoming slaves to Set and his minions.

At the same time, there is Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a mortal who is in love with Zaya (Courtney Eaton).  Zaya wants Bek to help her get Horus's eyes back and to find Horus.  To get the eyes back, Bek finds himself in the royal vault with all kinds of booby traps in a kind of Indiana Jones caper but he manages to retrieve the eyes.  But when they try to escape, Zaya is killed and Bek is only able to escape with the help of the eye so now he only has one eye left to give to Horus. 

Now Bek not only has to save Horus, he has to save Zaya from the after life.  It's not easy being a mortal and from the looks of things here, the after life doesn't look like much fun either.  If you don't have enough gold to buy your way in, you end up going down, down, down to a place I don't even want to contemplate.

There is some rigamaroll about the after life, but basically if Horus becomes king before Zaya gets to the final gate of death, he may be able to bring her back.  Horus gets his one eye back returning some of his powers and he seeks help from Ra (Geoffrey Rush), his grandfather who presides over Heaven.  He isn't much help, but ultimately he tells them in order to get into the palace to kill Set, they must solve the riddle of the Sphinx.

This is one of those quasi-cartoon/videogame/real life movies that asks the question: what if there is this big family of really powerful gods and they don't get along?  Well, then you would have some family fights, right?  When you are dealing with gods, there are some pretty god-awful fights. 

This film tanked at the box office, probably because it is part cheese and part "Huh?"  But I like cheese, and found it quite entertaining once I got past some of the "Huh?" parts.  It's a sort of "Game of Thrones," except the dysfunctional family is a bunch of Egyptian gods.

Girard Butler does a good job of chewing up the scenery as well he should since he is the resident bad god here.  Coster-Waldau is his usual handsome self and young Brendon Thwaites as Bek, who made his mark in Australian soaps and went on to star in "Maleficent" and "The Giver," is bland but handsome as our hero.  However, Geoffrey Rush acted like he didn't really know what he was doing in this film but got to utter the famous line "It's not worth the papyrus it's written on."

Directed by Alex Proyus and written by  and                          , there is lots of tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink stuff like that in this film.  Everyone is acting their heads off and it's all pretty silly.  At some point toward the end, I had no idea what was going on, and sometimes I can blame that on too many glasses of wine, but not so here.  It just went off the rails a bit, but it doesn't matter because it was still fun and engaging because of the star power and the CGI spectacle. 

I didn't think I would like this (and the critics HATED it!), but despite the sometimes stupid dialogue, silly jokes and Egyptians with British, Aussie and Scottish accents, it had much of what I like to see in a film: handsome heroes, kick-ass women characters, an easy-to-follow plot, romance and women riding giant cobras.  You see, deep down I am really shallow.

But despite everything, the message is a good one: Gaining access to the after life is not about gold but how you live your life, which is good advice whether or not you believe in the after life.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this would be another fun film to watch on Father's Day if your kids can handle gods turning into fearsome creatures, fighting and bleeding gold when they die...and if you can handle cheese. 

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

248 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

A big galoot (that's how they talk in film noir) asks P.I. Philip Marlowe to help him find his old girlfriend and then the usual complicated film noir stuff ensues.

For a movie to be film noir, it has to fulfill certain requirements. 

  • It must have a hard-boiled detective who does a lot of wise-cracking
  • It must have dames (that's what they call women in these films) who are usually double-crossers
  • It must have a series of mysterious characters show up
  • It must have a complicated plot where all of the mysterious characters are woven together in the end
  • It must have snappy dialog like "Nothing like soft shoulders to improve your morale" or "She is cute as lace pants."
  • It must have an object everyone is seeking (think "Maltese Falcon")
  • The hero usually narrates
  • Everyone must smoke - A LOT!!

Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is a private investigator who we first see being interrogated by the police.  It looks like he has been blinded because he is wearing bandages over his eyes and the cops accuse him of committing a murder.  So we need to do a flashback so our hero can tell the story in his own words.  That's what they do in film noir.

P.I Philip Marlowe could be doing better financially so when approached by Mysterious Character #1 (Mike Mazurki) -  a thug who asks Marlowe to help him find Velma, his old girlfriend - Marlowe says yes.  The thug's name is Moose Malloy, a very good film noir name. At the same time, Marlowe is also approached by Mysterious Character #2 - a dapper chap (Douglas Walton), who wants him to accompany him to a money drop to get back a stolen jade necklace from some thieves who are holding it for ransom.

Unfortunately, the money drop goes wrong, Marlowe is bopped over the head and when he wakes up, Mysterious Character #2 is dead and Mysterious Character #3 - a young woman with a headscarf - is shining a flashlight on his face, but before he can find out who she is, she runs away.

Then Mysterious Character #4 shows up at his office.  At first she tries to convince Marlowe that she is a reporter, but it turns out she is Ann Grayle (Ann Shirley), the daughter of the man who is the owner of the stolen jade necklace.  She takes Marlowe to see her father (Miles Mander) and his much younger wife, Helen (Claire Trevor) Mysterious Characters #5 and #6, who explain that there was a robbery and the jade necklace was stolen.  We are then introduced to Mysterious Character #7, who I hope is the last one:  Mr. Amthor, (Otto Kruger), who is an admitted psychic quack.  Now Marlowe must figure this whole thing out, how these mysterious characters all fit together, and find that damned jade necklace. But never forget about Moose and Velma.  Like I said, all of these characters have to come together in the end.

This is the film version of a popular Raymond Chandler novel, "Farewell, My Lovely."  Chandler employed his character, Philip Marlowe, in many of his mystery novels, and we have seen him time and time again in film noir movies. Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum have both played Marlowe, but Raymond Chandler himself supposedly applauded Dick Powell's version. 

Why it's a Must See:  "No other film so perfectly encapsulates the pleasure of film noir, as director Edward Dmytryk deploys shadows, rain, drug-induced  hallucinations...and sudden bursts of violence within a cobweb of plot traps, slimy master crooks,  worthless femmes fatales, gorilla-brained thugs, weary cops, and quack doctors."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

Sadly, Powell and the other stars of this movie, Claire Trevor and Ann Shirley, are largely forgotten today, something that bothers me no end.  I mean, do people even remember the really big stars like Clark Gable and Bette Davis anymore? 

Dick Powell started out as a singer and went on to become a successful actor, but in his later years he founded Four Star Television with Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and David Niven, three more actors you probably have never heard of.  Four Star Televison produced many successful TV shows in the 1950's and 60's - "Mr. Adams and Eve, (I LOVED that show)" "Ensign O'Toole" and "The Dick Powell Show."

There is no denying that films like "Chinatown," "L.A. Confidential" and most recently, "Inherent Vice," pay homage to Raymond Chandler and these early film noir movies.

Rosy the Reviewer says...One of the classics of the film noir genre.
(b & w)

***Book of the Week***

If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?: Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times by Gina Barreca (2016)

It's not just about "leaning in," what do you do when you get there? BE LOUD!

Barreca starts out by tackling an issue that many of us women of a certain age have to deal with and that is becoming invisible. It might be after turning 40, after 50, but there comes a time, not long after a young man calls us ma'am for the first time, that that same young man suddenly doesn't notice us at all anymore and we realize we women of a certain age are invisible. But Barreca is not having it.  We may be invisible, but we aren't going to be quiet. She asserts that we not only need to speak up, we need to get louder as we age. 

In this series of funny, sometimes hilarious and, yes, loud, smart essays, Barreca also tackles the horror that is Spanx ("Does beauty really equal bondage?"), a woman's need to carry a suitcase full of stuff in her purse just so she won't feel guilty if she doesn't have a bandaid or a pain reliever when someone asks (do men carry all of that stuff?  No they ask a woman carrying a purse!), things women hate to hear from their men ("Relax"), the importance of girlfriends, words she hates and much more.  She gives advice on relationships and getting older, how to have a happy marriage, how to really apologize and how to answer stupid questions.  She also skewers our obsessions with mindfulness and certain kinds of food, bad boyfriends and Facebook, but she's never mean-spirited.

She gives some advice to men too.

Here are some more of her "Sixteen Things Women Hate to Hear (Even When We Like or Love You):"

  • "Can't you see that you are just torturing yourself for no reason?"
  • "Calm down."
  • "I think a 'real feminist' wouldn't act the way you're acting."
  • "Whoa, you're so sensitive."

Sound familiar, ladies?  Ugh!

And in case you think she is being unfair to the men, she also includes "Sixteen Things Men Hate to Hear," my favorite being, "Tell me again:  Why do you have to be friends with her if you don't have feelings for her anymore?"

Other favorite chapters:

1. "Never talk politics with your family." 
This is just one bit of advice when dealing with one's family. She also adds some other suggestions for ways to make time with your extended family easier to manage - "keep your mouth full at all times, either don't drink at all or drink often and early, and to remember that you will never change anybody's mind music, global warming, cats versus dogs...evolution...unions...religion, Jay Leno versus Conan O'Brien versus David Letterman...[or] ghosts."

2. "Put the brakes on being busy."
When asked "How are you?" no one seems to just answer "Fine" or reply with something specific anymore.  We answer, "Oh, gee, I am so busy." "I'm swamped!"  It's almost like people are warning you upfront that they don't have time for you.   

According to Barreca, "we made ourselves feel significant by believing that the busier we became, the more significant we were...So from now on, if someone asks how I am, I'll say, "I'm looking forward to summer," or "I'm about to have a slice of anchovy pizza, so life couldn't be better," or something else specific and cheerful.  I will stop saying that I'm 'buried with work,' 'up to my neck in deadlines,' or "swamped"..I'll put a stop to what is the most common of humble brags and be reminded of Socrates' caveat: "Beware the barrenness of a busy life."

I so agree with her here.  When I was getting ready to retire and was worried about how I was going to occupy my time, I can't tell you how many people told me "You will be busier than you ever were when you were working."  Keep telling yourself that, folks, but it ain't true, because now I am only as busy as I want to be and some days I do nothing at all...and I'm not afraid to admit it!

3. "You're not perfect either, lady." 
She tells the story about a window replacement project in her apartment where the workers were incompetent.  They tore out the old windows only to discover they had brought the wrong replacement windows, but instead of making it right that day, they expected her to spend a winter night sleeping in her apartment with nothing but plastic sheeting on the windows. Long story short, when she got angry about it wondering how they could make such a mistake, the head guy said to her, "You're not perfect, either, lady!" 

The lesson? "(1) You don't need to be perfect in order to insist that somebody treats you like a person; (2) learning how to raise hell is a useful and often-underrated skill, especially for a woman living alone..."

Needless to say, the windows were fixed that day!

She was loud and proud and got the job done!

And she gets the job done with this sharp, insightful book. 

I loved it!  

Barreca speaks with a universal voice and says what many of us women think and are afraid to say.  She's LOUD and unapologetic as we women should be!

On practically every page, I found myself laughing and nodding and thinking that Barreca had read my mind. I think like she does and, if I may humbly compare myself to her, I think that my writing voice is like hers too. I have found my writing doppelganger. 

The book is funny but it's also practical.  You want to know what annoys other people, right?  And you want advice on how to get over a break-up, right?  And you want to be validated for the thoughts you haven't dared say, right?  Well, this is for you!

Barreca is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "It's Not That I'm Bitter...," "Babes in Boyland" and "They Used to Call Me Snow White...But I Drifted."  She is currently a professor of English at the University of Connecticut.

This book is written by a woman of a certain age and is probably aimed at  women of a certain age, but I am going to strongly urge my millennial daughter to read this so she can make some plans about getting loud.

I am going to go back and read Barraca's earlier books, and I can't wait for her next one!

Rosy the Reviewer says...this witty and very funny collection of essays is not just for you women of a certain age to enjoy, but for your daughters, too, so they will know what to expect.  And for the men in your lives?  You will find many pertinent sections to read aloud to them.  I know I did, right, Hubby?

That's it for this week!
Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

  "A Woman of a Certain Age Reflects On Her Birthday"

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