Friday, October 28, 2016

"Denial" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Denial" as well as DVDs "Café Society" - Woody Allen's latest - and Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some."  The Book of the Week is a cookbook with the kinds of meals most of us are looking for - "Skinny Suppers."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Eyes Without a Face"]


The true story of the libel suit brought against historian and author Deborah Lipstadt by historian David Irving who took issue with Lipstadt calling him a Holocaust denier.  Also on trial?  Whether or not the Holocaust actually happened.

Deborah Lipstadt, played by Rachel Weisz, is an American historian and Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, and in 1993 Penguin Books published her book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," a book that called out those who denied that the Holocaust ever happened. 

When the film begins we see Lipstadt teaching her class and discussing the components of Holocaust Denial:

  • No proof of a systematic extinction plan
  • That the numbers were exaggerated
  • No proof of gas chambers
  • Therefore, the Holocaust didn't happen

Deborah made it a point in her teachings and engagements with those who denied the Holocaust to not argue with them about whether or not it happened.  It happened and that is a fact.  She is not going to engage in defending the existence of the Holocaust.  So later when we see her on a lecture tour and she is heckled from the audience by self-taught and self-described English historian David Irving (Timothy Spall), who Lipstadt had called out in her book as a "holocaust denier," she refuses to take him on and he is escorted out of the lecture by security. 

Irving didn't like that very much nor did he care for Lipstadt calling him out in her book. So being the kind of guy he was, Lipstadt is informed that she and her publisher, Penguin Books, were being sued for libel in the U.K. by Irving for her calling him a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot, and saying that he manipulated and distorted real documents.

It's bad enough to be sued for libel. But here's the rub. In England, when you are sued for libel, the accuser does not need to prove guilt but rather the proof of innocence falls to YOU, the accused, something we are not used to here in the United States where the accused is assumed innocent until proven guilty.  Deborah is thrust into a Kafkaesque world where she is an outsider, unfamiliar with British law and told what to do by solicitor Anthony Julius (who handled Princess Diana's divorce from Prince Charles) played by Andrew Scott and barrister Richard Rampton QC (Tom Wilkinson). Something else that is different in England: a solicitor prepares a case and a barrister argues it in court - you know the ones.  They wear those crazy white curly wigs.

Deborah is a feisty woman from Queens, New York and is not used to being told what to do.  She wants to get up on that stand and state why what she said about Irving was true.  She also wants the many Holocaust survivors to get up on the stand and testify about the horrific things they endured in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis.  But she is told no.  She will not testify nor will the Holocaust survivors.

You see, Irving is one of those megalomaniacs who acts as his own lawyer. And no way does Julius and Rampton want Irving to be able to grandstand and cross examine Holocaust survivors or put the Holocaust itself on trial. Deborah is not happy about this turn of events and the denial of her voice and the voices of the Holocaust survivors, but eventually acquiesces to her legal team's plan, which is to show that Irving changed the facts and lied about the Holocaust to put forth his own agenda of racism and anti-Semitism.

So the "denial" of the title here is not just Irving's Holocaust denial but the denial that Deborah must exercise of her own voice and the voices of the Holocaust survivors and to trust the lawyers and scholars who are in her corner and working tirelessly to prove that what she said about Irving was true.  In so doing, everyone's voice will ultimately be heard.

Did she win?

You will have to see this film to find out for yourself, and you should definitely see this film.  It's quite wonderful and if you have been reading my movie reviews, you know what happens to me when a movie is really good.  Yep, I cried.

Academy Award winner Weiss is good here, though I am on the fence about her Queens accent.  I would love to see the real Deborah to see if Weisz was channeling her.  Then I might give her a break on her accent and her characterization, which I found a bit flat. And though she is the star, she actually ends up playing straight woman to the supporting characters - Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall and Andrew Scott, who are all brilliant here. 

Spall is one of those faces you have probably seen many, many times in British films but didn't know his name.  His quirky looks usually meant he was a bad guy or a nutter, but as he has aged, he is starting to play more varied roles.  Here he is amazing as Irving.  Wilkinson is an actor who can do just about anything, but he is in his element when he plays wise, measured men like Rampton.  And Scott is an actor on the rise, having played Moriarty in the TV series "Sherlock" for the last six years and more recently the villain in "Spectre."  Here his Anthony Julius is a complex, nuanced performance. 

Directed by Mick Jackson with a screenplay  by acclaimed playwright David Hare ("Plenty"), based on Lipstadt's book "History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier," this film is an interesting primer on British libel law, but it's also a smart, adult film like "Spotlight" and "The Big Short," one that makes you think and should make you mad.  It's also a moving indictment of Holocaust denial.

Much of Irving's writings centered around Auschwitz, and how it was never proven that there were gas chambers there.  Well, duh.  The Nazis bombed the buildings so that there was only rubble so no one would know what they had done.  However, survivors were able to recreate the site and when Lipstadt and her legal team travel to Auschwitz, they stand in a foggy mist on the rubble of the gas chamber and it is a chilling scene, indeed.  As one who has been to Mauthausen and seen the ovens, it is difficult to see how anyone can deny that horrible time in human history that we should not only never deny, but never forget. 

I would say this film would be in Oscar contention, but unfortunately, when I went to see this film, I was alone in the theatre, though eventually two more people straggled in.  Granted, it was a Tuesday afternoon (I know, I am retired and you are at work on a Tuesday afternoon), but that does not bode well for this film being seen by a wide audience in this world where superheroes and horror reign supreme. 

So get thee to the theatre before it's gone. 

In our current world of movie superheroes and horror, we need to pay attention to the real heroes and the real horror of the Holocaust. This film needs to be seen.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Those of us who like films that make us think need more movies like this. A must see!


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


Cafe Society (2016)

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) heads to Los Angeles in the 1930's to try to get a job in Hollywood with his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) who is a Hollywood talent agent.

You can always tell a Woody Allen movie because he always employs the same devices:

  • A nebbish lead character obsessed with death and the meaning of life (Allen used to play himself but now he employs an alter ego.  Here Jesse Eisenberg takes on the role to good effect)
  • A muse (Allen always has a beautiful muse to fixate on, ur, showcase.  It started with Diane Keaton, then Mia Farrow, Emma Stone and now it looks like he is fixated on Kristen Stewart)
  • Big name actors in small roles (everyone wants to work with Woody so they will take what they can get)
  • Witty comic dialogue that you will enjoy more if you know some stuff about stuff
  • Plain black and white opening and closing credits
  • Jazz or Dixieland music
  • Always written and directed by Woody
  • If it takes place in New York, it's a love letter.  If it takes place in L.A. it's a commentary on how vacuous the place is
  • The film never runs more than 90 minutes

And for me, there is comfort in that. 

When I go to see a Woody Allen film, I know what to expect and what I am going to get - A sophisticated film that expects me to be a smart moviegoer who will get his jokes and observations and it doesn't go on too long.

Café Society is defined as "society of persons who are regular patrons of fashionable cafes," but it also embodies a certain materialisn, vacuousness, privilege, the nouveau riche, insipid conversation and lots and lots of name-dropping and Woody has lots and lots of fun with that.

This movie will be more fun for you if you know who the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood were:  Ginger Rogers, Ronald Coleman, Bette Davis, Adolf Menjou and other stars of the screen from the 30's.  If you don't know who they are, look them up.  You should know.

Steve Carell plays Phil Stern, a successful Hollywood talent agent. Jesse Eisenberg is Bobby, Phil's nephew who has moved to Hollywood from NYC to try to find his fortune there. Bobby is an unsophisticated, fish out of water, a man who has found himself in unfamiliar circumstances, something Woody likes to play with in his films. Bobby meets Veronica AKA Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), Phil's secretary, and they fall in love.  However, Bobby doesn't realize that Vonnie has been having an affair with Phil all along.  Vonnie and Bobby make fun of the "café society" people until Phil finally leaves his wife, asks Vonnie to marry him and she decides to become one of them herself. 

Back home in New York, Bobby's brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), is a bit of a gangster.  Well, not a bit of one, he is a gangster and a cold-blooded murderer to boot.  Heart-broken Bobby goes back to New York and goes into business with Ben running a nightclub where he, too, becomes very successful and marries the beautiful Veronica (Blake Lively) - ironically another Veronica, "Vonnie," get it?  When Bobby eventually meets up again with the first Vonnie, when she and Phil come to his nightclub, there is a wistfulness of missed opportunities similar to what Woody did with "Manhattan."

Directed and written by Woody with cinematography by the acclaimed Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro ("Apocalypse Now," "Reds"), the film is an atmospheric homage to the 30's but it also includes Woody's usual themes.

Bobby says, "Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer" and that about sums up Woody's philosophy of life which is a major theme in most of his films.

There is a funny scene when Bobby's brother is sentenced to death in the electric chair. Remember, I told you he was also a cold-blooded murderer? Ben becomes a Catholic in prison because "Jews don't believe in the afterlife."  Bobby's and Ben's mother says, "First a murderer.  Then he becomes a Christian.  What did I do to deserve that?"

Woody's movies also almost always deal with religion, death and whether or not the afterlife exists.

Jesse is a good surrogate for Woody now that Woody is too old to play himself (though Woody narrates the film, uncredited).  He has captured Woody's cadence of delivery, neurosis and his mannerisms to a T.  Not everyone gets Woody.  You have to know some stuff to enjoy his films.  He doesn't talk down to you, but he expects you to get the references.  Woody's personal life didn't help his popularity with audiences and lately some of his films are better than others, but despite all of that, he is still one of our best and most respected film writers and directors, which is why all of those actors and actresses are dying to work with him and will take small parts to do it.

But that said, like those little Martians said to Woody in "Stardust Memories" when he played movie director Sandy Bates:

"We like your movies, particularly the early, funny ones.” He asks the aliens for counsel. “Shouldn’t I stop making movies and do something that counts, like… like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?” asks Bates. “You want to do mankind a real service?” replies the alien. “Tell funnier jokes.”

That is sort of the camp I am in with Woody. Though I still like Woody's movies, when he got all dramatic on us and then started making more thoughtful films, I missed the "funny ones" like "Sleeper" and "Everything You Always Wanted To Know about Sex." I still laugh thinking about him as a sperm. I liked those early comedies better, but I am kind of shallow that way when it comes to comedies.

As for this film, I am not a huge Jesse, Kristen or Steve fan so that marred my enjoyment a bit, though they are fine actors. Also sometimes these days with Woody's films, it's difficult to tell what the point is.  He is best as a chronicler and commentator of human frailties and society's mores than writer of plot heavy films with one major point, but his films are always stylish, witty and beautiful to look at.

And he can still zing.

As one character says in the film, "Socrates said 'The unexamined life is not worth living' but the examined life isn't much better."

Pure Woody.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you are a Woody Allen fan or you enjoy light stylish nostalgic comedies, you will enjoy this film.

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

College baseball players navigate life at college in the 1980's.

Members of a college baseball team meet and spend three days together as they get ready for the start of the 1980 school year at a small Texas college.  Jake (Blake Jenner) is the new guy, and he gets ragged by his older teammates as they ride around town, go to discos (remember those?), try to chat up the ladies and just generally do what "bros" do.  There is McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the team captain; ladies man, Finnegan (Glen Powell); stoner, Willoughby (Wyatt Russell, Goldie and Kurt's son) and others. 

The film is about baseball, but it's also about "bros" and jocks and what "bros" and jocks do, showing off for each other, cruising for girls, trying out pick up lines and getting into trouble.  But there are some tender moments when Jake meets Beverly (Zooey Deutch) and romance ensues. 

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, whose "Boyhood" was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 2014 (and should have won, in my opinion), this is a sweet tale of guys enjoying their last burst of youth before they have to go out into the real world.  Linklater is also known for his "Before" trilogy and the film "Dazed and Confused," which could be a sort of prequel to this film as it dealt with high schoolers in the 1970's. 

I am a huge fan of Linklater's films.  They are small films that often feel like cinema verite, that we are somehow a fly on the wall watching real life happen in front of us. He is really good at naturalism and making movies that seem unscripted.  Not a lot happens in his films, but while not much is happening you find yourself drawn in, living in the world he has created.  Magic.

This film is like that, using young, unknown actors, and it will appeal to those of us who were young in the 80's. But it's a "bro" picture about college baseball players on the prowl so it will appeal also to "bros" and those who love them.  It's also a coming of age story as the young guys experience those last days of fun before real life sets in.  As disco gives way to punk, we see what's coming. 

I don't usually like male-centric films or movies about baseball, but I was captivated by these characters.  Jenner actually looks like a young Linklater, which was probably not an accident, and he is our main character, filtering the film through his eyes.

Linklater is a master at making movies where not much happens, but they are magical because they are about real life with a right-on sense of time and place. This film captures all of the nuances of the 1980's when Carter was President and Reagan soon would be, when disco would give way to punk rock, when guys wore tight shirts and shorts.  Linklater gets it all right from the haircuts to the clothes to the vocabulary of the 1980's to the music. The soundtrack alone is worth your time.

Rosy the Reviewer says...No matter what era or age group he is focused on, Linklater films are mesmerizing forays into real life.

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

229 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

A doctor goes to extremes to give his disfigured daughter a new face.

Let's just say this doctor gives extreme "face lifts."

When the film begins, we see a woman driving in a funky little Citroen in a rainstorm (never a good thing) with something in the back seat that looks suspiciously like a dummy she has back there so she can use the carpool lane, but in fact it's a dead body.  She dumps the body in the Seine (you see, this is a French film) and slowly we learn why.

Her name is Louise (Alida Valli), and she works for Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur, who went on to star in the acclaimed "Children of Paradise") who was driving the car with his beautiful daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob) when an accident occurred, his daughter's face was destroyed and it was his fault.  Everyone knew he drove like a bat out of hell so now he is consumed with guilt, so much so that his main goal in life is to restore his daughter's beautiful face.  Unfortunately his method for doing this - physical rejuvenation or "heterografting" - involves kidnapping beautiful young girls and grafting their faces onto his daughter's. You see, for his procedure to work, both people must be alive when the skin grafting takes place. That body thrown in the river was Dr. Gennessier's latest victim and source of skin to save his daughter's face who unfortunately didn't live through the procedure. 

Christiane's face is so horribly disfigured that she wears a mask, looking much like "The Phantom of the Opera" as she wanders about her grand house. The irony is that the mask is quite lovely, though immobile, making Christiane look like a beautiful mannequin, her father's puppet.

That latest victim was also a ruse.  Dr. Gennessier had reported his daughter missing so when that body is found floating in the Seine, Dr. Gennessier identifies the body as his daughter, thus eliminating any incriminating evidence against him.  Pre DNA days, you know, it was possible to do this.

Another girl is kidnapped and this time we see the actual "face lift" procedure in gory detail, which for 1960 was not only ghoulish but horrific, where he literally lifts the face of the victim. No, I am not wrongly using the word "literally" here.  He LITERALLY lifts her face OFF!!!  I had my hands over my eyes the whole time and was peeking through my fingers as the doctor outlined the girl's face, her eyes and then lifted off the skin to reveal...ew ew ew.  This was so profoundly horrifying for 1960 audiences that some people fainted.  I almost did too.

So the skin graft of the girl's face onto Christiane is a success. Or so we think. She is beautiful again and doesn't need to wear her mask until...little sores start showing up, then pustules, then...ew ew ew.

Here we go again.  On goes the mask and now we need yet another girl.  Except this time the police are getting wise and they send in a decoy.

Directed by Georges Franju, the cinematography is gorgeous black and white, the set design surreal, and the score of bright carnival music is in contrast to the grim story and gives the film an even more sinister and ominous atmosphere.

The doctor also keeps a room full of dogs in cages. It's unthinkable what he might be using them for, so animal lovers, try not to think about it. But you will love the ending.  The dogs get their revenge in another graphic scene.

Why it's a Must See: "Much has been written about Georges Franju's [film] -- the only foray into the horror genre by the cofounder of the Paris Cinematheque.  While the film is justifiably celebrated as a masterpiece, connections are frequently made between its pulp fiction plot and the poetry of its cinematography -- Jean Cocteau filming Edgard Allan Poe."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a beautiful horror film...if there can be such a thing.
(b & w, in French with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Skinny Suppers: 125 Lightened-Up, Healthier Meals for Your Family by Brooke Griffin (2016)

"Skinny" recipes and meal-planning tips from "The Skinny Mom," Brooke Griffin, whose website aims to help "Moms get the skinny on healthy living."

These are low-calorie (or at least, lower calorie) recipes for comfort food that the whole family will enjoy. But when we are talking low cal recipes, I have found that they often lack flavor and don't satisfy.  But Griffin manages to get rid of the calories and still maintain taste.

She starts the book with a little rant on why suppertime is important. 

   "[This cookbook] was inspired by my desire to help families find the time to prepare lighter and healthier meals they can sit down and enjoy together several nights a week. Let's face it: everyone is busy...Yet we still have to eat.  This book is a practical tool that will empower you and help you realize that family mealtime is a wonderful way to reconnect and share stories, all while loving your family and improving their overall health and wellness...
   Research shows that families who eat together benefit in more ways than one.  Sitting down to share meals boosts communication and strengthens relationships, while the kids statistically perform better in school and tend to make better choices...Numerous studies are pointing to the fact that regular family means around the supper table are having positive effects on lowering obesity rates and improving positive eating habits, as well as lessening the risk of food-related disorders.
   It's time to get back to the basics of what makes a family grow together, and that's spending time together. My prayer for you as you journey through this book is that you will find the determination and motivation to get back to experiencing suppertime most days of the week, reconnecting with the most important people in your life -- your family!"

I will give her a break on that.  She is a young mother after all and this book skews that way. But even for us empty nesters, "waist-friendly" recipes are important even if we don't have a family to share them with, so don't be put off by all of that, not to mention her young, blonde and skinny self.

I always judge a low calorie cookbook on how good the macaroni and cheese is and her recipe is actually quite good.  She thinks so too because she calls it "The Creamiest Mac 'n' Cheese Dish You Will Ever Make."  The secret is Campbell's Healthy Request cheddar cheese soup, Greek yogurt and light sour cream (though I will say, it didn't seem to hold up as well as I might have wanted when I heated it up in the microwave the next day).

Other recipes that are right up my alley:

  • Cheeseburger Lettuce Wraps
  • Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
  • Spcy Szechuan Beef with Zoodles (that's spiralized zucchini to you and me)
  • Thai Style Hot Dogs
  • Blackened Fish Tacos
  • Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya
  • Buffalo Chicken Cobb Salad
  • Tomato Tortellini Soup

There are actually many more recipes I wanted to try so I bought the book in the hopes that if I make these recipes I will turn into a skinny bitch! 

Rosy the Reviewer says...If there is the word "skinny" in the title of a cookbook, I am there!


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of
"The Accountant"


  The Week in Reviews

(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 


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