Friday, October 14, 2016

"The Dressmaker" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "The Dressmaker" as well as two documentaries available on DVD: "City of Gold" and "To Be Takei."  The Book of the Week is "Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with an early martial arts film: "A Touch of Zen."]

The Dressmaker

Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage returns to her small rural Australian Outback town to seek revenge.

A long shot from above shows a train puffing over the Australian Outback and when it stops, out steps a fashionably dressed woman who says "I'm back, you bastards."  Meet Myrtle Dunnage (Kate Winslet) AKA as Tilly.

Tilly was sent away from her hometown of Dungatar after a disastrous incident that happened when she was a child.  She traveled the world and became a dressmaker, working at some of the great ateliers in Paris.  Now it is 1951 and she is back and it's the talk of the town.  She has come back to take care of her ailing mother, Molly (Judy Davis) -- but she has also come back for revenge.

She steps off the train dressed to the nines in a Dior-inspired dress of her own creation and is greeted by the local cop, Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving) who swoons over her dress. We discover that our local cop appreciates and likes to wear women's clothes, especially feather boas.  When Tilly arrives at her old house, she finds it in disrepair and her mother in bed with a possum to keep her company. Tilly's mother is eccentric to say the least and verging on dementia. Her strange lifestyle and the townspeople have dubbed her "Mad Molly" due to her strange antics. 

Tilly's mother doesn't recognize her (or pretends not to) and Tilly, not remembering what happened in 1926 when she left, asks her mother if she, Tilly, is a murderer. Tilly believes that she is cursed. Her mother says she doesn't remember any of it, either. After that question, the story unfolds that as a young girl, Tilly witnessed the death of a young boy, Stewart Pettyman, and, because she was there when he died, his parents blamed her for his death and had her sent her away. 

Tilly's starts a dressmaking business out of her mother's home and soon wins over the local women when she transforms the drab and bespectacled Gertrude (Sarah Snook) into a princess.  After her transformation, Gertrude charms the rich and handsome William (James Mackay) much to his social climbing mother's dismay. You see, Gertrude is the daughter of the local shopkeeper. Not suitable! Tilly's success with Gertrude leads the other local women to seek Tilly's services. The local women are all transformed by Tilly's dresses and there is a cute scene when we encounter them all dressed to the nines walking around the dusty town in the middle of the day. Tilly's success with her dressmaking business causes Mr. Pettyman (Shane Bourne), who is the local councilman and who still has it out for Tilly, to bring in a rival dressmaker, Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler), in a side-story that was an unnecessary distraction.

Tilly is out to shock the townsfolk and early upon her arrival in town, sashays to a rugby match where she does a modified strip tease causing the opposing team to be distracted and lose the game.  That is a good thing for local handsome boy Teddy (Liam Hemsworth) and he and Tilly start a relationship.

Tilly is not just out to shock the townsfolk, though.  She is also out for revenge for their blaming her for Stewart's death and sending her away.  However, in the course of her seeking revenge, she finds out just what happened that day with Stewart, why and how she was sent away, and her mother's big secret.  And, oh, yeah, she gets her revenge too.

Speaking of the pairing of Winslet and Hemsworth, considering that Kate Winslet is 41 and Hemsworth is 26, it's a strange pairing, but little is made of the obvious age difference especially since there is the implication that the two had known each othe when Tilly was still living in the town.  However, Winslet is a lovely woman that any 26 year old man would probably have a hard time saying no to. Likewise, those Hemsworth boys are lovely to behold.  Chris has always been a favorite of mine, but I also enjoyed Liam here, especially when he took his shirt off so that Tilly could measure him for a suit which was a fun scene with Molly lurking about and lusting after him.  Supposedly Hemsworth worked out and did some extreme dieting for that scene and Winslet remarked in a magazine article that she could hear his stomach growling during their scenes. But I didn't mind the age difference.  I certainly wouldn't kick him out of bed! 

Judy Davis as Molly is also wonderful (when is she not wonderful? She's had me ever since "My Brilliant Career"), though I found her character here annoying at first.  But as Molly warms to Tilly, the two play well against each other.

This is a strange little film.  Based on the novel by Rosalie Harn (screenplay by director Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan), it can't seem to decide whether it's a drama or a comedy.  It vacillates between the two.  There are certainly some very dramatic and serious, tragic even, elements to this film, but then Tilly's mother is a comic character until the end and the townspeople are a motley crew, to say the least.  The pharmacist has a hunchback that is so bad that when he gets going he can't stop his forward motion, so his wife sits outside the pharmacy with a pillow on her lap so he can stop himself by ramming his head into the pillow.  The side story of the other dressmaker coming to town to give Tilly some competition is a comical but distracting element, and William's mother trying to keep Gertrude and William apart has some slapstick humor.  In fact, all of the townspeople are comic characters which is at times jarring against the more tragic elements of the film.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse made her mark in the 90's with "Proof (1991)," "How to Make an American Quilt (1995)," and "A Thousand Acres (1997)," so this is her first film in almost 20 years and it's a nice vehicle for Winslet who I find to be a lovely and talented screen presence, not to mention my enjoyment of the hunky Liam. But it's also welcome to see a film directed by a woman and driven by a strong female character. Moorhouse knows how to make films that showcase women. The film's location in the Australian Outback is also very atmospheric, thanks to the cinematophy by Donald McAlpine.  He captures the stark beauty of the Outback, which is a particular favorite film location of mine.

Rosy the Reviewer's a fun, though strange, little story but Winslet's, Davis's and Weaving's performances are worth the price of a ticket. And if you want to see it, better get to the theatre soon.  There was little hype for this film and it won't be around long, but it deserves to be seen.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed888
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now on DVD

City of Gold (2015)

A profile of Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold.

Food writer Johnathan Gold gets into his green pick-up truck and tours Los Angeles ("The City of Gold") to explore the food that defines it.  He is not your typical snobby foodie who extolls the virtues of a five-hour, 12-course French meal at prices that would defy most of us to partake. No, Gold's thing is finding those Mom and Pop storefront restaurants that just happen to have some of the best food in town.  He writes as a cultural commentator using food to comment on modern life. It's food criticism as storytelling and Gold is so good at it that he was the first food critic to get a Pulitzer.

But Gold wasn't always a food critic.  He was a failed cello player who discovered punk rock music.  Punk rock took him out of his shell and he played cello with some weird bands.  He also grew up in LA and you can feel the love he has for his city.

"I am an LA guy.  I drive.  I am my truck - my truck is me."

How very L.A.

Gold came to fame when he wrote a piece for The L.A. Weekly called "The Year I Ate Pico Boulevard," where he ate at every restaurant along Pico Boulevard (15.5 miles) and then wrote about it. 

If you consider yourself a foodie, you need to know who Jonathan Gold is.

Food and writing have been paired throughout history and that has turned food from fuel to an art form.  The French started it (of course) but now we have Yelp where everyone is a food critic. The film explores the role of the food critic and why we need him or her.  We may have Yelp but, take note, Yelpers and those who read your reviews, actual food critics have actual knowledge.

As Gold explores LA restaurants, he doesn't just appreciate the food, he appreciates where the food has come from - the culture of the food.  He says you don't have to travel far in L.A. to feel you have traveled far. He changed the food writing world when he started to write about the hard-to-find restaurants in small communities like out in the Valley.  Gasp!  The Valley? Who goes THERE?  He highlight's LA's self-contained cities of people who are not cooking for tourists, they are cooking for their communities.

"In this ordinary place, there happens to be extraordinary food."

That leads us to a bit of L.A. history where the sprawl happened because everyone wanted a yard.  Gold provides a culinary map that helps us understand the city.  He not only eats at the restaurants, he profiles the owners and their lives. According to this film, the biggest thing in restaurants over the last 40 years is diversity.  In the old days everything considered good was French and now it's all over the place. This is the story of immigrants passing down their family recipes here in the United States and Gold says we are luckier for it. 

Gold also bucked the tradition of being an anonymous food critic.  He felt that everyone figured out who the critics were eventually anyway, so why bother?  He reserves under fake names but doesn't bother to disguise himself.  He goes to a restaurant four or five times before he writes his reviews.  If the cuisine is unfamiliar, he might go as many as 17 times.  What a job!

Written and directed by Laura Gabbert, this film shows the real L.A. through the eyes of GoldEveryone thinks they know what L.A. is even if they have never been there.  Gold does know L.A.  It's his town.

So where should we eat when in LA?

Favorites highlighted are the Mariscos Jalisco food truck, Thai restaurant Jitlada, Nanjing Kitchen, Little Ethiopia, Tom's #5 Chiliburgers (and chili fries), Soban, rice bowls at Chego, Korean street food at Kogi, King Taco ("taco eating. The word taco should be a verb!"), Chengdu, and Attari Sandwich Shop to name a few.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a film about food and a food critic but it's also a love letter to Los Angeles, the city Jonathan Gold loves - The City of Gold.  Brilliant!

To Be Takei (2014)

Who knew Lt. Sulu would become an Internet phenomenon with over seven million Facebook fans at the age of 77?

In 1966 when the TV show "Star Trek" first aired, there were few African American or Asian stars on TV.  "Star Trek" changed all of that with Uhura and Sulu.

Today, at 77, actor George Takei (pronounced Ta-Kay - I bet you have been pronouncing it wrong, right?) is more famous than he ever was when starring on "Star Trek."  Who doesn't love George Takei with those memes and quotes that are all over the Internet?

This film chronicles Takei's life from his youth growing up in Los Angeles, followed by his family being sent to a Japanese interment camp in Arkansas during WW II, and his subsequent struggles to make his way as an Asian actor in a world where his first roles were uncredited voiceovers in "Godzilla Raids Again" and "Rodan" and the later roles available to him were usually stereotypical ones such as Japanese houseboys or evil Vietnamese soldiers. 

After the "Star Trek" TV show, roles dried up so Takei ran for L.A City Council and lost but then Mayor Bradley appointed him to the Southern California Rapid Transit District where he served for 11 years. But then along came the "Star Trek" movies, projects on Broadway and campaigning for marriage equality.  Like many gay people in the movie industry, he had to hide his homosexuality, but decided that he had to come out in order to stand up for gay rights.

We hear from his co-stars in "Star Trek," and others who George has known and influenced along the way. Today George is known for his social media memes, sayings on Facebook and for just being George Takei, beloved by old "Star Trek" fans and the younger generation alike.

The film also follows George and his husband, Brad, as they drive around Los Angeles.  George is the laid back one and Brad is the "nervous" one who handles George's business affairs.  As they drive and walk around, they  humorously bicker, George also talks about himself and we get to hear from George directly in that VOICE.  If ever a voice could be called mellifluous, George Takei has that voice.

Rosy the Reviewer says...who wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes with George Takei?  I could listen to that voice for hours.

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

231 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

A Touch of Zen (1971)

After her family is murdered, Yang is on the run from government officials, but is helped by Ku, a scholar/artist and some Buddhist monks.

Yang (Hsu Feng) was the daughter of a government official who, when he uncovered a plot by the evil eunuch, Wei, to overthrow the emperor, was murdered along with her entire family. Yang escaped but now she is on the run.  Hsu's henchmen are looking for her.

The film begins in a small village during the Ming Dynasty. Ku (Chun Shih) is a scholar and painter who is also a bit clumsy, clueless and unambitious.  His mother wants him to be a government official and scolds him for his lack of ambition. She also laments the fact that he is unmarried and that she will never have any grandchildren to carry on the family name.

Ku is approached by a stranger to paint his portrait but we discover that the stranger is a bad guy looking for Yang.  I couldn't help but notice that the stranger also has an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump despite the Ming official headwear.  

When Ku finally meets Yang (and it takes 35 minutes before they even meet), who is living alone in an abandoned General's mansion, his mother starts to do a bit of matchmaking.  Ku is obviously attracted to Ms. Yang and when she lures him to her place they have sex.  After that encounter, Ku finds out that Yang is a fugitive on the run and somehow that sexual encounter has changed Ku from an awkward Ku into the brave Ku who wants to help Ms. Yang.  But when he goes to tell her he wants to help, he meets a so-called blind man who isn't really blind.  He is General Shih who is in disguise and working with Yang. The bad guys attack them, Shih kills them in the usual highly choreographed martial arts way, so now Ku knows that Shih is not blind.  Ku also knows that he is really truly screwed because now he is involved in all of this stuff.  Still with me? 

But Ku finally gets to do something.  He concocts a plan to spread a rumor that the General's Mansion is haunted and they booby trap the place to make the bad guys think they are being haunted by the undead.  Lots of fights ensue and the bad guys are killed but then Ku can't find Yang.  He tracks her down at a monastery where she has decided to become a nun.  And surprise, surprise.  She has a baby.  It's Ku's baby.  She lured him into having sex so she could give him an heir, something his mother wanted.  Now that is going above and beyond to help out an unhappy mother! When more bad guys show up at the monastery there is a huge battle with the monks that all ends in a very stylized, very "zen" way.

Why it's a Must See:  "There's a reason [why this film] is considered a benchmark in Chinese cinema: It's like a Rosetta Stone of the wuxia, or swords-and-sorcery, genre...[Director] King Hu is rightly regarded as the pioneering director of the wuxia film, in spite of the genre's existence in film was Hu who brought these traits to the cinema, combining them with the acrobatics and pageantry of Peking Opera and the underpinnings of Zen Buddhism."

The film is very stylized and arty with beautiful cinematography, but it's one of those films that likes itself so much that it lingers too long on every shot just in case we might miss how gorgeous it is.  Every shot takes FOREVER which I guess is why the film is three hours long and everything takes a long time to happen.

But it is an early martial arts film and what is really great about these Chinese martial arts films is the strong women warriors who can kick the bad guys' butts and Yang is no exception. The literal English translation of the movie's Chinese title is "Warrior Woman."  And another interesting facet of this movie is no CGI.  This was all down to the actors to be super acrobatic and athletic.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a gorgeously produced film with an interesting story.  I just wish it hadn't taken so long to get to the point.

***Book of the Week***

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood (2016)

Ever want to fake your own death?  Well, meet those who have and get some tips in case you decide to do it too!

Greenwood was awash in student debt so was tempted to try to fake her own death.  "Is it possible to do that in the 21st century?" she wondered.  She goes off to find out.

She profiles some famous "fakers," such as "The Canoe Man," a guy who went kayaking (they call it a canoe in the UK) and was presumed dead for eight years only to discover he had been living with his wife in his own house the whole time.  He ended up turning himself in.  Greenwood also profiles others who faked their own deaths, but who made some mistakes that led to their being found out.

And then there are the people who Greenwood calls "The Believers," those who believe that Michael Jackson and Elvis are still alive and faked their own deaths.  Why do they believe that?  She investigates.

She then decides to find out if she could fake her own death and travels to Manila to get a fake death certificate.  She got the fake death certificate, but that's as far as it went.  But she also discovered there was a certain satisfaction to know she could disappear at any time if she wanted to.

"The impulse and instinct to begin again is as deeply imprinted on our psyches as it is to begin in the first place...What it comes down to is choices: how the assemblage of tiny decisions we make all day can, before you know it, accumulate into a mountain so high that jumping off with a hidden parachute appears to be the only way out...What have I learned from all this?  I've learned that faking your death is less romantic than I thought it would be.  The people I met traded in the dark and the bizarre, but they all still waded through the quotidian business of living...I've learned it is still possible to fake your own death in the twenty-first century, and, in some ways, it's easier now than ever..."

It's good to know that Greenwood's life improved and she stopped thinking about faking her own death, but here are some things she learned in case you need to disappear.

Some tips from those "fakers" who learned the hard way:

  • If you fake your death, don't come back.  Not for your wife.  Not for your girlfriend.  Not for your kids. 
  • If you plan to claim life insurance, be sure the policy is small (otherwise causes undo suspicion)
  • Don't fake your own death at sea.  Go for a hike
  • Don't bother with a stand-in body and elaborate funeral.  Spend your money on good authenticating documents.
  • Commit to a disguise
  • Use your real first name (then you won't have to worry about remembering who you are)
  • Don't Google yourself (you can be traced)
  • Don't drive (a simple ticket for a broken tail light can lead to your capture)

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look into a world few of us know about.

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of

"The Girl on the Train"


  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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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.


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

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

NOTE:  On some entries, this has changed.  If you don't see "Explore More" on the right side of the screen, scroll down just below the description of the film in the middle of the page. Click where it says "Critics." 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."

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