Friday, November 25, 2016

"Moonlight" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Moonlight" as well as two small but fascinating documentaries on DVD: "King Georges" and "Tab Hunter Confidential."  The Book of the Week is Carol Burnett's latest memoir "In Such Good Company," where she takes you behind the scenes of "The Carol Burnett Show." I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the Polish film "Ashes and Diamonds]


This film follows Chiron, a troubled youth growing up in the projects of Miami with a drug-addicted mother through his teens and into adulthood as he tries to find his place in the world.

The film is divided into three parts:

Part I - "Little"

We first meet Chiron, also known as "Little," as he races home from school chased by bullies.  He runs into an abandoned apartment/crack house and locks himself in, huddling in a corner until he is found by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer, who has seen Little being chased. Juan takes Little under his wing, introducing him to his kind and understanding girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae).  When Juan is not dealing drugs, he and Teresa appear to live a relatively normal life in the suburbs. Little seeks refuge with Juan and Teresa to escape the bullies and his own drug-addicted mother who all taunt him about being gay.  

Juan becomes a father figure for Little and teaches Little how to swim.  One day he tells him a story about his youth in Cuba where an old lady said that even though he is black, in the moonlight he looked blue, so she was going to call him "Blue."  Little asks him if his name is "Blue" and Juan says no. At that point Juan tells Little not to let anyone else define him.

"At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you."

Part II - Chiron

Now we see Chiron as a teen, still being bullied, though he has had one friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner as the young Kevin, Jharrel Jerome as the teen), who calls Chiron "Black," and seems to understand Chiron and Chiron's fears about himself.  But eventually the bullying goes too far and Chiron makes a decision that changes his life.

Part III - "Black"

In the third part of the film, Chiron is now an adult (Trevante Rhodes) going by the name of "Black."  He is buffed up and sporting "fronts (also known as "grillz") and a leather jacket, a far cry from how he looked in high school.  We learn the aftermath of that incident in high school and Chiron meets up again with his old friend, Kevin (now warmly played by Andre Holland). 

This is an exceptional film with wonderful young actors. 

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins (from the play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by Tarell McCraney), a haunting score by Nicholas Brittel and beautiful cinematography by James Laxton, "Moonlight" will most certainly be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture.  You heard it here first, folks!

After all of the controversy over the last couple of years about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscar) not recognizing work by people of color, Academy, here is your chance to undo some of that.  These actors are superb and the film is amazing.  I expect to see some Academy Award nominations this year.

Naomie Harris plays Chiron's mother and she really shows her acting chops here.  This is a good year for her because she also stars in the upcoming "Collateral Beauty" with Will Smith that is getting a lot of buzz.  She is definitely worthy of a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in this film. 

But the boy (Alex Hibbert), who plays the "little" Chiron, and men (Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) who play the teen and adult Chirons are superb.

The film follows Chiron over three different periods of time - and it is amazing how these three actors who play the Chiron's three different stages of life are so believable as one person over time. They look like each other and the transition from one time period and actor to another is seamless.  All three actors are just wonderful, achingly so.  If they don't get recognition, there is no justice in this world. 

Alex Hibbert as "Little" Chiron is heartbreaking in his need for love and acceptance; Ashton Saunders as the teenaged Chiron is likewise haunting, and Trevante Rhodes, as the adult, the bulked up and emotionally closed off Chiron who takes on his persona of "Black," also exudes a poignancy that makes you want to hug him, despite the fact he wears "fronts" and sometimes looks too much like Kanye West.

Juan, the drug dealer who commands respect in his neighborhood, is ironically the only person, along with his girlfriend, Teresa, who shows any love or respect for Chiron and accepts him for who he is.  Ali is able to be the tough drug dealer but also the compassionate father figure.  A wonderful small performance with big impact.

And speaking of irony, irony abounds in this film.  It's ironic that the young Chiron feels safest with a drug dealer and his girlfriend and not his mother, who is a crack head, despite the fact that his drug-addicted mother gets her drugs from Juan.  It's ironic that the nonviolent teen Chiron, who is so violently bullied, eventually commits an act of violence that changes his life.  And it's ironic that the adult Chiron has adopted Juan's lifestyle.

This is a film that needs to be seen.

And if you are thinking that you can't relate to the subject matter, think again. This film is not just about the struggles of a young gay black man living in the projects of Miami, though I don't mean to minimize the importance of that story and that struggle. But moonlight can be deceiving. As a movie lover, this film can be appreciated for the acting, the directing choices and the production values, but more importantly, it also explores the universal themes of coming of age in a world of harsh realities and how difficult it is to find love and connection in a world where there seems to be neither, and that is something everyone can relate to. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...I cried.  And you know what that means.  See it while you can.  It is an important film that has Oscar written all over it!

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


King Georges (2015)

A documentary about legendary chef Georges Perrier and his iconic Philadelphia restaurant, Le Bec-Fin.

"Sauce is everything." 

So says Georges Perrier, considered the best saucier ever.  He was also the owner of Philadelphia's Le Bec-Fin, which was one of the best French restaurants in the United States until 2012.  Though sauce making is at the heart of French cuisine, it is a dying art.  And so are formal French restaurants like Le Bec-Fin. In this lovely and poignant documentary, as Georges contemplates retirement, he worries about the fate of his restaurant.  Le Bec-Fin had been the leading French restaurant in the United States for 40 years and put Philadelphia on the culinary map and, sadly, was the last of its kind. 

But it's the end of an era as Perrier prepares to close his restaurant after 40 years.

Perrier opened his restaurant in 1970 in a bad part of Philadelphia, with the food world centered around New York City.  Who went to Philadelphia to eat?  But when Craig Claiborne, the food critic for the New York Times, discovered him and introduced him on "The Dinah Shore Show," Perrier became one of the early celebrity chefs and everyone flocked to Philadelphia.

Perrier decked Le Bec-Fin with chandeliers and candles and created a little Versailles.  As diners entered the restaurant, they felt like they were in France.  The waiters were in formal attire and everything was elegantly served.  However, today this is not the kind of dining experience the younger generation wants.

The film asks the questions:  Is there still room for this kind of fancy French restaurant in the world today? Is fine dining in America dead?

The film also explores Perrier's childhood in Lyon.  He started early in his mother's kitchen and knew early that he wanted to be a chef. Perrier sacrificed his life and his marriage for his restaurant, which earned Mobil five stars for almost 30 years, and it is clear from this film that he found a new family and new love: his restaurant and his cooking.

As we see him in the kitchen, there is much yelling, humiliation and throwing food on the floor.  A woman orders her steak tartare cooked!  Sacre bleu! Unacceptable crab cakes get thrown on the floor. Perrier would give Gordon Ramsay a run for this money  (if you have seen Ramsay on "Hell's Kitchen," you will know what I mean), but this is old school chef stuff.  Some testify that you could hear Georges yelling in the kitchen all the way out into the dining room, and in the old days, diners thought that was charming.  However, this is no longer PC.  A chef who yells and humiliates his employees in the name of good food and runs his kitchen like a fifedom is a dying breed, which is probably a good thing.

During the film Perrier announces that he is closing the restaurant, but as he wanders around bothering and criticizing his staff, you can tell he will have a terrible time letting go, and soon enough, he changes his mind and decides to make his young chef, Nicolas Elmi, his partner, and keep the restaurant open.  But Nick laments that Georges will probably never hand over the reins.

Perrier is mentoring Nick, who is into lighter, healthier French food.  Nick is the new generation of chef, but he/we wonder: Can he do what Perrier could not do?  Be a world class chef and run a world class restaurant and still have a personal life? And how does he reconcile the food with the stuffiness of the restaurant, so it appeals to the new generation of foodies?

But a year later, we see Perrier in his kitchen, in the way, a dinosaur. He just can't let go and reviews for the restaurant are poor. He is devastated.  The restaurant is empty and Georges finally decides to close  for good - the end of an era for the formal French restaurant because people today no longer to want to dress up and eat a formal meal.

Directed by Erika Frankel, this film affectionately captures the end of an era. And this is also a cautionary tale for us all - no matter what your profession, when it's time to go, it's time to go.  Don't stay too long.

At the end of the film we see the signs coming down and the chandeliers being auctioned off.  But there is a happy ending.  Nick won "Top Chef" in 2014 and opened his own restaurant - Laurel

The film ends with Nick taking Georges to his restaurant.  He lets Georges go into his kitchen and weigh in on it, and Nick gives his old mentor the respect he deserves - the Old Guard making way for the New Guard, but the New Guard paying homage and respect to what he has learned from the Old Guard.  Very touching.  In fact, the admiration Nick pays to Georges - the admiration from the young to the old - is not just touching but inspiring.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love food and fine dining, you will love this fine film.

Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)

Teen idol Tab Hunter shares his story of what it was like to be a closeted Hollywood star in the 1950's.

Hunter was one of the most handsome movie love interests in the 1950's and 1960's.  He was billed as "The All-American Boy" and was considered the embodiment of American masculinity. He was also gay.

As Hunter narrates this film, he opens up about his life, sharing what it was like to be gay in the 1950's when it was illegal to be gay. Friends and co-stars - George Takei, Rex Reed, John Waters, Rona Barrett, Connie Stevens, Debbie Reynolds and others - weigh in on Hunter and What it was like to be gay in 1950's Hollywood.

Born Art Galien, his father was abusive so he and his brother were raised by his mother.  She was very strict.  Introverted and shy, Hunter considered himself "lost" as a kid.  Raised a Catholic, he was taught that if there is something bad, push it from your mind.

His love for horses was a way to escape his unhappy life and that led him to actress Ann Blyth and her husband Dick Clayton. They introduced him to agent Henry Willson, who was famous for discovering handsome leading men who didn't have handsome leading men names and renaming them, like Rory Calhoun (born Francis Timothy McCown), Rock Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer Jr.) and Guy Madison (born Robert Ozell Moseley).  Willson specialized in "pretty boy" young actors and he was also a starmaker.  So Art Galien became Tab Hunter.

Hunter's first film was "Island of Desire" with an aging Linda Darnell.  Hunter didn't really show any acting ability and the critics hated it though the audiences loved it.  However, that film didn't lead to much more work.

"I was so bad in the movie I couldn't get arrested."

So his friend and mentor, Dick Clayton, arranged for Hunter to do some theatre work and he starred in "Our Town."  Warner Brothers discovered him and put him in "Battle Cry," where he made a big splash.  For years Hunter played the good looking Army guy, Navy guy, and Marine.  He said he was in so many military uniforms they should have given him a pension. 

But it was "Damn Yankees" that made him a star.

In those days, the big studios financed everything for their young actors and Hunter was given acting lessons and whatever was needed to make him a star. He also had some success as a singer when he recorded "Young Love, " and "Red Sails in the Sunset," both of which became hits and sealed his fate as a teen idol.

As his star took off, Hunter left his agent, Henry Willson, which angered Willson.  He retaliated by he leaking Tab's homosexuality to "Confidential Magazine," a shock rag that printed all kinds of inuendos about the stars, but the head of Warner Brothers, Jack Warner, shook it all off and famously said, "Today's headlines, tomorrow's toilet paper."

Hunter was making a lot of money for Warner Brothers and, as long as he maintained his accepted movie star persona, Jack Warner was happy and covered up what needed to be covered up. The studio engineered romances and made sure Tab was photographed going to Ciro's with Natalie Wood and other young actresses.  He shares in the film that he would enter the restaurant with a young starlet, dance with her, get photographed, and then go out the back way to meet up with his male date.

Because he was so handsome, Hunter was not really taken seriously as an actor, playing mostly shallow love interests. Then TV came along and he had the chance to do some dramatic roles on serious programs like "Playhouse 90," but when he made the decision to leave Warner Brothers, it was career suicide, and without the protection of the studio, he was forced to take lesser roles in lesser films and he no longer could hide his personal life. 

In the film, Hunter reveals that in his early years, he was constantly struggling with his sexual identity.  His Catholic upbringing made him feel like he was sinning when he was with a man, but when he was with a woman he felt like he was lying. He didn't come out to the world until 2005.

As Hunter's career was on the wane, he went back to his first love - horses.  He became a competitive horse jumper, met the love of his life and found his way back to his religion, though, later John Waters discovered him and put him in "Polyester," where he experienced a resurgence in his popularity.

Lots of delicious pictures and footage of Hunter for those of us who adorned our teenage bedroom walls with his pictures, but it's also a reminder to the younger generation that there really was a time when being gay was against the law and gay people had to hide their true selves.  It's a relevant reminder that we don't want to go back to those times.

This is a very candid look inside the life of an actor, a gay man in the mid-20th century, who not only had to live with the challenge of being gay in an unaccepting world but who reinvented himself.  Hunter makes the point that it's still not easy to be gay in Hollywood and there are prominent actors who have never come out (gee, I wonder who those actors are)!

Now in his 80's but still looking FINE, Hunter has withdrawn completely from acting and the Hollywood life and lives quietly in Santa Barbara.  Horses are still his great love and he is happy to be forgotten.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I haven't forgotten you Tab.

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

225 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

It's nearing the end of WW II and the German occupation.  What do freedom fighters do when the war is over? 

Based on a controversial novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski, it's the last day of World War II in a German occupied Poland.  The Germans have surrendered, but no one knows who has really won or what they are supposed to do.  Everyone had been living peacefully together - the communists, the Nationalists, Catholics, Monarchists, everyone banding together to defeat the Germans - so what now?

Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulsky, who looks like a young Jack Lord) is a young hothead and part of the Nationalist underground assigned to kill a Communist district leader. It's the first day of peace in Poland after the war, but now the Communists are about to take over. So we follow Maciek over the next 24 hours as he readies himself for the hit.  But Maciek also wants to enjoy his newly found freedom, something he has never known in his adult life.  He meets a young woman and falls in love and this love affair threatens to derail his mission.

Cybulski was hailed as "the James Dean of the East," and this film is reportedly one of director Martin Scorsese's favorites, which he used as inspiration for "The Departed (2006)."

Directed by Andrzej Wajda and shot in gorgeous black and white that beautifully frames the visual images, this film captures the ravages of war and the cynicism and corruption it brings.

Again, I am enjoying this project of mine where I get to see some great films I not only didn't know about but wouldn't have watched because of the subject matter.  I am not a big fan of war movies that feature a lot of men.  You know me, I'm a bit shallow.  My idea of a good classic film is Joan Crawford in her big shoulder pads waving a cigarette around, but I have to say that because of this project of mine, I have been exposed to some wonderful movie experiences.  And this is one of them.

Why it's a Must See:  "For a few years at the end of the 1950's, after Italian Neorealism waned and before the French New Wave rolled in, Polish cinema was the art cinema.  With their complex, often ambiguous tales of wartime solidarity, sacrifice and commitment, the Poles offered the most cogent example yet of socialism with a human face...Perhaps the finest of all the Polish films of the era, the one that came to stand for an emerging generation of East European artists and intellectuals, was Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a brilliant depiction of the tragedy and confusion of war where the lines are blurred between good and evil - who and what are the diamonds and who and what are the ashes?
(b & w, in Polish with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett (2016)

Carol reminisces about "The Carol Burnet Show," the cast, the guests and the sketches.

This book follows Carol's other memoirs: "One More Time: A Memoir (2003)," "This Time Together (2011)," and "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story (2014)," but this time she concentrates on her 11 years on the Emmy Award-winning "The Carol Burnett Show."

Burnett tells some great stories about the regulars: Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway and tells us where they are now.  She also showcases others who made the show a winner: the clothes by Bob Mackie, the dance routines choreographed by Ernie Flatt and more.

She also shares some of the most famous sketches. 

Who can forget the movie parody of "Gone with the Wind," which was renamed "Went with the Wind," where Carol comes down the stairs as Starlett (Scarlett), literally wearing the green velvet drapes, curtain rod and all, and when Rat (Rhett) says, "You, you vixen, you.  Starlett, I love you and that gown is gorgeous"  to which Starlett replies, "Thank you. I saw it in the window and just couldn't resist it."

Well, don't just listen to my explanation.  Here it is.

That is my favorite Carol Burnett bit of all time.

Carol also shares anecdotes about guest stars: Michael Jackson, Carol Channing, Jerry Lewis, James Stewart, and Rita Hayworth, who was already showing signs of the Alzheimers that would kill her, though no one knew she was suffering from it and sadly thought she was drinking.

There are also funny moments from the Q & A sessions that always opened her shows:

"A woman asks 'What kind of soap do you use to clean the floor?'  I tell her, 'I think that's a little personal."' Over the laughter from the audience, I ask a stagehand and he says 'Vinyl cleaner.'  I ask the woman where in her house does she have vinyl? 'In the kitchen?  Bathroom?'  The woman nods and I say 'You have vinyl all over you house?'  The woman replies dryly 'Just on the floor.'

To write the book, Carol watched all 276 episodes of her show, and she has captured the best of them.  All kinds of fun anecdotes and memories for us Carol Burnett fans.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you were a fan of "The Carol Burnett Show" or are a fan of Carol's, you will be in heaven

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of


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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