Friday, January 20, 2017

"Live By Night" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Live By Night" as well as the DVD "Sausage Party" and the Golden Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language -  "Divines," -  now streaming on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is Anthony Bourdain's latest cookbook "Appetites." I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with an early Alfred Hitchcock film "Blackmail."]

Live by Night

When Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) returned to Boston from the battlegrounds of WW I, he vowed to never take orders from anyone again and to instead become an outlaw.  Little did he know he would become a rum running kingpin in Florida and where the choices he would make would lead him.

Returning from the war, Joe Coughlin decided, that instead of taking orders from someone else, it was a good idea to go into business for himself: some robberies, a gambling house here, a bank there, just some small stuff, nothing major that would disturb the order of things - the order of things being the Irish mafia and the Italian mafia, both of which had taken over Boston.  Joe's Dad was a Boston police captain (Brendan Gleeson) and warned him that a life of crime would come back and bite him one day.  Prescient words.

Joe might have been a small time hood but he had some morals. He was essentially a decent guy and, shaken by all of the killing he had witnessed in the war, he didn't want anything to do with the mob.  But avoiding the mob in Boston was not easy. The Irish mob was run by Albert White (Robert Glenister) and the Italian mob was run by Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone).  Joe was happy to do his little side jobs and was able to avoid getting involved with the mob until he fell in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), who unfortunately happened to be White's mistress.  Thus begins a tale of a man taken down by the love of a woman.

Joe and Emma decide to escape to California, but Pescatore, learning of Joe's and Emma's liaison, tries to blackmail Joe into joining his syndicate and killing Albert White, thus eliminating his competition.  Pescatore threatens Joe with telling White about his relationship with Emma if he doesn't assent. But Joe refuses. Intending to make some money so he and Emma can flee, Joe commits a bank robbery with his partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), and three police officers are killed during the chase. (I have to say that the chase was rather funny, unintentionally so. We are not used to seeing car chases using Model T's, so it was more like watching The Keystone Cops than the tense chase it was supposed to be.  But I digress.  Back to the story).

Anyway, White finds out about Emma and Joe, and he coerces Emma into luring Joe into a trap, whereupon Joe is brutally beaten by White and his men and nearly killed before the police arrive and arrest Joe for the policemen's deaths.

Joe is sent to prison where he discovers that White has killed Emma, so when he gets out of prison, Joe's main goal in life is to seek revenge on Albert White, so now he volunteers his services to Pescatore and is sent to Ybor City, a suburb of Tampa, to protect Pescatore's rum running empire, which is under attack by White.

And that's only the first part of the movie!

There is also the local Sheriff in Ybor City, Irving Figgis (Chris Cooper), who turns a blind eye to the rum running; his brother-in-law, R.D. Pruitt (Matthew Maher), a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan and certifiable nutter; Sheriff Figgis' daughter, Loretta (Elle Fanning), who goes off to Hollywood to become an actress but falls in with the wrong crowd; and a local Cuban businessman of dubious dealings with a beautiful sister (Zoe Saldana).

The story has many characters and many twists and turns (the main twist I figured out early based on my theory about famous actors with small parts), as Joe works to exact his revenge on White and comes to the realization that perhaps his father was right. The decisions he made in his life had many repercussions.

And there is much more. It just goes on and on.  And that is my main criticism of this film.

There is just too much going on in this film.  There is the Italian mob, the Irish mob, the Cuban mob, prohibition, drugs, prostitution, racism, interracial marriage, the Ku Klux Klan, evangelism, double-crossing, revenge, madness.  This might just as well have been called "Scarface" meets "The Godfather" meets the Ku Klux Klan meets Amy Semple McPherson."  There is just too much going on here.

I am a huge Ben Affleck fan and believe he is a fantastically talented guy. He can write, he can act, and he can direct.  When I saw "Argo," I said it was going to win an Oscar for Best Picture even before it was nominated. And it did. But here, as writer (he adapted the screenplay from a Dennis Lehane novel), actor and director, I just think he bit off more than he could chew, and the film just didn't hit the mark. The film lacked the intensity that an epic like this needs to keep the audience interested. And as an actor, though he can play romantic comedy as easily as highly dramatic roles, here he just didn't make me believe he was a gangster, even a conflicted gangster. Somehow, he just doesn't have a gangster-y face. And I am not a fan of voice-over narration as a way to advance the story, either.  I prefer the visual approach.  As a writing/directorial choice, I think that was a mistake.

However, Sienna Miller was a revelation.  She is one of those beautiful actresses who is also a chameleon and can change her looks in honor of the role.  And not many beautiful actresses can pull that off. Here, I didn't even recognize her as Emma, the Irish gun moll, and for me, from an acting standpoint, that is the sign of a really great actress. But being able to hide behind a role is a blessing and a curse. It shows great acting but one also remembers the character more than the actress. She doesn't have an unusual face like Julia Roberts or Jessica Chastain or the actress-y mannerisms of a Meryl Streep or Jane Fonda, so perhaps that is why Miller has not reached the superstardom of a Julia Roberts - yet. But I have to believe that talent wills out.

Rosy the Reviewer says...All in all, this is not a bad film by any means.  If you like gangster films and old-fashioned story-telling with lots of plot, then you might enjoy it. It's just not the kind of great film I have come to expect from Affleck.


***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
On DVD and Streaming

Sausage Party (2016)

A sausage goes on a journey to find the meaning of life.

As I sat down to watch this movie, I thought, "Oh, gosh!  Why do I do this to myself?"

We know that Seth Rogan movies are aimed at males between the ages of 18 and 35 who still live in their mother's basements, so why do I subject myself to films that are clearly not the demographic for a mature movie-loving woman who appreciates the finer things in movies?  Well, partially, because I can't stand to NOT be in the know about things.

"What?  You didn't see 'Sausage Party?'  Where have you been?"

I couldn't stand that.

I belong to a Fantasy Movie League.  You know, like a sports fantasy league except for movies.  We bet on the box office returns for movies opening in any given week and whomever guesses the highest return wins.  So I know about everything that comes out that is supposed to be big, and I remember when this one came out. It was a big box office hit. However, I had absolutely no interest in watching an "R" rated cartoon about a sausage trying to find himself.  I mean, the name alone brings up all kinds of mental images that I don't really want to entertain.  So when I sat down to watch this film, I had low expectations.

And then it happened...

I laughed.

Basically, the story revolves around the foods in a supermarket believing that when "the gods," as in the human beings, come into the store and put them into their shopping baskets to take them home, they are going to "The Great Beyond."  Every morning when the store opens, all of the foods sing an Alan Menken song exalting "The Gods" and "The Great Beyond."

Frank (Seth Rogan) is one of the "Fancy Dogs" and Brenda (Kristen Wiig) is one of the "Glamour Buns," and they are all excited because tomorrow is the "Red, White and Blue Day" and they can't wait to be chosen to go to "The Great Beyond," so they can consummate their relationship. It would be wrong to do that before they get to "The Great Beyond."  And let me tell you, the buns alone are, well, you will have to see for yourself.

But one day, a jar of honey mustard - his name is also Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) - is returned by a customer and tells his shelf mates that "The Great Beyond" is a fraud.  It's not their version of heaven at all, but rather a hellish place, and they do NOT want to go there.

But no one believes him, though Frank thinks there might be something to it. Honey Mustard calls on Frank to seek out a bottle of liquor named Firewater, if he doesn't believe him.

However, before Frank can investigate further, Frank and Brenda get chosen by a customer, Camille Toh (see where this is going?) and are happily riding the cart to the check-out counter when Honey Mustard commits suicide by throwing himself off the shelf onto the floor. This creates an accidental cart collision that causes Frank, Brenda, and several groceries to fall out, including a Douche (Nick Kroll) who gets his nozzle bent.  He blames Frank and Brenda for his injury and plots revenge against them.

Now Brenda and Frank are loose on the floor of the store.  They encounter Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), who sounds just like Woody Allen and Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz), a middle eastern guy who can't wait to go to "The Great Beyond" where he will be smothered in extra virgin olive oil for eternity.  The two trade barbs about the Jews vs. the Palestinians, and Sammy mutters..."First they come for the bagels..." 

So Frank, Brenda, Sammy and Kareem head to the liquor aisle to find Firewater (Bill Hader). Naturally, everyone is partying in the liquor aisle.  Frank finds Firewater in his smokehouse with his cohorts, one of whom is a box of grits.  When introduced he says, "They call me MISTER Grits (Craig Robinson)!"  Frank smokes weed with them, and Firewater tells Frank that he and the other non-perishable foods made up the story of "The Great Beyond" to save the other foods from their fears about being eaten by the shoppers.

Frank, vowing to reveal the truth to the groceries, is encouraged to travel beyond the store's freezer section to find proof, which he does when he finds the kitchen aisle and looks at a cookbook where he encounters the horrors the foods will encounter when they get to that mythical "Great Beyond." 

He and his cohorts are joined by a very wise piece of used chewing gum (Scott Underwood) in a motorized wheelchair who sounds strangely like Stephen Hawking. 

"I am sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, mannitol, calcium, carbonite, soy lecithin, vegetable, triglyceride and talc. But, for expediency's sake. You can call me... Gum."

And they all try to warn the other foods.

Frank gets onto the supermarket camera and uses the sound system to try to convince the rest of the food that "The Great Beyond" does not exist - "Friends, Ramen, Country Club Lemonade...lend me your ears" - but they won't believe him.

 "We choose the more pleasant thing...What the sausage is saying is just a... a theory!"

Meanwhile, two of Frank's best friends, Carl (Jonah Hill), Barry (Michael Cera), and the rest of the groceries purchased by Camille are horrified when they arrive in her kitchen and realize they are going to be eaten.  A food massacre ensues.  When Camille pops two baby carrots in her mouth, Carl yells, "They are eating children!"

But Barry escapes and makes his way back to the store, while back at the store, Douche has absorbed the contents of liquor bottles to become a wild monster and is still intent on killing Frank and Brenda.

Will Frank and Brenda survive?  Will Barry make it back to the store to warn the other foods that they have been blindly believing in "The Great Beyond?"

As an aside, I have to mention a particularly funny scene where Meat Loaf sings "I would do anything for love...but I won't do that."  Yes, Meat Loaf is a meat loaf.

Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan from a script by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, there is more going on here than a bunch of animated food stuffs running around a store, talking about sex and swearing, though there is certainly a lot of that.   

"The Great Beyond" is, of course, a metaphor for a belief in religion, God and heaven or the afterlife and the human urge to "choose the more pleasant thing."  But Rogan tackles many other issues of the day, too, with lots of visual and verbal homages to movies and pop culture, as well as bombarding us with sexual innuendo, double entendres and lots and lots of swearing.

So anyway, there is all kinds of very edgy stuff going on in this movie, and I have come to the conclusion that animation can get away with so much more than movies starring real people.

Is it raunchy? Yes. Is it politically incorrect?  Yes. Does it go too far?  Yes.    Should your children see this?  Absolutely NOT!  But more importantly, is it funny?  Yes.

Rosy the Reviewer says...when all is said and done, it's a comedy, I laughed, end of story.

Divines (2016)

An immigrant street kid from an unhappy family learns some tough lessons on the streets of Paris.

Two unlikely Muslim immigrant girls, Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (Deborah Lukumuena), are hustlers on the streets of Paris.  They also have major attitude.  Dounia has no problem helping herself to some lipstick in a store and then putting it back in its case or eating food she doesn't pay for while she shops. They shoplift and then sell the items to their school mates. But you can forgive them because they come from a dysfunctional family and live in poor conditions in Roma slums, a banlieue on the outskirts of Paris, and they are also engaging and funny. 

They are befriended by a charismatic female drug dealer, Rebecca, and the girls find a sort of family with her.  When life is rough, we find role models where we can. Rebecca gives the girls odd jobs to do until they win her approval. The girls do well and are able to buy clothes and other things that put them in the realm of the "beautiful people." Then Rebecca ramps things up a bit.  She sets up a scheme to rob Reda, a rich man who she knows keeps a stash of euros in his apartment.

In the meantime, Dounia meets Djigui, a break dancer in a theatre where he is rehearsing for an audition with a dance troupe. She has been spying on him from the catwalk high above the stage where Dounia and Maimouna have been hiding their money, and when Dounia and Djigui eventually meet, he gives her tickets to a show he will be dancing in.  Djigui represents another kind of life that doesn't include stealing and drug dealing. There is a sense that Dounia could be redeemed, and Dounia plans to leave her life in Paris and go on tour with Djigui.

But before she can leave, things go very wrong.

The strength of this film is the relationship between the two girls.  It's a buddy picture of sorts, and the two are fun to watch as they dream of a better life, but it's also a cautionary tale that could be saying, you play with fire, you will get burned.  The ending is odd after everything that has come before, and it's also a bit of a bummer, but we still believe that Dounia will be able to get her life together because she has something special.

The acting is superb and almost improvisational in style. Oulaya, who plays Dounia and Deborah as Maimouna are quite wonderful as is the girl gangster, Rebecca, played by Jisca Kalvanda.

Written and directed by Houda Benyamina in her film debut, the film won the Camera D'or at last year's Cannes Film Festival and was one of the Golden Globe nominees for Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language - (and is now available streaming on Netflix and soon to be released on DVD).

I reviewed the film "American Honey" last week and this could almost be a French version of that.  Disaffected youth seeking a better life.  But I never did figure out what this title meant.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is highly likely to be nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, so here is your chance to get in early and see it.
(In French with English subtitles)


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

218 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Blackmail (1929)

A young woman gets herself into a bit of a mess, as in killing a guy.  Unfortunately, someone sees her do it and blackmails her.

Alice White (Anny Ondra) quarrels with her boyfriend, Frank (John Longden) and decides she will show him by going off with a lecherous artist, Mr. Crewe (Cyril Richard - remember him?  He went on to be Captain Hook in the TV version of "Peter Pan" that starred Mary Martin).  Crewe uses that old staple and lures Alice up to his apartment to see his etchings, but when he puts the moves on her and she rejects him, he tries to rape her.  A bread knife just happens to be handy, so she stabs him.  She tries to cover up her presence in the apartment, but leaves one of her gloves, and wouldn't you know.  Alice's boyfriend, Frank, just happens to be a policeman, and when the body is discovered and he is investigating the case, he finds her glove in the apartment.

Frank loves Alice and decides to protect her, but once again, wouldn't you know it?  Someone saw Alice go into Crewe's apartment, so he blackmails both of them. Unfortunately for him, though, because he was seen near Crewe's apartment, he becomes a suspect. 

So will Alice have to pay for stabbing Crewe even though it was in self-defense?  Or will the blackmailer win out?

Based on a play by Charles Bennett, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this was Hitchcock's first talkie, though it still maintains some elements of a silent film.  The movie was meant to be a silent film, but mid-shoot Hitchcock decided it should be Britain's first talkie, which it was. And you can tell, because the first eight minutes of the film are completely silent even though you can see the actors' lips moving, and then, rather jarringly, you hear the actors start speaking.  However, movies are a visual medium and you realize you don't really need to hear dialogue to understand what is going on. Hitchcock said, "Dialogue should simply be...something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms."  I agree.

Even though this was only Hitchcock's second film, he was already sowing the seeds of brilliance with his camera work, use of shadows and framing, exemplified by a stunning scene where he shot down through a spiral staircase from above and a fantastic chase scene on the top of the British Museum.  Hitchcock also appears briefly on a tube train, the first of what would be recurring cameos he employed in many of his films (you know, don't you, that Hitchcock puts himself into most of the films he has directed, right? The fun for fans is trying to spot him). 

Why it's a Must See:  "...this 1929 pictured sealed [Hitchcock's] reputation and set him on he road to a remarkable career...One of Hitchcock's greatest tricks was to be both avant-garde and commercial at the same time: here he uses newfangled technology in the service of a melodrama that may be psychologically acute but still succeeds in delivering thrills (and titillation)."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...silent and early talkies are difficult for us modern folks, but if you are a Hitchcock fan, you will want to see this early work.

***Book of the Week***

"Appetites, A Cookbook" by Anthony Bourdain (2016)

Tony's latest cookbook!

I have made no secret of my admiration for Tony (he lets me call him Tony) Bourdain.  I have loved him ever since his first book "Kitchen Confidential" outed less than stellar restaurant practices, and I have been a fan of every one of this TV shows ("No Reservations," "A Cook's Tour," "The Layover," "Parts Unknown"). I paid good money to go see him when he came to Seattle and paid even more to actually meet him, which I brag about constantly on this blog.  I also can't resist posting this picture (this is at least the third time I have posted it on one of my blog posts), but, hey, I paid to have my picture taken with Tony and I want my money's worth!

(And for your info, he was very congenial and answered my questions, which I realize now were really stupid).

In addition to being a big fan of Tony's, I am also a big fan of cookbooks. 

I have a large collection and actually like to just read them. So, of course, I wanted to check out Tony's latest cookbook.  And it hits the mark on both counts.  It satisfies the fan in me by being Tony in all of his glory and it is indeed a cookbook you will want to read, because, let's just say, Tony has some interesting comments to make, not just about his dishes, but also food and cooking in general.

As one could tell from his touring show (and this book), Tony adores his daughter, having had a child very late in life (he was 50).  He seemed to really love his wife too, but alas, since I saw him, they have split.  If you follow Tony at all, you know that his TV shows involve his traveling all over the world and his eating all kinds of exotic foods, but this cookbook is all about family and being a Dad and cooking the food that he, Tony, and his family like to cook and eat, so it is a bit bittersweet considering the outcome of his marriage.

"These are the dishes I like to eat and that I like to feed my family and friends.  They are the recipes that 'work,' meaning they've been developed over time and have been informed by repetition and long - and often painful - experience."

And so he shares how to make the perfect scrambled eggs and omelets, tomato soup, chicken pot pie and turkey - all of the classic comfort foods, Tony-style, with a few exotics like laksa and nuoc mam cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) thrown in. And he's right about the recipes.  They work.

But the fun of this book is in Tony's comments and opinions, of which there are many. They are strong and funny, and he doesn't hold back.

"Home fries almost always suck.  They are a perfunctory add-on to most restaurant brunches only because they are cheap, filling, and take up a lot of room on the plate...Hash browns are a better idea.  But the best idea is no potatoes at all.  In my view, a few well-toasted, heavily buttered slices of bread are the perfect accompaniment to an egg breakfast."


"God does not want you to put chicken in your Caesar."


"Who invented the club sandwich, anyway?  America's enemies, for sure.  The club predates Al Qaeda -- but it fits that group's MO.  Mission:  Destroy America.  Method: Sap the will to live of ordinary Americans -- by repeatedly f**king up their lunch."

See what I mean? 

And he goes on like that throughout  the book.  So, yes, the recipes, are tasty and easy to prepare, but the fun of this book is Tony himself.

Rosy the Reviewer says...reading what Tony dishes out is too much fun to miss...oh, and the recipes are good too!

Thanks for reading!

I am back on Tuesday 


"Why I Love Canada"

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