Friday, March 31, 2017

"Personal Shopper" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Personal Shopper" as well as DVDs "Nocturnal Animals" and Almodavar's latest "Julieta."  The Book of the Week is "The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Olympia,"  Leni Riefenstahl's celebration of the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany]



Personal Shopper


Personal shopper by day - ghost hunter by night. 

Kristen Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, a personal shopper for Kyra, a famous celebrity/socialite/actress/model. It's not clear who or what her boss is, though she is certainly a harridan.  I would also say that Maureen is more of a stylist than a personal shopper, though you would never know it from the way she dresses, mostly t-shirts, jeans and messy hair.  And she's not really a ghost hunter, per se, either, though she describes herself as a medium and is waiting for her dead brother to give her a sign that he is at peace in the afterlife. She is a sad, unhappy person who herself is more of a ghost.

Her twin brother recently died of a heart condition, a condition that both of them shared.  The two of them had made a pact that whomever died first would try to send a sign back from the afterlife...that is, if there is an afterlife.  You see her brother, Lewis, was also a medium. Something else they shared. Maureen is hanging around Paris grieving and "waiting," waiting for that sign her brother said he would send.  So she is basically a personal shopper by day for a bitch of a model and a ghost hunter/medium by night as she hangs out in her brother's dark and spooky country house waiting for a sign from him.

There is a scene when Maureen is talking to Kyra's boyfriend, Ingo (Lars Eidinger), telling him about waiting for a sign from her brother, and he asks her "How would you know it's a sign?"  Good question.  On a personal note, I have had this same conversation with my family that if anything happens to any of them to be sure to send a message from the afterlife, if there is one, and if it's possible, but now maybe I should rethink that.  I probably wouldn't notice it if they did.

So Maureen hangs out in a spooky house at night and shops in Paris and London for Kyra by day. She doesn't appear to be a happy person. She hates her boss, who Maureen (and us) rarely sees and who forbids her to try on any of the clothes that she is assigned to get for her boss.  She misses her boyfriend who is hanging out in Muscat for a reason that is very unclear, and she is grieving the loss of her brother. I don't think Stewart smiles once during this film.  Now I know her character is not a happy person, but tell me one time that Stewart has smiled in ANY of her films.  

Maureen actually has a ghost encounter in the spooky house, though it's not her brother.  It's an unexplained female ghost who vomits ectoplasm on her and then swishes out a window.  Then Maureen is mysteriously stalked via text messages on her phone. Is it Lewis? From some of the questions the stalker asks, if it was my brother, I would go, "Ew."  But also unexplained.  Whomever it is who is messaging Maureen asks her provocative questions and urges her to do what is forbidden, such as trying on Kyra's clothes, which she does. Then there is a murder.  Likewise...unexplained.  Then she has another ghost encounter when she goes to Oman or we think it's a ghost encounter.  Unexplained.  And then the film ends with even Maureen questioning whether everything that just happened was real. And now so am I. I stumbled out of the theatre with my contraband Starbucks coffee cup and thought "Huh?"

So that is the main problem with this film or perhaps it is also its strength.  I can't explain it.  Nothing is explained but despite that, the film was intriguing and held my interest

The film was written and directed by Olivier Assayas, who shared the Best Director Award for this film at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.  He has created a tense, moody film that takes place in Paris, London and Oman and features mostly actors unknown to American audiences.

I have never really been a big Kristin Stewart fan, and I have finally figured out why.  I think it's the same reason Jane Fonda always left me cold despite my appreciation of her acting talent.  And that's it.  Some actresses exude warmth and it comes off the screen at you - Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Julia Roberts.  They all have warmth and vulnerability.  Kristin has a cold quality and it doesn't help that her acting style is to underplay. However, I am not saying she is a bad actress.  In fact, I thought she did a wonderful job in "The Clouds of Sils Maria," which maybe not so coincidentally was also directed by Assayas.

This film is a one woman show for Stewart. She is in practically every frame of the film and that flat quality of hers is perfect to portray a woman who is very, very alone, almost a ghost herself.  

Despite the fact that I said "Huh?" out loud at the end of this film, it's my kind of movie - a psychological thriller with a female star shot in European locations. And the fact that nothing is explained is fitting because how can we really explain much of what happens to us in real life especially grief and how it manifests itself, and the afterlife?  We will never know if there is an afterlife or not until, well, it's after our life.

(This film is losing theatres this week so if you want to see it, I recommend catching it soon or wait for the DVD).

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like moody, psychological thrillers with some ghosts, you might like this. Even if you aren't sure what is going on some of the time, it's a tense ride that you can't get off of...and you don't want to.




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

On DVD







Nocturnal Animals (2016)


A film within a film as an art dealer reads her ex-husband's novel and the harrowing story comes to life.

The film opens with shocking scenes of dead-eyed naked obese women dancing.  I guess you would call that performance art, but it's very unsettling and sets the stage for this unsettling drama.

The performance piece is part of art dealer Susan Morrow's (Amy Adams) new art exhibition. Susan has been divorced from Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and is now married to Hutton (Armie Hammer), but Edward has sent her the manuscript of a novel he has just written.  The novel is called "Nocturnal Animals" and it is dedicated to her.  It tells the story of Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their daughter India (Ellie Bamber) who while driving through the night on their way to a vacation in West Texas are driven off the road and harassed by a carload of thugs.  It's a harrowing, horrific ordeal that doesn't end well.  Tony enlists the help of the local cop, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) and the two use a bit of Texas justice to seek revenge on Tony's sadistic tormenters.

The film goes back and forth between the story in the book and Susan and Edward's story - how they met, how Susan's mother, a rich socialite (Laura Linney) didn't approve of Edward, who was a struggling writer, and how Susan eventually also didn't approve of Edward and had an affair with Hutton, a "more suitable" guy and divorced Edward to marry him.  And now Hutton is cheating on Susan.

There is one telling scene where Susan is walking through her gallery and notices a large modern art painting that spells the word "Revenge."  She asks her assistant where that came from and the assistant replies "You bought it."

This film is all about revenge:  from the revenge that Tony was able to wield on the three men who tormented him and his family to the revenge Edward is able to exact on Susan at the end of the film. Edward had called Susan a "nocturnal animal" because she never slept but nocturnal animals are also the nightmarish boogie men who pray on innocent people and also those of us who live in the darkness of guilt and regret, fear, betrayal and revenge.

Jake Gyllanhall plays both Tony and Edward and he does a good job of making those two characters different.  Amy Adams is one of our best actresses working today, but Isla Fisher stands out as Tony's wife, Laura, especially if you have seen her do comedy, such as in "Keeping Up With the Joneses."  She is a very versatile actress.

And then there is Michael Shannon, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this and it's easy to see why when you compare his other roles with this one.  He is another one of those actors who seemingly can do anything.

Finally, though, an actor to watch is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who won a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for his role as the sleazy and creepy killer, Ray, who gets a taste of Texas justice.

You get what you deserve.  You cheat, you are cheated upon.  You kill, you are killed.  And revenge comes in many forms. Texas justice.

Based on the novel "Tony" by Austin Wright and directed by designer Tom Ford, who adapted the screenplay, and who also directed the critically acclaimed film "A Single Man," this film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and Best Director. Ford has combined his direction and script with a moody score that is right up there with the best of Hitchcock and his designer's eye is apparent in the brilliantly beautiful production design that is right up there with Almodovar (speaking of Almodovar, see review below). His films are stylish and original and I can't wait to see what he will do next.

Rosy the Reviewer says...One of the best films of 2016.







Julieta (2016)



A chance meeting with a friend of her estranged daughter causes a woman to change her life.

I have loved director Almodovar since his "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."  I have to also admit I loved "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down," despite the political incorrectness of the film, but hey, it introduced Antonio Banderas to the world and that's a very, very good thing. 

Pedro Almodavar has directed 19 films and though they vary in story, they are all about women, women's relationships, mothers and daughters, sexuality and even food and he makes it all sumptuously beautiful to look at and always original and exciting.  What more could I ask?  His films are a complete film experience.  He uses the visual medium to the max.  It might seem like an oxymoron to say that a film needs to be visual, but there are many films that do not capitalize on the visuals.  The best films are the ones with less dialogue and where the picture tells the story.  Some films rely on heavy plot and lots of dialogue to carry the film, but Almodavar uses visuals to tell his stories and makes films that look like works of art.  His attention to detail is part of the pleasure of watching his films, from the vibrant color of someone's hair to the contrasting colors on the walls of a basketball court, his images blast off the screen. 

Julieta (Emma Suarez) is in love with Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti), and they are planning to leave Madrid and move to Portugal.  But a chance meeting with Bea (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of Julieta's daughter, Antia (Blanca Peres), changes everything for Julieta. Bea tells Julieta that Antia has three children and is happy, and it is apparent that Julieta has not seen her daughter in many years.  This chance encounter forces Julieta to confront the past, and she cancels her plans with Lorenzo and, not only decides to stay in Madrid, but moves back to the apartment building where she had lived with her daughter. 

Julieta writes a letter to Antia to explain her life and to try to understand what had happened to their relationship, and as she does so, the film unfolds, starting with Julieta's life at age 25 (Julieta now played by Adriana Ugarte), when she meets an older man on a train. The man tries to talk to her but he gives her the creeps so she changes cars and meets Xoan (Daniel Grao), a fisherman.  He is married, but his wife is in a coma, and at first, you think. Sure. I've heard that line before.  Suddenly the train hits something and it turns out the man who had given Julieta the creeps had gotten off the train and thrown himself in front of it.  She feels guilty and forms a bond with Xoan who tells her it wasn't her fault, and when I say they formed a "bond," you know what I mean.  Yes, they did, right there on the train.

Julieta is a substitute teacher in a high school and teaches classical literature.  She receives a letter from Xoan and she decides to go find him.  When she does, she discovers that his wife has died. So he really was telling the truth!  When she arrives Xoan is not home and the housekeeper, Marian (Rossy de Palma), is very unfriendly, sort of like Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca."  She tells Julieta that Xoan is with his friend, Ava (Inma Cuesta) and Julieta says she will wait.  Both Marian and Ava will play pivotal roles in the plot.

When Xoan returns, Julieta and he resume where they left off, they get married and have a daughter, Antia.

In the meantime, Julieta's own mother has had a stroke and she goes back home to see her and discovers that her father (Joaquin Notario) has a "helper," Sanaa (Mariam Bachir).  Wink, wink.  I couldn't help but think that men don't seem to feel responsible about remaining faithful when their wives are sick.  Anyway, I digress.

As time goes by, Antia gets older and loves to go fishing with her Dad.  Marian has warmed up a bit but mostly to Antia.  She still doesn't like Julieta.  The now adolescent Antia (Priscilla Delgado) goes off to camp where she meets the adolescent Bea (Sara Jimenez), and they become fast friends, but then a tragedy occurs, which is the crux of the story as to why Julieta and Antia have become separated and estranged.  The film goes back and forth in time: to the past to show how the estrangement occurred and back to the present time as Julieta writes the letter to Antia and hopes for her return.

The mother/daughter relationship is the closest but also the most complicated of all relationships and one fraught with peril.  But this isn't just a mother/daughter story, it's a story about the secrets adults keep from their children and how they hide their true selves.

I loved every minute of this film which was based on some short stories by Alice Munro.  It's difficult for me to admit that a man can direct such powerful films about women but Amodovar certainly can.  And Almodovar's use of color and attention to visual detail makes my heart sing.

Rosy the Reviewer says...One of our greatest directors, and he has now moved into my heart as my favorite.




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


208 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?





Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938)


A film that documents the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

This was filmed to exalt Hitler and his Aryans, because Hitler was so certain that the German athletes would win everything, but wouldn't you know.  That damn Jesse Owens had to show up and kick the Nazi's butts.

Director Leni Riefenstahl, who was Hitler's personal filmmaker hired to document the grandeur of the Third Reich, begins the film showing Greek ruins and statues because, after all, the Greeks started the Olympics.  However, I am surprised that Hitler even approved of the Greeks.  If you have seen "Triumph of the Will," also by Riefenstahl, who was rumored to have had a relationship with Hitler, you know that it was an incredibly boring film to anyone but Hitler.  Though she did it artistically, you can only watch so many parades of soldiers goose stepping around. 

In this film, she attempts to insert some artistry by showing a bunch of naked white dudes, no doubt showing the beauty of the white man, then some naked girls.  It goes on and on.  Then the march of nations.

And I need to see this before I die because.....?




Olympia Part 2: Festival of Beauty (1938)


Part II focuses on the women athletes as well as the gymnasts and the swimmers, and then fencing, shooting and all kinds of other stuff nobody cares about. It opens with artistic shots of birds and lakes and glistening spider webs and then close-ups of a bunch of happy Aryans.  Then it goes on to show the various events.

Why it's a Must See:  "Riefenstahl's aesthetic interest in physical form and motion and her feat in making this documentary have never been duplicated.  Filming the games and supervising the immense task of postproduction would take a Herculean effort today. ..Despite its overtly political message, the film is an artistic triumph, evidence not only of Riefenstahl's personal talent and vision, but also for the energies and expertise of her hundreds of assistants...Nearly 250 hours of film was shot, and the task of editing was personally supervised by Riefenstahl...Riefenstahl's protestations of political innocence may be unconvincing, but Olympia does have another and more enduring side.  Simply put, it is the most moving cinematic record of human sport and physical competition ever produced."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Basically this film is notable because the director and cinematographer is Riefenstahl and because Jesse Owens showed up to throw a wrench in Hitler's idea that only white people had the prowess to win at the Olympics.  When the announcer starts the race saying that there will be two black runners against "the strongest of the white race (exact words)," you have to say to yourself, "Wow."

Like I said, the best part of the film is seeing Jesse Owens beating the Germans and Hitler's freaked-out reactions.  However, the footage that Riefenstahl was able to get is really quite phenomenal, and she presents it in an artistic way, but it's difficult for me to believe that anyone but Hitler would sit through a three and a half hour film about the 1936 Olympics that was meant to extoll the virtues of the Third Reich.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Well, I did...but I had to. It's my job.



 
***Book of the Week***





The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade"  by Ann Fessler (2007)


The untold history of the million and a half women, many of them teenaged high school girls, who surrendered children for adoption due to enormous family and social pressure in the decades before Roe v. Wade.

Many of us who went to high school in the 50's and 60's knew girls who "disappeared" for some mysterious reason or who left school for a time and came back after having a strange illness.  There were rumors about those girls, but we went on with our lives.  Those were the "bad girls," they didn't have anything to do with us "good girls."  But little did we know the lifelong pain and scars that those girls endured.

Fessler has opened a Pandora's box of pain with this book about the untold stories of young girls who got pregnant in a time when there were few options.  Most went to homes for unwed mothers, had their babies and were forced to give them up, thus sentencing many of them to a life of sadness and regret.  Some were able to find their children again after many years but still mourned the loss of missing out on all of those years of their childrens' lives.

The irony was the only difference between the "good girls" and the "bad girls" was that the "bad girls" got pregnant.  But many of us so-called "good girls" were also having sex and just got lucky. 

I can remember my mother implying being unmarried and pregnant was about as bad as you could get and my feeling she would kick me to the curb if I ever got pregnant.  That probably explains why I got married young to my high school sweetheart, a marriage that was doomed anyway but wasn't helped by the fact that he was drafted and sent to Vietnam while I was in college.  And I have to say that my mother probably wouldn't have kicked me to the curb, but her obsession with what the neighbors would think would certainly have put me in a home for unwed mothers or I would have been forced to get married much earlier. So having experienced the fear of getting pregnant and imagining what might have happened to me back then if I had, gives me a small glimpse into the fear and shame that those young girls who did get pregnant went through, but only a very small glimpse.  Reading these testimonials made me cry and say to myself, "There but for fortune go I."  

The double standard at play here is heartbreaking.  The girl and boy are having sex, the girl gets pregnant and only the girl pays the price.  In most of these testimonials, these boys who assured the girls that they were the loves of their lives, went their merry ways once their girlfriends got pregnant and gave their children up for adoption.  However, the girls never got over the experience or the loss of their babies.

Fessler does a great job of weaving the history of the sexual and political mores of the times - "good girls" vs. "bad girls," the social pressures on the young girls to give up their babies for adoption, the devastation that act created in their lives and the eventual search and reunion for some - with first person testimonials from the women who became pregnant as young girls and were forced to give up their babies.  Fessler also shares her own story.

"As a sexual revolution heated up in the postwar years, birth control was tightly restricted; abortion was still illegal in most states, and was prohibitively expensive or life endangering.  At the same time, the postwar economic boom brought millions of families into the middle class, along with intense social pressures to conform to a model of family perfection.  While you men who engaged in sex often saw their reputations enhanced, single women who became prgantn were shunned by family and friends, evicted from school, and sent away to maternity homes to have their children alone, often treated with cold contempt by doctors and nurses. They were told that surrendering their children was by far the best solution, and that doing so would allow them to simply move on and forget."

But they never did...and these are their stories.

Rosy the Reviewer says...absolutely heartbreaking stories that reminds us of the importance of the progress we have made since then and how important it is that we never go back to there.

 
Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

 
for my review of



"The Zookeeper's Wife"

and


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 IMDB.com, 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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