Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Let's Dish about the 2017 Oscars: What I Loved (and What I Didn't Love)!

O - M - G!!!



What should have been a night of celebration for "La La Land" turned into confusion and disappointment when "La La Land" was announced as Best Picture by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  Producer Jordan Horowitz was in mid-thank you speech when it was discovered that Beatty and Dunaway had announced the wrong film and the Best Picture winner was really "Moonlight." 

Unfortunately, it was a loss for both because, even though "Moonlight" won, by the time the mistake was rectified, there was little time for Director Barry Jenkins to give his thank you speech.  A sad ending to what is usually a happy event for me and for the winners.  For a minute there, I thought I was at the Miss Universe contest where Steve Harvey announced the wrong winner.  What is going on these days?  Wouldn't you know, too, that the ones blamed for the mistake - Beatty and Dunaway - are old folks being blamed for making an old folks mistake and giving us old folks a bad name!

As for "La La Land," I have come to realize that despite how much I loved the film for its originality, freshness, innovation and depth, it is much like "The English Patient," another film that I dearly loved, a "love it or hate it" movie. 


Anyway, I am starting to get depressed, so let's get on with the fun parts:


The Clothes

Watching the stars walk the Red Carpet before the show is half the fun of The Oscars.  I have fond memories of watching with my young daughter and dishing about the gowns.  Now she is grown and I have to do it on my own but I still enjoy it.

Standouts this year were Taraji P. Henson,



Chrissy Teigan (I love her),



and Viola Davis (thank you, Viola, for a colorful dress)!



I liked Octavia Spencer's dress as well because why shouldn't a big girl wear feathers?



Mahershala Ali rocked his black on black on black look- black tux, black shirt, black bow tie.  He looked fabulous!



I liked Jessica Biel's dress but I couldn't help but think that she looked like a real life Oscar.  Yes, literally, the statue.  But maybe that was what she was going for!



And Nicole Kidman and Emma Stone - though I liked the design and style of both of their dresses, they need to stop wearing blush and nude. It washes them out.  So from one pale human to another, don't.



Janelle Monae looked like she was channeling Marie Antoinette



and Isabelle Huppert looked like she was going to be baptized in a river.



I also have to ask what was with Halle Berry's hair and Alicia Vikander's fake tan.  Both too too much.

 


And then there was Mel Gibson and his daughter...er, I mean girlfriend.




And I'm not being bitchy here.  I am just dishing.  That's different.




Jimmy Kimmel


I have to admit I had big reservations about Jimmy Kimmel as host.  I am not a big fan of him or his show and I am not sure why.  But he did a great stand-up, teasing the nominees, much in the tradition of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.  But I can't help but miss Billy Crystal's opening where he would put himself into each movie.

The so-called feud with Matt Damon was funny but I think it might have gone over the heads of most people who didn't know where that came from.  For those who don't know here is the background.

Other funny moments included the shot he took at Donald Trump via Meryl Streep (whose husband didn't look like he was having a very good time) and asking her if she was wearing an Ivanka Trump dress, tweeting to Trump and at the end blaming Steve Harvey for the Best Picture announcement gaffe.  He handled all of that with class, blaming himself.

"I knew I would screw this show up.  I really did."

You didn't, Jimmy.  You did a good job.



The Speeches

They were fine.  I wish they had been more political but I know that many people don't like that, feeling that they want to watch an awards show, not a bunch of actors spouting their political beliefs.  But here is my take on that:  actors are people just like us, they have their beliefs and if they have a platform where they can put forth those beliefs, then more power to them.  If you don't like it, don't watch. 

Most heartfelt and poignant?  Viola's speech.

The only thing that I DON'T like about these acceptance speeches is when the actor praises those who lost.  Emma Stone did that and I would say to her, Emma, don't do that.  If I had just lost my chance at an Oscar, I would not want you rubbing it in by saying I deserve it too or you are going to share it with me or I really deserved to get it.  If I deserved it, then I would have won it!  Just enjoy your victory.  You don't need to share it with anyone!



The Production - Hits and Misses

I really liked the snippets of the speeches from past winners that preceded the announcement of the actors' categories.

I also liked the moments when Charlize Theron talked about her admiration for Shirley MacLaine and then the two came out to announce a winner together.  Likewise when Javier Bardem did the same for Meryl.  Those are the kinds of moments I enjoy, but there were only two of those. 

Likewise, I loved the bit with people from around the world commenting on their favorite films and the actors reading mean tweets about themselves was hilarious, especially when Tilda Swinton read one where she was likened to this dog.  It was literally a howl.  Yes, literally, I howled.

 
 

But the Starline bus bit, bringing in the tourists, I thought was a bit cringe-worthy.
Much as I liked some of those bits, putting all of those different segments together didn't create a whole.  If we were going to have an actor like Charlize talk about her admiration for an older actor like Shirley MacLaine, then why wasn't that a common thread? I would like to have seen more of that interspersed throughout the show, other actors recognizing their inspirational counterparts.  It just seemed like too many different tangents all competing against each other.

Speaking of hits - did you notice that part of the prop in the dance number during the nominated song from "Moana" actually hit Aul'i Cravalho in the head while she was singing?  It literally hit her and went bonk! and I could see it jarring her teeth.  But she kept going.  She is only 16 so good for her!  However, that led Hubby to notice that she had nice teeth.






The Snubs

I can't write about the Oscars without mentioning the snubs and disappointments when the nominations were made.

The fact that Taraji P. Henson was not nominated for Best Actress was a travesty.  She was the heart and soul of "Hidden Figures" and showed her range as an actress.  There was not a hint of Cookie anywhere.  If "Hidden Figures" deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, then Taraji deserved a Best Actress nomination, especially since Octavia Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for that film.

And why was "Finding Dory" not nominated for Best Animated Feature?  "Piper," which won for Best Animated Short, was the "cartoon" that preceded "Finding Dory" in the theatre.  So no "Finding Dory," but "My Life as a Zucchini" was nominated?  What the hell?

"Weiner" should have been nominated for Best Documentary, Tom Hanks should have been nominated for Best Actor for "Sully" and Kathryn Hahn should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for "Bad Moms."  However, not surprised about Hahn, because, sadly, comedies never get their due.



Final Verdict

I have to say that overall, I was disappointed. 

And I am certainly not an Academy Awards hater.  I LOVE the Academy Awards and look forward to them every year.  I dress up, make appetizers, drink champagne and the whole family participates in the competition, with ballots and everything.  At our house it has always been an event.  So I say I was disappointed with a heavy heart.

Not just because "La La Land" didn't win Best Picture, which was disappointing enough, not just because Denzel was robbed, he really deserved Best Actor, and not just that I also only got 16 out of 24 right this year (last year I was 21 out of 24), but because I felt that overall the show was inconsistent in its presentation. It was all over the place with tourists and homage to older actors and tweets and Jimmy's "feud" with Matt Damon, most of which were funny on their own but didn't come together as a whole satisfying experience.

Here is my advice for a more successful Oscars show and one that perhaps won't take over four hours: Pick a theme and go with that. 

Don't try to do so many different bits. Forget the candy dropping from the ceiling (reminded me of Ellen ordering pizza) and the selfies and the tourists and the other cutesy stuff and give us more of the homage to mentors and why movies matter.

"I became an artist...because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." That's what Viola said in her acceptance speech.

"Movies celebrate life and helps us understand what it means to be human." 
I said that.

And, finally, the ultimate disappointment is to have the wrong movie announced as Best Picture.

So just what the hell happened at the end, that things got so screwed up and the wrong movie was announced as Best Picture?  And don't blame it on old people!

So here is the skinny on that!

And Jimmy, it wasn't your fault!

 
 
 
 
Well, that's it for the 2017 Oscars. 
See you next year!
 
 

 

Thanks for reading!
 
See you next Friday 
  
for my review of

"Get Out"

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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Friday, February 24, 2017

"Fifty Shades Darker" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Fifty Shades Darker" as well as DVDs "American Pastoral" and "Birth of a Nation."  The Book of the Week is "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Rene Clair's "A Nous A Liberte."]


Fifty Shades Darker



Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are back but instead of "darker," I would say this is "Fifty Shades Lighter."

Of course I was going to review this one.  I reviewed the first one, and yes, I called it, boring, a snooze fest (here is the full review) and a "Lifetime Movie with boobs and butts," but I was hoping that perhaps the producers of this sequel would have read my review, decided to listen to me and provide something a little spicier than last time.

Well...they didn't!

For all of the hype around S & M and bondage, again this is pretty tame stuff.  Even more tame than the first one.  I mean, who hasn't had some sex play with handcuffs, right?  Oh, OK...never mind.  

But I will say, I enjoyed the story more this time. 

As for the sex, at my age when the long sex scenes come on, I get kind of bored and wish I was at home so I could fast forward.  But that's just me.  I guess I am just too old for slathering on warm oil and the old Ben Wa balls.  And speaking of Ben Wa balls, what's the deal?  This is the second time in the last few months when they have played a major role in a movie (see my review for "The Handmaiden").  But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Anyway, as for this second installment directed by James Foley, which I know is not the last one in the series, we find our heroine, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) on her own with a new job.  As you may recall from the first film (and I am assuming you saw the first film or you wouldn't be interested in this one), Christian (Jamie Dornan) was a bit, shall we say "excessive" with Ana and she left him.  But as this second film begins, Ana receives a bouquet of white roses from Christian wishing her well on her new job. She almost tosses them but decides against it. Then Christian seeks her out at a gallery showing and begs her to have dinner with him where he says he wants to try again.  After a bit of hesitation...like about two seconds...Ana is convinced and once again they are a couple, though this time Christian promises he will act more like a boyfriend and less like her master.  In fact, they laugh about how "vanilla" their relationship has become, something Christian used to say he never wanted.

There are the usual sex scenes, because this is a story about sex, but like I said, they don't involve much in the way of S & M or even bondage as Christian is trying to learn how to have "vanilla" sex.  But what this movie DOES have, which the first one didn't, is an actual plot.  Anastasia is stalked by one of Christian's ex-submissives, which is a tiny bit interesting, and then Christian does a bit of stalking too, which is a creepy bit interesting.  Ana's new boss, Jack, played by Eric Johnson, makes an aggressive play for her too.  So our Ana is a busy girl trying to dodge all of this activity. 

And how do I know there is going to be yet another installment? 

Well, there were more than two books in the series for one thing, but even if you didn't know that, it's a giveaway when the film ends with a character, who played a small role earlier, looks menacingly at the camera with an "I'll be back" look on his face.

So if you like love stories, this one is OK, though I am irritated by passive women and controlling men. I laughed when Christian and others said that Ana wasn't likely to go along with something just because she is told to.  Really?  I guess she must pick her battles, though I'm not sure what they are, since she lets Christian order her meal; she doesn't go to NYC for a work thing just because Christian says no; and when Christian admits to something that I would definitely call a red flag, she sticks with him. 

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson do what they can with a script by Niall Leonard (based on the E.L. James novels) that at times has some cheesy lines.  If I were to judge Johnson by these films, I would think she doesn't have much range, but I have seen Johnson in other films since, and she is a talented actress who can do comedy and drama.  I especially enjoyed her in "How To Be Single."  Likewise, Dornan is much better than he appears in these films. Yes, he is a handsome, sexy guy, but his Christian is still awfully creepy. But if you want to see what he can really do, see him in "Anthropoid," a film I reviewed recently.  He is wonderful.  And did I mention that he is one handsome dude?

Kim Basinger is also in this, but I am still wondering why.  Her character seemed unnecessary.  Marcia Gay Harden plays Christian's mother and as an actress she is always fine. I have no complaints, but again, she doesn't have much to do as a mother in a sex film. But it's Eric Johnson as Ana's boss, Jack, who got my attention.  He is a Canadian actor who so far is best known for the TV shows "The Knick" and "Flash Gordon," but I say, watch for him.  He will go far.  He has that special combination of looks, talent, sophistication and charm, even though here he plays a heavy.

And speaking of Canada...the film supposedly takes place in Seattle and being a Seattleite, I like that and look for familiar sights. Look!  There is the Space Needle!  We must be in Seattle! I also really love Vancouver, B.C. so it's rather disconcerting to see the opening establishing shot showing Seattle, but then the next frame?  Our characters are definitely in Gastown in Vancouver B.C. and every other frame is clearly NOT Seattle.  Why?  BECAUSE THE MOVIE IS FILMED ENTIRELY IN VANCOUVER!!!  All I can say, is "C'mon!!!"  Why even bother to pretend we are in Seattle? 

Rosy the Reviewer says...the title is very misleading.  If you are expecting this to be "darker" you will be disappointed, but if you want a soft porn love story, it works.



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

On DVD





American Pastoral (2016)


An ex-college football star and his beauty queen wife who seem to have everything must come to grips with their daughter's involvement in the protest movement of the 1960's.

I wanted to love this movie.  I like movies about the protest generation of the 60's and 70's because I was there.  I was one of them.  My parents were part of the so-called "Greatest Generation." The "Greatest Generation" revered security and serenity after the war years, and then we Baby Boomers came along, eschewing all of that and we became their greatest nightmare.  The Baby Boomers embraced sex, drugs, rock and roll and protest.

Ewan McGregor stars as Seymour Levov, also known as "The Swede," because, though he was Jewish, he eschewed traditional Jewish values, married a shiksa beauty queen, moved to the suburbs and became "whitewashed," a theme that writer Philip Roth liked to explore in his books, and "American Pastoral," on which this film is based, is no exception.  Seymour was a football hero who got to marry a beauty queen (Jennifer Connolly). His life looked perfect except for one thing.  His daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning) developed a terrible stutter, and as she grew older, rejected his life and was swallowed up by the turmoil of the 60's.

Merry is a sensitive but confident kid, her stutter notwithstanding, and as she matures, she actually becomes a pain in the neck to her parents.  She sees a monk immolate himself on TV - a fairly common occurrence during the Vietnam War era - and she is deeply disturbed by it.  Over time she becomes more and more obsessed about the War and starts blaming her father and mother for their middle class lives. 

Merry has a contentious relationship with her mother and the shrink trying to help them with Merry's stuttering says she is trying to compete with her beautiful mother, a premise that goes nowhere in this film.  Seymour dotes on Merry and when she argues with her father about his life and the war, he tells her that if she cares so much to "bring the war home." So much for parental advice.  Not sure if he meant it literally but that's how she took it, so she blows up the local post office.  Unfortunately, the post master was inside.  Mary disappears and the rest of the film involves Semour's efforts to find his daughter and to try to understand what happened.

The film begins at a high school reunion for the Class of '51.  Seymour's brother, Jerry (Rupert Evans), is there and classmate Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn), now a famous author, asks about "The Swede," which gives Jerry the opportunity to tell him about Seymour and for Nathan to provide the narration for what transpires as an American tragedy.

Ewan McGregor not only stars in this film, but directed it as well. It bombed at the box office, and I am not sure why.  It has wonderful actors and a compelling story with a screenplay by John Romano based on Philip Roth's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but I guess in this time where animated and horror films rule, it didn't get the hype it deserved.  Also, the critics were not kind.  But it is not an easy thing to bring a multi-layered novel like this one to the screen, so though I will say the film fell down a bit in the second half, I liked it. I didn't love it like I wanted to, but I liked it. 

We are all familiar with the radicals of the 60's and 70's and the bombings but what about their mothers and fathers?  How did they feel about the activities of their kids?  What did they go through as a result?  This film attempts to explore that - parental despair when their children reject everything they stand for and their inability to believe their own children could turn out to be something they don't want them to be - and it gets the message across.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Sorry, haters, I liked this film and found it very compelling.  I think my fellow Baby Boomers will too.






Birth of a Nation (2016)


A dramatization of the famous slave uprising led by Nat Turner.

Here is another film that did not live up to its promise, but not because it wasn't a good film. Soon after the film was released, it came to light that star/director/writer/producer Nate Parker had been accused of rape while in college and that hurt the film.

Not to be confused with the 1915 D.W. Griffith film of the same name that glorified the KKK as defenders of southern women against the newly freed slaves, this film tells the story of "the birth" of Nat Turner (Parker), a slave who was allowed to learn to read and write (something that was forbidden for slaves to do) and who became a preacher.  He was used by the slave owners to preach to other slaves the importance of doing what their masters told them.

Set in in Virginia, this is a biopic that shows Turner's rise as a preacher, his rise as a leader of the slaves and their eventual rebellion in 1831.  At first Nat was used as a pawn by the slave owners to keep the slaves in line, using religion to passify the slaves and validate their control over them, but as time went by Nat couldn't stand what he saw, and when his wife (Aja Naomi King) was brutally raped, he wanted revenge.  He began to understand that his preaching had real power and he started to use it to galvanize the slaves and to orchestrate an uprising.

The first two-thirds of the film chronicles Nat's life and the last third of the film shows how the slave revolt, known as Nat Turner's Rebellion, played out where over 50 whites were killed and hundreds of slaves hanged.

As Turner, Parker is a compelling film presence, who sensitively shows Turner's conversion from quiet, obedient preacher of the gospel to loud, radical preacher of rebellion.

I always affirm the need to see films like this - holocaust films fall into that category too - because we must never forget the horrors of slavery and the holocaust, but it never gets any easier to see the incredibly cruel and inhuman treatment inflicted on humans by their fellow humans.  This is a difficult film to watch.  There is one scene that shows a slave owner's little white daughter playing with a slave child, except the little white girl is dragging the slave child around by a noose.  That one image says it all and shows the power of film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a difficult film to watch, and despite the controversy surrounding its star and director, an important one that deserves to be seen.



 

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



213 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?






A Nous A Liberte (1931)


Two convicts escape from prison.  One prospers, the other doesn't.

Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand) plan an escape from prison.  Louis makes it out but Emile is recaptured.  Louis goes on to build a factory empire but when Emile gets out of the prison and recognizes Louis, Louis's new life is threatened.

Rene Clair was a French film director whose early silent films were reknowned for their innovations. However, he is probably best known by American audiences for his later films, "I Married a Witch" and "And Then There Were None."

This is an early film that, though not really a silent film, has little dialogue, instead substituting music and song where dialogue might have been.  It is a sort of whimsical film - half comedy, half musical - that pokes fun at the pomposity of the upper classes. There is also a scene with an assembly line getting out of control.  Sound familiar?  It all has a very Chaplinesque feel to it, so much so that after Chaplin's "Modern Times" was released in 1936, Chaplin was sued for plagiarism over it.

Even a film enthusiast like myself has a hard time with these really old films. I think it didn't take much in the early days of cinema to delight audiences, because they were just happy to see moving images and hear the characters in the film talk.  I guess we expect more these days.

Why it's a Must See:  "Interestingly, much of the humor in [this film] stems from carefully manipulated screen space and sequence...It's a formula freed from dialogue and adopted directly from the silent cinema as a transitional vehicle into the talkies."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

As I make my way through this project (to watch the 1001 movies I must see before I die) and encounter films I might not have necessarily wanted to see, I have found some unlikely treasures but also suffered through some that were just not my thing.

Rosy the Reviewer says... sadly, early film comedies with slapstick and over the top plots are just not my thing.
(b & w)


 
***Book of the Week***





Everything I Need To Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone by Mark Dawidziak (2017)



Remember that book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum that was all the rage in the 80's? Well this book thinks that all we really need for a good life is the lessons from "The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling may no longer be a household name, but in the early 1960's his anthology television program, "The Twilight Zone," was de rigeur viewing and everyone could hum the iconic theme music. 





With famous actors like Burgess Meredith and even Robert Redford starring, the show was part scifi, part horror and, according to author and veteran TV critic Mark Dawidziak, the show was also really a series of morality plays that could serve as guides to life.

"Lurking in almost every episode...is at least one guiding rule, one life lesson, one stirring reminder of a basic right or wrong taught to us as children.  There are lessons for individuals.  There are lessons for our society.  There are lessons for our planet."

Dawidziak has divided the book into chapters, each with a moral lesson, followed by synopses of episodes that illustrated those lessons, e.g. "Nobody said life was fair," "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "Never cry wolf."

Though Dawidziak includes descriptions of most episodes, this is not really an episode guide or a history of the show per se, though he does a short bio of Serling that highlights Serling's moral code, and Serling's daughter weighs in on her Dad, but rather it's a light-hearted self-help book courtesy of "The Twilight Zone," where he links each episode to an old saying, e.g.  Walter Bedeker (David Wayne) sells his soul to the devil in "Escape Clause." Hence the lesson: "Read every contract...carefully."

When speaking about Serling, his daughter says:

 "The seeds of his strongly felt convictions, understanding of human nature, and ability to see beyond the obvious were nourished at Antioch [college] and would become the trademarks of his work...It has often been said that the episodes of The Twilight Zone are parables -- short allegorical stories designed to illustrate or teach some truth or moral lesson.  My father always said, though, 'Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.' Keeping that in mind, he used television as a vehicle to bring awareness of the hypocrisy and disingenuous nature of many of the ills wrought on society by selfishness, apathy, and a lack of a moral compass. Throughout his career my father's deepest concern was for the well-being of humanity."

There are also "Guest Lessons" after most chapter/episodes, and then Dawidziak might weigh in also.  We hear from Jack Klugman, Dick Van Dyke, Harlan Ellison and others about what the episode meant to them.

Serling wrote 92 of the 156 episodes that ran from 1959-1964 but he introduced them all, and starting in Season II, said the famous intro line that many of us Baby Boomers could recite then and now:

"You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!" 

Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo!

Though, as I mentioned, Dawidziak's title pays homage to Fulghum's 1988 bestseller, Dawidziak considers his book a step up from kindergarten, calling it "postgraduate work." 

"Not to diminish or dismiss anyone else's dose of self-help inspiration, but kindergarten just didn't provide enough basic intel for me.  I definitely required a good deal of postgraduate work after moving on from the land of finger-painting and A-B-C blocks.  Some of us are just slow learners, I suppose.  Some of us need more.  Some of us need extended stays in the Twilight Zone."

Rosy the Reviewer says...those of us who grew up with this show can cite our favorites so it's fun reading the background on those episodes.  Mine was "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

What was your favorite episode?



Thanks for reading!


I am back on Tuesday 

 
for my Oscar recap,

so


"Let's Dish About the Oscars!"

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer


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."









Friday, February 17, 2017

"Fences" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Fences" as well as DVDs "The Immigrant" and "May in the Summer."  The Book of the Week is Oprah's new cookbook "Food, Health and Happiness: 115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Eclisse"]




Fences


Troy Maxson is a working-class African-American living in the 1950's, doing his best to take care of his family, but he is haunted by the demons of his past.

Troy (Denzel Washington) is a garbage man whose goal is to be the first African-American to drive the truck. That is what he aspires to. Rose (Viola Davis) is his long-suffering wife. Troy and Rose live with their teenage son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), and Troy's younger brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who suffers from brain damage from a war injury, and who wanders the neighborhood with a trumpet around his neck preaching about how to get into the Promised Land.

When we first meet Troy he's on the back of a garbage truck with his friend and co-worker, Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson), and after work they both go over to Troy's house and sit in the back yard with a bottle of booze.  We can tell right away this is a regular thing. Rose cheerfully sits with them, bantering, but Troy does most of the talking.  He is a charming, fast-talker, but as we get to know him, we realize he has some bitterness about the past.  He's an ex-con who made a name for himself as a baseball player in the Negro Baseball Leagues, but never went any further, which he blames on the color barrier, but which is actually hinted at in the story that it was his age that kept him back.  He is also bitter about the struggles he has had to endure as a black man in the United States, the unfairness that he perceives. But Troy has created a life that works for him and he has accepted it.  He believes it is what it is and that's how it will always be.

So he is not happy with the fact that his son, Cory, is not also accepting the life that Troy has accepted and is not following in his footsteps.  His son is a good student and has been offered a football scholarship to a college, but Troy is not having it.  He believes that Cory will also be discriminated against, like he was, when he tried to play baseball. What good is football?  Didn't baseball let me down?  What good is college?  Get a trade so you can actually earn some money. 

Troy also recounts a story when his own father let him down by making a pass at his girlfriend, and he had to get physical with his Dad. Troy beat his father down and Tory says, that's when he knew he was a man.  Well, wouldn't you know, history repeats itself.  Cory and Troy have a moment of reckoning when Cory, too, must stand up to his Dad and make a decision about his life.

Though Rose and Troy appear to have an easy and loving relationship, a secret comes to light that threatens to hurt their marriage

Fences.  OK.  Huge metaphor, especially when Mr. Bono says "Some people build fences to keep people out and some people build fences to keep people in."  It's a rather obvious metaphor but here it works on many, many levels. 

There is the actual fence that Troy keeps trying to build and which acts as a device for characters to gather and where Troy can hold forth to his friend and his son about the unfairness of life.  Then there is the metaphor about the fences we have around us to keep others out - those fences that protect us from being hurt.  But then there are the fences that keep people from believing they can change their lives for the better, that hold then back, and those fences that block communication and engagement with others, especially those we love. And there is that damn racial fence, the one that Troy was fighting against his whole life.  Finally, though, there is the ultimate fence that Troy was building, that fence trying to keep something we all fear out: Death.

This is the role of a lifetime for Denzel, that one role that every actor hopes for and he rises to the challenge.  So now, the Oscars.  I thought that Casey Affleck had this in the bag after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor and many awards since for "Manchester by the Sea."  But now?  After Denzel won Best Actor at the SAG Awards and after seeing this film, I am thinking that Casey's momentum has slowed and this is Denzel's year.

By the way, I hope Denzel doesn't mind my referring to him as Denzel.  I think of him as a one-name celebrity like Cher or Madonna or Bono.

And speaking of Bono, Stephen Henderson, who played Mr. Bono, Troy's partner-in-crime as it were, was wonderful.  His part was not a big one and he mostly acted as a foil and listener for Troy, but as an actor, listening is as important as emoting.  It gives the other actors something to play against and with, and Henderson was right in there with Denzel, helping Denzel along.

Likewise, Viola Davis is wonderful as Rose, the sympathetic, long-suffering wife who must come to grips with her role in Troy's life.  I am expecting that she will win an Oscar for this.

This is a faithful depiction of August Wilson's award-winning play of the same name (it not only won a Tony for Best Play, it won the Pulitzer Prize), which premiered on Broadway in 1987.  It is the 6th in Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle," and both Denzel and Viola starred in a revival of the play on Broadway in 2010.  That revival was nominated for ten Tony awards and won three:  Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor for Denzel and Best Actress for Viola. 

Denzel not only starred in this film, but also directed it, and I have to give him major props as a director.  It is not an easy task to bring a play to the screen.  A play is not by its nature a visual medium. It is a moment in time that is meant to be shared with an audience.  Plays are often very talky and when put on the screen, come off merely as filmed plays, rather than taking advantage of what film can do.  This film did not fall into that.  Denzel takes advantage of the visual power of film without changing the play, and the play actually benefits from that.  Denzel does a wonderful job of bringing this powerful play to the screen.

I have, however, one little, teeny, teeny tiny complaint. Viola, Viola, Viola. I could swear that you were wearing false eyelashes, at least in the early part of the film, and if I am right, would Rose in the 1950's, really be wearing false eyelashes as she works around the house?  At any rate, it was a distraction.  I didn't think housewives in that era wore false eyelashes while they were whipping up a meal.

But like I said, a teeny, teeny tiny little thing, the kind of thing I notice in movies, because, well, that's me,  but one that didn't stop me from crying at the end...and you know what that means...brilliant.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a brilliant play, a brilliant film and brilliant performances!





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

On DVD





The Immigrant (2013)


It's 1921, and Ewa Cylbuski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda have just arrived at Ellis Island from Poland.  When Magda is deemed too ill to enter the country and Ewa can't verify where she will be living, the two women are separated and set for deportation and Ewa is left to not only make her way on her own, but must find a way to save her sister.

The film begins with the image of the Statue of Liberty as seen by immigrants as they approach Ellis Island, a poignant image considering what is happening to some immigrants trying to enter the U.S. today. 

Ewa Cylbuski and her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan) have arrived in the U.S. but Magda is seen to have a lung disease and sent to the infirmary to recover.  If she doesn't recover in six months, she will be deported.  And to get her out, Ewa must pay for her care.  Ewa gives the agent at Ellis Island her aunt and uncle's address in New York. but he says that address doesn't exist so she is put in the line to be deported.  She is also charged with having low morals for something that happened on the ship, but we are not privy to this until later in the film.  Single women were not allowed into the U.S. in 1921 if they were deemed to have low morals.  Geez, does it never end for us women?  What about the guys with low morals?

Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) just happens to be there. He also just happens to run a burlesque house.  It seems he does some volunteer work to help immigrants, but there is the air of a predator about him. He spots Ewa and offers to help her.  He pays off the immigration agent and takes her to his theatre.  We soon realize that he not only owns a burlesque house, he is a bit of a loon.

Bruno talks Ewa into working in his burlesque show and when a man comes looking for a woman to initiate his young son in the ways of the world, Bruno talks Ewa into prostitution with the help of some drugs.  He manipulates Ewa into prostitution and she acquiesces in order to earn the money she needs to save Magda.  Classic pimp stuff.

When Ewa finally escapes from Bruno's clutches and makes it to her Aunt and Uncle's, she thinks she is home free until they learn of that immoral "thing" that happened on the ship and report her to immigration officials so once again she is up for deportation.  And once again Bruno gets her out.  She becomes hardened and determined to do what she needs to do to save her sister so she seriously embarks on a life of prostitution.

Enter Emile (Jeremy Renner), Bruno's cousin and would-be magician.  Bruno and Emile don't get along, and especially when Emile takes a liking to Ewa and tries to get her away from Bruno.  Ewa final explains to Emile what happened on the ship, when she was taken advantage of, and Bruno overhears it and has a change of heart, because he is actually in love with Ewa.  Throughout, despite the degradation that Ewa has had to endure, her faith and her morals have kept her above it all.  However, ironically, Bruno's love for Ewa beings him down, even lower than he was before.

Cotillard won many awards for her performance in this film and deservedly so, but strangely, no Oscar nomination, which is surprising.  She is a remarkable actress.  She has that face that evokes intense emotion.

Joaquin Phoenix has made a name for himself playing strange, twitchy characters and this time is no different.  But he is a compelling actor, kind of like a train wreck.  You can't take your eyes off of him and can't wait to see what he will do next.

Jeremy Renner is not one of my favorite actors, and I don't know why.  He is a good looking guy, he is a good actor but for some reason I don't get him.  He has a kind of standoffish quality that in turn puts me off.

Directed by James Gray with a script by Gray and Richard Minello, this is a grim and compelling story, though beautiful to look at, and a poignant reminder of just what a harrowing journey it is to move to a new country to start a new life.  Who would choose to do such a thing if they weren't desperate?

Rosy the Reviewer says...wonderful performances and a story that particularly resonates today.






May in the Summer (2013)


May Brennan (Cherien Dabis), a half-Palestinian, half-American writer, high on the thrill of having just published her first book, returns from New York to her home country of Jordan where she plans to marry her fiancé, Ziad.  She is reunited with her sisters and her born-again Christian mother, but soon realizes she has walked back into a minefield of family issues.

May Brennan has just had her first book published.  She is happily engaged to Ziad and anticipating her wedding back in her homeland.  But reunited with her family in Amman, it's not long before her happiness is marred by her mother, Nadine (Hiam Abbass) and her planned boycott of the wedding (she is a Christian and doesn't approve of her daughter marrying a muslim) and the silly antics of her younger sisters, Dalia (Alia Shawkat) and Yasmine (Nadine Malouf).  It doesn't help that her father, Edward (Bill Pullman), suddenly wants to see her after an estrangement, and Edward's wife (Ritu Singh Pande) confesses to her that she thinks Edward is having an affair.  Suddenly May is losing control of her carefully planned life. 

The film is divided into four parts:


1. "Every person is a child at home."


May is marrying a Muslim and her born-again Christian mother, Nadine, is not happy about it, even though May's fiancé is secular. In fact, Nadine is boycotting the wedding.  She doesn't believe in interfaith marriages, especially since her marriage to Edward, an American, didn't work out. Nadine has never gotten over her divorce from May's father, who is now married to a younger Indian woman. When the girls go to see their father, they meet his wife, Anu, who later calls May, worried that her husband is having an affair. When May discovers her mother playing with a prayer knot that is meant to break a bond between two people, May realizes what she is up against. 


2.  "Don't look where you fall, but where you stepped."

May must traverse the many family pitfalls she encounters on the path to her wedding.



3.  "Love is an endless act of forgiveness."

The girls have all had issues with their Dad because of the divorce, but his second heart attack brings them back together.



4.  "There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience."

We discover just who that prayer knot Nadine was working on was aimed at and secrets are revealed.

Written, directed and starring Dabis, this film is original in its depiction of a Christian family in the Middle East, something you don't see often.  It also reminded me of a Middle Eastern Woody Allen film. There is humor in the two storylines at work here:

May, her Muslim fiancé and her questioning their upcoming wedding, and the relationship between Nadine, her ex, Edward and his wife.

But Dabis also touches on an underlying serious theme of how life goes on in the midst of the unrest of war, especially vivid in a scene where the girls are having a bachelorette party and frolicking in the Dead Sea when a fighter jet roars overhead on its way to Palestine.  We see that life goes on despite living in a war zone.

In addition to directing, Dabis is also a lovely screen presence who exudes warmth and intelligence, and she has created and directed a story that does much to help understanding between cultures.  The other actors have created an ensemble that is a believable depiction of a dysfunctional but loving family, no matter the nationality.

In this time of divisiveness and suspicion of people who don't look like us, this film is a reminder that no matter what our religion or where we are from, we humans are all the same: we all have parents we love, parents who worry about us, dysfunctional families; most of us fall in love, marry and leave home.  We should look at how we are all the same instead of focusing on and fearing the differences.  We all have the same family issues.

Whether you live in Kalamazoo or Timbuktu, despite the political turmoil in the world, we are reminded that the everyday lives of us humans are not so different.  We live, we love, we grieve, we make mistakes, and we have mothers who try to run our lives. I know I did.


Rosy the Reviewer says.. a lovely small film that is big in helping us all understand each other.





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




214 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?




L'Eclisse (1962)


Two beautiful people meet and have an affair...and that's about all that happens.

Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a young literary translator, breaks up with Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) after a long night of talking. Sometime later, Vittoria meets Piero (Alain Delon), her mother's stock broker, and they embark on
a brief love affair until the film has a very existential ending, which we have come to associate with Antonioni.

I first knew who Michelangelos Antonioni was when I saw "Blow-up (1966)."  If you remember the silent tennis match, you will know that Antonioni is all about faces and stillness and the camera lingering on shots.  He clearly loves Vitti because the camera lingers lovingly on her, and I get it. She is a beautiful woman.

But ten minutes into the film, not one thing has happened except Vitti looking tortured.  Enter Alain Delon.  Now we are getting somewhere.  What a handsome guy he was.

As I've said multiple times during this project of mine - to see all 1001 movies I am supposed to see before I die - I am struck by the fact that Italian Neorealism and French New Wave films blew me away back in my twenties. But I think I was tortured back then too.  Now, I get impatient and think "Get to the point!" or "People, get a life.  Quit moaning and staring off into space."

There is a lot of arty camerawork thanks to cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo - filming characters from behind, backing up, in a mirror, framed by a doorway.  At least the camerawork in Antonioni films are never boring - one interesting shot looks under a table and we see the table legs as well as Vitti's legs. 

But one must also wonder - what the heck are Antoniono's movies about?  They can be very opaque.  He likes a deserted, stark modern landscape and his characters saying existential stuff like this:

"There are times when holding a book or a needle or a man are all the same."

Well, I wouldn't go that far.

"We've avoided saying certain things.  Why bring them up now?"

Because I want to know what the heck is going on, that's why!

This is the third in Antoniono's trilogy about alienation and modern life (the others are "L'avventura" and "La notte"), and it is considered one of his best films.  Vitti and Delon, in addition to their exceptional good looks, also put in exceptional performances, despite all that starring off into space and moaning.

Why it's a Must See: "...conceivably the greatest film of [Antonioni's] career, but perhaps significantly it has the least consequential plot...though the stunning final sequence [is] -- perhaps Antionioni's most powerful accomplishment...[The film] is remarkable both for its visual/atmospheric richness and its polyphonic and polyrhythmic mise-en-scene."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...The film has its moments and the ending is provocative, but I can't help but wonder why a film about alienation needs to be alienating.
(b & w, in Italian with English subtitles)




***Book of the Week***





Food, Health and Happiness: 115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life by Oprah Winfrey (2017)


A cookbook that also promises happiness and a better life?  I would expect nothing less from Oprah.

Leave it to Oprah to write a cookbook that will also inspire us.

"As long as I can remember, I've been the kind of person wh owants t oshare the things that make life better.  When I come upon something useful, something that brings me pleasure or comfort or ease, I want everyone else to know about it and benefit from it, too.  And that is how this cookbook came to be.  It's part of my life story -- the lessons I've learned, the discoveries I've made -- told through food...Because what I now know for sure: Food is supposed to be about joy, not suffereing.  It's mean to nourish and sustain us, not cause us pain.  When you eat consciously and well, you feed your body and your spirit.  And that makes all life more delicious!"

Oprah makes no bones about her struggle with food over the years but seems to have come to grips with it now that she has found Weight Watchers.  She can have bread again!  Though she attributes her success to Weight Watchers and gives WW points for each of the recipes, this is not a Weight Watchers cookbook per se, though the recipes are low fat, low calorie and "skinny" versions of comfort food.  It's more of a book of Oprah's reflections about food and her life with some great recipes thrown in.

Some standouts are "Smothered Chicken," "Fettucine Bolognese with Peas," "Pineapple Fried Rice," and "Indian Pumpkin Curry."

If you like "reading" cookbooks, this is a good one. It's almost Oprah's autobiography with recipes thrown in.

When The Oprah Winfrey Show went off the air in 2011, I wrote about how much Oprah still mattered.  She may not have a daily talk show any more, but she is still relevant.  I love her.  I have loved her since her very first show and I sure wish she would run for President!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love Oprah, or if you just love really good cookbooks, you will love this one!




Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

 
for my review of


"Fifty Shades Darker"


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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