Friday, January 11, 2019

"Vice" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Vice" as well as "Bird Box," a Netflix Original now streaming on Netflix and the DVD "Mandy." The Book of the week is a novel: "The Girls," a fictionalized version of the Manson Murders.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Dawn of the Dead."]


A biopic on the life of our 43rd President, er, sorry, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and the aftermath of his "reign" as seen through the eyes of writer/director Adam McKay.

I remember seeing the trailer for this and was absolutely shocked to discover that it was Christian Bale playing Cheney. I never in a million years would have recognized him if I hadn't seen his name in the credits. He not only transformed his body to play the older Cheney, he also got the mannerisms down all the way to Cheney's growly voice and how Cheney holds his mouth - crooked.  So I was looking forward to Bale's performance.  And since I was such a big fan of writer/director Adam McKay's last film, "The Big Short," where he used a variety of original film techniques to explain the financial crisis of 2008, and for which I wrote a really good and funny review, if I do say so myself, I was really looking forward to this latest film.

Did it live up to "The Big Short?"  No.

Is it worth seeing?  Oh, yes, because even though I didn't feel that this film packed the punch that "The Big Short" did, it still has much of that same originality with the use of flashbacks and flash forwards, TV footage, a narrator that breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience, a false finish and other fun and flashy film techniques.  

And even without all of that, the acting alone makes the film worth seeing.

The film begins with a younger Cheney (Bale plays both the young and the old Cheney) in Wyoming working as a lineman after dropping out of Yale.  We see him stopped by the police for drunk driving and not for the first time. You see, he is a bit of a drunk in general until he meets and marries Lynne (Amy Adams) who scares him into being sober.  He then embarks on a political career starting as an intern for Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) during the Nixon/Ford years, where he starts to learn just how dirty "dirty politics" can get. He becomes Rumfeld's protege and eventually moves up the political ladder until Bush asks him to be his running mate and become his Vice President.  By this time, Cheney has been out of politics and is the CEO of Halliburton with enough power to satisfy his power hunger but then he makes a deal with Bush (Sam Rockwell) to be his "Vice" and the rest is history.

If you were expecting an even-handed approach to Cheney's life or any subtlety whatsoever you will be disappointed. 

Even handedness and subtlety are not what this film is about.  McKay is not happy about where we are now and pretty much blames Cheney for everything that has happened since Cheney left office. And then...McKay blames us - the American people for being so distracted by stuff that doesn't matter that we don't pay attention to what does matter, which allowed all of this bad stuff to happen in the first place.  This is an in your face diatribe - but, don't get me wrong.  It's a fun one. McKay paints Cheney as a very bad man, a Shakespearean worthy villain, hungry for power, who was the real 43rd president pulling the strings behind the scenes.  And in case you might miss that, Bale and Adams, do some Shakespearean foreplay in verse and Cheney makes a very Richard III statement at the end of the film.

Most of what is here about Cheney's life you know already: how we were sold a bill of goods when it came to the Iraq War; that there was a lot of lying going on; his association with Halliburton; and how he got away with shooting his friend in the face while duck shooting. But I did learn some things here. Didn't realize how many heart attacks he had.  And worse...I had never heard of unitary executive power, which basically says the President has absolute power and can do whatever the hell he wants.  We can thank Cheney for that. 

Bale is just amazing as Cheney.  Yes, he had some help with the role by gaining some weight for the role and wearing prosthetics, but those things do not account for his extraordinary performance.  He nailed the voice, the mouth, the walk. He channeled Dick Cheney. Bale is known for embodying his roles, living them off screen as well as on.  If that was the case here, I feel sorry for his wife.  Let's just say that when he accepted his Golden Globe as Best Actor for this role, he thanked Satan for his inspiration.

Speaking of wives, Amy Adams is also outstanding here.  She is a believable Lynne Cheney and a mighty Lady Macbeth.  Sam Rockwell as George W. and Steve Carell as Rumsfeld are also noteworthy.

Rosy the Reviewer's a funny satiric film in a very grim, scary way with wonderful performances by Bale, Adams, Rockwell and Carell. Expect some Oscar noms for some or all of them.

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

Now Streaming on Netflix

Bird Box (2018)

This is similar to "A Quiet Place,"except this time it's not making a sound that will get you, it's what you might see.

There is a malevolent force afoot and if you see whatever it is, you kill yourself.  So now everyone has to either stay inside with the blinds drawn or wear blindfolds.

The film flashes back and forth to before and after the arrival of the malevolent unseen force. When the film begins, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and two children are wearing blindfolds and she tells the children that they are never to take off their blindfolds. "If you look, you will die."  She is not warm and fuzzy toward these kids. She loads the kids into a boat and off they go down the river. She has been in contact with someone who tells her there is a community down river where she will be safe but it will be risky in a boat with two little kids not to mention having to wear a blindfold to do it.  However, she decides to take the risk to save herself and the two children.

Now I have to stop here for a moment to rant about the crazy ideas we humans come up with and how susceptible we are to doing stupid things. Wouldn't you know it. This mob mentality has blossomed around "The Bird Box Challenge," as in people living their everyday lives blindfolded, everyday lives as in driving cars and wandering around outside.  Is there no end to the crazy stuff people will do?

OK, rant over.

In a flashback to five years earlier, we learn that Malorie is pregnant and she and her sister, Jess (Sarah Paulson), are on their way back from a doctor's appointment when Jess see "the thing."  She gets dispatched early when after crashing their car, she goes out into traffic - on purpose - and gets killed.  More scenes of chaos and people flinging themselves out windows and walking into burning cars ensue. 

After Malorie's sister kills herself, Malorie finds herself in a house with a motley crew of people that most notably include Douglas, a bankrupcy lawyer (John Malcovich); Olympia (Danielle Macdonald, who is everywhere these days), a young pregnant girl; Charlie (Lil Rel Howery), a grocery clerk; Greg (BD Wong), whose house it is; and handsome Tom (Trevante Rhodes), an ex-soldier and future love interest for Malorie.  They all must figure out how to survive and do the usual arguing that happens among people forced to live together because something out there wants to kill them all.  The film then takes on the "And then there were none" plot device where most everyone is picked off one by one. 

Making matters worse, there are a bunch of zombie-like people who escaped from the local mental hospital who saw "the thing" but somehow survived (supposedly if you are insane and you see the force you don't kill yourself which, to me, seems totally counter-intuitive but, hey, this is the end of the world, what do I know)?  These folks are on a bender to make everyone else look at the force and "join them," so that certainly doesn't help when you are trying to stay alive. But what does seem to help is that birds can sense the force.  There are some parakeets in the house that sound the alarm when the force is near so Malorie takes them with her when she realizes she must make her way on her own.

Adapted from Josh Malerman's novel by 
Eric Heisserer and directed by Susanne Bier, this mostly works because of Sandra Bullock. No one does no-nonsense women in a fix like Sandra Bullock. She cracks wry jokes even while the world is ending and makes it all believable.  We always believe what Sandra Bullock is selling.

And then there is John Malcovich.  How did he ever become a thing?  No one purses his lips quite like he does but for me that is the extent to his acting abilities. No matter what character he plays, they are all the same - John Malcovich playing John Malcovich.

Rosy the Reviewer says...see this film but I don't want to see YOU out there wearing a blindfold!


Mandy (2018)

Nicolas Cage is out for blood!

Red Miller (Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) are living an idyllic life out in the woods.  Red is a lumberjack (which, if you ask me, is kind of a stretch for Nicolas Cage, but nobody did ask me, so OK.  I will go with it), and the two are living happily out in the woods of the Pacific NW until Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the cult leader for The Children of Dawn, takes a liking to our Mandy, in a bad way, and he and his group invade their little world.  It's all pretty gruesome. Things don't go well for Mandy, and Red gets his ass kicked but when it's all over, he has an epiphany.  Time to get revenge!

This film isn't meant to play to your higher self.  This is one of those films where the bad guys are so bad you are sitting in your seat thinking, "Nick, kill those bastards!"

Written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, this is a very moody film, but what did I expect? It's a Nick Cage film. All of his films are inherently moody because he's a moody guy.  But the film is also like an arty apocalyptic version of "Death Wish," the Charles Bronson film that started all of the subsequent films about good guys (women, too) pushed to the limit by evil and then shooting up the place. Unfortunately, despite the ominous music from the get go (score by the incomparable Johann Johannsson - his last one before his death), the film takes an awful long time to get to the main event - I mean who doesn't want to see Nick Cage in full metal jacket going after the worst people on earth? - but when he does, hang onto your seats, it's bad. 

And speaking of bad, the bad guys are really bad. The leader is a complete nutter.  In fact, they are all nutters.  They are really, really bad, kinky and twisted.  Jeremiah Sand is a sort of Charles Manson character who seems to be channeling Beelzebub himself, but unlike Manson, who was obsessed with the Beatles, for Jeremiah it's --- The Carpenters!  I kid you not. The Children of the Dawn are an evil bunch with the usual evil characters. There is the guy who looks like a mutant because maybe he got too close to something radioactive.  You always have to have a mutant-type in a horror film where a gang of bad guys prey upon the innocent.  Remember "The Hills Have Eyes?" Then add to that some bikers straight out of Mad Max, a tiger (I'm not kidding), some psychedelic animation, and to top it all off, a sword fight with chain saws. Oh sweet Jesus.

No matter what character Nicolas Cage plays, he plays it the same way, even in his underwear howling at the moon. But he is perfect for this role. However, I couldn't help but wonder if his making this film signified a career going up or a career going down.

But I love Linus Roache. He starred in one of my all-time favorite war films, a heart-wrenching 1998 TV movie about two friends on different sides of the Bosnian War called "Shot Through the Heart."  I wanted to see more of him and wondered where he has been. Here he is the crazed Jeremiah, and I got my wish.  I saw more of him than I needed to, if you get my drift.

This is one over-the-top movie, even for a Nicolas Cage film.  It's a non-traditional revenge/horror movie that takes that genre one step further.  The cinematography is beautifully horrible or horribly beautiful - not sure which - and so were the images, some of which were so out there I thought I was on LSD.  I couldn't take my eyes off of it while shaking my head and laughing at the same time. Lots of gore for gore's sake. Let's just say it would make a great midnight movie after smoking lots of bud, not that I would do such a thing.  I'm just saying...

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is one of those movies that's so bad it's good.

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

112 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The dead are coming to life and zombies roam the earth, so two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members (Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger), a traffic reporter who flies a helicopter (David Emge) and his TV executive girlfriend (Gaylen Ross) take shelter in a shopping mall.

"When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

The dead are returning to life and attacking the living so two police officers and their friends commandeer a helicopter, land on the roof of a shopping mall and set up living quarters in a J.C. Penney store.  They do a little looting and secure a part of the mall where they feel safe. Hey, we can do this. Plenty of food, plenty of stuff!  They have guns and can fight off the odd zombie, so they settle into a kind of existence until - here we go again - a motorcycle gang shows up.  Having to shoot zombies pales in comparison to dealing with these guys!

Now speaking of shooting zombies. 

I never understood how shooting zombies worked.  If they are already dead, how does shooting make them more dead?  And I also couldn't help but wonder, who decided how zombies should walk?

This was writer and director George Romero's follow-up to "Night of the Living Dead, and Film critic Roger Ebert deemed this "one of the best horror films ever made."  Of course he did.  He loved camp.  I mean, he co-wrote "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," for heavens sake. 

I can't tell you how long I have been putting off some of the horror films listed in the "1001 Films You Must See Before You Die" book. And then I see them and wonder what I was worried about.  However, I still haven't seen "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which is also on the list.  Don't like chainsaws.

But like I said, I didn't really have anything to worry about with this film.  It's like a cartoon.  A very gory cartoon but a cartoon nevertheless.  It also has a sense of humor with music counter to the subject matter.  The music is chirpy and happy while at the same time a zombie might be chewing on some flesh sitting in the shopping mall.  And the acting is awful.  Since I didn't recognize any of these actors I looked them up and none of them, except Fore, went on to do much as far as acting was concerned.  But Romero's films aren't really about the acting.

Romero is using the horror genre to make a statement. Our heroes and heroine holing up in a mall is a perfect metaphor.  When Francine asked Stephen why the zombies were roaming around the mall he replies, 

"Some kind of instinct.  Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." 

I agree. I love the mall. If I became a zombie, I would probably gravitate there as well.  I am a zombie of consumerism, and I guess we all are.  But as the zombies roam around at the end of the film amidst the glut that is the mall, it is apparent how meaningless material things are in light of death.  Romero has a sense of humor but he also has a message.

He also presents some wonderfully camp and memorable images:

  • A zombie walking into a helicopter blade and the top of his head gets cut off (I know, doesn't sound funny but it was)
  • Zombies clawing at the windows of the J.C. Penney store with all of the After Christmas sale signs still up (Black Friday, anyone)? 
  • The Hare Krishna zombie
  • All of those 70's mall shops I used to frequent at the mall - Remember Foxmoor and Baker's shoes? What a trip seeing them full of zombies!

Why it's a Must See:  "George Romero understands the metaphoric social impact of the horror film like no other writer-director...Romero here explores the uncanny relationship between the zombie and the culture of capitalism,,,[His] horror films have an enduring and eerie quality, perpetually jarring us from the fantasy of graphic zombie horror to remind us that real life is just as frightening..."

---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you can call a horror film where zombies are eating flesh and heads are getting blown off enjoyable, then this was enjoyable.  Romero clearly had fun with this one and so did I.  Wonder if "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" will be as much fun...

***The Book of the Week***

The Girls: A Novel by Emma Cline

This is an interesting take on a story most of us Baby Boomers know way more about than we wish we did - Charles Manson and his terrible crimes.

Evie Boyd is a fourteen year old girl trying to find herself.  Her mother and dad are divorced and her mother is more interested in attracting another man than paying much attention to her teenage daughter.  It's the late 60's when people were into drugs and meditation and all kinds of New Age stuff and Evie's mother is no exception.  As with most 14-year-olds, Evie is curious, disaffected to a certain extent and wanting to have her own life.  She is perfect cult material. 

When she sees some young hippie women in the park, dressed exotically and seeming to be carefree, she is intrigued especially by one of them - Suzanne.  She strikes up a conversation with Suzanne and discovers that she is part of a group of young people who travel around, dumpster diving, shoplifting and living off the grid.  They are followers of Russell, a charismatic guy who aspires to be a musician.  Evie hooks up with the group and finds herself at the center of what will turn out to be a horrendous crime.

This is the Charles Manson story except set in Northern California and Charley has been renamed Russell.  The setting and names have been changed to protect the guilty, but though Cline changes things here and there, it's the Manson story seen through the eyes of a young girl who didn't participate in the crimes but was affected by the group for all the rest of her life.  We see her years later reflecting on that part of her life and it's an interesting take on a familiar story - how was Manson able to lure these young women to him and claim their loyalty?  And what must it have been like for those people who moved in and out of the cult but never committed any crimes?

I have always been interested in cults - not because I want to join one but to understand why other people do.  The Manson cult was of particular interest to me because the murders took place right before I moved to California from Michigan so seeing that maniacal picture of Manson on the front page of the newspaper after he was caught made moving to California at the age of 22 particularly scary, not to mention that the Zodiac was running around then too.

I don't read novels as often as I once did but I appreciate well-written ones and Cline definitely has a way with images, metaphors and similes but maybe a bit too much so.  After awhile, the facile wordsmithing kind of got on my nerves.  

However, what Cline is good at is insight.

"There are those survivors of disasters whose accounts never begin with the tornado warning or the captain announcing engine failure, but always much earlier in the timeline: an insistence that they noticed a strange quality to the sunlight that morning or excessive static in their sheets.  A meaningless fight with a boyfriend.  As if the presentiment of catastrophe wove itself into everything that came before."

When the adult Evie reflects back on how Suzanne had kept her away from the murder plot...

"There were times I thought, with a horrified twist, that none of this was a gift.  Suzanne got the redemption that followed a conviction, the prison Bible groups and prime-time interviews and a mail-in college degree.  I got the snuffed-out story of the bystander, a fugitive without a crime, half hoping and half terrified that no one was ever coming for me."

I liked that. Very raw.  Evie sounds almost jealous that she wasn't the celebrity murderess, that her life ended up rather dull and meaningless because she wasn't.  Different concept about the Manson girls.

I also like descriptive writing but not in the heavy doses that Cline uses in almost every sentence:

  • "Calling my name like a right answer..."
  • "She wore the air of crisis like a flattering new coat..."
  • "I kept picking bits of straw from my hair -- proof of the night before that thrilled me, like a stamped passport."
  • "...she held a triangle of watermelon in her hand, the spongy pink of an organ."
  • "Julian had his arm around Sasha with the adult air of a man returning from the mines."  


"Spongy pink of an organ...?" Is she talking about what I think she's talking about?  And if so, not sure it relates to the color of a watermelon.  Likewise, why does a man returning from the mines have an "adult air?"

Like I said, I can enjoy metaphors, similes, descriptive writing, but sometimes if it is overused, it can have the opposite effect.  Instead of enhancing the story by giving readers an image to conjure in their minds eyes, too much of that can become distracting and actually inhibit our imaginations, especially when the image is kind of out there.

And I'm not done.  There are some factual things that bothered me - how I can tell that Cline is NOT a Baby Boomer.  

Early in the book Evie is talking about her Dad's aspirations and how he thinks his being short hurt his success.  He cites Robert Mitchum as a short actor who had to stand on boxes when kissing his leading ladies.  Now, I had heard that story but not about Robert Mitchum, but rather about Alan Ladd.  So my librarian antennae went up and I looked up Mitchum and sure enough he was 6'1," hardly short, and it was Ladd who was 5'6."  

There was one other thing I noticed, too, that bothered me.  The book takes place partly in my neck of the words, the Monterey Peninsula.  Our little Evie goes to a boarding school there and when she mentions the Aquarium, I thought, "In this story, aren't we in the early 70's now?"  The aquarium didn't open until 1984.  Those kinds of mistakes get on my nerves - it's OK for the author to be mistaken about some things, but where are the fact checkers?  I know it's fiction but if you invoke real places and real people you should get it right.

I don't mean to be hard on Cline.  If I am talking this much about the book, it must have affected me.  But I am a librarian after all, and I am kind of a savant when it comes to finding "mistakes."  And in my later years, I have gravitated more toward nonfiction, because I tend to now like more straightforward prose without too much embellishment. I know it's her first novel and for the most part it was enjoyable.  I just have my little pet peeves and hope that for future books she will trust her storytelling ability a bit more and go a bit easier on the literary devices. Let us readers use our imaginations for ourselves a bit more.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are interested in yet another take on Manson and his "girls," you might enjoy this.  It's a good start for a first novel. 

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"If Beale Street Could Talk"


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

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

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

Friday, January 4, 2019

"Second Act" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "Second Act" as well as DVDs "The House With a Clock in its Walls" and "Lean on Pete."  The Book of the Week is "This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Fourth Man."]

Second Act

A forty-year-old woman with a GED who has toiled in a big box store for years gets the chance to prove that street smarts can be as valuable as a college degree when she is given the chance at a high-paying corporate job on Madison Avenue.

You might be wondering with all of the big blockbuster films and the serious, Oscar-worthy ones vying for my attention during this holiday and awards seasons, why I would choose to see this film.  Well, my peeps, I absolutely love Jennifer Lopez.  It doesn't matter if she is in something as wonderfully romantic as "Maid in Manhattan (and it doesn't hurt that Ralph was in that too - he's one of my movie crushes) or something as awful as "Gigli (which truth be told, I never thought was as bad as everyone said)," her realness, her warmth shines through.  I just love her and have ever since I saw her in her breakthrough movie "Selena."

So anyway, I went to this thinking I was going to see a cross between "Maid in Manhattan (romantic)" and "Working Girl (girl overcomes inequality in the work place)," but it was neither a romantic comedy nor anything particularly to do with the male/female equality thing, though Jennifer has to overcome discrimination against people with no college degrees. But there is also a whole surprising other tact that the film takes regarding giving up one's child and how that guilt can affect one's entire life.

Jennifer (I get to call her that because I am such a fan) plays Maya, a woman with a GED who has worked for years in a big-box store. She may not have a college degree but she has street smarts when it comes to her job. She does a pitch to the big boss about some great marketing ideas she has, expecting that her pitch will lead to her getting promoted to store manager.  Instead, she is bypassed by a man with little experience.  But he has a college degree. 

Naturally she is really ticked off and complains to her best friend, Joan (Lisa Remini, Jennifer's best friend in real life which shows onscreen).  Joan's son, Dilly (Dalton Harrod), who is also Maya's godson and a computer savant, overhears the conversation and takes it upon himself to make up a resume for Maya that not only includes a college degree (Masters in business from Wharton), but also a stint in the Peace Corps, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and all kinds of other stuff that educated folks supposedly do.  He then sends it off to a cosmetics company without Maya's knowledge and all of a sudden Maya is being interviewed for a job in a high rise downtown by the big boss, Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams), and she doesn't even know what the job is!  Naturally, with all of those "credentials," she gets the job, is given a penthouse to live in, unlimited credit cards and finds herself in a face-off with the boss's daughter, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), to come up with a better skin product than the company's current one, thus having to show that street smarts can outdo book smarts.  

OK, I know, not very believable.  The screenplay by Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas requires us to suspend disbelief just a tat more than usual but it doesn't matter.  IT'S MY GIRL, JENNIFER.  She can make it work and after we get over the hard to believe hurtles, it's smooth sailing all of the way.

Director Peter Segal lets Jennifer do what she does best - act naturally, exude warmth and look luminous.  It's good to see Treat Williams again, but I have been surprised that he didn't turn out to be a superstar.  I remember being blown away by him as Berger in "Hair," way back in 1979 and thinking he was going to be the next big thing, but despite a good career and some subsequent big roles in feature films, he never seemed to ever get back what he had back then.  He has toiled in television and when he is in feature films, he always seems to be playing businessmen.  I was also happy to see Vanessa Hudgens doing something other than judging on "So You Think You Can Dance."  I was wondering what it was she did and now I know.  She's a lovely actress and her story line in this film is a twist you almost don't see coming.

In a time when there is so much bad news, this is just what I needed. 

I loved this film.  I know I'm supposed to be gushing over "Vice" right now (check in with me next week) or "Green Book (well, I already did that)" and some of the other Golden Globe nominees (it's on this Sunday night), but if you want to have an enjoyable time in the theatre watching a film that has some touching moments and will make you laugh, this is for you.  

Speaking of laughs, Leah Remini is hilarious in this and reminds me of how she used to hold her own with Kevin James on "King of Queens," instead of what she has been doing lately - trying to bring down Scientology. The supporting players also offer some laughs, especially Charlyne Yi, Maya's mousy little assistant who works in a high rise but always has to back out of the elevator because she is afraid of heights and tells her potential boyfriend she is kinky.

Rosy the Reviewer says...when you want a movie that is uplifting, fun, and enjoyable starring a down-to-earth, likable actress who feels like your best friend.

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


The House With a Clock in its Walls (2018)

It's 1955 and ten-year-old Lewis, who is orphaned, goes to live with his eccentric uncle in Michigan and gets embroiled with witches and warlocks and the hunt to find a clock that could end the world.

Based on the book by John Bellairs, ten-year-old Lewis (Owen Vacarro) loses both of his parents and goes to live with this uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black) in Zebedee, Michigan in a mysterious house with a ticking clock.  The fact that the film takes place in Michigan was especially fun for me because that's where I'm from, but I've never heard of Zebedee, probably because it does't exist, though Bellairs based it on his hometown of Marshall, another Michigan town I've never heard of but I haven't lived there for over 40 years so what do I know?  Anyway, as usual, I digress.

Jonathan is an eccentric who wears kimonos and lives in a haunted house where the furnishings seem to have a life of their own.  He hangs out with Florence (Cate Blanchett), another eccentric, who is his platonic friend.  The two talk smack to each other and turns out Jonathan is a warlock and Florence is a witch.  In fact, the film is full of witches, warlocks, strange characters and glib talk. One could say this was actually a sad story.  A little kid loses his parents, has to go live in a scary house, gets bullied at school and has to hang out with a couple of witches. But it's not.

Speaking of witch, I mean which, I am not a fan of unlikely premises or unlikely characters so I was distracted by a scene at school when a kid on crutches gets picked for a basketball team before Lewis.  Now perhaps I can see that might happen since Lewis was the new kid and that was the ultimate dis by his classmates, but then Lewis didn't even know he was supposed to try to get the ball into the basketball hoop.  That seems highly unlikely. Even the nerdiest kid on earth knows how basketball is played.  So I wasn't getting a good feeling about this film (screenplay adapted by Eric Kripke). It seemed like it was going to be yet another story of a lonely, misfit kid finding himself with the help of a couple of lonely, misfit adults.  Well, it kind of was, but the film is so stylish and steampunk and atmospheric that I got into it.

So while Lewis is trying to acclimate to his Uncle's house and all of the strange goings on there as well as dealing with a new school, he also learns that his uncle Johnathan is a warlock who is trying to find a clock left in the walls of the house by the previous owner, a bad guy with some major issues especially when you consider the fact that the clock has the potential to blow up the world. And then Lewis decides he wants to learn to be a warlock too and we are off and running.

This film, directed by Eli Roth, who is more well-known for gross horror films like "Hostel," is less horror and more of a creepy but charming, steampunk tale reminiscent of the Harry Potter films. It has its share of scary stuff but nothing to be really scared of.

I have always thought that Jack Black was very, very funny. I first saw him in "High Fidelity" as the stuck up and fussy record aficionado, Barry, who worked in the record store and made fun of the customers' tastes.  He stole the show.  But here I think he is overdoing it a bit, trying to upstage the other actors even more than usual.  We have come to expect that Cate Blanchett will also overdo it in her rather cold, queenly way, but here she makes me forget she is Cate Blanchett and I warmed up to her character.  And then there is young Owen and you know how I feel about child actors.  Well, my peeps, I liked him.  He managed to avoid the obnoxious precociousness so many child actors play in films these days. 

But when all is said and done, the real star here is the house itself. It comes alive. The set design is fabulously retro and full of atmosphere and who wouldn't love a chair that acts like a dog?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a spooky film that younger kids can enjoy and if you have been lamenting that there are no more Harry Potter films, this might fill the void.

Lean on Pete (2017)

A neglected teen gets a job working with a churlish horse trainer and befriends an aging race horse named Lean on Pete.

Now the first thing I need to say here is this.  Boy, horse, you would think this was a kid's movie.  IT IS NOT A KID'S MOVIE as there is swearing, adult themes and worst of all...well, you will see when you watch the film. What happens is a real downer, but... yes, despite my disclaimer, you should watch this film.  You may not have heard of it (I hadn't), but believe it or not, it is on several Best Movies of 2018 lists, which is why I decided to watch it. And I am glad I did.

The film centers around Charley (Charlie Plummer - he recently played John Paul Getty III in "All The Money in the World"), a young teen whose mother has left him with his drunken, drug addled Dad. The two have settled on the outskirts of Portland.  Charley is largely ignored by his Dad, so left to his own devices he mostly runs and runs and runs.  On one of those runs, he migrates to a local horse training facility where he meets Del (Steve Buscemi), a rough and tumble horse trainer who makes his living racing second rate horses at second rate horse races. Charley gets a job working for Del, walking the horses and cleaning out the stables and the horse trailer.

Charley takes a liking to Lean on Pete, a quarter horse, whose racing career appears to be fading. So when Charley's Dad dies and Charley learns what happens to horses who start losing races, he takes off with Pete on a cross country odyssey to find his aunt, the only person who had tried to help him when his mother died, but with whom he has lost touch. A series of adventures ensue, some good, but mostly bad and it goes from bad to worse.

Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, adapted from the novel by Willie Vlautin, this is no "National Velvet" and Buscemi is no Mickey Rooney.  This is about the tough world of second class racing, guys just eking out a living, doing shady deals, racing on farms or wherever they can make a buck, but it's mostly about a teen who just can't seem to get a break. It's a reminder that there are kids out there on their own trying to make sense of a rough world. This is not one of those boy-meets-horse heartwarming stories.  So what makes it worth seeing? The acting is first rate - Charlie Plummer is phenomenal - and it's a coming-of-age road film except with a horse that manages to avoid the usual cliches thanks to Haigh's unsentimental screenplay. It's all very, very real.  And turns out, Charley's Aunt is a librarian!

Rosy the Reviewer says...a spell-binding coming of age tale.

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

113 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Fourth Man (1983)

Gerard Reve (Jeroen Krabbe) is a wreck and it doesn't help when he meets Christine (Renee Soutendijk).

Let's just say we get the drift early while enduring a really ominous opening over the credits, with a huge spider catching a fly and slowly wrapping it into its web with the fly struggling to free itself, and then we see Gerard, our anti-hero, awakening from what looks to be a drunken night.  Or let's say many drunken nights because he is shaking and can't even shave because hands are shaking so much.  He is also seeing things.

And speaking of seeing things, you will probably recognize Gerard, real name Jeroen Krabbe.  You might not recognize his name but you will certainly recognize his face.  He went on to play many a villain, often of the German variety.

Despite Gerard being a decadent, he is also a writer and a closeted gay man full of self-loathing.  He makes his way to a small Dutch town where he is giving a talk, and at the talk, he tells the audience that he "lies the truth" and then proceeds to offend almost everyone there, everyone that is except Christine, a icy cold but beautiful blonde who owns a prosperous hairdressing business. Gerard does a mental "cha-ching" and despite Gerard's predilections, the two embark on a hot affair until Gerard learns that Christine has been married before, not just once but three other times and all three husbands died from apparent accidents.  Or were they?

Gerard hallucinates into the future and thinks he might be husband #4 - the fourth man - and that he will meet some horrible fate.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, this was his last film in Dutch.  He went on to direct "Robocop," "Total Recall," and "Basic Instinct," the latter film being highly influenced by this one even down to Christine's haircut which was re-imagined on Sharon Stone nine years later.

As we are used to with Verhoeven, the cinematography is vibrant, religion is a theme, and there is a lot of eroticism.  And like I said in my review for "Fox and His Friends," movies seemed to be quite a bit more out there and erotic in the 70's and 80's, especially foreign films and this one lives up to it.  There are also all sorts of gross images interjected throughout, especially of the religious variety, and much of it is not particularly subtle, in fact it is very in your face.  For example,  when you think back to the opening credits - that spider, that fly - mmm, Black Widow?  Also Christine cuts Gerard's hair and her cosmetics line is called Delilah.  Mmmm. However, rumor has it that Verhoeven put all kinds of meaningless symbolism in the film just to throw critics off!  All, in all, though, the film is over-the-top and lots of fun!

Why it's a Must See: "...Verhoeven would later revisit essentially the same scenario with his Hollywood smash Basic Instinct (1992), but that far glossier film failed to recapture the humor and twisted energy of [this one]."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says... For a fun evening, see this one and then see "Basic Instinct" again.

***The Book of the Week***

This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are by Melody Warnick (2017)

"How does the place we live become the place we want to stay?"

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile, especially those Tuesday blog posts I used to do where I chronicled my retirement journey and my move to Seattle from California, will understand my interest in this book, especially since I have moved once again, back to California.  

Warnick says that the average American will move 11.7 times in a lifetime and when I counted how many times I have moved, it's been more than that!

Warnick, too, has moved around a lot and when she made her 6th move to Blacksburg, Virginia she started to wonder if she would ever put down roots or become attached to a place. 

How does one become attached to a place?

In the book, she offers a quiz - 24 questions aimed at discovering how attached you might be to where you live.  Answering "yes" to 19 or more would indicate a strong connection to where you live.  Six or less suggests you live somewhere unfamiliar or you are not happy where you live.  Well, guess what?  I had lived in Seattle for 14 years and I only said yes to seven of the questions whereas answering those same questions about the place I moved away from 14 years again and have since moved back to - 19!  No wonder I've been depressed for the last five years!

"Physically, when we're happy where we live and like the people who live around us, we're less anxious, less likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes, and less likely to complain about ailments...Other researchers have linked place attachment to a general sense of well-being."

Sheesh.  Good thing I moved back home. And this is where I am staying!

But this is not all about studies and statistics. This is Warnick's personal story of trying to be happy wherever she found herself. Suddenly after move #6, Warnick found herself in a place she wasn't particularly attached to and not particularly happy about. But then she had an epiphany.  Why not make wherever she was that happy place? She decided to start a "Love Where You Live Experiment." 

She came up with "ten basic place attachment behaviors that were relatively doable and potentially enjoyable" that she hoped would make her feel more rooted to where she lived:

1.  Walk more

2.  Buy local
3.  Get to know my neighbors
4.  Do fun stuff
5.  Explore nature
6.  Volunteer
7.  Eat local
8.  Become more political
9.  Create something new
10. Stay loyal through hard times

Then she tried them out. Warnick devotes a chapter to each of these behaviors, sharing her journey as she applied them, and then ends each chapter with a "Love Your City Checklist," basically some practical ways to achieve that behavior.  For example, in the "Walk More" chapter called "Lace Up Your Sneakers," she ends with these tips: "Follow the '1-Mile Solution,' which is basically seeing what tasks you can get done by walking within a one-mile radius of your home; or wandering around town rather than using a GPS...

Her advice is practical, makes sense and is not just for those of you who are unhappy where you live but especially good for anyone who has just moved to a new town.

Who knows? If I had read this book a couple of years ago and followed her advice, perhaps I would still be in the Seattle area, even though I certainly intuitively did much of what she recommends.  And who knows?  Perhaps if I had had that list before I moved 14 years ago, perhaps I would have realized that if I had stayed loyal to my town I would have made it through the hard times and not felt like I needed to move. And who knows? If we had moved into Seattle proper and not the suburbs...Woulda, shoulda, coulda...

But what I do know is that now that I am back in California in a town where I had lived for over 30 years, I am doing every single thing on that list and I am going to keep doing them because I ain't moving again, no matter what! 

Because I agree with what Dorothy said to the Tin Man when he asked her what she had learned in Oz, 

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard.  Because if it isn't there...I never really lost it to begin with."

If you are not loving where you live or even just new in town, following Warnick's checklist will help you find your heart's desire in where you live and hopefully save you from thinking you need to move to find happiness because it's probably no further than your own back yard.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I'm so glad to be back.  This is where I belong.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday




The Week in Reviews

(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.