Friday, January 18, 2019

"If Beale Street Could Talk" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "If Beale Street Could Talk" as well as DVDs "The Meg" and "Paddington 2."  The Book of the Week is a biography of Robin Williams "Robin."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Yeelen"]






Young lovers, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), are separated when he is unfairly charged with a crime and sent to prison.

Tish and Fonny grew up together and eventually became childhood sweethearts. When Tish becomes pregnant, her family embraces her.  His does not but the two are in love and dedicated to being together.  However, when Fonny is unfairly accused of rape by a white woman, he is sent to jail and Tish and her family must try to prove his innocence, not an easy task since the accuser has returned to Puerto Rico and the family has little money. Through a series of vignettes, we follow the young lovers past and present, as they plan for the baby, to move in together and then Tish having to visit her beloved Fonny as he sits behind prison glass.  Meanwhile, Tish's understanding and loving mother, Sharon (Regina King), travels to Puerto Rico to try to find the accuser and help get Fonny out of jail.  

James Baldwin was an American writer and social activist who grew up in Harlem. His novels "Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953)" and "Another Country (1962)" were on many 20th century reading lists. He wrote about the black experience in the U.S. and the racism and injustices endured by African-Americans.

Beale Street is a real street in Memphis but Baldwin uses it as a metaphor for the Black Experience.

The film begins with his words:

"Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the black neighborhood of some American City, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York.  Beale Street is our legacy."

What is most telling about this story, one that Baldwin wrote in 1974, is how current it is and how, sadly, little has changed for African Americans since then. Baldwin was a vocal critic of the U.S. and the state of affairs for African Americans here.  In fact he felt so strongly about this that he eventually expatriated to France where he spent most of the rest of his life.

So this is an important story...which makes it even harder for me to say what I am going to say.

Adapted from James Baldwin's novel and directed by Barry Jenkins who won a Best Picture Oscar for "Moonlight," a film I loved, I was so expecting to also love this film.  But I didn't.  In fact, I disliked it so much that I thought of leaving the theatre halfway through, something I never do.  The film is just so damn earnest, Tish and Fonny are just so damn sweet.  Their love affair is so treacly, it was unreal.  And the film itself was just too slow.  Like I said, it's an important reminder of the injustices that African Americans face and have faced and nothing much has changed in the last 50 years which makes the film even more relevant.  But as a film, it just seemed to lumber along.

But that doesn't take away from the actors.  They were wonderful.  The two young actors - Layne and James - are attractive and talented, both will no doubt have successful acting careers, and Regina King is the stand out.  She is slated for a well-deserved Oscar nod.  But, sadly, even appreciating the acting and the message just wasn't enough to save this film for me. I know this film is getting a lot of love from the critics but this critic just didn't like it as a satisfying film experience. Sorry.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...though I am a James Baldwin fan and I can appreciate the timely message in this film, I did not enjoy this film and I feel terrible about that. Maybe I was just having a bad movie day and should give it another chance.  But until then, I just can't recommend it.



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



On DVD





The Meg (2018)


According to deep sea scientist Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), he and his crew were attacked by what he claimed was a 70+-foot shark.  No one believed him...but just you wait.

This is not a film about a girl named Margaret.  "Meg" stands for Megalodon, a ginormous prehistoric shark thought to no longer exist.  But you know how that goes because...

There is a formula for monster movies:

  • Set the stage that there is "something" out there - usually a cold opening where we briefly get a glimpse of "it" right before it devours some innocent people minding their own business
  • Fast forward to a very benign setting and some well-meaning scientific do-gooder types who spout all kinds of technical talk that we aren't supposed to notice doesn't really make much sense
  • Enter the protagonist, a sad sack who had tried to warn our do-gooders, was not believed and has sunk low into a bad lifestyle
  • Enjoy some humor as the innocent do-gooders enjoy their last bits of innocence
  • Enter overly precocious children in danger (oh, god)
  • Enter a rich greedy guy who doesn't believe in safety
  • Add some gotcha moments
  • Enter said protagonist once again who is called upon to dig deep, crawl out of his drunken life and save the world
  • Enter the monster - finally! - which has been kept under wraps until the Big Reveal (which is often too long a wait and is usually a big disappointment)


Like I said, there are tropes for monster movies and this film written by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber (adapted from the book by Steve Alten - there was a BOOK?) employs every one of them.

It begins with a strange incident at a research center 200 miles off the coast of Shanghai. Jonas Taylor (Statham), and his cohorts are down in a deep sea capsule and encounter something that attacks the capsule. Taylor manages to escape but his colleagues are killed.  When Taylor tries to explain what he thought it was that attacked them - a 70 foot shark - he is discredited because no one believes such a thing could possibly exist.  Oh, yeah?

Five years later, another deep sea diving capsule is six miles down and encounters "something" and the capsule is damaged and the crew is now stuck down there.  No one has ever been that far down....except our hero, Jonas Taylor.  But Jonas was so traumatized by his encounter with the monster and the fact that he was blamed for the death of his colleagues, he is now a drunk living a bitter life.  But who can now save the day?  Who is the only person to have been down that deep and survived?  Why, our Jonas.  So he is called upon to help save those who are left down there in the capsule.  Now you might wonder why Jonas would give a damn since they were all so mean to him before but turns out one of the crew members is his ex-wife who he still kind of likes so he agrees to help.

The film, directed by Jon Turteltaub, goes back and forth between the trials and tribulations of the disabled capsule and the attempts on land to save it with that darn Meg trying to wreck everything for everyone, though the film takes its bloody time showing us the monster.

There are glimmers of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" which set the standard for shark movies way back in 1975 and there is even a bit of a "Star Wars" homage in this film, not to mention "Jonah and the Whale" with our hero conveniently named Jonas. With all of the innovations in special effects since the original "Jaws," you would think this film would be super exciting and give that early film a run for its money, especially if you like this kind of thing, but sadly, except for the gory opening, this was kind of a snooze fest, though I will give it a break and say that perhaps it was better in 3-D.

All of the actors are very earnest, which is a word I often use for over-acting.  Whenever there is a lot of over-acting going on, I can never be sure if it's the actors or the fault of the script. Sometimes even the best actors can't overcome unrealistic dialogue so they overcompensate by talking loud or emoting more, thinking we won't notice that what they are saying isn't very believable.  Sorry, guys, we do.  It also doesn't help that Jason Statham is kind of a one-note actor.  He started out as a hard man in Guy Ritchie films and the "Transporter" franchise and can't seem to get past that kind of character. He plays practically every role as a kind of a tough guy grump. Worse yet, there are some overly precocious children and you know how I feel about them.  

But you don't go to movies like this to appreciate the acting!  If you like giant shark movies, there is some fun to be had here but don't expect "Jaws."

Rosy the Reviewer says...Steven Spielberg has nothing to fear from "The Meg." "Jaws" is still the Gold Standard of shark movies.




Paddington 2 (2018)


Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw) is now happily living with the Brown family in London and wants to buy his Aunt Lucy a wonderful present that he has chosen for her 100th birthday - a pop-up book about London - but before he can save up the money, the book is stolen!

After the first Paddington film, Paddington has settled in nicely with the Brown family and has become a popular member of the community.  He credits his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton) for getting him to London so he wants to surprise her with a special gift for her 100th birthday - a pop-up book of London.  You see, Aunt Lucy was going to travel to London but sacrificed her trip to raise little Paddington so Paddington wants her to see London through the book.

But Paddington doesn't have the money to buy the book so he works a series of jobs to save up the money not realizing that there is someone else out there coveting the book - but not for the same, or right, reasons. 

As Paddington takes on various jobs, we get to see him deal with humorous mishaps, the kind that happen to a naive little bear who means well but ultimately makes poor decisions and screws up.  He works in a barbershop, as a window washer and a dog washer, and all kinds of slapstick hijinx ensue.  But before Paddington can save up the money for the book, the book is stolen and, because Paddington is seen at the scene of the crime, he is accused of stealing the book and sent to jail.  So now we get to see adorable Paddington wear prison black and white stripes and wreak well-meaning havoc there as well. The film becomes a mystery to solve - who stole the book and why?

Well, it's not much of a mystery for the audience.  We know all along it's bad Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who has stolen the book because it contains a series of clues leading to a treasure but it's fun to see how he will get caught and get his comeuppance.

Hard to believe that a kids movie saved my movie watching week for me but I loved every delightful moment of this film.  Even Hubby laughed his way through it.  I was shocked.  But it's not easy to stave off the charms of that little bear. What's not to love about an adorable little bear who no matter what happens always remembers his manners?  Also the animation for the pop-up book is magical. This was just the antidote for my post-holiday blues.  

This is a film that children and adults alike can enjoy.  I just wish I had seen the first Paddington film. Though I remember bringing my daughter a little Paddington bear from London one year, I don't really remember reading those books to my children.  I wish I had.  The story promotes kindness, making friends in every situation and the power of love.

Directed by Paul King and adapted by King and Simon Farnaby from the Michael Bond books, in addition to the actors already mentioned, this film employs practically every venerable British actor you can name including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi (an ex-Dr. Who), Dame Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Brendon Gleeson, Tom Conti and more.  And what can I say about Hugh Grant?  Loved him as a stuttering romantic lead but love him just as much now as a character actor, and he is hilarious and over-the-top here, wearing disguises and using fake accents as Buchanan travels around London looking for the treasure.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If only everyone could be as lovely as Paddington.  Now I'm off to see Paddington 1!





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



111 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?



Yeelen (1987)
(alt. title "Brightrness")


A young man sets off on a journey to find his uncle who can help him remove a curse placed on him by his father (Niamanto Sanogo).

Niankoro (Issiaka Kane) is a young man in Mali sent by his mother to find his uncle who may be able to help him escape a curse his father put on him.

The film starts with an image of a chicken being burned alive and then left to bleed to death as a sacrifice.  Awful.  Right there I'm thinking, nope.

Niankoro is captured by a neighboring tribe who think he has come to steal from them.  But our guy is stroppy and he tells them he could have killed them all if he had wanted to, that he has special powers and wouldn't you know.  When the tribe is attacked they say, "If you are so powerful save us from the invaders."  Through smarts and pluck, Niankoro employs a hornets nest and fights off the invaders, thus currying favor with the king.  The king gives him one of his wives. Not a bad deal!

In Niankoro's journey he encounters many obstacles including fending off an attack by his own father who wants to kill him.  And then turns out the father and uncle are twins - one good twin, one evil twin.

Directed by Souleymane Cisse, this is one of those films long on beautiful photography, poetic even, but short on plot or anything else much to hold your interest.  Everyone speaks in metaphors - "If Niankoro is the blade, I am the handle" - that sort of thing.  It's also all very deep and solemn and religious and, sorry, that translates to me as boring.  

Why it's a Must See: "Quite possibly the greatest African film ever made..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says....for me, quite possibly the most boring film ever made.  I am starting to wonder, who are these people who came up with these 1001 movies I must see before I die.  I could die perfectly happy never having seen this film.



***The Book of the Week***




Robin by David Itzkoff


A biography of Robin Williams.

I've been a fan of Robin Williams ever since he hit the scene with "Mork and Mindy."  His manic humor was new and original, and he also came across as a really nice guy.  But reading this book I realized I didn't really know much about the guy.  Itzkoff solves that problem in a well-written, fascinating and what will stand as the definitive biography.

Robin Williams grew up in Michigan in a well-to-do family.  His mother was devoted to him but his father was often away and often distant.  Robin had much time alone to amuse himself.  Later the family moved to Tiburon in Marin County, another affluent California community.  Robin found his way to Juilliard when they began a drama program, but he was already starting to display his own style of manic and independent humor so he dropped out and made his way to San Francisco where he worked with various humor groups, such as The Committee Workshop.  He met his first wife, Valerie, there and the two decided that Robin needed a bigger venue for his kind of comedy and they moved to Los Angeles where Robin found fame quite early on.  No one had seen anything like him.  

Soon "Mork and Mindy" was born, his movie career took off and the rest is history.  But why would such a successful comic actor decide to eventually kill himself?

Well, it is well-known that Robin adored Jonathan Winters, another manic comic who could riff on anything. And part of that might have been that they shared a common kind of comedy and a common dark side. Despite his crazy humor, Winters suffered from depression and had mental breakdowns.  He always carried a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in his wallet:  "Humor is the mistress of sorrow."  Both he and Robin had demons.

Itzkoff traces Robin's early years, his marriages, his career, his drug use, his demons, all in great detail - the book is over 500 pages - and it's well-researched, but it's also what I would call a good read.  It's not only well-researched, but well-written and wonderfully engrossing.  You come to understand where that manic, whip sharp humor came from as well as that other side of Robin - the quiet, withdrawn darker Robin.

Why did such a successful actor/comedian decide that at the age of 63 it was time to take fate into his own hands and hang himself?  I finally found out but if you want to know you will have to read this book for yourself.  And it's a fascinating journey. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...not just the definitive biography of Robin Williams but also a really good read.



Thanks for reading!



See you next Friday


for 


"The Favourite"


and


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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Go to IMDB.com, 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 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."]



Vice


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 says...it'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!




On DVD



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."  


Huh?

"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!




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"If Beale Street Could Talk"



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