Friday, February 27, 2015

"Still Alice" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Still Alice," the DVDs "Force Majeure," "A Walk Among the Tombstones" and "The Homesman."  The Book of the Week is "I'll Have What She's Having (a humorous look at celebrity diets) and I will bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project:" "Kid With A Bike" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort"]

Still Alice

A 50-year-old woman discovers she has early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a well-respected linguistics professor at Columbia University.  She has a loving husband, John, who is a successful research scientist and three successful children...well, two successful, one struggling to be an actress in L.A., a source of frustration for both mother and daughter. Alice and her husband (Alec Baldwin) live in a lovely NYC townhouse and everything is going swimmingly until Alice starts experiencing memory loss.  After consulting with a neurologist, she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease, a rare familial version that she likely inherited from her father.

Adapted from Lisa Genova's novel by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, we follow Alice from diagnosis to disbelief to horror that she has passed the gene to her daughter to acceptance and eventual loss of self to the disease. We also see how the family must accept this new Alice. The irony of her being a linguistics professor, someone who teaches about the effectiveness of words and language, should find herself unable to remember words herself, is not lost.  She does everything she can to try to hang onto her identity, but the disease is unstoppable and slowly robs Alice of her being, something particularly difficult for a highly intelligent and educated person. At one point, Alice tells her husband she wished she had cancer instead because there was less shame in that. 

Alec Baldwin plays Alice's husband in a restrained performance; Kate Bosworth is the oldest daughter who wants to have a baby; Kristen Stewart is the youngest daughter, Lydia, who frustrates Alice with her career choice but in the end is the one who steps up for her mother. Stewart's performance is surprisingly sensitive and poignant.

This is a sad tale of the Damocles Sword that is Alzheimer's and no matter how intelligent, how successful, how careful you are with your life, so far there does not appear to be anything we can do to stop it from robbing some of us of our lives.  Alice did everything right: she ate right, exercised, got lots of sleep and was not stressed out showing us that if this is your fate, there is nothing you can do to stop it.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...a harrowing journey into the world of early onset Alzheimer's disease made real by Julianne Moore's remarkable and well-deserved Oscar performance that brought me to tears.

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

Force Majeure (2014)

A Swedish family on holiday in the Alps encounter an avalanche during lunch and the father runs to save himself instead of protecting his wife and children.

The film begins showing a lovely family on a ski vacation getting their picture taken on the slopes. We see them napping, brushing their teeth, eating.  The ordinariness is almost ominous. 

At lunch on an open terrace with a beautiful view of the mountains an avalanche occurs.  At first everyone thinks it is a controlled one, but when it becomes clear it's the real thing the father runs for it while the wife shields her children. When the mist clears and all is well, the father, Tomas (played by Johannes Kuhnke), returns as if nothing has happened.  But what has happened is an avalanche of unspoken emotion.

The wife (Ebba, played by Lisa Loven Kongsli) is upset but says nothing.  Tomas senses her displeasure but also says nothing and the children are upset and rejecting.  Finally one night when they are relaxing with some friends, Ebba reveals what happened and that Tomas ran away. The relationship is cracking.

Tomas can't own up to the fact that he ran.  He tries to tell himself and Ebba that there are just different ways of viewing what happened.  When Ebba gets his phone and shows the incident to not only him but to his friends he is humiliated. Tomas finally breaks down. On the last day of the vacation, it's a blustery day and they all go skiing.  Tomas loses sight of Ebba and goes to look for her. He rescues her thus redeeming himself...or did he?  The question:  Did she do this on purpose to allow him to redeem himself, was it an accident or was it a test?

The avalanche symbolizes the force of nature, the events following Tomas' act of cowardice, the cracking of a marriage but also the force of nature that wills us to save ourselves. Who can judge how anyone will act when faced with a possible act of God?

Force Majeure can be defined as an act of God but also irresistible compulsion or great force.  It's also a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties such as an act of God prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

Reminiscent of another film, "The Loneliest Planet," where Gael Garcia Bernal likewise showed cowardice in front of his girlfriend, this film asks the questions: can the contract of marriage be the same when selfishness and cowardice are revealed?  Is cowardice the ultimate betrayal? Who are we really?  

Written and directed by Ruben Ostland, the scenery is gorgeous and he uses it effectively, especially between scenes as the snow machines tend to the mountain at night to the sound of Vivaldi

Big question:  Why was this film not nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a mesmerizing exploration of marriage, gender roles and how we react when confronted with a "force majeure."
(In Swedish with English subtitles)

Matthew Scudder (Liam Neesom), a failed cop, has become a private detective and is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who murdered his wife.
In 1991 in a NYC bar, Scudder is having a couple of shots even though he is a cop and on duty.  During a shakedown of the bar, Scudder chases and kills two of the guys and wounds another.  Turns out he also inadvertently killed a bystander, a little girl, so he quits his job in shame.
Flash forward to 1999, in the shadow of Y2K.  He is no longer a cop, he is in AA and a private eye.
Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame (and who us fans breathlessly remember as Matthew Crawley), is Kenny Kristo, sporting black hair and seemingly doing everything he can to disassociate himself from Matthew Crawley, yet another sleazy bad guy (see "The Guest"), this time a drug kingpin.  His wife had been kidnapped and despite the fact that he paid the bad guys the ransom, they killed his wife anyway. They not only killed her, they cut her up and put her body parts in little packages and returned her to him in the trunk of her car. They also left him a tape of her being tortured before her murder. These are not nice guys and Kenny wants revenge.  Turns out these guys are more into kidnapping women and cutting them up than collecting the ransoms.
Scudder also befriends a homeless kid, TJ (Astro), and he becomes Scudder's de facto partner, which is kind of a fun pairing.  Neesom does a good job as his usual badass character that he has perfected in the "Taken" films (and also exudes his big tall handsomeness, if I might say).
Based on a novel by Lawrence Block and written and directed by Scott Frank, this is not a pleasant story nor is the script very tight and it took an hour for anything much to happen.  But it's not a bad film.  Just a very unpleasant one.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a tortuous film - for the women characters and the viewer and I will never think of piano wire the same way again.
The Homesman (2014)
Independent pioneer woman Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) volunteers to transport three women driven mad by pioneer life back to civilization with the aid of ne'er do well George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones).

Tommy Lee Jones wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver (adapted from the novel by Glendon Swarthout) and directed this tale of the very plain but earnest, hard-working and self-sufficient Mary Bee Cuddy, who lives alone in the Nebraska territory, working her farm in an unforgiving landscape.  She has saved some money and despite being alone, is doing just fine except she wants a husband. She asks Bob, a local man with a farm adjacent to hers, to marry her so they can team up together but he declines saying, "I ain't perfect but you are too bossy and too damn plain." He plans to go back East to find himself a wife.

In the meantime, the local women are not doing as well as Mary.  In fact, three of them have gone bonkers so it's decided that they need to be returned to civilization.  Since no one else steps up, Mary takes it upon herself to take the women, broken by the hard life on the plains, back to Iowa. She runs into George who has tried to take over Bob's farm while Bob is back East looking for a wife and the locals brand him a claimjumper and leave him on a horse with a noose around his neck.  Mary saves him but not until he promises to accompany her to Iowa with the three women.

Now right away, I'm thinking.  What's in the drinking water?  This is a very small farming community.  Three of the women go crazy?  Kind of far-fetched.  And the ending just doesn't make sense, considering Mary's strength of character.  I guess the message here is loneliness kills.

The teaming up of Swank and Jones reminded me of Bogart and Hepburn in "The African Queen," except on the prairie in a wagon instead of in the jungle on a boat and it had its moments, though Jones has done crazy, grizzled old coots before.

The production values and cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto, who also did "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Argo") are first rate and Jones does a nice job directing his second film. John Lithgow, James Spader and Meryl Streep (Streep, probably because her daughter, Grace Gummer, plays one of the crazy women) even make appearances.  But that's not enough to save this film for me.

I'm not a fan of westerns, especially really grim ones and not a fan of Swank, though I give her props for her acting skills, so the deck was stacked against my liking this film from the start.  Add to it the fact that it's interminably long and interminably grim (babies being thrown down the hole in an outhouse, children buried underground, a man raping his wife with her mother lying next to her in bed).  I can imagine prairie life in the 1800's wasn't easy, but I didn't need to see that.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like movies about the hardscrabble pioneer life, you might like this (keeping in mind it's no "Little House on the Prairie").  I found it dreary and grim.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
275 to go!
Have YOU seen these?
A young boy is abandoned by his father and left to live in a state run youth home until a chance encounter with a stranger leads to her fostering him on weekends.

Eleven-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is obsessed with finding his father and can't believe his father has sold his bike and moved away.  He meets a woman, Samantha (Cecile de France), at a medical clinic and she takes an interest in him, even finding who bought his bike and buying it back for him.  She also invites him to stay with her on weekends.

They find his father and the father rejects him, so Cyril hooks up with a local thug, transferring his need for approval to him, even going so far as to rob a local newsstand agent to please him.

Why it's a Must See:  [Directed by the Dardenne Brothers], "taking simple, potentially melodramatic scenarios, they have crafted another magical, fleet-footed film that will linger with audiences in ways belying its leanness."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a charming, poignant film made all  the more charming and poignant by the young actor, Thomas Doret.  You won't be able to resist him.
(In French with English subtitles)

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) a dance teacher, and Solange (Francoise Dorleac), a piano teacher, are twins and dying to get out of Rochefort and to Paris.  Little do they know that the loves of their lives are right there in Rochefort. 
This is a joyful film, reminiscent of that early part of the sixties when we had not yet been scarred by the Vietnam War and when "Beach Blanket Bingo" movies were a destination.  Starring Catherine Deneuve, her sister Francoise Dorleac (who died tragically and too young), Gene Kelly, George Chakiris and Danielle Darrieux with music by Michel Legrand, how can you go wrong?
The colors are gorgeous.  It's a silly fairy tale fantasy with everyone dancing in the streets and singing, singing, singing - and it's very French and very 1960's.
Why it's a Must See:  "Everything in this movie connotes happiness, buoyancy, and a joie de vivre that is unmatched in cinema...Put simply, Young Girls will make you happier than almost any other film you can imagine. And this is no small achievement."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

"It is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful films of all time."
---San Francisco Chronicle, September 18, 1998
If you ever wondered what happened to George Chakiris after he won his Oscar for "West Side Story," well, I guess he went to France.
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are not a fan of musicals, you will hate this film.  But if you loved "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,"  this one has  the same look and feel, except happier, because it's from the same director (Jacques Demy).  This one is exuberant and will make you smile.
(In French with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington (2015)

Author Harrington samples celebrity diets and discovers not only insights into the lives of some celebrity icons but of herself as well.

Harrington read the diet and lifestyle books of several celebrities in their pursuit of the ideal and tried each diet for a week.  Gwyneth Paltrow shuns dairy, gluten, eggs, red meat, deep water fish and eggplant (what's wrong with eggplant?)  Liz Taylor mixed sour cream into cottage cheese and put peanut butter on steak.  Karl Lagerfeld drank 10 diet cokes a day and Marilyn Monroe mixed raw eggs into warm milk.  Cameron Diaz likes savory oatmeal, Madonna is strictly macrobiotic, Garbo espoused the "wonder foods" from Gaylord Hauser's book "Look Younger, Live Longer (wheat germ, brewer's yeast and molasses)" and Victoria Beckham uses the "Five Handfuls Diet" as in only five handfuls (what will fit in your palm) of protein per day.  Now we know why she never smiles!

Harrington tried them all asking herself the questions:

  • Would she have any friends at the end of her diet journey? (No)
  • Was she going to permanently change her body? (No, she weighs exactly the same)
  • Which celebrity would she like best? (Liz, Karl and Gwyneth)
  • Which celebrity would she like the least? (Garbo)
  • What would she learn about dieting? (She's not sure)

But what she really learned was how hard it is to be an "ideal" woman at any time in history and that the lives of celebrities are actually pretty horrible.  You can also get a "tremendous understanding and an odd compassion for someone when you eat like them."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a hilarious romp that dieters and celebrity watchers alike will love.

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for
"How to Care for a Sick Loved One: Do's and Don'ts"


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Let's Dish About the 2015 Oscars! Observations From a Movie Maven: Who Did It Best, Who Flopped and Everything In Between

Now that the 2015 Academy Awards have come and gone, I wanted to weigh in. 

First of all, just so you know, I got 19 out of the 24 categories correct - 80% (and won my little family pool) - and, if you remember (read it here, if you don't), I called Eddie Redmayne as Best Actor, Julianne Moore as Best Actress and chose five out of the eight films nominated for Best Picture way back in January, even BEFORE the nominations were announced. 

I just wanted you know that Rosy the Reviewer has her movie cred.  Stick with me and I will direct you to the best movies and DVDs and steer you away from the dreck.

The Academy Awards is the Super Bowl for movie lovers, so just as football fans plan for The Big Day, so did I.

Every year the family does its own little Academy Awards pool so I had sent out the ballots ahead of time.  (Here's a tip:  Always look for ballots that not only list the nominated films, but the person or persons nominated.  That can be helpful if you recognize the costume designer who has won before or the famous writer who adapted the screenplay).

On the Big Day, I completed my ballot, put together some delicious food to eat while watching, dressed up the dogs, slipped into something glam, put the champs on ice and switched on the TV at 3pm (PST) to watch the arrivals on the Red Carpet.

Let's dish about the Red Carpet!

Several channels had Red Carpet interviews but I chose "E," hosted by the Fashion Police folks, Kelly Osbourne, Giuliana Rancic and Brad Goreski because I figured I would get the most "dish" for my buck with them. 

And speaking of dish:  Giuliana, EAT SOMETHING.  You look like a wraith. 


And Kelly, I adored your dress but aren't you getting a little long in the tooth for a purple Mohawk?  Ditch the colored hair and the head shaving if you want to tell other people how they should look. 

Speaking of which, Khloe Kardashion joined them later and looked like she was dragged through a hedgerow backwards (as my British friends would say).  Her hair needed a good brushing and why wear a dress that makes your hips look BIGGER?

Here's a tip.  You have to be really hardcore to start watching the Red Carpet early as the big stars don't arrive until closer to the start of the event which on the West Coast is 5:30.  But, hey, I'm hardcore. 

At 3pm we were getting the people who did voiceovers for the animated films - I will say that America Ferrera ("How To Train Your Dragon 2") looked lovely

 - and the people who would be singing the nominated songs. 

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were sporting short haircuts that were not becoming. 

I didn't even recognize them at first but then I realized later I had never seen Tim without a cowboy hat.  I don't want to be too bitchy about the hair, though, in case there are some health issues going on.

Also if you watch early, you have to endure the hosts killing time by predicting who will look good because the A-listers haven't arrived yet and their yammering on and on.  This is a good time to paint your nails, read a book or dress up your dog.

But finally after a couple of glasses of champs and a nap, the A-Listers arrive.

None of the dresses really blew me away this year but here are the ones I thought were the best (and note - I am writing this BEFORE watching Fashion Police!)

Best Dresses

Felicity Jones wearing Alexander McQueen


Lupita Nyong'o in Calvin Klein

Rosamunde Pike in Givenchy


Rita Ora in Marchesa

This is my favorite. You might ask, "Who is Rita Ora?"  She is a British singer trying to make it in the U.S. and is famous for breaking Rob Kardashian's heart (before he got fat)!

Reese Witherspoon in Tom Ford

Reece is doing the very classic thing here in a dress that makes her look much taller. 

Worst Dresses
I have to say, though, that no one really looks terrible anymore, which is no fun when you want to dish about the gowns.  Everyone has a stylist.  It's not like the old days when there were some really, really bad dresses.

Marion Cotillard in Dior 


Looked good from the front but the back was terrible.  Do we really need a bustle these days?

Nicole Kidman in Louis Vuitton

The belt makes her look like a school crossing guard who works part time as a hooker and that clutch just doesn't go.

Scarlett Johansson in Versace

It's that thing around her neck.  Can't tell if it's a necklace or part of the dress, but it's horrible.


The dress was only semi-awful.  It was her hair and makeup that let her down.  She looked older than she should and like she got caught in a tornado.

And of the men, Eddie Redmayne and Terrence Howard looked very dapper. 

Michael Keaton looked great, too, but, boy, is he a twitchy guy.  He's one of those people who doesn't look you in the eye.  I never once saw him look at Ryan Seacrest's face when he was being interviewed.

Now on with the show! 


My two favorite things of the night:

The longest speeches always seem to be by the people in the categories that no one really cares about.  But, hey, those are the unknown people who toil behind the scenes and they want their moment in the sun.  Too bad if the music starts playing and someone runs for the hook.  They are going to stay on that stage until they have said everything they have always wanted to say, dammit!  Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of the Best Foreign Language Film "Ida," was a wonderful example.

John Travolta and Idina Menzel.  Neil Patrick Harris introduced this bit by talking about Benedict Cumberbatch's name:

"Benedict Cumberbatch: It's not only the most awesome name in show business, it's also the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce 'Ben Affleck.'"

The two made fun of Travolta's horrible mangling of Menzel's name last year by her introducing him as Glom Gazingo.  He then was able to correctly pronounce her name.  But he was a bit touchy feely. Was he drunk?

And here are MY awards!

Biggest Disappointment Award:  Neil Patrick Harris 

Neil wasn't the worst host ever.  David Letterman gets that dubious honor.  But Neil just fell flat too many times.

The Neil Patrick Harris opening was his usual Broadway style and had some funny lyrics. They interposed him into some of the films which was kind of funny and reminded me of the kind of thing Ellen does, but it just made me miss Billy Crystal all the more who did that kind of thing with much more humor and flair. Anna Kendrick joined him and she has a nice Broadway voice, but her voice was a little screechy at times. Jack Black coming out of the audience to rant about "Hollywood baloney" was funny, but in general the opening was a yawn.

Speaking of falling flat.  Whoever wrote Neil's patter should be fired.  Wasn't funny. The joke about Oprah and the money made by "American Sniper" made no sense and the bit with David Oyelowo about everything sounding better with a British accent was cringe worthy. And I'm not even going to comment on the bit with Neil's predictions in the briefcase.  Dumb and too little too late.

I say, get Kevin Hart or Martin Short to host next year!

Second Biggest Disappointment Award: 
That "Boyhood" did not win for Best Picture, Best Director or Best Editing.

"Birdman" was an original and entertaining film with some great acting.  I will give it props, but "Boyhood" was an extraordinary feat of movie-making.  The cast met every year for 12 years and what director Richard Linklater put together was a poignant and real look inside a family and the growth of a young boy from six to 18.  The editing created a seamless recording of time. To keep that cast together for 12 years was an amazing act of love and dedication on everyone's part and the result was an almost three hour film that kept you riveted, as if you were also a part of their world.  Despite the fact that it did not win the big prizes, this film will be remembered as a new form of filmmaking.

Worst Reader of the Teleprompter Award

Liam Neeson is a great actor, but he sure can't act like he is not reading the teleprompterC'mon, Liam!  Act! Or attend the rehearsals.

Best Heartfelt and Compelling Speech Award
Graham Moore (Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game")

"Here's the thing. Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. I do. And that's the most unfair thing I've ever heard...So in this brief time here, what I wanted to do was say this: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I'm standing here, and so I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere: Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different, and then, when it's your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much!"

Best Speech That You Thought Was Going To Be Boring But It Wasn't Award

Patricia Arquette.

It started out boring because she was reading from a piece of paper, but once she got going, she was riling up the audience about equal rights for women.  Meryl Streep was so jazzed I thought she was going to run up on stage!

Best Speech With Advice For My Kids Award

J.K. Simmons

Call your Mom and Dad! Don't text or email, call them...Thank them...Tell them you love them...and listen to them as long as they want to talk.  Thanks, J.K.  Best speech of the night!

Most Handsomest Man in the Whole Wide World Award

Channing Tatum

(Sorry, I just had a weak moment).

Best Performance of the Nominated Songs Award

John Legend and Common singing "Glory" (from "Selma"), and their acceptance speech was emotionally touching when Legend talked about the huge incarceration rate for black men in the United States. 

Worst Nominations Award

The Songs. 

Except for "Glory," they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel this year.  The song from "The Lego Movie, " "Everything is Awesome" was especially ridiculous.

Biggest Upset Award (for me anyway because I didn't pick it)

"Big Hero 6" beating out "How to Train Your Dragon 2"

Craziest Dress on a Winner Award

Dana Perry whose Documentary Short "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" won the Oscar wore this crazy dress with furry balls all over it.  But then I felt bad for laughing at her dress when she said in her speech that their film was important in helping those in crisis and she herself had a son who committed suicide.  I wasn't the only one.  Neil made a joke about the dress and got some flak for it.

The Shame on You Award

The omissions of Joan Rivers and Elaine Stritch from the In Memoriam segment.  Shameful

Most Surprising Moment Award

Lady Gaga can sing Broadway! 

Her tribute to the 50th year anniversary of "The Sound of Music" was good, but it went on too long.  I couldn't help but think that probably every one of the actors in the audience had been in "The Sound of Music" at least once in their lives.

Most Bittersweet Award

When Julie Andrews came out right after Gaga's "The Sound of Music" tribute. 

I am glad Julie is still with us and looks so great, but it was also bittersweet after hearing Lady Gaga sing all of her songs knowing that Julie can no longer sing.

Well, that's it for this year folks.  Just as my fellow Seahawks fans can't wait for next season's Super Bowl, I am already gearing up for the 2016 Academy Awards.

See you at the movies!

Thanks for reading! 
And stay with me.  I won't steer you wrong on the movies!

See you Friday
when I will be reviewing
Julianne Moore's
Academy Award-winning
performance in
"Still Alice"

(I will let you know if the movie itself is any good) 
as well as some
DVD's to see or avoid
and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
I Die Project."

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