Friday, February 26, 2016

"Zoolander 2" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Zoolander 2" and the DVDs "Burnt" and "Grandma."  The Book of the Week is a novel (can you believe it?) "Hotels of North America" by Rick Moody.  I also catch you up on my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Roberto Rossellini's "Paisan"]

Zoolander 2

Clueless ex-model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his sidekick, Hansel (Owen Wilson), are back, lured to Rome where they find themselves once again the target of evil Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

It's been literally and figuratively 15 years since the first "Zoolander."  As you may remember (or maybe not) the first "Zoolander" ended with Derek marrying Mathilda (Christine Taylor), having a son (Derek Jr.) and starting "The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too." 

So this film picks up where that left off, explaining in flashbacks, Zoolander's 15 year disappearance from the scene.  You see, the Center was built with inferior products and collapsed a couple of days after it's opening, killing Mathilda and disfiguring Hansel. Derek is blamed for that. Derek also loses custody of his son (Cyrus Arnold), because he can't figure out how to make dried spaghetti "soft."  So Derek has given up and become a hermit (or as he says a "hermit crab") in the wilds of northern New Jersey. 

Now, that's about as funny as it gets. if you didn't find all of that funny, it's just downhill from there.

OK, let's move on. There's more.

While Derek is doing his "hermit crab" thing, someone is killing the pop singers of the world.  The film begins with Justin Bieber's assassination in Rome.  As he dies he leaves a selfie of himself, pouting.  Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) of Interpol's Fashion Division sees a pattern there, as other murdered pop stars also left behind that characteristic pout, and she recognizes it as an expression that the famous model Derek Zoolander used to employ. She needs his help. But where is he?

The story is similar to the first "Zoolander," because once again Derek is being lured into an evil plot by arch villain Jacobim Mugatu, who is again played by Will Ferrell and who is actually funny. Both Derek and Hansel have received invitations to walk the runway again, this time in Rome for fashion queen Alexanya Atoz, played by an unrecognizable Kristen Wiig.  She is obviously playing a Donatella Versace clone with plastic surgery gone very, very wrong. Sort of funny. 

The fashion show is for up-and-coming fashion designer Don Atari (again, the name a sort of nod to Versace) played by hilariously obnoxious SNL alum Kyle Mooney.  The fashion show is starring androgynous, eyebrow-less fashion model All (in a cameo by Benedict Cumberbatch).  Speaking of cameos, there are more cameos in this than those star-packed movies of the sixties like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." 

There are over 25 stars making appearances, from Katy Perry to Sting to MC Hammer to Susan Boyle as well as many of our iconic fashion designers - Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Vera Wang ("Two Wangs" - that's the kind of humor we are dealing with here).  If you blink, you might miss some of the appearances from the likes of Ariana Grande or John Malkovich, because they are so brief.  That part of the film is kind of fun.  The rest of it is not.  All of those cameos do not save this lifeless, unfunny film.  I had to ask myself, what did Stiller have on all of those people to get them to appear in this film?

Valentina finds Derek and gets him to help her and if he does she will help him get his son back. Lo and behold, Derek's son is in Rome too, but he is in grave danger.

Turns out the fashion designers have all come together because Mugatu has promised them "the fountain of youth."  Remember, Adam and Eve?  Well, supposedly there was Adam, Eve and Steve, who was the first real super model, and the story goes that if you find a descendant of Steve and cut out his heart and eat it you will be granted eternal youth.  And guess who that descendant is?  Well, I am sure you can figure it out, if you care to.

In my quest to find a truly funny comedy, I have, speaking metaphorically, had to kiss a lot of frogs.  And when I say funny, I mean laugh out loud, not say to myself, "Are you kidding me?"

I kissed another frog with this one.  Ribbit-ribbit.

Now the first thing you might ask is, how does an erudite reviewer such as myself, who routinely reviews film classics from the schools of Antonioni and Fellini, end up not only watching this film, but paying good money to do so?

Well, dear readers, Ben Stiller used to be funny.  The first "Zoolander" was a bit of a laugh, even if it was a one joke film, but it poked fun at the pretentions of the fashion world and it felt fresh.  And the Fokkers franchises, "There's Something About Mary" and the first "Night at the Museum" were funny as Stiller took his place as the iconic hapless schmoe. Just looking at his face as he got himself into hopeless situations used to make me laugh.  I enjoyed those films.  Also, I have to admit that I went to this film for another reason.  Sometimes which movie I see is determined by my busy schedule and when I want to mall walk.  Such is the life of a busy film reviewer.

Directed by Stiller and co-written by him with Justin Theroux (you know, Jennifer Aniston's Hubby, who also stars as Evil DJ), this film is just another reason why I hate sequels.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I was watching this movie all alone in the theatre.  I was the only one there.  That should tell you a lot.


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

Now Out on DVD

Burnt (2015)

A two-Michelin star chef with a shattered career goes to London to redeem himself by opening a restaurant and, hopefully, getting three Michelin stars this time around.

Chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) was a successful American chef in Paris working in his mentor's restaurant, until he blew his career by taking too many drugs and acting like Gordon Ramsay in "Hell's Kitchen."  Adam's behavior ruined the restaurant and the careers of his friends.  He returned to the States to clean up his act and eat his humble pie by shucking 1,000,000 oysters in a New Orleans restaurant. It took him three years to shuck all of those oysters, but now he is back in Europe, London this time, to start another restaurant and this time he wants three Michelin stars.

To start his restaurant, Adam recruits Tony (Daniel Bruhl, who made a big splash in "Rush"), the maître 'd from the Paris restaurant. Tony is in love with Adam.  Adam also lures Michel (Omar Sy) and Helene (Sienna Miller), co-workers who lost their jobs at the Paris restaurant.  He also recruits young street food cooks and "poaches" cooks from other venues - "poaches," get it? Can you tell I am a foodie?

Adam gets his ragtag group of cooks together to make his comeback in a restaurant in the luxurious Langham Hotel.

He gets funding for the restaurant, but because of his past, must get drug testing from a doctor, which gives Emma Thompson a small role where her talents are pretty much wasted.  Uma Thurman makes a brief appearance too, but I still can't remember why.

Adam has a rival - Reece (Adam Rhys) - who already has a three-Michelin star restaurant.  He comes to Adam's opening and gloats because the restaurant is not full on opening night.  But hey, this wouldn't be a movie if that was the end of it, would it?  We know Adam is going to kick butt.

The drama centers around Adam and his crew preparing for the inevitable arrival of the Michelin inspectors.  Though the inspectors are anonymous, they have certain rituals.  They  always book a table before 7:30, always come in pairs but one comes first and orders a drink in the bar, they always order a half bottle of wine and two glasses of tap water and they will always lay a fork on the floor to see how observant and caring the staff is.

To add even more drama, Adam is being stalked by guys he owes money to from back in his druggie days.  They find him and beat him up.  And then wouldn't you know, one of the staff reports that some early diners have arrived and have ordered a half bottle of wine.  Yikes, the Michelin inspectors are here!

And disaster ensues.  The food is sent back by the table with the supposed inspectors. Turns out that Michel has overspiced the food on purpose "For Paris."

Adam feels defeat and goes to Reece's.  He tries to kill himself in front of him by putting a plastic bag over his head in one of the most interesting and poignant scenes of the film.  And Reece saves him.

It's an interesting scene and not at all over the top in light of the fact that in real life, two Michelin star chefs have killed themselves in recent years fearing a loss of a star.  It's that big of a deal.

But all is not lost for our hero. Turns out those really were not the Michelin inspectors after all.  They were software salesmen from Birmingham!

Alicia Vikander, who seems to be everywhere these days and is slated to pick up an Oscar on Sunday, plays an old girlfriend who pays off Adam's debts to the bad guys and brings Adam his knives.  That revitalizes him.  A chef's knives are the equivalent of his penis, I guess. He pulls himself together and forges forward.  Will he get his three stars?

I had to ask myself. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller went from "American Sniper" to this?  And Bradley, what was with "Aloha," the one you did right after "Sniper?" Maybe Bradley wanted to know what it was like to play someone like a chef who has so much control that it's OK to humiliate co-workers and control people. 

There is a scene where Adam is not happy with the turbot that Helene has cooked.  He makes her apologize to the turbot.  She then goes home and serves her daughter turbot every morning for breakfrast until she gets it right.

I am not one who believes that Bradley Cooper is the "Sexiest Man Alive," which People Magazine proclaimed him in 2010, but I will say when he and Miller kissed and he held her face with his hands, I felt a little something. I am sure women in theatres across America were oohing and ahing.

I have to bring this up: There is an incredibly annoying device at work in this film that I have never seen before.  Whenever someone speaks a language other than English, there are English subtitles, which is fine but all of the subtitles start with [Speaking French] or [Speaking German].  For a minute there I thought I had my closed captions on, but no, none of the English speakers had subtitles so that couldn't be it.  I couldn't help but wonder if that appeared in the film in the theatres or if it was just for the benefit of the DVD.  But whatever, it is ironic that a film that would appeal to people who had actually BEEN in France would be telling us what language is being spoken as if we are hillbillies living in the woods (no offense to hillbillies).  That really dumbed down this film.

Also that old vomit cliché that I hate is in this film too.  You know the one, something traumatic happens and the actor has to vomit to show us just how bad it really is.  Yuck.

Directed by John Wells, from a book by Michael Kalesniko, adapted for the screen by Steven Knight, Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali were executive consultants on this film.  I am thinking it brought back memories for Ramsay who worked under Marco Pierre White, an infamously famous chef/dictator and screamer in the kitchen.

The best thing about this movie is the food porn - lovely dishes of mouth watering food beautifully presented.

The critics were not kind to this film and you would think from what I have said so far, I didn't like it either.  But that's not really true.  I have seen worse and in fact I actually enjoyed much of it.  I love films filmed in Europe and I love food porn.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Foodies will delight in the food prep and the finished dishes and if you are a Bradley Cooper fan, there is lots of him. 

Grandma (2015)

When a young girl finds herself pregnant, she seeks her grandmother's help.

Lily Tomlin plays Elle, a lesbian poet who is just getting over the death of her partner after a 38 year relationship.  She is an unemployed academic who doesn't quite know what to do with herself.  Then her pregnant granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), shows up asking her to help her get an abortion.  Sage can't talk to her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and Elle has been estranged from her daughter for years. 

Elle takes Sage to confront the boyfriend and when he doesn't comply with help for the abortion, she hits him in his jewels with his hockey stick.  She's a feisty gal. Elle and Sage embark on a road trip of sorts and encounter a motley crew of characters as they search for funds, one of whom is Sam Elliott who plays Elle's former boyfriend and who, in real life, is making a new name for himself as a hot older guy (remember him in the delightful "I'll See You In My Dreams"?).  The two smoke some weed which is one of those supposedly funny, "Oh, look, the old folks are smoking marijuana" things that I hate, but otherwise, the two of them are charming together.

As Elle tries to help her granddaughter, she realizes that she must cure past wrongs and relationships.

I've never been a big fan of Lily Tomlin's dramatic abilities.  Remember that awful movie she did with John Travolta ("Moment by Moment")? I don't think I ever got over it.  But over the years she has grown on me and has made a name for herself playing wacky older ladies.  If you saw the little Netflix mini-series she did with Jane Fonda "Grace and Frankie," then you know what I mean and it's kind of like that here. (By the way, if you care, "Grace and Frankie" will be getting a second season). But Tomlin's character is tough when necessary and kind when necessary, and I think Tomlin herself is like that too.  I enjoyed spending time with her.

Written and directed by Paul Weitz (who wrote "About a Boy"), it's a short movie - only an hour and 20 minutes - with a low budget feel and it's a quirky niche story.  How many times does an entire film center on an old lady imparting wisdom to a young girl and imbuing woman empowerment?  I like it!  Despite a couple of over-the-top scenes, we need more of these! 

Rosy the Reviewer says...the reason to see this film is Tomlin's performance and to give yourself a dose of good old lady empowerment. I want to be that grandma!

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

259 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Paisan (1946)

Six vignettes about the horrors of war starting with the Allied Invasion of Italy in July 1943 to winter 1944, tracing the path of liberation from Sicily to Venice.

Using stock footage, Roberto Rossellini, considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, sets the stage for each vignette as the allies make their way through Italy

Yay!  I thought I was losing my classic Italian Neorealism movie cred with my last two reviews of an Antonioni ("L'Avventura") and a Fellini film ("Amarcord").  This film I liked.  It's part of Rossellini's "War Story Trilogy." Rossellini led the charge with his "Rome, Open City (which is the first in this trilogy and which I will review soon)" in 1945.  There is no existential angst and people looking off into the distance, which came later.  It's just good storytelling that illustrates human interaction in the face of war and what the Italians went through during Fascist rule.

Vignette #1 - The Americans wade ashore into Sicily and engage the local villagers, who are suspicious.  Carmela, a young girl, leads the soldiers out of the village to avoid land mines that the Germans left and in so doing, strikes up a tenuous relationship with, Joe, one of the soldiers.  Neither speaks the other's language, but the scene shows how they try to communicate, sharing what words they do know - Joe knows "bambino," "paisan..."  and sign language.  It's a brief, touching encounter that illustrates the tenuous nature of relationships during war and ends tragically.

Vignette #2 -  Street urchins in Naples try to shake down the American GIs.  One little boy finds a drunk black GI and steals his boots.  The next day, they meet again and the GI recognizes the kid and chases him back to where the boy lives and the GI is shaken by the living conditions.

Vignette #3 -  Rome -  six months after the Allied Invasion.  Women are enjoying the American GIs spending money on them.  A man remembers a young woman he met when he first arrived six months earlier, only to realize that she is now the prostitute he just spent the night with.

Vignette #4 - an American nurse braves German occupation in Florence to find an ex-lover with the streets of Florence in ruins.

Vignette #5 - A Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew walk into an Italian Franciscan monastery... and shake it up a bit.

Vignette #6 - The film ends with the methodical executions of partisans in the Po Valley. Despite liberation and the end of the war nearing, the atrocities continued.

Why it's a Must See: "Anyone approaching [this film] without foreknowledge of its status as a Neorealist masterpiece could be forgiven for giving up early on: stock footage of the American campaign in Italy, Hollywood-style music, bad actors barking military commands [but it's] a rigorously unsentimental presentation of horrors.  Paisan locates the telling traces of personal life within the nightmare of war's history."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

Yes, the acting can be stilted at times, but in his search for realism, Rossellini chose non-actors to play many of the roles, choosing them instead for their look.  This was an early influence on Fellini, who worked on this film.

Rossellini was definitely ahead of his time, taking on the themes of brief encounters and friendships forged in the midst of war, a black man talking about going home a hero but knowing what he faced back in America, the role of religion in war, the clash of cultures and other adult themes.  I see why Ingrid Bergman fell in love with Rossellini's mind and left her Swedish husband and children to run off to Italy with him.  She left a lucrative acting career in the United States to be Rossellini's muse in less popular films. Their marriage lasted for many years and they also had children together, most famously Isabella.

My parents never forgave Ingrid Bergman for leaving her Swedish husband and children and running off with Rossellini.  They weren't alone in their disapproval. She was even castigated on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Hard to believe considering what we know about our "stars" of today.

This is the kind of gem that makes me happy I am working on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project."  I usually don't like war movies and would never have watched this film if it wasn't one of my "assignments."  I loved this film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...even if you are not usually a fan of war stories, see it.  This one transcends the genre.
(in b & w in English, Italian and German with English subtitles)


***Book of the Week***

Hotels of North America by Rick Moody (2015)

The novel is a series of reviews of hotels and motels as reviewer Reginald Edward Morse moves about the country commenting on the state of the places and generally making snarky and very funny comments about them while at the same time revealing the state of his own life and mind.

Reginald Edward Morse is one of the top reviewers on  As we read his reviews of hotels and motels, we learn his personal story: his career as a motivational speaker, the end of his marriage, his bad credit, and his love for the mysterious "K."  There is a sadness under all of the humor. As Morse writes his reviews that detail such things as how to scam your way to getting a free room or at least a discount, the importance of hair products, his dislike of B & B's (and I agree with most of his points except the part about the gazebo) and even which parking lot is best if you have to sleep in your car (Ikea), he also reveals his own life, one of separation from his daughter, hard times and middle-aged angst.  Some of the seedy places he writes about reflect his state of mind and you really get what it can be like to be all alone in a hotel room with your thoughts and regrets. But don't get me wrong.  Much of this book is very funny as Morse describes his surroundings in a very sardonic and curmudgeonly way.

As you know, I don't read and review very many novels.  I am a nonfiction kind of gal, but I like to switch it up from time to time, and my sister not only recommended this book, but sent it to me, so that is a thumbs up review right there.  And this novel was enjoyable and right up my alley. It is laid out as a series of short reviews of hotels and motels, some (or all?) of them very real indeed. If you didn't know you were reading a novel, you would think you were reading actual reviews...and maybe they are. 

But Morse uses the reviews to talk about his life, too, almost more than the hotels themselves.  As I was reading, I thought, "I do that too. My reviews are as much about me as they are the movie or the book or the restaurant or the hotel."  And if you haven't read my blog posts, "The Perfect Hotel Room" or "My Restaurant Pet Peeves: How NOT To Get The Worst Table in the Restaurant," here is your chance!

Author Rick Moody is probably best known for his novels "Garden State" and "The Ice Storm," both of which were made into acclaimed films.  This book was listed as a "Best Book of the Year" by NPR and the New York Times said, "This is Moody's best novel in many years...a book of irony and wit and heartbreak."

Rosy the Reviewer says...YELP for the literary crowd who like a dose of humor with their reviews.


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for
"A Night At the Oscars:
My Academy Awards Wrap-Up 2016"

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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.  Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.
NOTE:  On some entries, this has changed.  If you don't see "Explore More" on the right side of the screen, scroll down just below the description of the film in the middle of the page.  Find where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics." Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list.
Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mindfulness: Are You Present in Your Own Life?" (Rosy the Reviewer's "Happiness Trilogy, #3)

I warned you that I was going to get around to this one.

It's Tuesday, rant time, and here is Part 3 in Rosy the Reviewer's "Happiness Trilogy."

If you have been following me, you know that Part 1 was about self-awareness ("How Self Aware Are You...Really?) and Part 2 was about thoughtfulness ("Some Thoughts on Thoughtfulness").

"Mindfulness" completes the trilogy and comprises the three things I think are essential to our own happiness and the happiness of those around us.

You might think that self-awareness and mindfulness are the same thing but, if you did, and I don't mean to be rude, you would be wrong.

As I discussed in my blog post about it, self-awareness is basically noticing how you are acting.  It's being conscious of yourself, your feelings and what your motives are.  It's basically a conversation you should be having with yourself all of the time. "Should I blast my horn at that pedestrian?"  "Should I correct my friend's bad English?" Go ahead and do those not very nice things, but at least be aware that you are doing them.  But basically we all walk around in a fog, saying and doing stuff that we barely think about and often causing drama and not being very nice and then wondering why our lives aren't very much fun.

Mindfulness is more about consciousness, being in the present moment and acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts, and sensations.

I believe that self-awareness, thoughtfulness and mindfulness all work together to create happiness.  When we are self-aware about what we are doing and saying, when we are thoughtful to others and when we are mindful of our own lives we will be happier and so will those who interact with us.

The reason mindfulness is on my mind right now is that when I look down the road, the road ahead is much shorter than the road I have already traveled.  I hadn't really thought about that very much until David Bowie and Glen Frey both died unexpectedly, both not yet 70.  If my fate is to go at the same age as they, then I only have a couple of years left.

That gives one pause...contemplating the end of the road.

We just had a new roof put on the house last year.  I can't help but think, that's probably the last roof I will ever buy. Since it cost a bunch, I guess I could say that was also a good thing.

I am having some chairs that belonged to my parents reupholstered.  The chairs are almost 100 years old and have great significance for me because I remember sitting in one of those chairs as a young girl, one leg hanging over the arm, watching TV with my Dad. My parents always sat in those chairs.  I had them reupholstered about 12 years ago and now, I think, this will be the last time. 

And I wonder, when my older dog passes, do I get another one?

When we are young, it seems like a long life awaits us.  We have a world of time ahead of us.  We don't think in terms of time. But as we age, we start measuring time by what we may not do again or what we won't live to see.  Is this the last time I will see the Grand Canal in Venice?  Will I see my grandchild graduate from high school? 

We Baby Boomers have witnessed an interesting and exciting era from the beginning of rock & roll to the British Invasion to the Vietnam War and its subsequent protests, the women's and civil rights movements, AIDS... We have arguably experienced more social change than earlier generations and all the while thinking we would live forever.  Most of our parents were products of the Great Depression, so when prosperity returned, they didn't want us to experience that suffering.  In short, they spoiled us and we grew up thinking we had the world by the tail.  We thought we would live forever.  I mean, when an article about Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath going on tour again appears in the AARP Magazine, you know we just think we will go on and on.

The average age of death for men in the United States is 76 and for women 81.  So if I live to my average expected age, that means I have 14 years left.  If I was sitting in a doctor's office and was diagnosed with a disease and he said I only had 14 years left, I would be devastated.  But since I have so far not had such a diagnosis, the days just tick by and I live my life as if I am going to live forever.

In true Baby Boomer fashion I want to think, "That's not going to happen to me.  I am going to beat the odds."
And then I remember my Dad.  He thought he was going to live to be a 100.  And he should have.  His Dad lived to 92, his diabetic mother made it to 89.  He did almost everything right.  He didn't drink or smoke, he was active, he ate well but there was one little thing.  He got cancer, but it was a curable one.  But he didn't have it treated.  He thought he could beat the odds.  He didn't.

The truth of the matter is, our icons dying off is going to start to be a regular thing.  The truth is, though there is probably a bit of Peter Pan in all of us Baby Boomers, we too will have to face the inevitable.

I remember my Grandmother and Grandfather, both of whom, as I mentioned lived longer than the average, reading the obituaries in the town newspaper, a town they had lived in most of their long lives, and seeing their friends dying off, and I remember one of them saying, "Pretty soon we will have outlived everyone we knew and there will be no one left."

And that brings me back to mindfulness (you are probably thinking FINALLY...let's get off this death kick.  I want her to get to the point so I can get back to listening to my Black Sabbath album!).

I didn't mean to be morbid or make you feel bad.  In fact, my intent is just the opposite.  Remember, this is Rosy the Reviewer's HAPPINESS trilogy, right?

The point of all of this is to strive to make what years we have left really count.  When we realize our time is finite, to make those minutes, hours and days mean something, and the way to do that is to be mindful, to try not to get caught up in the petty problems of life and relationships, but rather to stop and smell the roses.  Yes, I know.  What a cliché, but have you smelled a rose lately?  Roses smell lovely and transport you.  They bring you to the moment and make you feel alive.

I know we all have money problems, children who need our help, illness, all kinds of issues that occupy our minds, but in the course of all of that, it is important to stop and take the time to be in touch with ourselves and say to ourselves, "Here I am, right now, standing in my garden.  The outlines of the trees are beautiful against the sky.  I am alive, I am here, I am me" or "Here I am with my grandchildren.  I am feeling such love for them right now.  I am savoring this moment."

Hubby used to have a job that took him to England regularly.  I was fortunate enough to be able to go with him on many of his trips.  His work was in a town about an hour outside of London. While he worked, I would take the train into London and walk around for five hours straight until it was time to catch the train back in time for tea (I don't think I could do that today - the five hours of walking part, not the tea part)! 

I remember one time going to the food court at Harrod's and getting a tuna salad.


I walked over to Hyde Park to eat it. For some reason, they didn't have a fork in the food court.  Must have been a British thing - that it would be gauche to eat the salad out of the container.  Anyway, I went into the park, sat on the grass and ate the salad with my fingers.  Then I laid down on the grass and looked up at the sky and thought to myself, "Stop this moment.  I am here right now.  Savor it.  I am lying on the grass in Hyde Park in London, England."  And I felt so happy.  I decided that I would always do that at least once a day while I was traveling (I make Hubby do it too).  It was like pinching myself...a mental pinch. And writing that right now makes me remember that moment and I feel happy.

Now I don't just do that when I am traveling.  I try to do "mental pinches" throughout every day.

So, my fellow Baby Boomers, and anyone else reading this little post, meditation is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness (and I have written about that before) but practicing mindfulness can also be as easy as stopping yourself every so often during the day and noticing, really noticing, how you are feeling, what you are doing, how you are talking and reacting to your fellow man and woman, what your world looks like right at that moment and reminding yourself where you are, who you are and that you are alive.

Mindfulness will help you REALLY live your life for as long as you have it to live.

Thanks for Reading!


See you Friday

for my review of the new movie 

"Zoolander 2"
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
 I Die Project."


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Friday, February 19, 2016

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" as well as DVDs "Learning to Drive" and the Academy Award nominated documentary "What Happened, Miss Simone?"  The Book of the Week is an extraordinary biography of Leonard Nimoy by his friend William Shatner.  I also bring you up-to-date with My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with Federico Fellini's "Amarcord."]

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Jane Austen's classic book - except with zombies.

How could I resist a film with a title like that?

Based on the book of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, as part of the Quirk Books series that likes these classic/horror mash-ups (they have also done "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters," "Android Karenina" and others), and adapted and directed by Burr Steers, this film features the lovely Lily James as the plucky, independent Elizabeth Bennet.  We first encountered James in "Downton Abbey (Lady Rose)" and later as Cinderella in that eponymous film where she dazzled.

Austen's original story is retold albeit with some liberties. For example, I don't think there were zombies in the original book (I'm just being cheeky.  I know there weren't zombies in the book.  Anyway, I don't think there were).  So some poetic license is in play here and play is a descriptive word because this film is lots of fun, though it is no parody. Everybody plays it straight. It's light on the gore and heavy on keeping true to the story, though I also don't remember the Bennet sisters being trained in China as Shaolin warriors, either.  But then the original Bennet sisters didn't have zombies to contend with.

Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters are still in need of husbands, because in the early 19th century, women were not allowed to inherit their father's estates.  However, as the sisters wait, instead of sitting around in the drawing room doing embroidery as young ladies of their station and breeding would do, they are sitting around cleaning their rifles because these girls are badass zombie hunters. As they prepare for a ball, they strap their knives into their garters and corsets as nonchalantly as they braid their hair.  These girls are trained in martial arts and are not about to take any crap from any zombies.

At the ball, Elizabeth AKA Lizzy meets Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley).  He is a zombie hunter, and true to the book, it's love/hate at first sight for Lizzy and Darcy.  However, Elizabeth's sister, Jane (Bella Heathcote) meets Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), and, likewise, as in Austen's novel, Jane and Bingham fall in love, but through the usual "pride and prejudice," and some misunderstandings on the part of Darcy, are separated. 

Elizabeth befriends Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston, who made a splash in "Boardwalk Empire"), who is the champion of a zombie aristocracy that is trying to make peace with the humans by eating pig brains instead of human brains (you see, once bitten you are compelled to eat human brains and the more you eat, the more zombie-like you become. Sort of like eating Ben and Jerry's at 3am while mindlessly watching bull riding and televangelists on TV, as some people might do.  I'm not naming any names). If they eat the pig brains, they supposedly won't go after humans. Wickham and silly, awkward Parson Collins (Matt Smith) both woo Lizzy. 

The film culminates in a big zombie war at the end where the humans must protect London or the Zombie Apocalypse will be at hand.
This is "Night of the Living Dead" meets Jane Austen, and there is enough in each genre to satisfy zombie lovers and costume drama lovers alike.  There is no "wink-wink, isn't this fun and silly" from the actors. The actors all play it straight, just as if you were watching a Masterpiece Theatre version of the novel...except with zombies.  

Other cast members include veteran actor Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet along with a slightly dotty Mrs. Bennet played by Sally PhillipsLena Headey, who you may recognize from "Game of Thrones," plays Lady Catherine, Darcy's Aunt, and one of the most badass of zombie killers in the land.  Of course it's a woman!

The production values are all first rate.  This is no B-movie horror film, though it's just as much fun as if it were one. Director Steers has done a great job combining the look and feel that Jane Austen fans would demand of a costume drama and the cheap thrills of a zombie movie, while at the same time respecting Austen's novel.

My only complaint is that Riley is no Colin Firth and is a rather unlikable and stiff Mr. Darcy.

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite the occasional zombie head being blown off, this is a sweet film that Jane Austen fans and zombies alike will enjoy.

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

Now Out on DVD

Learning to Drive (2014)

What do you do when your husband leaves you for another younger woman?  Why, you take driving lessons, of course.

Sir Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson star in a film that is a pretty blatant metaphor for a woman who tries to get her life back together after her husband leaves her for another woman after 21 years of marriage.  "Learning to drive" - learning to live her own life, get it?

But this film is not without its charms.  Kingsley is Darwan, an Indian immigrant who is embracing the American dream by working two jobs.  He is a cab driver but also teaches driving lessons.  Clarkson plays Wendy Shields, a book critic who works at home. Darwan picks Clarkson and her husband, Ted (Jake Weber) up in his cab and witnesses their break-up. Wendy and Ted have been together for 21 years, but now Ted has another love and Wendy is devastated. She is so devastated, in fact, that she throws up.

Now I have to stop the plot synopsis for a minute.  Why is it that whenever someone is really shocked or upset, they throw up?  It has become a film device on its own. You blindside me with a break-up?  I think I will throw up.  My friend dies.  Why, let me throw up.  It's getting so predictable I feel like I need to carry a sickness bag in my purse.  I blame Jill Clayburgh  in "An Unmarried Woman."  I think that she started it all in that movie.  I vote that we stop that.

OK, let's move on. Wendy's daughter (played by Grace Gummer, Meryl's other girl) lives on a farm and wants her mother to visit which is a bit difficult since Wendy can't drive. When Darwan returns to Wendy's apartment to return something she left in his cab, Wendy notices that Darwan teaches driving so she decides it's time.

Wendy humiliates herself trying to get Ted back.  However, the more she drives, the more she stands up to her husband.  Through the course of the lessons, not only does Wendy heal but Darwan also heals.  He has his own problems.  He is a U.S. citizen but came to the US on political asylum and had been in prison in his home country for being a Sikh.  When Wendy gets them into an accident, it's Darwan who is blamed and who takes the abuse - a sober reminder of the racism U.S citizens who "look different," in this case wearing a turban, still encounter in our country.

Your first thought is that Wendy and Darwan will get together but the film takes a different turn.  Darwan is in the midst of an arranged marriage to a woman he has never met, which proves a nice cross-cultural counterpoint to Wendy's marriage which is in tatters after 21 years. One marriage ends and another begins.  Both have issues: Wendy is breaking up with her husband and dealing with the problems of divorce and Darwan is having difficulty helping his wife adjust to life in America. Wendy and Darwan both open up to each other about their relationships and each learn from the other. They forge a relationship that could be something, but Wendy tells Darwan he is a good man and he doesn't want to go there. It's one of those love but no sex movies.

Wendy irritated me a bit.  I know she was married for 20+ years and depended on her husband.  But she is an accomplished critic living in one of those New York apartments that no one in real life can afford.  Why in hell is she so needy? 

Kingsley and Clarkson have a good rapport that is enjoyable. This film is a little bit "I'll See You in My Dreams," where a woman deals with the loss of her husband combined with a little "Driving Miss Daisy," where two people from very different backgrounds find affection for each other, but this one is not the least bit sentimental.  It deals with the turmoil of divorce and the difficulties of newcomers adjusting to life in America head on.

Adapted by Sarah Kernochan from a "New Yorker" essay by Katha Pollitt and directed by Isobel Coixet, driving becomes a metaphor for Wendy's new life and Darwan's too.  As Darwan tells her when they part,  "It's your life now.  Take care of it please."

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite some clichés, watching Clarkson and Kingsley chew the scenery is always a treat.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Singer Nina Simone had 15 Grammy nominations to her credit but died alone, almost forgotten.  What happened Miss Simone?  This documentary tries to answer that question.

The title of the film comes from a quote from Maya Angelou and refers to a career gone wrong and no one knew why. This film explores the demons that Nina Simone was dealing with.

The film begins with Simone performing her first concert in eight years at the Montreux Jazz Festival and then flashes back.

Simone, born Eunice Waymon, started out as a promising classical pianist.  As a little girl, she would literally cross the tracks into the rich side of town to take piano lessons.  After high school she tried to further her classical piano ambitions at the Curtis Institute, but she was rejected and she was convinced it was because she was black.  She moved to New York City in the 1950's and started playing in bars to earn money for her family.  The bar owners told her she needed to also sing, so she changed her name to Nina Simone, so her mother wouldn't know she was playing the "devil's music" in bars, and jazz singer Nina Simone was born.  Her new name came from the French actress Simone Signoret, popular at the time, and Nina meant "little girl" in Spanish.

Simone came to the attention of the record industry and recorded "I Loves You, Porgy" from "Porgy and Bess," which was her first big hit. Simone's primary objective had been to be the first black pianist to play at Carnegie Hall.  She didn't get to play Bach but in 1963 she performed there.
Then she met her husband, Andy Stroud, who was a cop and who gave up his career to manage Nina, an industry cliché, and we know from history that it is rarely a good thing when the wife becomes the husband's meal ticket.  Though he did help her career, he was an abusive husband.

Simone's success came at the height of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.  She became radicalized and diva behavior and depression ensued.  Miss Simone did not take any crap, and in some ways, was not a very nice person. She  began to resent the demands of her career and her husband pushing her. 

The 1963 the Birmingham bombing that killed four little girls pushed her over the edge and she wrote "Mississippi Goddam." 

Her next hit, "Young Gifted and Black," based on the Lorraine Hansberryplay had a huge impact on a generation of young black people who wanted change, and when she met Stokely Carmichaelshe no longer wanted to entertain.  She wanted to use her talent for the cause.  Her concerts became rants and her behavior became more and more erratic.  When she moved to Liberia, her career was basically over.  In later years, she was finally diagnosed as bipolar.

This is a sad tale. When Simone performed, she was a brilliant force fighting the good fight, but when she was alone, she was fighting her own demons, much like what happens to many of our brilliant performers.

Directed by Liz Garbus, this Netflix documentary is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature this year and contains interviews with Simone's daughter Lisa Simone KellyJames Baldwin and music industry people who knew Nina, as well as heretofore virtually unseen interviews with Simone herself.  Hopefully, this film will raise awareness about a performer who was as influential as any in the 20th century.

She died in France alone, but she died with a legacy of 15 Grammy nominations and is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  Curtis Institute, the school that rejected her bid for more classical piano training, gave her a posthumous honorary degree.  Too little too late.  One wonders what her career and life would had been if that door had opened for her back then.

But Miss Simone's anger about what was happening in the United States over 50 years ago was well-placed and sadly, much has not changed.

Rosy the Reviewer says...not sure if this film answered Angelou's question, but it is still a compelling story of a talented woman derailed by racism, love gone wrong and mental illness.


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

260 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Amarcord (1973)

Vignettes of life in an Italian coastal town during the Fascist regime.

This was auteur director Federico Fellini's last major film and is considered one of his most accessible.  

The film starts with a discourse on puffballs as they are the harbinger of spring and rebirth, and we follow a group of people who all live in an Italian village during the Fascist rule from one spring to the next as seen through the eyes of a young boy (Fellini himself, as all of his films are autobiographical). 

There is no real plot here, just a series of vignettes about a disparate group of outcasts and the film goes from the comic (fart jokes) to the sexy (Fellini loves breasts) to the outrageous (a large head of Mussolini made out of flowers) to the spectacular (a peacock spreading its feathers in the snow).  It's a view of Italian provincial life during the Fascist period as seen through the veil of Fellini's memories. Nino Rota, who regularly supplies Fellini's scores, provides the musical backdrop.

After watching this film, I had to ask myself:  what was going on in the 60's and 70's that we were so enthralled with existential angst like Antonioni and the film I reviewed last week and Fellini's strange view of life?  I know I was caught up in the New Wave and have the black tights and beret to prove it.  But now, watching these films, I think, "Huh?"  I am no longer connecting.  Does that mean these films no longer hold up or have I just gotten dumber in my old age?

Fellini made a name for himself using real people i.e. not actors as well as strange looking people.  His view of the world is almost like a constant carnival.

Why it's a Must See:  "Amarcord" ("I remember") is the least grandiose and most immediate of the maestro's later films and deserves to be rated among the finest screen memoirs of the twentieth century.  It offers an extraordinarily lyrical and vivid succession of vignettes, inside the most subtly rigorous narrative structure of Fellini's career."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

This film was the last significant commercial success that Fellini had. It even won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1974, but sorry, I just didn't get it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I liked "La Dolce Vita" better (I think).


***Book of the Week***

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner (2016)

Mr. Spock by Captain Kirk.

Fans of TV shows might wonder if characters are friends in real life.  As actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on the TV show "Star Trek," explains in this biography of Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock, actors form close bonds when working on a movie or TV show together and swear their undying friendship when it's over, but more likely never see each other again.  Actors' bonds "tend to be deep and temporary." That was not the case with Shatner and Nimoy.

Their paths first crossed filming the TV show "The Man From U.N.C.L.E," though it wasn't until they starred together in three seasons of "Star Trek," as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, that they forged a friendship, though Shatner reveals that they were wary of each other at first.

They were not likely companions, though they shared common roots.  Both had similar childhoods, raised in lower-middle-class Orthodox Jewish immigrant families in religiously mixed neighborhoods in large cities and both found their bliss in acting despite opposition by their fathers.  But Shatner was gregarious; Nimoy quiet and reflective; but that "little show they were in" kept them together through successful movies and convention appearances and their shared experiences forged a life-long bond.

Yes, Shatner shares behind-the-scenes stories about "Star Trek," such as Nimoy's creation of the iconic Vulcan Salute and Spock's nerve pinch, but he also shares little known personal information such as Nimoy's alcoholism, a failed marriage and the price of celebrity. 

However, the real heart of this book is Shatner's description of their friendship that grew from the "Star Trek" movies and those Trekkie conventions they attended together. Shatner shares his own life and the parallels Nimoy and he shared - both had painful divorces and some of the same career issues - but he does not upstage Nimoy, rather giving him center stage, and he does it with his usual Shatner self-deprecating humor and unabashed affection for Nimoy.  Shatner considered Leonard his best friend.

This is not a book that would only appeal to Trekkies.

Nimoy was an interesting man well beyond his persona as Mr. Spock.  He was an accomplished photographer, successful stage actor, director, writer and an intellectual and philanthropist.  Shatner writes about him with humor and great affection and some regrets. It's sad to think that in the last years of Nimoy's life, they were not in touch.  Shatner doesn't know what happened.

"It was very painful to me.  As I'd never had a friend like Leonard before, I'd obviously never been in a situation like this...If I knew the reason Leonard stopped talking to me, not only would I admit it, I would have taken steps to heal those wounds...I have no idea what happened...It remains a mystery to me and it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking.  It is something I will wonder about, and regret, forever."

When Shatner found out that Nimoy was dying, he wrote him a letter (which he shares in the book), but never knew if he read it.

Nimoy tweeted to his fans right before his death: 

"A life is like a garden.  Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.  LLAP."

"Live long and prosper." 

When Nimoy died, President Obama issued this statement: 

"Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy.  Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time.  And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek's optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity's future.  I loved Spock."

Nimoy created a character that has become a national treasure.

Rosy the Reviewer says...and Shatner has created a treasure of a biography.

That's it for this week!

See You Tuesday for

Are You Present in Your Own Life? 
(Rosy the Reviewer's "Happiness Trilogy, Pt 3)"
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