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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  1. Oh much in this post to comment on! First..I was not going to see Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies until I laughed my way thru your review. How can I not see it now? I do have a sensitive gag reflex tho and am concerned about zombies losing their heads, pig brains and the vomit scene in the next movie.

    I will add Learning To Drive to my library hold list. I am not a fan of Patricia Clarkson but will try this one. Did you see her in Cairo Time? She was so weird in that movie...I think I let that experience form my opinion of her.

    Nina Simone was one of my fav singers. There is no one with a voice like hers. I look forward to watching the documentary because I know so little about her life.

    I am with you on Amarcord. I tried it again not long ago and don't get it...never did.

    I was never big on Star Trek but once again your critique of the Nimoy book makes me want to read it. if my book list isn't long enough?

    I have recommendations for you but will do that in a second comment..stay tuned.


  2. Have you seen the documentary Book Club about a group of women who have been in a book club for 70 years? It's so sweet...I found it on Hulu.

    There is an excellent doc that came out this week on PBS about the Black Panthers. It was happening next door to me in Oakland in the 60's and yet I didn't really understand the movement....highly recommend.

    Was wondering if you have ever read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon? It's one of my fav books because it starts with The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books. I am a sucker for any book about books but this is so beautifully written as well. I am currently catching up on his sequels via LIBRARY books on cd.


    1. I found the Black Panther movie on Netflix and have added it to my queue. I can't find Book Club and I don't subscribe to Hulu. Don't see it on Amazon Prime, Netflix or YouTube either. I really want to see that one. I will keep looking. Also have put the book on hold at the library, so thanks for your recommendations.

    2. Too bad you cannot find the Book Club...Hulu does have a 30 day free trial ;)


  3. Sazzy, I promise you there is no real gore in P & P & Z! It's all implied. I don't like the gory stuff either. And if you don't read another book this year you must read Leonard. You won't believe how open and emotional Shatner is. It's a wonderful book. I am not a huge Clarkson fan either but see it for Ben. And thanks for the recommendations. Now my list is getting long!

    1. Ok. I trust you. Will see P&P&Z. I am the 33rd hold on 24 copies of the Clarkson movie and 1st hold on the Nimoy book!


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  5. I finally saw Learning to Drive and even tho I was hesitant about Patricia Clarkson being in this I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the movie. You are also correct that she is needy for no reason. She was that way in a couple of movies. I don't get it. You were also right about Ben stealing the show. Didn't you love how he seems to be Mr Zen when doing driving lessons then totally loses it with her after the accident and on the way to the airport? Also...what's with the semi-nude scene of the husband brushing his teeth in the bathroom? I thought that was pointless.

    Good recommendation Rosy. Thanks.


    1. Gratuitous nudity is everywhere in the movies these days!

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