Friday, April 29, 2016

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Huntsman: Winter's War" as well as DVDs "Secret in Their Eyes" and "The Lady in the Van." The Book of the Week is singer Rita Coolidge's memoir "Delta Lady."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with "Clerks."]

The Huntsman: Winter's War

The story of Snow White, The Huntsman and The Evil Queen (plus one) continues.

This is a prequel and a sequel but not so much about Snow White as it is about The Huntsman (we now know his name is Eric) and how he ended up in the forest saving Snow White.

Now if you read me regularly, you know that there are four things I rant about when it comes to movies:

1.  Obnoxiously precocious child actors
2.  Unfunny comedies
3.  American remakes of perfectly good foreign language films
4.  And sequels.

Let me rant about #4 a bit and also let me add prequels and long expository narration to that list.  All three are in evidence in this film.

Sequels are almost always awful.  The minds of the "money men and women" in films appears to be, gee, we never thought that little movie would do so well with that slight premise and low budget, but hey, it did, so let's make another one and really milk the hell out of it.  "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is a perfect example (and trust me, it was awful).  So you can bet that going into this one, I had my doubts.

As for prequels, haven't really made up my mind about those yet but they definitely have the potential to fall into the sequel trap, but as for expository narration that tells the story rather than showing it, I have made up my mind. I hate it. Remember that old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words?"  Well, that's how I feel about expository narration in films.  A film is all about pictures.  SHOW me, don't TELL me.

OK, enough ranting.  Let's get on with the review.

We know from the Snow White fairy tale that The Huntsman was sent out into the woods by the Evil Queen to kill Snow White.  However, what she didn't count on was that Snow White was the cute Kristen Stewart, who appears to be catnip for men (remember that affair she had with her married director on that shoot?), and The Huntsman was the hunky Chris Hemsworth, so there was, shall we say, chemistry?  And we already know what happens with Snow White and the dwarves and the Prince and all of that.

So in this sequel to that story, we now have The Huntsman (still the hunky Chris Hemsworth) several years later but, we ALSO have a prequel to HIS story in how he became a huntsman to begin with, which in turn led him to be in that forest to save Snow White.

Still with me?

It seems that our "Mirror Mirror on the Wall" Queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron back again for the sequel), had a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt).  Freya falls in love and has a baby but her baby is killed and she thinks it was her lover who did it. This turns Freya icy, literally.  She has the power to turn whatever she touches, or even thinks about real hard, into ice. She turns against love, becomes The Ice Queen, moves up north away from her sister and starts kidnapping little kids to form a huge army - a sort of Freudian thing.  All of the kidnapped children are her "children."  She trains them all to be killing machines and they methodically take over all of the kingdoms in the north, kind of like "Game of Thrones."

So Eric, he's one of those kidnapped kids.  He grows up to  be our Huntsman, and he falls in love with Sara (Jessica Chastain), another Huntsman.  It may be a hellish life, but at least the girls are equal to the boys there.  Sara is just like Merida in "Brave (red hair, Scottish accent and everything). Like Merida, Sara's thing is archery.  Remember that.  It has significance later. 

But also remember, Freya has banned love, so when Eric and Sara try to leave to start a life together, Freya gets wind of it and kills them both.  Well, not really, but we/she thinks she has.

So after all of that happened, the Snow White story was playing out and that's how Eric, AKA The Huntsman, came to save Snow White.

With me so far? 

So that was the prequel.

So now the sequel part.

Snow White has married her Prince and is Queen, living happily with her Prince until it comes to light that the evil mirror has disappeared (don't get your hopes up, though. Kristen Stewart is not in this one). 

Snow White is devastated. She thinks that if Freya gets her mitts on that mirror, well, she will be able to take over the world.  So, you see, a Prince can only save you up to a point.  Snow White sends the Prince out to find Eric so he can find the mirror and put it into Sanctuary before Freya gets it.  Of course, Eric is still alive.  It wouldn't be called The Huntsman if he had actually died earlier!

So that's the set-up.  We have dwarves providing the comic relief, at times in questionable comic taste, if you ask me, we have battles, goblins and all sorts of adventures before this thing resolves itself.  Well, I thought it eventually resolved itself until I heard the annoying narrator come on again at the end and say something about fairy tales having happy endings and adding...but is this really the end?

Really?  Another one?  Let me add "Trilogies" to things I hate.

But speaking of things I love, Chris Hemsworth's smile is worth the price of a ticket, but where he got that Scottish accent, I'm not sure.  And then I have to ask, "Why?"  Why do he and Sara speak like that when no one else does?
Charlize Theron as Evil Queen #1 and Emily Blunt as Evil Queen #2 chew up the scenery and get to wear cool clothes.  But one can't help but wonder what drew Theron, Blunt and Chastain to this film, a film with big names, but not much payoff, if you ask me, except Chastain got to kiss Chris Hemsworth.

So, as sequels go, is this terrible?  Not really (you can tell I've calmed down a bit).  But, geez, people let's cool it with the sequels and get on with some new stuff, OK?

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, this could be classified as good family fare, though the goblin sequence would probably scare really little kids and the sex scene might scare their parents but otherwise, it's a lovely-to-look-at fairy tale.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if a combination of "Frozen," "Game of Thrones (without the blood and nudity)" and "The Wizard of Oz" appeals to you, you might like this but wait for the DVD. 

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

Now Out on DVD

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

A group of FBI agents in a Los Angeles counter-terrorist unit after 9/11 find the body of a young woman in a dumpster -- and it's the daughter of one of the agents.  Thirteen years later the murder is still unsolved.

I have to go back to that list of things I hate in movies and refer this time to #3 (see review of "The Huntsman" above) .

This is an American remake of the 2009 Argentinian film of the same name which I reviewed last year and which was a wonderful film. 

It was so good in fact that it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 2010.  So why in hell do we need an American version?  I thought the same thing about "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which, yes, it was in Swedish with English subtitles, but it was a wonderful film.  Likewise, "Oldboy ," "The Ring..." both Japanese films.  I could go on and on.  Usually the American remake is not as good as the original.  Yes, the original is in another language and you need to read subtitles.  But are you really so lazy that you can't read some subtitles?  And if so, you are missing out on some wonderful film experiences.

So it was with a jaundiced eye that I viewed this film but....

It was actually good, and if you haven't seen the original Argentinian film, then you might think it's really good.

The story is mostly true to the original with some character changes so as to create a star vehicle for Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor. 

The story centers around the murder of a beautiful young woman.  In the original she is married and it is her husband who becomes obsessed about catching her killer.  Here the murdered woman, Carolyn Cobb, is the daughter of one of the investigators, Jessica Cobb (played by Julia Roberts).

Ejiofor plays Ray Kasten, an investigator who has had an unrequited love for his boss, Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman).  He has also been haunted by the death of Jessica's daughter 13 years earlier.  Then Jessica and Ray were both part of an FBI counter-terrorist unit and Claire was a newbie in the D.A's office.  Flash forward and Claire is now District Attorney, Jessica is Chief Investigator and Ray is no longer with the FBI.   But he has come back in hopes of reopening the murder case.

So the film takes on two stories in tandem.  There is the murder mystery and the "unrequited" office romance.

Jessica's daughter's body was found by Ray in a dumpster next to a mosque.  The team had been watching the mosque for terrorist activities, because it was right after 9/11 and Los Angeles was on high alert. Will L.A. be next?

The film goes back and forth from the present day to the past when they were first investigating the murder and when Ray and Claire meet for the first time and then back to present day.

In the past, from day one there was a suspect.  Ray saw a picture of a young man looking at Carolyn Cobb in a group picture at a social function.  Ray had a funny feeling about him - his eyes - but discovered that he was a snitch for the agency as he belonged to the mosque.  Because he was considered an important part of the agency's surveillance of possible terrorists he was thus "untouchable." 

So what is Ray to do?  How is he going to get this guy? 

Julia Roberts was very good here and like many a beautiful actress before her, has made herself look as plain as possible so we would take her really, really seriously. I have never seen her looking so plain which is interesting because Julia's husband Danny Moder is the cinematographer. I would love to know what she said to him at home when she saw the rushes if hadn't been her plan to look like that! But this film gives Roberts many chances to exercise her acting chops and she rises to the occasion.  I am surprised she didn't get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for this because the scene where she sees her dead daughter in the dumpster is heartbreaking, but the critics didn't like the film that much and no one saw it.

Ejiofor is always good.  He has the most tortured face and no one does "tortured" like he does.

Adapted and directed by Billy Ray, this American version captures the essence of the original Argentinian film but not the heart.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like crime dramas, this is a good one, but I liked the original one better.

The Lady in the Van (2015)

The true story behind the source material for playwright Alan Bennett's play of the same name.

Maggie Smith plays Mary Shepherd (whose real name was Margaret Fairchild), a homeless woman in the 1970's, who was made homeless by a mysterious car accident for which she felt responsible.  She changed her name and lived in her van which she parked in front of various homes in the Camden Town part of London until playwright Alan Bennett allowed her to park in his drive.  What was to be a few months turned into 15 years.  They formed an uneasy friendship, and let me tell you, she wasn't easy to like, but her background was slowly revealed to him:  she had tried to become a nun, was a concert pianist and had been committed to a psychiatric hospital. 

Alan Bennett is a British playwright, probably best known for his play "The Madness of George III" and this is the film adaptation of his play "The Lady in the Van," which was first performed in the West End in 1999 and on BBC Radio in 2009.  Smith played the role in both.  The film was adapted for the screen by Bennett (he also has a small cameo at the end of the film playing himself, but if you blink you will miss him as he rides his bicycle up to the film crew in his drive) and directed by Nicholas Hytner who also directed the original play production. 

The film is not an easy one, because Mary is not likable and it's difficult to believe that Bennett would put up with her. But truth is stranger than fiction.  He must have been a saint to let Miss Shepherd live in her van in his driveway with all of her garbage piled around it, not to mention her questionable hygiene. I can't stand it if someone parks their car outside my house let alone setting up camp there. But the Brits have a strange squatting rights law that once you establish yourself somewhere, such as in an abandoned house or even a van on the street, it's almost impossible to kick you out. The residents on the street where Mary parked sort of adopted her, and as Bennett pointed out, being charitable to Mary made them all feel like they were charitable people.

But Bennett was dealing with his own aging mother.  Helping Mary probably helped him, and after all, his writer self got a story out of it.  And that story puts a human face to homelessness.  Everyone has a story and everyone is dealing with pain. This film exemplifies the famous quote: "Be Kind:  Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Alex Jennings plays Bennett in a strange dual role of himself that represents the professional writer side of Bennett and the "living" side. We get glimpses of his personal life as he deals with his mother's increasing dementia. It's a filmic device that allows us to understand Bennett but it's rather irritating. I wonder how they made it work in the stage production. And that is the one weakness of the film: despite shots of the beautiful English countryside and the London neighborhood, the film still feels like a stage play.

However, if you are a fan of British films and TV, the movie is full of familiar faces: Dominic Cooper, Deborah Findlay, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour and Jim Broadbent, all in very small roles.  "Late Late Show" host James Corden even makes an appearance.  British actors don't seem to mind playing cameos and small parts in prestigious films. Remember Judi Dench's eight minute performance  in "Shakespeare in Love?" That won her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.  And the Brits do prestigious films like no one else.  I can't imagine this film being made in the U.S.

But all of that aside, this is Dame Maggie's film and though she plays a homeless woman, she is every bit the Dowager Countess.  I first saw Dame Maggie in her break-out film role in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brody" in 1969 for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress. It's a delight to see her still going strong 47 years later.

Rosy the Reviewer says...for Maggie Smith fans and the serious filmophile.

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

252 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Clerks (1994)

A day in the life of two New Jersey twenty-something store clerks working next door to each other, one in a convenience store, the other a video store in the early 1990's.

Dante (Brian O'Halleran) is supposed to have the day off (which he keeps reminding us throughout the film) but is called in to cover at the convenience store where he works for another clerk who has called in sick.  Randal (Jeff Anderson) runs the video store next door (remember VHS tapes?), spending his time watching porn and insulting his customers.  The two are a couple of twenty-something, directionless slackers who exemplify the mantra:  working in a convenience store would be really convenient if it wasn't for the customers.

The film is broken into various titled scenes that give Dante and Randal the opportunity to display their lack of customer service, though Dante does help a customer who has gotten his hand stuck in a Pringles box.  Another scene features a guy lecturing everyone who comes in for cigarettes on how cigarettes will kill you and how much more healthful chewing gum would be (turns out he is a gum distributor).  Then there are the "milkmaids," women who come into the convenience store and go through all of the milk looking for the one with the latest "sell by" date and the guidance counselor who checks all of the eggs for the perfect dozen because "guidance counselors have meaningless lives." Jay and Silent Bob are the two drug dealers outside the stores who stand around. Jay yaks to Silent Bob and Silent Bob remains, well, silent. Business doesn't seem to be that good.

There is one very funny scene where a mother comes into the video store with her little girl looking for a kid's video while Randal is ordering porn videos over the phone from his distributor with titles I don't dare include in this review.

This was director Kevin Smith's first feature film made for just a little over $27,000 and chronicles his own experiences working in a convenience store.  He was actually working in that very store while he was making this film. Shot over the course of 27 consecutive days, Smith was only allowed to shoot at night when the store was closed.  He sold his comic book collection, borrowed money and tapped into his college fund to make this film.

As I was watching this film, I kept asking myself why it was one of the "1001 Movies [I] Must See Before [I] Die." 

I mean, I get why the French New Wave films are on the list and "Citizen Kane," which I believe is one of the greatest films ever made. 

But "Clerks?" - A film where two rather disaffected guys talk about sex and play hockey on the roof and a girl advertently has sex with a dead guy in the convenience store restroom?   How can those two films be on the same list?  Despite both of them being filmed in black and white, both low-budget and the first feature film for each director, how does "Clerks" deserve a place alongside "Citizen Kane?" I couldn't help but say in my mind over and over trying to figure out this pressing question, "Citizen Kane." "Clerks."  "Clerks."  "Citizen Kane." 

Well, here is what "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" says about that.

Why it's a Must See:  "Writer-Director Kevin Smith stepped forward in 1994 as the most promising Generation-X newcomer with this impressive debut film...Anchored by a pair of great central performances, and packed with witty dialogue, the film also introduced the two hilarious characters Smith has used in his subsequent movies [Jay and Silent Bob]."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

So that is what's fun about this project of mine.  

I am seeing films that I might never have known about or given a chance.  Orson Welles was the wunderkind of his generation.  Unbelievably, he was only 25 when he directed and starred in "Citizen Kane." The same might be said of Kevin Smith who was only 24 when he made "Clerks." Both went on to make huge marks in the cinematic world of their generations.  So I guess I would have to say that one person's "Clerks" is another person's "Citizen Kane."  And that's why movies matter.  Just as we humans come in all shapes and sizes, so do movies. They express the contemporary human condition generation after generation in all "shapes and sizes."

"Clerks" is a cult classic that spawned a "Clerks II," and, unbelievably, 24 years later, a "Clerks III" is planned for 2018.  Smith also went on to direct "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," several Jay and Silent Bob films and more, all of which spoke to a generation.

The film was rated NC-17 when it first came out, not for any sex, nudity or violence, but for the language, which is very raunchy and exactly how 20-somethings would probably talk.  Anyway, I think they would, though I can't really remember that far back.

Rosy the Reviewer says...No, it's not my "Citizen Kane," but it's a funny slice of life from the early 1990's that marks the debut of a director who went on to live up to his promise.


***Book of the Week***

Delta Lady: A Memoir by Rita Coolidge (2016)

Singer Rita Coolidge shares her story.

Coolidge may not be a household name today, but her star shown quite brightly back in the 1970's when she was at the heart of the L.A. music scene. She had romantic relationships with Leon Russell, Graham Nash (I reviewed his memoir "Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life" back in 2013) and others and married Kris Kristofferson.  She was the inspiration for Leon Russell's song, "A Song for You" and "Delta Lady" and Stephen Stills' "Cherokee." There was also a rumor that her relationships with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash broke up Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Coolidge started out as a back-up singer for Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker (she was a part of the legendary "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour) which gave her an inside look at the L.A. music scene.  (She gives props to the Academy Award-winning Best Documentary Feature "20 Feet from Stardom" for capturing what it was like to be a back-up singer). 

Eventually her talent, good looks and connections led her to her own stardom when she finally had her own hits with "We're All Alone" and "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher" and won her own Grammy Awards. She also co-wrote the song "Superstar" and maintains that she wrote the famous piano coda to Eric Clapton's "Layla," though she has remained uncredited.

She is honest and self-deprecating, sharing that people have said she didn't have the best voice in the world but had the ability to sell a song to an audience.  Duh.  Ain't that what it's all about?  And I think she has a beautiful voice. 

What do you think?

Of Native American descent and coming from a musical family, Coolidge started life in Lafayette, Tennessee, but after graduating from Florida State in 1967, she moved to Memphis where she got a job singing jingles and fell into the music scene there where she met some influential people, most notably Leon Russell and Delaney & Bonnie, who led her to Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles music scene in the late 1960's and early 1970's was an exciting place. Joni Mitchell, Delaney & Bonnie, Janis Joplin, The Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jim Morrison...everyone knew everyone and hung out in Hollywood at The Whisky and Troubadour and in the Canyons: Laurel and Topanga.  Coolidge's work as a back-up singer for some of the greats gave her a birds-eye view into the music scene of 40 years ago, and she gives us all the inside scoop.

I wish I had been there!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love the music of the 60's and 70's, you will enjoy this look back from someone who was there.


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

 "The Stress of Retirement"
(Yes, you heard me. 
Retirement can be very stressful and you will see why)!

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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, April 26, 2016

Playing Devil's Advocate - Don't!

Dear Readers, today I am celebrating MY 300TH POST! 

I am celebrating and asking you to celebrate with me.  If you like my blog, then I would love you to join the celebration and share it, not just this post, but any post that you enjoy and let me know what you think.  And let's keep the celebration going.  Also thank you to all of you who have been reading my posts and supporting me.  It means a lot.  I hope you will continue to join me here every Tuesday for my "mature" rants about life and pop culture and on Fridays for my "mature" view on current films, DVDs and books and hopefully we can all share a laugh or two as well (and I promise to review more fiction)!

And for those of you who are regular readers who haven't yet noticed, Rosy the Reviewer now has her own domain name at (and if you don't like to type that much, you can also get there by just typing

Anyway, today's post is one of the shorter ones.

One, because I was going on a little vacation and wanted to get ahead of the game, and two, I have something to say about this topic but not THAT much to say about it.  Some of you might be thinking, thank goodness!

Anyway, a few years ago when I was still working as a librarian, I attended a presentation at the American Library Association Conference, and it was centered around Tom Kelley's book "The Ten Faces of Innovation:  IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization (2005)." 

Basically, the point was this.  Let me set the scene. You are happily and enthusiastically pitching an idea that you have and before you have even gotten very much of your point across, someone raises his hand (I'm sorry, I have to say "his" because it's usually a guy) and says, "Let me play devil's advocate for a minute."

Do you know what that does?  It basically says, "Shut up a minute while I try to show why your idea sucks."  End of creative thought.  And ultimately, the end of you/our taking the initiative of thinking up any more creative thoughts to share, because why bother, when there is always going to be someone who thinks it's his job to poke a hole in our idea?

Watching that presentation and hearing about that changed my whole perspective on the whole playing "devil's advocate" thing.  I will never say "Let me play devil's advocate" again.

As you know, I am retired, which technically means I am no longer working.  But that doesn't mean I am not working.  I have volunteer work that I do, not to mention this blog, my TV and movie watching and whatever strikes me as important.  As I have written about in the past, retirement is my new job and it's a lot of work!

One of my volunteer jobs is with a group that advocates for issues of interest and importance to seniors.  In this group is a guy who just can't help himself.  Every time someone brings up an idea, he says" That's interesting but I am going to have to push back on that a little."  He has a problem with every idea and has to add his two cents which is usually something that takes the wind out of the sails of the idea.  I would actually prefer he say "Let me play devil's advocate" because that sounds less bad than "pushing back," but they are both the same thing.

Think about it.  You are having a discussion and you throw out what you think is a great idea.  Instead of someone saying, "What a great idea," the person says, "Let me play devil's advocate," so you know what's coming.  That person does not think your idea is great and is now going to make you wish you had never brought it up.  And isn't it funny?  People can't even own it when they are starting an argument.  They have to blame it on the devil!  Saying "Let me play devil's advocate" is supposed to cover up what they are really saying which is "Your idea is awful and here's why."  Why don't you just tell me to "shut up?!"  Because that is ultimately what playing devil's advocate does.  It shuts people up.

Now you might be thinking, "That wouldn't shut me up.  I would just argue my point with that person."  Well, OK, that's YOU.  But you know what?  Most people are not like you.  Most people don't even share their ideas, but if they get up the courage to do it, what do you think happens when someone brings up "The Devil?"  That's the last time you will hear any ideas from that person.

And this isn't just something that happens in the workplace.  It happens among friends, in marriages and all sorts of relationships.

Here is something I wrote on Facebook three years ago and I believe it just as strongly today.

"I don't think people validate each other enough. And lord knows, lack of validation is at the heart of many emotional issues. I know growing up I would tell my mother I was feeling sad and she would say something like, "What do you have to feel sad about...etc. etc. etc." And that would be the end of it. But that was the 1950's. They didn't know any better, right? But today, we should. So when you have the chance, say, "That's a great idea," or "You are so smart" or "I appreciate that you did that for me." It means more than you know."

So as Michael Stevens wrote in his article in "Library Journal" "Speak of the Devil," he advocates "Angel's Advocates."  It's possible to share ideas without putting down someone else's.

You don't want to be known as a naysayer, do you? - Someone who always has a problem with other people's ideas? - Someone, who when you speak, everyone at the table rolls their eyes? I know when that guy in my group opens his mouth, he is going to say, "I'm sorry, I have to push back on that..." and I think, "OK, here we go..." and I am sure I am not alone.  I see a lot of eye-rolling and hear a lot of sighing.  You don't want to be that person.

I think what works best in meetings is brainstorming, that little practice where all ideas are good ones and no one is allowed to dissect them.  A good facilitator knows to take all ideas and then help the group narrow them down without stopping the flow of creativity.

In life, outside of the workplace, whether it's your significant other, your child or your friend, when someone has an idea, acknowledge it.  At the very least say "That's interesting" which is always slightly damning, but at least it's better than dismissing it.  At best, "What a good idea" is in order and then if you don't agree use "and."  Never use "but."  "But" is just another name for a "devil's advocate."  Say "What a good idea AND what about this?"  Believe it or not, there are good ideas out there that you probably don't agree with!

We don't need more devil's advocates.  It's called DEVIL'S advocate for a reason. I think the devil advocates just fine all by himself.  What we need more of are validators.

In a training I took not too long ago, one of the messages was "Connect, don't correct." 

Let's take the time to acknowledge, validate and connect. Don't worry, you will get to make your point, but if you don't first listen and validate, you will never connect and you might miss something really great.

So next time you want to say "Let me play devil's advocate" - do us all a favor. 

Be an angel and...


Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
for my review of
"The Huntsman: Winter's War"

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."

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at

Friday, April 22, 2016

"Nothing Left Unsaid" And The Week in Reviews

[I review the new HBO Gloria Vanderbilt-Anderson Cooper documentary "Nothing Left Unsaid" as well as DVDs "In the Heart of the Sea" and "Sisters."  The Book of the Week is "Born With Teeth."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Agnes Vardas' film "Cleo from 5 to 7."]

Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper (2016)

Mother and son, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper, share their lives with each other -- and us - in this HBO documentary.

Tolstoy said, "All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  And Gloria Vanderbilt certainly had an unusual, unhappy family life growing up.

You may have heard of Gloria Vanderbilt and even worn her jeans (I know I did)!  And I know you have heard of Anderson Cooper.  But what you may not know is that Vanderbilt is Anderson's mother.  And even if you have heard of Gloria Vanderbilt, you might not know that she married conductor Leopold Stakowski (not Anderson's father) when she was 20 and Stokowski was 63 or that Anderson's older brother killed himself by jumping out of a window right in front of his mother.

It's all here and more in this HBO documentary written and directed by Liz Garbus whose last film "What Happened, Miss Simone?" was nominated for Best Documentary Feature last year.

This film is a stunning documentary with Anderson interviewing his mother, who is now 93, so that he will not have any regrets about not asking her about his childhood and her life, so that "nothing is left unsaid."

Gloria was the original "Poor Little Rich Girl."  When her father died at 45 of alcoholism, her Aunt Gertrude (his sister) sued for custody of little Gloria, claiming her mother, also named Gloria, was unfit.  Gloria's Aunt Gertrude was Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who gave the world the Whitney Musuem in New York.  Gloria's mother didn't stand a chance, especially since Big Gloria's mother was also in favor of Gertrude taking custody of Gloria. It was the Trial of the Century during the Great Depression when regular folks were struggling, so they ate up all of the problems beleaguering these rich people.  They couldn't get enough of the lurid details.  And there were many: Gloria's mother was accused of debauchery, and, gasp, lesbianism.  So Gloria was raised by her Aunt Gertrude and her mother continued her sophisticated lifestyle around the world.  She saw little of Gloria.

When Gloria became of age, she visited her mother in California and got the acting bug.  She starred in a stage version of "The Swan," and those of us who owned her jeans will remember the swan logo - that's where it came from.  However, the critics skewered her and her acting career was short-lived.  But she went on to model and build her clothing empire.  In the meantime, she dated Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando and married four times, most notably to Stokowski and to director Sidney Lumet and finally to Anderson's father, Wyatt Cooper.  He also died young, leaving her a relatively young widow and then the worst fate of all, her son Carter killed himself in front of her by jumping off the terrace of their high-rise apartment when he was 23.

Arbus tells Gloria's story through pictures and interviews and some of Anderson's own home movies (he started filming his mother when he was a teenager), but it is the interaction between mother and son that is at the heart of this film.  There is true love and affection there and you can tell they genuinely enjoy each other's company.  When Gloria reveals she had had a short lesbian affair in college, Anderson is humorously shocked.  And when Anderson talks about coming out to his mother, she offers her thoughts at the time.  She muses on her life and loves and regrets.  The film fittingly waits until the end to talk about Carter's suicide.

Yet the film ends on a positive note as Gloria says that through all of that... she has survived.  She said "It's only once you have accepted that life's a tragedy that you start to live."

The story continues with a book that Anderson and she wrote called "The Rainbow Comes and Goes:  A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss," published this year.

Cooper had started this process with his mother long before this film was made.  He had even thought to direct it himself, but he wanted a more objective voice to take the lead and he didn't want this to become a vanity project.  He wanted this film to stand the test of time...and it will.  It is a poignant portrait of a mother and her child that can't help but move you.

This is a stunning documentary that I predict will get an Oscar nomination or at least an Emmy next year.  It's playing now on HBO.  See it before it goes away.

Rosy the Reviewer says...every mother and child should see this film and then make sure that "nothing is left unsaid."

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

Now Out On DVD

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

The true story behind "Moby Dick."

The film starts in 1850 Nantucket.  Writer Herman Melville (Ben Wishaw) has come to interview Tom Nickerson (Brendon Gleeson), who is the last living crew member from the sailing ship Essex that went down leaving only a few survivors.  Nickerson was a cabin boy then, but is now a depressed alcoholic.  The official cause of the wreck of the Essex was that it ran aground, but Melville has heard a rumor that it was a giant whale that scuttled the Essex and he wants to interview Nickerson so he can write a book.  He needs a "bestseller." So far Melville feels his writing career is overshadowed by that darn Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Nickerson doesn't want to talk, but his wife, (Michelle Fairley) urges him to unburden himself knowing that her husband is burdened by the memories of the Essex. So what happened out there?

Through a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds beginning with the story of Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) who is called in by the shipping company and offered a job as First Mate on the next outing of the Essex to get whale oil.  Chase is not happy.  He expected that his next gig would be as Captain, but the politics of whaling and the money from a rich family has given the job of Captain to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker).  So the company men promise that if Chase brings back 200 pounds of oil this time around, next time he will be Captain.  Here is an aside from a woman who usually doesn't like films like this. Hemsworth and Walker are hunks. If there aren't going to be any women in this movie, then at least I have two hunky guys to watch. I know, I'm shallow.

You see, this is not the kind of film I am usually drawn to, even with Ron Howard as director.  I like movies with women and a love story.  Not so keen on dirty whaling ships and sweaty men yelling things like "Thar she blows" and other sailing jargon. But I love Chris Hemsworth and I have to say, besides his usual gorgeous hunkiness, he puts in a good dramatic performance with a passable Nantucket accent.  

But I am getting ahead of myself here.  Let's get back to the story.

So we have the tension between Chase and Pollard.  Chase is experienced and believes he deserved the Captain job. Pollard is inexperienced and got the job on the basis of his family's wealth and he knows that Chase knows.  So of course he needs to throw his weight around a bit.  All goes well until they encounter a big ass whale that gives them and the boat as ass kicking. 

Here is another aside: After seeing them kill a whale earlier and harvest it's oil, I started rooting for the whales.  How barbaric.  I couldn't help but think, yeah, these days we are dependent on oil, and it's not good to be so dependent on oil and rape and pollute the earth for it, but before they found oil in the ground, we were getting our oil from whales which is even more barbaric.

Anyway, the Essex goes down because of the Great White Whale and the rest of the film is a survival film where the surviving crew has to indulge in some other rather barbaric acts to survive.  I will save that for you when you see the film.

Based on Nathaniel Philbrick's nonfiction book of the same title, script by Charles Leavitt and directed by Ron Howard, this film did not do well at the box office.  However, it is definitely worth seeing, though I couldn't help but think how much better it probably would have been on a big screen or even in 3-D.  The special effects are awesome.

There is a satisfying ending, especially for the whales. 

When Melville leaves Nickerson he says, oh by the way, he had just heard that someone in Pennsylvania had dug a hole and found oil in the ground.  Oil in the ground!  Imagine that!  I think the whales said, "Thank god!"

Rosy the Reviewer exciting tale of survival and you get to spend two hours with Chris Hemsworth.

Sisters (2015)

When the Ellis sisters find out their parents are going to sell the family home, they decide they need to throw one last big party - for old times sake.

Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate (Tina Fey) are close sisters whose lives have taken them in different directions.  Maura has always been a soft-hearted person wanting to help others.  She took a boy with spina bifida to prom and a deaf girl to a Sheila E. concert so she could feel the beat.  When she left home she became a nurse.  She rescues dogs, feeds homeless people and is learning to make cheese but is also sad about her divorce (all of that is supposed to be funny).

Kate on the other hand is a bit of a hothead and that has landed her jobless and homeless.  She is estranged from her daughter and let's face it, her life is a mess.  So when Maura calls and tells her to come and meet her at their parents' house in Orlando, Kate sees an opportunity to have a place to live and to reunite with her daughter.  What she doesn't know is that Maura is inviting her to their parents' house to tell her that their parents are selling the family home. 

When they arrive at the almost empty house, Maura and Kate go to the bedroom they used to share and start looking through their stuff, which is just a vehicle for Tina and Amy to do some silly shtick.  They read from their diaries - Kate's is full of daring stuff she did in high school, Maura's is boring and nerdy.  Predictable.  When the new owners - predictably uptight yuppies - come by the house, Maura and Kate try to ruin the deal by telling them there had been a murder in the house. 

So after getting over the fact that their parents (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) are downsizing to a condo and selling the family home, the sisters decide it's time to have one last big party there. They invite all of their old high school friends and, though the party starts out boring with the 40-somethings talking about their jobs and their kids, Tina gives an impassioned speech about how important it is to party like Vikings "because we could die tomorrow."  The party naturally gets out of hand and the house is ruined.  This film reminded me a bit of "Neighbors," where Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne have to deal with a fraternity next door.  That one was funnier.

The film gave us a set-up early on.  One sister's life is a mess and she is estranged from her daughter.  The other sister is a do-gooder who is lonely and sad about her divorce. But instead of SNL writer and scriptwriter Paula Pell exploring the differences between the sisters, which would have made for a more interesting film, the film devolves into an "Animal House" type of comedy which is strange, because there was no indication earlier in the film that these two sisters were the type of girls/women to enjoy an over-the-top, anything goes kind of party. 

The movie is really just a series of scenes that allow Amy and Tina to act silly:  trying on outfits for the party (Tina puts hers on backwards), getting a pedicure and going through a too long routine with the Korean manicurist on how to pronounce her name (it's not a funny bit to begin with and goes on to the point of stupid), Maura's new love getting a music box stuck up his...  Well, you get the idea...and none of it is particularly funny.

Directed by Jason Moore, who directed "Pitch Perfect," lots of SNL alums make appearances - Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynihan, Kate McKinnon and Chris Parnell - along with some from other comedy shows: Ike Barinholtz (who got his start on "Mad TV"), Samantha Bee ("The Daily Show") and then there's John Leguizamo, who shows up in practically every comedy these days as some sort of edgy character. I wonder when he is going to get his own gig.

I have to say that I am starting to get a complex about comedies.  Is it me or are comedies these days NOT funny and becoming more and more reliant on raunchy or physical humor to get laughs?  Last week I ranted about the new Melissa McCarthy comedy "The Boss" and then I saw this and thought this film made "The Boss" look like a Woody Allen movie (and, just so you know, I think Woody Allen movies are smart and funny).  This stuff was really lowbrow humor, even for Hubby.  And he told me to write that.

Poehler and Fey are like sisters in real life (both play prominent roles in each others' memoirs).  One senses a real affection for each other when they are together and they are very funny when they host awards shows.  But I couldn't help but think while watching this, aren't these two ladies a bit old for a movie like this?  They are smart women who should be able to write their own smart, funny movies - like Woody Allen did.   They deserve better than this. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...if 40-somethings acting out of control and trashing a house is your idea of funny, then you might enjoy this.  Otherwise, remember I warned you.

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

252 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Cleo, a young and beautiful French pop singer, is waiting for some medical results that she is sure will say she has terminal cancer.

Agnes Varda is one of the few women auteurs out there and the only one who made a name for herself in the French New Wave.  Originally a photojournalist, her films highlight feminist themes using location shoots and non-conventional actors.

Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is sure that she is dying.  It's 5pm and she will be getting her diagnosis at 7pm - in two hours.  The film takes us along with Cleo in real time (well amost - the film is 30 minutes shy of two hours) as she travels around Paris waiting to find out her fate.  Cleo is worried that she is dying but when she looks in the mirror she says to herself, "As long as you are beautiful you are alive."  Cleo fears death but she fears being ugly more.

The film is divided into a series of chapters, each with a time as the two hours count down.

She meets her personal assistant who fusses over her and they go to a hat shop and try on hats.  Cleo may be dying but she is also a narcissist who can't resist a new hat.

As they ride around town in a taxi, the news of the day is on the radio which is an interesting counterpoint to Cleo's predicament because it was a time in France when they were embroiled in the Algerian conflict, student demonstrations, and the Cold War. As she worries about herself, the bigger world is going on all around her. 

They go to her flat where an older lover appears, then two musicians show up who clown around and play her a song (the piano player is a young Michel Legrand). But before she leaves her apartment, she takes off her elaborate hairpiece and goes off alone and here, in this second half of the film, we start to see the real woman behind the beautiful face.

She wanders into a park where she meets a soldier who will be going off to fight in the Algerian War.  They walk around together talking, much like Richard Linklater's "Before Trilogy."  They take a bus ride to her doctor's appointment where she finds out her fate and she walks him to the train station where he is headed to whatever fate awaits him.

But as the film unfolds, we see Cleo turn from a spoiled immature girl to a more fully realized woman who can finally feel empathy for others.

Corinne Marchand is a combination of Bridget Bardot and Debbie Harry, but it is Paris itself that stars in this film. Varda's photojournalism roots are apparent as Cleo walks around 1960's Paris.

This was one of Varda's first feature films and you can always tell an auteur's early films.  She pulled out all of the stops with arty camera shots, close ups of doorknobs, framing shots into mirrors, 360 degree camera work but all of that led to what is considered her masterpiece, "Vagabond," which gave her international status.

Why it's a Must See: "The casualness of the narrative allows fiction to merge with documentary as the young woman wanders through the left bank of Paris...To a certain extent, [this film] reflects the sociopolitical tensions of its time, with Cleo witnessing the aftermath of an attack in a bar and encountering a soldier on leave who is just about to go back to Algeria -- in a way, he too can be seen as condemned."
--"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Film critic Molly Haskell said, "Through an arresting use of Paris as both visual centerpiece and reflection of a woman's inner journey, Varda paints an enduring portrait of a woman's evolution from a shallow and superstitious child-woman to a person who can feel and express shock and anguish and finally empathy.  In the process, the director adroitly uses the camera's addiction to beautiful female faces to subtly question the consequences of that fascination -- on us, on them."

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love Paris and New Wave French films, you will like this film.
(In French with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Born With Teeth: A Memoir  by Kate Mulgrew (2016)

Actress Kate Mulgrew shares her early life and her path to becoming an actress.

Growing up a large Irish-Catholic family, Mulgrew, who started out as Mary Ryan on the soap "Ryan's Hope," and then later as Captain Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager" and recently as Red on "Orange is the New Black," knew early that she wanted to be an actress. At 18 she left Dubuque, Iowa for New York City, where she studied with the legendary Stella Adler.

She had early success in the theatre but at 22 an unwanted pregnancy stood in her way.  She was a good Catholic girl so an abortion was out-of-the question but so was raising a child alone.  So she decided to have the baby and put her up for adoption.  One of the perks of starring on a soap opera is the ability of the writer to write your real life into the story and that's what they did.  Mulgrew's acting career was full of such largesse.  She had the baby, the baby was put up for adoption but Mulgrew was haunted by that baby and what happened to her.  She was told by the Catholic agency that placed her daughter that she would never be given information about the child, but Mulgrew made it a priority in her life - to find her daughter.  But she went on with her life, having success in the theatre, in films and on TV and her share of love affairs.

Mulgrew is a good writer and she is candid about her life, her affairs, her foibles.  The book doesn't appear to include many details about her later life and her successful TV career or her life now so I think it's ripe for a sequel.

Rosy the Reviewer don't need to be a fan or to know much about Mulgrew to enjoy this autobiography because it's a tale of courage and redemption.

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

"Playing Devil's Advocate - Don't!"

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