Friday, April 8, 2016

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" as well as DVDs "Freeheld" and "Legend."  The Book of the Week is my new favorite cookbook "Cravings" by Chrissy Teigen.  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the Japanese film "Onibaba (The Demon Woman)."]

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

The Portokalos family gets together for another Big Fat Greek Wedding - 14 years later.

This is a sequel and you know how I feel about sequels, so I was prepared to hate this movie  -- and I did!  Ugh.  Awful.

Here is the rule for most sequels (and I said "most" - I know "The Godfather" sequels were brilliant):  Take a small, charming film that surprises everyone and then make the same film again except this time add clichés and really unfunny jokes.

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding (the first one)" was the highest grossing romantic comedy EVER.  For that reason, I am surprised it's taken someone 14 years to remake this thing, but Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson (who is also in the film) stepped up to the plate and here we are again.  Too bad.

In the first one, Toula Portokalis (Nia Vardalos) is a Plain Jane who at 33 feels like her life is over because she hasn't found a husband.  You see, supposedly in the Greek culture - did I mention that she is part of a big fat Greek family? - marriage is not just an important thing for a woman, it's the ONLY thing.  She is stuck working in the family restaurant, Dancing Zorbas.  However, she gets inspired when she meets a local school teacher, Ian Miller (John Corbett).  She cuts her hair, gets contacts and gussies herself up a la Bette Davis in "Now, Voyager" and then of course that's all it takes to get her man. But here's the hook:  he's not Greek so Toula tries to keep that fact secret, but when her father Gus (Michael Constantine) finds out, all hell breaks loose.  But it wouldn't be a proper rom-com if it wasn't eventually sorted and a "big fat Greek wedding" ends the film.

So here we are 14 years later, and Toula is married to Ian and their daughter is about to leave for college...and everything else is pretty much the same.  Same cast of characters, same big fat intrusive family, same obsession with all things Greek, more Windex jokes and basically the same story except this time it's Toula's mother and Dad who are getting married.

Toula has reverted back to her Plain Jane look because, hey, she's married now. She can let herself go.  Ian is now the principal of the school and both are so busy, their marriage has suffered.  Toula is the go-to in the family, looking after everyone, and that appears to take precedence over her husband. Their daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), is heading to college and Toula doesn't know what she is going to do without her. So we have the sandwich generation, Toula and her husband, who on one side have elderly parents that need more care and on the other, a dependent child leaving home for college.  Add a wedding to that and that's pretty much it.

The wedding?  Well, you see Gus is trying to prove that he is a direct descendant of Alexander the Great, and, while going through some papers, discovers his marriage certificate, and the fact that it was never signed by the priest so, horrors, he and Maria, his wife, are not married. 

The comedy here is supposed to be the antics of this tight, intrusive family that does everything together and pokes their noses into everyone's business.  They all live next door to each other. Also there are the usual jokes about old folks trying to use a computer and being obsessed with sex.  Is it funny?  No.  Is it even cute?  No.  Did I laugh even once?  No. 

I am not Greek, but I can't help but wonder what Greek people feel about these over-the-top stereotypes that abound in this film.

Vardalos wrote the screenplay for the first film and also wrote the script for this one, but surprisingly, this time around didn't really give herself much to do, which is strange because she is supposed to be the star.  John Corbett, as hunky and handsome as he is, also doesn't have much to do, so the very thing that made the first MBFGW a success was the romantic comedy aspect which is completely lost to the antics of the supporting actors - Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine as Toula's parents and Andrea Martin as her aunt and others.  They are good but just doing what they did in the last film, Windex and all. Newcomer Kampouris is a stand-out but doesn't have much to work with.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the white hairs in the audience seemed to be enjoying this and it's doing well at the box office, which is Greek to me.  I thought it was awful. That's why my hair is not white and it never will be, if I can help it!


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

Now Out On DVD

Freeheld (2015)

True story of the battle police detective Laurel Hester, who was diagnosed with incurable cancer and who waged a campaign with her local New Jersey Freeholders to secure her pension for her domestic partner, Stacie Andree.

Julianne Moore stars as Hester, a hard-working and decorated cop in Orange County, New Jersey. 

In 2002 Hester meets a much younger Stacie (Ellen Page) playing volleyball.  They fall in love and set up housekeeping together. There is the usual lovey dovey stuff when a couple falls in love.  They buy a house together and the film shows them happily renovating until the other shoe drops - Laurel is diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Knowing she doesn't have long to live, Laurel wants to pass her pension on to Stacie so she will be able to keep their home after she dies, but it's denied even though they are Registered Domestic Partners. Though the Domestic Partners Act was passed in the state of New Jersey, the Orange County Freeholders would not recognize it and denied her request.  Laurel and Stacie have to fight the local government to get their relationship recognized by the Freeholders.

This film is one of those very earnest films.  It means well and that is the very thing that hurts it.  This is the kind of film that gives Julianne Moore a chance to give a long dramatic speech at the end.  Steve Carrell plays Steven Goldstein and gets to show his versatility as an actor again here (as he did in "The Big Short" and "Foxcatcher") as a representative from Garden State Equality. He is a gay Jew who wants to get gay marriage passed in New Jersey so Laurel's and Stacie's fight becomes a cause celebre.  So Steve gets to make an impassioned speech too. So does Laurel's cop partner played by Michael Shannon, who was outstanding in "99 Homes."  But none of that is enough to give this film real drama. It's more of a reciting of events.

Moore has always been lured to edgier roles and playing a lesbian would probably fall into that category.  She also plays the entire film with no make-up, but good cheekbones certainly help. She has one of those faces that would look great no matter what. Moore is always good as is Page, but I never quite believed the romance.  Speaking of  faces. Shannon's face alone is worth watching.  He has a memorable face. This guy is turning up everywhere and is an excellent actor.

This true life event took place ten years before gay marriage was law and was an important precursor to gay marriage for everyone.  The film is the expanded and dramatic version of a documentary short by Cynthia Wade that won an Oscar in 2007 and that's what it feels like. The film directed by Peter Sollett is a faithful reenactment of events by screenwriter Ron Nyswaner who also wrote "Philadelphia," but it lacks the dramatic depth of that one and feels more like a documentary. The characters are noble and so is the fight. But no matter how noble the cause or the characters, when the film is over, one must ask, "Did I connect?  Did I feel anything?" 

Rosy the Reviewer says...Earnest and noble but, despite good performances, very "Lifetime Movie."


Legend (2015)

Reggie and Ronnie Kray were identical twin gangsters who ruled London's gangland during the 1960's.

What could be better than a movie starring Tom Hardy?  Why, a movie with TWO Tom Hardys.  This movie about the infamous London gangsters, the Kray twins, stars Tom as BOTH Krays.

Reggie was the dapper charmer; Ronnie was the vicious nutter.  But no matter how crazy Ronnie got, Reggie backed him up because "he is my bruvver."  Ronnie is also gay and makes no bones about admitting it, even back then when it was illegal in the UK to be gay until 1967.

While Reggie and Ronnie are running London's gangland, Reggie meets sweet Francis (Emily Browning) and falls in love with her and gets married.  She wants him to go straight so Reggie tries to tamp down the gangster life, but Ronnie, who is jealous of Reggie's relationship with Francis, is just out of control and keeps pulling Reggie back in. By the way, Ronnie isn't just a nutter, he is certifiable.

The Krays' arch rivals were The Richardsons and once Ronnie and Reggie got them taken care of, The Kray Twins were the gangster Princes and even made deals with our own gangsters. Chazz Palminteri (does he ever play any roles other than gangsters?) shows up representing one of our own gangsters, Meyer Lansky, who wanted to turn London into the "Las Vegas of Europe."

This film reminded me a bit of "Black Mass," the film about Whitey Bulger's stranglehold on Boston.  Whitey managed to run amok in Boston because he was a supposed FBI informant. The Krays had carte blanche in London because they compromised a member of Parliament, but when Ronnie kills a guy, Scotland Yard decides that is crossing the line.  Prostitution, gambling, protection racket, torture, blackmail, intimidation, fine.  Murder a guy and we find out about it?  Not having it! 

Directed by Brian Helgeland (he wrote the screenplay too), the story is told from Francis' point of view to dramatic effect when the final scenes are revealed.

Don't be fooled by the lovely British accents. British gangster films are some of  the goriest and most perverse and give movies like "Good Fellas" a run for their money.  This one is no exception. Guy Ritchie, you know him, Madonna's ex, made a name for himself with some gritty hardman movies like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," so never underestimate the British hard man movies.

Speaking of accents: If you are not good with London's East End accents, you may find yourself wishing this film had subtitles.

Pros and cons of this film:

Cons - hard to understand dialogue, disjointed story, lots of violence and as famous as the Krays are in the UK (so famous in fact that there was actually another film about them in 1990 - "The Krays" - starring the Kemp brothers from the rock group Spandau Ballet - I saw that one too), Americans have never heard of them.

Pros - Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, one of the most amazing actors working today.  He can do anything.  (I take credit for first noticing him in the one-man show "Locke.")

Veteran British actors - Paul Bettany, Christopher Eccleston and David Thewlis - round out the cast.

Despite Hardy, this film seemed to be buried.  I had not heard about it until I saw it on DVD.  Probably not large distribution because it was a British film and Americans don't know who The Krays were.  They will now.

Rosy the Reviewer matter what the cons, any movie starring Tom Hardy is worth seeing.

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

253 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Onibaba ("Demon Woman" - 1964)

A Japanese horror film about two impoverished women - a mother and her daughter-in-law - living alone in 14th century Japan who survive by killing lost Samurais and selling their weapons and armor.  However, when a man shows up, lust and jealousy abounds.

A mother (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) live alone amongst the reeds in a hidden hut.  It is a time of war and the son, Kichi, has been conscripted. To survive, the two women hide in the tall reeds and kill lost and wounded Samurai, dumping their bodies in a nearby hole and then selling their weapons and armor to Ushi, one of their neighbors.  Soon Hachi (Kei Sato) another neighbor shows up. He had gone off to war with Kichi but has come back alone, telling the story of how Kichi died. Kichi hasn't had a woman in awhile so naturally he lusts after the younger woman, causing jealousy in the mother.

One day a samurai appears at the old woman's hut and asks her to lead him through the reeds.  He is wearing a scary mask.  She kills him and when she removes the mask, his face is hideously deformed.  The old woman puts on the mask and pretends to be a demon in order to scare her daughter-in-law away from Hachi but when she tries to take the mask off, it won't come off.  She admits to her daughter-in-law what she had done and begs her to help her get the mask off.  The daughter-in-law uses an axe to break open the mask to reveal the old woman's face, covered in sores.  The daughter-in-law runs from her mother-in-law screaming that she is indeed a demon.

Why it's a Must See:  "Kaneto Shindo's [film] portrays history as a tale of unmitigated horror...In so doing, he makes an allegorical statement about life amid both scarcity and class and gender antagonism, and also reveals the ideological impulses behind the horror genre itself."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

You have to get used to the occasional over-acting which is reminiscent of Kabuki but Kiyomi Kuroda's black and white cinematography is gorgeous and along with Hikaru Hayashi's jazz soundtrack creates a dark, forbidding atmosphere.  This is an allegory for how animalistic humans can become to survive.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a slow-moving but eerie horror experience.

***Book of the Week***

Cravings: Recipes for all the Foods You Want to Eat by Chrissy Teigen (2016)

My new favorite cookbook!

Chrissy Teigen is probably best known as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and the wife of John Legend.  But she is also a co-host of the new TV show "FabLife," Tyra Banks' foray into daytime talk.  Chrissy, who is the resident foodie - something I find ironic considering she is a MODEL! - is joined by three other co-hosts - Joe Zee (the fashion expert - I reviewed his book back in October), Lauren Makk (Interior Design) and Leah Ashley (DYI).  The show wants to be a one-stop show for all things FAB-U-LOUS but doesn't look like the audience stopped there, because the show will not be renewed for a second season.  It didn't help that Tyra, who originally hosted, dropped out of her own show after only the first few!

That's too bad, in a way.  The show is OK but I LOVE Chrissy.  She may be a model and married to a Legend, but she is more like the girl next door than a celebrity.  She has a fantastic sense of humor about herself, something I admire in everyone and she can certainly cook.

And that's good for us since she has published her own cookbook, which is my new favorite.  Her subtitle is right on the mark because I want to make every single thing in it.  What's fun, too, is that she uses her self deprecating sense of humor to introduce each recipe.  She is very funny, sometimes risqué, but always down to earth.

To introduce her "Creamy Parmesan Skillet Eggs" she says,

"These eggs are my personal go-to for brunches (Can we just all call brunch what it is?  It's morning alcohol.  We're boozing in the morning).  The cream in the pan makes these eggs easy to control without overcooking for all your bourgie, brunch-loving friends!  Plus, I love cream's flavor punch.  Combined with the chees, it caramelizes into a sort of crust under the eggs.  What's the point of a bite unless it's one of the best possible?"

Chrissy is half Thai so there is a whole chapter on Thai recipes that are very accessible to the beginning cook, but the rest of the book is filled with recipes that really are things you crave - well, I do now.

Who can resist?

  • Pull-Apart Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy
  • Pot Pie Soup with Crust Crackers
  • Split Pea Soup with Crispy Hot Dogs
  • Cheesy Jalapeno Bacon Cornbread
  • Cheesy Jalapeno Tuna Casserole with Potato Chip Topping
(she likes that cheesy jalapeno)

I had already tried her "Done and Dump Ramen Salad" that uses uncooked ramen and veggies to make a delightful and delicious salad.  My new fave!

Rosy the Reviewer says...I am going to try every one of these recipes!  Wait, I'm on a diet!  Grrrrr

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

"A Woman of a Certain Age
Goes to See Bruce Springsteen - And Lives to Tell:
Baby Boomer Concert Tips"

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  1. I must be the only person in the world that thought the first greek wedding film was ho-hum. I have NO interest in seeing the sequel.

    Bopped right over to the library page to order Cravings and Onibaba. Thanks for the recommendations (as always).

    I am going on a diet too. I met Susan yesterday and looking at her I knew I have to attempt some control. Have you met her yet? Talk about aging well...sheesh.

    AND in other news...have you seen the Hoopla digital site? If your library participates it is well worth joining for audio books and movies. I had to get a San Francisco card as a non-resident since my county libraries are not hooked up with them. So glad I did.


    1. Yes, my library does have Hoopla but I was under the impression that the variety and content was not that good. I will check it out. Thanks for YOUR recommendation. And speaking of diets. Yes, I have met Susan and she does look great. I have lost three pounds this week so am feeling hopeful, though I am dying to make some of Chrissy's recipes. Will save them for my cheat day!

    2. I am trying the every other day diet...500 one day...everything and the moon the next day. This is my 500 day. I am already starving.


    3. You poor thing. The question is, is that working? Why not try the 85-15 diet? You are good 85% of the time and eat what you want the other 15?

    4. I have done this one's the first 500 day that's hard. Almost easier not to eat at all that day. I just looked up the 85/15 diet which looks good too. Ever since I saw Dr Michael Mosly's PBS special about fasting I am convinced it's a good thing...if you can find that program it's very good. The Every Other Day diet was on NBC news last night and it seemed like it was a sign to get back on this one.

      Good for you and 3 lbs GONE!