Friday, February 3, 2017

"A Dog's Purpose" and the Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "A Dog's Purpose" as well as DVDs "Snowden" and "Anthropoid." I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Exiles." The Book of the Week is "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" ]

A Dog's Purpose

A dog, who keeps being reborn, remembers each life he has lived and wonders about his purpose for being alive.

Based on the 2010 novel by W. Bruce Cameron, the story follows Bailey the dog through his various incarnations. Bailey starts out first in the 1960's as a feral puppy who is quickly caught by the dog catcher and whisked off to that dreaded doggy place - The Pound.  And since we know what happened to dogs who went to the pound back then, Bailey is soon reincarnated and wakes up, this time as a different puppy, a Golden Retriever, who appears to be the product of a puppy mill.  But he escapes, is picked up by a couple of brutes who leave him in a hot car where he is close to death.

OK, OK - don't call PETA. It gets better after that.

He is rescued by eight-year-old Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his Mom (Juliet Rylance), and they adopt Bailey.  Except for a drunken Dad (Luke Kirby) and a big disappointment for Ethan later in life, Bailey lives a happy life to a ripe old age and a teenaged Ethan (K.J. Apa) is there for him at the end.

When Bailey wakes up again, this time he is a....YIKES! ... a girl!  But a brave and beautiful girl named Ellie who becomes a police dog and saves a life.

Next he finds himself as Tino, a Corgie, who comes into the life of Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a lonely young woman.  He gives her the love she needs until she finds a husband and has a family.

And finally Bailey comes back as some kind of hound and is adopted by a woman of dubious background.  We know this because she is pierced, wears a denim jacket and lives in a house strewn with garbage.  The woman's live-in boyfriend doesn't like Bailey and makes him stay outside in all kinds of weather and the woman appears to either have lost interest in him or is fearful of the boyfriend.  Either way, Bailey's latest incarnation doesn't look good especially when that mean boyfriend takes him out into the country and abandons him.

But lest you think this is a sad movie, think again.  Bailey is just starting to work his magic.

There has been controversy surrounding this film:

1) That it is not a family film because of a puppy taken to the pound early in the film (and we know what happens to dogs that end up at the pound) and a dog left outside all of the time and eventually abandoned.  Well, those things do happen, but they are not overt and children will not even get the puppy going to the pound allusion nor does the film dwell on the abandoned dog. If anything, it's the adults who will be most affected by all of that, so, yes, this is very much a family film.

2) Some allegations of dog abuse because of some footage supposedly taken by someone working on the film showing a German Shepherd being forced into roiling water that was shown by TMZ right before the premiere of the film.  Considering this footage wasn't leaked until almost two years after the incident supposedly happened, it is suspicious.  If the person who leaked the footage to TMZ felt so strongly about dogs being abused during the making of this film, why wait two years to let anyone know?  According to actor Dennis Quaid, who stars as the adult Ethan, the dog in question was being asked to do a trick he had been doing successfully for several takes and was just tired of doing it. The dog might have been freaked out but was never in any danger and when he refused the trick, the shoot ended. I believe him. It is clear from this film that it was made by people who love dogs. And after seeing the film, I believe that.

Director Lasse Hallstrom, who gave us "My Life as a Dog (fitting)," "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat," uses that dreamy cinematography we have come to expect from him.  He also uses music, cars and clothing to help us see time passing (remember "Mom jeans?).  The screenplay by Cameron and others provides some humor in Bailey's observations about life amongst humans, but the vignettes themselves, the stories of each of Bailey's incarnations are simplistic and hokey. Think Nicholas Sparks meets Lifetime Movies.  But that's OK, because this is really all about the dogs, and if you are a dog lover, I defy you to keep dry-eyed through this thing. 

Josh Gad provides the voice of Bailey and Brit Robertson the love interest for the teen Ethan, which is kind of a stretch considering she is 27.  Along with Dennis Quaid, those are probably the only names you will recognize but all of the other actors are excellent, including the dogs! 

As you probably know if you have been reading me for very long, I too am a dog lover and have been known to wax poetic from time to time about them ("Do Dogs Ever Retire?), not to mention dressing them up in costumes ("How Well Do You Know The Classics?")

In these crazy times we live in, we can learn from dogs and practice some of that unconditional love they give us. 

We can also practice some of those things Bailey said he learned about his purpose: have fun, find someone to save, lick the ones you love, and be here now.  Good advice for us humans.

Rosy the Reviewer says...pure, unadulterated schmaltz...and I loved every minute of it, and if you love dogs, you will too!

After the movie, I went right home and gave my dogs a lick.  I looked them right in their eyes and wondered what they would say if they could talk.

I am sure they would say how much they love me!

"Mildred, Tarquin and Freddy here, and here is what we would say..."


What's that crap you are feeding us?
Why do you always have a wine glass in your hand?
Why do you call Daddy an idiot?
Stop talking baby talk to us!  We are dogs, not morons!
And quit dressing us up in costumes!


You are thinking about how much you love me, right?

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


Snowden (2016)

A docudrama about Edward Snowden, an employee at the NSA, and his leaking of documents to the press about their illegal surveillance practices.

The film begins on June 3, 2013 as Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets in a Hong Kong hotel room with journalists for The Guardian (Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson) and filmmaker-activist Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), who went on to make 2014’s Oscar-winning Snowden documentary "Citizenfour."  Snowden has fled to Hong Kong and is ready to turn over documents to them that would blow the lid off of the NSA and shed light on America's surveillance of its citizens.  Then the film goes to flashback. 

How did Snowden end up in a hotel room in Hong Kong with journalists, a filmmaker and hijacked classified documents?

Edward Snowden was a private contractor for the NSA and CIA.  Before that he was an Airborne Ranger but he messed up his leg and had to give that up.  So what do you do when you wanted to be an elite military guy but you mess up your leg?  Why you go to work for the CIA, of course.  It helps that Snowden was also a very smart guy.

On his first day at the CIA, Edward meets Ed Forrester, played by Nicolas Cage. You know it's Cage before you even see him because of THAT VOICE.  Very recognizable. Likewise, Cage also has such actory mannerisms and his  slow, lethargic delivery... OK, don't get me started.  Anyway, Forrester doesn't really figure very prominently in the film so you might also wonder what Cage is doing here.  

Anyway, Snowden is hired by the NSA to do cyber spying to ensure that there is not another 9/11.  He's a wunderkind of computer spying.  He's also a patriot and a conservative who believes in his government. Naturally he meets a girl, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) who is a liberal so we can have that spunky give-and-take that happens between a conservative and a liberal, I guess. But she's also a geek (they meet on so that is appealing to Snowden too.

However, as time goes by, Snowden realizes that he is not just spying on possible terrorists, he is spying on EVERYONE!  He is reading our emails, seeing our posts on Facebook, listening to our phone calls and even watching us through our laptops.  His disillusionment about the government leads him to want to expose it. 

But, OK, now I have to ask. 

Since we already know that everyone is spying on everybody, why is Snowden's revelation so shocking?  Is it because America is supposed to be above such things?  However, I will say that all of this spying stuff is quite fascinating (and frightening), and the film does a good job of showing how it all works.  It makes the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game look very real indeed (if you want to play the game, here is The Oracle of Bacon).  Basically, in case you think I have lost my marbles bringing Kevin Bacon into this, here is how that relates to spying and what Snowden uncovered: people even slightly related to someone who even slightly might be a terrorism suspect also becomes a suspect. Get it? Fun, huh?

"Most Americans don't want freedom, they want security." 

This is a statement in the film that supposedly justifies the spying, and Snowden justified what he did by saying in the film "I think the greatest freedom that I have gained is the fact that I don't have to worry about what happens tomorrow, because I'm happy with what I've done today."

Directed by Oliver Stone, who has made a name for himself embracing conspiracy theories, surprises us here because this is almost a puff piece. Written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, it lacks the usual over-the-top drama that we have come to expect from him.  It is almost restrained in its delivery, but Stone doesn't let us down by not having a point of view.  His films always do and this is no exception. He is clearly a Snowden fan.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does what I would expect is a faithful representation of Snowden, but these kinds of biopics don't really allow an actor to do much and Snowden himself isn't portrayed as a very dramatic guy. He is joined by an all-star cast, but the film  doesn't have much punch.  It was a two hour and fifteen minute story that could have been told in half the time.

Is Edward Snowden a hero/whistleblower or a treasonous villain? 
You decide. 

Stone, however, already has. The final shots of the film show the real Edward Snowden, and the reverence of the shots depict him practically as the second coming of Christ.

But the film does raise an important question in this turbulent times.

Do we Americans care more about our security than our freedom and privacy?  And just how much are we willing to give up to feel safe?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a prescient and important reminder of what is really going on, but not a very dramatic film that could have been told in half the time.

Anthropoid (2016)

Operation Anthropoid - the plot to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's third in command, and the architect of The Final Solution dubbed "The Butcher of Prague" because of his iron rule of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler really, really needed the Czech factories to help him take over the world, but unfortunately the Czechs didn't want to help him. There was resistance so Hitler sent in his third in command, Reinhard Heydrich, to get the Czechs to comply, to fight the Czech resistance, and to rule the Czechs with a heavy hand.

Enter Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabchik (Cillian Murphy) who on behalf of the Czech government house in London parachute into Czechoslovakia.  Their mission?  Assassinate Heydrich.  But you know how these things go.

Kubis and Gabchik make a connection in Prague with the Czech Resistance led in part by Uncle Hajsky played by Toby Jones.  Jones is a wonderful actor but he will forever be in my consciousness as Truman Capote, so maybe he should lose the Truman glasses.  Anyway, our heroes connect with the Resistance in Prague, stay with a sympathetic family (the mother is played by Alena Mihulova and her character is particularly moving and heroic) and have some romantic connections with Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Lenka (Anna Geislerova).  The first half of the film involves those relationships and the planning of the assassination.  It moves at its own pace as in slowly.  But hold on to your hats.  Part 2 takes on a life of its own and is tense, exciting and ultimately poignant with a finish that is right up there with some of the most powerful and poignant last stand bloodbaths I have ever seen ("The Magnificent Seven" and "Gallipoli").

Based on true events and directed by Sean Ellis with a script by Ellis and Anthony Frewin, the story unfolds slowly as our heroes plot the assassination, make the attempt and then have to deal with the aftermath.  There is cowardice, betrayal, heroism and sacrifice as the film culminates in a shoot-out to end all shoot-outs, one that shows the bravery of the Czech freedom fighters. 

Because so many of the movie-goers these days are young people and families who prefer horror or animation over adult themes, movies like this sometimes get buried. They either don't get wide release or go straight to DVD.  Such seems the case with this film, and it's a shame because it's a wonderful movie.  It's difficult to see how this film is any less important or well-done than films like "Schindler's List" or "Saving Private Ryan," and yet it isn't seen.  Perhaps it's because it's not directed by a Spielberg or perhaps the title is off-putting because who knows what an anthropoid is?  In any case, this is a powerful film that deserves to be seen.

Cillian Murphy is the courageous badass, which is a departure from the usual sensitive and quirky characters he has played in the past, whereas handsome young Dornan plays a guy with some courage issues. This is what Jamie Dornan has been doing between "Fifty Shades of Grey" and the upcoming "Fifty Shades Darker," and I like it.  He and Cillian are wonderful actors.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a powerful film about the bravery of the Czech Resistance - a film that deserves to be seen...and one that reminds us all, that when we are oppressed- RESIST!

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

216 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Exiles (1961)

A day in the life of some native Americans living in Los Angeles in 1961.

The film begins with some iconic pictures of Native Americans and a short narration about Native American history before it seques to the present where this documentary follows some urban Native Americans for twelve hours.  These twenty-somethings left the reservation for a new life in the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, an area that would become a place that lured many Native Americans who wanted to give up life on the reservation. The camera follows them around as they live and comment on their assimilation juxtaposed with scenes of life back on the reservation.

There is Yvonne, who is pregnant, and who comments on her life as she goes about her day. Homer is her husband and goes off in the evening with his friend, Tommy, and his other pals to go bar hopping, play some poker and drink.  Yvonne is lonely and let down by Homer.  During the night, the men pick up women, gamble and drink and the women left at home are seen as lonely and long-suffering.  Homer reflects on life in the city versus life on the reservation.

Director Kent MacKenzie only made two films, but this one cemented his reputation. He also lived in Bunker Hill and his friendships there gave him access to these men's and women's lives.  They are exiles living in Los Angeles ,but the title is also a metaphor for the Native Americans who became exiles from their own country as their land was taken away and they were relegated to reservations.

The film doesn't really make any points about how moving to a city from a rural location like a reservation would be any different from any other transplant but it does show the contrast between life on the reservation for the young people left behind and life for our subjects in Los Angeles. It also is an honest representation of Native American life and attempts to break the "cowboys and Indians" stereotypes that were exploited in so many movies and television shows.

Why it's a Must See:  "Unreleased theatrically until 2008, [this film] nevertheless broke down barriers in the representation of Native Americans.  It preceeded the shift that Hollywood witnessed with films such as Soldier Blue (1970) and Little Big Man (1970), and is a precursor to more recent -- and fairer -- representations of Native American life, such as Smoke Signals (1998)."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

I can appreciate the time period, the view into a culture at a particular time and place. It is a fascinating picture of a Los Angeles in the early 1960's that is almost unrecognizable.  But some of the film seemed staged and stiff and because of that it read like a 1950's "B" movie and not a very good one.

I can see that this might have been a daring movie for its day, and I appreciate wanting to show Native Americans in their real life, but looking at it today, I am not sure this film stands up or has helped raise the view of Native Americans since most of these guys are alcoholics mistreating their wives and seeming to be headed nowhere. As Yvonne reflects about her unborn child and wishing he or she could go to college, she realizes he probably won't.  These people all seem to be in a dead end and one can't help but wonder what was the point of this?

Rosy the Reviewer says...I appreciate the attempt to dash the Native American stereotype, and this is a one-of-a-kind fly-on-the-wall view, but it is also a rather grim depiction of Native American life in Los Angeles c1960.  I question how it furthered the cause of Native Americans in the United States, and I question this being one of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," because I found it to be a grim depiction.
(b & w)

***Book of the Week***

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?: A Novel by Maria Semple (2013)

Bernadette Fox, an ex-architect with a once promising future, moved to Seattle from California and, despite a smart young daughter and a husband with a thriving career at Microsoft, Bernadette isn't coping very well.  And then she disappears.

Bernadette is what Washingtonians call a transplant - that slightly demonic human being, someone who has moved from California to Seattle.  And the feeling is mutual.  Bernadette doesn't like Seattle much either or Seattleites, finding them unfashionable, passive-aggressive, bad drivers and she finds all of the homeless people having pit bulls particularly irritating.  Five-way intersections are a particular peeve of Bernadette's, and she doesn't much like Canadians, either.  And then there is the rain.

Bernadette peevishly writes to an old friend back in California:

"Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are 'gals,' people are 'folks'...when the sun comes out it's never called 'sun,' but always 'sunshine,' boyfriends and girlfriends are 'partners,' nobody swears but someone might occasionally 'drop the f-bomb,' you're allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with 'no worries."

Bernadette was once an architectural genius who designed an iconic house in California, but now having given up architecture after her house had a horrible fate and moving to Seattle where her husband works for Microsoft, Bernadette is having a meltdown.  She is agoraphobic and angry, taking out her anger on the other moms at her daughter, Bee's, private school, moms who Bernadette feels are uptight and expecting her to do her part volunteering at the school, which she is not planning on doing any time soon. Bernadette's situation reminded me a bit of a literary version of the movie "Bad Moms."

So when Bee wants to go to Antarctica for her birthday and as her reward for her school achievement, Bernadette is in a tailspin.  Then Bernadette disappears, and fifteen-year-old Bee takes it upon herself to find her Mom.

Through a series of letters and emails with some narration by young Bee, Semple weaves a fascinating and hilarious story that highlights the mores of Seattle life and the love between a mother and a daughter with the mystery of Bernadette's disappearance thrown in to spice things up.  Semple throws around names and places that Seattle folks will recognize and exposes the foibles of Seattleites, but she does it with humor.  And she can.  She lives here.

Semple's observations about life in Seattle are right on and very, very funny.  She happily skewers just about everything, but also muses that no one who lives here wants to leave. But you don't need to be from Seattle to enjoy this book.  Seattle may have its "things," but they are all very relatable, and the story is fun and inventive as she weaves the tale through the eyes of the characters as they write letter and emails. 

Semple is also a skilled writer:

"The sky in Seattle is so low, it felt like God had lowered a silk parachute over us."

That's good stuff!

I can't believe it has taken me this long to read this book. 

Ever since I move to Seattle people have been telling me how much I would enjoy this book.  It's probably because I don't read that many novels but I finally got around to this one and I am glad I did. 

I, too, am a transplant from California and agree with what Bernadette's husband, Elgin, says:

"People say Seattle is one of the toughest cities in which to make friends.  They even have a name for it, the "Seattle freeze." I've never experienced it myself but coworkers claim it's real and has to do with all the Scandinavian blood up here.  Maybe it was difficult at first for Bernadette to fit in.  But eighteen years later, to still harbor an irrational hatred of an entire city?" 

It's true.  When I first moved here, I heard from other transplants that people in Seattle were friendly but they were unlikely to invite you over for BBQ.  Since inviting people over for BBQ is a big thing in California, that was unsettling.

And let me say something about the rain. 

Before I moved here, I visited a couple of time at different times of the year and both times the weather was delightful.  So I got it in my head that rainy Seattle was a myth created by Seattleites to keep Californians from moving there.  I was so certain of this that I moved to Seattle.  And then...October came along, the time changed, it got dark at 4:30 and it started to rain...and the darkness and rain didn't stop for three months.  So I was wrong.  It really does rain a lot. But despite that, like most people around here, I didn't want to leave.

As Bernadette says at the end of the book:

"All those ninnies had it wrong.  The best thing about Seattle is the weather."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a must read for Seattleites but a must read, too, for everyone who enjoys inventive, humorous and great writing.


Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of


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

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 

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