Friday, February 10, 2017

"Passengers" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Passengers" as well as the DVDs "Holy Hell" and "Don't Breathe."  The Book of the Week is songwriter Carole Bayer Sayer's memoir "They're Playing Our Song."   I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Gertrud"]


Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is one of 5000 passengers in suspended animation on a space ship heading to a new planet over 100 years away to colonize it.  When Jim wakes up, he finds himself the only one awake -- 90 years too early!

***Warning: This review contains what might be considered a spoiler, so if you are one of those people who goes berserk when someone reveals a twist then read no further.  However, the "twist" isn't even really a twist, and you will see it very early in the film and there are still other plot twists to come, so, in my opinion, this isn't really a spoiler.  But like I said, if you like to go into your movies not knowing anything, better not read this because I certainly don't want you going ballistic and blaming me for ruining this film for you.
There, I have done my due diligence.***

Jim Preston is a mechanic hoping to start a new life on another planet.  He and 4,999 other passengers and a crew of over 200 are aboard the Avalon in suspended animation hoping to do the same thing.  Their new planet, Homestead II, is over 100 years away from Earth so not only will these passengers be starting a new life, they will be starting it in a new century.

En route, the ship is hit by a meteor and there are some mysterious malfunctions.  One of those malfunctions affects Jim directly.  It wakes him up and, though initially, everything seems cool - he is greeted by an animated flight attendant, shown the amenities of the ship and led to his cabin - he soon realizes that he is the only one awake.  Well, there is Arthur (Michael Sheen), but he is a robot/bartender. 

Jim does everything he can to try to find out how to save himself and put himself back to sleep.  However, once it has sunk in that he is indeed alone and, since the Avalon won't arrive at its destination for another 90 years, he is likely doomed to die of old age aboard the space ship, Jim accepts his fate, upgrades himself to the best suite, plays basketball, has dance contests with holograms and hangs out with Arthur, getting as drunk as he can.   But after a year has passed, all of that gets old, Jim is lonely, suicidal and a bit nuts and basically lets himself go. He starts looking like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away."  

Then he sees Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) sleeping in her pod.  He reads her profile and watches her application video about why she wanted to travel to the new planet.  He reads her books and sits next to her pod, talking to her.  Slowly he starts to fall in love with her.  Now he has a moral dilemma.  Should he wake her up so he has a companion, knowing that he is also dooming her to his fate?

He tries to resist, but, well, you know the answer to that or it wouldn't be a movie starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, now would it?  However, what will happen when she finds out he woke her up on purpose thus giving her a death sentence?

This film was hyped as a space movie with a love story, but if you are expecting that, you will be disappointed.  It's actually a love story that just happens to take place in space.  It's your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-get-girl-back story, except it's in a space ship.

But this is still an enjoyable movie, at least the first half is engrossing, and there is also some humor when Jim settles into his solitary routine and finds out just what his ticket entitles him to (let's just say that he is not a "gold star" passenger) and the repartee between him and Aurora is just plain good old rom com. The second half falls down a bit, though, as Jim and Aurora realize they must save the spaceship, when it REALLY starts to malfunction. Much has been made about the ending ruining this film.  I didn't get that.  It was about what I expected.

This is basically a two-hander and the weight of the film falls on Pratt and Lawrence. For most of the film, it's just Pratt and Lawrence as they get to know each other and eventually have sex and fall in love.  Though I like both of these actors, I have to say that I found the chemistry between them a bit tepid despite a scene where they have spontaneous sex on a table.  The sex could have been hotter.  If there is going to be sex in a movie, I want it to be hot! But that's just me...

Sheen does a good job as a robot bartender and adds a bit of humor while constantly polishing glasses and acting as de facto counselor as most good bartenders do.  Larry Fishburne shows up unexpectedly, and except for his adding a tiny bit of plotline, doesn't have much face time or much to do.

Directed by Morten Tyldum with a script by John Spaihts, this felt like a space age "Titanic," but without Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go on (you might find that a good thing)! The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is outstanding as are the special effects and the set decoration.  It's a beautiful film to look at.

Rosy the Reviewer's not "Titanic," but it's an interesting love story starring two of our most popular actors.


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

Holy Hell (2016)

A documentary about a little known West Hollywood religious cult.

Will Allen, the director and "star" of this documentary, shares his experience as a young man when he was trying to understand his existence and the mystery of the universe.  So what do you do when you are raised Catholic and are questioning life?- why you join a cult, of course!

In 1985, Will was a young film student and he was also gay.  When he came out to his parents, his mother kicked him out of the house.  Will's sister had already joined a cult called "The Buddhafield," a group of people who were looking for "something more" run by the charismatic and mysterious, Michel, who liked to sport Speedos and Ray-Bans, so Will decided to join her.  Michel used your basic Eastern tenets of living in the now and no judgment to guide his followers.  When Will joined, he was made the filmmaker for the group, recording everything for posterity, so he had a birds-eye-view of the goings on.

Everything was going swimmingly - literally, naked pool parties and the like - but in year four, things started to get these things usually do when the leader gets that old taste of power and realizes he can manipulate his followers any way he wants. No sex was allowed among members, they couldn't read books, watch TV or listen to the radio.

Michel came up with something called "The Knowing Session," a way to find enlightenment.  Gee, I wonder what that could be....Oh, maybe something to do with....SEX?!  As time went by, despite some misgivings by some of the members, a sort of mass hysteria ensued as everyone fell into line with the more and more bizarre practices and demands of Michel.  It became one of those things where no one wants to say that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

By 2001 people started to question (it took them this long?) and wanted to leave, but when they did, they were demonized, another common practice among groups like this.  Michel told those who wanted to leave that if they left, something bad would happen to them.  And then in 2006, it came to light that Michel had been having sex with all of the young men all along, despite the fact he acted like he was asexual and didn't want anyone else having sex.


I couldn't help but yell at the screen, as I am wont to do upon occasion while watching DVDs at home - "WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE???"

I grew up in the 60's and 70's and could have fallen for this kind of thing, though I was such a pragmatist and accused of being judgmental when I actually wanted to do something besides lie in the dark grooving on the latest Led Zeppelin album.  I wasn't very popular with the granola-eating, soul searching types.  Hey, I was in my twenties.  I thought I already knew everything.

As the public became aware of stories like "Heaven's Gate," "cult awareness" brought pressure on Michel and his followers, so he moved the group from L.A. to Austin.  There he decided everyone would build a theatre and learn ballet and put on a show -- a show they worked on for a year and then only performed for each other.

Turns out Michel was once a dancer with the Oakland Ballet.  Did he start out to become a cult leader?  The film doesn't really go there, but I don't think people do.  Did Jim Jones start out to become a cult leader who would eventually urge his followers to kill themselves?  Did David Koresh?  Did Marshall Applewhite?  It's hard to say but in all of those cases, it seems that megalomania set in, and this story is no exception. 

AND THEN...horrors.  Michel hadn't just been a ballet dancer.  Michel had been a PORN ACTOR.  Turns out his real name was Jaime Gomez and he was a wannabe actor who had a bit part in "Rosemary's Baby," until turning to porn.

Then everything really went to hell...holy hell!  The group fell apart and Michel disappeared, but Will eventually tracked him down in Hawaii where he had started ANOTHER CULT, now calling himself Ryji which means God King.  Will is able to confront Michel, who appears to be unrepentant.

During the course of the film, ex-members share why they were drawn in and at the end of the film, there is a montage of those who stayed, those who left and what happened to them.

This is about as close as we will ever get to watching a cult grow and how it all happens.  These were smart, good-looking young people whose search for "something more" led them to a charlatan.  A cautionary tale to be sure.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ever shake your head and wonder, how could someone join a cult?  Watch this film.

Don't Breathe (2016)

If you are a petty crook looking for a quick buck and think that breaking into the house of an old blind guy (Stephen Lang) and robbing him is a good idea...DON'T!

Some young people - Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) - think they can break into an old guy's house and rob him.  They want to do one last gig and then get the hell out of the wasteland that is Detroit.  Rocky wants to do it to get money to move to California and Alex loves Rocky.  Money just seems to want to do bad things. They know the old guy is an ex-army vet (that should be a clue right there - "Don't go in there, girl!), and he has gotten a settlement for his disability so they are certain he must have money in the house. 

The old guy may live in inner city Detroit but he lives in a neighborhood where no one else is around.  You know that old saying, "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Well the saying for this film might be, "If an old blind guy lives in a house with no one else around, and you break into his house, will anyone hear you scream?"  He may be blind, but once he knows they are in his house and what they are up to, he goes on a rampage and the rest of the film is about those three kids trying to get OUT of the house, with a scary twist.  Don't all horror films have a twist?  How do you hide from a blind man?  You don't breathe!

Directed by Fede Alvarez, this is very much a "B" horror film starring unknown actors. The characters are not particularly fleshed out so it's questionable about whether you care what happens to them, but maybe that's the point.  Who are the bad guys here?  But it was a surprise box office hit and certainly will get your blood going and take your breath away!

Rosy the Reviewer says...moral of the story? Never underestimate us old folks!

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

215 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Gertrud (1964)

Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is a bored Danish housewife who decides to ease her boredom with a lover.

Gertrud, once a promising opera singer gave up her career and is now a bored housewife married to Gustav (Bendt Rothe), a boring lawyer.

The film begins with Gertrud and her husband, Gustav, talking in their drawing room.  The subject of one of Gertrud's old lovers comes up and Gertrud dramatically says, "I'm thinking of all the poor human beings who allow themselves to love..."  She says this looking off just barely into the camera.  In fact Gertrud has this habit of doing that, making some proclamation about love while looking longingly off into space.  In fact all of the characters do it.  They all talk about passion and love and betrayal but never once speak passionately or even look at each other. 

When her husband tries to kiss her, Gertrud pulls away and Gustav says..."I seek your lips and you give me your cheek."  You get the idea. When she complains that her husband works too much and loves his work more than her and says, "I don't want to be an occasional plaything," we know what that means, right?

So after a long drawn out scene, Gertrud eventually tells Gustav that she wants to leave him and that she is in love with another man.  There are actually three men in Gertrud's life: her husband, a young poet and a musician.  They all love her but because none of them is willing to put her before everything else in their lives, she rejects them all and eventually is alone, but still extolling the virtues of having loved.

Adapted from a 1906 play by Swedish playwright Hjalmar Soderberg, this was director Carl Dreyer's last film after a 40 year career in filmmaking, and it is famous as a two hour film that consists of only 90 shots and few set changes.

However, I found it to be very two-dimensional, almost like a cartoon, very staged and passionless for a story about passion.  Even when two people were talking to each other, they both didn't look at each other but instead addressed the camera.  So because of that, it is very difficult to judge the acting because obviously the director wanted it that way.  There is a certain poetry to the dialogue, but I'm sorry to say I was as bored as all of these characters seems to be.

Why it's a Must See:  "At its premiere in Paris, Gertrud was received with uncomprehending hostility by press and public alike.  Since then, it has come to be recognized as the last lapidary statement of one of the most individual of filmmakers -- a film, like its heroine, to be approached on its own terms."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...I agree with the press and the public.  After seeing this, I felt a little hostile.
(b & w, In Danish with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

They're Playing Our Song: A Memoir by Carole Bayer Sager (2016)

I am sure you know the songs "Nobody Does it Better," "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love" and "That's What Friends Are For," but you might not know who wrote the lyrics for those songs.  Well, it was Carole Bayer Sager, who not only wrote those songs, but hundreds more.  This is her story.

Sager, who I will refer to from time to time as CBS, shares her growing up years where she suffered with crippling, irrational fears about everything from imagined illnesses to flying, and it didn't help that she had an overbearing, overcritical and insensitive mother who passed on her own irrational fears to Carole. She admits in the book that her fears and desire to feel safe lead her to the wrong men.

While still in high school, Carole started writing songs with her girlfriend, Sherry, and they were signed by a publishing company to write songs, but though they worked together for three years, none of their songs were recorded.  However, when Sherry got married and gave up her collaboration with Carole, Carole signed with another company and collaborated with another composer, Toni Wine, which led to Carole's first recorded song, "A Groovy Kind of Love (first recorded by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and later by Phil Collins)," and she was off and running.

Though younger, CBS was a contemporary of Carole King who was writing songs in New York with her then husband, Jerry Goffen and their paths crossed briefly early in CBS's career when Carole King was already well-known.  CBS got up the courage to say that they should write a song together to which Carole King politely said, "Sure," but nothing came of it until later in both of their careers, whenthey actually did write some songs together.

As Carole's career progressed, she crossed paths with many famous people and she shares anecdotes.  She was best friends with Elizabeth Taylor (don't call her Liz!), wasn't a personal fan of Dionne Warwick's and has stuff to say about Clint Eastwood, David Foster and others. 

Carole had a three year relationship with Marvin Hamlisch which was more of a song-writing partnership than a romantic one, though marriage was briefly on the table.  However, their relationship will live in musical comedy history because it was the basis for the long-running musical "They're Playing Our Song." She has relatively nice things to say about Hamlisch, but not her husbands, one of whom was Burt Bacharach with whom she also wrote songs. She describes him as a germaphobe and calls him a narcissist. And those are the nice things! She contends that Hamlish didn't have any pop credentials when they met and Bacharach's career, despite his many, many hits in the 60's, was on the wane so she felt they were both attracted to her for her ability to craft pop hits.  Neither relationship lasted (Burt cheated).

She admits to being one of those women who didn't want to be confrontational so she sucked up her feelings, told the men what they wanted to hear, went along with them, all because she feared being alone and wanted to feel safe.  She used her song lyrics to express herself and say what she really felt.

"Alone for the first time, I asked myself why I kept repeating the same dramas with different men I was attracted to in my life.  Men who never really saw me...I kept choosing men I hoped would love me who could only see me as an extension of themselves.  Men who loved me for my talent, but not for myself...I was starting to understand that if I wanted a different result in my life, I couldn't keep walking down the same street and falling into the same hole.  I would have to put more value on myself and begin respecting and loving myself if I ever was going to be deserving of a man who really loved me."

See?  Even celebrities struggle with this stuff.

But happily she found love and a happy marriage later in life, and she finally felt that she was loved for herself and not just her musical talents.

She was not only a writing partner with Hamlisch and Bacharach but also Peter Allen, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and many others including Bob Dylan ("Under Your Spell").  She has written the lyrics to some of my favorite pop songs: Diana Ross's "It's My Turn," Patti LaBelle's and Michael McDonald's "On My Own," and the theme from the film "Ice Castles:" "Looking Through the Eyes of Love."

She describes her writing style:

"I prefer being in the same room with the composer.  He or she plays a couple of chords and I start to hear words and one line triggers a melody or a melody line triggers a lyric.  We become one, inspiring each other to write the best song we can, and if something sounds untrue or mundane or tired, we're both there to try for something better together...writing together will alwalys be my favorite way to craft a song."

Rosy the Reviewer says...wannabe songwriters will find this inspiring and those of us who like candid celebrity memoirs will find it juicy.

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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