Friday, June 30, 2017

"Paris Can Wait" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Paris Can Wait" as well as DVDs "The Last Word" and "The Sense of an Ending."  The Book of the Week is Maria Semple's latest novel "Today Will Be Different."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Kippur."]

Paris Can Wait

The wife of a busy movie producer hitches a ride to Paris from Cannes with one of her husband's French business associates and a seven hour trip turns into two days.  Mais ca ne fait rien!  It's France!

After a few weeks of space ships, superheroes and murder, I was in the mood for a romantic comedy. Unfortunately, this was less of a romantic comedy and more of a gastronomic history and travelogue of France.

Anne (Diane Lane) is married to Michael (Alec Baldwin), a successful, but distracted and very busy movie producer.  They love each other but after 20+ years of marriage, Michael takes Anne for granted.  Anne is a recent empty-nester with her only child, a daughter, off to college, and her dress shop has closed so she is at loose ends as to what to do with herself, though she doesn't yet know it. Michael is in Cannes on business but getting ready to leave for Budapest and Anne is tagging along but an ear infection is aggravating her, so not wanting to fly, she tells Michael she will meet him in Paris.

Enter the charming French man, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), Michael's business associate, who offers to drive Anne to Paris.  What should be a seven hour trip turns into two days with Jacques stopping every hour for a cigarette break and taking Anne on side trips where they indulge in extravagant food and wine that Anne ends up paying for.  So we start to wonder: Is Jacques just a charming charlatan?  But Jacques treats Anne to the leisurely French way of life, in contrast to the harried American life Anne is used to.  Hurrying off to Paris is not very French.  Taking one's time and enjoying life is the French way, which Anne learns from Jacques.  And this film must be very French, too, as it takes its bloody time telling the story.

This is one of those "moment in time" movies much like "Once," but without the singing.  It's also a mature romantic road trip movie, though not much romance happens.  However, it's refreshing to see good-looking middle-aged people talking and flirting over delicious food with the gorgeous French countryside as a backdrop.
So I can enjoy beautiful scenery and food porn, but there was an annoying film device at work here.  Anne takes pictures of everything with her little camera, and every picture gets briefly freeze-framed. We see up close pictures of her food, of the landscape, of Jacques and on and on.  I know it's meant to show us that Anne has an eye for photography, thus giving her a possible purpose in life that our sensitive Jacques can point out to her, but I found it to be a distraction, and yes, annoying.

I love Diane Lane and she is aging well with no signs of plastic surgery, which I admire. She is a beautiful woman who exudes warmth. The last time I saw her in a movie with a French man, she was being ravaged by Olivier Martinez ("Unfaithful").  Here, though, she doesn't have much to do except look lovely and react to the charm that is Viard's Jacques, who clearly steals this picture, if there is really much of a picture to steal.  Alec Baldwin also doesn't have much to do either except play the kind of role he seems to have settled into - the insensitive and clueless husband or businessman.

Written, directed and produced by Eleanor Coppola (yes, that Coppola family - Frances Ford's wife, in fact, in her feature film debut), I would imagine this is a middle-aged woman's dream - to drive around the beautiful French countryside and to be wined and dined by a charming French man.  Gee, I wonder if this was Eleanor's dream.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a Francophile and a foodie, you might revel in this but if you were expecting a romcom, you might be disappointed.  There is little rom and no com.

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


The Last Word (2017)

Harriet Waller (Shirley MacLaine) is a retired businesswoman who tries to control everything and everyone, even her own obituary.

Has Shirley MacLaine become a caricature of herself?  How many films have we seen her in where she has been the bossy, unlikable and controlling older lady?

The film begins with a photo montage of Shirley from childhood through her glamour period to now which sets the stage for a movie that is all about Shirley.  She chews up the scenery big time but, hey, it's Shirley MacLaine and no one chews the scenery quite like she does.

Early scenes show that Harriet is a lonely divorcee living in a big, beautiful Colonial home which screams of money.  She is not afraid to school her gardener on how things are supposed to be done and if need be, she dismisses him and does it herself!  She also corrects her hairdresser and her cook. This is clearly a woman with opinions and knows the best way to do everything. When she tries to kill herself and fails at that, she rails at the doctor about her ugly hospital gown. Needless to say, she has no friends and eats alone in her beautiful home with her perfectly prepared food - that she prepared.

When Harriet sees an obituary that raves about how beloved the deceased was, Harriet decides that she wants an obituary like that too and if she wants an obituary that says "She was loved by everyone," she realizes she had better make that happen now.  So she goes to the local newspaper and finds Anne, the obituary writer (Amanda Seyfried), who wrote that glowing obituary about the other person and, Harriet hires her to write one about her - now, before she dies, because Harriet plans to kill herself and make it work this time. 

Naturally, Anne is reluctant, but her boss tells her she needs to do this because Harriet was a friend to the newspaper and might leave them some much-needed money when she dies. You know, newspapers aren't doing that well these days.

Anne knows that a good obituary requires statements from loving family members; a list of the good deeds that the deceased person did in his or her life; and there needs to be a broad statement of the deceased legacy for a headline, such as "Beloved businesswoman who did good deeds in her community dies..."

So Harriet provides Anne with a list of people she can quote, and as Anne interviews people from the list, Harriet's life unfolds -- and it's not a pretty picture.  Harriet's gynecologist said Harriet insisted on examining herself.  Her priest said he hated her. Harriet hasn't seen her only daughter for years. Things were not looking good for Harriet's obituary. 

But even though Anne can't find anyone to say anything good about Harriet, she goes on a mission to "shape her legacy."

Turns out Anne is lonely too so do you see what's coming?  Anne on a mission to shape a leggacy for Harriet: the perfect formula for a buddy picture.  And will Harriet screw her life up even more so she ends up with a terrible obituary?

Duh...I doubt it.

First possible good deed? Harriet meets a little smart-talking black girl and "adopts" her.  And you know me.  A smart talking child actor?  I am in hell. 

Of course Harriet is going to learn about herself and endear herself to somebody.  We know that.  But remember, it's not the destination.  It's the journey.  But is the journey worth it?  Totally predictable, but yes, it's also mostly fun.  And even a little deep.  Harriet is lonely and unhappy and sets out to get her obituary written the way she wants it so she can kill herself and die happy, but in so doing, she opens her life up and finds a reason to live. 

I loved the first-half of the film, but unfortunately the second half fell into a murky vat of far-fetched sentimentality with some skinny dipping, a job for Harriet that no old lady would ever get no matter how good her record collection, a road trip to see Harriet's daughter whom she hadn't seen in years and a heartstrings-tugging diagnosis. There is even a Power Walk. When a Shirley MacLaine movie has a Power Walk, you have to ask yourself, what movie doesn't have a Power Walk these days?  I also had to ask myself, do small town newspapers even have full-time obituary writers?

This is definitely a Shirley MacLaine vehicle and everyone else shrinks next to her.  Amanda Seyfried is usually an excellent actress but here I have to say as a comic actress, not so much.  Whenever she has a funny line to say, she delivers it with bug eyes and a strange contortion of her face.  So, Amanda, I would say, stick to the dramas. 

Directed by Mark Pellington with a screenplay by Stuart Ross Fink and a wonderful score by Nathan Matthew David, despite some irritations, this movie had some fine moments, my favorite being how it established the character early on with few words and a few scenes, just visuals that showed us the kind of person Harriet was. But the best part was Shirley MacLaine doing what Shirley MacLaine does best. Chew that proverbial scenery.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this film asks the question "If you could see your obituary before you died, what would it say?"

The Sense of an Ending (2017)

An old man is haunted by the past - what he remembers of it, anyway.

How many of our memories of our past are memories of events that really happened and how many are unconsciously made up?

That is the question that is explored in this story of Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), who runs an antique camera shop in London and who goes about his daily life in quiet isolation. However, he's a good dad, and we know this because he has a pregnant daughter (Michelle Dockery in a small role), who he accompanies to a child birth class. He is also a good ex-husband because he is still friends with his ex-wife (Harriet Walter).

He appears happy in his little world until a letter arrives, telling Tony that Sarah Ford has died and she has left him a diary. Sarah Ford was the mother of Veronica Ford, Tony's first love.  But when Tony tries to take possession of the diary, Veronica withholds the diary, so Tony finds himself embarking on a journey to find out why, a journey that brings back secrets and tragedy. 

In college, Tony meets Veronica.  She is an amateur photographer and they embark on a bit of a love affair.  When Veronica takes Tony home to meet her family he is impressed by Veronica's beautiful mother, Sarah (Emily Mortimer in a very small role).  Tony's best friend is Adrian Finn, a charismatic boy that everyone wants to be like and with, even Veronica, who eventually leaves Tony and hooks up with Adrian.  But a mysterious tragedy strikes Adrian, so the old Tony wants that diary because it was Adrian's diary and he wants to try to understand what happened to Adrian.  He finally meets up with the old Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), and through twists and turns and the mist of memory, we learn what really happened all those years ago.

The screenplay by Nick Payne, adapted from the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Julian Barnes, jumps around a lot in time from Tony's present day to Tony's school days in the 60's, and at times the film can be confusing.  But Tony is confused by the events too and doesn't trust his memories, so we are on the same journey with Tony to understand why Sarah left him Adrian Finn's diary and why Veronica won't relinquish it. 

Jim Broadbent is a wonderful actor and he is wonderful in this.  I like the beard, too, which makes him look decidedly younger than his actual years.  Charlotte Rampling is always good and boy, has she perfected the RBF (you know, resting bitch face). The young Tony, played by Billie Howle is effective as is Joe Alwyn as Adrian, who I liked much better here than I did in "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk."

Directed by Ritesh Batra, who also directed a favorite film of mine, "The Lunchbox," I was struck by how well British filmmakers do these small, sensitive dramas. It's a quiet film, but there is drama, there is suspense and there is a twist.  This film reminded me a bit of "Atonement."

Rosy the Reviewer the summer movie season gets into full-swing, if you are sick of superheroes and animation, you might want to settle into this mature British drama.


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

196 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Kippur (2000)

Based on director Amos Gitai's own experiences in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, this film shows the hell that is war through the eyes of some members of a helicopter medical unit.

October 1973:  Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israel on the most important Jewish religious holiday, Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. 

Our hero, Weinraub (Liron Levo), and his friend hear about the attack and head to the war, literally.  They hop in a jeep and go to find the war.  The Israeli Army must be quite a bit more casual than ours if guys have to go looking for the war. The two become part of a helicopter medical unit helping to rescue wounded soldiers and experience some life-changing events.

This is a very painstaking look at life in the Israeli army during wartime.  It's gritty with lots of war scenes, but for me, ultimately boring. Strange that war can be boring but it is. I actually fast-forwarded through a lot of it.  Like I say from time to time, I'm kind of shallow when it comes to certain kinds of films and certain topics and have discovered that when a movie bores me, I can fast-forward on the slowest setting and still figure out what's going on and be able to review it, stopping here and there when my interest is piqued.

So for me, though I can appreciate the idea of this film, it is ultimately not my kind of movie.  You know what they say, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like?"

As you know, because I rant about this a lot, I don't really like movies with all men unless it's Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pine.  And I don't like movies about war, either, unless it's Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pine. I also don't like movies with long lingering shots in real time unless it's long lingering shots of Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pine.  And this movie had all men, it was about war and it had those long lingering tedious shots, none of which involved Chris Hemsworth or Chris Pine.

Speaking of those long lingering shots, the film begins with an intriquing scene of a sexual encounter with a man and a woman rolling around in paint. I thought, oh, good, it's a war movie but at least there is a woman in it and some sex.  It was all very arty, but it went on way too long and then, nope.  No women, except the movie did end with more of the sex in the paint.  Funny, how I kind of knew that was how it was going to end, but that doesn't mean I understood why it was in the film or what it had to do with anything.

Despite the fact that this film is an examination of how difficult war can be for "regular" people, I probably would have liked this better as a documentary. And just so you know, I actually do have the ability to appreciate a film that is not in my wheelhouse, but that doesn't mean I enjoy it.

Bottom line here:  War is hell.

But I already knew that.

General Sherman said that back during the Civil War.

The guys are forever changed by what they saw.

I already figured that one out too.

Whether it's a war in the Middle East, Vietnam, WW I or WW II, war is hell and it forever changes the participants. That has been portrayed in countless war films. 

Why it's a Must See:  "[This film] is less about a specific struggle than it is an evocation of the hallucinatory state of war: confusing, shock, numbing fatigue, constant cacophony."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says.. I definitely got the "shock" and "numbing fatigue" part.  That's how I felt after watching this film! Sorry, but I could have died without seeing this one!
(In Hebrew with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (2017)

Eleanor is kind of a mess and she knows it, but each day she vows to be different.  Unfortunately, she is her own worst enemy and it doesn't help that her son is a smart-aleck and her husband has gone missing.

"Today will be different.  Today I will be present.  Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply.  Today I'll play a board game with Timby.  I'll initiate sex with Joe.  Today I will take pride in my appearance.  I'll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend.  Today I won't swear.  I won't talk about money.  Today there will be an ease about me.  My face will be relaxed, it's resting place a smile.  Today I will radiate calm.  Kindness and self-control will abound.  Today I will buy local.  Today I will be my best self, the person I'm capable of being.  Today will be different."

Sounds like my retirement!

Anyway, that is what Eleanor vowed when she woke up and that is a tall order for anyone but an even bigger order for Eleanor, who is, how shall I say it?  Difficult?

However, this is also the day that Eleanor's young son Timby has decided to fake getting sick so he can stay home from school, and it's the day her husband Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not her-that he's on vacation. And also an encounter with a past colleague brings up a secret that Eleanor has been hiding.

Fan's of Semple first novel, "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" eagerly awaited her next one and, though this doesn't quite have the same verve as "Bernadette," it is still cheeky, still funny with lots of Seattle references. This time it's not Bernadette who's gone missing, it's Eleanor's husband, Joe, whose disappearance provides the mystery, and we follow Eleanor and her young son, Timby, around town, as Eleanor tries to discover what has happened to Joe.

Rosy the Reviewer of "Bernadette" might be disappointed with this one but it's still a fun and quick read.

Thanks for reading!

 See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Baby Driver"


 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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