Friday, August 25, 2017

"Wind River" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Wind River" as well as DVDs "Night Train to Lisbon" and "Misconduct."  The Book of the Week is a cookbook, "Clean Eating Bowls."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with " "Vivre Sa Vie," another Godard (I'm going to give him another chance!]

Wind River

When a game warden for Wyoming's Fish and Wildlife Service finds a dead body on an Indian reservation, an FBI agent is called in and they work together to track the killer.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is divorced from his Native American wife, Wilma (Julia Jones), but his ties to the Native American community still run deep.  They have a son together and his wife's family lives nearby on the Indian reservation and his work as a game warden for the Fish and Wildlife Service takes him there often to track bears, wolves and mountain lions that are killing livestock.  We learn, too, that he and his wife had a teen-aged daughter who died under mysterious circumstances, and it is still an open wound. 

There is a deep sadness about Cory even as he goes about his business of tracking down predators, and it comes to the surface when out looking for a mountain lion in a remote part of the area Indian reservation - Wind River - he discovers the body of a girl.  It's Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a girl he knows, a girl who was his daughter's best friend.

Cory summons Ben (Graham Greene), the local tribal cop, but since only the FBI has jurisdiction over homicides on Native American lands, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives from Las Vegas by way of Fort Lauderdale.  She is young green, breathless and clearly underdressed for the Wyoming winter weather.  She is also clearly out of her element - this is her first murder case and she doesn't have a clue about Native American culture as she quickly insults Natalie's father, Martin (Gil Birmingham, who shows his acting versatility - he was Jeff Bridges' sidekick in "Hell or High Water").  But she is quick to see that Cory's tracker abilities would be helpful to her so she enlists his help. 

We soon learn that Natalie died from hypothermia after running barefoot in the snow from something or someone.  But we also learn that she was raped, maybe multiple times, and Cory and Jane set out to find out what happened to Natalie, and in so doing, expose the sometimes dark and troubled but also courageous and strong lives of so many Native Americans living in an unforgiving landscape.

When Jane says to Ben, "Shouldn't we wait for back up?" and he replies, "This isn't the land of waiting for back up.  This is the land of you're on your own," that says it all.

Set in a Wyoming winter, this film is a moody murder mystery, a fish out of water story, an exploration of family and loss and a tale of the clash of cultures, but it's also much deeper than that - it's a microcosm of the Native American experience with a murder at its core, serving as a metaphor for what Native Americans lost when the white man came to town and what many have had to endure ever since, bleak lives in a bleak landscape.

I have never been much of a Jeremy Renner fan.  I don't know why.   I find it strange when I think about it.  There is no reason for me not to like him.  He is a fine actor.  But we humans are fickle folks and our preferences are sometimes unexplained.  I mean I don't really like George Clooney that much either.  Why do I love Tom Hardy and not Jeremy Renner?  Well, I am going to remedy that right now.  Because of this movie, I am now a big fan.  This is Renner's best role to date and he has it all here.  He brings not only the sadness of a man who lost a daughter but the determination to not let that loss also kill him and this is brought home in a wonderful scene between him and Natalie's Dad, when they share their feelings  and grief about the loss of their daughters.

Elizabeth Olsen is a steady presence and a wonderful actress who doesn't get much in the way of publicity or accolades but she should because she has done some wonderful work.

I can't help but compare this to "Hell or High Water," and I guess that makes sense because this film was written by the same guy, Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote "Sicario."  This time, though, he directed as well, and it's clear that he is not only a top-notch screenwriter, but a top-notch director as well.  

It's refreshing to see Native American actors playing Native Americans, and we all know, that hasn't always been the case.  Graham Greene as Ben, the reservation law enforcement officer is a recognizable face but the rest of the Native Americans are relative newcomers, and they all bring an authenticity to the film. It's also refreshing to see an attractive man and woman working together (Renner and Olsen) and NOT falling in love.  A love affair between those two would have ruined this important film by diluting its themes of family, loss, alienation and retribution.

This is a really good, tight film. Based on a true story, the plot is compelling.  But this film is so much more than that.  At the end we are reminded that despite the fact that there are statistics on the many missing women in the United States, there are no such statistics for missing Native American women. It's a reminder of what the lives of the real natives of America have endured.

Rosy the Reviewer of the year's best films - a must see.  I predict some award-winning writing and performances.

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


Night Train to Lisbon (2013)

When a man rescues a beautiful young girl from jumping from a bridge in Bern, he finds himself embroiled in an adventure that couldn't be farther from his buttoned-down life as a college professor of ancient languages.

Jeremy Irons stars as Raimund Gregorius, a Swiss professor of ancient languages, an unadventurous, melancholy loner, who while walking across a bridge in Bern, sees a young girl in a red coat standing on the railing ready to jump off the bridge.  He saves her and takes her with him to his college, but when she disappears, leaving her red coat behind, he also discovers a book, a memoir by Amadeu do Prado. The book is stamped with the name of the bookstore, so, intrigued, he goes there, and while there, the bookseller leafs through the book and a train ticket to Lisbon falls out, a train ticket to Lisbon for a train leaving in 15 minutes. 

Wanting to find the girl, but very uncharacteristically, Gregorius drops everything and rushes to the train station, and not seeing her, impulsively jumps on the train.  While on the train he reads the book she had left and decides to find Amadeu do Prado.  But before he can, he is hit by a bicycle and his glasses are broken.  When he goes to have them fixed, he meets Mariana (Martina Gedeck), an optometrist and he tells her his story and mentions Amadeu.  It just so happens her uncle, Joao Eca (Tom Courtney), knew him and so Mariana and Gregorius travel together to the nursing home where he lives to learn more about Amadeu, a story of the Salazar regime, Amadeu's involvement in the resistance, and the story of "The Butcher of Lisbon," all shown in flashback with Jack Huston starring as Amadeu. 

The story finally reveals the mystery of the girl in the red coat and why she wanted to jump off the bridge and leads Gregorius to a life-changing decision.

I have always been a big Jeremy Irons fan ever since "Brideshead Revisited."  Nobody does brooding like he does but he can also do menacing.  That voice! Who can forget his voice as Scar in "The Lion King?"  Here he is mainly a foil for the story of Amadeu as he travels around interviewing people who knew him and discovering his story, but Irons is such an effective actor that he is still the star.

Written by Greg Latter and Ulrich Herrmann (based on the 2004 novel Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier) and directed by Bille August, the film uses quotes from the book throughout the film as if the book itself is leading Gregorius and changing his life, but despite an interesting story and a stellar cast, the film that unfolds in flashbacks is uneven and choppy and really confusing and doesn't live up to what it could have been.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a very literary and intellectual film that will not be everyone's cup of tea.

Misconduct (2016)

An ambitious young lawyer takes on a case against a big pharmaceutical company and finds himself in over his head.

Arthur Denning (Anthony Hopkins) is the owner of a major pharmaceutical firm and his girlfriend, Emily Hynes (Malin Åkerman) is kidnapped for a ransom and through a series of flashbacks the story unfolds.

Earlier, Emily had contacted her ex-boyfriend, Ben Cahill (Josh Duhamel), a rather shady attorney, and had intimated that Denning had been abusing her and she couldn't get away from him.  She also told him that she had proof of criminal behavior on Denning's part - that he was using false clinical trials to get his drugs approved. 

Cahill is married to Charlotte (Alice Eve), but that doesn't stop him from starting to have some steamy sex with Emily but he pulls back at the last minute.  But he makes the most of the encounter by using the information from Emily to pitch a class action lawsuit to his boss Charles Abrams (Al Pacino). Denning settles the suit for $400 million, provided that the stolen documents are returned to him.  But it all blows up when Ben finds Emily dead in her apartment with a bottle of pills in her hand and later her body shows up in HIS apartment.  Is he being framed? 

And then everything just goes to hell for does this movie.

Just what is going on here?  That's what I asked myself throughout this movie and that's not a good thing.

Directed by Shintaro Shimasawa with a screenplay by Simon Boyes and Stephen Mason, this is one of those convoluted thrillers with so many characters doing so many shady things that you lose track of what's going on.  I do, anyway.  And it's also one of those mysteries where the least likely character did it. I have also never heard such overdone, dramatic music in my life. The music is especially dramatic when Al Pacino shows up.  The music is as over-the-top as his acting sometimes is.

Alice Eve plays Charlotte, Ben's wife, and I can kind of see why he was thinking of getting it on with Emily.  Charlotte lacks charm, to say the least and Julia Stiles plays a spunky (doesn't she always?) securities analyst in one of the many sideline plots.

Anthony Hopkins is Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino is Al Pacino, both probably wondering what they are doing in this film and Josh Duhamel is handsome.

That's about all I have to say about this one.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is one of those convoluted thrillers with so many side plots and red herrings that when it's over you say "Huh?"

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

188 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Vivre Sa Vie ("My Life to Live") (1962)

A story about how easy it is to end up as a prostitute. You know, it's very expensive to live in Paris!

It's Godard again.  I decided to give him another chance, and I kind of have to because of "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project," eight of which are Godard films.  I reviewed "Masculin Feminin" last week, and it was kind of a snooze-fest for me, but I have to say, I liked this one better.  I think I am more into prostitutes than young 60's poseurs.

This was an earlier film than "Masculin Feminin" by four years.  Again, divided into vignettes, or chapters, this film tells the story of Nana (Anna Karina) who, after leaving a loveless marriage, struggles for survival.  She ends up in a dead-end job selling records (remember those?) and wanders aimlessly around Paris.  When she can't pay her rent and is kicked out of her apartment she turns to prostitution.  Then she meets Raoul (Sady Rebbot) who becomes her pimp.  She finally finds love when she falls in love with a student, but when she tries to leave Raoul, she pays the price for her choices. It's all very dark.

Once again Godard employs his static camera, though this time, he likes to focus on the back of the head rather than the face with dialogue and action happening around the static image.  It's as if we are standing behind the characters, listening to their conversations.  In the opening scene, when Nana is breaking up with her husband, they are sitting at a bar and we just see the backs of their heads, with Nana's face reflected in a mirror across from the bar.  It's a brilliant ten-minute scene that captures the disintegration of a marriage and the camera acts as a person standing behind them.  The camera is us watching, trying to figure out what they are talking about. Godard also uses silence over the images (he did that in "Masculin Feminin" too) in between scenes. 

This is also what I call a leisurely film - not very plot driven and slow lingering real time camera work that just begs you to fast forward with the remote. But I didn't because I became fascinated by this character and what was going to happen to her.

Godard also tends to unfold his story with not a lot happening and then POW!  Out of nowhere something happens like a random act of violence.  He did it here, and as I mentioned in last week's review, he did that in "Masculin Feminin," so obviously it's one of this "things." But at least he didn't fall prey to what so many arty directors do - long movies.  This one was only 73 minutes long.

Anna Karina as Nana (Godard's then wife and muse in several films) was a beautiful, affecting actress with eyes you can fall into, but her character is an enigma.

Why it's a Must See: "...the first of Godard's mature masterpieces. Like much of his best work, it is both supremely analytical and supremely sensuous, achieving an austere, wintry beauty."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Nana's life was short and rather sordid, but it was her life to live.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Godard is growing on me.

***Book of the Week***

Clean Eating Bowls: 100 Real Food Recipes for Eating Clean by Kenzie Swanhart (2016)

How to not only eat "clean" but how to eat everything in a BOWL!

As you know, I not only love to cook (check out the latest "Rosy's Test Kitchen"), but I love to read,so it's only natural that I would love to read cookbooks.  I am also interested in healthy eating, the occasional pint of ice-cream and five or six chocolate chip cookies not withstanding, so I was drawn to this cookbook and intrigued by the idea of eating out of a bowl.  I checked with the babies who regularly eat out of a bowl...

and they said it's fun!

In case you didn't  know, "clean eating" is basically eating whole foods, or "real" foods — those that are un-refined, minimally handled, and unprocessed, making them as close to their natural form as possible and what I have discovered is that it's very veggie oriented, which, I guess, makes sense especially since most of us don't go out and hunt our own meat.

The idea of eating out of a bowl is also simplicity. 

Here is what Swanhart says about it:

"Diving into a clean eating lifestyle can seem daunting -- cutting out sugars and processed foods in favor of cooking fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats -- but bowls make it simple for cooks of all levels to make delicious, healthy meals.  With the abundance of ingredients that can be piled into a bowl, you will be able to focus on all the goodness you can eat, rather than thinking of it as a restriction."

Oh, OK, if I eat out of a bowl I will forget that I can't have anything I like?

Anyway, the book is divided into nine chapters - you have breakfast bowls, grain bowls, salad bowls, soup bowls, noodle bowls and dessert bowls.  But SMOOTHIE BOWLS?  I am going to drink my smoothie out of a bowl?

Here is a taste:
"Berry Blast Smoothie Bowl"

Put 1 c. frozen mixed berries, 1/2 frozen banana, 1/2 c almond milk (that you make yourself - sigh), 1 T. chia seeds, 1/2 baby spinach into a blender and blend away - and note:  It's important to put these ingredients in the blender in that exact order.  Not sure why.

Pour the smoothie into a bowl and top it with a sliced banana, 6 fresh blackberries, 8 fresh raspberries and two T. pomegranate seeds.

I wonder if I am pushing it if I use 7 blackberries and only 7 raspberries and skip the pomegranate seeds.  Would I get kicked out of the clean eating community?  Seems like there are a lot of rules.  Or what would happen if I just pour the stuff into a glass?

Anyway, there are some interesting and fun recipes here that lend themselves to a bowl:

  • Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
  • Scallop and Zucchini Noodle Bowl
  • Dark Chocolate Strawberry Bowl
  • Korean Bibimbap Grain Bowl

Swanhart ends the book with a list of NECESSITIES - things you need to have on hand - (more rules!) all of which you need to make yourself:

  • Simple Lemon Dressing
  • Jalapeno-Line Vinaigrette
  • Avocado-Cilantro Cream
  • Tahini-Ginger Dressing
  • Pesto
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Honey Almond Butter
  • Almond Milk
  • Homemade Granola

Do I really have to make all of that myself? Can't I just go to Whole Foods?

Oh, and in case I haven't depressed you enough, here are the "Dirty Dozen," which I know you can guess are the opposite of "clean."  These are the items that contain the most pesticides, so if you want to eat them, be sure you go organic.

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Hot Peppers
  • Kale/Collard Greens

As I said, I do like to cook and I do like to eat well, but trying to do everything in the healthiest way just seems like so much work and mental energy.  It's kind of depressing.

Rosy the Reviewer says... I am going to go ponder all of this over a bowl of fruit loops.  What?  Is that bad?

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of  
"Ingrid Goes West"


 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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Friday, August 18, 2017

"The Glass Castle" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Glass Castle" as well as DVDs "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" and "The Boy."  The Book of the Week is "American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land." I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Godard's "Masculin Feminin"]

The Glass Castle

Film adaptation of Jeannette Wall's memoir about growing up poor with two dysfunctional, neglectful and narcissistic parents.

"Happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." 

That is a Tolstoy quote from "Anna Karenina," and I think of it every time I see a movie about dysfunctional families or unhappy childhoods.  However, this film is more about dysfunctional parenting and a childhood that was partly happy and partly really unhappy.

Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir told the story of growing up with a Mom (Rose Mary, played by Naomi Watts) who would rather work on one of her paintings than feed her four children.  In fact, one day she was so distracted she let her very young Jeanette (Chandler Head) boil hot dogs on her own, resulting in her catching her dress on fire and becoming severely burned and scarred for life. And in addition to being a neglectful Mom, Rose Mary was also one of those long-suffering wives who just couldn't quit her man, no matter what he did or didn't do.  Maddening.

Rose Mary's husband and Jeanette's Dad, Rex (Woody Harrelson), moved the family constantly from one ramshackle shack to another, one step ahead of the bill collectors.  He was an alcoholic and narcissist who didn't believe in sending his children to school and had no qualms about spending the family's food money on booze and cigarettes.  He could be thoughtless and mean, but also charming and fun. One year, there was no money for Christmas presents so he told the children they could pick out a star as their very own.  Somehow that worked.  He was also a big dreamer who was always working on the plans for their "glass castle," a house he was designing that they would all live in happily ever after one day.

One can't help but compare this film to "Captain Fantastic," which featured another narcissistic father who had strong opinions about how his kids should be raised, pontificated about every subject under the sun, but was basically full of crap.  That's not a problem in and of itself.  There are a lot of narcissistic men around who have an opinion on everything (and you know who you are), but when those opinions and ideas affect their children's lives negatively, that's another story. Rex was a charming con-man, but he was also neglectful and made his children's lives a living hell for much of their childhood.  It wasn't until the kids were older that they realized his refrain of "This time will be different" was a lie, that they would never live in "the glass castle" like he promised, and if they wanted to get anything out of life, they needed to get the hell away from him.

The story unfolds in flashback. 

It's the 80's and the adult Jeannette (Brie Larson) has made her way to New York City to become a successful gossip column writer for New York Magazine.  She is engaged to a financial advisor (Max Greenfield) and is trying to live a "normal" life.  But when she discovers that her parents have followed her to New York and are homeless, squatting in an abandoned building and dumpster diving, she is horrified and the memories come rushing back. 

If I thought "Captain Fantastic" was a bad Dad (and I did), Rex Walls wins the bad Dad contest hands down, but, ironically, Woody Harrelson does him proud.

I have trash-talked Woody a bit in the past and said I wasn't a fan because I was sick of the characters he played which I likened to him just playing himself.  You are now expecting a rant, aren't you?  Well, my peeps, no such luck.  I actually liked Woody in this.  He was very good.  He made me forget he was Woody. 

Naomi Watts was also excellent, though her character was maddening in her blindly following her ego-maniac of a drunken husband.  I guess if she made me mad, that's called good acting.

Likewise, Brie Larson as the adult Jeannette brings a sensitivity to the role.  It's not the bravura performance which won her a Best Actress Academy Award for "Room," but she is a gifted actress and has a quiet presence in this.

And then there are the children. 

I usually rant about child actors who play overly precocious kids, something I can't bear, but you know what?  I am not going to rant because these kids were all wonderfully believable and not a wise-cracker in the bunch. Especially notable were Chandler Head and Ella Anderson who played the youngest and young Jeannettes respectively, but all of the child actors (and for all four children there was a youngest, a young and an adult version) were believable.  You felt their pain as they scrambled to find something to eat or clung together while their parents were fighting or Rex was drunk.

You know I also tend to rant a bit about movie clichés and devices. 

Well, here's another one, one you find these days at the end of practically every movie that is based on a true story.  And that's the epilogue.  You know, that thing at the end where the real people are shown - "Lion" used it; "Detroit" used it.  You see it all the time.  But am I going to rant?  Nope.  Movie cliche or not, I actually like that, and it is especially effective in this film where real family pictures are shown at the end and then the actors are shown over the credits, each up next to the real person they played- Woody next to the real Rex; Naomi next to the real Rose Mary; Brie next to the real Jeannette. Very effective.

My goodness! I think you have just witnessed the first Rosy the Reviewer's Rant-Free Review!

Though I liked the film as a whole, there were some scenes I take issue with (and no, this is not a rant).  Whether or not they happened in real life as per Walls' book, there were some scenes that didn't feel authentic and were over-dramatized - the arm wrestling scene when Jeannette suddenly really got into it and started screaming was way over the top and seemingly out of character; the kids attacking Rex's mother when they thought she was abusing their brother didn't seem like something little kids would do; and Jeannette sharing her true life story with total strangers at a business dinner after lying for years and then abruptly leaving a dinner and running down the street to profess her love for her father was way over-dramatic.

However, like I said, I did enjoy this film.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and adapted by him and Andrew Lanham from Walls' best-selling memoir, the film highlights a very strange thing about parent-child relations.  In so many cases, no matter how bad their childhoods, no matter how neglected they might have been, children still love their parents.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ever worried you were not a good parent, watch this and take some comfort that you weren't THIS BAD!!!

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

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

A mockumentary on the rise and fall of a pop star in the vein of "This is Spinal Tap."  But is it as good?

Satires are always fun if they are well done.  This one isn't.

Connor (Andy Samberg), Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) are friends from a young age and form a boy band - The Style Boyz - but, as happens with most bands, arguments and recriminations break them up. Lawrence leaves and Conner goes off as a solo act calling himself Connor4Real with Owen as his DJ.  His solo career starts out well, but then fails.  So he tries to think of what he can do to revive his career: release another song? Get a weird hair cut?  Take an ugly teenager to her prom? Connor starts to implode.

Connor's retinue includes a guy who routinely punches him in his nether region to remind him where he came from; Zippy (Bill Hader), his guitar tech, who enjoys flat-lining; Tyrus Quash (Justin Timberlake in an uncredited role), the tour chef; a tortoise named Maximus who Connor considers his best friend; and his manager, Harry (Tim Meadows), who suggests that Connor go on tour and have Aquaspin, a manufacturer that makes home appliances, sponsor the tour. However, the company's appliances begin playing Conner's songs whenever someone uses them, causing a nationwide power outage that generates a wave of backlash against Connor.

Connor's opening act for his tour is a rap star, Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), and when Hunter starts overshadowing Connor, Conner's publicist, Paula (Sarah Silverman), suggests he pull a publicity stunt to deflect attention from his humiliation. Conner decides to propose to his girlfriend, Ashley (Imogen Poots,) on live TV, a stunt that includes a pack of trained wolves and a performance by Seal.  However, the music upsets the wolves and they break loose, mauling Seal and members of the audience. The backlash against Conner grows, and Ashley breaks up with him and starts dating Seal, who sues Conner for his injuries.

Connor starts to implode again.

Naturally there are lots of songs, one of which likens the Mona Lisa to the Garbage Pail Kids and in one, uh, rather gross scene, someone "goes to the bathroom (I'm trying to be delicate here)" in the Anne Frank house. 

So if any or all of that sounds funny to you, you might like this film, but if you were hoping for another "This is Spinal Tap," hope again.  "Spinal Tap" captured every cliché associated with heavy metal bands, and I think Sandburg was hoping to capture that same zeitgeist of being a famous pop/rap star but it just didn't work.
Schaffer, Taccone and Samberg, who together produced those SNL Video Shorts under the name Lonely Island, wrote the screenplay and Schaffer and Taccone, writers on SNL, also directed. 

All of this should have come together for a very funny movie, but, sadly it really didn't.

I realize that Andy Samberg is an acquired taste.  He can be really out there, but I actually like him. He made a name for himself as a regular on "Saturday Night Live" and with those video shorts and song parodies.  He can be very, very funny.  Who can forget his SNL video short with Justin Timberlake, "D*** in a Box"?  I think he was trying to bring that same sensibility to this feature film, but his video shorts on SNL are one thing.  If this film is any indication, they don't translate very well into feature films. 

Along with those SNL alums, there are cameos starring Ringo, Usher, Mariah, 50 Cent, Simon Cowell and other stars who all weigh in to give this mockumentary a real documentary feel.  Even Emma Stone shows up.

If you watch this film, hang in there until the end because the scene starring Michael Bolton is really funny.  He makes fun of himself and I didn't think he had that in him.

So with all of this star power helping Andy out, what happened?

I don't know.  I'm not a pop star.  I am old.  This movie was probably aimed more at teens and twenty-somethings, but let's just say I do really like parodies and satires, but I didn't laugh and that's my criteria for liking a comedy. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you aren't a pop star and you are over 30, you probably won't laugh either.

The Boy (2016)

A young American girl takes a job as a nanny for an English couple only to discover that their little boy is a doll.

Oh, but what a doll.  In the tradition of "Annabelle: Creation (a horror film currently in theatres)," and other demonic doll movies, the little boy is a doll who seems to come to life to terrorize our young nanny.

Relative unknowns star in this thriller/horror film that is heavy on atmosphere.  The Brits are very good at atmosphere.  It takes place in a creepy, creaky mansion and creepy, creaky mansions are always good for atmosphere.

When Greta Evans (Laura Cohan), a young girl from Montana, arrives in London at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle), they are not at home and she is told by the maid to wait.  While waiting, she hears a noise coming from upstairs and in true horror movie fashion, she has to investigate, right? 

Who does that?  You arrive at your new job in someone's home, you are told to wait but instead you wander around their house?  Greta, where are your manners?

As she is snooping around, she is startled by a handsome young guy, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who is delivering groceries.  Gee, I wonder where that's going to lead?

When Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire return home, they introduce Greta to Brahms, their little boy.  When Greta realizes that "the boy" is a doll, she starts to laugh (those manners again, Greta!) until she realizes this is no joke.  She is going to be a nanny for a doll.

Mrs. Heelshire gives Greta the routine to follow for Brahms:

  • Wake him at seven and dress him
  • Three hours of lessons - "Read in a loud, clear voice."
  • Music
  • Put him to bed
Then the Heelshire's tell Greta that they are going on a vacation and leaving her alone with Brahms.


Before they leave, Mr. Heelshire says to Greta: "Be good to him and he will be good to you" followed by some ominous music.


Now Greta not only doesn't have very good manners, she is not much of a nanny either. When alone with Brahms, she puts him in a chair but becomes so creeped out by him that she throws a blanket over him, starts drinking wine and falls asleep.


Methinks Miss Greta has missed little Brahms' bed time.

When Greta wakes up, she notices that the blanket she threw over Brahms is now on the floor and again, creeped out, she picks Brahms up and throws him in a room. Let's say she basically does not follow the rules in caring for Brahms.

At that point, I went "Oooh, Greta, not smart."

And I was right. 

And there's more.

When Greta calls her sister, Sandy, we discover that Greta has an abusive ex-husband who is looking for her. I have a feeling we are going to see the ex-husband at some point too.

So poor Greta.  An abusive doll AND an abusive husband.

Remember Malcolm, that guy delivering the groceries?  Well, he tells her the story. The real Brahms died in a fire 20 years ago when he was eight, and after that, the doll showed up. But let's forget about Brahms. Malcolm asks Greta to go on a date with him and she accepts and they plan to get together later in the day.

In the meantime, Greta notices the stairs to the attic are down and, now I ask you?  Would you go up into a dark attic when you are staying all alone in a spooky house with a creepy doll?  But yes, she goes up into the attic - "Hello?  Is anybody here?" - and, of course, she gets locked in the attic where she discovers memorabilia and pictures of Brahms.  Then the stairs mysteriously come down again, and when she gets back to her room, it's all torn up and she finds Brahms sitting on the bed with the rules next to him.

When Malcolm returns, she finds out more about little Brahms and that the real Brahms wasn't such a good little boy.

After a series of strange events, Greta starts to believe that the spirit of Brahms really does live in the doll, and she is somehow mesmerized by him and starts taking care of him and also basically starts to lose it.  Is she going crazy?

And if all of that wasn't bad enough...

Yes, Greta was running from an abusive ex-husband who inconveniently shows up and then all hell breaks loose. And guess what - the Heelshires weren't really on vacation!

Cohan and Evans are an engaging couple and Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle are excellent character actors and it all adds up to good horror fun, if a little on the wimpy side.

Directed by William Brent Bell and written by Stacey Menear, this is one of those horror films that relies on people and things popping out and making you jump. There is also a big twist at the end that is actually really over the top, and I mean really so over the top that it's laughable and could catapult this film into cult classic status.

Rosy the Reviewer far as horror films go, this plays more like a Lifetime movie, so if you like horror but are kind of wimpy about horror, this one's for you.

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

189 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Masculin Feminin (1966)

Through a series of vignettes, we see a romance between two young Parisians unfold - 1960's style.

Director Jean-Luc Godard is a French writer and director associated with the French New Wave film movement of the 1960's and one of its most radical and influential.  In 2002, the British film magazine "Sight and Sound" listed him number three in their ten most influential film directors of all time.  His films have inspired Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and other film directors.

And now I have to confess...I don't get it. 

Or maybe I should say I don't get him.  I find his films a bit difficult.  He is one of those directors who likes to linger his camera on a face and let the dialogue and action happen around it, never leaving his subject's face.  In fact, some of his devices seem forced, as if he is presenting something just to present something different. 

The film begins with Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud) striking up a conversation with Madeleine (Chantal Goya) in a café, and through a series of 15 vignettes, or chapters, all with strange, unfathomable titles, their relationship grows.  He is just out of the military and in a job he hates and she wants to be a singer. At the end of the first vignette, a man and a woman in the café start fighting. The man runs out and the woman shoots him.  See what I mean?  What?  Never explained. Later, out of the blue, a guy gets stabbed in front of our characters.  Again, never explained.  Godard also ends each scene with the action continuing, but in complete silence or with some narration by Paul or Madeleine or maybe a political slogan.

But the title explains it all.  Masculine?  Feminine?  We don't have a clue about each other.  We are basically at odds.  Men and women are different.  Duh.  I knew that already.  The characters all like to read to each other or talk at each in political slogans, a device that appears to show the lack of communication between men and women, not to mention the vacuousness of the very young.

Madeline is your typical swinging 60's young girl with the bangs and the mini-skirt.  She is also a bit of an airhead.  Paul is morose and existential with a sort of crazed look when he settles his gaze.  All very 60's.  All very shallow. They and their friends dabble in politics and philosophy but don't seem to be going anywhere.  But I guess that's the point Godard is trying to make, and I would also guess that this movie had more resonance in the 60's than it would have today.

One fun element:  If you watch carefully, you will catch a quick glimpse of Bridget Bardot sitting in a café.  I have a good eye for these things.  I checked IMDB later and yes, it was she, in an uncredited cameo.

Why it's a Must See: "Godard conceived this an unempathetic, sociological investigation.  Its view of gender roles verges on the misanthropic: Girls are empty glamor-bunnies, would-be pop stars, pawns of a consumerist society; boys are posturing, graceless, wannabe revolutionaries. All their stated ideals seem as empty and transient as their intimate relationships...And yet there remains something affecting, the fleeting residue of Godardian poetry..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...all very French, all very 60's, all very incomprehensible and boring.
(b & w, in French with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (2017)

When the first fire started on the night of November 12, 2012, no one thought anything of it.  After all, it was an abandoned house.  But by the time there were 67 fires, the residents of Accomack County were scared.

Accomack County, Virginia, is part of what's known as the Eastern Shore, a small peninsula separated from the rest of the state by the Chesapeake Bay.  It stretches only 14 miles at its widest spot but covers hundreds of square miles altogether.  The northern border is Maryland and a gas station there called Dixieland marks the entrance to Accomack with a big sign that says "The South Starts Here."

The Eastern shore was once a prosperous agricultural area.  Still very rural, everybody knows everybody.  There are the "Born Heres," which is self explanatory and then there are the "Come Heres," those people who moved to Accomack and have no real history there.  Like many rural areas in the United States, Accomack County was fading. Not many jobs, not much to do.

Charlie Smith was a Born Here and he was also a bit of a loser, a petty criminal and drug user.  He also wasn't too smart and he knew it, but people liked him because he meant well.  Things just didn't seem to work for poor Charlie.  Tonya Bundick was also a Born Here, but had had a troubled youth and left Accomack for a time but when she returned she had changed.  She was confident and beautiful and liked to dress up and dance at Shuckers, the local bar.  Somehow, Charlie and Tonya found each other, a perfect example of two opposites attracting, and the two fell in love and together they were a fiery combination - literally!  How did these two get away with setting all of those fires for so long?

Though we know early on who the arsonists are, Hesse skillfully moves the narrative along in a way that keeps you wanting to know:  Why?

But this story is more than the story of an ill-fated love story, arson and crime.  It also serves as a metaphor for America's changing landscape.

"All of these fires could have happened only in Accomack, a place with empty, abandoned buildings, prominently signally a fall from prosperity... Except maybe it could have happened in Iowa, heart of the heartland, where rural citizenry has been decreasing for the past century.  Maybe in southern Ohio, where emptying factories led to emptying towns.  Maybe in eastern Oregon, where rural counties had aged themselves almost out of existence.  Maybe it could have happened anywhere."


"By the numbers Accomack could look like a desolate place to live...But...To residents, statistics could not account for the deep feeling of belonging that came from being able to find your surname in three hundred year old county records.  They couldn't account for how clean the air felt and how orange the sun was setting over Chesapeake Bay...So much of life is intangible, and places don't feel like they're disappearing to the people who are living there..."

"[There are] endless metaphors for a dying county in a changing landscape.  There were endless metaphors that went the opposite way, too; rural life as a fairy tale, better than the rest of the country.  The reality is probably somewhere in between.  The people who lived in Accomack were happy to live in Accomack.  It wasn't small, it was close-knit.  It wasn't backward, it was simple.  There weren't a hundred things to do every night, but if you went to the one available thing, you were pretty much guaranteed to run into someone you knew.  As economies change, as landscapes change, nostalgia is the only good America will never stop producing."

This is a well-researched true crime story, but it's also well-written and compelling.  Unlike many true crime nonfiction books, Hesse doesn't overly dwell on the trial itself, which sometimes can bog down the story.  What is of interest in these kinds of books are the people and what compelled them to do what they did.  Hesse does an excellent job of developing the characters and pulling us along with their stories.

Rosy the Reviewer of the best true crime books this year.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 
for my review of  
"Wind River"


 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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