Friday, August 31, 2018

"The Happytime Murders" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "The Happytime Murders" as well as DVDs "Permanent" and "Please Stand By."  The Book of the Week is "Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult" by Catherine Oxenburg.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Once Upon a Time in the West."]

The Happytime Murders

When the puppet cast of a popular 80's TV show start getting murdered one by one, an ex-cop turned detective takes on the case.  He's also a puppet.

I judge a comedy on whether I laugh or not and in spite of myself I did actually laugh out loud a couple of times.  I say in spite of myself because my first choice of comedy is not necessarily one where puppets spout the F-bomb and have sex. What did make me laugh at times were the pop culture references, the "gruesome" puppet crime scenes (lots of stuffing!) and the film noir tropes that are woven into the film.

Melissa McCarthy as human detective Connie Edwards actually plays second fiddle to a puppet, Detective Phil Phillips (voice of Bill Barretta).  Edwards and Phillips were partners on the LAPD until Phil froze during a hostage standoff with a puppet bad guy and missed his shot, shooting an innocent bystander by mistake. He was accused of not being able to shoot another puppet thus making it impossible for any other puppets to become police officers.  Since then he has become a hard-boiled detective.

He is approached by sex pot puppet, Sandra (voice of Dorien Davies), who wants Phil to find out who is blackmailing her.  As he works on the case, puppets from a popular 80's TV show, "The Happytime Gang," one of which is Phil's brother, start getting killed off and Phil teams back up with his old partner, Connie, and the two try to track down the killer.

The film makes use of film noir tropes - hard boiled detective, mysterious curvy femme fatale needing a detective's help, deadpan voice-over narration, sleazy underworld and lots of smoking.  The film is also a marvel of puppetry and if you stay for the outtakes at the end, you get a feel for just what goes into creating a believable world peopled by puppets.

Phil plies his trade in a world where puppets are second-class citizens, giving the film a chance to make some timely comments about racial discrimination though it certainly could have gone further with that.  And that is what is ultimately wrong with this film.  It just doesn't have much to say.

McCarthy doesn't have much to do here either except swear at Phil but Maya Rudolph, as Phil's human secretary, is always a fun addition to a film. But what was Elizabeth Banks doing in this film? Not much as it turns out.

Written by Todd Berger and directed by Jim Henson's son Brian, don't think you are going to see Elmo or any cuddly puppets here. This is more "Avenue Q" than "Sesame Street." These are foul-mouthed puppets who drink, smoke, do drugs and have sex ejaculating Silly String all over the place, so this is decidedly not a film for the kids.

Rosy the Reviewer can skip this one unless your idea of fun is puppets having swearing and having sex.

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


Permanent (2017)

Thirteen-year-old Aurelie (Kira McLean) is having trouble fitting in a school and it doesn't help when she gets a bad permanent.

This is a comedy about teen angst and... hair.  

It's 1982. Aurelie is a young awkward who is starting at a new school and feels ugly.  When she complains to her mother, Jeanne (Patricia Arquette) that she wants to be beautiful, her mother, being the practical type, tells her that "Beautiful is a lot of work." But Aurelie thinks that having lovely soft ringlets would change her life.  She begs her mom and dad, Jim (Rainn Wilson), to get her a permanent but money is tight so instead of taking her to a salon they take her to a beauty school where her permanent turns into a huge head of curls that looks more like Barbra Streisand in "A Star is Born," than Shirley Temple.

So now she has to go to a new school with this huge head of hair which doesn't help her popularity any and she is mercilessly bullied. She makes friends with Lydia (Nena Daniels), who appears to be the only black student in the school but it's an uneasy friendship because Lydia doesn't trust anyone. She has hair issues, too, it turns out but what the film tries to do with that comes too little too late.

Aurelie's Mom and Dad are not much help either. They have their own problems. Jim used to be a flight steward for Air Force One in D.C. but has left that job and moved the family to a small town so he can go back to school.  He is unhappy to learn that part of his requirement for graduation is that he spend a certain amount of time in the pool and must show that he can swim and dive.  This is not a good thing for Jim because he wears a toupee.

Jeanne is a waitress at a Kentucky Fried Chicken type restaurant and is sexually frustrated mostly because Jim doesn't want to mess up his carefully arranged "hair."  She is obsessed with sea mammals and is happy to discover one night sounds of dolphins mating coming from the house next door.  She strikes up a friendship with the old guy next door who also turns out to be a family counselor.

When I was young getting a permanent was a rite of passage for little girls except in my case, unlike Aurelie, I wasn't the one who wanted a permanent.  It was my mother.  She thought my hair was too straight, which I guess wasn't considered a good thing in the 1950's.  That's what Shirley Temple did to us back then.  Our mothers wanted us to look like her.  But like Aurelie and many young girls, I was obsessed with my hair too, trying to make myself look like the models in "Seventeen Magazine."  Remember when the magazines would publish pictures of how to set your hair to look like the models?  I would try that, sleep on those hard plastic curlers and wake up looking more like Phyllis Diller than Twiggy.

McLean is a sweet presence in the film but, though it's mostly about her, she strangely plays second fiddle to the antics of Arquette and Wilson.

According to this movie, school is a hell hole and families are very very strange which could be true for most of us.  Sometimes you watch movies and wonder how and why a particular movie got made.  This is one of those.  Written and directed by Colette Burson, this is a very quirky indie film about very quirky people but also could be how school, families and life look to thirteen-year-old girls.  Maybe the point of this film was to make us all feel grateful that our families are not this strange. Or maybe the film was just about hair.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I didn't really like this movie or get the point, but I will give it props for not being predictable.

Please Stand By (2017)

Wendy (Dakota Fanning), a young autistic woman, runs away from her group home to L.A. to submit her manuscript for a "Star Trek" writing competition.

Yet another quirky indie film, but this one I really liked.

Autism takes on many forms and exists on a long spectrum.  Wendy's takes the form of not being able to deal with loud noises or frustrations which in turn cause her to have tantrums. Autistic people may not be what we associate with "socially normal," but their inner lives are usually rich and focused.  In Wendy's case, she is focused "Star Trek" and is writing a script with "Star Trek" characters. She lives in a group home in San Francisco and works at Cinnabon.  She has a caregiver, Scottie (Toni Collette), who reminds Wendy of her schedule each day and what she needs to remember to keep her life calm. "Please stand by" is the phrase Scottie uses when Wendy starts to lose it. Wendy really wants to live with her sister, Audrey (Alice Eve), who has a new baby but Audrey is still afraid of Wendy's rages, especially since she has a new baby, and doesn't trust that Wendy can cope living in the outside world.

Wendy is working on a 500 page script for a "Star Trek" movie and discovers that Paramount Studios is conducting a contest for the best "Star Trek" script with a prize of $100,000.  Wendy sees this as a way to leave the group home and live with her sister but the script has to reach L.A. by a certain time and mailing it won't get it there on time so she heads for L.A.  When Scottie and Audrey discover Wendy missing they are in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, Wendy has the usual fish-out-of-water adventures that you would expect from a person who has been sheltered from the world.  She gets kicked off a bus in the middle of nowhere when her little dog, Pete, is discovered, something I don't think would really ever happen but we need to give Wendy some things to overcome.  She encounters a woman and a baby at a deserted gas station and she offers Wendy a ride but when Wendy gets back from the restroom she discovers they have stolen her money.  But later through the kindness of strangers, one of whom was Rose, an elderly lady played by a particularly lovely Marla Gibbs (good to see her again!), Wendy makes her way to L.A. 

Written by Martin Golamco (based on his play) and directed by Ben Lewin, this movie is a little gem. And you don't have to be a "Star Trek" fan to enjoy it.  Dakoka Fanning is very believable without going overboard as the autistic Wendy.  Toni Colette is also believable as her caregiver.  She has a warmth about her and comes across as someone who really cares.

There is a great scene when runaway Wendy is spotted by some L.A. cops and Officer Frank (Patton Oswalt) just happens to also be a "Star Trek" fan and speaks Klingon (as many "Star Trek" fans do, I guess) and is able to calm Wendy down thus highlighting what a good symbol "Star Trek" was for this film, especially Spock with his half human, half alien persona and his difficulty dealing with emotions.

I discovered this film through watching some trailers of other films and I don't usually recommend that method because often the trailer is the best thing about a movie. You have to kiss a lot of film frogs doing that but sometimes you get a Prince of a film like this.

Rosy the Reviewer I said, a little gem of a film.

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

128 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

A mysterious man with a harmonica, a notorious desperado, a ruthless assassin and a beautiful woman all add up to an amazing horse opera.

It's all about the money as, Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti), a ruthless railroad tycoon who looks eerily like "The Phantom of the Opera," employs bad guys to kill the settlers so he can expand his railroad.  At the same time Charles Bronson is the harmonica carrying "no name" character who has his own mission: revenge. As the film progresses we discover the meaning of the harmonica and why he wants revenge. Jill (Claudia Cardinale), a prostitute with a heart of gold, has arrived in town to meet her new husband, Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family.  They met when Brett was in New Orleans.  She arrives only to discover that Brett and his children have been cold-bloodedly killed by Frank (Henry Fonda), the assassin employed by Morton.  However, Jill's arrival is something Morton didn't count on.  Now he has to try to figure out how to get the land from Jill. 

Henry Fonda is uncharacteristically the bad guy here, which was kind of fun. He is so bad he shoots little kids.  He is also sexy in a rough sort of way when he manhandles Jill.  I wasn't really sure what Jason Robards was supposed to be doing but he was ruggedly handsome as Cheyenne and that was good enough for me.  This was an early feature film for him after success on Broadway.

All of the bad guys get to make grand entrances with dramatic music and there are long camera shots with everyone looking guilty or shifty or scared. It all felt very Tarantino before Tarantino.

However, this film is almost three hours long and I don't think any film should be that long unless it's "Gone With the Wind," but I have to say it kept me going.  It's a big arty over-the-top western that feels operatic.  I've never seen so many close-ups in my life.  I mean CLOSE UP.  So close you can see the actors' pores.

I am usually not a big fan of westerns.  I think I overdosed on them in the fifties and sixties when westerns ruled TV - "Bonanza," "Have Gun Will Travel," "Gunsmoke."  My Dad was a huge western fan, probably because he wanted to be a cowboy himself, so we watched a LOT of westerns. I think another reason I don't like westerns is that it's mostly about men and it's a man's world, a place I don't really like to hang. But I have to say that I can understand how this film was a groundbreaking western when it came out so if I am going to like a western, it's this kind of western.  Director Sergio Leone pulls out all of the stops to make a very entertaining film with lots going on, great music, beautiful cinematography and sex!  I've never seen Henry Fonda so sexy!

Why it's a Must See: "With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points for both length and width."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if I am going to like a western, it's this kind of western.

***The Book of the Week***

Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult by Catherine Oxenberg (2018)

Actress Catherine Oxenberg (remember "Dynasty" and all of those 80's shoulder pads?) tries to save her daughter, India, from the clutches of the cult NXIVM.

You have probably heard all about this.  It was all over the news and Oxenberg was pivotal in exposing the group.  But here Oxenberg also shares the personal side of this story and how both she and her daughter got involved with Nxivm.  In fact it was Catherine's idea and no doubt there is quite a bit of guilt on Catherine's part about that.  

Oxenberg, who is the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and once played a princess herself ("The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana") as well as Amanda Carrington on "Dynasty," is an admitted self help junkie, having tried everything from rolfing to Tony Robbins training to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (you know, the guy the Beatles were into for a time). 

In 2011, Catherine heard about a leadership seminar for a new organization called NXIVM run by a mysterious leader, Keith Raniere, also known as Vanguard, whose followers touted that he had an IQ of 240 and held the key to a better world. Her twenty-year-old daughter, India, was starting a new company and Catherine thought this might help her.  She also saw their doing this together as a mother/daughter exercise. But it wasn't long before Catherine started to question the organization and their techniques.  Unfortunately, as she pulled away, India was pulled deeper and deeper into it.

Despite Catherine’s best efforts, India was drawn deeper into the cult, eventually joining a secret, elite “sorority” of women members who were ordered to maintain a very low calorie diet (Raniere liked skinny women), recruit other women as “slaves,” and were branded, like cattle, with their leader’s initials.

To save her daughter, Catherine went on a crusade to expose Nxivm, Keith Raniere and just what was going on in the group. Despite having signed a nondisclosure agreement, something all members had to do, Oxemburg takes the reader inside the cult.  She worked tirelessly to get her daughter out and her efforts, along with others, resulted in Raniere's arrest for sex traffiking and other charges.

It's a captivating story but also a frustrating one. Oxenberg describes herself early on as having problems with many of the group's tenets and at the same time she was speaking up at meetings and workshops, challenging the status quo and worrying about her daughter, SHE KEPT GOING TO THE MEETINGS!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if like me, you are intrigued with the whole notion of cults and how they operate, this is a compelling look inside.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 




 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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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

Friday, August 24, 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the rom-com "Crazy Rich Asians" as well as some Netflix fare: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" and "Like Father."  The Book of the week is a novel: "The Wife Between Us."  I also bring you up to date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Journey to Italy"]

Crazy Rich Asians

A romantic comedy that follows native New Yorker, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's family not realizing that they are not just rich, but CRAZY rich!

This film has taken some hits from haters because of the title, but this film could be called "Crazy Rich Greeks" or "Crazy Rich Brits," because it's not about rich Asians who are crazy, it's about people who are so rich they are CRAZY rich. And that is not just an Asian thing. And the themes of this story are not just Asian themes.  Fish-out-of water, family traditions, class and financial differences, jealousy, obstacles to love - these are all human experiences and emotions that transcend nationality and are relatable by everyone. You don't need to be of Asian descent to get this film and enjoy it. The film has also taken some hits for not highlighting a typical Asian experience but no movie tells everyone's story.  

Speaking of hits, this film has become a big hit of the summer and shows that there is a market for movies with an all Asian cast, something we haven't seen since "The Joy Luck Club."

Rachel Chu is a Chinese American and a professor of Economics at New York University.  She was born in the United States and raised in modest circumstances by a single mother who immigrated from China. Rachel is in love with Nick Young (Henry Golding), who is also a professor but who was born in Singapore and raised in London. But despite being raised in different countries, Rachel thinks that Nick is just a regular guy until Nick invites Rachel to travel to Singapore to attend his best friend's wedding and to meet his family and she learns that Nick's family is not just rich, they are CRAZY rich as in one of the top ten richest families in Asia. Nick is not just a regular guy. He is rumored to be in line to inherit it all. Rachel also learns that there is a great divide between being as Asian-American with an immigrant mother and an actual Asian, and Nick's mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), a controlling woman who is not happy about Nick having an American girlfriend, makes that very clear to Rachel.

But Rachel is optimistic and tries to make it work...until it doesn't. Because Eleanor is going to be damned if her Nick is going to marry an American with no money or status.

The film also tells a side story about Nick's cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), who is considered one of Asia's great beauties but whose marriage is in trouble because her husband, Michael (the hunky Pierre Png), is also a bit of an outsider and is troubled and insecure about his wife's wealth, a possible hint of what Rachel may have to deal with one day if she marries Nick.  

We also get to know Rachel's friend, Peik (the hilarious Awkwafina), who attended school with Rachel and who also comes from a rich family in Singapore, but her family is not CRAZY rich, though they are decidedly crazy, and they are new money which doesn't carry quite the cache as Nick's old money.  Even Peik is impressed with Nick's family's wealthy and prestige.  Peik and her Mom, Nina's (Chieng Mun Koh) and Dad, Wye's (Ken Jeong) over-the-top extravagant lifestyle (Nina has a gold toilet like Donald Trump's) and Americanisms are the comic highlights of the film.

While Nick attends a bachelor party, Rachel is invited to the Bachelorette party where she meets Amanda (Jing Lusi), one of Nick's ex's, who pretends to befriend her but who plans to make Rachel's stay a nightmare and it becomes clear to Rachel that she doesn't fit into this world.

This is your typical boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and after several twists and turns, gets girl again, but despite the fact we have seen movies like this many times before, the all Asian cast, the setting and the charisma of the actors saves it from being just another rom-com.  And it's not.  In fact, it's a great rom-com, the likes of which we haven't seen for a long time.  It reminded me of "Pretty Woman."  It's that good.  I loved it.

Written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim (based on the books by Kevin Kwan) and directed by Jon M. Chu, this is a much-needed, delightful romantic comedy that has everything you could want from a rom-com: good-looking charismatic lovers, some villains, some comedy, some drama, and some sentiment that will have you reaching for a hankie. And an all-Asian cast is a welcome addition to the genre.

Constance Wu is probably best known for her role in the TV show "Fresh off the Boat."  This marks her feature film debut and I predict more romantic leads for her.  Likewise, Henry Golding is a newcomer, more known for being a presenter on British TV than an actor, but after this film I predict he will be in high demand. He is one handsome guy.  Michelle Yeoh is the veteran, having been an international star since the 1980's - "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - but no sword fighting here, just looks that could kill.  She lives up to her acting cred. And Awkwafina and Ken Jeong are also outstanding for the humor they bring.

This film is romantic and fun but it's also important, not just for its Asian cast, but for the strong women characters and mother-daughter relationship.

Rosy the Reviewer of my favorite films of the year.  Don't miss it.  I even cried at the end.

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

Streaming on Netflix

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

During the Nazi occupation of Guernsey Island in WW II, an unlikely motley crew form a book club to outsmart the Nazis, and years later, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a young writer, travels to Guernsey to find out more about this unique club only to discover some sad secrets.

During the Nazi occupation of Guernsey Island during WW II, four Guernsey friends - Elizabeth McKenna 
(Jessica Brown Findlay), Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay), Isola Pribby (Katherine Parkinson) and Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) - are discovered out after curfew by some Nazi soldiers and must explain themselves. Thinking quickly, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is thought up on the spot.  You see, the Nazis were animals but they had a thing for culture and had encouraged the populace to pursue cultural activities, so the four were given a pass and their cover allowed them to get together on a regular basis where they actually did discuss books. But more than that, it was a few hours when they could all forget their troubles.  The four had not all known each other very well.  Elizabeth  was their connection and it is Elizabeth's story that forms a major part of the plot.

Fast forward to after the war. 

Juliet Ashton is living in London and writing and promoting her books. They are lighthearted affairs and she is looking for something more serious to write about. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a complete stranger to her and learns that he is a member of a curiously named book club - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Intrigued she plans a trip to Guernsey to write an article about the Society for The Times. Juliet is also working on some past emotional issues and has an American boyfriend, Mark (Glen Powell), who has just proposed and wants to take her to New York. He doesn't want her to go to Guernsey but she perseveres. She wants to travel to Guernsey first and find out about this strange book club.

When Juliet arrives in Guernsey, she meets Dawsey, Eben, Isola and Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton) along with young Eli (Kit Connor), Eben's grandson, the current members of the Society.  Elizabeth, who founded the group, is no longer in Guernsey and we soon learn why.  The drama turns to mystery as Juliet tries to discover what happened to Elizabeth.

And by the way, for those of you not immersed in British geography, Guernsey is part of the Channel Islands and yes, they are in the English Channel, just so you know. Watching this film, I decided I had to go there because it was so beautifully quaint but I learned that ironically the movie wasn't filmed there.  It was actually filmed mostly in Clovelly, Devon.  AND I'VE ALREADY BEEN THERE!

Through the course of her visit, Juliet learns what happened to each member of the group during the war, how the Society got its name and we get caught up in these people's lives and eventually find out what happened to Elizabeth. We also find out what happens to Juliet's engagement, something you will see coming a mile away. 

The Society provided "a private freedom" for the group and in addition to the old-fashioned story telling, this movie celebrates the power of books and reading. My mother always told me that if I read books I would never be alone and she was right.  

"Downton Abbey" fans will recognize both Lily James and Penelope Wilton, but if you are a fan of British TV and films, you will also recognize Tom Courtenay and other familiar British faces. James has made quite a name for herself since "Abbey," in the last three years having starred in "Cinderella," Mama Mia! Here We Go Again," "Darkest Hour," and "Baby Driver," all high profile films.  And that's no surprise as she has a sweet warmth and beauty that exudes from the screen.  She was destined to be a star.

Directed by Mike Newell who also directed "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and one of the Harry Potter films among others, this film was adapted from the novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer and is a delightful film.  My only criticism is that I wish the characters had been more developed. I didn't feel I really got to know them very well.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a fan of British romantic comedies with a literary bent, you will love this film.

Like Father (2018)

A driven career woman is jilted at the altar and decides to take her honeymoon anyway - with her estranged father.

Kristen Bell plays Rachel, a workaholic, who works right up to the moment of her wedding only to have her husband decide he can't handle marrying her when her cell phone falls out of her bouquet. So he bails.  But since she had already arranged to take two weeks off for her honeymoon cruise she decides to go anyway.  In the meantime, her estranged Dad, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), is in the audience at the wedding and the two spend a drunken evening reconnecting. Nothing like a little boozy evening to reconnect.

And guess what?  When she wakes up, she is on the cruise ship --- WITH HER DAD!

She is not happy. When you are drunk, you make bad decisions.

Turns out he wants to reconnect, and she doesn't, so they plan to get off in Jamaica but then they meet their table mates - a gay couple, a black couple and an old couple - and they all start to bond.  I guess that's what happens on cruise ships.  Rachel also meets Jeff played by Seth Rogan, and his being in this film makes sense since this film was written and directed by Rogan's wife, Lauren Miller.  Jeff is on the cruise with his sister because his wife has just left him and his sister wants to cheer him up.  Gee, I wonder what's going to happen there.

It's all very predictable but there is a reason why Kelsey Grammer had a hit TV show.  There is something about him that is compelling (even though I have a hard time forgiving him for cheating on and mistreating his ex-wife Camille, who I have come to know and like on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Don't judge.)  And I like Kristen Bell.  She is a charming young actress who brings a sunny personality to romantic comedies.

Though the film's heart is in the right place and wanted to say something about family relationships - estranged father and daughter find each other again - the film didn't really get there.

But here is something I really liked - this quote:

"Yesterday is the past.  Tomorrow is the future.  Today's a gift.  That's why they call it the present."

Awww. Isn't that cool?  I will remember that one.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a bit of fluff that tries to say something about family relationships but doesn't really say anything new though there are some fun moments.

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

129 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Journey to Italy (1954)
(Original Title: "Viaggio in Italia")

An unhappily married couple try to save their marriage on a trip to Naples.

When I was having marital troubles, I sought counseling and my therapist warned against going on a vacation to try to save the marriage.  It has something to do with suddenly being alone with your spouse, away from life's busy distractions and realizing you really don't like each other anymore.  We're what?  But how many times do married couples think they can save their marriage by going on a vacation?  

And how many movies have we seen where couples put their marriage to the test and after many twists and turns discover how much they really love each other? This genre is sometimes called the "comedy of remarriage," but here director Roberto Rossellini manages to avoid the cliches.  

Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex Joyce (George Sanders) are on their way to Naples to take possession of a villa that Katherine has inherited from her Uncle Homer.  During their road trip they share banalities but their faces disclose their unhappiness and boredom with their marriage, a scene that embodies something I so admire in films - let the pictures tell the story.  In wonderful films with great actors, things don't need to be spelled out for the viewer to understand what is happening and Rossellini does that very well in that small scene.  These are two people who are not used to being alone together anymore and who have become bored with each other. Eventually Katherine says that this is the first time since they married that they had been totally alone together and Alex replies, "Yes, I guess it is."  Then total silence...crickets.

When they arrive at Uncle Homer's house, we see that it is a palatial estate with a view of Vesuvius and in a small scene we see the clash of cultures and upper class vs. the lower class servants when Alex goes in search of more wine. But we also see where this marriage has gone as the two communicate through short blasts of sniping rather than trying to understand one another.

So the two decide to spend some time apart on this trip. Katherine drives herself to Naples to tour museums.  During those drives she talks to herself and we see that she doesn't like Alex very much.  Alex's interests lie more with flirting and night clubbing, which doesn't go down well with Katherine, and when 
Katherine talks about an old boyfriend that doesn't go down well with Alex, either. These two may be bored with each other but that doesn't mean they want someone else to have them. 

As time goes by, communication deteriorates and the marriage flounders and finally the two tell each other what they don't like about the marriage.  It looks like they will divorce until the two tour an excavation site at Pompeii and they observe the excavation of two bodies that look like lovers entwined and there is an epiphany. The bodies were lying in each other's arms when Vesuvius struck Pompeii.  Life is short.

Rosellini was married to Bergman and their getting together was a huge scandal when she left her doctor husband and children to run off with Rossellini in the 1950's. It was such a scandal that she was castigated on the floor of Congress and forced to stay in Europe for many years.  In this film, you can see how fascinated Rossellini was with her by how he filmed her. But one can't help but wonder if this film was also a commentary on the Bergman-Rossellini marriage four years in. 

Bergman was a beautiful actress but it was her luminousness and vulnerability on film that made her special and why she starred in some of the most iconic films of Hollywood's Golden Age.  She literally glowed and oozed off the screen. 

George Sanders was the consummate dapper dandy and cad.  Who can forget him in "All About Eve" putting the moves on Marilyn Monroe?  His character in films was always the same - smooth, suave, debonair, sophisticated, often villainous, and just so jaded and bored. In fact, in 1960 he published his memoirs - "Memoirs of a Professional Cad."  He killed himself in 1972 leaving a suicide note that read in part: "Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored..."  Ironically, in this film he yet again plays a bored sophisticate.

"I've never seen bored and noise go so well together," says Alex.

Nobody did bored like George even at the last moments of his life.

Why it's a Must See: "French director Jacques Rivette once wrote that [this film] 'opens a breach all cinema, on pain of death, must pass through.' 

---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

Rossellini is one of the greats of Italian neorealism in films and he has allowed me to save face when it comes to my film cred.  With my disliking Godard and Bresson, Rossellini's French contemporaries, I feel redeemed by my loving Rossellini's films.  Maybe I just get the Italians more than I get the French. Rossellini's films are dark and existential, but there is always that glimmer of hope.  Maybe that's why I like his films so much.

The film is also very much a love letter to Italy, almost a travelogue and history lesson as Katherine tours the museums and countryside. The statues seem almost alive and, even though the film is in black and white, the countryside is so beautiful and vivid it almost looks like fake backdrops.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a wonderful portrait of a troubled marriage and Post-war Italy. It's also a 1950's film that holds up very well today.  The film may have been made in 1954 but the emotions it evokes are very present day.

(Available on Amazon Prime)

***The Book of the Week***

The Wife Between Us: A Novel by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanan (2018)

Nellie is the soon-to-be wife and Vanessa is the jealous ex-wife.  Or are they?

This is one of those novels where I can't tell you very much because it will ruin the twists.  Let's just say that nothing is as it seems.

But here is what I can tell you:

In the first part of the novel, we get to know Vanessa who is divorced from Richard and not taking it very well.  She lives with her Aunt and drinks way too much.  She seems to be obsessed with Richard's soon-to-be-new-wife, following her around and calling her.  She comes across as the jealous ex-wife.
Then we meet Nellie who is about to marry Richard, who seems to be the perfect, sensitive, caring and considerate man. She is a preschool teacher and a waitress and Richard and she met on a plane.  She is young and beautiful but also insecure. She has her own issues and a mysterious past.  These two stories are told in alternating chapters. 
But remember what I said?  Nothing is as it seems.
In the second part of the novel, we get more background on Vanessa; we find out why Vanessa is so desperate to contact Richard's new bride-to-be; and what Richard is really like is revealed.

Rosy the Reviewer says...assume nothing in this page-turning thriller. It's all very "Gone Girl," so if you really liked that book, you will really like this one! 

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 


"The Happytime Murders"


 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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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.