Friday, August 30, 2019

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" as well as two documentaries streaming on Netflix - "The Legend of Cocaine Island" and "Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist."  The Book of the Week is "Save Me The Plums" by Ruth Reichl.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Cairo Station."]

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

It's what can happen if you don't follow your creative passions.

Maria Semple's book "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" was required reading for Seattlites because it takes place in Seattle, name-drops Seattle places of interest and is full of snarky but funny comments about Seattle.  Naturally, since I just spent 14 years there, I have read the book (and I reviewed it a couple of years ago) and was prepared to not like the film, because Seattle purists were already complaining about this film adapation so I had my reservations and I had a difficult time thinking how the film would work since the book is a series of letters and emails.  I also couldn't see Cate Blanchett as Bernadette either.  Bernadette was kind of a nut and I don't see Blanchett playing dippy types.  Maybe it's all of those queens she has played.  

But I try not to compare books and films because I see each as a separate art work, and you know what?  Those Seattle purists and I were wrong.  I really liked the film.  Whether you think writer/director Richard Linklater was faithful to the book or not, the film stands on its own as a fine film experience.

Bernadette Fox lives in a crumbling mansion in Seattle with her husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup), a tech guy who works at Microsoft (of course) and her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson).  Bernadette is a transplant from California and hasn't made the transition well.  She suffers from anxiety but also doesn't suffer fools so she is in a war of sorts with the other mothers at her daughter's school and with her neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), over the blackberry bushes that are growing down the hill and impinging on Audrey's property.  As Seattlites know, blackberries take over everything and are a constant nuisance. That's also how Bernadette feels about her neighbor, Audrey.  Bernadette rarely leaves her house, so she has a virtual personal assistant in India named Manjula and delegates most of her tasks to him. More on him later.

Bee reminds her parents that she had been promised anything she wanted if she got a perfect report card, and since she did, announces that she wants to go to Antarctica.  Bernadette's first response is no because Bernadette doesn't even want to leave the house but after some thought she acquieses.  But before the family trip can take place Bernadette's husband is visited by the FBI.  Turns out Manjula is a Russian scammer and Bernadette has been giving him all of their personal financial information.  Likewise, Bernadette has indulged in some very nutty behavior and her life seems to be falling apart, so Elgin sets up an intervention of sorts to get Bernadette some help.  Bernadette may be nutty, but she's not dumb so when she excuses herself to use the bathroom, out the window she goes and disappears.

It is now Bee's mission to find her mother.  And that's when Bee discovers her mother was once a famous architect, and we learn how Bernadette ended up in Seattle as a middle-aged, anonymous misanthrope, with no real purpose in life, having lost her creative spark.

So where did Bernadette go?  And what will happen to her?

Director Linklater, who is a favorite of mine, also wrote the screenplay with Holly Gent and Vince Palmo, and it's a fairly faithful adaptation from Semple's book as far as the story itself is concerned, except Semple's device of using letters and emails to illustrate Bee's and Elgin's search for Bernadette is absent. Also some of the humor of the book, especially about Seattle, was lost because the book had a kind of wacky feel to it with Bernadette complaining about Seattle A LOT in the book, but as a stand alone film I still think this works just fine. I mean people who don't live in Seattle would hardly get half of the humor in the snarky Seattle bits.

Billy Crudup is an interesting actor.  I first noticed him in the 90's and especially loved "Waking the Dead (2000)."  He was a handsome young leading man and a good actor, and I thought he would be right up there with a Tom Cruise or other superstar of the day, but he never reached that status which I don't really understand but glad to see him here. In fact, I see him everywhere now. And he is a nice looking mature actor as well.  I am still on the fence about whether or not I buy Kristen Wiig as a serious actress.  She still has some of those SNL mannerisms, so even though she is playing a serious part, I often don't know whether to laugh or not. Young Emma as Bee is charming, but it was Blanchett's performance that was a revelation to me which made me wonder why I didn't think she could do anything.  Now I know she can.  I believed her as Bernadette. 

Rosy the Reviewer enjoyable and inspiring film that reminds us it's never too late to find ourselves.

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

Streaming on Netflix

The Legend of Cocaine Island (2018)

An urban legend leads some knuckleheads on the hunt for buried treasure.

In this case, the "treasure" is $2,000,000 worth of cocaine.

Florida businessman, Rodney Hyden, heard the story of Julian Archer who supposedly pulled a bag out of the water off the Puerto Rican island of Culebra, which turned out to be 70 pounds of coke.  Julian didn't know what to do with it, so he buried it - makes sense, right? - and that's where it has been for 15 years.  When builder Rodney Hyden heard this story he thought finding that bag of coke was the answer to his problems.  It was the recession and his building business wasn't going anywhere.  He had had to downsize from his mansion to a double-wide trailer and didn't like this alteration of his lifestyle at all.  So when he finds out about that bag of cocaine, he thinks that's the answer to his problems.

"If you knew where $2,000,000 was buried in the ground, wouldn't you dig that shit up?"

Eh, sure.

So Rodney comes up with a plan and gets involved with a drug dealer to sell the cocaine, a drug traffiker with a plane to help him transport the drugs and a kid who's not all there to go with him to dig it up, but turns out he is also talking to some undercover cops.  Uh-oh. 

Is there really a bag of cocaine waiting for a ding bat to come and dig it up?  Will the ding bat, I mean, Hyden, find it?

Directed and produced by Theo Love, this film was a hit at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and continues Netflix's dominance with original and entertaining documentaries. It has its issues as a film, but it's still a fun experience.  And Hyden is a hoot.  He even plays himself in the reenactments!

Ever since the story of the Loud Family on PBS years ago, I have been a documentary junkie. I wrote a blog post about some of my favorites ("15 Must See Documentaries"), and this one is right up there!

Rosy the Reviewer says... there are so many crazy twists and turns and zany characters in this film that it feels like a comedy of errors rather than a documentary but it's a fun film experience.

Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018)

The story behind the infamous "pizza bomber."

I'm sure you remember this story.  In 2003, Brian Wells, a pizza delivery man by trade, walked into a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania wearing a bomb collar and robbed the bank.  When he was apprehended, the police discovered he had a bomb around his neck.  He told the police he was forced to do the robbery and he only a certain amount of time to find the insturctions on getting the bomb off of his neck.  Unfortunately, while the police held Wells at bay trying to decide what to do, the bomb went off - and brace yourself. Footage of that is in the film and it's grisly, not to mention the description of what was done to Wells' body to preserve the collar bomb after he died.

As the story unfolds in this four part mini-series, we meet Bill Rothstein and Marjorie Diel-Armstrong, two highly intelligent people but also two wack jobs.  Rothstein had contacted the police because he had a frozen body in his freezer.  Yes, you heard me.  He then tells the police that the man in the freezer was killed by Marjorie Diel-Armstrong, a woman Rothstein had been involved with for years, and from there a complicated story featuring Marjorie's life and a cast of shady characters emerges. 

Through the use of archival footage and interviews with this strange bunch of characters, we learn that many were hoarders, many were mentally ill and almost all of them were evil. How did they all figure in that bank robbery? Did Wells willingly participate?   How did it all add up to a bank robbery and a bomb victim?

Directed by Barbara Schroeder and Trey Borzillieri, the film focuses mostly on Marjorie Diel-Armstrong who started out in life as a smart, attractive woman but ended up mentally ill but with a fascinating ability to get people to bend to her will.  Even director Borzillieri, who narrates the film and who actually formed a sort of connection with her, felt that pull. 

This is a fascinating tale that is not entirely satisfying because it was never clear whether or not Brian Wells was in on this grisly plan to rob a bank, but the filmmakers make a stab at it though we will never know for sure.  Rothstein died in 2004 and Diel-Armstrong died in 2017.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a perfect example of life being stranger than fiction. If you like "Dateline" and true crime, you will like this,

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

64 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Cairo Station (1958)

An Egyptian newspaper seller develops an unhealthy obsession with a woman who sells lemonade on the trains.

A newsstand owner in the Cairo train station finds a young man in the street.  The young man, Qinawi (Youssef Chahine), is lame, and mocked by workers in the station.  The newsstand owner takes pity on him and gives him a job selling newspapers.  Qinawi is slightly retarded and is also obsessed with Hannuma (Hind Rustum), a beautiful woman who sells drinks to passengers on the trains.  When she rejects him, Qinawi's obsession turns deadly.

Directed by Chahine, who also plays the part of Qinawi, the film is a combination of Italian Neorealism and good old-fashioned Hollywood film noir with all of its accompanying tropes - moody black and white photography, a provocative woman, dramatic music, sex, knives, even a strait jacket . I found this film not only fascinating but quite shocking in its themes for a 1958 film set in a Muslim country.  It explores what can happen in a sexually repressed society where marriage is the only option for sex and when women are not only objects of desire, but blamed for the ills of the world or in this case the reason our poor Qinawi can't get laid, which also resonates today with the spate of shootings by angry young white guys who can't get laid.  

The film also features the beautiful Hind Rustum in all of her sexual glory (she was called the "Marilyn Monroe of Arabia") and a reminder that not all Middle Eastern countries have a repressive dress code for women.  Yes, Egypt is a Muslim country but there is no requirement for women to cover themselves from head to toe or even cover their heads.  However, that doesn't mean a woman shouldn't dress modestly.  She should or run the risk of unwanted attention from men, something that never seems to change no matter where you live.

Why it's a Must See: "With the arrival of [this film], it was as if cinema had been reborn...[it] is vivid and moving, precise in its portrayals, original both as a creation of a single individual and as the embodiment of a secular culture, one that is so close and yet so different to that of the West."

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

Originally rejected by Egyptian audiences when it was released in 1958, the film was "lost" for many years but when found was hailed as a masterpiece and still holds up today, almost 60 years later.

Rosy the Reviewer says...finally...a film that I actually needed to see before I died.  It's a great film.
(b & w, in Arabic with English Subtitles - available on Fandor through Amazon Prime)

***The Book of the Week***

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl (2019)

Yet another fascinating book from food writer and restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl.  This time she shares her adventures as the Editor in Chief at Gourmet Magazine.

I have read all of Ruth Reichl's books because I love food and restaurants.  But I also love really good writers, and as I read this book, I was reminded of what a wonderful writer Reichl is.  Whether she is talking about food or chefs or sharing recipes or just sharing anecdotes about her life, she does it in a warm and approachable way that is a joy to read.  Her descriptions are wonderful.

In 1999, when Conde Nast offered Reichl their top position at Gourmet (magazine), Reichl was the restaurant critic for The New York Times and did not see herself as any kind of manager.  I mean, she had been a former Berkeley hippie and was happy doing what she was doing.  But she also had a soft spot for Gourmet and was sad that it had become a fuddy duddy magazine aimed more at snobby rich folks than inspiring ordinary people to cook.  So against her better judgment she took the plunge and learned some things about herself.

"When I'd contemplated the job I'd worried about the burden of being a boss, afraid the staff would fear and resent me.  But now I saw that there was another side to that coin: Nothing feels as good as building a team and empowering people, watching them grow and thrive."

This is her story about her time at Gourmet and the challenges she faced right up until the magazine folded in 2009. Sadly, magazines are going the way of the dinosaurs. 

And it wouldn't be a Ruth Reichl book without wonderful anecdotes about food and cooking and, of course, recipes (Along with Frances Mayes, Reichl was the first to include recipes in her memoirs)! I look forward to making her "Spicy Chinese Noodles" and "Thanksgiving Turkey Chili."

Rosy the Reviewer of my favorite writers. Keep 'em coming, Ruth!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"David Crosby: Remember My Name"


The Week in Reviews

(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at 

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 23, 2019

"Blinded by the Light" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Blinded by the Light" as well as DVDs "Her Smell" and "Ash is Purest White."  The Book of the Week is "A Paris Year" by Janice MacLeod.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Vidas Secas" (Barren Lives)]

Blinded by the Light

In 1987 England, a young man finds his voice after discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen.

The racism that immigrants are facing today around the world is nothing new.  This film, set during the 1980's Thatcher government in the U.K. when people were out of work and experiencing a crushing recession and the National Front with its jackbooted thugs roamed the cities doling out punishment to anyone who wasn't white, brings that statement home.  

But that is just the background of this film which is an unabashed love letter to the power of music with Bruce Springsteen as its centrepiece (notice my spelling?  I am a Brit at heart).

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a Pakistani teen who dreams of getting out of Luton, his working class town, where he lives with his dominant father (Kulvinder Ghir), subservient mother (Meera Ganatra) and sisters, Yasmeen (Tara Divina) and Shazia (Nikita Mehta).  He is a shy guy who has no girlfriend, and even if he did, his father wouldn't allow it.  Javed can't even go to a party.  He dreams of becoming a writer but so far mostly writes lyrics for his best friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), who has a George Michael-type rock band and dresses like him.  I mean it's the 1980's, after all.  Nobody is listening to Bruce Springsteen anymore.  That's music for your Dad!

And Javed also experiences the indignities of racism - called a Paki (the equivalent of the "N" word for Pakistanis); roughed up by white supremacist thugs; little kids urinating through the letterbox. Add to that Javed's father losing his job and his mother having to take in more work, sewing from dawn to dusk.  Welcome to Margaret Thatcher's England.

However, one day at school Roops, a Sikh classmate, gives Javed some Springsteen cassettes (remember those?) and all of a sudden Javed's world opens up.  In the albums "Born in the U.S.A." and "Darkness at the Edge of Town," Javed finds Bruce speaking directly to him and saying everything Javed feels.  Javed starts dressing like Bruce, fills his room with Bruce posters and he memorizes every lyric, and in so doing, starts to get the confidence to not only talk to a girl he is attracted to (Nell Williams), but to stand up to the white supremicist bullies.  He also gets the courage to share his poems with his supportive English teacher (Hayley Atwell) and to eventually stand up to his Dad.

The film, directed by Gurinder Chadha, who is best known for directing the 2002 film "Bend it Like Beckham," which did for women and soccer what this film does for fanboys and music, is a marvel.  Not sure why this is only Chadha's sixth feature film directorial effort since her first in 1993, but all I can say is we need more from her. I remember being blown away by "Bend it Like Beckham," but this film?  

My favorite of the year so far.

Written by Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor
a journalist and major Bruce fan who saw over 150 of his concerts (it's based on his book "Greetings from Bury Park: Race. Religion. Rock 'n' Roll), this film has everything I love in a movie:
  • Engaging actors
  • A delightful story
  • Wonderful music
  • A message
  • Innovation (lyrics swirl around the screen and a fantasy wind storm erupts to illustrate Javed's inner world as he discovers Bruce)
  • Layers of meaning

You could see this film many times and every time find something new to love.

And you don't need to be a Springsteen fan to love this film, but it helps.  Chadha weaves his songs into the film in just the right way - "Dancing in the Dark" shows Javed looking at himself in the mirror feeling lost; he stands up to the bullies to the sound of "Badlands; "Prove it all Night" gets him the kiss from the girl of his dreams and "Born to Run" captures the sheer exuberance of music and plays out like a wonderful music video.

One can't help but compare this film to "Yesterday," which also takes place in the U.K., stars an Asian actor, where music plays a big role (The Beatles) and features dancing in the street, but Javed didn't need to get bonked on the head to find his mission in life.  All he needed was Bruuuuuuce!

This film highlights the power of music and the meaning and emotion it has for a young fan.  It brought back many memories of my own fangirl days, but for me it was the Beatles! They changed my young life just as The Boss changed Javed's. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...but young or old, you will love this movie - it will make you glad you are alive! And don't miss the end credits where you can meet "the real Javed" and his family.

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


Her Smell (2018)

A self-destructive punk rocker is on the road to hell.

Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) is, well, something, as in a great big mess of a something.  Her story is told through five different periods of her life beginning with some home movie footage of her band, Something She, a 1990's punk band, performing in clubs and appearing on magazine covers. 

But when we meet Becky in person she has just finished a show and is backstage working with her personal shaman and hanging out with her bandmates, her ex-husband, Dan (Dan Stevens - remember Matthew Crawley?), her manager, Howard (Eric Stoltz - where has he been?), and her little girl.  It's apparent that she and her band are already on a downward spiral.  She is in such bad shape, that when she grabs her little infant daughter, she ends up falling on her face.  

Several months later, when Becky is in the studio trying to record, the band is disfunctional and it doesn't help that Howard introduces them to a new and younger band, Akergirls. When you are on top, there is always someone coming up behind you nipping at your heels.  

Time passes and the tables have turned.  Akergirls have become famous and Becky is now opening for them as she continues on her downward spiral.  Several years later, Becky is sober and her daughter, Tama (Daisy Pugh-Weiss), is a young girl now living with her Dad. Becky may be sober but she is now afraid to leave her house and her life is still chaotic and her relationships have all fizzled. Her daughter doesn't even remember living with her. This is as much a story of the damage someone like Becky can cause others as it is about her own self-destruction. 

But then she gets another shot.  Will she take it?

Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, this the classic story of a rock and roller on a destructive path as her career goes downhill.  The film has a documentary, home movie feel with a wobbly camera, odd camera angles, and many, many close-ups of Moss and her smeared lipstick. 

Speaking of Moss, she is on a roll.  She is everywhere these days from "Us" to "A Handmaid's Tale" to her latest film "The Kitchen."  You name it, she's in it.  This is a tour de force for Moss who is in practically every scene and she gives it her all, but her as a Courtney Love type punk rocker was kind of a stretch for me. And speaking of Courtney Love, I actually thought Her Smell was going to be the name of the band in the film, which would have been right up there with Hole, vying for one of the most cringeworthy band names of all time.  So I was glad it wasn't.

Having just seen "Blinded by the Light," I couldn't help but think of that one while watching this one. They are both films about rock and roll, but this one is about as far away as you can get from "Blinded by the Light (see review above)." Where "Blinded" is joyous and meaningful and shares the story of a young man on his way up and out, this film is bleak and wasted, telling the story of a woman on her way down and out. Was into the film for the first hour, but then it just got really unpleasant.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...left a bad smell

Ash is the Purest White (2018)

Yet another story of a man not appreciating a woman's loyalty.

Qiao (Tao Zhao) and Bin (Fan Liao) are lovers. Bin is a Chinese mob boss, a member of the "jianghu," the Chinese underground in the provincial town of Datong and Qiao is his girlfriend. It's 2001. Bin rules his small gangster kingdom, settling disputes and handing out punishments.  Qiao enjoys her status as Bin's girl. But one day a motorcycle gang attacks Bin and Qiao uses Bin's illegal gun to save him from the ambush.  When the police arrive and tell her that the gun is illegal, they ask whose gun it is.  She refuses to tell them so takes the rap for Bin and ends up in jail for five years.  While she is there she suffers the indignities of prison life, and Bin not only doesn't visit her, he doesn't get in touch with her at all. When she gets out she discovers that Bin has moved on so she sets out to track him down.

Sadly, this beautifully produced film took forever to get to the crux of the film and was too long in general. But sometimes the look and mood of a film can be enough.  It reminded me of "In the Mood for Love," one of the moodiest and beautiful films ever made. Tao is a mesmerizing actress who really gets to spread her acting wings as she goes from devoted girlfriend to a woman with a mission.

Written and directed by Zhangke Jia, this film appeared on many lists of Best Films of 2018 and continues Jia's motif of showing the social and cultural changes that have taken place in China over the last century.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you liked "In the Mood for Love," you might enjoy this film but Tao's performance alone is worth a look.
(In Mandarin with English subtitles)

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

65 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Vidas Secas (1963)
(Barren Lives)

A poor family in the Northeast of Brazil wander a barren landscape looking for a place to live.

Fabiano (Atila Iorio), the father, Sinha Vitoria (Maria Ribeiro), the mother and their two children and dog, Baleia, are victims of a drought and the film follows them as they wander the barren land looking for food, work and a better life. Think of a Brazilian "Grapes of Wrath." 

Why it's a Must See: "An extraordinary adaptation of the homonymous novel by Graciliano Ramos, one of the unquestionable masterpieces of Brazilian literature..."

As in the book, the film presents each person's viewpoint - even the dog gets a "say."  Speaking of which, the scene at the end of the film featuring the dog is too terrible to watch.  Awful.

Adapted and directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, the film is an example of the influence of Italian Neorealism on Brazilian filmmaking which became New Cinema or Cinema Novo in Brazil.  The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1964 and it still holds up today as a grim reminder of how the poor are exploited and why they would want to go to another country to seek a better life..

Rosy the Reviewer I said, grim.
(In Portuguese with English subtitles - Available on YouTube)

***The Book of the Week***

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World by Janice MacLeod (2017)

A day-by-day account of a woman's first year in Paris.

Did you know that -

  • King Louis XVI was brought to his beheading in a green carriage and that's why all of the park benches and bookstalls along the Seine as well as signs and fountains are painted "Carriage Green."
  • Napolean III (he's the less famous one) eliminated famine in France by modernizing agriculture and making France a large export country. You can thank him for that French wine you are drinking!
  • The City was going to tear down Notre Dame Cathedral but Victor Hugo petitioned against it and won.
  • And you had better say "Bonjour," before starting a conversation with a Parisian.  It's the magic word.

Those are just a few of the facts in this charming memoir cum travel guide to The City of Light by Janice MacLeod, who also wrote "Paris Letters."  But the facts that MacLeod shares are only a small part of this colorful book that is MacLeod's daily journal of her year in Paris.  It is full of colorful pictures and sometimes humorous ruminations as she roams Gay Paree.

And speaking of "Bonjour," she is so right. I made the mistake of walking up to a ticket taker in the Metro to ask a question and didn't say "Bonjour" before I asked my question.  He looked down at me disapprovingly and said to me pointedly, "BONJOURRRRR".  I got the message and never made that mistake again!

Rosy the Reviewer MacLeod roams the streets of Paris, sharing what she sees, you get to vicariously live there with her.
(P.S. This is for you, Jackie)!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"Where'd You Go, Bernadette?"


The Week in Reviews

(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at 

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.