Friday, February 28, 2020

"Fantasy Island" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Fantasy Island" as well as DVDs "They Shall Not Grow Old" and "Strange But True."  The Book of the Week is "The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness" by Susan Cahalan.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Hill 24 Doesn't Answer."]

Fantasy Island

A horror remake of that iconic 1970's TV show. 

Or shall I say, an attempt at a horror remake. 

Baby Boomers will remember "Fantasy Island," the TV show where aging movie stars on their way down and young unknown actors on their way up would arrive on Fantasy Island to have their fantasies fulfilled by the suave Mr. Rourke played by the ever suave Ricardo Montalban and his little pal, Tattoo, played by Herve Villechaize. It was an entertaining and popular anthology TV series that ran from 1977 to 1984, so making a horror version of the show could have been a good idea.  However, in this film written by Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow and directed by Wadlow, there is neither horror nor a good idea and the only things recognizable from the iconic TV show are Mr. Rourke and "The plane, the plane!" - and even those reminders don't save this thing.  And I use the word "iconic" loosely.  It was a popular TV show, but certainly not one that was trying to make you think.  However, it deserved better than this.  

Blumhouse Productions founded by Jason Blum has become the powerhouse of low-budget horror films producing such films as "Happy Death Day," "Paranormal Activity," "Insidious" and more, films aimed at millennials, so a reboot of "Fantasy Island" won't mean much to them nor will they have anything to compare this to, but for those of us who remember the TV show, this is a big "Huh?"

Anyway, the film is a sort of origin story that attempts to explain how Mr. Rourke ended up stuck on Fantasy Island, forced to make fantasies come true for a bunch of bozos.

This crop of bozos consists of businesswoman Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), who has many regrets in life and wants a do-over; former policeman Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell); step-brothers J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang); and Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), who has come to the island to fulfill a fantasy of getting revenge on Sloane Madison (Portia Doubleday), a high school classmate who had tortured her back in the day.  Mr. Rourke (Michael Pena) is welcoming and accomodating but warns his guests that, though they will get the fantasy they desire, fantasies have a way of taking on lives of their own, and once the fantasy begins, they must each see their fantasies to their natural conclusions. Huge red flag! If Mr. Rourke had said that to me I would have been on the next plane outta there!

Anyway, Gwen regrets not accepting her ex-boyfriend, Allen's (Robbie Jones) proposal, therefore missing out on marriage and a family, so Rourke recreates that moment when Alan was going to propose so Gwen can say yes and get a do-over.  Patrick wants to enlist in a war in honor of his hero Dad who was killed; the Weaver brothers want to "have it all," a massive rave party in a huge mansion with beautiful girls and partying; and Melanie gets her wish to take revenge on Sloane, the girl who bullied her in high school.


As Mr. Rourke warned, once the dream fantasies begin they cannot be stopped and these fantasy dreams become living nightmares with the ultimate fantasy for the guests turning into how to get off the frigging island.  But the biggest nightmare is for the audience, a convoluted plot that attempts to relate all of these characters together.  What started out as a fun concept just went all to hell.

As you may have noticed from past reviews, I have eclectic taste when it comes to movies.  I also try to review a broad spectrum of films that will appeal to a wide range of viewers. I truly went to see this with an open mind, thinking it could be fun, but I was wrong.  It was dreadful and Ricardo Montalban is probably spinning in his grave.  I like Michael Pena but he's no Ricardo Montalban.  And I don't even want to get into the issue of Tattoo.

Rosy the Reviewer says...there was a reason why I was the only one in the movie theatre.  Even if you liked the TV version of "Fantasy Island" and you like horror, you can skip this. It will disappoint you. Let our fantasies of the original "Fantasy Island" rest in peace.

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


They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

A documentary about British soldiers in WW I.

Director Peter Jackson (yes, THAT Peter Jackson) has put together a moving documentary about World War I that emphasizes the human side of war.  Using never-before-seen British archival footage and stills that have been masterfully restored, enhanced and colorized with a narration from the British soldiers themselves, Jackson takes us into the everyday lives of soldiers fighting the Great War.  Most who served were young men, some as young as 15, who volunteered to fight with no idea what they were getting into.  I mean, there had been no World War before.  They thought they would go over to Germany, sort out Jerry (the slang expression for German soldiers), and the whole thing would be done and dusted.

Well, they were wrong.

WW I was one of the bloodiest and deadliest of all wars, particularly so for Britain.  Almost a million British soldiers (and that's just the Brits) died. Compare that to the 100,000 Americans who died there. So this film, commissioned by the British War Museum and the BBC, commemmorates the centennial of the end of that horrendous and bloody war.

This is a nice companion piece to last year's highly regarded film, "1917." One can't help but compare the two.  Both feature the British experience in WW I and both capture the horrors of the trenches and the hell that is war, but this film is real. Those dead bodies and the blood, all real. The editing of this film was masterful.  It created a story using just still images, posters, cartoons and archival footage, and the film was just as intense as any dramatic film could be. Seeing the footage and pictures of these young men brings home the whole horrors of war and just what declaring war means.  We are sending our young men off to the slaughter.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a must see for anyone interested in history, especially WW I.

Strange But True (2019)

A young woman shows up at the home of her deceased boyfriend's family and tells them she is pregnant with his child.  Here's the problem ...he's been dead for five years.

The film begins with a young man on crutches fearfully running through the woods, and then we are flashed back to two days earlier when a young woman shows up at that young man's door... pregnant.  The young man is Philip Chase (Nick Robinson, the young heartthrob who has made a splash starring in "Everything, Everything" and "Love, Simon") and he lives with his parents, Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear).  The girl is Melissa Moody (Margaret Qualley), their deceased son, Ronnie's, ex-girlfriend and she has come to tell them that she is pregnant with Ronnie's child. However, Ronnie was killed in a tragic accident five years earlier, so how is is possible that Melissa is pregnant with Ronnie's child? Whose baby is this? There are all kinds of red herrings thrown out there. Was there frozen sperm involved, sperm collected after Ronnie died (ew)? Has Philip been engaging in an affair with Melissa? What do Melissa's adoptive parents, Bill (Brian Cox) and Gail (Blythe Danner), have to do with all of this? 

Adapted from John Searles' novel by Eric Garcia and directed by Rowan Athale, what started out as an engaging and intriguing premise turned into a mess, but the title is apt. Though I have no idea what the title actually means, the film is indeed strange.  It's all very strange with a very icky twist and an ending that went on too long.  What started out as an interesting concept fell apart in an attempt to come up with a plausible ending - and it wasn't even very plausible.

Charlene is played by Amy Ryan who has a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination under her belt for "Gone Baby Gone," but she is probably not an actress who is familiar to many movie goers despite her long resume.  She is a wonderful actress, but I am not happy about the fact that she plays a bitter, mean and unpleasant...LIBRARIAN!  

Rant begins. 

How often do we librarians get to see ourselves in films as anything but the unpleasanst stereotype? Never! We are either old ladies with glasses hanging on a chain and our hair in a bun shushing people or, conversely, the mousy repressed librarian who is just waiting to be liberated by a man so she can take off her glasses and become a sex fantasy.  Why can't we portray librarians as beautiful, sexy, funny kind women who also give good customer service?  I guess I should be glad that here is a character who is a real woman with some drama in her life beyond overdue books and making sure people are quiet in the library, but her character is so unpleasant that it's not helping the profession one bit.  But I will give her a bit of a break.  She is still grieving over the death of her son so I guess good customer service is not her big priority. 

Rant ends.

In addition to Ryan, it's a star-studded cast with Margaret Qualley as the stand out. She is Andie MacDowell's daughter, a young actress whose screen quality is already masterful. She is everywhere these days.  She made a big splash as one of Manson's girls in "Once Upon a Hollywood," she played Ann Reinking in the "Fosse/Verdon" mini-series and has four other films under her belt just in the last year.  She is a wonderful actress and, I hate to say this, (sorry, Andie), she is proving to already be as good an actress, if not better, than her mother, and I hate to say that because I love Andie and have a personal relationship with her (not really, I just fan-girled all over her at a Cher concert)!

But, sadly, the star power and good acting aside, the film devolved from an interesting premise into a big mess. With such a roster of wonderful actors, how could this film go so terribly wrong?

Rosy the Reviewer says...anyway, I get the "strange" part of this film, but the "true" part?  Didn't get that, so didn't get the title and didn't get this film. And you probably won't either.

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

41 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955)

Four soldiers try to defend a strategic hill position during the 1948 Israeli war of Independence.

Four volunteer soldiers - James Finnegan (Edward Mulhare), a British policeman in love with a beautiful Israeli woman, Allan Goodman (Michael Wager), an American tourist caught up in the conflict, David Airam (Arik Lavie) and Esther Hadassi (Margalit Oved), a young Yemeni Jewish girl - try to defend a strategic hill overlooking the road to Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab- Israeli War.  During a series of flashbacks we see how they met and ended up there.

This was the first feature film produced in Israel and it is clearly propaganda for the new state of Israel.  The production values are not good, the writing and acting is overdramatic and the story lumbers at times, but it has its moments, if you like the old B-movies of the 40's and 50's.

Why it's a Must See: "Despite the obvious propaganda, [director Thorold] Dickinson's film is a small-scale masterpiece, an intriguing examination of motivation and heroism in the midst of deadly ideological struggle."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you can get over the blatant propaganda, there is a story here, so if you like the old B-movies of the 40's and 50's, you might like this one.

***The Book of the Week***

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susan Cahalan (2019)

In the 1970's, as part of a study, eight healthy people pretended to be mentally ill in order to be admitted into mental hospitals and what they reported back shook up the psychiatric world.

Author Cahalan became ill as a young woman.  She was diagnosed with schizophrenia only to find out later that she had a neurological disorder brought on by an immune disease, a "great pretender" disease, that mimicked mental illness.  Had her physicians not been persistant in accurately diagnosing her, she might very well have ended up in a mental hospital.  She wrote about this part of her life in her memoir, "Brain on Fire" and is still haunted by the fact that she might have ended up in a psych ward.

So when she heard about psychologist and Stanford professor David Rosenhan's 1973 article "On Being Sane in Insane Places," she had a natural interest.  The article was the result of a study of eight people who went undercover and pretended to have mental illness in order to be admitted into a mental hospital to see what was really taking place there.  Rosenhan actually wanted to see whether or not mental health professionals accurately diagnosed mental illness, and whether they could tell the difference between people who were mentally ill and those who were not.  Turns out, according to Rosenhan, they couldn't.

All of the pseudo-patients were diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and were admitted into mental hospitals where  the "patients" had to prove their sanity to get out. They supposedly reported back that they were hastily diagnosed and mistreated while in the hospital. The article caused a huge furor in the psychiatric world, led to many mental hospitals being closed, and fed fuel to the anti-psychiatry movement which was so prevalent in the 1970's.

So Cahalan was highly interested in this study because of what had happened to her.  She couldn't bear to think others might be misdiagnosed and forced to languish in a mental hospital when they were not mentally ill.  So Cahalan turned sleuth and was able to find Rosenhan's notes and to track down two of the pseudo-patients.  However, what she discovered did not quite jibe with Rosenhan's study.  One patient said he was well-treated while in the hospital so Rosenhan excluded him from the study.  As Cahalan dug deeper and could never find the other members of the study, she found other flaws in the study and went so far as to conclude that perhaps the other pseudo-patients didn't really exist and Rosenhan had written his article to fit what he believed was happening in the psychiatric community.

Was that true?  What really happened to those "great pretender" patients and just how much of what Rosenhan concluded was true?  Was Rosenhan "The Great Pretender?"

Cahalan acknowledges that the world of psychiatry is not the same as medicine.

"Despite...advancements...the field lags behind the rest of medicine.  Most of our major innovations -- better drugs, improved therapies -- were in play around the time we first walked on the moon...There are not, as of this writing, any consistent objective measures that can render a definitive psychiatric diagnosis -- no blood tests to diagnose depression or brain scans to confirm schizophrenia.  Psychiatrists instead rely on observed symptoms combined with patient histories and interviews with family and friends to make a diagnosis.  Their organ of study of the 'mind, the seat of personality, identity, and selfhood, so it should not be surprising that the study of it is more imprenetrable than understanding, say, the biology of skin cancer or the mechanics of heart disease."

But despite that, and the fact that Cahalan concludes that Rosenhan's study was flawed, she doesn't give the psychological community a pass. Things in that world are not much better today. Cahalan believes that if Rosenhan had stuck to the facts, the study would have led to a more measured approach today. We may not be stockpiling the mentally ill in ill-equiped mental hospitals, but we have criminalized mental illness, placing people in jail cells instead.

Cahalan is a good writer and an excellent researcher.  She intersperses historical information along with her own personal story to created a compelling, suspenseful read.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look inside the world of mental health, then and now. 

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"The Invisible Man"


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"

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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, February 21, 2020

"Jojo Rabbit" and "The Week in Reviews

[I review the Oscar nominated movie "Jojo Rabbit" as well as DVDs "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Harriet."  The Book of the Week is "If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood" by Gregg Olsen.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Ear (Ucho)."]

Jojo Rabbit

A young boy growing up in WW II Germany loves Hitler and believes the Nazi party line, so is confused when he discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their home.

This was the last film I needed to see in order to have seen all of the films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and though I didn't love it as much as a couple of other nominated films, it was certainly deserving because of its originality, humor and charm. And yes, it's also controversial.  I mean, can you make a funny, charming film about Hitler?

Ten-year-old Johannes, AKA, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a little Nazi who lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).  He has been totally indoctrinated into the anti-Jewish world of National Socialism, believing that Jews have horns and eat babies and all kinds of other Nazi nonsense.  However, Jojo doesn't quite have enough of a bloodthirsty side as demonstrated at a Nazi youth camp where he is instructed to break a rabbit's neck. When he can't do it, he is made fun of and the older boys give him a nickname: Jojo Rabbit.

Arriving home one day, Jojo discovers a young girl hiding in the wall.  His mother has taken her in and is hiding her.  "You do what you can."  So there's Jojo trying to toe the party line and his mother is working with the Resistance. He eventually befriends the young girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and his prejudice is eventually dashed as he gets to know her, which is the main anti-hate message in the film. We see inside the mind of a ten-year-old boy whose indoctrination of hatred is challenged and changed.

Now here is the controversial part of this film. 

Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi, who also adapted the screenplay from the book "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunen and directed the film) is Jojo's imaginary friend.  He is always there being understanding and supportive. And zany. And funny. Hitler, zany? Hitler, funny? But thankfully he is also portrayed as a jerkish moron as are the other Nazis. One scene where they all sieg heil each other over and over is very funny. I mean if someone says sieg heil, you have to say it back right?  And then say it back and then say it back... It's absurdist, dark humor of the highest order.  The film is funny and absurd... and then it's not. And that's where the film falters a bit at times. When the film takes some dramatic turns after all of the absurdity, it is jarring.

But young Davis is about as cute as a kid can get, but better than that, he is not obnoxious.  Kids in films are often portrayed as precocious little smart asses with sassy lines, but that is not the case here.  Writer/director/actor Waititi doesn't go that route with the easy laughs.  He makes you care about the soul of young Jojo.  And speaking of Waititi, his over-the-top version of Hitler is fun to watch, and if you like that kind of humor, and you haven't seen his 2014 vampire film "What We Do in the Shadows," it's a must see.  It's one of the funniest movies I have ever a dark and absurd way, of course.

However, not sure what Rebel Wilson was doing in this.  Glad to see her not doing any fat jokes or pratfalls followed by skidding across the floor, which she has turned into a comic signature, because I'm not a fan, but sadly she has little to do here. And Sam Rockwell was almost unrecognizable as a drunken Nazi officer. In a good way.  But Scarlett Johansson?  This has certainly been her year.  She received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for "Marriage Story (on my list of Best Films of 2019)" AND a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this, both well-deserved and both showing her acting range.

Rosy the Reviewer Oscar winning coming-of-age story like no other.

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


Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

In 1950's New York, a private detective with Tourette's Syndrome and OCD tries to solve the murder of his mentor and best friend.

Edward Norton adapted, directed and stars in this very original take on film noir.  I mean a PI with Tourette Syndrome and OCD?  Loosely based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem (Norton has change the time frame from the 80's to the 1950's), this is the story of Lionel Essrog (Norton), a guy who grew up in an orphanage, but who, along with Gilbert (Ethan Suplee), Danny (Dallas Roberts) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), was rescued from there by Frank Mina (Bruce Willis, in what amounts to a cameo), a private investigator.  Now they all work for Frank. But when Frank is murdered, Lionel vows to find out why.  His investigation leads him on a long and winding road of racial discrimination, city corruption and evil.

Lionel has to deal with his Tourette's and his OCD as he goes from one pitfall to another to try to solve Frank's murder. However, he also has the uncanny ability to listen and remember everything he hears.  

As he works on the crime, Lionel wears Frank's coat and hat and finds a matchbook in the hat, a matchbook from an African American jazz club.  There he encounters a beautiful African American woman, Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is fighting urban renewal and who somehow figures in the murder.  Lionel has to find out how, so he befriends her. Yes, befriends her, because our Lionel has not had much experience with women.  But there is a bit of romance ahead.  

Likewise, Lionel unearths the corruption in the city under the leadership of Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a character who is certainly modeled after the real life NYC developer, Robert Moses.  Randolph gets away with everything, even though publicly he is only the commissioner of several city agencies, but he seems to control the Burrough Authority, which appears to be the governing body of the city, and his hands are in the money pot and he who controls the money has the power. He is also a proponent of urban renewal, buying up property in poor areas and forcing the residents out.  Lionel meets Paul, an architect and engineer, who is in a sort of war with his brother and his brother is - wait for it - Moses Randolph. But why would Randolph want Frank Mina killed?  What did Frank know?

All of these plotlines and characters come together in a twist at the end in this stylish and mesmerizing film that is very reminiscent of Roman Polanski's "Chinatown."

Edward Norton is one of those actors who is easy to take for granted.  He is a handsome guy but he's no Brad Pitt.  He is a wonderful actor but he's not flashy like a Daniel Day-Lewis or a Christian Bale who go to great lengths to inhabit their roles.  It would have been very easy for Norton to overdo it with the Tourette's part of his character, but he doesn't.  It's very much there but it does not overshadow the character and his mission. I think Norton should have had a Best Actor Oscar nod for this film.  He deserved a nomination because it was a two and a half hour film (and you know how I feel about overlong films), he was in practically every scene, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

That actually leads me to my only criticism.  As I said, Norton was in almost every scene, giving the film a first person feel.  We are experiencing the film from Essrog's point of view.  But then there are just a couple of scenes where he isn't there, and we see things from another character's point of view, and because there were only a couple of those thrown in, it was distracting, going from a first person point of view to an omniscient one (you can tell I learned my literary stuff in school).

But that's a minor criticism of a film that is certainly fresh and original.

A private eye with Tourette's Syndrome is an intriguing character.  What might he blurt out at a crucial time in his investigation?  Believe it or not, I actually think about Tourette's from time to time, especially when I am thinking bad thoughts (yes, I do occasionally have bad thoughts, I must admit). What if I couldn't control what I said and said everything I thought, like "What an ugly sweater" or "Geez, who did your hair? Medusa?"  So, I am quite empathetic about the challenges that having Tourette's must pose for someone, not only the physical challenge, but the huge psychological one as well, constantly having to worry about saying something wrong or insulting.  Lionel is continually apologizing for his outbursts, and let me tell you, they are nothing like what I imagine a person could say.  What a terrible burden to carry.  But the film does a good job of showing us someone who is able to operate with Tourette's without turning the character into a stereotype or a joke. Oh, and in Lionel's case, it turns out a certain amount of booze and weed seems to help!

The film also does a good job of showing how the poor are taken advantage of in the interests of "the greater good," the "greater good" being rich white people, something that doesn't seem to have improved much since the 50's.  Perhaps that is part of the message and a metaphor for the Trump era.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like film noir, not to be missed!

Harriet  (2019)

Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and her transformation into one of America's greatest heroes.

Going into this film, I was thinking this was going to be one of those earnest, do-gooder biopics about an American hero that I thought I already knew everything about and to say anything bad about the film would be...well, bad.  

But I was wrong. Yes, this film is earnest, but it's also exciting and inspiring, because it sheds light on one of the most important women in United States history, and, shockingly, this is the first major film about her.  We have all heard of Harriet Tubman, but few of us know all of what she managed to accomplish. In addition to participating in the Underground Railroad and making 13 missions to rescue slaves, she was also a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war, was an activist for women's suffrage. She lived to be 91 and was quite a woman and this film does her justice.

Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet, and likewise, even though Erivo's performance as Harriet earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, you probably don't know much about her either.  I know I didn't.  But now she seems to be everywhere. She made a big splash at the Academy Awards on the Red Carpet and sang the nominated song "Stand Up (from this film)," which she wrote, and I am currently watching her on the HBO series "The Outsider," playing a role decidedly different from Harriet.  She is a British actress, singer and songwriter, best known for her performance as Celie in the Broadway revival of "The Color Purple" for which she won a Tony.  She also has an Emmy and a Grammy, so she is three-quarters of the way to being an EGOT!  So like Harriet Tubman, she is quite a woman and like the film she did Harriet justice!

As for the film itself, it's a straight forward linear depiction starting with Tubman's escape to freedom, an exciting early part of the film when she jumps off a bridge into a raging river and then goes on a perilous 100 mile journey, helped along the way by a Quaker and others, and by talking to God, and eventually making it to Philadelphia where she meets abolishionist William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and the prosperous free black woman, Marie Buchanan (Janelle Monae), who gives Harriet a place to stay in her boarding house. Once free, Harriet feels a responsibility for those left behind, not just her husband, sister and parents, but also others, so she becomes a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad.

Every time I watch a movie like this, I get angrier and angrier contemplating how it is possible for humans to enslave other humans and feel superior to them based on the color of their skin, or in the case of the Holocaust, their religion.  Slavery is sick, sick, sick and a terrible stain on American history.  Sadly, racism and white privilege still exists today so a movie like this is am important reminder of what can happen.

Yes, the film written by Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons and directed by Lemmons, is earnest and reverential and the ending is overdramatic and, I dare say, some poetic license was at play there, but that aside, the film is also scary and exciting and inspiring. Harriet Tubman gets the tribute here that she deserves. 

When Harriet Tubman died at the age of 91, her last words were "I go to prepare a place for you."  Even in death, she still wanted to save people.

Rosy the Reviewer appropriate and exciting homage to an inspiring American woman hero. 

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

42 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Ear (1970 but not released until 1990)

A Czech official must deal with not only his political problems but the turmoil in his marriage.

Ludvik (Radoslav Brzobohaty) is a senior official in Prague's ruling Communist Party.  Anna (Jirina Bohdalova) is his alcoholic wife.  They have a young son and live a comfortable life, but it becomes clear early on that these two are not happy together, nor are they particularly happy living in a world where they are listened to, as in bugged, and spied upon. 

The film takes place over one long evening where the two encounter some strange occurrences - a gate left open, keys missing, a power outage, dead phone lines - and they start to wonder if they are under surveillance and in danger of arrest.  As Ludvik tries to cover his tracks and burn any evidence that could incriminate him, Anna is ragging him about their relationship until at dawn the two realize that Ludvik may be taken away and just what they mean to each other. 

It's not difficult to be paranoid in a totalitarian government where it's taken for granted that rooms are bugged and you are being spied upon. Anna and Ludvik even make love in the kitchen so "the ear" won't hear them. The film was produced in 1970 but banned in Czechoslovakia and not released until 1989. As someone once said, "Even paranoids have enemies." And nothing like a bit of paranoia to bring a couple together!

Why it's a Must See: "Although [this film's] direct criticism of the rule of right-wing party leader Gustav Husak distinguishes [director Karel] Kachyna from other former New Wave Czech directors, the film's back-to-basics look and hardwon insights into the no-so-private life of a passionate yet embittered married couple are the two main reasons for its enduring interest."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a sort of Czech Communist version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf." And just as compelling.
(B & W and in Czech with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen (2019)

We never know what is going on behind closed doors in our neighbors' homes. Sometimes there is some crazy, evil stuff going on.

I consider myself a bit of a true crime aficionado.  I love reading true crime books and never miss an episode of Dateline, you know, the TV show where the killer is almost always the husband!  I am fascinated by the evil that men and women do and want to understand why.  

Gregg Olsen lives in the Pacific Northwest and is one of our premiere writers of true crime stories, mostly which take place in the Pacific Northwest. He has written about Susan Powell ("If I Can't Have You"), missing for many years and whose husband, the prime suspect, ended up killing himself and their two sons; Mary Kay Letourneau ("If Loving You is Wrong"), the teacher who fell in love and eventually married one of her very young students; Munchausen by Proxy mom Tanya Reid ("Cruel Deception"), and more - and here he tells the engrossing story of Shelley Knotek and her long-time abuse of her three daughters and murder of two of her friends.

Shelley was one of those people who just didn't seem to have a conscience.  Borderline Personality at the least, Narcissism most likely, or both, but her particular penchant was torturing people.  If you crossed her, even if you didn't even know what you had, you paid the price. She also had a penchant for lying and had to have control at all times. You can blame it on her upbringing if you want - she was abandoned by her drug-using mother and raised by a grandmother who was also a "my way or the highway" kind of person, but there had to be more than that, because she was also raised by a family member who was kind and tried to show her the right path. 

So what turned Shelley into this monster who seemed to derive pleasure in making her children work outside in their underwear or, worse, naked, or lock them outside in the cold for hours or make them "wallow" in the mud while turning a cold hose on them?  We may never find out. Perhaps some people are just evil. But what we do find out is what happens to her and her children. 

Will she get what's coming to her? What happened to her three daughters after a life of unimaginable abuse? What happened to her two friends who disappeared under suspicious circumstances?

Some of the torture I have described is only a sampling of the kind of abuse Shelly rained on her three daughters, Nikki, Sami and Tori, who helped Olsen with this book. Despite their horrible and traumatic childhoods, where their mother tried to break them apart, they were able to band together and appear to be living relatively happy, normal lives. But do you ever really get over a childhood of unimaginable abuse? 

Olsen's book celebrates the bond of sisterhood and the resiliance of the human spirit.  But this book is not for the faint of heart. The torture Shelley Knotek put her children and friends through was disgusting and relentless and the book recounts it all in torturous detail.  But Olsen's writing is powerful and engrossing.  It's not melodramatic and it's not dry.  It reads like a well-written novel, except sadly, it's all true.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are into true crime and have a strong stomach, you will like this book that is one of the best pieces of true crime nonfiction of 2019.

Thanks for reading!

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