Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Rosy the Reviewer Recommends: Some Movies Worth Watching Right Now at Home!

[I review Spike Lee's new film "Da 5 Bloods" as well as "The Traitor," "The Love Birds," "The High Note," "The Invitation" and "Hush."]

I did mini-reviews for these films on my Rosy the Reviewer Facebook page over the last few weeks, but here are the longer versions, all in one handy-dandy place for your viewing enjoyment at home!

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Four African American Vietnam vets travel back to Vietnam to find the remains of their fifth “blood brother” and, oh, yeah, there’s that gold they buried…

Spike Lee has always been a controversial director over the last four decades, probably because he is not afraid to go there, meaning he tells it like he sees it, even if it might make you uncomfortable. But always, he is original and provocative.  Maybe that’s why I am such a fan.  I have been ever since his first feature film  - She’s Gotta Have It.” 

In this latest film, Spike tells the story of Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), former Vietnam vets, who along with their squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman), had dubbed themselves "bloods" when they did their tour of Vietnam.  While there, they had come upon the site of a plane crash and the wreckage had contained a locker of gold. They decided to bury the gold and come back later to retrieve it. But in the meantime, Norman was killed, and when the surviving four went back to find the gold, they were not able to find it, because a napalm strike had destroyed all of the identifying landmarks.

Now it's present day and the four surviving "bloods" have learned that the tail of the crashed plane had been uncovered, so they decide to, not only go back to Vietnam for the gold, but to find the remains of their fallen comrade, Norman. Along the way, Otis reunites with his old Vietnamese girlfriend, Tien (Y. Lan), who introduces the "bloods" to Desroche (Jean Reno), a rather shady French businessman who agrees to help them smuggle the gold out of Vietnam.  They are also joined by Paul's son, David (Jonathan Majors).

But as these treasure-hunting stories often do, nothing runs smoothly.  We learn that Paul has PTSD and he is starting to lose his you-know-what. The men meet Hedy (Melanie Thierry) and two other rather suspicious acting volunteers who are in Vietnam to clear land mines.  Or are they? Oh, and did I mention that there are land mines? And then there are those nasty guys with guns who want the gold.  And to make matters even more complicated, it doesn't help that the bloods are now getting suspicious of each other. 

It's wonderful to see these veteran actors getting their day, especially Delroy Lindo who puts in an Oscar worthy performance. And speaking of the Oscars. Here's a question.  Do you think there will even be an Oscars ceremony next year

Written by Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, and Kevin Willmott, this film is jam-packed and a bit too long, but Spike’s worst is better than most directors’ best. And this is one of Spike’s best.  It’s an exciting departure from what you have come to expect from him. It’s part The Treasure of the Sierra Madreand part “Apocalypse Now,” but a more realistic depiction of the Vietnam War than some we have seen since 30% of the soldiers fighting that terrible war were African American at a time when young black men made up only 11% of the population of the United States. It also wouldn’t be a Spike Lee film if it didn’t deal with racism, black history and politics (Paul voted for Trump and wears a MAGA hat!)

Rosy the Reviewer says…an important film that you don't want to miss!
(now streaming on Netflix)

The Traitor (2019)

Biopic of Thommaso Buscetta, the so-called "boss of the two worlds" who in Sicily during the 1980's turned mafia informant, the first high up mob boss to do so.

This is an epic film, and when I say epic, you know what I mean.  It’s long.  I am not usually in for two and a half hour movies these days.  My attention span has gone to hell.  Is it the coronavirus?  Or just old age?  Not sure, but I am often critical of films that go over two hours, thinking the director could have done a bit of editing.  But not this time.  This film was mesmerizing from the first frame.

Written (with Valia Santella, Ludovica Rampoldi, Francesco Piccolo) and directed by Marco Belloccio, “The Traitor (which won Best Picture in Italy)” tells the true story of Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), who in the 1980’s, was the first Sicilian mafia boss to become an informant. 

The film follows Buscetta from his early days as a loyal member of the
Cosa Nostra to his hiding out in Brazil to escape some drug charges to his disillusionment with the mob (let's just say, he didn't approve of the heroin trade and he developed a distaste for murder, especially when the victims were his own sons). So when he was forced to return to Italy and given a deal by the authorities that he couldn't refuse, he decided to break the code of silence and turn informant, testifying against his fellow bosses in an unprecedented seven-year trial that illuminated the inner workings of the Cosa Nostra and forced Buscetta to live out the remainder of his life in the witness protection program. And it's a hairy seven years to say the least. Let’s just say that you don’t want to mess with your fellow bosses and living in the witness protection program is no piece of cake. 

There is nonstop violence, but at the same time, the film is brutally beautiful to look at and stylishly done. Favino is in almost every scene and is remarkable. And yes, it’s long and in Italian with English subtitles and, yes, it's sometimes confusing with so many characters coming and going, and if you are unfamiliar with Italian politics you might get confused, but you can do it!  It’s worth it.

Rosy the Reviewer says…if you are a big fan of “The Godfather” films, you will like this.  It’s right up there with the best of them.
(Available on DVD from Netflix or for rent on Amazon Prime)

The Love Birds (2020)

Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) find themselves unwittingly embroiled in a murder mystery.
I remember, not too long ago, was it March? Ah, March... when I was going to the movies in an actual theatre and watching the previews for this film. It looked funny and I wanted to see it. I like Issa Rae, I like Kumail Nanjiani and I would have paid money to go see this, but then we had to stay home, right? Well, Netflix to the rescue. This movie was going to be released in the theatres in April but thanks to Netflix we can see it for free (if you have Netflix) in our own homes. Sadly, though, this was a perfect example of the trailer having all of the best bits, and I am glad I didn't pay $10 to see it. But that doesn't mean it's not worth watching on your comfy couch for free.

Leilani is an advertising executive and Jibran is a documentary filmmaker. She is a spontaneous type who likes to take risks.  Jibran is not.  He likes to plan things down to the minute so as to avoid risks.  So though they had an instant connection when they first met, four years later they are getting on each others' last nerves and are contemplating breaking up.  But then fate intervenes.
They witness a murder and the hapless couple find themselves over their heads in a big murder plot where they become the suspects and are on the run, not just from the authorities but from some very bad guys. They decide they need to solve this murder plot themselves.  So, guess what? Their situation actually brings them together, because, there is nothing like being stalked by bad guys and almost dying to bring you closer together, right?

In the screenplay by
Brendan Gall and Aaron Abrams, there is a nod to the racism people of color experience when pulled over by the police (which is why Leilani and Jibran decide to solve this murder plot themselves), but all in all the film is mostly so-called witty banter between Leilani and Jibran as they go from one scary situation to the next and director Michael Showalter keeps the film fast-moving and breezy. But was it funny?  Sometimes but I couldn't help but wish it had been funnier or as good a film as Nanjiani's "The Big Sick," which I loved.

However, Rae and Nanjiani are appealing, relatable actors with a strange but warm chemistry and they are very good at witty banter so they keep this film alive. 
Rosy the Reviewer says...it's an hour and 28 minutes of diversion in this challenging time. Funny or not, you might enjoy it. Get some popcorn, pretend you are at the movies, give it a try and see what you think.
(Streaming on Netflix)

The High Note (2020)

Superstar Grace Davis's long career has hit its high note and she's getting older so it's looking like the only way is down. And Maggie, Grace's personal assistant, who secretly wants to be a music producer has yet to hit her high note. She is on her way up.

I am sure you all know that Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) is pop diva Diana Ross's daughter and here Tracee gets to be a pop diva herself.

Grace Davis (Ross) is a huge singing star but as happens with women of a certain age in show business, no matter how successful they may be, when they hit 40, they have basically hit their “high note” and there is no way but down.  She hasn’t had a hit record in ten years but her act is still popular and everyone loves her old stuff.  She has been offered a residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, but despite a lucrative offer, a residency in Las Vegas is tantamount to advertising to the world that you are a has-been when it comes to generating hits.

Unlike Grace, her assistant, Margaret AKA Maggie (Dakota Johnson), is on her way up.  She is young, mad about Aretha and knows just about everything about music.  She is also ambitious and wants to be a record producer. But Grace’s demands take up most of Maggie’s time and Maggie is afraid to ask Grace for help…until Maggie meets David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a young singer with potential.  All kinds of twists and turns ensue.

This is a classic chick flick with engaging performances and some good music, both old and new.  There is even a cameo appearance by Eddie Izzard, which was a high note for me. I had planned to see this in the theatre, because I enjoy films about show business, so the $19.95 rental fee didn’t bother me (Hubby watched it with me so that’s what it would have cost if we had both gone to see it), even if it was predictable and at times a bit far-fetched. But I sometimes like the predictability of feel-good films and this one has that vibe with engaging actors (Ross gets to show what she can do), classic old Hollywood production values, and a straightforward story. Sometimes you want to revel in something light.

Rosy the Reviewer says…it’s not Citizen Kane,” but it’s a fun diversion that will take you away from your troubles for a bit.
(Available for rent on Amazon Prime or On Demand $19.95)

The Invitation (2015)

Beware of dinner invitations from people you haven’t seen in years.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are on their way to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills hosted by Will’s ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (Michael Huisman).  On the way, Will hits a coyote and has to put it out of its misery.  As they say in the movie biz, a bit of foreshadowing because let’s just say this dinner party isn’t going to go well.

Eden and Will divorced because of a shared tragic event and Eden has invited Will and his new girlfriend to dinner in the house that Eden and Will had shared to try to heal some wounds.  This is not something Will really wants to do because he is still haunted by the events that happened in that house.  Add to that the guests - some old friends and some new ones, the new ones, Pruitt
(John Carroll Lynch) and Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) who are rather creepy - and Will becomes increasingly uneasy, especially when he starts to feel that Eden and David are involved in some kind of cult.

Whenever people are gathered together for an unknown purpose, you can figure it’s either an Amway recruitment presentation or a horror show. In this case, Eden’s house has no land line, no cell service and her new husband has locked all of the doors. So let the horror show commence as the reason for the invite slowly and horrifically unfolds.

The acting ensemble of relatively unknown actors is first-rate, the screenplay by
Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi is original and keeps you guessing and the direction by Karyn Kusama builds the right amount of tension to keep you on the edge of your seat, which isn't easy when you consider this is a film about a bunch of people trapped in a house together.

Rosy the Reviewer says…if you like good psychological horror or dinner parties from hell, take a seat at the table. This is for you!
(Streaming on Netflix)

Hush (2016)

A deaf and mute writer living in a remote location must fight for her life when she encounters a creepy masked intruder.

Blumhouse Productions, which is basically producer Jason Blum, has practically cornered the market on low-budget horror, but as I have said in the past, there is good Blumhouse (“TheInvisible Man”) and bad Blumhouse (“Fantasy Island”). Production values vary. But some Blumhouse are gorier than others and this one falls into the gorier category. But it's also in the good Blumhouse category.

Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a writer who at the age of 13 had an illness that left her deaf and unable to speak.  For some unknown reason she has decided to live a solitary life in a very remote location.  And also for some unknown reason a creepy guy in a mask (John Gallagher Jr.) shows up and he is bent on killing her.  He steals her phone, slashes her tires and cuts off her power, so now she not only can’t hear, she can’t see, and worse NO INTERNET!

The woman in danger horror film has its own set of tropes.  She lives alone, the best friend gets killed, the concerned friend/neighbor/cop/boyfriend (fill in the blanks) gets killed and so she is on her own.  She is terrorized by a sadistic killer but…our heroine has pluck (don’t you love that word?). She ain’t going to go down without a fight and a wine bottle opener to the neck usually figures prominently!

Remember Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark?”  This one is like that except with cell phones, the Internet and some gory stuff.

Siegel, who wrote the screenplay with her husband, Mike Flanagan (Flanagan also directed), is a compelling actress who is believable as a deaf mute as well as believable as a kick-ass woman who isn't going to let some loser in a mask ruin her life!

Rosy the Reviewer says…I guess I’ve been in the mood for horror lately because there is nothing like fake horror to take the edge off some real horror! Tense, very tense. Don’t watch this alone!
(Streaming on Netflix)

Thanks for reading!

See you soon!

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 https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer 

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 IMDB.com, 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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Bad Days and Good Days in the Year of the Coronavirus

So...which do you want first?  

The good days or the bad days?

Well, since it's my blog, I get to decide, and I always think it's best to get the bad news, er, bad days out of the way first because, then the good news, or in this case, the good days seem even better, right?

Looking back on my early blog posts that I wrote when we were first sheltering in place ("What I Have Learned While Sheltering in Place...Parts 1, 2 and 3"), I was all full of hope and going on and on about gratitude, having a sense of humor, telling you what to do if you were having a bad day and yada-yada-yada. But what I didn't do was actually talk about those bad days.  Now almost three months later, I am really pissed off.  

I've had it with reminding myself what a good life I have had, with masks and Zoom, with feeling like I need to be productive since I have all of this time on my hands (yesterday I defrosted the freezer and cleaned out the refrigerator - not fun), eating at home and bingewatching TV.  Yes, folks, even I can get overdosed on the telly.  And it doesn't help that in the midst of it all, there are those really... 

Bad Days

  • It's a bad day when I wake up with a sense of dread because of the state of the world.  It doesn't help that along with a worldwide pandemic and overt racism, I just found out there is an asteroid the size of a football field headed toward earth, and to make matters even worse, the gardener from hell is outside my bedroom window with his weed wacker or leaf blower (same thing) before 9 am. That's the beginning of a bad day. Okay, judgy, so I like to sleep in.  Shoot me.

  • And when I do get up, this doesn't help. I get on the scale...

  • Next, I get in the shower after realizing I haven't bathed in days only to discover there is no water pressure.  Oh, that's what those guys from the water company were doing out there.  Trying to ruin my life on this already very, very bad day.

  • Then, I look in my closets (I have three of them) and realize I will never wear all of those clothes in my lifetime, because I haven't been out of my pajamas in weeks! Now it's not only a bad day, I'm disgusted with myself!

  • And then, if I want to go out, I have to wear a mask - not a particularly good look.  I didn't let my ass get big to save my face only to have to cover my face up! (and if you don't get the reference about saving your face versus your ass, here it is). Having to wear a mask when I go out makes for a bad day. But I can add a positive spin.  I now have masks in a variety of prints and colors to match all of those clothes I will never wear!

  • When "The View" is on hiatus, I am bummed.  I need those ladies to get me started. Bad day when they are not around.

  • And then I get an invitation to Zoom.  I'm sorry, folks, but for me, Zoom overdose has set in. Yes, it's wonderful to keep in touch with friends and see them face-to-face, and I am grateful that anyone gives a crap about keeping in touch with me, but don't you find that hanging with people on Zoom for hours at a time can be exhausting? Sitting attentively and everyone getting a chance to share is one thing, but there is always someone who can't stop talking.  At least when we used to meet in restaurants and bars, when that happened we could excuse ourselves.  On Zoom?  Awk-ward.
  • But finally, after an already bad day, I settle down in the living room, only to discover that there is nothing on the television that I actually want to watch.  That's a very bad day.
  • And then, the next day, I wake up to find that yet another black person was killed by the police or white vigilantes. The worst day.

So those are the bad days. 

But what makes a good day?

  • I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I can walk to practically everything. When I do that, it's usually a good day! However, I have to get myself off my butt and out the door, which is a bit difficult wearing pajamas.  But I can sometimes do that.

  • The family comes to visit. That's a good day!

  • And when I wake up to find a new email from my nine-year-old and seven-year-old grandsons, that's a good day!

  • Likewise, when an old friend calls out of the blue to tell me how much our friendship has meant to her. That's a good day!

  • And as things start to open up, we can go to a restaurant for some outdoor dining and pretend that things are sort of normal. That's a good day!

  • And then, these guys. Humans can learn from the unconditional love and purity of heart demonstrated by dogs. Looking into those little faces always turns a bad day into a better day.

  • It's also a good day when we find a way to hang out with friends outside. I like seeing my friends in person! 
  • Helping other people takes my mind off of myself, so when I am able to do things that help others, that, in turn, helps me, lifts my spirits, and makes for a good day. (In general, I have always tried to not just live my life for myself but for others too.  I don't have much patience with people who only live for themselves. When I encounter those people, that's a bad day).

  • Young and old coming out all over the world to protest racism gives me hope. Yes, it's scary considering the pandemic, but I have a good day when I see that my fellow humans care about this, that white people understand white privilege and that the hope for real change is in the air. When we are all anti-racists, it will be the best day ever!  

Here is a start...

So there you have it. While this whole Covid-19 pandemic really, really sucks and the world seems to be going to hell, there are those bright spots.  I have to cling to those until life improves for all of us. 

Until then, I will try to follow the sage advice of Elizabeth Taylor:


So how are you doing?  Bad days or good days?

Thanks for Reading!

And I Hope to See you Soon... 

Here and on my Rosy the Reviewer Facebook Page!

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 https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer