Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Some Fun Films: "A Haunting in Venice," "Theater Camp" and "Killer Book Club"

[I review the movies "A Haunting in Venice," "Theater Camp" and "Killer Book Club."]

A Haunting in Venice (2023)

Hercule Poirot is back, this time in Venice.

I have been mad at Kenneth Branagh ever since he left wife Emma Thompson and ran off with Helena Bonham Carter.  But time heals all wounds and even though he and Helena are no longer together, I guess it was meant to be. All have moved on.  And I guess Agatha Christie was meant to be in his life, too, as he has basically turned his acting and directing career into her franchise. I wonder if anyone remembers his bravura performances in "Henry V" and "Hamlet." He is now Hercule Poirot and he has made a career out of Agatha Christie mystery films with all-star casts. 

In this third installment, it is 1947 and master detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is in self-imposed exile in Venice.  He is tired of everyone clamoring for his expertise but when old friend and mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey) arrives, she convinces him to attend a Halloween night seance at the home of opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly).  Poirot does not believe in the dead coming back but Oliver says that medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) seems to be the real deal and she wants Poirot to see what he thinks.  She uses her charm, hanging over his head the fact that he is famous because of her, because she made him a character in her books.  They make a wager and Poirot reluctantly agrees to go.  

Rowena lives in a supposedly haunted palazzo.  It was an orphanage where the children were mistreated by the doctors and nurses and now the place is thought to be haunted by the children who want revenge. Rowena's daughter, Alicia, had supposedly committed suicide the year before when her fiance, Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen) broke off their engagement. Rowena wants to commune with her daughter. When Poirot and Ariadne arrive, they meet Rowena's housekeeper, Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin), the family doctor, Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his creepy little son, Leopold (Jude Hill), and Joyce Reynold's assistant, Desdemona Holland (Emma Laird), all with, shall I say?  Issues.

During the seance, Poirot spots the set-up right away and reveals Desdemona's half-brother, Nicholas (Ali Khan), hiding in the chimney and helping with the special effects. But when Joyce speaks in Alicia's voice and reveals that she had not committed suicide, but rather had been murdered, Poirot is pulled back into what he does best - solving murders.

But the arrogant Poirot is also forced to wonder if he is losing his mojo as he starts seeing and hearing things that make him wonder if the house really is haunted. Is he ever wrong? Could he possibly be wrong about ghosts and hauntings?

After several perplexing incidents and a murder, in true Agatha Christie fashion, during a storm, Poirot gathers all of the suspects together in one room to solve the case. 

They are all there: Maxime, who broke off the engagement because Alicia was too obsessed with keeping her mother happy; the creepy little kid, Leopold, who says he talks with the dead children in the palazzo; unhappy housekeeper, Seminoff;  and Nicholas and Desdemona, who dream of making their way to St. Louis, Missouri to live a life like in the film "Meet Me in St. Louis (long story)." Rowena, Oliver and Poirot's bodyguard, Vitale (Riccardo Scamarcio), are also there.

Loosely based on Christie's story "Hallowe'en Party," with a screenplay by Michael Green and directed by Branagh, this is a haunting (hee hee) visually beautiful and moody tale told in true Christie style.  It has an "old movie" feel but with modern special effects. The film reminded me of the wunderkind Orson Welles and "Citizen Kane," not surprisingly because Branagh, in his early days, was compared to Welles.  It was Welles who started using unusual camera angles, shooting from below, up, down and all around and that is very much in evidence here.  Almost too much.  The camera angles should get their own screen credits.

But the film is fun.  It's fun to try to put the clues together along with Poirot and guess who done it (I got there almost in time).  The film is also very atmospheric and beautiful to watch and the acting is first rate, though Branagh seems to be having just a bit too much fun with Poirot's French accent.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like Agatha Christie who-done-its or Branagh's Poirot films, this is the best one yet. (In theatres)

Theater Camp (2023)

When the beloved founder of a theater camp in Upstate New York becomes ill and the bank wants to foreclose, her son and the camp staff work to save the camp. 

Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris) is the co-founder and director of AdirondACTS, a summer theater camp.  As the summer begins, Joan attends a performance of "Bye Bye Birdie," starring one of her campers, experiences a seizure and falls into a coma caused by a strobe light that is used during the show (see, those signs you see in the theaters mean something)!  So with Joan in the hospital, her son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) takes over, but Troy is as about as far from being a theater kid as you can get.  When someone mentions a straight play, he asks what a gay play is called.

Troy is a "crypto bro" who looks like a skater dude, and he has difficulty getting along with the theater people.  There is Clive (Nathan Lee Graham), who teaches dance; Amos (Ben Platt), who teaches acting; Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) teaches music, costuming and past lives; and Glenn (Noah Galvin), the techie with a secret, who teaches "The Art of the Spotlight."  A camera crew is following Amos and Rebecca-Diane around as they work on an original play about Joan's life called "Joan, Still." 

But for all of his shortcomings, Troy really wants to help, especially when he discovers that the camp has financial difficulties and the bank is about to foreclose. Troy is approached by Caroline (Patti Harrison), who represents Barnswell Capital, the owners of Camp Lakeside, the more upscale camp next door.  They want to buy AdirondACTS but it comes to light that they plan to dismantle the camp. 

Highjinks ensue as everyone bands together to help Troy save the camp. Think of those Judy Garland movies where theatre kids decide to put on a show in a barn "and my mother will make the costumes!"  Here a character says, "We're theater people.  We know how to turn cardboard into gold!" The movie culminates in the hilariously bad production of "Joan, Still."

Written by Gordon, Platt, Galvin and Nick Lieberman and directed by Gordon and Lieberman and based on their short 2020 film of the same name, this feature length mockumentary features an ensemble cast and affectionately makes fun of actory actors and theater affectations.  Much of it is improvised but it's funny and you theater nerds out there who went to theater camp or longed to become a performer will get the jokes.  

Some funny moments include Amos' comment upon hearing a child's audition piece will be "I Had a Dream" from "Les Miserables."  He says "That's a good song choice.  I totally believe her as a French prostitute," upon which Rebecca-Diane says "Amos!" and he replies, "Sorry.  Sex worker."  There is also a past life regression class where Rebecca-Diane tells one student - "You were once President Warren G. Harding!"  

Platt, Galvin, Gordon and Lieberman are all theatre people and old friends.  The pictures of children at the beginning of the film are of them. Platt is probably best known for his success on Broadway in "Dear Evan Hanson" and Gordon, also in that, is now engaged to Platt and starring in the TV series "The Bear."  It's a great ensemble cast that also includes many talented young kids. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...not sure that anyone else besides theater nerds will get this and find it funny but since I was one from a young age, I enjoyed it. And there is a good message: No matter what the talent level, the theater gives kids a way to express themselves and a sense of belonging. (Hulu)

Killer Book Club (2023)

(Original title: El Club de los Lectores Criminales)

A killer clown is after eight horror loving friends.

Who said horror films can't be fun?  Blumhouse has proven they can be with such "fun" films as "Happy Death Day" and "M3gan." And this film, though gory, is no exception.

Angela (Veki Velilla), Sara (Ane Rot), Nando (Ivan Pellicer), Sebas (Alvaro Mel), Rai (Carlos Alcaide), Koldo (Hamza Zaidi), Eva (Maria Cerezuela) and Virginia (Priscilla Delgado) are all students and friends who form a book club. This is not your old lady book club where the old ladies get their kicks reading "Fifty Shades of Grey."  This is a book club where the kids get their kicks reading horror stories.  Their latest fascination is killer clowns.

Our heroine is Angela, a writer who has experienced writer's block ever since her book was published years before.  But then she gets inspiration and has some chapters she wants her professor to look over. But when she goes to his office, he tries to rape her.  She tells her friends and they devise a plan to seek revenge on the professor.  They all dress in killer clown costumes with the idea of scaring him but the prank turns ugly and the professor is killed.  The kids are now in deep you-know-what, especially when they figure out that one of them is a real killer clown planning to pick them off one by one.

The killer clown publishes a story online called "The Mad Clown," dedicating each chapter to one of the students as he (or she) kills each one, so time is running out. The kids need to solve the mystery before the killer clown gets them all.  Who is the killer clown?  Is it one of them and why is he or she wanting them dead? And what is the secret that Angela has been keeping all of these years? We discover what it is along with what the heck was going on with that cold opening. 

Written by Carlos Garcia Miranda and directed by Carlos Alonso Ojea, this is
derivative of such slasher films as "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" with classic horror tropes in evidence - lots of running around, bloody impalements (I counted at least three), and plot twists, but what sets this one apart from your standard slasher film is the literary angle and the idea that horror stories are not given the gravitas they deserve because they are considered inauthentic.  I would say that horror films suffer from that same discrimination. But then the students become part of a real life horror story as they are tormented by a killer clown, so as far as they are concerned, horror stories are authentic! And don't we all have our own "horror stories?" 

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you have coulrophobia, this is not for you (look it up)! But if you like your horror with a little literature and tongue-in-cheek gore, you will enjoy this. (Netflix - in Spanish with English subtitles)

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And 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 over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!

(NOTE:  If you are looking for a particular movie or series, check out this cool site: JustWatch.  It tells you where you can access all TV series and movies)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Lights, Cameras, ACTION!!! Some Action Movies Rosy Enjoyed!

 [I review the action films "The Mother," "Heart of Stone" and "Ghosted"]

The Mother (2023)

Don't mess with a mother!

J-Lo stars as a military operative known as "The Mother" who not only gets involved with arms smuggling but also gets romantically involved with two of the smugglers - Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) and Hector Alvarez (Gael Garcia Bernal) - resulting in her becoming a mother, literally.  

However, when she discovers that those two guys are also into child trafficking, she turns FBI informant, but during her interrogation, Lovell attacks killing all of the agents except Special Agent William Cruise (Omari Hardwick).  The Mother saves Cruise but Lovell confronts her and stabs her in the womb.  She survives, but the baby is born prematurely and she is told that because Lovell is still out there, her baby will never be safe unless she gives up parental rights.  She reluctantly agrees but tells Cruise she will only do that under three conditions: the child will have a life as ordinary as possible, she'll get a photo every birthday, and that he will call her if her daughter is ever in jeopardy. The Mother then goes into hiding and moves to a remote cabin in Alaska with the help of her former army colleague, Jons (Paul Raci).

Well, guess what? Your daughter is in danger, girl.

Twelve years later, Cruise contacts The Mother to tell her that Alvarez and Lovell are still mad at her for blabbing and still want revenge and it looks like they are going to go after her daughter, Zoe (Lucy Paez), who is living that ordinary life in Ohio that The Mother wanted her to have.  The Mother heads to Ohio just in time to witness Alvarez's goons kidnapping Zoe.

Game on, goons.  You are messing with the wrong Mother!

The film begins with the usual action movie trope - a long cold opening with lots of action and drama which sets us up for MORE action and MORE drama. But Lopez is up for it.  Surprisingly, she makes a great action heroine. As the film unfolds we not only follow The Mother as she tries to save her daughter but we learn how she got involved with Lovell and Alvarez.  

I have always been a big fan of J-Lo.  She is not the greatest actress in the world nor the most beautiful but there is something about her that makes her a great and beautiful actress.  She exudes warmth and realness (is that a word?) that radiates off the screen.  You can't help but believe in her and root for her, even here where she is playing an unsmiling badass. This is J-Lo as you have never seen her, a female Tom Cruise (okay, so she probably had a stunt double but she does some exciting stuff).

Written by Misha Green, Andrea Berloff, and Peter Craig and directed by Niki Caro, it's a sort of female version of "Taken." Yes, there are some plot holes but there are also some great chase sequences, twists and even heart-warming moments, not to mention the great Jennifer Lopez.  The first half of the film is all action, the second half mother-daughter moments.

Rosy the Reviewer says...much better than anticipated so if you like action and you like J-Lo, you will enjoy this. (Netflix)

Heart of Stone (2023)

Bad guys are trying to steal "The Heart," a valuable but dangerous weapon from the good guys.

Rachel Stone (Gal Gadot) is pretending to be a newbie for MI6 but she is in fact a female version of Bond, James Bond, a field agent known as The Nine of Hearts.  She is a member of The Charter, a murky peacekeeping agency trying to keep "The Heart," a quantum computer capable of hacking into any digital device, safe.  

"If you own the Heart, you own the world."

However, when the film begins, no one at MI6 knows Stone's true identity.  She is on a mission in the Italian Alps with an MI6 team, along with Parker (Jamie Dornan) and Bailey (Paul Ready).  They are after a wanted arms dealer.  However their cover is blown and Stone engages in the longest cold opening in history (well, probably not history but it felt like it - but in a good way).

With that failed mission, Stone is called back to London where she is reprimanded by Nomad (Sophie Okonedo), her superior at The Charter, for nearly blowing her cover.  In the meantime, it is discovered that there is a hacker out there who is after "The Heart," Keya (Alia Bhatt), a young quantum computer expert who turns out to be Stone's arch nemesis set on not only stealing "The Heart" but exposing Stone. Lots of twists and turns ensue. 

Gal Gadot is a beautiful woman but I hate to say that she is not a very good actress.  Thankfully, we have Jamie Dornan who is a beautiful man and also a good actor aided by lots of action with some great car chases and the usual stuff we expect from action films which doesn't really require Gadot to chew too much scenery. But I do give Gadot some credit. She makes a good badass and there is nothing like a badass woman saving the day. And this movie, written by Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder and directed by Tom Harper, doesn't have just one badass woman, but THREE!

Rosy the Reviewer says...though derivative of practically every action film ever, there is a big twist and the film has some exciting moments with great exotic locations but there were enough script holes that I sometimes didn't know what the hell was going on...but perhaps that's just me. However, if you like action, this one's got it. (Netflix)

Ghosted (2023)

Cole is a farmer and Sadie is an art curator (wink, wink).  They "meet cute," Cole is smitten and then Sadie disappears.  

Cole (Chris Evans) and Sadie (Ana de Armas) have a one night stand - a good one - and Cole, who is suffering from a recent breakup and has a reputation for being needy, wants to continue the relationship but Sadie disappears.  When he discovers she is in London, he decides to go there to surprise her (which won't help his reputation as being needy) only to find himself embroiled in some shady shenanigans.  

He is mistaken for the Tax Man (I never did figure out why) by a mysterious guy living under the Tower Bridge who tortures Cole with insects. Cole tries to convince the guy that he is just a dorky farmer but it doesn't work.  Sadie rescues him and, if we hadn't figured it out by now, we discover that our Sadie is NOT in fact an art curator but a CIA operative and our dorky farmer finds himself embroiled in a spy plot.  

So here we have another badass woman (see reviews above) who is trying to keep the world safe from the bad guys.  We are firmly in spy movie trope world. This time there is a case with a destructive device inside dubbed Aztec and bad guys are trying to get the code to open it. The main bad guy is Leveque (Adrien Brody) who has the device in a case and is trying to sell the device but doesn't have the code to open the case. Everyone thinks the Tax Man has the code and that Cole is the Tax Man. So if Cole is not the Tax Man, who is?  Gee, I wonder... 

Lots of action as would-be assassins and bounty hunters show up trying to get that dang code while Sadie and Cole argue and bicker in true rom-com fashion.

Chris Evans, best known these days as Captain America, is probably the last guy you would expect to be playing a dork, but here it works as he is at odds with the non-dorky Sadie while they fight off would-be assassins. The two bicker so much that every time they run into one of those assassins, there is a running gag where the would-be assassin says to them "Get a room!" And speaking of would-be assassins, that's another sort of running gag because each is played by a famous face in a cameo that lasts about five seconds. (Anthony Mackie, John Cho, Sebastian Stan, and even, Ryan Reynolds).

Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna and directed by Dexter Fletcher, there is some "Romancing the Stone" going on here and some fun action sequences like Sadie driving a colorful Pakistani bus backwards along some mountain passes (not sure how they got from the Tower Bridge in London to Pakistan so fast, but oh well, suspend disbelief) and a high rise rotating restaurant that runs amok.  It's all very OTT (that's Brit talk for over the top) but it's engaging and fun.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a stylized action film that won't tax your brain. (Apple+)

EPILOGUE:  All three films share similar action movie tropes but those tropes are why we watch, right? - so "Lights, Cameras, ACTION!"

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And 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 over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!

(NOTE:  If you are looking for a particular movie or series, check out this cool site: JustWatch.  It tells you where you can access all TV series and movies)