Saturday, December 23, 2023

"Maestro" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Maestro," the new Bradley Cooper biopic about Leonard Bernstein as well as "Pain Hustlers," an expose of some bad practices in the pharmaceutical industry, and Eddie Murphy's holiday film, "Candy Cane Lane"]

Maestro (2023)

Not just a biopic about conductor/composter Leonard Bernstein, it's also a complicated love story.

The film industry is strange right now.  Movies open in "limited release" in theatres, and then open big on streaming platforms like Netflix.  A good example is this film.  I kept waiting for it to show up in my town, because I have a standing date with a good friend to see movies in the theatre, but it never came.  But now here it is, only a few weeks after it's so-called limited release in the movie theatres, on Netflix.  I am not complaining.  Except for not seeing it with my friend, I could watch it in my jammies with a glass of wine. And I did.

Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, composer, pianist, teacher, author and activist. Considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time, he was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra, the New York Philharmonic. He wrote music in many genres - classical pieces, scores for movies and Broadway shows, most notably the music for "West Side Story." He died in 1990, and despite his fame during the 50's,60's and beyond, I am wondering how many people of the younger generation even know who he is today.

But I am not a member of the younger generation, and I have personal memories of Bernstein. First as a little girl, when my mother wanted me to get out of her hair on a Saturday and go out and play, she would tell me, if I stayed inside, I couldn't watch cartoons, I would have to watch Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, a part educational show about music that included performances by the New York Philharmonic.  I went outside.  I was not a particularly sophisticated ten-year-old.  But when I was 12, I saw "West Side Story" and was obsessed with not just the film, but the music.  I bought the record and played it over and over and over.

So I couldn't wait to see this film.

It begins in color with Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) as an old man remembering his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn (Carey Mulligan), who had passed, and then the film switches to black and white with Bernstein as a young man getting his first break in 1943 as a conductor to fill in for conductor Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall.  He was a success and his career took off. The film follows his career, his entanglements, meeting his wife and then the film switches back to color as Bernstein matures in the 60's and 70's.

However, this film is less a biopic and more of a love story and the story of a marriage.  It's as much about Bernstein's wife, Felicia, as it is about Bernstein and the personal journey they found themselves on.  Bernstein was a homosexual in a time when that was not accepted and many closeted men married and had families, especially those in the public eye. But that doesn't mean he didn't love his wife, Felicia.  He did. Though preferring men, Bernstein had affairs with both men and women.  He loved Felicia and they mostly stayed together until her death, though she knew of his desires for men and put up with dalliances taking place right in front of her.

Bradley Cooper is quite wonderful as Bernstein and, I say that as someone who was never particularly a big Cooper fan. Though named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 2011, I always thought he looked nerdie.  But nerdie or not, here he embodies Bernstein, and it's not just the prosthetics. And speaking of which, there was a big flap about those prosthetics. People were upset that he enlarged his nose because Bernstein was Jewish and Cooper was not.  I didn't find that distracting because Cooper really looked like Bernstein, and my feeling is that if Bernstein's family was not offended (and they supposedly were not), then get over it. But though Cooper was made to look like Bernstein, his embodiment of him wasn't just the make-up. Cooper had the mannerisms and voice cadence down, and he is spectacular in a scene where he conducts the orchestra in a Mahler symphony and captures Bernstein's dramatics, something he worked on for six years! It's a  tour de force performance and, I think, the apex of Cooper's acting career so far. That conducting scene is about as dramatic as you can get.

But like I said, this film is as much about Felicia as it is about Bernstein and Carey Mulligan is amazing as Felicia.  Just watch her eyes.  They tell Felicia's story as she goes from love struck wife to one who has to accept her husband's desires.  Both Cooper and Mulligan are nominated for Best Actor Golden Globes, and I expect Oscar nominations in their future.

Directed by Cooper (he also wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer), this has the feel of an old style film from the 40's and 50's.  It is a fairly linear tale, it has lush production values, with Bernstein's music punctuating the plot and a certain amount of melodrama, which I enjoy.  Though Cooper's directorial choices were odd at times, this film evokes a time gone by, when artistic people got together at parties, and instead of looking at their phones, performed for each other, told jokes, talked about their creative processes and smoked and smoked and smoked.  But the film is also a very human story, a linear love story about a man struggling with his sexuality and the woman who loved him.

I can't help but wonder, though, why is Bernstein's story being told now?  He died 34 years ago and few probably remember him today.  But don't get me wrong, his story deserves to be told and his music and achievements remembered because he was a very special man. This is clearly a labor of love for Cooper as well as the other executive producers - Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg - and maybe that's all the reason needed.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating film about a man who deserves to be remembered and performances that are a tribute to him. (Netflix)

Pain Hustlers (2023)

An expose of some criminal shenanigans in the pharmaceutical industry.

Based on a true story chronicled in the 2022 book "The Hard Sell" by Evan Hughes and adapted for the screen by Wells Tower, this is the story of Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), a stripper who has fallen on hard times but suddenly finds herself making tons of money as a pharmaceutical rep until it all comes crashing down.

In 2011, Liza Drake is a struggling single mother living out of her sister's garage in Florida with her epileptic daughter, Phoebe (Chloe Coleman). When working as a stripper, she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), who works for Zanna, a pharmaceutical company, and he offers her a job as a pharmaceutical rep at his company.  Hey, stripper?...pharma rep?...sure, why not?

When things get even worse for Liza and her daughter's health worsens, she takes Pete up on his offer but since she is a high school dropout, Pete writes her a resume, giving her a degree in biochemistry.  In her interview with Dr. Jack Neel (Andy Garcia), the company founder, she impresses him and gets the job only to discover that Zanna has also fallen on hard times, finding it difficult to break into the pharma market. Neel gives her five days to convince a doctor to prescribe their drug, Lonafen, a pain medication for cancer patients. The "fen" part of Lonafen should give you a hint on what this drug is all about.

After some missteps, Liza manages to convince a Dr. Lydell (Brian d'Arcy James) to prescribe the drug, and it snowballs, giving Zanna a foot into the market and Liza is promoted to National Sales Director and Pete to COO. Things are looking good for Zanna, but when sales flatten, Neel gets greedy and he pressures the sales staff to market Lonafen for all types of pain, not just cancer. Now people are in lines outside of pain management clinics needing the drug.  And then bribery, illegal speaker programs and other criminal activities join the mix.

The U.S. Attorney's office eventually gets involved, and when people start dying from Lonafen, one of them Liza's friend's husband, Liza starts feeling guilty and agrees to testify against the company. And yes, Lonafen is basically fentanyl which is why non-terminal patients became addicts and often overdosed.

There is a reason why those pharma reps waiting outside your doctor's office are good-looking and dressed to the nines.  It's all about sales, and it seems back in the day some doctors could be charmed into prescribing certain drugs or even bribed, at least according to this film. Similar to the TV series "Dope Sick," which I thought was one of the best series of 2021, this film, directed by David Yates, is not as good but also exposes the dark side of the pharma industry, especially the unscrupulous methods that some used to get opioids into our health care industry.

Emily Blunt plays against type as a sort of Erin Brockovich character and Chris Evans eschews his "Captain America" uniform and heroic persona for a suit and tie and a sleazy attitude. Blunt is especially good.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this movie should make you a good way. (Netflix)

Candy Cane Lane (2023)

It's Christmas and Chris Carver (Eddie Murphy) is determined to win the big prize for best decorated house on his street.

Let me just say from the start, my little town has a Candy Cane Lane so we are used to over-the-top house decorating. Christmas Eve, it was a family tradition to have our Christmas Eve pizza, get in the car and sing Christmas carols as we toured our Candy Cane Lane and then returned home to open presents.  So I relate to the Candy Cane Lane concept.  However, I just could not relate to this movie. Remember that Rosy the Reviewer says "I see the bad ones so you don't have to?"  Well, you are welcome. It's bad.

Chris Carver needs to win the $100,000 prize for best decorated house because he lost his job and his wife, Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross), may not get the promotion she deserves. Their daughter, Joy (Genneya Walton), a high school track star, doesn't appear to want to attend USC, their alma mater, and son, Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson), enjoys playing his tuba more than getting his math grades up.  So Chris needs a distraction, not to mention that hundred grand, so the race is on to find the perfect decorations. Oh, I forgot to mention the precocious younger, daughter, Holly (Madison Thomas).  There is always one of those in these kinds of movies. You know, the little kid who sees what the adults can't see?  And did you notice the names?  Chris, Carol, Joy, Nick, Holly.  That should give you some idea of what is to come and it ain't pretty.

One can't help but compare this movie to "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and Chris to Clark Griswold, but I am sorry to say no real comparison. Not even close.  Even with the element of magic that is introduced, it just doesn't work. 

Chris, looking for Christmas decorations, takes a strange detour and ends up in a building under the freeway and a store run by Pepper (Jillian Bell), who turns out to be an evil elf. Of course, he doesn't know that.  She sells Chris a "Twelve Days of Christmas" tree that Chris is certain will win him the contest, but in order to buy the decoration he must sign an agreement, that, of course, he doesn't read.  

When the big night arrives, Chris lights up the tree and the decorations are spectacular until...all of the characters on the tree come to life and terrorize the neighborhood.  So now Chris must spend the rest of the movie reeling in the seven swans a swimming, the six geese a laying...well you know the drill...and he must find the five gold rings before midnight or he will turn into a teeny-tiny version of himself, a Christmas figurine. Remember that agreement he signed that he didn't read?  And remember I said that Pepper was an evil elf? Oh, didn't I tell you...when he was in the shop he met three other miniature humans (Nick Offerman, Robin Thede and Chris Redd) who had been turned into figurines by the evil Pepper (they didn't read their agreements either), and they just happened to hitch a ride over to his house, so they become part of the story as well.

Enough said.  Written by Kelly Younger and directed by Reginald Hudlin, bad jokes and cliches abound - even that over-used slo-mo power walk that we always see when some butt kicking needs to happen is in this.  I am fairly certain this movie was supposed to be funny and stir up some happy holiday memories.  But it isn't and it doesn't.  As a longtime Eddie Murphy fan, I had such high hopes for this film. What is it about these comedians who stop being funny when they get old and they fall into the sentimentality trap?  It happened to Richard Pryor, it happened to Chevy Chase and now it's happened to Eddie.  He's just not funny and neither is this movie.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is one holiday chore you can skip. (Amazon Prime)

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)!

Friday, December 8, 2023

When There is Nothing Playing at the Movie Theatres That Makes You Want to Leave Home: Some Good Movies You Can Watch in Your PJ's, Part 3

[I review the movie "Leave the World Behind," which just dropped on Netflix today, as well as "May December," and "Quiz Lady"]

It's that time of year - busy, busy, busy.  And there is no time to get to the movie theatre, even if there were some good films out there (there kind of aren't). But here are some theatre worthy films you can watch at home.  Grab your favorite adult beverage and take a breather!  Enjoy!

Leave the World Behind (2023)

A vacation from hell.  Oh, and the end of the world as we know it.

Amanda Sanford (Julia Roberts) hates people, which is kind of funny since she manages customer relations for an advertising firm. She decides to take the family away from the city to a rental on Long Island for a little vacation to "leave the world behind." Her husband, Clay (Ethan Hawke), is a professor and has a bit more faith in people than Amanda. They have two children, Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans). 

The house is massive and gorgeous, but it's odd that there is no cell connectivity and the TV and wi-fi aren't working either, which is a real problem for Rose, who is obsessed with TV, especially the show "Friends." She just needs to see the last episode to see how it ends. 

Uh, oh - the vacation has not started out well. Being cut off from the outside world and that ominous music says some bad stuff is going to happen. And it does.

The next day the family goes to the beach and a huge tanker washes up onto the beach in a spectacular scene, and then, later that night, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter, Ruth (Myha'la), show up at the house. Scott tells Amanda and Clay that he is the owner of the house and that a blackout in the city has forced them to return. They ask to spend the night. Amanda is skeptical but Clay is okay with it. 

With no Internet or TV, they are all isolated, so the next day, Clay goes into town to try to find out what is going on and G.H. goes next door, only to find the house destroyed. Then airplanes start falling from the sky, Clay has some strange experiences going into town and the deer on the property are acting menacingly (and let me tell you, I have had personal experience with aggressive deer. It's scary). When Amanda and Clay try to go back to the City and encounter a pile-up of self-driving cars blocking the road (another spectacular scene and not a very good advert for Tesla), they realize they can't get to the City and return to the house. What the heck is going on? Finally, G.H. shares that he thinks there is some kind of government conspiracy at foot...but, uh, it's way worse than that!

Welcome to the world of apocalyptic horror.

When a movie starts out with ominous music, you know you are in for some serious stuff and this is two-and-a-half hours of serious stuff.

Adapted from the book by Rumaan Alam by Sam Esmail and directed by Esmail, this is a taut thriller about people in jeopardy, stuck together in a house, and the crazy stuff that can happen while the world is going to hell around them.  It reminded me a bit of the recent film "Knock on the Cabin," though this film is more psychological in nature, examining family dynamics, prejudices, inhumanity and our dependence on technology. My only criticism is that the film didn't need to be so long, but you will want to see how it plays out. And since you are at home, you can always take a break (Thank you, Netflix, but can't avoid the irony).

It's a star-studded cast. 

I have been a fan of Julia Roberts since the get-go.  She is an accomplished actress who doesn't seem to have aged at all since "Pretty Woman."  Here she eschews the rom-com genre for the thriller genre, but there actually is some romance.  Well, sort of.  She and the handsome and talented Ali have a bit of a thing. Ethan Hawke has some juicy scenes and Kevin Bacon has a small, but pivotal role, as a survivalist. Also fun fact, Michelle and Barack Obama are two of the executive producers.

With all of the terrible things going on in the world right now, why would you want to watch a scary film about the end of the world?

Well, it's a riveting film, with first rate production values, and I for one, find it comforting to know that things in the world could be a lot worse!

Rosy the Reviewer says...a taut doomsday thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. What would YOU do if the end of the world was near? (Netflix)

May December (2023)

A speculation into what Mary Kay Letourneau's life and marriage might have looked like after the scandal?

Remember the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal?  If not, perhaps you were too young when it happened or living in Antarctica, so to bring you up to speed, it involved a married middle school teacher in her 30's who had an affair with her 12-year-old student, if you can call that an affair.  Actually, it was deemed child rape and she went to prison but got out early after agreeing to never see the kid again.  Wait.  There's more.  She was caught with him again, went back to prison where she gave birth! Wait, wait.  There's still more.  THEY EVENTUALLY GOT MARRIED!  If ever there was an instance of truth being stranger than fiction, this is it.

So this film is based on that story...but with some twists.

In this version, it's the same sort of scandal that Letourneau was involved in, but this time it's Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton), who are now married, living in Savannah and it's 20 years since le scandale. The two met when Gracie was working in a pet store and Joe worked there after school. She was 37 and he was 13.  They supposedly got it on in the stock room and were caught.  A film version is planned about their story and they are approached by Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman), an actress who is best known for playing a TV veterinarian.  Now she is going to play Gracie in a movie about Joe and Gracie.

Elizabeth wants to observe Gracie's life for research for her role and Gracie lets her, because she wants Elizabeth to "get it right." She also might want Elizabeth to see that they are just regular folks. After all, despite the age difference and the scandal, here she is, a wife, a mother and a baker and Joe raises Monarch butterflies. What's not to like? But there are cracks in the idyllic scenario.  Joe talks on FB to a mysterious person he seems to like and Gracie shows herself to perhaps not be completely stable.

It's a strange little tale that wonders what the everyday life of someone like Mary Kay Letourneau might have been like after a huge viral scandal and what regrets might a much younger husband seduced by an much older woman have? 

And then there is Elizabeth.  She has toiled in television, but now wants to prove herself as a serious actress in an indie film that is going to be made about Gracie and Joe. Elizabeth also turns out to have some issues. Elizabeth visits said stock room in the pet store and in a very cringey scene re-enacts what might have gone on in there. What an actor won't do for her craft!  Elizabeth also interviews other people involved, especially Gracie's ex-husband who still can't understand what a 37-year-old woman saw in a 7th grader. I'm with him.  And why did the 13 year-old get involved with Gracie?  "She saw me."

Though the film is about a tabloid scandal, the film, written by Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik, is also a commentary on such tabloid scandals, our fascination with sex, crime and celebrity. "Dateline," and "20/20" are perfect examples.  No one probably remembers that both started out as legit news shows like "60 Minutes," but changed course when it became apparent that true crime and scandal attracted more viewers. We are voracious consumers of that kind of content. The film also kind of makes fun of the lengths actors will go to inhabit their roles.

And that's what makes this an odd, but fascinating, little film. 

Despite the subject matter, it's actually kind of funny in a dark way and it makes no judgment. Yes, Gracie was convicted of child rape and went to prison, but she doesn't appear to regret any of it or feel bad about herself, and her life has gone on. She married Joe, they live in a nice house, they have children who are getting ready for college and it all just seems so...normal.  But it's not. It's a "Dateline" life.

Moore and Portman are serious actresses who have proven themselves. Both have Best Leading Actress Oscars under their belts, Portman for "Black Swan" and Moore for "Still Alice."  And to add to this movie's credentials, director Todd Haynes has an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for "Far From Heaven (also starring Moore)" and countless other nominations and awards over the years for directing and writing. I am a fan of his films. They embody time and place, mood and beauty.  And this is his fifth collaboration with Moore, which started in 1995 with "Safe." Melton, best known for the TV show "Riverdale," doesn't have a whole lot to do but I think that's the point.  As Gracie's husband, who married her before he was out of his teenage years, he has missed a lot in life and doesn't seem to have a whole lot to do either, raising Monarch butterflies, not withstanding. He is now a husband whose wife tells him what to do.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a strange but fascinating little film starring actresses at the top of their game. (Netflix)

Quiz Lady (2023)

Two estranged sisters - Anne (Awkwafina) and Jennie (Sandra Oh) - come together to help pay off their mother's gambling debt.

Yes, it's a comedy and a funny one with Sandra Oh as you have never seen her, hamming it up as a ne're do well and, Awkwafina, taking the lead as a smart but awkward reclusive woman hooked on a game show. Though comedian Awkwafina had been around for several years doing her stand-up and acting in some films, it was her comic star-turn in "Crazy Rich Asians" that gave her film career a boost and now she is a hot commodity.

Anne and Jennie grew up in a troubled household.  Jennie, ten years older than Anne, coped by being a bad girl; Anne coped by being a quiet good girl and by watching a nightly game show called "Can't Stop the Quiz" hosted by Terry McTeer (think "Jeopardy" and Alex Trebek except with Will Ferrell and a nutty charades component).

Now as adults, the sisters have each gone their own way.  Anne works as an accountant in a cubicle jungle and Jennie, well, not sure what Jennie has been up to, but it's not good. They come together when their mother goes missing from her nursing home and Jennie gloms onto Anne. Jennie appears to be living in her car and has been up to no good and needs a place to stay.  And when Anne's dog, Linguini, is kidnapped by some bad guys, the sisters also learn their mother owes the bad guys money and they are keeping the dog until Anne pays up.

Meanwhile, Jennie films Anne getting all of the answers right while watching "Can't Stop the Quiz" and posts it on social media.  It goes viral and Anne starts getting recognized as "The Quiz Lady."  And Jennie gets the idea that Anne needs to get on that show so they can make the money they need to pay their mother's debt.  But this is not an easy task as Anne has social anxiety. So Jennie kidnaps Anne by putting her in the trunk of her car and, well, it's all very funny as they make their way from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and try to get Anne on the show.

Jason Schwartzman plays a smarmy, self-important long-time winner on the show who is about to become the all-time champion and Anne would love to unseat him if she could just get over her fears.  Wait!  Jennie has the answer. Drugs! Just imagine "Jeopardy" contestants on the show doing psychedelics. Well, now you don't have to imagine.  You can see for yourself. 

I was never a huge Sandra Oh fan but now I am.  She is very funny here, and Will Ferrell brings a warmth to his character as game show host, McTeer, as he advises Anne to not worry about winning so much as savoring the experience and creating memories.

Written by Jen D'Angelo and directed by Jessica Yu, this is a sort of buddy movie but has the sweetness of the sister bond as flashbacks reveal what they went through together growing up and just what Jenny did to look out for her little sister.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a very funny but also sweet film about sisterly love. (Hulu)

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)!