Sunday, April 21, 2024

"Civil War" and the Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Civil War" as well as "The Miracle Club," and the documentary "The Stones and Brian Jones." I also review a stellar local production of "Sweeney Todd"]

Civil War (2024)

It's the future, the United States is in a civil war and a team of journalists travel to Washington D.C. to try to get an interview with the President.

In this dystopian tale, the President of the United States (Nick Offerman) is an authoritarian, has given himself a third term, speaks in hyperbole, thinks journalists are the enemies of the state, has disbanded the FBI and is kind of stupid.  Sound familiar?

In a very unlikely scenario, California and Texas have banded together to secede from the United States and a civil war has erupted against the authoritarian U.S. government.  War photographer Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and her colleague, Joel (Wagner Moura), have decided they need to travel from New York City to Washington D.C. to interview the President before the city is taken over by insurgents.  But before they leave, Lee saves a young girl - Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) - from a suicide bombing attack. Jessie just happens to be an aspiring photojournalist and manages to beg a ride from Joel.  Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), an older journalist and Lee's mentor, also tags along, wanting to get as far as Charlottesville where the Western Forces (Texas and California) are assembling.  Lee is not happy that young Jessie is tagging along.  Lee is kind of a sourpuss.

The four go on a kind of dystopian road trip as they make their way to D.C. from New York.  They have to take a meandering route by way of Pittsburgh and West Virginia because the freeways are closed. The movie reminded me a bit of "The Last of Us" as the foursome encounter harrowing incidents as they make their way to D.C. but it wasn't nearly as good as that dystopian series. Will they make it to D.C.?

You know what?  After about a half hour, I didn't care if they made it or not. Though I liked the fact that the movie focuses on what photojournalists go through to try to bring us the news and dramatic pictures, that's all I liked.  What I didn't like was everything else. 

Kirsten was a one-note sourpuss throughout.  I know, I know, she is supposed to be war weary after having seen it all but as I always say...I judge a film on whether or not it's an enjoyable filmic experience and watching her act was not.  And Cailee Spaney, who starred as Priscilla Presley in "Priscilla," is practically unrecognizable and not given much to do. She deserves better than this. 

This movie was so slow going that I was actually glad for the gotcha moments because they woke me up.  The dialogue was over-dramatic, the acting was wooden and the story itself didn't seem to have a point other than paying homage to photojournalists, though we don't really get to know them as people. But as for the civil war motif, here was a chance to make some much-needed political statements, but...nope. Clearly, writer/director Alex Garland made that choice, but choosing to say nothing made the story really confusing.  Who was fighting whom or what? And why?

The movie was also fanciful. I still can't get over pairing California and Texas together. That would never happen!  But it really got me when the insurgents finally made it to the White House. Decoy cars left the White House and the President WAS STILL IN THERE. Number One, if the White House was under attack, I don't think anyone would be leaving via limo. And the President certainly would not stay behind on his own, Secret Service not withstanding.  Did British writer/director Garland not know there is a tunnel from the White House for just such moments as these so that the President and all of his allies can escape?  Why in hell wouldn't the President have left the building?  Well, remember what I said earlier. The President is kind of stupid. And the movie is, too, at times. I guess our journalists needed a quote from the President.  

Garland is better known for sci-fi and horror ("28 Days Later," "Ex Machina," "Annihilation") and, yes, a dystopic America in a civil war is a horror story.  I just wish he had made that point better. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like dystopian dramas, save your money and watch "The Last of Us" instead. (in theatres)

The Miracle Club (2023)

In 1967, four women travel to Lourdes from Ireland in hopes of a miracle.

Chrissie (Laura Linney), a woman in her fifties, returns home to Ireland from Boston for her estranged mother’s funeral.  Chrissie was banished from her home for something that happened when she was a young woman that is eventually revealed.  But she wasn't just estranged from her mother. She was also estranged from her cousin, Eileen (Kathy Bates), and her mother's friend, Lily (Maggie Smith).

Before her death, Chrissie's mother had arranged a talent contest and the prize was two tickets to Lourdes. You know, it's that place in France where the Virgin Mary was spotted and has since became a religious pilgrimage site where miracles are supposed to happen.  Lily, Eileen and, especially the much younger Dolly (Agnes O'Casey), are desperate to go to Lourdes.  Eileen has a lump in her breast, Lily has problems with her legs and has never gotten over the death of her son, Declan, and Dolly has a son who either can't or refuses to speak and she hopes that he will be cured.  Despite the animosity towards her, Chrissie also tags along because it was her mother's dying wish that she go. So the women go off to Lourdes, leaving their useless husbands (Stephen Rea, Mark McKenna and Niall Buggy) home to fend for themselves, something they are not used to doing.  But just as the women find resolutions in Lourdes, so, too, do the husbands learn some things about themselves.

Written by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer and directed by Thaddeus O' Sullivan, this is one of those films where you know what is going to happen.  The miracle isn't so much Lourdes itself, but what the women learn about themselves and the repairing of friendships but it doesn't matter if you know the outcome because it's the journey.  These Oscar-winning veteran actresses are always a joy to watch and it's a journey I enjoyed. 

Rosy the Reviewer old-fashioned, feel-good movie where the miracle is those wonderful actresses. (Netflix)

The Stones and Brian Jones (2023)

A documentary about Brian Jones, one of the founding members of The Rolling Stones and an early member of the 27 Club.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  One could say that about the 1960's and Brian Jones. If you weren't there, you can't really understand the youthful excitement that was in the air, especially the excitement bands generated in those days. But there was also a dark side.

This documentary highlights Brian Jones, one of the original members of The Rolling Stones, who has been virtually forgotten since his early death in 1969, and yet, he gave the band its name, was the leader of and spokesperson for the group when it began and was quite possibly the most talented of the founding members.  He could play any instrument and devised many of the memorable riffs we associate with The Rolling Stones today. He was also the handsome one, with that long blonde hair. But sadly, his personal demons, his rivalry with Mick Jagger and his insecurities about Mick's and Keith Richards' songwriting partnership got the better of him and drugs and alcohol took over to the point that he was fired from the band. It had been Brian's band and there is a sense here, that Keith and Mick stole it from him.

Jones started out as a dutiful son, but when he started playing guitar, he rebelled and his strait-laced father kicked him out of the house. So Brian started a blues band in 1962 with Mick and Keith. His family never came to his concerts and considered him a failure, even after becoming rich and famous. It didn't help that Jones also fathered a child at 16, and at the time of his death, had fathered at least five children. 

Written by Nick Broomfield and Marc Hoeferlin and directed by Broomfield, this documentary is filled with never-before-seen footage, interviews with ex-girlfriends and others who knew Jones, and the music.  It pays homage to Jones, who deserves to be remembered, though his is a sad story of success getting the better of a young, talented man. Not surprisingly, Mick and Keith do not weigh in here, but original Stones bassist, Bill Wyman, does, and he was clearly a fan of Jones, and offers some interesting insight. The film ends poignantly with a letter from Brian's father that Brian had kept and that was found after Brian's death. His father expressed regrets about the way he had treated him.

Rosy the Reviewer's a sad story about the dark side of fame. It turned out to be the worst of times for Brian Jones in a time that some of us Baby Boomers remember as the best of times, especially because of the music. (Hulu and for rent on Prime and Apple+).

***Live Theatre***

"Sweeney Todd" at the Paper Wing Theater and Supper Club, Monterey, CA

A first-rate production of the renowned Stephen Sondheim musical.
I live in a small town but last night sitting in the audience of my small town at the Paper Wing Theatre watching their version of “Sweeney Todd,” I felt like I was sitting in a theatre on Broadway or in London’s West End. It is a wonderful production that does Stephen Sondheim proud!
I can’t believe I have never seen “Sweeney Todd,” especially since it opened on Broadway so long ago (1979). And I am a musical comedy gal. I mean, I starred in the musical version of “Irma La Douce (yes, I was Irma).”
Based on the 1970 play by Christopher Bond, book by Hugh Wheeler and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the subtitle of the play is “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and it tells the story of Benjamin Barker who was unfairly sent to prison in Australia by Judge Turpin, an evil judge who lusted after Barker’s wife. Now Barker is back in London calling himself Sweeney Todd and seeking revenge, not just on Turpin but everyone else who did him wrong. He reopens his barber shop and teams up with pie maker, Mrs. Lovett, who is having difficulty finding meat for her pies. You can see where this is going.
I am a believer in supporting local theatre but if you think this is a run-of-the-mill community theatre production, you would be wrong. This is an exciting professional production with a wonderful acting and singing ensemble. L.J. Brewer is first-rate as Sweeney Todd as is Olorin Braun as Anthony Hope, the young sailor in love with the ingenue, Johanna, played by Sarah Gaudoin. Braun has a gorgeous voice and reminded me of a young Orlando Bloom. And then there is Kate Faber as Mrs. Lovett. She lights up the stage every time she comes on!
This musical is not an easy one to pull off. Almost all of the show is set to music, and it is pure Sondheim with intricate lyrics and singers meshing with one another. And it’s also a dark tale…but funny dark.
Rosy the Reviewer says…thank you to producer Koly McBride, director Justin Gaudoin, Musical Director Taylor Safina, the actors and singers and everyone else who helped bring this show to our community. It’s very special and not to be missed! (playing in Monterey Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday through April 28 but if you are not local, support local theatre near you)

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)!

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Wicked Little Letters," "Saltburn" and "Book of Love:" It's British Movie Week!

[I review three British films: "Wicked Little Letters," "Saltburn" and "Book of Love"]

When the residents of Littlehampton, England start receiving anonymous insulting and profane poison pen letters, Rose, the less than proper newcomer from Ireland, is blamed.  But is she really the culprit?

It's the 1920's in the small town of Littlehampton, England, and it's Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), who first receives profane and bullying letters (remember when we wrote letters?  Now we can just bully people online).  

Edith is a pious spinster living with her controlling father, Edward (Timothy Spall), and her mother Victoria (Gemma Jones). After receiving 19 letters filled with profanities, Edward contacts the local police accusing their next-door neighbor, Rose Gooding (Jesse Buckley), of sending the letters.  Rose is an easy target because the Swans do not approve of Rose.  Where they are very religious and upright, Rose has no problem doing what she pleases, telling people off when she feels like it using some choice profane words, living with a man who is not her husband, having loud sex, and drinking and carrying on in the pub. Rose and Edith started out as friends but after Rose headbutted one of Edward's guests at his birthday party and refused to apologize, their friendship ended. And truth be told, Rose isn't that easy to like.  

So Rose is arrested and not being able to come up with bail is sent to Portsmouth Prison to await trial, leaving her young daughter, Nancy (Alisha Weir), in the care of her partner, Bill (Malachi Kirby).

In the meantime, police officer, Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) is not so sure that Rose is the culprit and gets involved in the case, despite the fact that her boss, Chief Constable Spedding (Paul Chahidi) forbids her to. Let's just say that women police officers in the 1920's didn't get much respect, but Gladys's father was a police officer and she can't help herself.  She believes an injustice is being done.  She enlists the help of  Edith's friends - Ann (Joanna Scanlan), Mabel (Eileen Atkins) and Kate (Lolly Adefope) - and they all take on the case. Mabel and Ann like Rose and don't think she is guilty so they bail Rose out of the prison and, with Gladys, set out to prove her innocence.

Though I figured out who the letter-writer was way before it was revealed on screen, it didn't matter, because watching the story, written by Jonny Sweet and directed by Thea Sharrock, unfold was a delight.  Thank goodness for the Brits and these "little movies" they are able to produce, full of recognizable character actors and interesting stories.  Olivia Colman is wonderful, as expected, and though Jesse Buckley might not be a name you recognize, she is a veteran actress who made a big splash in "Wild Rose" in 2018, starred in Season 4 of the TV series "Fargo,"  and more recently in the movie "Women Talking." The two together are a wonderful treat.

The film is quirky and fun and actually based on a true story that made national news in England in the early part of the 20th century, but it's also a reminder of what women have gone through in a patriarchal world. Gladys is always referred to as "Woman Police Officer Moss" by her male fellow officers, a passive-aggressive put-down of her role, and Rose is targeted because she doesn't fit the mold of obedient housewife, instead living life on her own terms.  If she doesn't fit the mold, she must be guilty of something, right?

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are tired of superheroes and horror films, take a break and check out the comedy and drama in Littlehampton.  You won't be disappointed. (In theatres) 

Saltburn (2023)

Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is a seemingly shy, awkward Oxford student who is befriended by Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), a handsome charismatic classmate, who invites him to Saltburn, his family's estate, for the summer and it turns out to be a summer of death and destruction.

Oliver Quick is having a difficult time fitting in at Oxford.  He is a poor kid amidst England's elite, but when he meets Felix Catton, a rich, popular student and shares his story about growing up poor, his parents' substance abuse and mental health issues, Felix is sympathetic.  Then when Oliver tells Felix that his father has died, Felix invites him for the summer at his family's country estate, Saltburn. Oliver is over the moon because he is obsessed with Felix. And then he wants to be him.

At Saltburn, Oliver meets Felix's parents, Sir James (Richard E. Grant) and Lady Elspeth (Rosamund Pike); Felix's sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver); Elspeth's friend, Poor Dear Pamela (Carey Mulligan); and Felix's American cousin, Farleigh (Archie Madekwe).  Oliver is welcomed into the family, and Elspeth is especially taken with him, but Farleigh is suspicious. All is well until Felix discovers that Oliver is not all that he seems and the summer turns deadly. Years later, the truth about what happened that summer at Saltburn comes out.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, who also wrote and directed "Promising Young Woman (she won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay)," this is a tale of class and social climbing that is reminiscent of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," a story that has been the plot of many films but here there is much more kinky stuff going on, particularly the scenes where Oliver...well, Oliver does all kinds of deviant stuff.  The bathtub scene and the one on the grave are particularly cringey. You will have to see for yourself. If you saw "Promising Young Woman," you know that Fennell is not afraid to "go there."

The acting ensemble is first rate with veteran actors Grant and Pike. Pike is particularly mean-spirited in a funny upper class way. Fans of the recent movie, "Priscilla," will recognize the handsome Elordi as Elvis in that and here he effortlessly again plays an object of desire.  But this is Keoghan's film as he goes from adoration of Felix to envy and resentment and reveals the real Oliver. His Oliver exudes both subservient charm and weird creepiness. And a shout-out to production designer Suzie Davies and cinematographer, Linus Sandgren.  The film is beautiful to look at.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a stylish (and kinky) gothic thriller that satirizes class and social climbing. (Amazon Prime) 

Book of Love (2022)

A British novelist whose book is not selling in the U.K. discovers that it is a big hit in...Mexico!  When he travels there to do a book tour, he discovers why.

Henry Copper (Sam Claflin) is an uptight Englishman who has written a novel called "The Sensible Heart," which is a romance novel, but it lacks passion, as in no sex.  Therefore, no one wants to read it. But then Henry's publisher, Jen (Lucy Punch), tells him that his book is number one --- in Mexico.  Henry has no social media skills, so his publisher says that he needs to go to Mexico to promote the book.

When he arrives, Henry meets Maria (Veronica Echegui), the person who translated his book, and she and the Mexican publisher, Pedro (Horacio Villalobos), along with her son, Diego (Ruy Gaytan), and grandfather, Max (Fernando Becerril), take Henry on a three-city tour with Maria acting as Henry's translator. After getting over his culture shock, Henry is enthusiastically welcomed at the book signings, especially by avid female fans, but Henry is confused because everyone is talking about sex. His book is NOT about sex, or so he thought.  But, ahem, now it is. And he is perceived as a sort of love guru by his fans. It turns out that Maria has not only translated Henry's book, she has rewritten it, transforming it into a steamy, bodice-ripping romance novel! 

This is a good old-fashioned opposites attract rom-com written by Analeine Cal y Mahor and David Quantick and directed by Cal y Mahor. Maria is a no-nonsense Latina who has always wanted to write and Henry is a buttoned-up Brit.  She has had a hard life serving men in a neighborhood bar and putting her own dreams aside and she resents what she perceives as Henry's easy life. And Henry is a kind of clueless prude who needs loosening up.  But after lots of arguments and misunderstandings, and some interference from Maria's ex, Antonio (Horacio Garcia Rojas), Henry does loosen up and the two create a romance of their own. 

The handsome Claflin recently starred in "Daisy Jones and the Six" and once again plays a brooding leading man but this time an uncool one. Echegui reminded me of a young Penelope Cruz. She is engaging and likable, and the two create a charming little fish-out-of-water love story that is fun to watch.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a rom-com fan, this is a sweet, satisfying one with an interesting premise. (Amazon Prime - in English and Spanish)

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)!