Showing posts with label A Tale of the Wind. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A Tale of the Wind. Show all posts

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Marriage Story" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Marriage Story" as well as the DVDs "Stan and Ollie" and "Pick of the Litter."  The Book of the Week is "The Unqualified Hostess" by Whoopi Goldberg.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "A Tale of the Wind"]

Marriage Story

A poignant story about a marriage breaking up.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach has made a name for himself with his smart and insightful comedy/dramas, most notably "The Squid and the Whale," "Margot at the Wedding," and his films starring Greta Gerwig ("Frances Ha," "Mistress America"), who was his dramatic muse and is his partner in real life who has now gone off to direct her own films. In fact, they could possibly be in contention for a Best Director Academy Award this year, her for "Little Women," and him for this wonderful story of how a once seemingly great marriage went so very wrong.

Starring Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie Barber, the film begins with both of them in therapy, making a list of everything they had loved about each other. We hear those lists in voice over.  However, in the session, Nicole refuses to read hers to Charlie and the therapist and they decide to forego counseling altogether. It's downhill from there.

Charlie is a successful theater director in New York City and Nicole was once a teen actress who gave up her career and moved from her life in L.A. to become part of Charlie's theatrical company. However, when Nicole is offered a TV show in L.A. she moves back to Hollywood to live temporarily with her mother (Julie Hagerty), taking their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), with her. Her mother is a big fan of Charlie's and sad that the couple is breaking up. But Charlie and Nicole are amicable and feel they can settle their divorce without lawyers, until one of Nicole's co-workers urges her to consult her lawyer, who she said "saved her life" during her divorce.  Enter Laura Dern as Nora, a force of nature unto herself, and we learn more about Nicole and the marriage as Nicole tells Nora her story.

Yes, Nicole had given up her life and career in L.A. to move to New York to let Charlie shine in the theatre world there, working as an actress in his theatre company and spending more time as a wife and mother than working on her career.  She began to feel "smaller."  And it didn't help that Nicole also suspected that Charlie had slept with the theatre's stage manager (he did).  So after meeting with Nora, Nicole is emboldened, and when Charlie arrives in L.A. to visit the family, Nicole serves Charlie divorce papers, thus forcing him to also seek an attorney.  He meets with Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta, who has clearly had some "work" done, if you know what I mean - I barely recognized him!), a brash and expensive divorce lawyer who wants Charlie to fight dirty.  Charlie is confused and still hanging on to the idea that he and Nicole can work this out on their own, so he returns to New York without hiring Marotta, but when Nora calls him and says he needs to answer the papers or run the risk of losing custody of Henry, he hires Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), a retired lawyer who has a more conciliatory approach.

Bert is sort of a good old boy and tells Charlie he needs to get an apartment in L.A. to help his custody case, something Charlie is reluctant to do because he is holding on to the idea that they are a "New York family."  However, when it becomes clear to Charlie that Nicole has a very high-powered lawyer and Bert isn't doing the job, he goes back to Marotta and the fight is on. Not a good idea to penny-pinch when it comes to divorce, I guess. So as often happens in divorce, it gets dirty, everything goes to hell, and Charlie and Nicole finally have an epic fight where they tell each other how they really feel.

What could be just another divorce movie is made special by the reality of the characters, scenes and dialogue that Baumbach so expertly marries (pardon the pun). When we, er, marry, we do have a list of things we love about our spouses, we have hope for the future, but sometimes love and hope aren't enough. We are all human with our individual needs and desires and, yes, selfishness. Life sometimes gets in the way of all of those things we love and hope for and what was once a loving, respectful relationship gets broken down and becomes a hotbed of resentment and disillusionment. Then when divorce rears its ugly head, we forget that list of things we loved and we do things we never thought we would do.

It's amazing that any relationship lasts when you reflect on the fact that we are all individuals who spent 18 years with our own family, learning and experiencing all kinds of things and acquiring all kinds of habits often very, very different from the experiences and habits of our spouse. And speaking of families, when divorce happens, you don't just divorce your spouse, you usually divorce his or her entire family. And if you had good relationships with your spouse's family, that is another big loss. Divorce is one of those things where there is a lot of loss and no one really wins.

Baumbach has all of that here, and he gets it all right. 

As someone who has been divorced more times than I dare say (three), I know what it's like and could relate to every single thing in this film. And don't think this is a dirge. Yes, there is some sadness to the film, but it's not what I would call a film about sadness. The film is also very funny at times.  Just like real life, in the midst of sadness and anger, there is also humor and hope for the future.

And it's not just Baumbach who gets it right. 

Johansson and Driver are just miraculous in this, so real that you feel like a fly on the wall, eavesdropping on your neighbors, and if you are or have been married or in a committed relationship, you can't help but relate to these characters. Driver and Johansson make you care about Charlie and Nicole.  There are no villains here, just two people who can no longer be together. Driver has always been a good actor (this is his fourth film with Baumbach), but he shows what he really has in this film. When he as Charlie sings the song "Being Alive," from the Broadway show "Company," I just lost it. That one scene summarized it all: all of the love we so desire but can't have and the pain associated with that love when it goes away...but it's all part of "being alive." 

And Johansson, likewise, has always been a good actress but here she gets to sink her teeth into something with great depth.  Funny, that both of these actors are probably more well-known for superhero type roles - Driver as Kylo Ren in "Star Wars," and Johansson as the Black Widow in the Avengers movies, but here they show what superheros they really are - they are superhero actors who can create something really, really special.

Rosy the Reviewer of my favorite movies of the year! Ring!  Ring!  Oscar calling!
(Available right now on Netflix!  We love you Netflix!)

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


Stan and Ollie (2018)

Laurel and Hardy's swan song.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly star as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, AKA Laurel and Hardy, the most famous comedy duo of their time. They were most well known during the late 1920's to the mid-40's with their bowler hats and slapstick bits, Laurel the childlike buffoon to Hardy's pompous character who wasn't averse to whacking Stan a time or two.  Hardy became well-known for his slow burn.  

Both had been successful actors on their own before teaming up in 1926 when they both signed separate contracts with the Hal Roach film studio where they remained until the 1940's. The film begins with Laurel's contract expiring and his trying to get more money for them. However, Roach wasn't having it, and Hardy couldn't risk his contract because of his lifestyle, which included gambling debts, so the two parted ways and the film picks up 16 years later, when their careers are waning. Okay, they are basically has beens, and they decide to go off on a theatre tour of England to try to revive their careers while trying to get a deal for a new film.

This film, written by Jeff Pope and A.J. Marriot and directed by Jon S. Baird, is not your basic biopic covering the details of the subjects' lives.  Like the recent Judy Garland film, "Judy," it concentrates on the end of Laurel and Hardy's careers, mostly taking place in 1953, the year that they spent touring England, playing small-time theatres and trying to revive their careers, despite the fact it was clear that their kind of humor was no longer in vogue, especially with Abbott and Costello now on the scene ready to take their place.

In their heyday, Laurel and Hardy appeared together in 107 films and in this film, we get to see some of their most famous comedy bits - the county hospital, waiting at the train station, swapping hats, etc. and the film ends with an epilogue that shows the two in real life.

Coogan and Reilly do a great job impersonating the team, and there is great poignancy in their performances as they depict the sadness that surrounds the end of two stellar careers as Laurel and Hardy struggle to keep going, despite Hardy's health problems and Laurel's disappointments. But still, they had a special bond, Laurel the Englishman, Hardy the American and, despite some resentments when Hardy stayed behind at the Hal Roach studio and made a film without Laurel, the two were like brothers and Coogan and Reilly capture all of those nuances.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a poignant and fitting homage to a theatrical partnership that lasted over 20 years.

Pick of the Litter (2018)

This documentary follows five dogs from a litter who are chosen to be trained for the Guide Dogs for the Blind program.  Will they make the grade?

Few are chosen and even fewer make the grade. Only 300 out of 800 dogs chosen for the training will actually become guide dogs for the visually impaired. Now, you might think that a movie about training dogs to be guide dogs would be dry and boring, but, c'mon. There is a reason why you watch cute puppy videos on YouTube.  Puppies and dogs are darling, and in this film, fascinating, as five labrador retriever puppies from the "P" litter are chosen for the training program to become guide dogs for the blind - Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil. We follow each puppy as they make their way through the first 20 months of their training program.  Some will make it and some dogs will be "career changed," which is a polite way of saying they didn't make it.

The puppies are matched with their trainers. Guide Dogs for the Blind gets over 1100 applications a year from people wanting to be trainers. Potomac goes with Linda, whose first dog was "career changed;" Primrose goes with Rebecca, who had six dogs before Primrose; Patriot goes with Nick, a young trainer; Poppet with Cathy and Bill who have had eight dogs before and will be co-training with first-timers, Lisa and Chris; and Phil goes with Patti and Al, first-timers. Each puppy lives with the trainer and is put through its paces to become a help to a visually impaired person.

But not all of the dogs make it. That's not a spoiler, that's life in the Guide Dogs for the Blind world.  It's a grueling training, not just for the dogs but for the trainers as well. For example, Phil gets moved to a more experienced trainer. It's difficult to form a bond with a dog and then have to give it up.

After 12 months of training, there is an evaluation and then again after 15 months and then finally after 20 months the dog either makes it or not.

Directed by Don Hardy and Dana Nachman, the film only touches briefly with the issues of attachment to the dogs - how do the trainers deal with that? They only get them for a short time and then the dogs who have made it that far must go to the final training at the "campus." Some dogs will become breeders, some will "career change," and some will make it as a guide dog and be placed with a visually impaired person.  I would liked to have known more about how the trainers dealt with their attachment to the dog and then having to give it up. 

I know this is going to sound strange, but this film reminded me of "Somm," a film about people trying to pass the Master Sommelier exam (one of my favorite documentaries, by the way).  What does passing a test about wine and becoming a guide dog for the blind have in common?  Lots and lots of work and an exam with a low pass rate.  In "Somm," the film follows four people trying to pass the test to become Master Sommeliers, a test with the lowest pass rates in the world.  This film follow five puppies and shows that, likewise, many dogs are called, few pass the exam to become a guidedog for the blind.

Like I said earlier, the film may sound like it's a bit dry, but it is anything but, and if you love dogs, you will be charmed by it. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...awwww.

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

49 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

A Tale of the Wind (1988)
("Une Histoire de Vent")

A filmmaker travels to China hoping to film the wind.

You heard me.  Film the wind.  A mighty difficult job, one would think, but award-winning documentarian Joris Ivens decided that at the age of 90 that was what he needed to do.

Ivens was a Dutch documentary filmmaker who made over 60 films from 1912-1988. During his career, he was known as a leftist, pro-Communist and made political films and was supposedly blacklisted by the U.S. At the age of 90, this was his last film where instead of making political statement, he turned the camera upon himself.

A lifelong asthmatic, Ivens was naturally attuned to the importance of breathing air and so here he concentrates on what is a manifestation of air - the wind.  He travels to China with his wife and filmmaking partner, Marceline Loridan, to try to film the wind. Through a series of surealistic images, dreamscapes, free assocations and interractions with the Chinese people, Ivens produced an impressionistic homage to the wind and thankfully, the wind obliges.

There is no plot or real point to this except almost a final eulogy to himself. And the wind?  Inscrutable and, the wind has very different meanings to different people at different times.  The wind can be a welcome breeze or a horrific tornado of destruction. I am not a huge fan of films that are basically artistic images and free association.  I find those kinds of films very self indulgent.  But at 90, with fifty years of filmmaking behind him, I think Jovins can be forgiven for some self indulgence.  And the film is beautiful to look at.  It's a sort of meditation, and Jovins himself is a magnificent looking 90-year-old.  I hope I make it to 90 and look as good as he does.

Why it's a Must See: " of the most graceful and haunting works of self-reflection in cinema...Loridan and Ivens of the most magnificently 'free' films ever made. a fitting tribute to one of the cinema's true originals."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like very artistic, poetic films, you might like this.
(In French and Chinese with English subtitles/Available on YouTube)

***The Book of the Week***

The Unqualified Hostess: I Do It My Way So You Can Too! by Whoopi Goldberg (2019)

Whoopi Goldberg shares her tips on throwing a great party.

I have been a great fan of Whoopi's, most particularly her comedy and her co-hosting "The View."  She is a no-nonsense personality who is not only smart and thoughtful in her views, but she also sees the humor that exists in just about everything.

Here she steps away from "The View" to share her entertaining tips in the same no-nonsense and smart way.

"I do it my way so you can too!"

She covers dinner parties, lunch, afternoon tea, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's and even "Dinner for One."

"Even when it's just you, take the time to set a nice table!"

She gives you the confidence to entertain your way.  You might not have fancy china or silver but if you have a Seven Eleven nearby, you can get some flowers, right?  And put those on the table.

"What you're holding in your hands is a book I put together because I figured that if you're like I was, you probably believe that you don't have any taste.  But I'm here to tell you that you do!...Now, you won't be able to do everything the way I do it, but you can do everything I do the way YOU do it.  And who's gonna tell you that's wrong?"

And as she said once on "The View" when she was talking about this book, people are over and you are feeding them so they shouldn't complain.

"Sitting at the table should be an occasion but it should be fun and YOUR occasion.  Don't worry about what people will think.  Do what you want." 

Whoopi likes to collect things and she enjoys what she has.

"A lot of the stuff that you see is stuff that has been with me for a long time and I like using these things because it reminds me that somebody thought of me."

I agree with her.  That is important to me, too.  I have a lot of my mother's things that I remember her using at holiday celebrations, and it makes me happy to thave those things around me now since I no longer have my mother.

Her decorating tips are whimsical and personal.

Whoopi is not averse to putting little trolls on the table or mismatched silver or high-heeled wine glasses. 

"I like to mix the expected with the unexpected."

But in addition to the whimsy, she offers some practical tips, too, like storing your china plates with a felt circle under each one to keep them from getting scratched or being sure to ask people if they have any food allergies - I mean you don't want to serve peanuts to someone with a peanut allergy and have a dead body at the table, right?  

She also shows how to set up a three-tiered server for afternoon tea and shares best methods for brewing a cup of tea; Halloween decoration tips; her recipes for the perfect Thanksgiving turkey; how to set a holiday table that covers all of the bases; and how she celebrates New Year's Day.

There is the humor you would expect from Whoopi throughout the book, but what's really great about it is her attitude and accessibility.  She really makes you feel that if she can do it, you can do it!

Rosy the Reviewer says...a beautifully produced coffee table book that feels like it was written by your best friend!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"Rosy the Reviewer's Best and Worst Films of 2019"


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.