Showing posts with label Autobiographies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Autobiographies. Show all posts

Friday, November 24, 2017

"Murder on the Orient Express" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Murder on the Orient Express" as well as the DVD "Dean" and "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)," a Netflix original now streaming on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is "Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult and the Darkness that Ended the Sixties."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Bergman's "Through a Glass Darkly."]

Murder on the Orient Express

When a murder occurs while famed detective Hercule Poirot is on vacation on the equally famous Orient Express, he is recruited to solve the mystery.

There is actually a kind of mystery as to how I came to see this film. 

I didn't plan to.  I sat in the theatre through a half hour of previews waiting for "Wonder" to come on, and what should come on but this film?  Several of us ran out to the lobby to find out what was going on and were assured that they would fix the issue, but 20 minutes later, a staffer came in saying they couldn't fix it and to come back for the 1:40 showing.  Since I am a busy person and since I had already sat through the first 20 minutes of "Murder," I decided to walk next door and watch it. 

And that's how I came to be reviewing this film now, though the mystery of why "Murder on the Orient Express" was playing in the theatre where "Wonder" was supposed to play was a mystery that was never solved.

But that's not the case with this mystery. We know the murder mystery on the Orient Express will be solved because the detectives in Agatha Christie novels always solve the murders, it's just a matter of how.

Many of you may already know this story by Agatha Christie, who was one of the best-selling novelists of all time.  This Agatha Christie novel was published in 1934 and has been made into a movie and TV mini-series many times.  Christie's mysteries all have the same classic mystery structure that has been copied ever since:  a murder is committed, there are several suspects and the detective investigating the crime gathers everyone into one room where the murderer is revealed in a shocking twist.  And one of Christie's favorite detectives was Hercule Poirot who the leading character in this film.

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the World's Greatest Detective.  How do we know this?  Poirot says that himself!

The film begins with Poirot solving a crime in Jerusalem and, finding this wearying, declares that he must take a vacation.  It is a great burden for our dear Poirot to have the curse of being able to spot every little detail that might be out of place from a crooked tie to imperfectly cooked eggs.  It makes him a good detective - did I mention he is the World's Greatest Detective?  But it makes for a burdensome life for our poor Poirot.

Poirot's friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), the director of the Orient Express, offers him a place on the train headed back to London via Calais.  Soon after boarding the train, Poirot is approached by a rather unpleasant American businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp, oozing sleaze which he often does with that sleepy drawl of a voice of his), who offers Poirot a large sum of money to be his bodyguard. You see, Ratchett deals in dodgy antiques and has been getting death threats.  Poirot declines, but that night Poirot hears strange noises coming from Ratchett's compartment next door, and when he sticks his head out of the door, sees a woman in a red kimono running down the hallway.  Later, Ratchett is found dead in his compartment with 12 stab wounds in his chest, so Poirot is forced back on the job, his holiday being ruined by yet another murder that he must solve.  But we all know he will because...why?  He is the World's Greatest Detective.

When Poirot discovers that Ratchett was really John Cassetti, a famous kidnapper who had kidnapped and murdered little Daisy Armstrong in a Lindbergh style kidnapping, he wonders what the connection to that might be.

Mmmm - I wonder.

Since the train has been stopped by an avalanche, Poirot is conveniently able to  sequester the passengers so as to investigate each one and eventually gather everyone into one train salon.  

We have the Russian Princess (Judi Dench) and her maid (Olivia Colman); Rachett's assistant, Hector McQueen (Josh Gad); Ratchett's valet (Derek Jacobi); a missionary (Penelope Cruz); a governess (Daisy Ridley, who is unrecognizable from her character in the latest "Star Wars" movies); a rich American widow (Michelle Pfeiffer); a German professor (Willem Dafoe); a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.); a Spanish gentleman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and a young Count and Countess (Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton).  They all look suspiciously shifty.

Who done it?

The film is stylishly produced and directed by Branagh himself with a script by Michael Green, who most recently penned "Blade Runner 2049," and Branagh seems to be having a wonderful time directing the cinematography, because the camera shoots from below, from above (he particularly likes that), from afar and close up.  And he enjoys starring as Poirot too, it seems, because most of those close-ups are of himself!  He also has a moustache that is so big it could have its own Twitter account. 

The actors all do what they can with this old chestnut, but throughout the film I just couldn't tell what Branagh was trying to do.  Was this a comedy?  Was he playing Poirot tongue-in-cheek because there were certainly some funny and over-the-top moments and that moustache!  But then there would be these dramatic sad moments, the moustache not withstanding.  Also for a murder mystery, not much happened.  We didn't really see Poirot do much detectiving (is that a word) nor could we read his mind, so as a viewer, we were pretty much left off this train.  So I didn't know quite what to make of this film or how I was supposed to feel. 

The bottom line was that once again, this was an unnecessary remake.  

Albert Finney starred in a perfectly good version in 1974 that also included an star-studded cast, and of course there is David Suchet, who made a name for himself as Poirot, so I really don't understand why this one needed to be made or why all of these A-list actors wanted to do it, especially since the material itself is dated, the story doesn't really stand up well today and the characters are not fleshed out at all.  So why?  Did they all just want to wear stylish 1930's clothes and chew the scenery a bit, which, believe me, they did.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Christie may have been one of the best-selling authors of all time and this film may be star-studded, but none of that can save what is very corny and I don't like corn.

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

On DVD and Streaming

Dean (2016)

Dean is having a difficult time dealing with his mother's death and it doesn't help when his Dad decides to sell the family home and move on with his life.

Demetri Martin wrote, directed and stars as Dean, an artist/cartoonist whose mother has died and he is having a difficult time moving on.  He also has a difficult relationship with his Dad, Robert (Kevin Kline), who has decided not to wallow in grief but to exercise, embrace self-help programs and find another woman to love, which he does.  Dean wants to wallow.

When his Dad decides to sell the family home and asks Dean to come over to get rid of some of his stuff, Dean takes a friend up on an invitation to go to L.A. to try to sell his cartoons as a way to avoid all of that.  However, when he meets with the ad executives in L.A. and discovers that they want to use his drawings for a deodorant commercial where a nerd suddenly can turn his rudimentary drawings into amazing works of art once he has used the deodorant and the ad guys want his drawings for the "before" drawings, he excuses himself.

He reconnects with an old friend, Becca (Briga Heelan), in a very funny scene where she tells him she has a boyfriend but at the same time is clearly coming on to Dean.  Later he meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) and the two hit it off but Nicky has a secret that drives them apart.

In the meantime, Robert has put the house up for sale and meets a realtor, Carol (Mary Steenburgen), and the two have an attraction but Robert is still hung up on the fact that he is "married.

Will our father and son, separated by grief and the generation gap, find love and connection?

The film is all very hip and millennial with strangely hip characters, like Dean's friend Eric (Rory Scovel) who is an over-the-top cat person, and Dean is so hip and millennial that he has a poster on his wall that says, "Poster." The film is also festooned with Dean's drawings, which are actually drawn by Martin (is there anything this kid can't do?) and they are hip but also very funny.

But the film isn't just millennial hipster schtick.  It's really all about grief, the different ways that people deal with it, and the difficulty of connecting with others.  Sometimes we might not think someone is grieving because they avoid it, and it takes awhile for grief to kick in.  The deaths of others forces us to face our own mortality and that's not something we easily embrace. There is also a generation gap that makes understanding each other difficult. But in the end we discover that if we really love someone we never lose them, even if they are no longer physical with us.

Like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, John Oliver and others, Martin is a talented "Daily Show" alum who has struck out on his own and who I hope will make more films.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a charming little film with an unlikely, but realistic, leading man.

The Meyerowitz Stories [New and Selected] (2017)

An estranged family gathers in New York City to celebrate their father.

I have an affinity for Noah Baumbach films (he writes and directs) partly because of his association with actress Greta Gerwig, who has starred in many of his films, most notably "Mistress America" and "Frances Ha."  I have always wondered when she was going to break out big and maybe this is her time with a new film that she has directed that is in theatres now and getting a lot of buzz - "Lady Bird (see my review next Friday)! 

But I am also drawn to Baumbach's films because of his writing, which is always fresh and real and character driven ("The Squid and the Whale," which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay).

This film is no exception.

Adam Sandler plays Danny, a guy who is getting a divorce and who basically was a house husband who never had the confidence to pursue a career, despite some musical talent.  Now his daughter is off to college.  Danny has had a rocky relationship with Harold, his Dad (Dustin Hoffman), who is an egotistical, insensitive, curmudgeonly sculptor and ex-art teacher at Bard College who is divorced from Danny's mother and now married to his fourth wife, an alcoholic hippie (Emma Thompson).  Danny has felt the greatest impact of Harold's ego and neglect and still cares very much what Harold thinks of him.

Then there is Danny's brother, Matthew (Ben Stiller).  He is a happily married developer who now lives in L.A. and the son Harold brags about.  He has come home to try to get Harold to sell his house and do some estate planning.

And Harold has one daughter, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).  Like Danny, she too was neglected by Harold.

Harold has been married four times. Danny and Jean were the products of Harold's second marriage and Matthew his third and Matthew is clearly more favored than Danny or Jean.  Ironically, though, Danny cares more about his Dad and what he thinks than Matthew does so the brothers are always jockeying for position with Harold, each in their own way.

Harold is not an easy guy to get through to.  He neglected his older children, Danny and Jean, but when Matthew came along with his third and younger wife, that child received what the older children didn't.  You see this a lot with the children of celebrities and other hugely successful people.  In the early years of a celebrity career, the father is focused on his career.  Then when fame hits, he sheds his first wife (in Harold's case, his second one too) and children and marries a much younger woman with whom he also has children, and since fame has already arrived, he can now focus on the younger children.  It happened with Caitlyn Jenner's older children and the older children of Michael Douglas, Bing Crosby...I could go on and on.  It's a thing.

But though Harold focused more on Matthew, his ego was really too big to have much to do with any of his children.

"It's hard to have a relationship with a child," he says at one point.

But then Harold is diagnosed with a brain tumor and all bets are off, because no matter how horrible or neglectful our parent might be, he's our horrible and neglectful parent.

The film is broken into chapters and there is a chapter for each of the siblings, and we get to see their individual stories and how they ended up as they did.

This film also explores the age-old generation gap and the resentments children have toward their parents and the cluelessness of the parents as to why. It's also about siblings and how easy it is to lose touch when they grow up and move away, but who still come together over the common parent.  How much do parents play a part in siblings being close or not?  How much that is unsaid causes rifts?  What happens to parent-child and sibling relationships when one sibling leaves home and the other stays?  All of these family issues are explored in this smart and fascinating family story now streaming on Netflix.

It's strange seeing Adam Sandler as a Dad worrying about Dad things. 

I still think of him as Stud Boy on the MTV game show "Remote Control," which was where I first saw him.  I always remember him having a perpetual smirk, a warning that he was about to say something funny. Whether it was on SNL singing one of his Hannukah songs or as a character in one of his films, whether he was telling a joke or saying a dramatic line, it seemed he always had this perpetual smirk going on, and because of that, I was never much of an Adam Sandler fan.  So I didn't want to like him in this.  But I am happy to say that he has finally not only gotten rid of that smirk, he was really believable here.  I am actually going to go further than that.  He was a revelation. He exhibited a poignancy I have never seen before.  I didn't want to like him in this but I did, and I didn't see a trace of those old mannerisms.  Perhaps Stud Boy has finally grown up.  He does sing one of his little silly songs of his but it was a very sweet scene with his daughter.

Then there was Dustin Hoffman.  Dustin was...well, Dustin Hoffman.  

Always the consummate professional, always a good actor, he also does pretentious very well.  I saw him on a talk show recently talking about his role in this film.  He talked about how his career had changed from leads to old dying guys so because this part in this film was another old dying guy, he almost turned it down but was glad that he didn't because he thought the writing was good.  And good for him, because Harold is not an easy character to like.  In fact, I know guys like him and dislike those kinds of people immensely: long-winded, uncaring, insensitive, opinionated and lacking any self awareness about how his actions are affecting others.  Hoffman is very good at those kinds of parts and he is very good here.

And no matter what kind of part Ben Stiller plays, he always gets a chance to look flummoxed and cast his deadpan face on something crazy going on and this film is no exception.

There is a Woody Allen feel to this film, and come to think of it, there is that feel in many of director and writer Noah Baumbach's films, which are usually family dramas and character-driven stories that are funny but funny in a smart, real way, not in a pratfall, silly-situations way.  I think Baumbach will carry on Woody's torch - the torch of subtle intellectual comedies that focus on human relationships.  That is, when and if Woody ever passes it along.

Rosy the Reviewer says...all adults with issues about their parents and siblings should see this film.  Then you will know you are not alone.

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

165 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Recently released from a mental hospital, Karin (Harriet Andersson) joins her family at an island retreat but her mental illness starts to haunt her.

Karin is just back from a mental hospital and is vacationing with her husband, Martin (Max von Sydow) her younger brother, Minus (Lars Passgard), and her father, David (Gunnar Bjornstrand), who is a writer.  Karin seems carefree and feels that she has overcome her mental illness but is devastated when she finds her father's diary where he writes that her illness is incurable and he plans to use it as fodder for his writing.  As the film progresses she starts to break down again and has hallucinations, finally seeing God as a frightening spider.  

All of the characters react to Karin's illness: Martin realizes that no matter how much he loves Karin, he can't save her; David realizes that he has put his work before his family; and Minus is dragged into Karin's mental illness himself while at the same time dealing with his blossoming sexuality.

Directed by Ingmar Bergman, this film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1962 (the second of three he would receive in his career) and is part of Bergman's "Silence of God" trilogy that includes "Winter Light" and "The Silence."  It also includes lots and lots of angst.

There is a reason why Bergman influenced so many filmmakers from Frances Ford Coppola to Ang Lee to Woody Allen.  He was innovative and did things on film that had never been done before - long lingering close-ups of faces, breaking the fourth wall by having the characters talk directly to the screen, characters uttering deep thoughts in profile, obsession with death, crisis of faith, black and white cinematography and characters who out of nowhere say things like "The wolves have their teeth." But those things are also the reason why Bergman is so easy to parody.

Bergman often explored the issue of faith.  Is faith the equivalent of madness?  Is that why madness is so often associated with seeing God or thinking one IS God?  Or are we considered mad when we show emotion and tell the truth? 

Harriet Andersson was Bergman's muse for many years and starred in many of his films. Sven Nykvist was his cinematographer and Woody admired Bergman so much that he poached Nykvist for his films.

Why it's a Must See: "...with its handful of characters, isolated setting, brief time span, and uncluttered visuals...[there is] nothing to dilute the force of its emotional and philosophical thrust; no wonder Bergman saw it as the first of his films to pave the way toward the masterpiece that was Persona (1966)."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...when you consider what was coming out of Hollywood in the early 1960's, it becomes even more apparent how Bergman was a masterful filmmaker ahead of his time.
(b & w, in Swedish with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside his Cult and the Darkness that Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake (2017)

A little known member of Charles Manson's "Family" shares her story.

What a strange coincidence that I would have just finished this book as Charles Manson took his last breath.  One of the most reviled mad men of our time, he died in prison this last week at the age of 83.

And yet, despite the evil that he engineered, I have always been fascinated with Charles Manson and his "family." I don't have a personal connection at all with Charles Manson per se but the Tate-La Bianca murders happened right before I moved to California from Michigan after college.  The Zodiac killer was running around there then too, so that was very much on my mind when I moved to San Francisco in 1970.  There was a very scary and sinister quality in the air.  

Dianne Lake was only 14 when her parents decided to drop out and move into a bread truck and live the hippie life.  They gave her a note giving her permission to be on her own, and through a series of circumstances, she ended up under the influence of Charles Manson, whose stints in prison as a young man taught him the ins and outs of being a pimp, how to be all things to all young women, and eventually get them to do whatever he demanded.

Dianne was one of the youngest member of his "family," and though she did not participate in any of the murders, she was an active member of the lifestyle and privy to all that was going on.  When Manson and some of his followers were arrested, Lake eventually joined the prosecution's case against Manson and those who participated in the murders.  Over the course of two years with Manson, Dianne endured his psychological control and physical abuse as Manson prepared for "Helter Skelter," the race war he believed was coming when he and his family would rise from the ashes and rule the world.

Though there have been many books about Manson over the years, most famously Vincent Bugliosi's book "Helter Skelter," which has served as the definitive story, few have been written by those who were actually there with Manson and could give a first-hand account as everything played out.
Lake is candid about her time with Manson and his followers and her story is a riveting one, a tale of lost innocence and redemption in a time of great social upheaval.

I have always been fascinated by cults, why and how people are pulled into them. Though I didn't have parents who dropped out and left me to fend for myself - rather I had a very middle-class, Midwest upbringing - I moved far away from home at a young age to San Francisco at a time when many were experimenting with alternative lifestyles and young people were rebelling against the establishment.  Looking back, I also realize that I was a very immature and naive young woman who, if circumstances had been different, might very well have been lured into something by someone like Charles Manson and ended up like some of Charles Manson's girls, many of whom grew up in environments much like mine.

Lake explains it very well:

"There have been many false prophets like Charlie, but even now, all these years later, I find it hard to explain what it was like to actually believe that he was a kind of messiah.  It's an incredible concept, totally impossible to fathom: that the person you're standing next to or having sex with is somehow related to God...But that's what it means to be in a cult.  You lose a part of yourself to someone else or to a group, so that your entire mind no longer belongs to you...There are not obvious analogies to what it's like when someone has that kind of a hold over you...You simply have an unwavering faith that the person has a power that no one else on earth can possibly know or wield.  And when you look at someone and honestly believe that person is related to God, and that person looks at you and tells you you're special, that you matter -- it gives that person a power over you that's unlike any other...I'd come to the Family because I'd wanted to belong, because I was looking for a place in the world.  I was gradually drawn in until I couldn't see how lost I'd become.  No one chooses to be in a cult; no one seeks it out or strives for it.  Being in a cult is not something you notice as it's happening -- it doesn't matter if you're incredibly aware or if you're a teenager who can't see past her own emotions.  With a cult, you believe you're on solid ground until you discover -- usually much too late -- that not only is your footing shaky, but it's already given way."

Rosy the Reviewer says...there but for fortune...

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Lady Bird"  



 The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and 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). 

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Loving" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Loving" as well as DVDs "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "Wild Oats."  The Book of the Week is "Tippi," actress Tippi Hedren's memoir.  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Bob le Flambeur."]


This film explores the personal side of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, which ended the illegality of interracial marriage. 

It's difficult to believe that as late as the 1960's, in many states it was illegal for interracial couples to marry.  Oh, wait, maybe not so difficult to believe, considering we only recently legalized gay marriage. But for me, it is difficult to believe that anyone cares who someone else marries, but for some reason, this has been something we Americans have been grappling with for years. 

Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) were a hardworking, blue collar couple who, in 1958, just wanted to live their lives and be together.  Mildred was a quiet woman who loved her family; Richard wasn't educated and didn't talk much, but they were in love. They were also an interracial couple living in Virginia where it was illegal for interracial couples to marry.

So they traveled to Washington, D.C. where it was legal to marry, and when they returned to Virginia as a married couple, they were arrested in the middle of the night and hauled off to jail, despite the fact that Richard had hung their marriage license on the wall of their home. Their crime?  Miscegenation. 

Richard was given a lecture by the local sheriff about "God's Plan," about how there was a reason why robins were robins and sparrows were sparrows...and blah, blah blah.  Their lawyer advised them to plead guilty and to keep them out of prison (for up to five years), they had to agree to either get a divorce or leave the state of Virginia not to return together for 25 years.  So they moved in with a friend in D.C. but Mildred missed her family and wanted Richard's mother, a midwife, to deliver their baby.  So back they went to Virginia where once again they were arrested.  Their lawyer appealed to the judge, saying it was his mistake telling them they could return to have their baby (which was a lie), and the judge let them go, but not before their attorney told them this was it.  "If you come back again, I won't be able to get you off."

Richard and Mildred returned to D.C. where they remained for five years, growing their family but missing their home.  Richard had bought a plot of land near Mildred's family and had planned to build her a house there.  So when one of their sons was hit by a car, that was the last straw for Mildred.  They were going back to Virginia to live in the country, no matter what. 

In the meantime, Mildred had written to the then Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, about their plight and he referred her letter to the ACLU.  They called Mildred and set in motion an almost ten year journey of fear and racism that would turn out to be Loving v. Virginia (1967), a landmark Supreme Court case that invalidated laws against interracial marriage, laws that, amazingly in the 1960's still harked back to slavery laws.

The Supreme Court ruled in their favor when the case was made by the Loving's lawyers: "How does interracial marriage harm the state of Virginia?"

"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

The court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:
"There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy."
Why do we care who marries whom?  How is it the business of each of us what our fellow Americans do when it comes to love and marriage?

Sadly, this ruling did not stop some states from continuing to enforce laws against interracial marriage, and it wasn't until the year 2000 that Alabama became the last state to adapt its laws to the Supreme Court's decision.

The title is a poignant irony.  It's the last name of the couple but the irony lies in the very unloving racism at work here and that has existed for centuries. Sadly, racism still exists today.

There are some notable and lovely moments in this film -
  • When a drunk Richard lets up his usually steely guard, cries and tells Mildred he can take care of her.  Then note in the moments before the closing credits, she remembered that moment all of her life and acknowledged that Richard indeed took care of her.
  • In the face of their legal fight, Richard and Mildred are still able to bask in the love for their children.  They stand in the doorway of their childrens' room and then quietly go to their bedroom and close the door, putting a point on the closeness and nobility of their marriage, despite everything they had been through.

  • And I congratulate writer/director Jeff Nichols for his restraint and avoidance of the usual clichés we find with movies about court cases. There is no Jack Nicholson yelling "You can't handle the truth!" or a long impassioned speech by Richard, our lead character. In fact, Richard and Mildred did not attend the Supreme Court hearing. The movie unfolds in a realistic undramatic way and yet, the way it was done - highly dramatic.

This is a small picture with a big message but it's also a master class in acting. 

I first saw Joel Edgerton in "The Gift," where he played an obsequious neighbor trying to befriend a couple.  He was beyond creepy.  Then he was an FBI agent after James "Whitey" Bulger in "Black Mass," followed by a role as a cowboy and Natalie Portman's love interest in "Jane Got a Gun."  He is Australian, but never once did I know that until I saw him on a talk show as himself and heard his real accent.  He is a chameleon who can play anything - creepy neighbor, FBI agent, love interest.  He transforms himself into his character and is sometimes unrecognizable as the same guy.  Here he inhabits Richard Loving, blond hair and all.  So now he on my list of our greatest young actors (along with Tom Hardy and Eddie Redmayne).  Ruth Negga as Mildred is also wonderful which lets me segue into a bit of a rant.

The movie is about righting a wrong in American history and now here is a chance for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to right the wrongs of the last few years where diversity was not celebrated when handing out Academy Award nominations and Oscars.  I said it in my review of "Moonlight," and I say it again. Here is your chance, Academy.  Ruth Negga's quiet but powerful performance as Mildred Loving needs to be recognized as does Edgerton's.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this movie will make you mad, and it should! that the phone?  Ring, ring...Oscar calling.


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


Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Earth is yet again under siege from those pesky space aliens.

One can't help but compare this movie to the original "Independence Day," which opened 20 years ago and was the highest grossing film of 1996, ranking in the top 100 of the highest grossing films ever.  It also won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. 

As you may remember from the first one, an enormous alien mothership enters the earth's orbit and deploys 36 smaller spacecraft that take positions over some of Earth's major cities and military bases. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a satellite technician, decodes a signal embedded in the global satellite transmissions that he determines is a timer counting down to a coordinated attack on July 4 - Independence Day, get it? - Levinson demonstrates that the key to defeating the aliens lies in deactivating their force fields, and devises a way to do so by uploading a computer virus into the mothership. Two pilots volunteer to be the guinea pigs, and though humankind is saved, only one pilot comes back.

So now it's 20 years later and sigh...THEY'RE BAAAACK!  No I don't mean Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and director Roland Emmerich, though, yes, they are back too.  No, I mean the aliens are back except this time the countries of the Earth has been able to cooperate and create an early warning system, because fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice...well, you know.  And I guess once you have an alien attack you can expect another one. 

It seems that one of those original alien destroyers has been discovered in Africa.  The aliens had been able to send a distress call to their comrades on the home planet. It also so happens that an unidentified spherical ship, with design and technology different from that of the aliens who attacked 20 years earlier, has also been discovered but Levinson believes that it belongs to another extraterrestrial race that might be benevolent and urges the world's Security Council not to attack, but naturally they vote to shoot it down regardless. Still with me? But before they can do that a mother of an alien mother ship (3,000 miles in diameter) suddenly emerges and destroys Earth's planetary defenses before approaching the planet and destroying cities and our famous landmarks. This is not good!

Turns out this big old mothership has a big old mother in it - an alien Queen - and our heroes need to destroy her or all is lost.

Unfortunately, despite some spectacular special effects once again, this film feels more like redundant than resurgence.  We have seen this sort of thing before. The world is coming to an end, the powers that be have to find a way to save the world and then there are all kinds of the usual side plots about people trying to get away from that inevitability - kids and dogs in danger, that sort of thing.

I can't help but also compare this film to this year's "Arrival," another space invasion film but a decidedly different one.

Though I liked "Arrival"" for the most part, I gave it a lukewarm review, but that's because, compared to this film, it's "Citizen Kane," and I expected more from it. 

But there are similarities. 

Space crafts are threatening countries around the world and world leaders are trying to work together to defeat them before they destroy earth.  The aliens in both films have a language that uses circular symbols, there is a female linguist (Charlotte Gainsbourg) trying to figure our what they are trying to say and there are also good-looking pilots (including a woman, which is a good thing).  But other than that, best not to compare these two because, despite those small similarities, this film would fall decidedly short.  "Arrival" is an intellectual film with great acting and a message; this one is a cartoon with the actors looking like they have been caught in a video game.  There is cheesy dialogue and did we really need to have a whole school bus load of little kids wearing bunny hats  in jeopardy? 

And when you compare this film to the original, some of the same actors are back and the special effects are good, but this one has an almost indecipherable plot.  My mind wandered for a minute while watching and then I didn't have the slightest idea what was going on.

So here's a question: Charlotte Gainsbourg, what is she doing in this film?  Shouldn't she be in some French film taking off her clothes likes she usually does?

And here is another question.  How did Jeff Goldblum become an actor?  His acting is downright deadpan and wooden and he delivers every line the same, no matter what is going on in the film, though, to cut him some slack, the cheesy dialogue doesn't help.

"We got one shot at this." 
Gee, I wonder what happens.

Charlotte to Jeff: "Don't say anything.  You'll ruin it." 
I know, because he can't act.

Though the special effects were good, they were probably much better in the theatre in 3-D than at home in my jammies with a glass of wine.  All in all, I didn't really like it.

But here are some things I think would have helped this movie:

Liam taking his shirt off
Jeff talking less
No teenagers
Some hot sex (when in doubt, throw in some hot sex especially when Liam Hemsworth is in the film

All in all, it took about an hour for this film to really get my attention but when they decided that they had to kill the Harvester Queen things started to pick up a bit and in the end, the President of the United States makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the planet.  We can only hope that President-Elect Trump would do the same.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the film felt like a giant set-up for yet another sequel.  Oh, geez, there's going to be another one!

Wild Oats (2016)

What do you do when you receive $5,000,000 from the proceeds of a life insurance policy instead of the $50,000 you were supposed to get?  Why you grab your girlfriend and embark on the trip of a lifetime!

Ex-teacher Eva (Shirley MacLaine) has just lost her husband and is having difficulty adjusting.  Her daughter, Crystal (Demi Moore in a very small part) isn't much help.  Crystal wants her mother to sell the house and go into a retirement home, but Eva's having none of that "out of sight, out of mind" stuff.

Eva's best friend, Maddie (Jessica Lange), is a twit, but her husband has left her for a younger woman and she has cancer so I will give her a break.  But she's not much help to Eva either. There is a poignant scene after the funeral where we see Eva getting ready for bed all alone for the first time, a chance for Shirley to show the acting finesse of a woman who has been at the craft of acting for so many years. 

But then Eva receives the pay out for her husband's life insurance policy and the check is for $5,000,000 instead of the actual amount of $50,000.  That perks her up. Eva and Maddie embark on an adventure. They both know that it's a mistake and they will probably get found out, but in the meantime...LET'S PARTY!!!

They decide to go to the Canary Island (a choice that is never explained) and live it up.  When the insurance company realizes their error, insurance agent Vespucci (Howard Hesseman who doesn't even look like himself anymore - he's old!) is dispatched and then the film becomes a cat and mouse between the ladies and the insurance guy sent to find them.  And, oh, yes, there is also Chandler, a handsome lothario (Billy Connelly), who also appears to be suffering some dementia but not enough to stop him from conning Eva. And then there is the inevitable younger man/older woman romance where Maddie thinks she is still attractive enough to attract a younger man when in fact she is being scammed.

This film gives MacLaine and Lange a chance to overact like mad, but it's mad fun! Though there is a scene where Eva and Maddie have trouble calling the insurance company - you know, for life insurance, press 1, for car insurance press 2 - that kind of thing and these two can't seem to handle that in a scene that goes on too long. I never like those scenes that show old folks having trouble with technology.  Not funny to us old folks.  

So because they can't seem to figure out how to get in touch with the insurance company, Eva decides to deposit the check and off they go on their big adventure where Eva wins a bunch of money gambling and they both get involved with con men.  The film also has the silliest ending ever, though I enjoyed it as a great homage to teachers everywhere.  Let's just say that one of the best parts of this film is all of the people Eva runs into remember her as their favorite teacher.  See, teachers?  You never realize how many kids you have influenced or lives you have affected.  Oprah still remembers her second grade teacher as being a huge influence on her life.

Written by Gary Kanew and Claudia Myers and directed by Andy Tennant, some of the jokes and situations are silly and there is a bit of slapstick, and yes, the film plays the age card with moments when the film feels like a big joke about old people coping with being old:

When trying to decide whether or not to keep the money:
"What if they arrest me?"
"You are old.  Tell them you were confused."

"Eat that steak tartare before it gets cold."

But the film also makes a statement on how we want to dismiss our old folks and put them away, rather than benefiting from their experience and expertise when in fact us old folks still have a lot of life left in us!  (And if you read my recent rant, er, post on that, you will know that's one of my things). 
Eva is the smart, practical one and Maddie likes to drink and is a bit sex mad (another old folks joke that isn't funny), but the interactions between MacLaine and Lange are amusing and celebrates the joys of female friendships.  There is a certain charm here and chemistry between the two that is great fun and reminded me of those 1950's romantic comedies starring Debbie Reynolds that took place in beautiful locations.  Remember those?  Oh, I guess I do because I'm old.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a silly but fun female buddy picture that celebrates women of a certain age.  We need more movies like this (said a woman of a certain age)!

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

224 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Bob le Flambeur (1956)

Bob is an aging gambler who is broke so he decides to rob a gambling casino. So?  What else are you going to do in retirement?

"Monmartre is both heaven.... and hell." 

So begins this classic French film with a voice over as a trolley goes down a hill on the world "hell."  You know you are in for an amusing ride. 

Bob (Roger Duschesne) is a regular denizen of Monmartre.  He's also a world weary hood and a gambler who is getting old. But Bob is the height of cool with his slicked back white hair, his fancy car and his modern apartment that sports its own slot machine.  Everyone knows Bob and he's actually friends with one of the local cops because Bob may be a hood but he has some morals.  He saved the cops life once so the cop is grateful and protective of Bob.  Likewise, when Marc the pimp (Gerard Buhr) approaches Bob for money to get out of town, Bob tells him he doesn't help pimps and men who beat women so he tells him to get lost.

Bob meets Anne (Isabelle Corey), a young woman who appears to just be hanging around looking for trouble. He takes a liking to her but warns her "Don't hang out in Monmartre.  You'll end up a pavement princess."  "Pavement princess? Classic film noir. I'm going to have to use that one! Anne comes on to Bob, but like I said, he has morals and realizes she is too young for him.  He introduces her to his protégé Paulo (Daniel Cauchy).  Anne has trouble written all over her, another favorite film noir device.

Bob has gone straight for 20 years but he is on a losing streak and is broke, so he decides he needs to go for one last scheme - to rob a casino in Deauville for 800 million francs. He gathers together a group of accomplices...and all appears to be going as planned until Paulo spills the beans to Anne to impress her.  And Anne spills the beans to Marc.  You remember Marc, he's that pimp that Bob unceremoniously threw out of his apartment.

So now there is the girl, the pimp who has it out for him and a crazy heist scheme - a perfect storm for Bob.

When Marc, the pimp, gets arrested he makes a deal with the cops and now our anti-heroes have to deal with what transpires when the snitch snitches.

Gorgeous to look at, this film captures the beauty of Paris in the 1950's.  The camera angles are unique and the soundtrack is a variety of styles from French bistro to jazz to romantic.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, this is French film noir and a precursor to those later films like "The Usual Suspects," where everything starts to go wrong and you yell at the screen, "No, don't tell that guy your plans!" or "No, don't make that decision!" Well, I yell at the screen anyway.

But just when you think everything is going to go wrong, it turns out not to be one of those films where absolutely everything goes wrong.  There is a big ironic twist..

Why it's a Must See:"[Melville is] the director who paved the roead for Sergio Leone, John Woo, and many others...[This film] is nostalgic and burlesque, yet filled with compassion and an accurate and respectful attention to places, objects, words, and the dreams everyone is entitled to live with."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Stanley Kubrick once said that he decided to give up making crime films after seeing "Bob the Gambler." 

Rosy the Reviewer's a winner in more ways than one!
(In French with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

Tippi: A Memoir by Tippi Hedren (2016)

Actress and animal rights activist, Tippi Hedren tells her story.

Today Tippi Hedren is probably best known as Melanie Griffith's mother and Dakota Johnson's grandmother or for her animal rights activities -- that is, if you even recognize her name at all.  But in the early 1960's she was a hot actress and the muse of Alfred Hitchcock, starring in "The Birds" and "Marnie."

Tippi never wanted to be an actress.  She was a model and loved doing that but when Alfred Hitchcock saw her in an ad for dish soap, he found her and signed her to a contract.

If you know anything about Hitchcock, you know he had a thing for cool blondes - Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Martha Heyer were all his muses.  He signed Hedren to a personal contract and to star in "The Birds," a great opportunity for any actress, let alone an unknown.  Hitchcock and his wife coached Tippi and worked tirelessly with her to bring her acting up to speed. Unfortunately for Hedren, she didn't know that Hitchcock was madly in love with her, and he made his intentions known, constantly staring at her, harassing her, and eventually trying to kiss her.

After having made it clear to Hitchcock that she was not interested in him, Hitchcock turned the tables on her and began torturing her psychologically and even physically.  In one of the most important and horrific scenes in "The Birds," Hitchcock told her the mechanical birds were not working and she would have to perform a scene using live birds.  He made her do the scene over and over until she was bloodied and even the cameramen were appalled.

Hitchcock is also known for his fastidious planning that went into preparation for his films.  Everything was worked out in advance and he didn't take kindly to actors voicing their opinions.

"I'll never forget asking Hitchcock while we painstakingly worked on the script and my performance, 'Knowing what's happened to the farmer and Annie, knowing that the whole town's under attack and that the birds have surrounded the house, why in the world would I climb those stairs and go into that bedroom by myself? To which Hitch replied after careful thought, "Because I told you to."

Likewise, she writes before the filming of her second film, "Marnie:"

"I still remember Hitchcock telling me that he'd signed Sean Connery to be my leading man.  I wondered out loud how I was supposed to play a frigid woman opposite Sean, of all people. To which Hitchcock replied after a long pause, 'It's called acting, my dear."

That is classic Hitchcock.  His actors were merely pawns in his grand scheme.  .

Eventually Hedren was able to get out of her contract with Hitchcock, and though she continued her career to some extent, she never again had the kinds of roles she had in "The Birds" and "Marnie."  She realized that her rejection of Hitchcock was a death sentence to her career. Hitchcock had set out to ruin her career and he did.

During the course of her career and her second marriage, Hedren developed a keen love of animals, especially lions, and the second half of the book is about her and her husband's attempt to make a film called "Roar," about African lions, a film that turned out to be a dangerous undertaking.  She also shared her life as a single mother, and her work as an animal activist.

The first half of this book - Hedren's early life, her acting career and dealings with Hitchcock - was riveting and fascinating; the second half - her efforts to get the film "Roar" made and her animal rights work - not so much.

So I have learned something about myself reading this book.  There is a side of me that is really shallow.  I like the juicy Hollywood stuff and am bored by stories of meaningful work. I will have to work on that.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love juicy Hollywood stuff, the first half of this book is for you.  If you are not as shallow as I am, and you love animals, you will probably like the second half as well.

Thanks for reading!

See you  Friday

"Some TV Shows You Should Know About: 2016 Edition"


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